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  • French Cartoon Art in the 1960s and 1970s: ‘Pilote hebdomadaire’ and the Teenager ‘bande dessinée’ by Wendy Michallat
  • Matthew Screech
French Cartoon Art in the 1960s and 1970s: ‘Pilote hebdomadaire’ and the Teenager ‘bande dessinée’. By Wendy Michallat. (Studies in European Comics and Graphic Novels, 6.) Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2018. 268 pp. ill.

Despite growing academic interest in bandes dessinées, relatively little has been written about the magazines which publish them. Consequently, Wendy Michallat’s study of the youth weekly Pilote is most welcome: it sheds valuable light not only on bande dessinée development, but also on the evolution of the French press and on broader trends in society. Ample context is given by the huge range of documents consulted: government policy papers; comments by educators and journalists; letters from readers; interviews with artists, editors, and parents. References to other youth publications, some almost forgotten today, as well as to English-language outlets, provide useful points of comparison. Michallat’s chronological approach embraces the first fifteen years of Pilote, from 1959 to 1974. Pilote, launched by René Goscinny, Albert Uderzo, and others, is best known for publishing Astérix, but, as this book demonstrates, the magazine also encapsulates a historical period. Pilote’s roots lay in a well-intentioned prioritizing of education, as France engaged in soul-searching after the Second World War. However, as the 1960s progressed, the editors found themselves juggling respectability with a burgeoning youth culture. One example: in 1962, teenagers danced the twist beneath their headmaster’s approving gaze. Michallat identifies as pivotal the somewhat neglected Tanguy et Laverdure (Uderzo and Jean-Michel Charlier), an adventure comic about jet pilots, published from 1959 to 1971. Tanguy et Laverdure updated the straight-man–funny-sidekick formula of Tintin and Astérix; it reflected a modernizing post-war motif (speed), and it pointed towards an interest in the opposite sex as the baby-boomers came of age. By the mid-1960s, sanitised, right-thinking pedagogy was co-existing with incipient rebellion: for instance, Cabu (Jean Cabut) and Marcel Gotlib poked fun at authority figures, including schoolteachers. After May 1968 Pilote, departing further from its roots, embraced challenging social questions: sexual harassment (Claire Bretécher), drugs (Jean Solé), pollution (Enki Bilal). Nevertheless, attempts to stay abreast of developments were only partially successful: Pilote, unlike some of its competitors, remained constrained by rules governing youth publications; a dalliance with yé-yé was particularly ill fated. In 1974, Pilote became a monthly, ostensibly to give artists longer to perfect their work between issues. The change reflects the growing emphasis on BD artists as independent creators, as distinct from subservient figures commissioned by publishers. The book’s lively, engaging style makes for a good read, and success beyond the academy should be assured. Translating all quotations from French to English further broadens the appeal. As is almost invariably the case in scholarly publications about BDs, one wishes there were more illustrations, particularly as some strips referenced are difficult to find. A follow-up study could analyse how Pilote grappled with the economic downturn of the 1970s. Pilote rode the punk wave and it provided a platform for new talents (for example, Edmond Baudoin). However, it was unable to withstand the rise of adult-oriented graphic novels, these being more attractive to the target audience, and regular publication ceased in the 1980s.

Matthew Screech
Manchester Metropolitan University


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Launched on MUSE
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