1986: (À Suivre)
This week I'm thinking about a list of comics I compiled two or three years ago. I'm going to have to go back a ways to explain this, so apologies.
(À Suivre) was a monthly comics magazine from the Belgian publisher Casterman beginning in 1978. Its title translates as (To Be Continued), and when it began it was a new thing in the world of Franco-Belgian comics: a magazine that published serialized comics fiction for grown-ups, not adolescent science fiction like Métal Hurlant nor jejune satire like L'Écho des Savanes or Fluide Glacial, nor saucy adventure like Charlie Mensuel or Circus (although all of those French outlets, the descendants of juvenile adventure magazine turned psychedelic genre incubator Pilote, were deeply influential to (À Suivre), and many of their star cartoonists would appear in its pages), but intelligent, polished, and grounded (even when textually fantastical) comics that were mostly, with some exceptions, the very definition of middlebrow.
In 1986, as part of a celebration of its hundredth issue, (À Suivre) ran a list chosen by their readers of the 100 best comics albums released in the eight years since its inception. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of these albums were published by Casterman and had originally seen print (at least in French) in the pages of (À Suivre). Obviously, a poll of your own fans is not exactly a double-blind study. But it was still a credibly wide-ranging list, including books from established competitors Dargaud, Glénat, Lombard, Albin Michel, Fluide Glacial, and Les Humanoïdes, indie publisher Futuropolis, and even self-published work.
78. Régis Loisel & Serge Le Tendre, La Quête de l'oiseau du temps 1. La conque de Ramor
44. Arno & Alejandro Jodorowsky, Les aventures de'Alef-Thau 1. L'enfant Tronc
(Les Humanoïdes Associés, 1983)
12. François Bourgeon, Les compagnons du crépuscule 1. Le sortilége du bois des brumes
8. Jacques Tardi, Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec 4. Momies en folie
When I first read the list, some years ago now, it was deeply influential on my then-nascent love affair with European comics. 1978 to 1986 is still, in my estimation, one of the most fascinating and turbulent periods in comics history, as the market shifted and unsettled old ways of doing business, and the second generation of auteurists came of age, meaning that a ton of stuff got thrown at the wall in the hopes that it would stick. Not enough of it did; the mid-80s crash in mainstream comics magazines left (À Suivre) as one of the only survivors, and it too would shutter in the relatively barren 90s.
And so of course this list contains some of my favorite albums (perhaps I should say graphic novels, but I won't) ever: Tardi, Comès, Benoît, Torres, Muñoz and Sampayo, Loustal, Altan, Bretécher, Floc'h, Carlos Giménez, and Giardino, to name just some of the most prominent, have all given me immense pleasure over the years, and there's a lot to admire even in the genre exercises and historical pastiches that fill it out. I call it mostly middlebrow, but there are significant patches of gleeful lowbrow vulgarity — Liberatore, Reiser, Jano — and some of the best work is at least as highbrow as any arthouse film — particularly in work by Tardi, Comès, and Muñoz and Sampayo. It's also, despite (À Suivre)'s dedication to adult readership, catholic enough to embrace long-running all-ages Pilote strips like Valérian, Blueberry, Philémon, and Achille Talon. But there is far more exquisitely-drawn but terminally dull science fiction and fantasy than I will ever want to consume, and more crudely-drawn if sharply-written political satire than my limited French can appreciate.
And the more widely-read I became in European comics, the less impressed I was by À Suivre's (and it's readers') Francophone tunnel vision. Naturally, publishing for a French-reading market on relatively thin margins, they weren't going to include work that had never been translated into French, or translate any but established international superstars themselves. (There are seven albums originally published in Italian, two Spanish, and two Argentine on the list.) But, especially given how provincial and even untranslatable much of the satirical work championed here was, there remained a whole world of sophisticated, bold, adventurous, risk-taking, and utterly gorgeous European comics published between 1978 and 1988 that the middlebrow Franco-Belgian gatekeepers had failed to take notice of, or relegated to the margins if they did. So I did what I nearly always do when I'm fascinated by a list but frustrated by its limitations: I compiled an alternate one.
... And I'm running up against my self-imposed deadline here, so I'll talk about my list next week.