Seattle Puts Francophone Comics in the Spotlight

The Made in France association has been promoting French culture in Seattle and providing extracurricular French classes to middle school and high school students and adults since 2016. This year, it will be hosting the city’s first Francophone comic arts festival, which will be held online from December 2 through 5.

It all started when Jean Bastide came to visit. The French illustrator was invited by the Made in France association to spend a week in Seattle in November 2018. He went to several French-American schools and visited the Seattle Pacific University and Seattle University campuses. He talked to bilingual students about his profession and the Boule et Bill (Billy & Buddy) comics, which he has worked on since 2016. The comedy series was created by Jean Roba in 1959, and its two main characters – a little boy and his mischievous cocker spaniel – have created a solid following.

“Our last event with Jean Bastide, a Q&A session followed by an auction of the drawings he made during his stay, was a huge success,” says Sylvie Joseph-Julien, the co-founder and director of Made in France. “He was supposed to come back with other illustrators to exhibit works in an art gallery and take part in a festival. The idea was to approach comics through the perspective of art, which is a unique trait of Francophone culture.”

In light of the context, the festival will take place on Zoom. However, this will not stop Jean Bastide from presiding the opening ceremony on December 2 and inaugurating three virtual exhibitions. One has been rented from the Maison de la BD in Blois, and will show young people the creative steps for creating a bande dessinée. Another, entitled HÉROïnes and presented by the Lyon BD Festival, will showcase the work of artists who have feminized male heroes to criticize the underrepresentation of women in the genre. The Marvel Avengers are transformed into the “Avengeuses,” Wolverine is “Vulverine,” and the sailor Corto Maltese becomes “Coco Maltese”, who “travels alone and gets by just fine.”

A French-American Festival

Each event within the festival is organized in collaboration with a French or North American institution. “We were too small to develop a festival of this scale on our own,” says Sylvie Joseph-Julien. The director of the Montreal Comic Arts festival, Joanne Desrochers, will discuss the status of North American comic arts – an event organized with the Canadian consulate in Seattle and the Quebec delegation in Los Angeles – while French journalist Patrick Gaumer, author of the Dictionnaire mondial de la bande dessinée, will look back over the French-Belgian comic tradition in partnership with the Alliance Française in Pasadena, California. Eleven FLAM-backed associations (Français Langue Maternelle, a financing body), which provide French classes in the United States, have also partnered with the festival.

Several workshops and themed activities are planned, including a Boule et Bill drawing session with Jean Bastide, a live initiation class with Moon Li (Mathilde Landry), author of the steampunk comic Zoya, an interview with Tunisian press cartoonist Lotfi Ben Sassi, who examined the place of women in Maghrebin society in his comic La femme est l’avenir de l’homme, and an interview with comic collector Andrew Kirk, founder of the online bookstore Agogo Books.

Organizing a festival for the “ninth art” in the land of comics was quite a gamble. But Sylvie Joseph-Julien, who worked as a storyteller at the Louvre, Opéra Garnier, and the Eiffel Tower before moving to the American Northwest in 2011, knows her adopted city well. She is quick to mention Seattle’s French Fest, which attracts more than 5,000 visitors every March as part of Francophonie Month. As she sees it, the region is home to a growing population of Francophone workers and there is “a high demand for French and European culture.”

Seattle Comic Arts Festival

From December 2 through 5, 2020