SDCC 2015: Bandes Dessin?es with Guy Delcourt


The Delcourt Group is one of the biggest independent comic publishers in France, and earlier this week they announced the release of a line of English language, digital-first comics through comiXology. Bandes dessin?es have been growing in popularity in America in recent years, with books like Snowpiercer and Last Man: The Stranger seeing wide release and winning critical praise. I had a chance to sit down with the founder of The Delcourt Group, Guy Delcourt, on his way out west to San Diego to talk about the new French invasion and what American readers have to look forward to now that we have a whole new country’s worth of comics to read.

James Bort

Jim Dandeneau: Congratulations on the deal with comiXology. What excites you most about bringing these books to America?

Guy Delcourt: What excites me is that I think that the American public doesn’t have the faintest idea of the scope and wealth of French comics. There are three main cultures of comics in the world – US culture, Japanese and French, and so far, Americans have only seen a tiny part of it. So I’m glad we are,through this deal, through the digital publications, that we are making it available.

JD: …I’ve started to notice the wave starting of French comics coming to America. Why now?

GD: Because it’s possible. [laughs]French comics in print, which have been done through very good publishers, such as Dark Horse, NBM, Archaia and others, have had a limited appeal. Not because, I think, of the content, of the artwork or anything, but because of the format, mainly. In comic shops, the album sized books don’t fit into the racks, so they have always been put in some corner. A kind of foreign corner, which is doom in itself. It’s like those movies only in one theater in New York because they are French or German movies. It’s kind of branded them in a bad way, I think.

JD: I was thinking about this when I was doing some research for the interview, and there seems to be, every decade, there’s a new invasion in American comics. In the 80s, there was the British invasion with Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and the British writers coming over, and it was very reflective of the…end of the Cold War. The 90s manga invasion…because of the proliferation of cable television and anime…The 2000s were kind of an indie invasion, more of an invasion internally of non-superhero folks getting popular, and now we’ve got French comics. Do you feel like I’m way off target here?

Delcourt Group
Curse of the Wendigo #1 – Click to Enlarge

GD: Hopefully not. [laughs]. I think it’s comparable, but we have to be cautious. The British invasion was mainly British creators working for American publishers, which is not the same thing. And manga, as I said before, manga is a continent. It’s a huge, great comics culture. It’s heavily marketed. So, as you said, through television, through anime, etcetera, it was very hard for them to be successful here in the US. French comics are more, I would say, are not done on the same scale. They’re not done under the same rules. I think the creative range is enormous. I’m not sure that the marketing push will be just as big, so we’ll have to see. It will be something, if it happens, this quote-unquote invasion, it will be really because of the audience response, and it will be a step by step basis. It will not be an invasion, actually. It will be more like an infiltration.

JD: Do you feel like having guys like Charlie Adlard and Mark Waid [writing a preface for Prom?th?e]and Matteo Scalera doing a variant cover for one of your books, do you feel like that helps the infiltration along?

GD: Well, it certainly is our goal. There are already bridges between European and American culture…We are releasing a book whose artist is Charlie Adlard, who before The Walking Dead, did a book for one of our publishing companies, European sized. So Charlie himself has one foot in one culture and one foot in the other. And also, you find artists and writers, Mark Waid and Jeff Smith for instance, who are very sensitive to the wealth and to the diversity of French comics. It’s encouraging because it will help us, of course, here, in terms of communication. It’s also encouraging because these people have good taste, so it’s a good sign. [laughs]

Delcourt Group
Come Prima – Click to Enlarge

JD: Can you talk a little bit about the diversity of French comics? Manga has a diversity of subjects, but there’s kind of a uniformity of style and production. American comics are very focused on superhero books for the longest time, and only really in the last decade or so have they been popularly breaking out from that strictly superhero model. Can you talk a little bit about French comics?

GD: In France, they’re considered books, not comics, if you want to summarize it. Which means that almost all bookshops have a comics section. Some of them are specialized bookshops for comics, but a lot of them are just general bookshops that have large comics sections next to novels and nonfiction material. And along my career, nearly 30 years, I’ve been really keen to help opening up the field of French comics. Before, it was mainly adventure and humor strips. Now, along the years, we have opened up new fields. Comics for a female audience, for instance. Quite a few are actually created by female creators. Nonfiction comics. Graphic novels, of course. Will Eisner did the first graphic novel, but we followed naturally. [laughs]It’s as diversified as in literature, basically. And in terms of graphic style, you have all kinds also. You have the very detailed artwork of genre comics, fantasy, science fiction, etcetera. And you have more subtle and personal styles, such as the first graphic novel we are releasing, called Come Prima. Which almost seems like an Italian movie of the 1960s. It has great charm.

