Bibliostraat by Peter Van DongenLot 271 Ink on paper, 57 x 38 mm
Credit: Sotheby’s / Art digital studio Bibliostraat by Peter Van DongenLot 271 Ink on paper, 57 x 38 mm

Global art-auctioning company Sotheby’s will host a Bande Dessinée auction on March 7 at their Paris space. With the help of experts Bernard Mahé of Galerie 9e Art in Paris and Eric Verhoest of Brussels’ Galerie Champaka, the event will showcase 288 illustrations, paintings, and original plates from renowned Franco-Belgian comic strip artists such as Hergé, Hugo Pratt, Peyo, Gir-Moebius, Enki Bilal, and François Schuiten, in addition to American writer–artists Winsor McCay and Milton Caniff. The highlights, one of which is the first two Sunday pages of Caniff's American adventure comic Steve Canyon, will also be on view at Sotheby’s New York during Comic Con later this year, Oct. 8 to 11 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

La mine bleue, chamber 13 by Philippe DruilletLot 75Mixed technique, 109 x 74 mm
Credit: Sotheby’s / Art digital studio La mine bleue, chamber 13 by Philippe DruilletLot 75Mixed technique, 109 x 74 mm

The literal translation of "Bande Dessinée," which were comics created for a Belgian and French audience, is “drawn strips,” a linguistic differentiation that sets it apart from American “comics” or “funnies” intended primarily for humor. Franco-Belgian illustrations were used for any subject matter, as the term itself does not imply a flippant nature. While the first versions these comics were published in the early years of the 20th century, the style gained more structure after World War I when they mimicked American styles and techniques, like speech bubbles, and were begun to be released as full-fledged comic books instead of one of many illustrations in a newspaper. One of the first proper Belgian comics, very popular in Europe in the 20th century, was Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin. First published in 1929, Tintin depicts an investigative journalist who always becomes involved in dangerous scenarios and consequently saves the day—yet seldom turns in a story. The success of early comics like this gave way to later ones, such as Journal de Mickey in 1934 and Spirou in 1938.

The separation and distinct formation of the francophonie medium, however, came about during World War II when occupying Nazis banned American comics and European artists had to continue the stories, such as Superman and Flash Gordon, using their own work. Later, American imports weren’t as available as before, due to a law partly instituted by the French Communist Party to limit publications available to the youth. With this also came the prosecution of illustrators and publishers accused of collaborating with American artists. Illustrators like Hergé were imprisoned, though not charged, for these crimes and publications like Le Petit Vingtième and Le Journal de Mickey were forced out of business.

In 1950, Hergé created Studio Hergé where he acted as a mentor for students, paving the way for other notable artists such as Bob de Moor, Jacques Martin, and Edgar P. Jacobs. The style they practiced is called the Schematic style, characterized by clean, uniform lines that downplayed contrast, and strong colors juxtaposed against a realistic background. On the other hand, the comic-dynamic style pioneered by Spirou editors Peyo, Franquin, and Morris of the Marcinelle school utilizes varying patterns and thickness of lines.

Even though some of these magazines didn't survive the test of time or the war, the 1950s stabilized the fallen publishing realm and saw a re-establishment of Spirou and a new Tintin magazine. These publications went on to be the strongest resources for francophonie comics for decades to come.

For those looking for items in the more modern American comic tradition, the auction has original pages from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, and 300, as well as a few examples from the father of the graphic novel, icon Will Eisner.

Hotel Alphabet by Joost SwarteLot 258Ink on paper, 40 x 40 mm
Credit: Sotheby’s / Art digital studio Hotel Alphabet by Joost SwarteLot 258Ink on paper, 40 x 40 mm