French comic strips, illustrated comic novels, illustrated cartoon stories, etc.
Comic strips in France   Most popular cartoon characters ...

Warning ! It is difficult to find teh appropriate word to translate what the French understand by "bande dessinee" : comic strips? illustrated cartoon stories? illustrated comic novel? something else?

  • Contrary to the USA, comic strips in France are not considered a minor form of entertainment you present to children or you read on the train. They are seen as a form of literature and treated as such. Every Fall, the "rentree litteraire" is the period of the year where the media report about the newly published books : they also report about the new comic strips albums (1,149 in 2013).

  • A very popular media in France : comic strips represent more than 12 % of the publishing industry in France (8% in the US). In 2013, it represented almost 4,000 books and more than 37 million copies (40% Franco-Belgian, 40% Mangas, 10% American).

  • A magazine called Pilote, launched in 1959 marks in France the begining of the popularization of BD for older and more educated people.

  • A list of the most famous French cartoonists includes Gotlib ("La Rubrique à Brac"), Jean-Marc Reiser ("Gros Degueulasse"), Sempe ("Le Petit Nicolas") and many others.

  • The most popular character for children is Titeuf (by cartoonist Zep) with sales by millions

  • A Franco-Belgian story : there is a long tradition of co-production of comic strips between France and Belgium and it's hard to tell which cartoonist or which publisher is one or the other.

  • Several very famous cartoonists are also film-makers ; among them Marjane Satrapi for Persepolis, Riad Satouff, Joann Sfar for The Cat of the Rabbi,and many others, in this very active and international art.


The ancestors

Babar was created by Jean de Brunhoff in 1931
Becassine was created in 1905 by Pinchon.

Contrary to most European comic strips, Babar was very popular in the US.

She comes from poor Britanny and is employed by a rich Parisian family. Very popular for decades, her adventures are now considered sexist and racist. Do not mention the name in Britanny.
The Pieds Nickeles (literally : the nickeled feet) were created by Louis Forton in 1908. They are very immoral characters (cheaters, robbers, crooks).
Spirou is a bell-boy, created by Rob-Vel in 1938.




The Schtroumpfs, created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo in 1958.   Tintin was created by Belgian cartoonist Herge in 1929.
The stroumpfs are blue and small. Most of them are sweet but some less so. In versions in English, there are called Smurfs.   Tintin is a young Belgian reporter who has many adventures and always wins. In the book above, he is in the US in the 1930s. His dog is Milou.
Blake and Mortimer are the characters, created by Edgar Jacobs (another Belgian!) in 1946.   Born Serb, Enki Bilal has been a cartoonist and film-maker in Paris since 1970s.
Spy stories with a technological flavor.   His albums have passionate followers.
Gaston Lagaffe was created by Franquin ....   Lucky Luke was created by Morris.

Gaston is the world champion of blunder ("gaffe" in French).

  With his horse, Jolly Jumper, he keeps chasing and arresting the Four Dalton Brothers, who are as dumb as they are mean.
Asterix and his friends were created by André Goscinny (text) and Albert Uderzo (drawing) for the magazine Pilote. Read more about Asterix and French traits.   Corto Maltese is a character created by Italian cartoonist Hugo Pratt.
Many adventures of the valiant little Gaul in his permanent fight againt the mean and powerful Romans. In the book above, he discovers America ten centuries before Columbus.   Corto Maltese has extraordinary adventures all over the world. The albums are among the most popular in France.
    Thorgal is a Viking, created by Jean Van Hamme in 1977.
And thousands of others ....
Facts and figures about comic strips in France    
  • The history of comic strips in France has several stages :
    • Before 1930 : children's books (typically : Becassine)
    • 1930s : very successful invasion of US comic strips (typically : Mickey Mouse)
    • 1950-1970 : comic strips become a media for teenagers (typically : Tintin or Spirou)
    • After 1970-1980 : BD becomes a form of literature, a media for everybody and most books are bought by adults (typically : Corto Maltese or Enki Bilal)
  • In French comic strips or cartoons are called "Bandes Dessinees" in short BD

  • The comic strip industry has an annual Festival in Angouleme (a medium-sized town in the South-West of France) since 1973. It is a huge event for the industry which, globally, is doing very well. Who says that French culture is dying?

  • In Jan.2015, most of the staff of Charlie-Hebdo was killed by Islamic terrorists because they had published satirical cartoons about their religion (read more)

  • More to come

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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