French Comic Strips
French Comic Strips
Created in 1879 by Hector Berthelot and revived in 1904 by Joseph Charlebois in the Montreal daily La Presse, Père Ladébauche marked the beginning of the difficult history of the comic strip in Quebec more than 21 years before the modern era of the Franco-Belgian comic strip in May 1925 with Alain Saint-Ogan's Zig et Puce. Le Père Ladébauche, taken up again by Albéric Bourgeois in 1905, was the first really characteristic hero of the Québécois comic strip, and had a long career that would end only in 1957. He was initially drawn as a typical bourgeois with a round hat, monocle and cane. Then, in the 1930s - the grand age of littérature du terroir, (a period when themes about the land were very popular in Québec literature) he took on the appearance of a peasant with a ceinture fléchée (a distinctive colourful sash worn in Québec), toque, and clay pipe. In a general way, the characters in this period were extremely faithful to the average Québécois - simple and rural. Les Aventures de Timothée, another strip by Albéric Bourgeois, was published in the daily La Patrie as of January 30, 1904.
In the same paper, Albert Chartier (b 1912, d 2004) began his professional career as a comic strips writer with the publication of Bouboule however, it was only as of November 1943 that he really stood out with the creation of Onésime. This character first saw the light in le Bulletin des agriculteurs and had the longest career in the history of the comic strip in Québec. In recognition of his great influence on the Québécois comic strip, Chartier was awarded an honorary doctorate by the U du Québec in Hull in October 1999. As does the English press, Québec dailies publish illustrated weekend supplements. Despite the omnipresent American cartoons that overrun these pages, many francophone authors proposed original stories since 1909. Note, for example, Vic Martin et les aventures de L'oncle Pacifique in the Petit Journal. The names Yvette Lapointe (Les Petits espiègles), Tom Lucas (Casimir), Arthur Lemay (Aventures de Timothée), René Boivin (Albert Chartier's wordsmith for Bouboule) are among the few which dominated the weekend comics for the entire decade.
Toward the middle of the century, two factors would have a determining influence on the development of the comic strip in Québec. On one hand, the Canadian government's adoption of the War Exchange Conservation Act during the Second World War considerably hindered the importation of strips, while at the same time supporting a resurgence of originals "made in Québec". After the war, religious censure considerably affected Québécois creation. The review Hérauts, which appeared since April 1944, was dedicated to the re-publication in French of American comic strips with a Catholic allegiance. In 1947, this magazine made its way into the province's school system and joined with religious publications to preserve the moral of children from the stupefying effect and corruption of the values brought on by American comic strips and frivolous French magazines.
It was not until the 1960s and the Quiet Revolution that the Québec comic strip experienced new momentum in original creation. Then, fresh talent explored new avenues from the perspective of scripts, drawing, and subject matter. In the revolutionary mood of the sixties, stories that often portrayed a suppressed society in the throes of change were in fact, marks of fatalism.
In tandem with anti-establishment currents in Europe and the United States, magazines appeared in Québec with provocative names such as Ma(r) de in Québec, L'Hydrocéphale illustré, La Pulpe, B.D, and L'Écran. As for the very active group Chiendent, it managed to place some comic strips attributed to local authors in Perspectives, the illustrated supplement of the daily La Presse, and in Dimanche-Matin. It was then that the names of the comic strip writers of the next 20 years first appeared: Jacques Hurtubise, Réal Godbout, Gilles Thibault, and Jacques Boivin. Traditional audiences (children) were left behind in favour of experimentation with graphics and exploring social controversies. The group from L'Hydrocéphale pigheadedly took on the mission of introducing the Québécois comic strip by any means possible: reviews, comic books, guides for specialized writers, exhibits in Québec, Canada and the USA. They formed an authors' collective, the cooperative Les Petits dessins. The daily paper Le Jour published, albeit only for a few months in 1974, six daily strips exclusively by Québécois writers.
