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ARCHIVED - Publishing Comics
In the mid 1980s, renewal swept over the comics world. Major European and American publishers rested on proven values and left little space for young authors with something different to offer. To counter this conservative approach, several small independent publishing houses opened their doors. France contributed Chacal Puant, and, a few years later, the Association and Égo comme X. Belgium produced Fréon and the United States, Fantagraphic Books and Slave Labor. These small publishers offered more adult and more personal comics, usually referred to as "alternative."
Specialized Publishers (1982- )
The first comics albums published in Quebec had generally been the work of publishing houses that knew little or nothing at all about comics. Sensing an opportunity, these publishers published albums for children that were inspired by popular television characters. Because of these publishers' ignorance of the medium, their works were often only spin-offs of successful European series.
In the 1980s, several small publishing houses (some created by authors or fans in this field) took up the challenge of publishing comics with very limited means. Their publications presented a much broader and subtler array of Quebecois production. These small-press and alternative comics soon showed up in bookshops.
Hard and soft-cover comics albums
From 1982 to 1986, Éditions Ovale of Sillery published a certain number of hardcover, coloured albums for children. Several original series appeared: Ray Gliss by Rémy Simard and François Benoit, Octave by Patrice Dubray and Yvon Brochu, Célestin by Serge Gaboury and Humphrey Beauregard by Yves Perron and Normand Viau.
Other publishers aimed at an older public, and their albums were usually black and white and soft-covered. Yves Millet, bookstore owner and magazine director, also spearheaded the Éditions du Phylactère, which, between 1987 and 1993, published close to 30 titles (from Luc Giard to Luis Neves, including Jean Lacombe, Michèle Laframboise and Pierre Drysdale), some of which were bound by hand.
In 1988, comic strip creator Rémy Simard founded his own publishing house, Kami Case, which issued albums by Caroline Merola (Ma Météor bleue, La Maison truquée and Le Rêve du collectionneur), Jean Lacombe (L'Étrange and Un loup pour l'homme), Benoît Joly (Exit), Claude Cloutier (Gilles la Jungle and La Légende des Jean-Guy) and Simard himself (Le Père Noël a une crevaison and Les Momie's).
In 1993, artist and teacher Mira Falardeau created the Éditions Falardeau. Until 1996, she devoted herself to publishing the work of her spouse André-Philippe Côté (the series "Baptiste," Castello), as well as certain authors of the Quebec region: Mario Malouin (Guerre épais…), Jean-François Bergeron (La Voyante) and Marc Auger (Le Galion des mistigris).
Between 1985 and 1997, Éditions Michel published some hardcover comic books by Al+Flag (Story board…, Post mortem, Réflexions) and by Caroline Merola (Cent dangers). Meanwhile, between 1992 and 1997, Éditions Logiques collected, and published together, stories by Jean-Paul Eid (the series "Jérôme Bigras") and Serge Gaboury ("Vive la nature" and "Gaboury sous pression") that had originally been published in Croc.
In French Canada outside of Quebec, a few albums appeared that were based on characters and events in local history. In this vein, in 1986, the Éditions Louis Riel in Regina published Le Géant Édouard by Chloé and Claudette Gendron, a biography of Édouard Beaupré, better known as Giant Beaupré. Louis Riel grabbed the attention of that province's publishers and two biographical volumes came out at Éditions des Plaines: in 1990, Louis Riel en bandes dessinées by Robert Freynet and Louis Riel, le père du Manitoba by Toufik and Zoran in 1996. In Ottawa, the Éditions du Vermillon published several historical works produced by Christian Quesnel, including: Le Crépuscule des Bois-Brûlés (1995) about the Métis revolt; La Quête des oubliés (1998) about the deportation of the Acadians in 1755; and Le Grand Feu (1999) about the fire that ravaged Hull at the beginning of the 20th century.
A force to be reckoned with: Mille-Îles
In 1988, an important player took up residence in the landscape of the Quebecois comic strip: Éditions Mille-Îles. Its first album was the children's series Gargouille by Tristan Demers, followed by Line Arsenault's La Vie qu'on mène, for adults. Several imprints were created to please various readerships: BD Mille-Îles, Coup de Griffe, Dérive (which later became Fondation) and Zone Convective. Children's albums were primarily concentrated in BD Mille-Îles (including the series Pépite et Goberge by Marc Chouinard, Ariane et Nicolas by Paul Roux, Pignouf et Hamlet by Yves Rodier and David, Super-H by Paul LeBrun, and Pete Kevlar by Makoello and Jean-Louis Roy), whereas Coup de Griffe grouped comics whose humour was slightly more grating (Rupert K. by Bruno and Gilles Laporte, Les Vaginocrates by Serge Ferrand, Grokon le monstre by Mario Malouin and Yvon Landry and Bi-Bop by Raymond Parent).
The Fondation imprint spoke to the convergence of comic strip authors with writers from other disciplines. Two high-quality albums have been published to date under this name: Scaphandre 8 ("Le Naufragé de Memoria" series) by Jean-Paul Eid and Claude Paiement as well as Théogonie by Dominique Desbiens and Gilles Laporte.
In 1996, Yves Millet started a new publishing house, Zone Convective, which was bought back three years later by the Éditions Mille-Îles. The latter published in it a collection of alternative comic strips: Villégiature by Leif Tande, Avatars ataviques by Philippe Girard, Planet Twist by Grégoire Bouchard, À Chandra de Surya by Alexandre Lafleur and Marc Tessier and Stripbook by Éric Braün, among others. In 2000, in the Zone Convective imprint, an impressive collective work called, Cyclope, came out that brought together most Quebecois underground and alternative authors.
