The Angoulême festival closed its doors on Sunday. Hermann got the grand prix. (We had talked about one of his most famous books, Jeremiah in our comics recommendation engine about Mad Max: Fury Road). But beyond the grand prix and the surrounding controversies, it is the time of the year when France takes a closer look at Bandes dessinées and their market. A chance for us to explore some of the blockbusters that have helped the market grow in 2015. Because the good news is that the sales have actually increased (projected between 2.7 and 3.5% depending on the sources).
Gilles Ratier for the ACBD (Association des Critiques et Journalistes de Bande Dessinée) reports 5 255 different comic books were published in francophone Europe in 2015 –including 3924 new books- which is a decrease in the number of titles of 2,9 % compared to 2014. Another interesting trend outlined by the annual report is the fact that the digital market, even if it is still growing by a little over 1%, remains marginal. One of the possible reasons for this discrepancy with what we are observing on this side of the ocean may simply lie in the difference of what the average comic looks like. All Franco-Belgian comics are tall, hardcover books that may be harder to substitute with an iPad.
Livres Hebdo revealed on January 21st their bestsellers list for 2015 that some of the top selling books in France were comics. Let’s dive into three of the titles that dominated the charts:
Asterix and the Missing Scroll by Ferri and Conrad (Albert René)
This little Gaul probably does not require any introduction. History books may tell us that the conquest of Gaul by Caesar ended with the defeat of Alesia, but we all know that an Armorican village held out and refused to surrender. Created in 1959 by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, this book is a classic. It is no surprise it sells and outsells any competition. Short of a new Tintin this is as big as comics can get in France.
Jean Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad were handed a legend and the pressure was real. The first book they released in 2012 already sold extremely well (1.3 million copies). Volume 36, Le Papyrus De César did even better and sold over 1. 6 million copies. It was actually the best-selling book in the country. Period. For reference: France is more than five times smaller than the US (about 60 million people) and that is more -significantly more- than what Star Wars #1 sold in North America.
Titeuf by Zep (Glenat)
Created by Zep in 1992, Titeuf is a household name. It was adapted into an immensely popular cartoon in 2001 (translated as Tootuff in English) and into an animated feature film (2011). Zep got the Grand prix of the festival in 2004 while he was still considered a fairly new comer to the industry. With a print run of 550,000, this last volume was expected to be a heavy hitter. Actual sales for 2015 were 214,000.
Titeuf is a comedy that narrates the daily life of a young boy, his friends, his first crushes and how he sees the world of grownups. Titeuf is extremely funny, peculiar, universal and compelling. This new opus is about Titeuf becoming a teenager. I have not been a teenager for a long time and I have never been a teenage boy, but this book rings hilariously true.
L’Arabe du future (volumes 1 and 2 of 3) by Riad Sattouf (Allary)
If Riad Sattouf’s name sounds familiar it may be because he was the first one to take his name off the list of nominations for the Grand prix because of the absence of women. Volume 1 got the Angoulême Prize for best album last year. Volume 1 and 2 taken together sold almost 350’000 copies. L’Arabe du futur (The Arab of the Future) is not Sattouf’s first claim to fame. Between Les Beaux Gosses (The French Kissers) and his ten years working for Charlie Hebdo, he is no stranger to a wide audience.
L’Arabe du Futur is an autobiographic graphic novel that tells the story of the childhood of Franco-Syrian Sattouf between Libya and Syria. His father has one obsession: raising a modern and educated Arab, the Arab of the future. This is one of the books you find on the coffee tables of friends who do not read comics. From anecdotal evidence I have noticed a lot of the people feel compelled to read the story. It just happens to be in comic form. I do not think I have seen a book having this kind of impact outside of the sphere of comics fans since Persepolis.