Delcourt Group
Josephine #1 – Click to Enlarge

JD: Or like Josephine, which looks like a romantic comedy.

GD: Humor. I don’t know if it’s romantic. It’s kind of sarcastic.

JD: Then it’s a good romantic comedy.

GD: The artist who does Josephine is extremely successful, and is based in New York. It’s just funny to see our cultures meet.

JD: Can we go through each of the books and talk about why you’re excited about them?

GD: Of course!

JD: Curse of the Wendigo.

GD: It’s a great concept story of during World War 1, Germans and the French joined forces against supernatural creatures. It’s a great idea of which Charlie Adlard had a lot of fun doing.

JD: Iron Squad?

GD: Again, the concept, this category of books…it’s entertaining…Iron Squad is based on these great war machines during World War 2, so it’s a uchronie, what would have happened.

Delcourt Group
Iron Squad #1 – Click to Enlarge

JD: Alternate history.

GD: And the writer will be in San Diego, Jean-Luc Sala.

JD: He has Spin Angels also.

GD: Spin Angels oh wow…It’s about black ops in the Vatican. Its artwork is amazing. It’s been very successful. And it’s a complete now, a complete story. It’s I think 6 French books, which will make 12 issues. Because we are dividing every book into 2 issues.

JD: …Is it difficult finding places to break them, or are you just cutting them where they fit?

GD: Well, we try not to be insensitive. But sometimes, it was not built this way.

JD: Right.

GD: But after that, we will have digital collections of four issues. So it will be a little more consistent.

Delcourt Group
Spin Angels #1 – Click to Enlarge

JD: Guided view, have you played around with that? You’ve had a partnership with comiXology for some time now.

GD: Guided view was one of the reasons I signed up with comiXology as the first French publisher, because I felt it was very easy, clever, respectful of the artists, because we asked them if they want us to use it or not. If they don’t want it, you have the full page reading. So yeah, it works very well, and I’m not surprised that comiXology has been so successful.

JD: And your partnership with them has been very successful, obviously.

GD: It’s…we have a great trust in each other. I was the first one to sign up, and so with [comiXology CEO] David Steinberger and his team, there has always been that special connection. And when I told him “Hey, our deal has been built for French editions, but it would work just as well for the English language,” they were immediately responsive and they agreed to support us in terms of communication, marketing, etcetera.

JD: Have there been any resources from Amazon coming? You started with comiXology before they got bought out.

GD: For us, it’s run exactly the same, whether Amazon or not. We haven’t seen anyone from Amazon. Not that we don’t want to! [laughs]But they kept it the small company that they were at the start, small in a way, but they kept that spirit, so that’s good for us.

Delcourt Group
Prom?th?e #1 – Click to Enlarge

JD: Translation [is]very difficult, and you sometimes lose some of the writer’s original intent. Are you working in house for that?

GD: No, we are used the translations, because we do so many manga and American comics in French, of course, based on translators. But we are used to the difficulties of translating and translating well if possible. I myself translated a few. I translated, I helped translate the first issue of Bone in French. Which was a great experience. Jeff Smith had it proofread by an American company that specialized in those things, and they said it was a good translation, so I was very proud of that. So anyway, we take great care in that. We know that’s where, it will be a great part of our possible success, so you had of course, we chose well our translators, and we had another translator proofreading them just to make sure that it flows well. And we used the same lettering as the original books.

JD: That’s very cool. There are seven books out now, and we’ve got two more coming in two weeks. What’s next for Delcourt in America?

GD: We have a two year publishing program, so a lot of books will be coming. We chose very long running series, like Prom?th?e, for instance, over nearly 20 books in French, 40 issues. Call of the Stryx, same. Just to make sure that the American audience could really dive into them for the long run. It shows them that we’re here for the long run. We know that it will take two years to see how it works, so it’s a big investment for us.

The first issues of The Curse of the Wendigo, Iron Squad, Josephine, Prom?th?e, and Spin Angels are all available now on comiXology, as is Come Prima, Alfred’s graphic novel about two brothers on a road trip after their father passes away. The Call of the Stryx, Elves, and Hauteville House’s debut issues will be available on comiXology on July 17th.