Found in Translation: Delcourt Brings French Comics, in English, to comiXology

Delcourt Group, the largest independent graphic novel publisher in France, is moving into the English-language market with a line of digital-first English translations that will be available exclusively on leading digital distributor comiXology. The line will debut with six titles:

"The Curse of the Wendigo," a story about a mysterious creature set during World War I, written by Mathieu Missoffe and illustrated by Charlie Adlard, the artist of "The Walking Dead;" "Josephine," a romantic comedy by Penelope Bagieu, the creator of "Exquisite Corpse;" "Promethee," a science-fiction story in the same vein as "Lost," created by Christopher Bec, with an introduction by Mark Waid; "Iron Squad," an alternate history sci-fi story in which new technology allows the Germans to win World War II, by Jean-Luc Sala and Ronan Toulhoat; "Spin Angels," a tale of black ops and spies, a Catholic cardinal and the Mafia, by Jean-Luc Sala and Pierre-Mony Chan; "Come Prima," a road story about two warring brothers, done in a style that pays homage to Italian films, by Alfred. "Come Prima" won the Prix du Meilleur Album at the 2014 Angoulême International Comics Festival.

"Come Prima" will be released as a complete graphic novel, while the others will be serialized in 23-page installments. Going forward, Delcourt expects to publish eight titles a month; one graphic novel, and the rest as serial comics. Some of the comics will have introductions by well known American creators, such as Waid and Terry Moore, as well as variant covers by U.S. artists. In the next 12 months, 150 Delcourt titles are expected to debut in English on comiXology.

Delcourt's French-language comics have been available on comiXology since 2013, but Delcourt founder Guy Delcourt said they are only a small slice of the business. In an interview with CBR News, Delcourt said he hopes the new initiative will increase the popularity of French comics with English-language readers, particularly Americans.

CBR News: Delcourt started publishing untranslated French comics on comiXology in 2013. Why did you do that, and how has it worked out?

Guy Delcourt: I was the first French publisher [to sign on with comiXology]. It was easy to see that they understood a lot about how to deal with comics in a digital way. They are 100 percent digital, which was reassuring for me. They had the Guided View [panel-by-panel viewing system], which I thought was very simple, efficient and respectful of the artist's work, and they were very open-minded, very enthusiastic about opening up to new types of comics, and not just the core business of the U.S., superhero comics.

It's still a very small business. It's half a percent of our sales. Our best selling digital comic is "The Walking Dead," with a few thousand copies of each book. So it's not El Dorado yet.

Has your audience for French-language comics been mostly in France or other countries?

Actually we had quite a few people who said "Thank you," because they are French readers but they live abroad, and they were happy to be able to have that.

Are these new English-language editions exclusive to comiXology?

Yes, at least for the first year.

Were these comics previously published in France, before they were translated?

They were previously published in print and digital.

Why do the English editions digital-first?

The market share of digital comics in the U.S. is much bigger than France, and I think it has always been difficult for print comics coming from France to the U.S. to reach an audience because of the format. It's not a comic-size format, it's album size, so in comic shops it has been difficult for these comics to be visible, because they didn't fit into the racks. There are probably other reasons, but the first reason is that.

Digital allows us to go beyond that problem because on an iPad you cannot really see the format difference, or at least it is not as visible. It makes the difference much smaller. I think it gives the comics a better chance of being read, because in terms of style, of stories, of artwork, a lot of these comics match the tastes of the U.S. public. I'm not saying all of them will reach a big audience, but I see a chance.

One of the lasting effects of manga in the U.S. was that it drew in female readers. Which new readers do you think will be attracted to these titles?

In France you have the same phenomenon of broadening the scope of readership. I was happy to be instrumental in that we have a lot of French female creators and we are also opening our market to the female audience. Thirty years ago it was 90 percent male; now we are getting close to 50-50. I also publish a lot of shoujo [girls'] manga, like "Nana," so we have been on the forefront of female readership for years. Graphic novels, which are now a very strong component of our output, actually reach more of a female audience: In France, as in the U.S., there are more female than male readers of novels, and graphic novels are particularly appealing to female readers.

What types of comics are you choosing for English translation?

We concentrated on two lines, one more like entertainment, science fiction, thrillers, fantasy, etc. -- we have an abundance of those -- and on the other side, graphic novels aimed at a mature audience. We were able to correspond to the way U.S. publishers present their books by splitting every 48-page album into two comics of 23 pages, so it is more compatible with the way Americans read.

Will most of your comics be serialized that way?

Yes. I think we have one graphic novel each month, and I think the total is eight releases per month, whether graphic novels or individual comics, and then of course collected editions. Who knows, maybe one of these will be successful enough for us to produce it in a print edition!

In terms of audience appeal, are you selecting these with American audiences in mind, or another region?

We recently agreed to open all our digital English translations worldwide, so I am confident that comiXology could reach anyplace, which is very exciting. Our first strategy was to reach the U.S. audience, and also U.S. business people, people in production companies, who may be interested in acquiring rights. Whether we like it or not, American producers will not buy rights to any work that is not in English, so it's a step in that direction.

Delcourt has been translating English-language comics for the French market for some time now. What have you learned from that experience that will help you market BDs to English-language readers?

It showed that European and American readers are getting closer to each other. The huge success of "The Walking Dead" in France, which started even before the television series was aired, kind of took everybody by surprise, because it is now the number one comic book series for adults in France. It went beyond TV, of course, and far beyond the fanboy audience; I see women and people in their 40s and 50s reading it. It has broadened the scope, and if such a series can succeed in France, it is encouraging that both sides of the Atlantic will be getting closer to each other. The same goes for other U.S. comics. It's not on the same scale, but "Hellboy" is a success, and the Star Wars comics. As you know, American culture is very popular in France, whether it is movies, games, whatever, so I would be happy to be part of returning the favor.

Select translated Delcourt Group titles are available now on comiXology.

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