In one of my last comics-themed posts, I would like to round it out with my forays into European comics.
Let’s not forget there is a whole planet Earth of this medium. There’s Japan, obviously!
Interestingly, Scott McCloud in the brilliant essay Understanding Comics studied the basic underlying structure to Western and Eastern sequential art forms. McCloud concluded that American and European storytelling is fundamentally the same even if the subject matter varies; while Japanese comics from romance to space opera use an altogether different mindset of “directing” techniques.
Anyway: America tends to get the most attention with all the expensive superhero movies these days. But for decades the problem in the West was that comics were assumed to be for children and not given serious thought by social critics.
Meanwhile in Europe, graphic novels have had a strong tradition of recognition by adults and kids for decades. It’s that avant-garde sentiment, y’know.
Firstly, Great Britain. Those originators of the English language tend to be better at writing in general. Ever noticed that? All the great writers are British, from Shakespeare to Vertigo and Image. They called it the British Invasion, the comics version not the rock version, ’twas the 80s not 60s. (Like rock music, America invented it and the British improved it.) As I’ve written about extensively.
What I haven’t mentioned in those extensive writings is the sci-fi anthology series 2000 A.D. Almost everyone, from Moore to Morrison, got their start there. I’ve read the occasional B&W shorts in reprint form.
Furthermore, if I am getting into 2000 A.D. then I must get into Judge Dredd.
Yes, the Stallone movie was awful. Sorry about that. However the 2012 film was quite good.
What you may not know is that the comic is legendary. Going all the way back to 1977, the fascistic judge has had a prolific career. Written by John Wagner, the saga of Mega-City One is one of the most hardcore dystopias ever portrayed in fiction. I came across the graphic novel Tour of Duty, and was impressed enough to go back and read a whole lot. That good. Robot Wars, Cursed Earth, Judge Death, The Apocalypse War, Day of Judgment. Lots of mutants and genocide and critiquing the American dream and so forth, ain’t no harsher more biting stories than those. Dredd is the quintessential outsider’s take on Americana, and what a take those Brits can scribe.
Then there’s the continent. The French-speaking world in particular.
Belgium is famed for Tin Tin by Hergé. Even living in China, I found some English-translations of the classic albums. European comics tend to come in a certain oversized slim album-sized editions.
It’s fun and all, as Tin Tin and Snowy traverse the world. But wasn’t my favorite. Stories like The Blue Lotus are a bit racist, admittedly. Won’t even get into the African stuff.
I’d recommend The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure because of the very fine 2011 Spielberg animated film.
My favorite French comic ever would definitely be Asterix.
Luckily, I happened upon the Shenzhen Children’s Library which contains a great collection of the albums. Free to borrow! I must have read about twenty. Written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, the complete series is totally funny and hold up well today.
Many of the best hail from the 1960s and 70s. Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix at the Olympic Games, Asterix and the Roman Agent, The Mansion of the Gods, The Great Crossing. Gotta love that Obelisk, and I wish I could get ahold of some potion…
I even found some second-hand Smurfs comics in Shenzhen. Also from Belgium, by Peyo. Not bad, and very nostalgically indicative of the 1980s Hanna-Barbera cartoon from my childhood. Read a couple of them in English, and the library even has plenty translated in Chinese so as I can brush up on my 中文.
“La la la la la la. la la la la laaaa!”
Hey, didn’t I say European comics were for grownups?