Since FAMOUS FUNNIES first appeared on U.S. newsstands in the middle '30's the comic book as a publication has served as a vehicle for an unique form of graphic literature which we have been calling 'sequential art'. Today these 'comics' have reached a level of technology and audience encompassment that is allowing its writers and artists to contribute to an output no longer imprisoned in the narrow world of « junk reading ».
Working in an international arena the practitioners of this art form are, as never before, enjoying (or struggling) with a greater professional status in the cultural community. They are producing work of increasing sophistication and they are pushing the boundaries of its potential with almost nuclear force.
As in the case of all artistic development, the core of such explosions shift. But for the moment the scene of greatest ferment is in France.
Recently, in a conversation with a colleague (Harvey Kurtzman) we explored the phenomenon of the 'comic' scene in France. We could agree that France, for the last ten years, has been the spearhead of the thrust. But the reasons for this were not so easily discerned and, I might add, are not easy (for Americans) to evaluate. You see, for almost 80 years, the United States was the fountainhead of the flow of comics that spread over the globe. From Mutt & Jeff to Mickey Mouse and Buck Rogers, and from Terry and the Pirates to Superman, it seemed that the prime source of direction came from North America. To get an overview, therefore, one has to regard the scene from atop this mighty monument. Not so easy to do.
Climate is one overriding factor in change and growth. In France, beginning with the seventies, two conditions served as incubators for a kind of genetic change in the direction of comic books. One was France's long history of intellectual ferment and the other was its liberal accreditation of comic book artists.
So as the radiation from the « underground comic » explosion in the States spread to Europe, it germinated a whole body of new talent in the receptive gel of French culture.
Starting with the evolution of the magazine PILOTE and the immense success of ASTERIX throughout the world, and continuing with the 'break-out' of artists such as Moebius and Druillet for Heavy Metal, and of Gotlib and others into independent ventures, a whole new thrust developed which impacted on the world scene. Just as the Spanish comic book artists had an enormous influence on the craft, the French pushed the intellectual level to new heights. It is from here, I firmly believe, that the new direction is proceeding. This is the orientation of future comic book art. We can see its influence in the American scene today.
It is always difficult (if not downright foolhardy) for a practitioner to attemptto name the « best » or the « most important » of his contemporaries. It is a lot more realistic (and safer) to admire ability. I therefore point with admiration to one of the French comic book teams in the vanguard of this exciting scene ? a team which is clearly in possession of the qualities that are influencing this movement.
The work of Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin embodies a wonderful barance of intellect and craft that combines a kind of « completeness ». They produce a comic page that is structurally whole. Mezieres' architecture has the « feel » of Windsor McCay with its towering knowledge of perspective and the solidity of construction. His futuristic scenes in Valerian for example have a believability equal to the realism of his people that live there. He imbues his people with a kind of grace and orchestrates their activity with great intelligence. As a comic book team, Christin and Mezieres work with what I regard as the best combination of qualities... intelligence and discipline and imagination.
I commend their efforts to you.