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For French-readers: Comics going back to 1901?

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Pif Gadget: The complete historyWell, not exactly. You are probably vaguely aware that there have been a lot of French-language funny-animal bandes dessinées going back decades. Chlorophylle the dormouse. Attila the dog. Billy the Cat. Gai-Luron the hound. Poussy. Inspector Canardo. Chaminou the cat. Jungle Fever. The Centaurs. (Are centaurs funny animals?) Yakari is a little North American Indian boy who meets lots of talking/magic animals. Pif the dog and Hercule the cat. The Schtroumpfs/Smurfs aren’t exactly funny animals, but they aren’t exactly humans, either. Not to mention many famous supporting characters: Tintin’s dog Snowy, Spirou’s squirrel Spip. The long-tailed marsupilami started out as a supporting character in the adventures of Spirou and Fantasio, eventually getting his own series.

What you may not be aware of is that these characters did not appear in their own magazines. They were serialized, usually two pages at a time, in long-running weekly magazines, more like newspaper Sunday supplements in America; and then reprinted in their own albums. Spirou. Tintin. Pilote. Vaillant. Le Journal de Mickey.

Pif Gadget #140: Les Animaux MarcheursIn recent years, these magazines have been having their own histories written. If you were curious about Tintin magazine over the years, about all the popular comics that appeared in it, not just the funny animal titles, you could now find it out.

Now the story of some that have been the oldest and most controversial of all has been published: Commie comics! -- whose biggest star was one of France’s greatest funny animal stars: Pif the dog. Did you know that Pif was the creation of the Communist Party of France? Not to promote the party line, but there were so many stridently anti-Communist youth magazines at the time that the Communists decided to start one of their own that at least would not have any Commie villains in it.

Anyhow. The book is Mon Camarade, Vaillant, Pif Gadget: L’histoire Complète, 1901-1994, by Richard Médioni; Vaillant Collecteur, November 2012. This is a 560-page hardcover that … well, let me translate the French “product description”.

A monumental book. 560 pages. 1150 illustrations in black-&-white. 72 chapters. Format: 19 x 26 cm. Richard Médioni, the former editor of Pif Gadget, finally tells the continuous and complete fabulous adventure of all the comic strip magazines published by the communist movement. The author has uncovered for us the first children’s magazine issued by the revolutionary left, Jean-Pierre, published in December 1901. There were already comic strips in it! Its successor was Les Petits Bonshommes, created in 1911, that lasted to 1926. Then came the very militant and anticlerical Jeune Camarade, Pif the dogwhich was published between 1921 and 1929 before giving way to Mon Camarade.

For the first time the detailed story is presented of the magazine that published strips of a remarkable quality from 1933 to 1939. In 1945, Vaillant appeared. The story of this great post-war comic strip weekly has never been told in such lively and complete detail. And last, the section dedicated to the complete story of Pif Gadget from its birth in 1969 to its moving disappearance in 1994, with the complete documentation of what really happened at that time! A captivating story full of never-before published documentation.

All these magazines are notable for their humanist slant and numerous references to the events of their time. Richard Médioni places these publications and their comic strips in the political and social context of their times.

Okay, so the book is only marginally about funny animals. But Pif the dog was one of the most popular comics of the last half of the 20th century. Amazon.fr has it for €39.00, if you are interested. [Or Fnac.com for €37.05. Those in France can also order direct via check and ask for the book to be signed by the author.]

Video: Richard Médioni outlines the works covered by his history, showing off some of his extensive collection

Comments

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I'm not really a dog person, but Chlorophylle and Spip are cute!

Centaurs are arguable, but they're at least 50% non-human. The other 50% looks like a smurf in this case, too.

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Pierre Seron, who writes & draws The Centaurs, began his career as an assistant of Peyo working on the Schtroumpfs/Smurfs. Several of the popular "new" artists of the 1970s were ex-assistants of Peyo who had influences of his style in their own work.

Fred Patten

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Good Lord. I've enjoyed a few Pif comics on family holidays to France (and he appeared on UK TV as 'Spiff and Hercules') but I had no idea of his background.

~ Huskyteer

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That's how the Commies get you - before you know it, you're lapping up their subversive anthropomorphic agenda!

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A source I've discovered for French anthropomophic comics is bdtheque.com, where you can get listings according to theme, specifically "Animalier", and can sort by "Date de parution/Decroissant" (Publishing date, descending order). Problem is, they don't update the listings in a timely fashion, and if there's an anthropomorphic side-character instead of the full cast, it tends not to get the Animalier keyword.

Anyway, items of recent interest include Pandamonia, which from page scans I get the impression is mainly written with tits & ass first and plot second or third. Definitely mature content. Story-wise, I get the impression that mankind was going to go extinct, some kind of corporate global overlord figured out a way to combine human and animal DNA to save the situation, only it's been rigged so they're all going to become slaves to his company or something, and some panda-woman with "multiple assets" is out to save the world.

