Points of debate

Today, a group of comics industry luminaries got together on panel at Angoulême’s comics centre, CNBDI, to discuss Thierry Groensteen’s new book, La Bande dessinée – Un Objet culturel non-identifié which I reviewed here yesterday. Groensteen himself was there, of course, and was joined by L’Association co-founder Jean-Christophe Menu (who just published the final, massive issue of the critical journal on comics L’Eprouvette), journalist Bernard Joubert, and comics author, scholar and editor Benoît Peeters, as well as mc Jean-Pierre Mercier.

A lot of the issues raised in the book were revisited and discussed. The most consistent criticism of Groensteen, both here and apparently elsewhere, is that he is too pessimistic. As Peeters said, “the individual parts of your book are great, but you look at the comics industry as if it were the Titianic”. I raised the question of Groensteen’s description of manga as a “peril” (see my review for more), and Groensteen explained that – as he sees it – manga has all but eradicated the always modest national production of comics in such countries as Spain and Germany and that the French market, while much stronger, could very well experience something similar in the future. Peeters thought this was way too pessimistic; to him manga was just another important influence coming from abroad, leading to cross-pollination. A fact of globalization, and not a threat.

One of Menu’s main points of criticism, also adressed in a piece in the new Éprouvette, is the tendency in the comics community, and in Groensteen’s book, to regard all of comics as a single entitity, what in America has been dubbed the “Team Comics”-mentality. The books published by L’Association for instance have nothing in common with Soleil’s latest fantasy series or collection of blonde jokes in comics form, and it is detrimental to the former to lump them together with the latter. The equivalent is only rarely, if ever, done with respect to other media, so why here?

Groensteen seemed to agree, but emphasised that this book is also a history of the cultural reception of comics, and that while the visibility of comics in all its forms has improved immensely over the last few years, this has not changed the way they are still lumped together in the minds of people, and frowned upon. The book has been ten years in the making, and Groensteen acknowledged that it is perhaps not totally up to date in all respects, but that its core arguments are still of great importance, even in the dramatically changed comics landscape of today.

In the picture, from left to right: Benoît Peeters, Jean-Pierre Mercier, Thierry Groensteen, Jean-Christophe Menu, Bernard Joubert. Photo: Matthias Wivel

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