Michel Porret, ed., Objectif bulles: Bande dessinée et histoire ['Destination Balloons: Comics and History'] (Geneva: Georg, 2009; 'L'Equinoxe' collection; Médecine et Hygiène). 304 pp. ISBN 978-2-8257-0961-0 (22.00)
The prominence of historical themes in bande dessinée, especially since the early twentieth century, offers a fertile field for analysis. Objectif bulles:Bande dessinée et histoire ['Destination Balloons: Comics and History'] is therefore a welcome addition to this vast and still relatively uncharted area.1 Previous edited volumes in French date back to the late 1970s and early 1990s.2 This volume, edited by a professional historian, brings together a team of experts with generally strong academic credentials and expertise in the analysis of bande dessinée: six contributors teach modern or contemporary history in the university system (one is working on his doctorate); one teaches art history; two are professors of literature; and one is working on his masters degree, under Porret. The eleventh contributor is a government official in the French Ministry of Health. All but one of the contributions are original to this volume; the exception is excerpted from a recent book, Steinlen: L'Oeil de la rue ['Steinlen: The Eye of the Street'] (2008). Eight of the contributors are in Switzerland (Lausanne and Geneva), where the book series is based; the remaining three are in France. Several of the authors have published extensively on comics.
The volume includes a diverse array of thematic studies, in comics produced from the late nineteenth century up to the first decade of the twenty-first century, including: a study by Philippe Kaenel, of children's stories in mostly wordless comics by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923); an analysis by Frédéric Chauvaud of imprisonment in bandes dessinées published in the early 1930s (especially in the Zig and Puce, Tintin and Felix the Cat series); the 'great menace' of atomic apocalypse in 1950s comics, analysed by Porret; and a chapter by Yan Schubert on the Jewish genocide, in comics from Maus (by Art Spiegelman) to the present. The time periods represented within the comics studied extend from Greek and Roman antiquity (e.g., an analysis by Alain Boillat of the historical Jesus in comics; and a study by Sébastien Farré of metaphors of collaboration in the Astérix series), through the Middle Ages (a study by Alain Corbellari of medieval history and the philosophical tale in the Johan and Pirlouit and Schtroumpf ['Smurf'] series, originally by Peyo), and on into the imagined future, in science fiction comics with time travel (e.g., Le Piège diabolique ['The Time Trap'], in Edgar P. Jacobs's Blake and Mortimer series). A preponderance of the comics studied are by European artists, especially Belgians (Hergé, Peyo) and French (René Goscinny, Jacques Martin, Alain Saint-Ogan and Albert Uderzo), but Steinlen was Swiss, and some chapters focus in part or whole on cartoonists from other European-language countries and traditions: a study of Spanish comics by Alary; one by Danielle Chaperon on From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell; and comics and cartoonists from the United States (e.g., The New Adventures of Jesus, by underground Texan cartoonist, Frank Stack). The volume contains a few mentions of cartoonists from non-European comics or traditions: for example, regarding translations into French of comics by Japanese artists Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and Hisashi Sakaguchi. The volume therefore has both useful diversity - of themes and historical time periods treated - and a coherent focus on European-language comics, mostly from the Francophone tradition, especially by Belgian and French artists.
Although scholarship on bande dessinée now reaches back several decades, the still relatively undeveloped nature of the field (compared to cinema studies, for example) might understandably lead academics working on a specific theme related to comics to believe that they are the first to study their topic. …