Comics 'round the world

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Comics 'round the world

Postby LibertyCabbage on Fri May 25, 2012 7:16 am

I've been seeing once in a while people say stuff, like, "This is how they do comics in so-and-so country," but I'm unaware of what these cultural differences are. What exactly are the contrasts, for instance, between French comics and German comics, if any? Between American and British comics? Between Eastern and Western European comics? Eastern (manga) and Western comics? What's special about Middle Eastern comics? Australian comics? South American comics? Etcetera.

So, basically: What do you consider to be defining aspects of comics from different parts of the world, as well as from your own country?
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby McDuffies on Fri May 25, 2012 8:52 am

Well let's see, the main centers of gravity for european comics seem to be:
* French-Belgian scene
* Italian scene
* Underground comics, I believe scandinavians are most distinguished in that field, but it's done everywhere.
I do believe that there is a distinguished British scene too, but other than comedy magazines like Dandy or Beano that carried stuff line Bananaman and, well, Judge Dread, I don't know much. As you know, a lot of Brittish creators, specially writers, work in USA comics, but they must have started somewhere, right?

Most of Europe gravitates towards France (It's French-Belgian school seeing how plenty of most important authors are from Belgium). A lot of authors from Netherlands (Van Hamm), Spain (Aster Blistock authors, Alphonso Font), Italy (Hugo Pratt) but also scandinavian or east-european countries work for french publishers and are published primarily for french audience. This is possible because in France, comics have a status of serious, ubiquitous literature and it's not uncommon for people to have large libraries of distinguished comics. It's a large audience despite the fact that it's primarily based in french language zone.
Other european countries follow the french scene at least as much as american, but there's generally not as wide interest in comics as in France. Nevertheless, in ex-Yu for instance, characters such as Asterix, Lucky Luke, Spirou, Jeremiah, have always been more popular and published more often than any of marvel characters.

French-Belgian comics are usually published in graphic-novel format of 45-60 pages, A4 format, hardcover, that we here call albums. Sometimes they're serialized in magazines first. From what I gather, it's typical for a series to have one or two albums published each year. I see that in USA albums are usually published gathering three or five in one book and shrinking them to smaller page format :x

Most of french-belgian school is based on legacy of two competing comics: Tintin (by Herge) and Spirou (by various, mostly Franquin). Two distinct drawing schools developed as assistants of creators of those two comics went on to create their own works. Most well known successors to Spirou might be Asterix (Uderzo, Goschiny), Lucky Luke (Maurice, Goschiny), Smurfs (Peyo) and, well, Gaston and Marsupilami by Franquin, author of Spirou; the most distinguished successor to Tintin was Blake and Mortimer (Jacobs), but you see echo of his clear line style in many american indy comics too.

But not all french comics are funnies, check out for instance long-running Tangie and Laverdir, or Blueberry and John Difool by Jean "Moebius" Giraud. French scene was a fertile ground for authors who developed their idiosyncratic style that doesn't belong to any particular school, in fact I'd say that most comics belong to that group. Check out works by Hugo Pratt (Corto Maltese), Jacques Tardi (Adelle Blanc-Sec), Herman (Jeremiah) or, more recently, Lewis Trondheim (Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot) and Joan Sfarr (Rabi's cat).

Thanks to legacy or Spirou and Tintin, most of comics belong to a genre of wide-scope adventure with elements of comedy, very often appropriate to all ages. However French scene is very accepting, French in general seem interested in foreign things: it might be the only country where a wide mainstream audience could embrace Marjana Satrapi, what with her style and themes.
French also have very commercial comics. I understand that the most commercially successful authors nowadays are Van Hamm who writes james-bond-like ultra-macho action comics, and Jodorowsky, who is nowadays writing numerous spinoffs of John Difool, which he wrote several decades ago. Most of commercial french comics are published by Soleil (I believe that Marvel publishes some of it's output), they're also sort of adventure comics, usually set in fantasy or sf enviroment, usually very shoddily written and second-rate even compared to american commercial things, but usually with very slick, ready-to-consume art styles.
One thing that is also typical for french scene is their love of transgression. Topics elaborated in comics like Aster Blistock or John Difool and spinoffs would typically include incest, trans-gender, patricide, extreme violence and sex. Horror elements from american comics pretty much seem prude compared to what you can read here, and it's all pretty mainstream. French don't have the "think of the children" mentality and they don't care to make their comics "appropriate for all ages" the way americans do.