The readership for comic strips remained extremely limited for such a vast land. Most published magazines lasted for only a few issues, in the best cases for a few years, and sporadically at that. However, in 1979, Croc, the well known humorous social and satirical review made its appearance. With the founders and driving forces Jacques Hurtubise, Pierre Huet and Hélène Fleury, this magazine was the melting pot for many talents, and a model of longevity since it ceased activity only in 1994 after more than 189 issues. Réal Godbout, Pierre Fournier, Jean-Paul Eid, Claude Cloutier, Caroline Merola, Serge Gaboury, Lucie Faniel and many others were able to use it as a springboard to furthering their careers. Croc would give birth to another magazine, Titanic, exclusively dedicated to comic strips, and Rémy Simard, Garnotte, Patrick Henley (Henriette Valium), Jules Prud'Homme and Sylvie Pilon were only a few of the artists who cut their teeth in its pages with Huet et Hurtubise.
In 1987 Safarir appeared. In direct competition with but contrary to Croc, it took inspiration from the French weekly Hara-Kiri, and became the mouthpiece for American humour in the style of MAD magazine. The profusion of regional reviews dedicated to Québec cartoons in the early eighties served as a genuine catalyst for the authors. Author's associations (e.g. BD Estrie, ScaBD and ACIBD) grouped together coteries of authors who however, never succeeded in uniting in a national society to defend their common interests.
From the mid 1980s, specialized publishers of comic strips opened their doors to more professional publications. Les Éditions du Phylactère, Éditions KamiCase (since an integral part of Éditions du Boréal), Éditions Mille-Iles, Soulières Éditeur (formerly Éditions Falardeau) appeared side by side with more modest publishers like D'Amours, Romanichels, and Raz-de-Marée.
The End of the 20th century
From the mid eighties until the early nineties, there was a big lack of interest in the publishing business, both in Québec as in Europe and the United States. In this context, and although it had existed since the sixties, the phenomenon of fanzines (literally magazine of fanatics) gained in importance. Fanzines were small albums or reviews usually photocopied by hand, that were economical and easy to produce by writer, who themselves could distribute them under the table. Young authors, not on good terms with publishers, practiced their talents in a plethora of so-called "alternative" publications. Since then, this genre has been refined and some appeared more regularly. The magazines Spoutnik, EXIL, Gratte-Cellules, FishPiss, Guillotine, Tabasko, Mr. Swiz, Baloney Comix are only a few that were both original and very diversified in their quality and publication.
It was thanks to these fanzines that the public discovered the talents of Julie Doucet, Henriette Valium, Jean-Pierre Chansigaud, Marc Tessier, Alexandre Lafleur, Leif Tande, Fidèle Castrée, Hélène Brosseau, Éric Thériault, Grégoire Bouchard, Leanne Franson and who knows how many others? The activity supported specialised publishers, (with L'Oie de cravan added in the late nineties), and an increase in the quality of albums. The boom in writers enabled some to be guests of honour at the prestigious Festival international de la bande dessinée d'Angoulême (France), in January 2000. La Fondation du 9e art, was devoted to the development and spread of francophone comic strips in North America and was mandated by the government of Québec, who sent a delegation of 28 writers, booksellers and specialised publishers. The Québec comic strip aroused great curiosity in Europe by proposing an approach and style that straddled traditional norms and the essence of creativity.
Among important events dedicated to the comic strip in Québec, are the Festival de la bande dessinée francophone de Québec, held every spring in the Old Capital, and another original event, la Zone internationale du neuvième art (ZINA) which offers the general public a new way of reading and producing comic strips via new technologies.
In fact, there is a steady attraction on the part of comic strip writers for new technology, and direct creation on the Internet is increasingly frequent. Forerunners Nicolas Lehoux (Leou) of Phylactère Cola, Thierry Gagnon, and the Groupe Alliage were soon joined by classical authors such as André-Philippe Côté (Baptiste), who decided to add work exclusively created for the Internet to their portfolios.
During this time of increased activity, more and more communications agencies used comic strips to produce information and promotional campaigns in a new style. In spite of a near total absence of unity that would favour government support for the creation of comic strips, the appearance on the cultural landscape of organizations dedicated to the development of literature for graphic narration allowed authors to benefit from the new public showcases. At the dawn of the third millennium, Québec comic strip writers are proving their versatility, while the Québécois comic strip industry gets increasing world coverage.