La bande dessinée au Québec

Mira Falardeau

Reading La Bande dessinée au Québec was an evocative experience for me. It brought back memories of my childhood infatuation with comic books. I loved French and Belgian comics like Astérix and Tintin at the time. Not only would I read their adventures repeatedly, but I also would painstakingly try to draw the cartoon characters myself, copying out their images in a scrapbook.

Mira Falardeau's book, however, focuses on a lesser-known aspect of comics in Quebec: those cartoons created by Quebeckers for Quebeckers, from the eighteenth century onwards. She mentions French, Belgian, and American comics only in passing, as influences on the practice in Quebec. Falardeau's world is unfamiliar. Nearly all Quebeckers know Astérix, but they are not quite so familiar with his Québécois counterpart, Bojoual. Falardeau notes in this regard that comic books created in Quebec account for a mere 5% of total sales in the province. This figure has remained constant over the past 25 years.

The lack of recognition that Quebec comic-strip artists receive is a theme that dominates La Bande dessinée au Québec. The book emphasizes how hard it is for them to make a living from their craft. Falardeau draws a long list of cartoon magazines that appear, last a few issues, and then die out because of financial difficulties, and of albums that stay in stockrooms or wind up in remainder bins. There are many challenges: the small and dispersed population of Quebec; publishers' tiny budgets for promotion and distribution; and lower prices for mass-produced European and American comic books. Falardeau emphasizes that, in spite of these challenges, many talented Quebeckers have created a diversity of comics in different styles over the years. She also points out the occasional success stories, such as two Quebec-based humour magazines that feature comics: Croc ("fang," a magazine with some bite) and Safarir (a pun on "safari" and "ça fait rire" ["it makes you laugh"]).

Falardeau writes in a clear and precise style. She also shows much affection for comic strips and seems familiar with the most ephemeral of titles and the most narrowly circulated of fanzines. The author, however, often limits herself to enumerating titles and authors while providing only slight descriptions. Several cartoons that she refers to have achieved limited success, so many readers will be unfamiliar with them; they will wish that she had included examples of the comics she is discussing. In a sense, La Bande dessinée au Québec is a victim of the very situation it describes: in a large market, such a book would have included illustrations on nearly every page, like glossy American books about comics do. Instead, it includes only seven black-and-white illustrations.

In spite of these drawbacks, the book is an effective reminder of the struggles that a small nation faces in sustaining its own culture against more dominant neighbours. The situation is reminiscent of Astérix and his pals in their Gallic village, boldly resisting the cultural and military control of the Roman camps that surround them. In the same way, Quebec comic-strip authors persist in overcoming a myriad of obstacles to create works of significance to their milieu.

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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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