Italian scene is pretty similar to italian films, if you've ever followed output of film studios like Cinecitta, you know that it's working method is making cheap copies of whatever is popular in usa, and making it in huge quantities. A typical serial has a book published every month, and it's up to 60 pages so you may imagine that quality of writing and drawing is not an issue for them. It fact, most often serials are being done by several teams of writer-artists, so it's typical for each episode of a series to be drawn in a distinctly different style.
When I was a kid most of things coming from them were old-school, lone-ranger-type westerns, in the meantime they've caught up with horror and new-age fantasy genres, and somewhat modernized drawing styles to mimic currently popular american artists more.
Despite the fact that most of actually worthwhile italian authors go to work for french instead of churning out these, a few of them did became distinguished. Ticiano Sclavi, creator of Dylan Dogg, has some level of recognition, as I understand.
The greatest that italian school produced might be Alan Ford, whose early run of 100 episodes is truly great. Also great is work that italian studios did on Disney characters, it's always very recognizable by a very stylish art. I'll choose something from italian Disney over Carl Barks any time. Extension of this is Disney's franchise W.I.T.C.H which originated as italian comic strip series.

I understand that spanish scene has similar approach to italian, except in smaller amount. The great comic author Carlos Gimenez worked on cheap paperbacks for years.

Underground comics are made all over Europe, and they're not too far off from what, for instance Jim Woodring does. They often trade in shock and gross-out, they're often drawn in heavy, art-brute style, and we're usually talking about short stories, up to several pages, which can be collected in magazines or fanzines. I understand that most well known of this sort is norwegian author Jason, who is published by Fantagraphics, but he is also considerably tamer and more accessible than most of this type of comics.

As for yugoslavian comics, most of the way we tried to keep our step with the rest of the world, so even before WWII you had comics that were very blatantly ripping off, for instance, Disney comics. For most of existence of Yugoslavia, we were largely influenced by french school, things like Herman or Moebius. There were a lot of WWII comics produced by studios, and I think those were the most popular comics at the time, not the kind of thing that interests me other than as the record of the time when you could draw a brave partisan kill ten nazi germans with one bullet and not blow anyone's suspension of disbelief.
In 90ies we started doing a lot of underground of various kind, and I think lots of it was relevant in european underground scene too. Slovenians in particular had a few long-running magazines, though they were publishing authors from entire region. Our Aleksandar Zograf has been published by Fantagraphics, he tends to write either about dreams or about experiences of living in Serbia, I recommend a lot.
Also since 90ies, I think that influence of french comics has diminished and that of american comics grow. Whenever there's an attempt to make a mainstream comics nowadays, it's usually mostly influenced by american comic books. Also, noone here lives from comics unless they're working for french or americans.
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby LibertyCabbage on Fri May 25, 2012 10:01 am

Thank you. This is as informative a post as I could've hoped for. I definitely have a better understanding of the European comic scene now, although it's still very alien and exotic to me since I haven't actually had a chance to read any of this stuff. I also have a sudden eagerness to accumulate translated versions of all these books now, although I realize they'd probably be difficult to find locally. Fortunately there's a comic convention here coming up in about a month, so I'll be on the lookout for European stuff there.
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby McDuffies on Fri May 25, 2012 10:53 am

Like I mentioned, it's better to avoid Soleil stuff that Marvel has been publishing, unless you're just curious to see it, but even then it's not as interesting as one would imagine. I think all Tintin has been translated, and at least some of Spirou, Corto Maltese, etc... on the other hand I'm not sure if they're in print so you might try getting used issues. Trondheim and Sfarr have been translated, entire Dungeon, Rabbi's Cat, some other stuff... Like with anything, there's a lot of trash and that trash is usually popular, but at least one thing is good about american insularity, and that is that a european comic has to have really good pedigree to be translated to english.
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby McDuffies on Sat May 26, 2012 4:13 pm

Forgot I was gonna write a thing about american comics too. Well north american really, since all about south american comics I know is authors who work for north american publishers.

I imagine most of people here know a thing or two about american comics so I'll give my subjective spin on things. It'd be interesting to see other people's take on the same subject.

So yeah, american scene, the way I see it, can be split into three distinctive scenes:
1. Newspaper comics
2. Mainstream comic books (& lately graphic novels)
3. Indie comics

Now, newspaper comics are clearly a thing of the past and the reason they still exist is a) big corporations like King Features will do just about anything short of literally sacrificing virgins to elongate their lifetime for at least a bit and b) every once in a while a genius author enters the scene, makes some great work, and creates an illusion that there's some fresh blood in newspaper comics.
Either way, era of newspaper comics was first half of the century, formative years with Yellow Kid and Katzenjammer Kids and all that, but also the period when the likes of Milton Cannif, Will Eisner, Chester Gould and (sigh, I hate to addmit) Lee Falk worked in the medium.