Also, furry artist Danilo got published in Europe! "Chroniques d'un Malandrin". I think this is a compilation of short comics originally published in an Italian teen's magazine? Hard to tell. The French have been translating a number of Italian comics lately. "Bacon" for instance, is a black-and-white linework detective story that looks like it's trying to attract the Blacksad crowd. Personally I'm more curious about "L'Épée d'Ardenois", which has a Bluth-ian influence to its artwork.

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I am trying to get "L'Épée d'Ardenois" to read & write a review of it, hopefully in about a month. The two albums published so far are 1/4 and 2/4, so it will apparently be finished in two more volumes. http://www.bedetheque.com/serie-23550-BD-Epee-d-Ardenois.html

Fred Patten

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Oh great, I look forward to that! Another website that sometimes offers previews of the first half-dozen or so pages of comics is bdgest? I keep forgetting the URL but it comes up often when I'm trying to do image searches. volume 2, for example. (page numbers on the right side of the screen)

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The French have several websites devoted to the Franco-Belgian comics albums. Here are the four that I have found to be the best:

http://www.bdgest.com/prepub.php
http://www.bdparadisio.com/
http://www.bdselection.com/php/
http://www.bedetheque.com/bandes_dessinees_A.html

Fred Patten

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Amazon.fr and FNAC are other sources for French/Belgian comics (more and the latest selections).

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Yes, Amazon.fr is wonderfully handy for mail-ordering albums (or any books in French) once you already know about them. For information about albums, including general "what's new" stuff, the four named above are the best sites. (*SIGH* You don't know how hard it was to get these in the 1960s & '70s, when there was no Amazon.fr and you had to buy direct from Dargaud and Dupuis and Lombard and the other publishers, and they all wanted prepayment in Belgian and French francs.)

Fred Patten

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In Canada, one of the best places that imports them (with a slight mark-up of course) is the Librairie Marché du Livre in Montreal.

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AFAIK, Stuart Ng books near LA is the most prominent US importer of french comic/animation books. They are great. I've even taken a bit of inspiration from them for running my own book business. (I wish I was in their league but I'm too busy to get that specialized.)

In my experience, importing foreign language books is still a pain in the ass in the internet age, because the market for them is specialized enough that places don't bother using available resources to make it easy to order. Well, it depends on the place. Importing from France seems consistent with their reputation as part of Europe where tourists won't have an easy time if they don't know the language. I've found the same with Eastern Europe. Italy's in the middle... Germany, Spain and the UK make it most easy.

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I visited Montréal once, in 1967. It was like, "Oh, wow! Bandes dessinés everywhere!" That wasn't surprising because Montréal is like a little France in many respects, but it was the bandes dessinées that I locked in on.

But I had trouble buying any because the shopkeepers tried to ignore me because I didn't speak French. (I flunked French in school because I never could speak it fluently, although my reading comprehension was excellent.) I got around that by speaking Southern Californian Spanish at them, so they would think that I was a Spanish tourist. Montréal is friendly to everyone except English-speakers.

Yes, I still get Stuart Ng's online catalogue updates even though I haven't bought anything from him since my stroke in 2005. His bandes dessinées imports and his cartoon art books in general are to die for! "Near LA"? Well, Torrance is a separate city, but it's all part of L.A.'s South Bay district. There are a lot of Japanese-community shops in Torrance and Gardena, too. Japanese bookshops full of untranslated manga and manga-artist and anime art books. (And supermarkets that have all the Japanese snack foods that vendors at the anime conventions sell at huge markups, at normal prices. I haven't been out of my hospital bed since 2005. *Sigh*.)

http://stuartngbooks.com/

Fred Patten

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Well, the World Exposition in 1967, I'm not surprised; the Quebec separatist/independence movement was gearing up big-time plus the city was flooded with more tourists than it had seen in a long time. I lived there for three and a half years in the early 90s, and also attended What The Fur in its first two years. It's a nice place full of good people! There's always a small chance you'll meet someone who doesn't like English people, but it's a really small percentage. It's the heart of the province's business community so they don't want to piss off the English community. Still, the government "language police" have done their best to convert all store signs to French; recently they took issue with an Italian restaurent.

Visitors who aren't familiar with Montreal can get an impression of snootiness which isn't true, but arises from a common misunderstanding. Let's say as a tourist you speak passable French and really want to try it out, so you do. No matter what you say, the native Montrealer always replies to you in English. It feels like an insult, your French isn't good enough for them - but actually it's their way of being polite. Any out-of-the-province accent will automatically make them switch into speaking English, they figure it's more convenient for you and makes for a more efficient conversation, but to the visitor, it can feel like your attempt to connect with them in their own language is being blown off.

If you want to be genuinely blown off by modern-day separatists, visit Quebec City on Bastille Day. :P Anyway, Montreal's great - I miss it a lot!

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics