For those looking for something off the beaten path and away from the din of the exhibit hall, the quiet of the San Diego Public Library offers an enlightening respite. One of the interesting panel offerings this year was Saturday’s “A Crash Course on European Comics for Educators and Librarians,” a comprehensive survey of the history of translated European comics in the American market. With a panel that included Mike Kennedy (Lion Forge), Zerocalcare (Kobane Calling), Whitney Leopard (BOOM! Studios), Efa (Monet) and Chris Thompson (Titan/Statix Press, UK), and moderated by Karen Green (Columbia University), this mixed group of academics, publishers, and creators.
After introductions, Karen started the panel by laying out the differences in aesthetic qualities in European (specifically French-style) comics and their history and development; Efa then discussed the differences between French and Belgian comics, respectively.
Through a translator, Zerocalcare led the discussion through the popularity of comics in Italy, especially comics licensed from Disney characters. One of the most interesting anecdotes brought up during the panel was the mention of just how many these Disney periodicals sold in Italy: for a popular character such as Mickey Mouse, magazines were moving units at nearly 1 million per week. Other publications were selling at least 200,000.
On a holistic level, the industry panelists talked about the need to introduce European creators to American audiences as a means to increase diversity in the marketplace. Kennedy discussed Lion Forge’s efforts in this regard, pointing to Zerocalcare’s Kobane Calling and other upcoming titles as necessary to not only provide a plethora of choice for readers, but to also showcase the best of what comics can be. As Karen noted, the ability for American comics to grow was stunted by the implementation of the Comics Code whereas in Europe, creators were free to push the boundaries of the types of stories they wanted to do. This allowed writers and artists to pursue avenues of graphic storytelling that were more sophisticated than was offered to American readers. We are now only catching up as a result.
The major takeaway from the panel, at least from the business perspective, was that reprinting and translating European works is that it satisfies the need for readers to explore bold and unique stories that see the world through a different lens.
As has been reported in the digital pages of the Beat and elsewhere, this panel almost didn’t happen with its intended roster. As was widely reported, Zerocalcare almost didn’t make his appearance at the Con due to issues with his visa. Thankfully, everything worked out in the end, and he added a unique, creative perspective about the Italian contribution to the comics medium.
On the whole, the panel was a fascinating look at all the different elements of industry and talent merge to bring engaging and desperately needed voices to American readers. The need for non-linearity in comics stories, idiosyncratic aesthetics, and fresh perspectives are essential to keep comics moving forward. And looking to Europe is one of the best ways to achieve this lofty goal.