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Discovering BD, three euros at a time

Adrian K Sanders writing for I V Y paris.
La Bande Dessinee, dit BD, and more simply known in our own language as comics holds a respectable place in the mind’s eye of the average Parisian. Though Herge’s classic Tintin is most famous, there are literally thousands of new comics created in the French language every year. But if you’re a newcomer, the task of finding this good stuff can be frustrating.

Just as the term “book” means Shakespeare as well as Nora Roberts, so too “BD” refers to the usual fantasy/scifi sludge as well as masterworks like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. The libraries of Paris are daunting, especially the BD shops, where tomes of oversized volumes are crammed into tiny spaces, perhaps hiding gems, perhaps hiding utter garbage.

And even when you find something that suits your liking, perhaps on account of a well drawn cover, you are still confronted with the price tag. Comics aren’t cheap. Do you really want to drop 12 euros on some picture book? That’s two drinks you’re missing out on right there!

Though you won’t have any trouble finding a used livre de poche of Simone de Beauvoir’s “Deuxieme Sexe,” it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever stumble upon David B’s “L’ascension du haut mal” in the bargain bin. If you want to know what happens after volume one, that’ll be another 12 euros per volume… I think there are 6 volumes total. In essence, to read David B.’s ground breaking work volume by volume will set you back 72 euros. I can attest, it is worth every penny, but that’s for another article.

If you’re not willing to make that sort of commitment, take heart; there is hope for the cash-strapped newcomer. Welcome to the world of mini-comics. At most dedicated BD shops you will find, close to the cashier, a small corner or display crammed with bite sized comics.

More often than not, these are low budget affairs from the new generation, hoping to gain attention or notoriety through their self published works. These can definitely be hit and miss, but it’s fairly easy to read through the bulk of a mini-comic, and even then, you’re only out a few euros.

If you’re interested in the who’s who of the French BD scene, check out L’Associations Patte de Mouche editions. L’Association is one of the most well respected editors, bringing us works from Marjane Satrapi and David B. to name a few.

Printed on sturdy stock and saddled stitched with two staples, the Patte de Mouche comics are three euros a piece and have been produced on a monthly basis since 2005. What is so striking about these editions is their variety and quality – for the price of a standard BD, you can see a display of work from five different cartoonists, including important cartoonists such as Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim.

Here’s what I picked up this past week:

Lewis Trondheim’s “La Nouvelle Pornographie”

An exercise in rethinking sex, this BD looks like images from a highschool health text book.

With titles like “Figure VI,” the simple geometric figures are strangely erotic and at times even grotesque. I never thought an oval could be so charged.

Joann Sfar’s “Noyé le Poisson”

An existentialist goldfish ponders the meaning of life, fails at suicide and unlocks the secret of the universe, all while dealing with a food infestation.

Sfar style is energetic but he always seems to add just the right touch of detail to make you take a closer look.

Tanquerelle’s “La Ballade Du Petit Pendu”

We follow the journey of a corpse as various animals and occurrences move it through a desert, the ocean and a jungle. Tanquerelle’s trope is an old one, but somehow it just doesn’t add up.

A little too much chance and not enough impetus make this BD cute but forgettable.

José Parrondo’s “La Presqu’île”

Mini-comics like this are why you should spend time in BD shops. The simplicity of Parrondo’s line makes each panel’s composition only that much more impressive.

From the very beginning we are warned to pay attention, and we are rewarded justly. I won't spoil it for you, but sometimes a rock just isn't a rock.

That’s all for now, next week I’ll be doing a review of Audie Picault’s celebrated series “Moi, Je.”

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This is great info! And when you decide you do want to invest in a longer work, Gilbert Joseph on Boulevard Saint Michel have a large used bd section - though I've never been able to work out their shelving system...

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