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Reading Bande Dessinee: Critical Approaches to French-language Comic Strip

This book Reading Bande Dessinee is for students of French-language comic strip, or bande dessinée, and for more general readers. It is divided into four sections, which offer four different ways of approaching the medium, associated with different theoretical perspectives. Frameworks for analysis are made very explicit, and no prior knowledge of terminology is assumed.

The first part offers a historical overview, with the longest and most detailed section being devoted to contemporary bande dessinée, emphasizing the artistic impact of independent publishing houses since the 1990s. The history of the medium is in part the history of its struggle for legitimacy, and each chapter includes a section which considers the evolution of the cultural status of bande dessinée and of the theoretical approaches applied to it.

The second part offers frameworks within which to analyse the formal features of bande
dessinée. It is based on a case-study approach, so that the terms and concepts introduced in
each chapter are predominantly exemplified from one album, or, in the case of Chapter 7, one
series. Chapter 5 introduces basic terms and concepts of analysis for the study of sequential
visual narration and text-image relations; Chapter 6 draws on narrative theory, and Chapter 7
considers the potential of bande dessinée as a postmodernist art.

The third part adopts a cultural studies approach to the medium, discussing bande dessinée in relation to questions of identity. Chapter 8 focuses on national identity, Chapter 9 on postcolonial identities and Chapter 10 on the intersection of class and masculinity. Each chapter begins by resuming relevant theoretical issues, before offering detailed case studies of a small number of albums. Readers looking for Astérix in this book will find him in Chapter 8, which presents a survey of the multiple ways in which the character, and the series, have been taken to represent Frenchness.

The fourth part considers the representation of subjectivity and the body in bande dessinée. Readers seeking Tintin will find him in Chapter 11, which offers a critical discussion of the way in which four different writers have brought psychoanalytic theory to bear on the unconscious of the Moulinsart household. Chapters 12 and 13 are both based on autobiography and diaries in bande dessinée, a major genre since the 1990s. Chapter 12 considers these works in the light of theories of autobiography, and Chapter 13 focuses on questions of gender and embodiment in bande dessinée autobiographical work.

The book aims to introduce readers to a wide spectrum of French-language bande dessinée from France and Belgium. It makes some reference to work from Switzerland and Québec which has been published in France, but work from other francophone countries is not represented here. There is a vigorous bande dessinée publishing industry in Africa, but it is beyond the scope of this book to consider the context of that production. There is another significant omission, which is the large and influential Flemish-language production in Belgium.

One key problem for anyone writing about bande dessinée is the question of illustrations. It is not possible to reproduce the pages being discussed in more than a few cases, without doubling the size of the book. The illustrations included relate to the discussion of formal features in Part two, since it is here that they are most useful. The albums used as case studies have been chosen partly for their ready availability, and we hope that in a modest way this book will encourage the spread of bédéphilie amongst an English-speaking readership.

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