2016: (À Suivre)
This week I'm still thinking about that list of comics I compiled a few years ago. This is a sequel to last week's post about a 1986 list voted into being by the readers of Franco-Belgian "B.D. pour adultes" magazine (À Suivre), and which was deeply influential on my still-forming taste in European comics. It still contains some of my favorite albums, along with much I will never care about again.
As I was saying, while there's much to love in the traditional middlebrow arena where consensus-driven lists will always land, I think the list I drew up in response has a lot more character. It's just plain weirder, for one thing. Aesthetically it's much more broad-ranging — there's much more influence from the international underground comix scene on my list. It's also tonally more broad-ranging — although I, like (À Suivre)'s readers, prefer to center grown-up work, I included a Y.A. installment from Spirou. It's much less invested in the dominant pulp genres of science fiction, fantasy, and noir — although they're all present, they're frequently being satirized or approached otherwise obliquely. And it's less reliant on long-running series — since it's largely composed of the smaller, poorer Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Argentinean scenes in addition to the French, there are many more done-in-ones and modest flops.
I don't think a single other person in the world would say that all these books are worth reading, and I'm not even sure that I, several years later, say so. Much of my favorite work of these years hadn't been compiled into albums by 1986, if it ever was (for example, there's nothing from my favorite-ever comics magazine, Madriz). I'd include more women if I made it today, and I might leave off some of the more marginal regional satirists in favor of work from countries that weren't on my radar at the time. But I stand by most of it: even when the attitudes are noxious and the humor is racist (as a lot of it is, and was on the À Suivre list too: after all miss this is Europe), the cartooning is invigorating. The period can sometimes feel like a bottomless well: here's more to swim around in.
At some point I'd like to write brief blurbs as to why I like all of these (and perhaps the ones I love from the original list), but I have two more sections of this newsletter to write this week.
You may notice that I included a couple of books published by Casterman and originally serialized in (À Suivre). This isn't, in every case, because I think they're better than similar work that was chosen there, only that I think they're good too. (I also avoided further volumes by cartoonists who appeared on the (À Suivre) list, even though I might love them more than much of what appears here.) This is because, while my list was intended to a degree as a rebuke to the provincialism and monolingualism of the original list, it was also intended simply as an expansion of it. This Too, not This Instead. Although my top twenty or so are some of the greatest comics ever, and it's an outrage (although also very typical of comics culture) that they were not then and are not now more widely known.
My friend Chris has noted my tendency to try to apply "God's-eye views" of a given form in a given period rather than appreciate the constraints of information and experience anyone living in the period would necessarily have had, and he's not wrong. I could easily come up with another hundred European (and Latin American) comics that I like from the period; indeed, if I wasn't limited to albums and could include work published in magazines, it might be a better list in terms of overall quality than this one. Speaking of which: much of the work represented in the above albums was first published in magazine, newspaper, or pamphlet form before 1978, in some cases long before. But the same was true of the (À Suivre) list: book publication, as librarians and catalogers will tell you, trumps all.
A few random observations: several books by Argentinean artist-scripter teams, whose work was originally written and published in Spanish, appear here in Italian or French editions because Italian or French publishers were the ones who put out books collecting their work within the time period. In fact, I hadn't counted before: the breakdown by national scene, ignoring where the book was published, goes: Spain 29, France 22, Italy 22, Netherlands 17, Argentina 8, Germany 1, Quebec 1. (Both the German and the Quebecois published in France; and in fact one of the Argentines had their book first published in Mexico.) I should note that I read Spanish fairly well, French and Italian less well, and Dutch hardly at all; bravura cartooning rather than linguistic filigree is what attracts me to much of this work.
Thanks to the relative poverty of the peripheral scenes, substantially more of my list was published in black-and-white than (À Suivre)'s list; and I note that there are many more representatives of the years 1984 and 1985 on my list, which the pressures of in-the-moment canonization meant got passed over in Francophone 1986.
Oh, and in my annotations of both lists, when the artist and scripter are different people, the artist is listed first. My apologies for any confusion, but this is a form of auteurism I feel strongly about. It's impossible, in my reading of the form, for a comic to have any value if the visuals aren't the central text; which is one reason I love the comics of this period so much. The many strategies developed through the 90s and beyond by which mainstream comics on both sides of the Atlantic have downplayed unique and interesting visuals in favor of dependable, manageable, and relentlessly formulaic "writing" is one of the most solid and permanent triumphs of neoliberalism in the aesthetic arena. No, I will not expand on that.
At least not right now. My to-read list is piling up.