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French connections: how Canadian comics publishers are seeking out international talents

Ant Colony (Michael DeForge) coverD&Q is also making a sustained effort to promote its own books overseas. Its foreign-rights agent, Samantha Haywood, of the Transatlantic Agency, lists several French sales from the past two years: Tom Gauld’s Goliath to L’Association, the house that first published Joann Sfar and Marjane Satrapi; Miriam Katin’s Second World War memoir, We Are On Our Own, to Editions Futuropolis; and twentysomething Canadian cartoonist Michael DeForge’s Ant Colony to Atrabile.

Despite support from the fair and publisher enthusiasm, there remain gaps in cross-continent translations. Even North America’s biggest independent comics publishers – like D&Q and Seattle’s Fantagraphic Books – could only ever hope to take on a tiny fraction of the bandes dessinées released every year. On the other hand, pulp fantasy has always been overrepresented here, ever since Heavy Metal magazine began importing Moebius comics in the 1970s: It’s easier to sell superhero devotees on psychedelic space opera or naked barbarian warriors than Joost Swarte’s ligne claire precision or Didier Comès’ “madness-and-clowns” existentialism.

That may be starting to change. Chicago culture writer Jonathan Bogart, who produces amateur translations of Spanish comics – a language he grew up with – has observed that in recent years, more independent comics collectives are becoming internationally minded. “All the small-press crowds, they’re people from the U.S., from Canada, from Britain, from Spain, from Germany, from everywhere, putting stuff out together,” he says.

Focusing exclusively on the international market, however, ignores the French-language publishers that make up a notable slice of Canada’s own comics market. Toronto cartoonist Georgia Webber serves as guest services co-ordinator for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Attending Angoulême for the first time in January, Webber observed that the largest Canadian presence came from Quebec francophone publishers like Éditions de la Pastèque.

“This year I really need to push to support and welcome the French-language comics artists in Canada,” she says. “We can’t be a correct representation of Canada if we’re not really making it possible for them to be [here].” (TCAF recently announced that this year’s event will feature more francophone cartoonists than ever before.)

Webber has observed some efforts to increase homegrown translations. For example, Montreal’s Éditions Pow Pow launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to simultaneously print French and English editions of all its books. Webber says, “They’re actually doing translations of their own work now, because they see the same gap.”

This story appeared in Q&Q’s graphica spotlight in the May 2015 print issue.