As for mainstream comics, I find one fact to be pretty shocking: something like 90% of mainstream comics are in action genre. Many of them are superheroes, but there's a lot in the james-bond-action-man/girl genre as well. Then there are some comics that start as sort of dramas or crime or satires, but then they kind of wimp out on proper resolution and just turn into extended action scenes instead *cough*grantmorrison*couth*warrenellis*cough*. So you have an entire industry dedicated to reproducing stills from scenes that sure would have been pretty exciting if only they were moving. Despite my opinion that most of action comics aren't very successful at conveying drama and tension of an action scene, my main complains is, what the hell is it with entire continent producing comics strictly in one genre? Wth?
There are comics that are usually considered independent, but I don't see why when in every aspect other than the number of titles they carry, they are the same as big publishers. This includes Image and Dark Horse (which, I understand, trades mostly in comics based on popular tv series and films, which apparently are a big thing. "Married with children" the comic lasted embarrassingly long).
The main source of mainstream non-action comics is of course DC's imprint Vertigo. Besides dozens of spinoffs of Sandman and Hellblazer, it carries some examples of what american mainstream comics would look like if they were not this narrowminded (I am quite in favour of Fables, and Army@War was pretty sharp even though art was awful. Then there's also a lot of authors that would fall more neatly into indy scene, like Kyle Barker).

When I am comparing american mainstream comics to what I grew up on, I notice following peculiarities:

1) mainstream comics are awfully over-dramatic. I mean seriously. Sandman is one of the better, but just read it's narration: it sounds like Sam Spade inner monologues as written by some goth kid. Characters always overreact; dialogues are full of randomly emphasized words and exclamation signs; angles are chosen as to further emphasize the tension and drama, camera is practically shoved up the nostrils of characters; most importantly, action never lets go; as soon as one crisis ends, another one starts, and there's no sense that characters ever get a respite. It is hard to me to get the feeling of knowing the characters when I never have a chance to see what they're like when the world isn't about to end.
I'm not against drama in comics. What mainstream comics do is shoot from all possible weapons, use all tools in their arsenal to create drama and the result is awful oversaturation. The result is trying to lead the reader by the hand, to tell him what to feel, while european comics usually let reader decide for himself.
American mainstream comics could be compared to mtv music video turned feature film - quick jumpcuts, sharp angles, etc - whereas european comics are still inclined to have a nobly sustained feel of David Lean epic.

2) American comics are, much like american tv, marked by puritanism and constant fight against it. One of the main influences on mainstream comics have been old horror and war comics that were outwardly unabashed shockers, but always had a subtext of response to increasingly puritan america. Yet despite everpresent sex and violence in comics today, they are also terribly prude. Just think - the only place where you can see a nipple in Marvel or DC comics is one of their short-lived imprints stamped "For Mature Audience" with hugest letters possible. Yet costumes by their superheroines routinely show all but a visible cameltoe.
Naturally, sex and violence sell so publishers love them, yet at the same time they're always concerned how to keep the facade of puritanism.
The end result: when they're not liberated - they're doing it to please conservative majority; when they're liberated - they're doing it to spite conservative majority. Either way - they're doing it for conservative majority. There's never sense that presence or absence of sex and violence is a result of author's natural affinities. When a boob appears in american mainstream comic it's an event. There's never a boob somewhere in the background.

3) 24 page format is interesting format to me, I think it's fine way to tell the story. But thanks to short deadlines and insistence on splash pages, often nothing really substantial happens in those 24 pages, let alone something of a self-contained story. I feel cheated when I shell out money for one such issue.
Graphic novels as a format may be a neat idea to outgrow serialized nature of comics, but as a person who grew up on french album format, I can't help but see concept of graphic novels as giving a name to something that's already existed for ages.

