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Week in Review: August 5, 2021

La Rentrée Littéraire: Curiosité, Sécurité, Diversité 

At the end of June, the official numbers for this year’s rentrée littéraire, or French publishing season, were shared by Livres Hebdo, and French book lovers had some cause for celebration; with 521 books on the roster for publication, the tempora and mores seem back to normal, or at least back to pre-covid numbers (compared to 524 titles in 2019) after incurring a small loss in 2020, when 511 books were slated for publication. Apart from these numbers, the shift in content is equally encouraging, as publishers seem to be taking more risks with the titles they are choosing to publish, which include more debut authors and homegrown French titles than the year before. Star authors with upcoming new releases include titles by International Booker prize winner David Diop, Tanguy Viel (one among many authors soon to be represented by Gallimard when the clock strikes Minuit later this year), Christine Angot, Patrick Modiano, Maryse Condé, and the ever-prolific Amélie Nothomb. Works to watch for in English-French translation include the hotly anticipated Quentin Tarantino screen-to-page adaptation of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2020 Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, and the latest works from 2021 Booker Prize nominee Kazuo Ishiguro and author-journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates. Although this year’s rentrée shows a greater balance between diversity and security, it is still part of an overall downward trend in publishing numbers, with over 650 titles published 10 years ago, and 560 five years ago.  

Culture Pass App Used for Manga Purchases 

On July 28, the New York Times reported on the outcomes of France’s Culture Pass after its first two months in operation. Since it was introduced in May, the pass—which gives up to 300 euros to every 18-year-old in the country to make “cultural purchases” through the pass app—has been used by young people mainly to buy books, as many cultural venues such as concert halls and cinemas had suspended their regular offerings due to the pandemic. While some expressed concern that about 50 percent of total app purchases have gone to the sales of “mainstream” Japanese manga rather than the “highbrow” media the pass purportedly promotes, it remains to be seen whether these consumer trends will remain unchanged as vaccination rates rise and other cultural activities recommence. In the meantime, beneficiaries include independent bookstores, who have seen more patronage from young people since the pass was introduced, literacy advocates who are excited by the increased access to reading materials, and the artists and authors themselves. A seller at the Parisian comic book store La Planète Dessin, a purveyor of French graphic novels and manga alike, remarked: “Don't be sorry they read manga. You have to remember that before this, young people would stop reading altogether at that age.” 

Dog Days at the Philippe Labaune Gallery 

French former financier and accomplished comic collector Philippe Labaune, who gained recognition in the literary community when he curated the first European comics exhibition in the U.S. in 2020, opened his eponymous gallery in Manhattan in April 2021. The gallery’s mission is, according to its website, “devoted to championing and presenting original 20th and 21st-century comic art and illustrations by emerging and established artists from around the world.” In France-Amérique, Labaune had previously expressed his desire to introduce Americans to more French comic artists and spread enthusiasm for the genre: “Nearly one in every five books sold in France is a comic. This is a cultural powerhouse that should have a bigger presence in the United States!” Now from July 1 through August 14, New Yorkers can escape the summer heat by dropping in at the gallery’s latest exhibition “Dave McKean: Black Dog”, selected works of which can also be viewed online. The exhibit showcases drawings from the British surrealist’s 2016 graphic novel Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash. Earlier exhibits featured art by Akira creator Otomo and French American artist Miles Hyman.  

Popularity of BD Undeterred by Global Pandemic 

France is not the only country enamored of comics, manga, and graphic novels, as 2020 sales figures showed. According to Publishers Weekly, comics continue to grow in popularity and economic success, making upwards of 1.27 billion in combined sales in North America over the past year. Even in a singular sales year due to the pandemic affecting hours and in many cases shuttering stores completely, both bookstore and digital sales notably increased in 2020 for the genre. For those looking to expand their reading in the BD (bande dessinée) field, our recommendations include the recent translation of French artist Lewis Trondheim’s “madcap black & white adventure” The Fly (translated by Edward Gauvin) and the autobiographical comic The Parakeet by Espé (translated by Hannah Chute).