Comic books – bandes desinnées (BDs, or bédés) – are big business in France. French people spend around 350 million euros on more than 35 million comic books per year. This represents a significant chunk of the publishing industry.

At the moment the huge annual BD festival is going on in Angoulême.

It runs for four days and is expected to see a quarter of a million visitors, probably parting with anything up to 50 euros each. The big draw is that authors are there to sign books and to talk to, and all the major BD publishers of Europe will be there under one roof.

BDs began in Switzerland in the 1830s when Rodolphe Töpffer released his first albums. The idea gradually spread round the world, mainly via comic strips in satirical magazines. Then comic books began to be directed mainly at young children, but by the 1930s there were BDs for every age group. In the 1950s Japan entered the fray, although the term ‘manga’ had been around since the early nineteenth century. Today there are BDs on every subject and for every market. They’re more popular than ever. My youngest son loves them, especially the Schtroumpfs (Smurfs). Anything that gets kids reading can’t be bad.

lenty of people knock BDs though, saying that they’re mindless and shallow and have no literary merit. There are reports of grammatical errors in some, quelle horreur! However, BDs are classified as the neuvième art in French culture and thus have ‘official’ artistic status.

Here’s a quick look at 2010’s best selling BDs in  France:

1. Christophe Arleston (46): Lanfeust and Trolls de Troy series – 1,5 million copies sold. Teen/adult fantasy. This author/artist has sold more than 12 million books altogether so far.

2. Jean Van Hamme (72): Blake & Mortimer, Largo Winch, Thorgal and XIII series – 1,05 million d’exemplaires. Thriller, spies generally.

3. René Goscinny et Albert Uderzo – Astérix – 1 million sold, despite this being a ‘bad’ year for Asterix in that no new books came out.

4. Hergé – Tintin – 900,000 copies sold. The release of the film late in the year has given Tintin books a nice boost.

5. Henri Jeanfaivre (42) aka Jenfèvre : Joe Bar Team, Tuning Maniacs, Les Gendarmes – 654,000 books sold. His are mainly humorous.

Simpsons came in 6th, Cédric 7th (a particular favourite with girls aged 6-11 apparently) and Titeuf 9th. A Titeuf film comes out htis year so he’s likely to shoot even higher up the BD ranks as a result.

Piracy is an increasing problem in the BD market, with expert teams scanning books and making electronic copies available illegally. They’re also selling paper copies. BDs tend to be quite dear, usually around €15 or so, so the sale of slightly cheaper illegal copies can be extremely lucrative. This is obviously a problem publishers need to address, and soon.

Ruadhri really loves the Smurfs – or rather the Schtroumpfs, as they’re called in French. He is addicted to the comic books (bandes desinées) about them. I decided it was time to find out more.

In case you didn’t know, Smurfs are fictional characters with blue skin, white trousers and white hats. They live somewhere deep in the forest, and travel long distances by stork. They began back in 1958 as a comic strip in Spirou magazine, drawn by Belgian cartoonist Peyo (Pierre Culliford). Soon they got their own comic, and then books and films, and then the merchandising machine swung into action. You can now get Smurf toys, figurines and games.

I’ve had a browse through the books. The stories are straightforward with lots of action. And they use the word ‘Smurf’ a lot – as a noun or a verb. You get sentences such as: ‘This time I’m going to smurf. I know it!’ and ‘It’s going to smurf us like a mouse’. Sounds confusing? Probably, but the pictures give an idea of what’s going on. The French version has an advantage over the English as we get the distinction between ‘schtroumpfer’ (verb) and ‘schtroumpf’ (noun). That probably helps the kids work out what’s going on a bit easier. And there was I in my books, trying to use as varied a vocabulary as I could!

Anyway, Ruadhri loves the books and I haven’t noticed him saying Smurf all the time. So I’ll let him work his way through the series. They’re the first books he makes a beeline for at the library. Closely followed by Scrameustache, another comic books series (but I’ll save that one for another day).

The Smurf books have been translated into 25 languages, and more than 25 million copies have been sold. Now I could do with sales like that!

However, see this article for another viewpoint on the Smurfs as racist and anti-Semtic. Who’s right – Ruadhri or this professor?

Rors loves BDs - bandes desinées (comic books), but even they ring the changes with different type styles to denote how things are said!

I was reading a book with nine-year-old Ruadhri the other day, and it really grated on me that the author only said ‘said’ in the dialogue. What a wasted opportunity both to enhance the story with suggesting how the characters said what they said (whispered, gasped, cried etc), and to expand the reader’s vocabulary. Children will only learn new words if they’re exposed to him. OK, you don’t need to go too mad in children’s books, but at the very least I would expect to see a dozen or more variations.

Quite a lot of adult books only manage a narrow range of ‘said’ equivalents too. Come on, let’s get more creative and interesting!

Here are 25 alternatives to said, and that’s just scratching the surface:

Asked

Argued

Bellowed

Challenged

Cried

Croaked

Demanded

Gasped

Giggled

Grumbled

Guffawed

Laughed

Mumbled

Muttered

Offered

Pouted

Shouted

Screeched

Snarled

Suggested

Threatened

Whined

Whispered

Wondered

Yawned

 

Another 25 coming soon …