Paris reading – or what do you do with a comic book?

It’s a book fair. But most people line up – for someone drawing and painting often entire pages, in ink and bright colour!

Getting back from Paris and the Salon du Livre, happy to have survived aisles jammed by endless cohorts of youth lining up for their favorite comic book stars, I still have a smile on my face. Those comic book heros have been held responsible, in my youth, for an expected decline in reading. Yet today, all across Europe, and particularly so in France, comic books are, in every respect, a foundation of the book market and of reading culture.

Titeuf, that boy with his daring blond hair, is considered to have had not such a strong year in 2006, with ‘only’ 570800 of his 11th album sold in a country of 50 million (which put Titeuf still on top of the year’s bestseller ranking once again)… Altogether, the French comic book market is growing steadily now for 12 years, and even in 2006, comic books are, with +0.5 %, one of the rare segments of growth.

However, even the dungeon that is French home grown comic book culture, for years has come under huge pressure from Far Eastern contendants, or to put it more simply: Mangas tend to overtake the French heros now more and more often, thereby triggering, according to Livres Hebdo, the serious threat of a ‘bubble’ of overproduction. In this week’s top 20 bestseller list of ALL books sold in France, “Naruto” (with vol. 20) is number 2, while a 50th anniverary volume of Gaston Lagaffe is only sixth.

While Europe this weekend was celebrating not only Gaston Lagaffe, but also the 50th anniverary of the European Union (what a coincidence indeed), I must remember, still smiling, as I said, that question of an American friend of mine who was wondering not so long ago: ‘Is there a comic book tradition in Europe’, he asked.

Kehlmann – at last – not anymore Germany’s #1 bestseller

Bestsellers in Europe are strange these days. Since fall 2005, or for 78 weeks in a row, a novel about two learned men of the 18th century topped all the lists in Germany.  Last year in France, where traditions count probably more then anything else in culture, a book written by an American writer (in English) of Polish Jewish origins about the atrocities of the Eastern front in World War II was the main sensation of the season (Jonathan Littell’s “Les Bienveillantes”). And now, in Germany again, every reader’s eyes are on a first novel about the murder of a farmer family and the portrait of a village community as an anti-idyllic place, published – to make the success even more unlikely – by a small press that so far was better known for its post-leftist ambitions (Andrea Maria Schenkel: Tannöd. Edition Nautilus. For a German review see here.)

But at least Tannöd is a crime novel and thus fits into what seems to be the main European reading pattern in the first place: Well researched and written, somehow authentic and always highly localised crime fiction, which can be found in any country and region, from Greece to Sweden.

By the way, so much for globalisation and culture, when every village has its own direct line to fame!

A global culture and its bottleneck

or, Why translation matters.

Oddly enough, globalisation (and the internet) brought, as for books, not many more translations from all those books from all over the world. Quite the opposite has happened.

The number of translated books has declined continuously in most countries since the mid 1990s, and that is not only true for those ‘smaller’ languages that are considered to be threatened anyway. Even translations of originally English (or French) titles, e.g. into German has been roughly halved since the mid 1990s.

Wanna learn more? Then go to A global culture and its bottleneck.

Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get notified about new reports, blogposts and events