American independent comics are direct successor to underground comics. Underground comics existed from late 60ies to mid 70ies, and they're so deeply rooted in it's time, hippy revolution, psychedelia, sexual liberation and all that, that past mid-70ies every underground author had to find a way to reestablish his style or otherwise become obsolete. Some succeeded (Crumb, Spiegelman, Kim Deitch), but most failed and their work became little more than a time capsule.
But when the idea of small publishers took, many authors appeared whose work was much more accessible and less shocking than underground stuff, and who still, well, didn't do action comics so they couldn't hope for a lot from big publishers.
Many authors who over the years self-published their work, such as Dave Simm, Jeff Smith, Larry Welz, Wendy and Richard Pini, Hernandez brothers (but of course) and so on, created a model by which authors can work outside of mainstream comic limitations in usa. Many indy comics are very accessible, very commercial, and the fact that they're not on main labels just shows how stuck main labels are.
There is absolutely no doubt that most of best usa comics nowadays are created in independent scene.

Now, quality of these varies too. I for one seem to think opposite to what critical consensus is, seeing as I deem Chris Ware groundbreaking but practically unreadable, Craig Thompson's ideas not quite fully formed, Chester Brown's work highly uneven, and Box office poison... well, let's just say that I've read similar but much better webcomics. It seems to me like indy comic readers are often so desperate for acknowledgement that they value things based on their pretension and not accomplishments, that most of them never really caught up with french comics, that they spend their youth with dour mainstream usa comics so anything different from that is an epiphany.
Autobiographic comics seem to be a very big thing in indy comics. Some of them are pointless, but those that are good (Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Joe Matt's stuff, Michel Rabagliati's stuff) seem to represent human experience in more truthful form than any fiction could aspire to.
On the other hand there are indy authors who just try to make superhero mythology alternative to that of Marvel and DC, which I never really understood. Aren't there enough of them already?
In general, I think that indy comics could be easily categorized to a certain number of sub-genres and drawing schools, I think that in that respect, they're less prolific scene than european comics.
Anyways my prediction is that indy comics (which are already pretty strong with younger generations of comic readers) will grow in popularity and mainstream stuff will see it's popularity diminished until Marvel and DC finally just quit making comics and concentrate on tv and films, which will be a much more healthier environment, although maybe not.

Edit:
Some comics are categorized as underground nowadays too. I think it's the sheer violent, anarchic spirit of these comics that separates them from indy. Stuff like Bagge, Julie Doucet, Michael Kupperman, Jim Woodring... actually they aren't too dissimilar from european underground comics. I think if you had to find a scene that wasn't geographically bound, that'd be underground comics.

Edit piaff:
It should be noted that lines between french and american comics blur every once in a while by cross-influence. You can often see european influence in indy comics, and greats like Frank Miller and Mike Mignola are practically proteges of Tardi and Pratt. On the other hand, there's nowadays a lot of french comics trying to imitate usa's overdramatic style, and let's not forget that french comics altogether formed under american influence. For instance, Pratt, in return, was practically Kaniff's protege.
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby McDuffies on Sat May 26, 2012 4:36 pm

Also I don't know anything about comics from other continents. The only Australian comic I know is Tank Girl. I'm also not a particular manga reader. Manga is, of course, groundbreaking, they know how to convery action better, but there's also unsettlingly large amount of titles that are about shy and nice boy who for some reason or other gets surrounded by smoking-hot girls who can't get enough of his presence and treat him practically like their master, but he is awfully respectful of all of them, even though he regularly trips and lands in between their boobs or something, daydream much?
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G'day mate, crikey, stone the crows, etc.

Postby Cope on Sat May 26, 2012 6:04 pm

McDuffies wrote:The only Australian comic I know is Tank Girl.

Actually, that's a British comic; it just happened to be set in Australia.

Australia doesn't really have much of a native comics scene. Its comics, rather like much of its culture, are largely imported from elsewhere. The comic shops I've seen here have centered on American superhero comics, followed by manga...maybe with a small space up the back for a smattering of comics from continental Europe. As far as comics by Australians go, most of the ones I can think of are newspaper strips such as the thoroughly insipid Snake Tales. Probably the best "Australian" comic is Footrot Flats, which is actually from New Zealand.

The best-selling comic book in Australia is The Phantom, who is a good deal more popular here than in his American homeland. His fortnightly book conisists of foreign reprints with occasional stories by Australian artists.
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby Ahaugen on Sat May 26, 2012 6:08 pm

can we talk about underground comix?

comix so cool that we've never heard of them?
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You must be talking about Horndog.

Postby Cope on Sat May 26, 2012 6:19 pm

You hipster!
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby IVstudios on Sat May 26, 2012 8:14 pm

Careful. If you start talking about underground comics you-know-who might show up.
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby MariaAndMichelle on Sat May 26, 2012 8:52 pm

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You're just jealous because you can't get away with speaking in the third person...

