I’ve always loved graphic novels and comic books—the whole art/literary form that in my native language, French, we call BD, short for Bandes Dessinées, or ‘drawn strips/illustrated panels’. In France, BD is an eminently mainstream genre that has been popular with readers since early in the 20th century, and which today represents about 7 percent of the book market. As well as popular appeal across the board, it also has great literary respectability—known as ‘the ninth art-form’, BD books are regularly reviewed in major newspapers and magazines, have exhibitions and festivals devoted to them, and are written about by literary scholars. BD in France covers a wide range of types, styles, genres, markets and ages, and are stocked by every bookshop and library. For children, there’s a vast range of fiction and non-fiction BD, from adventure and fantasy stories to humorous historical sagas to biographies of famous scientific, artistic or historical figures. Having grown up with BD, I never understood the attitude to it in English-speaking countries where in the mainstream at least this was a genre regarded as inferior, suitable only for people who didn’t know how to read properly, and frowned upon as reading material for children. My school library in Sydney, Australia, might have stocked Tintin and Asterix books, and they were popular with us kids, but it wasn’t encouraged reading in the way a non-illustrated novel might have been: and besides, they were French classic BDs, and as such perhaps had a glamour in an anglophone setting that, say, a Superman or Phantom or Donald Duck comic book would not have had. There were certainly none of these in our school library, you had to buy them from the newsagent’s.
The influence of BD on me as a writer was felt early on; the first real sustained series of stories I wrote, as a child in primary school, was about the adventures of a princess called Alicia who had magic powers—and long blond hair, both things I dreamed of having. It was in BD format, with illustrated panels, speech bubbles and narrative, and I loved creating it. Sadly, no copies of it remain—my mother being a great clearer-out of stuff, including her children’s literary efforts, and with seven children in the family, that wasn’t surprising. Imagine the mountain of paper that might otherwise have taken over the house, especially in my case. Anyway, as I grew up and wrote more and more, I continued to love reading BD but stopped trying to create it—mostly because I realized that my own skills in visual art had stayed stuck in primary school 😊 but also because I soon realized that it wasn’t an area that Australian publishers were interested in. [Read more…]