The Comics Journal lives up to its rep with an investigative piece by Matthias Wivel looking at the recent tumultuous history of French publisher L’Association, and interviewing Lewis Trondheim and David B, among others, for an inside picture of its rise to greatness and troubled recent years:
It was a crisis born in part of the declining state of the book industry and the imperative to adapt to new times, but perhaps more crucially caused by the clash of ambitions of its founders, a group of artists who had created the publisher in 1990 in order to change the direction of comics, but who have found themselves increasingly at odds with each other over the intervening two decades, during which time many of their aspirations realized and several of them have been consolidated as key creators in French-language comics.
Central to the conflict was Menu, the talented and conflicted artist and editor who brought the group together in the first place, and for better or worse became the driving force at L’Association. Crucial as his reflection and judgment was to L’Association’s artistic success, his partners increasingly came to take issue with his choices as head of the publisher and, as one observer put it, his refusal to share in what was essentially a collaborative endeavor.
The importance of this story will be self evident to anyone familiar with L’Asso’s work but here’s a few reasons for those now in the know:
1) They published some of the best comics ever by major creators like Trondheim, Sfar and David B., to name a few.
2) L’Association was the original publisher of PERSEPOLIS, the work which more than any other legitimized graphic novels in the mainstream US publishing world of the Aughts
3) The story of the controversial Jean-Christophe Menu reveals one of the great paradoxes of the creative endeavor, in how the same character trait can often be both the doorway to greatness and its downfall.
4) Actual comics journalism! Amazing.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.