March is the month of French translated literature on the GLLI blog, and I wanted to highlight French graphic novels, because they are now an integral part of the French literature world. When I was in Bologna for the International Children’s Book Festival, I was on a mission: to find French translated graphic novels so that I could read them and add them to the library where I worked. It can be hard sometimes to keep up with the world of translated graphic novels, in part because the review journals often just review one or two graphic novels at a time. In that vein, I’d like to recommend some of the comics that I’ve been reading, and really focus on young adult/middle grade novels.
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust may have been my first introduction to a translated French graphic novel. It is written for children, clearly, but the story moves it beyond simply children’s literature. Anyone who has read The Diary of Anne Frank can appreciate the heartbreaking story in Hidden. Readers of all ages will be brought to tears, and it is in part due to Loic Dauvillier’s original writing, as well as Alexis Siegel’s beautiful translation. This book takes a difficult, horrifying subject, and tells it through a child’s eyes without ever tamping down the level of the horror. It’s never too much for children, but it won’t be too childish for teens, either.
In a complete reversal, Beautiful Darkness is indeed what it claims. This is an older-young adult book that will pique the interest of those who love Gothic, dark fairy tales. The dialogue is sparse, but the story relies on the art to propel it along through its Gothic twists and turns. The book opens with the image of a deceased body, the host, from which all of the characters spring. There is no explanation of what happened to the host, but things can be inferred. The story follows several characters as they try to survive in the outside world, and how they deal with natural obstacles. The characters are small, and have to fight against a natural world they’re not meant to be in. Their experiences affect each of them differently, and the plot follows their descent into chaos and anarchy.
One book to look out for that I saw at the International Children’s Book Festival in Bologna is Castle in the Stars by Alex Alice. I was immediately drawn in by its beautiful cover, but I did not understand enough French to read the book in its original language. This did not stop me from purchasing a copy in French, but the English version arrives in September of this year, and it’s a book to keep an eye out for. Its official title is Castle in the Stars, the Space Race of 1869. Now I have always been a fan of steampunk, alternate history which focuses on the Victorian era. Obviously no one went to space in 1869, but the beauty of steampunk is imagining advanced technology with the limitations set by the time period. This title is also being published by First Second, and I cannot wait to read this graphic novel. Any teens that love steampunk will enjoy seeing it in this incarnation. If your teens liked Compass South and similar titles, then they will enjoy Castle in the Stars.
As a last example, I wanted to talk about translating comics into French instead of the other way around. One of my favorite comic series is being translated into French and published by Glénat Comics. The series features twelve gods who are continuously being reincarnated into teenagers; however, they only live for two years after they are awakened. The first issue of the comic follows one of the gods’ fans as she begins to explore the pantheon, as the group of gods are called. McKelvie and Gillen, the co-creators of the series for Image Comics, discussed in interviews and on Twitter the translation of this series, as well as their other comic series, Phonogram. The first Phonogram volume was titled Rue Britannia, which carried the double meanings of both regret and a specific street name. However, the pun did not transfer to the title of the French edition.
There is so much to find in French literature, and especially in their graphic novels. The French have a rich history of graphic novels, and their own style called bandes desinees. Although I didn’t explore the classic French graphic novel styles in this article, teens will definitely enjoy the recent titles that I have gathered together in this post.
By Stacey Shapiro