I had my own private Euro comics convention this past week at various sites around Paris. I lived in Paris for a year when I was in college, but I wasn’t really into comics back then (I was studying comparative literature, so I was more into picking up books by Deleuze and Guattari that I now use as book weights in the Chance Press workshop). I’ve followed French comics in the intervening years, however, and I thankfully never fully lost the language. So, upon going back to Paris for the first time in 13 years, I made it a priority to go to as many bookstores as I could, and I’m coming back with what the French call a merde-ton of books. (I’m still on the road - for work now, not fun - but expect a deluge of pictures once I get home.)
Here are some things that I’ve thought of while over here…
1) The French love North American cartoonists, and not just Clowes/Burns/Ware*. I saw the Michael DeForge Lose collection everywhere, Joseph Lambert was all over the place (in multiple formats), Pompeii in both languages (and quite a few Storeyvilles), Anders Nilsen, Alec Longstreth, etc. Also (not North America, but whatev), Simon Hanselmann’s book is prominently displayed in the book shop at the Centre Pompidou, which would seem like a huge deal if it weren’t already common knowledge that he’s taking over the world.
(*I may start using Cloburware as a catch-all term for “cartoonists who have been lovingly accepted by the international fine art crowd.” Feel free to use it as necessary.)
2) With very few exceptions, French editions are nicer than North American editions. This even includes standard bearers of quality like D&Q and Fantagraphics. (When I say nicer, I mean: they’re usually in larger format, the hardcover boards are thicker, the paper is thicker, and the binding is more durable/less prone to cracking (if softcover).) That said, they’re also more expensive, with $25 - $45 being the norm, and fatter books pushing $60. Plus, with the restrictions on retailers discounting books, keeping up with current releases is awfully pricey.
3) Publishing houses have more sway in French shops, to the point that many shops shelve books according to publisher. It’s not uncommon for shops to have books shelved by author for the more famous authors, and then to group books from Futuropolis, Cornelius, Dupuis, Glenat, Casterman, etc. It makes looking for books really annoying, especially if you just want to find everything by an author who has published with multiple houses.
4) Even more annoying, many shops don’t shelve by author at all and instead shelve by title - I get why this makes sense with a series that doesn’t have a single creator, but is there a good reason why someone looking for Tardi books should have to remember N for Nestor Burma, A for Adele Blanc Sec, M for Manchette, etc?
5) I still don’t like the “collection” focus of French publishing houses. I don’t like that a book’s design (and sometimes even trim size) needs to be adjusted to fit a house style, and I don’t like how it ends up looking on my shelf when books that seem like they have nothing to do with each other have the same look.
6) Of course, the flipside to this is that even books in a collection still look great, with quite a bit of focus put on producing a quality book object (see #2). Cornelius is at the top of the heap for me, with just about everything they put out looking like a work of art. I wish I could have bought more of their books, but there was just too much else I wanted, so Chester Brown, Blexbolex, Marti, Crumb, and a bunch of others will have to wait until the next trip.
7) It’s pretty emblematic of the high place comics occupy in French culture that even mainstream/broad-appeal bookstores have excellent comics sections. And not just the standard “Album BD” mainstream stuff… Can you imagine seeing a book like Fremok’s Cowboy Henk collection shelved within spitting distance of the kids’ books at a bookstore in the US? Or going to the books section in a department store and seeing more comics (both independent and mainstream) than you see in some US comic shops?
8) Going to as many bookstores as I did, I got a good sense of what’s popular right now in France, which is interesting, since I was unaware of a lot of it. (Oh, and that new Ruppert and Mulot book I’ve been blogging about is EVERYWHERE.) One book, Carnation by Xavier Mussat, slowly wore me down, showing up at just about every store I went to, enticing me with its beautiful design and Craig Thompson meets David B.-esque art until I finally bought it. Expect pictures soon.
9) The two best bookstores I visited were Super-Heros and Le Monte en L’Air. Super-Heros is just an all-around great shop, but what sets them apart are the bookplates that they offer as a bonus with many of their books. Since books are so expensive here, it’s nice to get a signed/numbered mini print for free (free!) when you buy a book. I even managed to get an ultra-rare Tardi bookplate to go with his most recent book from Casterman. Le Monte en L’Air is a little different, since it’s a multi-subject bookstore and not a comic shop, and it’s nearly overwhelming to try to digest the shop in one visit. I was there for a half-hour before even making it back to the comics section. They have a huge selection of Le Dernier Cri and other handmade art brut books (I would have gone broke here if that stuff was more my taste), as well as cool large-format/broadsheet stuff like what Blanquet is publishing under the United Dead Artists banner. I didn’t even know about this shop, but Anders Nilsen recommended it to me a couple days ago, and I decided to make the trip. Oh, and because it’s Paris, you see this church upon leaving the store. (Justine took this photo while she sat outside waiting for me to finish my endless browse.)
9.5) I should also add La Comete de Carthage, a small shop and somtimes-publisher (under the name 9eme Monde) that I spent some time at too. This shop is a little different, since it’s used stuff curated/sold by a single proprietor, rather than a full-line shop with current books. Still, it’s more of a museum than a shop, since his prices are (justifiably) very high, and many books are handmade or hand printed, signed, or otherwise very rare.
9.75) And let’s not forget the booksellers along the river who sell who-knows-what out of their green wooden kiosks. I wasn’t expecting to find much of interest to me, but you do see tons of Tintin and other classic comics, as well as quite a few Tardi books. I made the find of the entire trip when I found a pristine first printing of C’etait la guerre des tranchees just sitting in a pile of books next to a bunch of little Eiffel Tower figurines.
10) So, to sum it up, I’m sad that I’m going to be leaving and that any future French comics purchases will have massive shipping costs to add to the high prices. I’d love to be able to meet some of the artists whose books I bought in person, so I guess I’m just going to have to depend on Bill Kartalopoulos to keep bringing them overseas for conventions, or I’ll have to save my pennies and finally make the pilgrimage to Angouleme.
That’s probably more than anyone on Tumblr wants to read, but it’s my last night in Paris and I felt like recapping my week in comic book paradise. And it really is paradise - don’t let my nitpicky observations convince you otherwise.