Culture, politics and the crisis. The case of bande dessinée

People interested in cultural responses to the crisis and to longer term socio-political changes would do well to engage with France’s vibrant bande dessinée culture. In what follows, Ann Miller (University of Leicester), a leading expert in the  field, gives us a critical introduction to some of the things we should be looking at. 

Websites worth investigating:

Etienne Davodeau has been producing political comic art since the 1990s. Les Mauvaises gens (published by Delcourt in 2005), his account of the political education of his parents, Catholic factory workers in the Vendée, won the Prix du meilleur scenario at the Angoulême festival in 2006. His interest in the history of working-class militancy is also apparent in Un homme est mort, published by Futuropolis in 2006 (and co-scripted with Kris), in which he reconstructs a lost film by René Vautier, made as a tribute to Edouard Mazé, a construction worker and PCF member shot by the police during a demonstration by construction workers in post-war Brest. At the same time, Davodeau’s comic portrays the process of making the film, and the political subjectivation, the appropriation of the logos, in Rancière’s terms, that this entails for the various actors involved. Davodeau’s most recent work deals with the present, and with the recession, through a fictional narrative in two volumes, Lulu: femme nue (Futuropolis 2008 and 2010), in which the story of an unemployed woman who walks out on her family serves as a thread for establishing a link between marginalised lives with the violence of economic forces, and for re-establishing an ethics and, potentially, a politics.

This is a selection of extracts from a film about Baru, winner of the Grand prix of the Angoulême festival in 2010, after having twice been the recipient of the ‘best album’ prize (for Le Chemin de l’Amérique in 1991, and for L’Autoroute du soleil in 1996). Baru’s work has chronicled the lives of the working-class community in Lorraine from which he originates, notably the experience of those, like himself, issus de l’immigration (his father was Italian), and the cultural life which revolved around the PCF. Le Chemin de l’Amérique was an exception in that it set the life of its protagonist, a fictional Algerian boxer, in the context of the Algerian war, and led up to his supposed death in the massacre of October 17 1961. His four-volume Les Années Spoutnik (Casterman 1999-2003) recounts the lives of a group of children growing up in the 1950s not in flashback but from the temporal vantage point of its protagonists; the effect of this is that the lendemains qui chantent remain on the horizon. His victory at Angoulême confers the presidency of the 2011 festival on him, and it has been announced  that the exhibition that it falls to him to curate will be called DLDDLT, standing for ‘Debout les Damnés de la terre’, and will involve une déambulation au sein de la culture ouvrière, de sa grandeur à sa déchéance’ (see

Le Monde diplomatique published an hors-série in October, offering 100 pages of political bande dessinée from fourteen different artists.  Morvandiau offers a verbatim rendering of Nadine Morano’s responses to questions (‘Qu’adviendra-t-il du future pour nous les jeunes?’ and ‘Est-ce que l’islam a vraiment sa place dans l’identité nationale ?’) posed at a publicmeeting in December 2009. The words of the then secrétaire d’État chargée de la famille et de la solidarité are supplied in speech balloons, against a background which at first appears faint, but gradually becomes sharper until it resolves itself into a 19th century pious image of African children thanking their benefactors for their Christian charity. Grégory Jarry and François Ruffin use the resources of the medium to engineer an encounter between Bernard Arnault, present in the role of the narrator, with a group of textile workers who had lost their jobs as a result of his decision to outsource production to Poland, while Jochen Gerner and Frédéric Lordon put together a pictographic guide to the logic of finance capital. There are many contributions from non-French artists, including a stunning account by Juhyun Choi of the repression of opposition forces in South Korea and a visual poem dedicated by Mazen Kerbaj to his native city, Beirut.

Other recommended websites:


The homepage of the Cité international de la bande dessinée et de l’image in Angoulême.

The homepage of the Centre belge de la bande dessinée.


The homepage of the Angoulême festival, including details of the long list for the prizes.

Comica, held every year in London, includes many French-language artists.


The website of the International Bande dessinée Society, which runs a biennial conference.  Has many useful links.

Paul Gravett is a writer, journalist, exhibition curator and conference organiser whose expertise extends over French-language production.

A very useful portal for comics-related information run from the University of North Texas

Dedicated to Québécois material.


European Comic Art, the journal of the International Bande Dessinée Society and the American Bande Dessinée Society. Much of the material covered is French-language, but, as its name indicates, it also has a wider European remit.,id=168/view,page=0/

The Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics (Routledge) and Studies in Comics (Intellect) both mostly cover English-language material but editorial boards include academics with expertise in European comic art.

On-line journals

A web journal which covers small-press production.

The journal published by the CIBDI, now only available in an on-line version.

A journal dedicated to theoretical investigation of image and narrative, which frequently covers comic art, often French-language work.

The Comics Journal: Produced by the American comics publisher Fantagraphics. Includes good coverage of French and Francophone authors whose work has been translated into English.

Published by the University of Florida. Useful material, but mostly English-language.

Discussion lists

The Comics Scholars’ Discussion List: very influential.



The website of an outstanding theorist of the medium.


The blog of an astute observer of everyday life. The site contains links to many other blogs and useful BD sites.

A female bande dessinée blogger, a good antidote to chicklit.

Artists’ homepages

Chantal Montellier, the grande dame of political bande dessinée, who has been producing feminist and leftist work since the 1970s.

The homepage of Aude Picault, whose work offers insights into the gendering of space.

The homepage of Dominique Goblet, whose work offers a female take on the tensions of family life.

This is the website of the artist Morvandiau, which has information about the making of his 2007 book D’Algérie (including a long clip in which he talks about its conception and execution).  The book recounts the artist’s attempts to understand the history of his pied-noir family, and to contextualise it within a wider history of colonisation and decolonisation.

A site dedicated to the work of Fabrice Neaud, analyst of unrequited passion, euphoric moments, everyday life, power in all its capillarity, homophobia, economic marginality.

Vincent Vanoli’s work ranges over the relics left by a post-industrial society, the experience of growing up in France in an (Italian) immigrant family, and his own take on Brighton, where he lives and works.


Fremok, radical in form and subject matter.

Cornelius, one of the first of the small presses to emerge in the 1990s.

The site of Six pieds sous terre, a wide-ranging small press.

Les Requins marteaux, edgy small press. Their list includes the political reportages of Philippe Squarzoni,

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