It used to be that bande dessinée (BD) criticism would ask if BD was a legitimate cultural form — with ‘yes’ the implied answer — whereas now the tendency is to ask whether BD’s cultural status needs to be legitimized — with ‘no’ the assumed response. This book falls somewhere in between, with a nuanced look at the reception of comics from a variety of angles. These take the internal viewpoint of the process of artistic creation (sections on ‘L’Œuvre’ and ‘L’Auteur’), and the external context and status of publication (‘L’Édition’ and ‘L’Art’) or legitimizing reception (‘Le Public’). The Introduction, as well as providing an overview of contents, addresses the history and salient points of the legitimization debate, drawing upon examples from both French- and English-language comics. It works well to provide a unifying ethos, but the strength of the volume also lies in the eclectic and often quirky nature of the individual contributions. For French-language content — other cultures represented include those of England, the USA, and Poland — these range from twenty-first-century BD identity (Philippe Marion), to editorial input in the past (Benoît Glaude, the era around the 1830s) and present (Olivier Odaert, L’Association), to BD in recent art exhibitions (Jean-Matthieu Méon) or Beaux Arts magazine (Sabrina Messing), on to a Ministère de la Culture survey on BD readership (Benoît Berthou), and the form’s potential in high-school teaching (Florie Steyaert and Jean-Louis Tilleuil). The volume does have its shortcomings: for example, the secondary bibliographies are far from complete, and the English versions of the introduction materials are sometimes literal and stilted. The argumentation is scholarly, but there are areas of possible disagreement, for instance the view that the university systems in French-language countries are more open to the study of comics than those in English (p. 18). Overall, the volume should not be seen as an attempt at exhaustive coverage of the question of the cultural status of comics — such would be impossible — but rather as a delightful tapas of diverse offerings on the subject. This is to be expected from a volume that is the direct result of a conference, and for which a second volume is yet to come. We do, however, have a lively and original contribution to a subject that is at the heart of broader collapse-of-the-canon issues, or as Maheen Ahmed and Tilleuil put it on their opening page, the ‘crise des légitimités culturelles’. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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