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Re: G'day mate, crikey, stone the crows, etc.

Postby McDuffies on Sun May 27, 2012 5:44 am

Cope wrote:
McDuffies wrote:The only Australian comic I know is Tank Girl.

Actually, that's a British comic; it just happened to be set in Australia.

Oh, for some reason I though Hewlett was living in Australia when he made it or something.

Australia doesn't really have much of a native comics scene. Its comics, rather like much of its culture, are largely imported from elsewhere.

Aw, but you have some really good writers, a few major rock performers, a few big directors... I always thought Australia was doing well catching up with the rest of the english-speaking world.

The best-selling comic book in Australia is The Phantom, who is a good deal more popular here than in his American homeland. His fortnightly book conisists of foreign reprints with occasional stories by Australian artists.


Oh, Phantom used to be big here too, along with his sibling Mandrack the Magician. The funny thing is that what is popular here seems to be a very arbitrary choice. Like, Mandrak and Phantom are big, so is Modesty Blaise, Prince Valiant and Alex Raymond's comics, but Milton Caniff isn't even though he's been published quite a bit, Will Eisner is mostly unheard of, and All Cap has never even been published in our language.
The most popular comic in this region by a wide margin is aforementioned Alan Ford, which is virtually unknown anywhere outside of Ex-yu and Italy. Though if he was published more widely, it would possibly be more popular.

The comic shops I've seen here have centered on American superhero comics, followed by manga...maybe with a small space up the back for a smattering of comics from continental Europe.

Oh I haven't touched upon comic book stores... In france you'll have specialized comic-book stores, but lots of traditional book-stores also have a huge section for comics. These stores seem very fancy, they're well stocked and far from the semi-underground, only-for-fans status that they, as I understand, have in usa. Now you'll have the other type of comic book store too, the one that has less famous fare and where you get to discuss comics with an owner. But I stumbled on to the first kind more often.
Children's section is very small compared to the adult book section. I think that most of books that are appropriate for all ages are in adult section, and children's section carries only those that wouldn't be interesting for adults. Although I found Trondheim's books for children in adult section so I guess it's not that strictly categorized. As you might imagine, noone bats an eye about comics with adult content being displayed in prominent place.
In french comic book stores it's ok to stop to read a comic. In fact, it's perfectly ok to sit on the floor and read entire book, noone will bother you. I've seen stores with dozens of people sitting around and reading, but I've also seen stores that have seats specifically for this purpose, or parents leaving their children to browse through comic book section and read while they're doing something else. I guess it's implied that if you like the comic, you're gonna end up buying.
Sadly, everything is in french. Despite the fact that lots of bookstores have an english speaking section, I haven't seen a comic book store with english section. As you might imagine, French don't care much about translating their books in english and leave that to good will of english publishers. They also don't care much about importing english editions of comic books and simply get their fix of american comics through their own editions. This is unlike, for instance, what I've seen in Finland, where comic book sections have a lot of english editions imported - naturally a smaller comic publishing scene will rely on other country's editions and, well, everyone knows english.

As for here, comic book stores are rare and you can find them only in few largest cities. Belgrade has three or four of them I think. Some bookstores have comic sections, generally you have to know where to look when you want a certain kind of comics. But those few comic book stores are a very colourful world, like imagine the most niche underground comic book store you can, and then double that. Usually set in very small space that is additionally cramped with loads of old books, they're good places to find old editions, but also to get your hands on croatian editions (there's a lot of exchange, croatians published Bone and Trondheim, we on the other hand published Watchmen... they have a bit better scene I think, being with somewhat better standard of living). So generally it's more a find some way to get your hands on anything you can deal, rather than some consistent influx of comics.
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby VeryCuddlyCornpone on Sun May 27, 2012 11:18 am

IVstudios wrote:Careful. If you start talking about underground comics you-know-who might show up.

i ain't nothin but a hounddog

cryin underground
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby Brockway on Sun May 27, 2012 3:28 pm

... I like The Breakers (Korean Manga.) Its (super) incredibly derivative, but I enjoy it. Reading this thread I kept banging my head trying to think of the French style thats all the rage right now, and it finally came to me, bande dessine. Or however its spelled.
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Re: Comics 'round the world

Postby McDuffies on Sun May 27, 2012 5:18 pm

Bande Dessinee is a french term for comics. I suppose people are using it as a name for comics that are drawn in distinctively french/belgian style. I've heard it used for french comics in general.
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