A personal reflection on French graphic novels

Teen reader Claire Long recently spent some time living in France. Here she reflects on the significance of graphic novels – or le bande dessinée – in the nation’s literary imagination, and how it compares to Australian attitudes.

Now unless you have learnt French, you have no idea what le bande dessinée is. Well for starters, le bande dessinée is a French term and translates to graphic novel. In France, le bande dessinée seem to be much more widely appreciated than in Australia; they are even considered the ‘ninth art’. So I decided to conduct a personal investigation to discover why.

Production of graphic novels

A part of the reason why graphic novels are so popular in France is due to the ingrained culture of appreciating art, leading to the large production of graphic novels there. In France, art is a common elective chosen in school and a much more familiar and, dare I say, accepted and sustainable career path.

During my exchange trip, there was an art market located in the largest city closest to my town. There were around 30 artists there, in person, selling their art to the general public. The art displayed ranged from pottery to glassware to jewellery and more. The fair was packed and required no entry fee. When I visited this art market, I was so shocked by the whole experience. Here in Australia, the purchase of art is often associated with high prices, a bidding war, selected invitation to attend an auction and is reserved for people of upper class. Yet, it felt the complete opposite in France.

With a larger base of native artists, this naturally translates to more artists available to design graphic novels. With more artists comes greater production and as such a larger consumption. Every bookstore that I visited in France had a section for graphic novels larger than the section for young adult and chapter novels. A library that I visited had an entire floor reserved for them. Volumes upon volumes of graphic novels. The genre of graphic novels was also diverse. There were romance, fantasy, sci-fi graphic novels as well as non-fiction, informative ones and more.

Reading culture

Another contributing factor to the popularity of graphic novels in France is the amount of people reading there. Linking back with the previous idea of them appreciating art, literature is a large aspect of their culture as well. That is not to say that everyone in France is a reader but I was informed that generally speaking, everyone will read about 20 books a year.

Graphic novels are quicker and oftentimes easier to read, making them an alternative that French people often reach for. The diversity and accessibility of graphic novels helps French people to read more often. I also noted the French people’s open support for their native authors, which was an eye opener to how we can strive to do the same in Australia.

Mentality towards graphic novels

Another observation of mine was that graphic novels aren’t judged as harshly in France as I notice they can be in Australia. More than once, I have heard graphic novels dubbed as ‘kids books’, or as being for people who are not ‘smart enough’ for chapter novels. No matter what the graphic novel is or the content that is explores, many Australians do seem to have the mentality: ‘Oh there are a lot of pictures, so it must be for children’.

The people I met in France did not have this mindset. It saddens me to think that graphic novels are frequently degraded and the people reading them are shamed as well. They are perfectly adequate enough to convey the same, deep themes and meaningful messages. They are not boring, nor are the character two dimensional (at least not in personality that is). The illustrations drawn are pieces of art, absolutely stunning and with the amount of effort the illustrator has put in, graphic novels should be appreciated just like any piece of literature.

The above factors indicate to me that the popularity and admiration for graphic novels in France is rooted in their culture. It is a indication of a nation’s society, their way of life and provokes a lot of reflection towards our own Australian culture.

Claire Long is a member of this year’s Readings Teen Advisory Board.



Tillie Walden

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