When Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin gets to thinking about what distinguishes the French webcomics scene from that in other countries, I say Yes, please!. Please enjoy his latest thoughts without further adieu.
In my contributions so far for Fleen, I never felt the need to make a general introduction as to how webcomics in the French language work, because there is no need to: they are comics on the web, only in French (the web being divided more along language lines than around country borders). That is everything that is needed as a starting point to further know about them.
But when you get familiar with them, it is obvious that many cultural norms developed differently here, compared with English-language webcomics. Some of these differences are in fact inherited from French-Belgian comics traditions in general, such as the common use of pseudonyms by comics creators; but most interesting are those differences that are specific to webcomics, which I am going to present today.
- No ads
Boulet’s distaste for ads, and his refusal to feature any on his site, is well documented (French-only, though it is clear enough even without the text). But he is not an exception: almost none of the webcomics I have linked to so far (Maliki, Comme Convenu, A Cup of Tim, Jo, Professeur Moustache, etc.) have any ads either, and the sole case I could find in French webcomics is a single leaderboard at the top of Pénélope Bagieu’s site; otherwise, they at most feature internal ads, like the comics hosted on lapin.org. This is unexpected when coming from English-language webcomics, where ads are standard.
The implication is that, by and large, creators do not use the comic’s availability on the web as a revenue source, but purely as a display window to lead the reader to support them in other ways, such as through book collections, merchandising, patronage, commissions, hiring opportunities, etc.: most French webcomic authors practice at least one of these.
- They don’t use webcomic templates
Most of the time, webcartoonists from the French-Belgian tradition start with a base blog engine, only their blog posts are images or mostly images rather than text; WordPress+Comicpress is almost unknown around these parts. As time goes on, they either keep that system, or move on to a fully custom solution, with designs that are generally minimalist, especially as they don’t need to feature ads, which contrasts with the generally heavy designs of webcomic sites in the English web.
- No schedule
Granted, having a set posting schedule is no longer seen as mandatory in English-language webcomics, with notable webcomics (Octopus Pie, in particular) renouncing a posting schedule; but a large majority of them still follow one. In French, most of them don’t: the norm is not to have any set schedule, with many well-respected webcomics having never had one. I only know of Comme Convenu and Maliki to currently adhere to any schedule.
- More reliance on social networks
Having no schedule means it is harder to make readers get into the habit of checking the site in a regular fashion, so except for those readers who use RSS, French readers follow webcomics by subscribing to the social media feeds of their favorite comics. This means that around here social media subscriptions represent a large portion of a webcomic’s regular audience, and pushing updates to the social networks (and ensuring they do reach readers) is of great importance to creators.
Moreover, since French webcartoonists do not make any ad revenue from their sites, some don’t hesitate to post the full updates along with the links on social networks: Comme Convenu (Twitter) and Commit Strip (Twitter) do so, for instance. And a few have openly floated the idea of only posting on social networks, like Marc Dubuisson, though for now he still posts to his site as well (a site is still more practical to browse the archives, for instance).
- Dominated by autobio
As previously discussed when introducing Jo, the overwhelming genre in French webcomics is autobio, possibly enhanced (with a smattering of “political commentary” strips here and there); you could consider them to be blogs that are drawn rather than being written. I am not going to offer theories on why this is the case, at least not yet; I will just note that the field is still relatively young when compared to webcomics in general: almost no French-language webcomic existed prior to 2004, and diversification from the genre the local pioneers started around is a slow process, even if we can now see the first examples of this diversification.
- No appearance schedule
Time for full disclosure: this is a matter that directly affects this pseudojournalism hobby, and if French creators were to adopt this custom, it would make my planning of which events to attend much easier. With that in mind …
If you look at the site for a French webcomic, you won’t find any appearance schedule (Maliki being a notable exception; may they be blessed for the next 1000 generations). It’s not that the creators always stay at home, never to meet readers: if they are published, they do go and attend conventions and shows, but only advertise those when the date is close, on social media. It would be presumptuous of me to explain why this is the case; I will just note that creators have limited involvement with their convention appearances, which are planned by their publishers (e.g. the booth is always in the publisher’s name), and creators go with these plans.
But I know some creators who are itching to booth in independence from their publishers, especially when currently they have to split their appearance time between the multiple houses which publish them, so this may change sooner rather than later…
Something that strikes me as I’m reading FSFCPL’s observations now for the third time, is how much his first four points mirror what Brad Guigar describes as his personal new reality over at Webcomics.com [subscription, with occasional free posts]. He’s rethinking a bunch of the prime directives of webcomics, a number of which parallel how the French have apparently always done things. With Guigar’s recently announced discontinuation of convention appearances, you have something pretty close to the sixth point as well.
I believe that this may merit some close consideration on both sides of the Atlantic. Thanks once again to FSFCPL for his analysis, and for much food for thought.
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