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Masters of the ninth art: bandes dessinées and Franco-Belgian identity

Screech, Matthew E. J. (2005) Masters of the ninth art: bandes dessinées and Franco-Belgian identity. Liverpool University Press. ISBN 8085323938X

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Abstract

Although virtually unknown in the US and the UK, the bande dessinée is a vitally important aspect of popular culture in France and Belgium, where it is known as ‘the ninth art’. Masters of the Ninth Art offers an introduction to bandes dessinées for English readers, considering examples of the genre from Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin (1929) up to the late twentieth century. The strips are considered in terms of plot, style, influences and the wider context of Franco-Belgian culture, and they range from literary parody, gag-humour, westerns and realism to science fiction and historical drama. Screech analyses the work of a variety of artists, some well known to English-speakers such as Goscinny, some less well known such as Jacques Tardi and Marcel Gotlib. Where possible the artists have been interviewed to obtain first-hand reflections on their ideas, methods and influences. Taking national identity to be forged by a nation’s language, history, myths, cultural artefacts and traditions, Masters of the Ninth Art shows how BD artists have established a distinct Franco-Belgian identity, which differs from that of American comics as exemplified by superheroes and the Underground. The bande dessinées follow traditions put in place by French-speaking writers and artists, they make cultural references which would be impossible in the English-speaking world and they are inspired by Franco-Belgian history and current affairs. As a result, the ninth art has become one of Franco-Belgian culture’s unique distinguishing characteristics.

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