Today, the Éditions Mille-Îles catalogue has more than 40 titles of all the genres from children's comic strips to underground strips, science-fiction and all the varieties of humour. This roster has made them the largest comics publisher in Quebec since Fides.
At the cutting edge
At the turn of the 21st century, young publishing houses joined Kami Case, Zone Convective and Mille-Îles:
For now, these little publishing houses had only a few albums in their catalogues, but their works were of a quality that the BDQ had rarely reached to date. Since the middle of the 1990s, each year, Quebecois publishers produced between 30 and 40 titles, although this number includes translations of American titles such as the series Garfield by Jim Davis at the Éditions Presses Aventures.
Coming Out Into the World (1990- )
As the Quebec market was very small, more and more authors tried their luck abroad. Some, such as Yanick Paquette, Denis Rodier, Gabriel Morrissette, Michel Lacombe, Niko Henrichon and Jean-Sébastien Duberger, moved into the American comic book industry (Marvel, DC Comics, Image); others, such as Henriette Valium, Sylvie Rancourt and Jacques Boivin, went to "independent" American publishers (Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink); still others, such as Robert Rivard, Élie Klimos, Réal Godbout, Pierre Fournier, Guy Delisle, Tristan Demers, Julie Doucet and Thierry Labrosse, produced their works with European publishers (Glénat, Dargaud, L'Association, P. et T. Productions).
Since 1990, an English-speaking publishing house from Montréal, Drawn and Quarterly, has offered new avenues for Quebecois creators, by opening the anglophone market to them. Julie Doucet, Luc Giard and Michel Rabagliati all appeared in the publisher's self-titled magazine. In it, Doucet produced a comic book, Dirty Plotte, which brought her international renown. Collections drawn from Dirty Plotte were reprinted in French, and later translated into Finnish, German and Spanish. In 2001, Rabagliati received a Harvey Award (Best New Artist) and was nominated for an Eisner Award 1 (Best Single Issue) for the English version of Paul à la campagne (Paul in the Country) published by Drawn and Quarterly.
Quebec publishers also tried to conquer new markets. La Pastèque sent part of the Paul à la campagne print-run to France, while the magazine Spoutnik gained circulation with Diamond, the American distributor, through their whole English-speaking market. Also, Zone Convective's albums, including Avatars ataviques by Philippe Girard, were offered overseas through a European distributor.
At the end of 2000, Éditions Mille-Îles opened a French subsidiary, 400 Coups-France. It reprints Quebecois albums (the series Rupert K. by the Laporte brothers and Le Naufragé de Memoria by Jean-Paul Eid and Claude Paiement as well as the French versions of the Chester Brown albums), apart from offering original comic books. Only time will tell if these Quebecois productions meet with a favourable response abroad.
Throughout their history, Quebecois comics have had to face fierce competition from the United States and Europe. Even today, most dailies only publish translations of American strips distributed by the syndicates. At newspaper stands, American comic books and European comics magazines still dominate. Moreover, in bookstores and supermarkets, European comics albums are most in demand. In spite of the growing coverage of Quebec comics in the media, their sales only represent 5% of the comic strip market 2. The rest is divided between large European publishers, especially French and Belgian.
This double invasion -- American and European -- of the local market is not a phenomenon exclusive to Quebec. In the past, several countries legislated to try to stem this invasion and allow local talent to emerge and become known, for example, Australia in 1940 and Portugal in 1950. In 1949, under the pretext of controlling what was being read by the country's youth, France adopted a law limiting the importation of American comics. Other countries, such as Sweden in 1968, instituted promotional campaigns in favour of their national comics.
Foreign comics shape local production. One has but to study fanzines to know what is influencing comics readers at the moment. In the 1970s, European influence, via Charlie and Pilote, dominated. Then, in 1980-1990, when the American comic-book industry was going through an exceptional boom, superheroes appeared on the pages of student fanzines. Today, one finds more and more characters with doe eyes and ski-jump noses, an obvious sign of the impact of "mangas" 3. These are very well distributed in Quebec -- in French by European publishers and in English by American ones.
All these foreign comic strips have created habits and expectations among readers. Quebec creators must compose with them in mind, in order to reach the public in a market that is almost saturated. Compensating for this, comics are no longer seen as a childish diversion and, ever since the famous "springtime" of the Quebecois comic strip at the beginning of the 1970s, things have changed for Quebec creators. Whereas, 30 years ago, there was no support for comics, today creators can receive government bursaries or grants, institutions call on them to create teaching comics and, most importantly, there continue to exist publishers who specialize in comics. Moreover, the humour magazines Safarir, Kamikaz and Délire continue to dedicate enough pages to comic strips that a number of authors can actually make a living from this work.
However, not everything is rosy and there is still much to do to reach Quebec readers who still prefer American and European comic strips to native ones. Frequently reduced to publishing exclusively in fanzines with a restricted distribution, most authors remain unknown to the public and cannot distribute their art on a large scale.
The way ahead is hard and filled with pitfalls. Still, more and more authors with original talent -- like Julie Doucet, André-Philippe Côté, Guy Delisle, Michel Rabagliati, Éric Asselin and Caroline Merola, to name but a few -- demonstrate the originality of the BDQ and prove that it is possible to make a place in the sun for Quebecois creators.