Nouvelle Manga Manifesto

Japanese comics attach particular importance to story (to its scale, to the variety of its topics) and especially to narration (to its fluidity, to the techniques it uses to suggest sensations and feelings). In Japan, a mangaka is someone who wants, above all, to tell stories, as opposed to those authors of bandes dessinées 'BDs' (1) in France who generally become comic book artists through an interest in drawing.

Unlike Franco-Belgian BDs, which until the '90s were quite content to rehash the same Sci-Fi, historical or adventure universes, manga (2) has always emphasised daily life as a theme.
At least half of Japanese comics tell stories of men and women and their everyday lives. This attachment to daily life as a theme is for me the principal reason of manga's success with a broad range of readers broad range of readers. While the universes of Franco-Belgian and American Sci-Fi or action comics almost exclusively target male teenagers, in Japan, manga's daily-life stories touch men as well as women, teenagers as well as adults. This allows the format to attract a readership larger than just otaku ; many Japanese readers are not « otaku » (meaning « fan of manga », as one can be a « stamp collector », a « Formula 1 buff » or a « Smap groupie » (3) ) but simply curious, open-minded people who read comics as they would read novels or go to the cinema...

It's a paradox that daily life, the favorite topic of French cinema in particular and of European cinema in general (most noticeably in contrast to Hollywood cinema), has been absent from BDs for a long time, whereas it has always been a favorite of manga...


Most of the manga that have been translated in French over the past ten years have been commercial manga aimed at teenagers, to follow on from the animated series which preceded them on French TV screens. Their themes are adventure or Sci-Fi, featuring heroes... As in Japan, this very focused type of manga generates its own otaku phenomenon : specialized press, « cosplay » (costume-play), etc.
A number of daily-life manga are also being translated, but again they are primarily aimed at teenagers, with daily life often being treated in an often over-dramatic and caricatured way : a daily life closer to Hélène et les garçons or to the domestic dramas of Japanese television than to When the Cat's Away or Only Yesterday (4).
Daily-life manga, which I think should be able to reach a larger audience than just otaku in France, is a more adult manga, with daily life portrayed without overemphasis or stereotypes : a manga that has, however, been virtually ignored to date by French-speaking readers, with the exception a few years ago of translated editions of My Father's Calendar or of The Walking Man by Jirô Taniguchi.


Compared to manga, the BD puts more focus on drawing. Its authors are first and foremost illustrators, often more preoccupied with graphics than with scenario. The readers are the first to confirm this « emphasis » given to graphics : an album with skilful or fashionable drawings will always find buyers in France, even if the story is lousy or stupid...


Except for the translations of a few Tintin albums, which one sometimes finds in the children's section of large bookstores and which thus apparently only reach certain readers (5), none of the franco-belgian BDs published in Japan over the past ten years have met with great succes (6).

The names of two authors - Mœbius and Bilal - are nonetheless known today by members of the Japanese comics industry and, to a lesser degree, by some members of the general reading public. This recognition is not due to sales of their work (which have remained minimal for both) but solely to the promotion of their names, a campaign orchestrated since the end of the 1980s by the publishers, the press, booksellers and French institutions.

There is, however, very little chance that the BDs of these two authors will reach a large readership in Japan, this broad rande of readers that I spoke of before...


As often happens with Sci-Fi, the stories of Mœbius are very peculiar, one needs a certain culture and sense of nostalgia to appreciate them ; that is to say, not only a background in BDs and « Mœbius culture » but also a nostalgia for the BDs of the late '70s... In any case, both of these represent a culture and a nostalgia that the majority of Japanese readers don't share. If Moebius is recognized in Japan, it's above all, and rightly so, for the quality of his drawings : his albums therefore reach some rare BD otaku but mostly remain of interest to professional artists, graphic designers, illustrators, editors, etc. There are about five and six thousand of them in Japan.


In addition to his movies, Bilal is appreciated in Japan for his drawings. The recent translations of le Sommeil du monstre (The Sleep of the Monster) and of The Nikopol Trilogy may have allowed readers to understand his stories, but there was no big change in the Japanese readers' or critics' perception of his work. On the contrary, they had their prejudices confirmed : « The BD is very well drawn, but it's static and tedious ! », « Incomprehensible » were offered in Bilal's case... There were 6,000 copies of the Japanese version of le Sommeil du monstre printed by Kawadeshobô in November 98, and only 4,800 copies had been sold by December 2000 after two years in bookstores and despite strong advertising.


With the emergence of publishers like l'Association or Ego comme X, a movement was born in France at the beginning of the '90s, precisely in reaction to the Sci-Fi / hero / action BDs for teenagers of the '80s. By proposing stories often based on daily life (whether autobiographical or fictional) in the form of albums following the strict format of 46 colour pages and serial framework, these publishers and their authors opened BD up to a new readership, showing that BD wasn't condemned to the only market of « BD fans », followers of adventure, of fantastic and pleasing false images...

The impact of this « Nouvelle BD » quickly travelled beyond the borders of France, and a number of authors discovered by l'Association and Ego comme X are being translated today in the rest of Europe, and their albums distributed in the United States. Meanwhile, the majority of their supposedly more « commercial » colleagues are unable to leave the Franco-Belgian market...
When it deals with daily life, the BD becomes not only more universal (universality is generally found in a kitchen or at the bottom of a garden, only rarely on Mars or Alpha Centauri), it also becomes, through the eyes of foreign readers, more « French ». It's also through encountering the typical « French touch » they appreciate that amateurs of French cinema or literature can become amateurs of French BD.

Next page
© 2001 Frédéric Boilet

The content of this web site is protected by the international copyright laws.
No material, including (but not limited to) all articles, texts, and images,
can be used without prior written permission of the author and/or publisher.