The French love to complain that anything that isn’t French is ruining their culture, so the manga boom (it’s huge over there, and for pretty much the same reasons it was a hit over here) occasioned much tut-tutting when it was still fresh. Uderzo, the illustrator of the venerable Astérix, even made a comic in which his characters were attacked by foreign creatures called “Nagma,” a fairly transparent acronym. But complain as he might, as this 2006 article attests, the kids were gobbling up InuYasha, while “Visitors clustered around the Asterix booth nearby were mostly men over 40.”
Last week, France Today took a fresh look at the French-language comics scene (many well known BDs are actually by Belgian and Swiss creators) and presented a different take on the influence of manga. Most of the biggest sellers—Tintin, Astérix, Blake and Mortimer—are over 50 years old, and their sales have been slipping for some time.
The lesson, says Xavier Guilbert, editor-in-chief of the comics website du9.org, seems to be clear: their age is beginning to show. “It’s reasonable to think that the stalwarts of the comic books market might not resonate as much with the younger generation today,” as he puts it.
What the success of manga over the last decade has done, says Guilbert, is not so much push out traditional BD as distract French publishers from the falling sales they were seeing in their existing stables anyway. “They went after manga and forgot to develop their own catalogs,” he argues. That’s a problem now, because with most of the successful Japanese titles now translated into French, manga sales have started to slow.
The France Today article does miss another point, made in the earlier piece, that manga are more inviting for girls. BDs tend to be guy comics, with mostly male characters doing things that guys like to read about, and that’s fine, but it leaves half the potential audience with few choices. If there is a BD renaissance, it would be nice to see more female creators and characters take center stage.