I’ve decided to start adding some original content to this blog, rather than just reposting some of my journalistic clips. I’m a Francophile and a graphic novel enthusiast, so I’ll combine these interests by discussing and reviewing bande dessinée (Franco-Belgian comics).
I first became interested in French culture and history at about age 12 or 13 when I read “A Year in Provence,” a memoir by British expatriate Peter Mayle. I attended Madeira Jr./Sr. High School in Cincinnati and we only had three options when it came to studying foreign language: French, Spanish, and Latin. I chose French and I took classes all the way up to Advanced Placement level as a senior. After graduating, I spent a few weeks in France as part of a group with other French students from Madeira.
I hate flying, and I took a bunch of Xanax to control my anxiety during the flight. We landed in Charles de Gaulle Airport and then took a bus tour around Paris. The bus was not air conditioned, and I had not slept well on the flight over. I got up and started walking towards the back of the bus with the hope that I could lay down and try to rest. But, about half way down the aisle I threw up everywhere. I blame it on the fact that I probably took too much Xanax. The first stop on the tour was the Louvre, and while everyone else in the group was checking out Mona Lisa, I was lying on a bench drinking water outside the museum.
We stayed with a local family outside of Paris and the first night we had egg salad for dinner. I hate egg salad, but I was pretty tired and hungry so I did my best to eat some. I went to the bathroom and promptly threw up again. The mom cleaned everything up and I was mortified.
After that first day, the rest of the trip was amazing. We went to Notre Dame and Versailles before visiting Château de Chenonceau and Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley. Our last stop was a few days in Nice. I hope to go back some day soon!
After returning home, I began my undergraduate studies at Purdue University. I took a class on French history and several more conversational courses. I also love French films, and Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French during World War II, is my favorite historical figure. I graduated in 2004, but let my interest in French languish until I started my master’s degree in French cultural history at the University of Kentucky in 2011.
I was always fascinated by the heroic mystique of the French résistance during World War II, so I studied the memoirs of men and women who had fought against the German occupation. Reading their memoirs forced me to revive my language comprehension skills.
Before I completed my master’s degree in 2014, I also rediscovered my interest in graphic novels. As a youngster, I had occasionally bought a few Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles. At the University of Kentucky, I started visiting local comic shops regularly with a particular eye for anything related to World War II.
During a trip to Louisville in 2010 or 2011, I stopped at The Great Escape, a comics and music store. I browsed the graphic novel section and found a story called “The Final Flight” (French title “Le Dernier Envol”). It was actually one of the few books from the French bande dessinée publisher Paquet that had been translated into English. This collection of short stories told the interconnected tales of four pilots during World War II. I loved how the stories were woven together, but the incredibly detailed and lavish artwork also stunned me. It was like nothing I had ever seen from an American graphic novel. Each panel could have been its own work of art. For example, in the following image, the artist Romain Hugault, captures the wear that has peeled off the paint from the fuselage. After finishing “The Final Flight,” I knew I had to have more. The book was part of Pacquet’s “Cockpit” series, which focuses on aeronautical tales from World War I to the contemporary era.
I setup an account on amazon.fr and ordered the “Le Grand Duc” series, which focuses on a love story between a German and Soviet pilot during World War II. Since then, I’ve purchased a number of other World War II stories from the “Cockpit” collection. Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll publish reviews of “Le Grand Duc” and many others. However, the next installment in my bande dessinée blog posts will be an overview of the historical and artistic development of Franco-Belgian comics.