Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bande dessinée

One of the great things about travelling is seeing stuff that's just not around in your own culture. Among others, the francophone world (and Italy) have a great tradition of what is known in French as 'bande dessinée', or BD, which roughly translates into 'drawn stories', but is usually mistranslated as comics or cartoons. Given the relatively lowly status of such things in most English culture ("they're for kids or geeks") a lot of people are missing out. Remember two of the twentieth centuries greatest heroes are Asterix and Tintin, from France and Belgium respectively. Italy hasn't had the same export success, but nevertheless... Italy has a strong culture of cartoon books, anchored in one corner with the weekly Topolino (Micky Mouse - lit. 'Small Mouse') cartoon books, I believe introduced to Italy in part with US culture in late World War Two, but which has grown to one of the biggest original non-English Disney markets. The booklets were everywhere when I was a kid in Italy in the 70s, and are everywhere even now. One other side of Italian cartoons is the use of strips to depict history and other 'educational' stories. I had a book covering Garibaldi's unification of Italy in cartoon format, which I wish I had now. There wasn't too much to catch while we were in Europe last year, but I did pick up this one, seen above and below. The draughtsmanship is a bit scrappy for my taste, but the story was original, covering a usually forgotten aspect of World War II in North East Africa, between the Italians on one side, and on the other the British and South Africans. From my point of view, it was of merit for the accurate and appropriate aircraft types shown: Hawker Hartbestees, Fiat CR-42 and Bristol Blenheims, the latter two types seen above. While we were in France last year, I tried to see if I could pick up any of the series featuring Biggles, produced in France. None of those were available, but there was other stuff, some found in a magnificent bookshop on a Parisen boulevard that gives me a warm feeling just remembering it. Top of the list which went into the backpack was this pair of stories, recounting the adventures of two heroes and their girl (very carefully and curvaceously drawn...) in the late 1930s and during World War Two. Known as Au-delà des nuages (Beyond the Clouds), the draughtsmanship is, I think, superb, and the array of unusual aircraft shown accurately depicted in credible (but fictional) scenes is something to show the second-rate plot development of the Hollywood Multiplex fodder up very badly. For those interested in more details, the artist, Romain Hugault, also has a blog. Beautiful 1930s racers and flying-boat airliners. One of them even had a Supermarine Walrus, depicted with a fictional, but credible nose art design. Given that the Walrus is one aircraft I have written a book about, I had to have it, didn't I?


  1. Hi James,
    Used to devour the Commando books when I was younger, especially remember one that was about Shagbats, in the Middle East I think, one of them always needed a kick by the front gunner to get it to fly/climb properly!

    I shall have to look out for these books!
    Regards, Alan

  2. As I boy in the fifties I enjoyed the British 'Battler Britton' comics featuring the archetypal and eponymous RAF fight pilot repeatedly trouncing 'the Bosche'.
    Today the excellent French aviation magazine 'Piloter' features in every issue the superb pen-and-ink line drawing illustrations by François Bousseau of selected accident reports.

  3. Ok so where's the curvacous girl then.......:-) Those are very well drawn. I shudder when I think of the rubbish comic I bought once that had some two engine "thing" described as a Spitfire (I kid you not) and a 109 which looked like an Auster! How they got away with that is beyond me.