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Le dictionnaire

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COMICS AND WAR

Better known in French as the BD or bande dessinée (drawn strip), a number of Francophone artitists and writers have used the comic strip as an original way of taking up the Indochina War, exploring the question of French colonialism, and examining contested issues in the politics of French memory-making. Two Belgian artists, Jan Bucquoy and Erwin Sels, were among the first to do so in Une épopée française (1990). Through the personnage of a young French lieutenant, Bucquoy and Sels paint a damning portrait of French colonialism and of the atrocities committed by the Expeditionary Corps during the conflict, complete with severed heads and portrayals of torture. At the same time, the French duo Lax and Giroud published the first of a two part series on the Indochina War, entitled Les oubliés d’Annam (1990, complete edition 2000). Like their Belgian counterparts, Lax and Giroud provide a pointed critique of the French conduct of the Indochina War in particular and of French colonialism more generally. In Les oubliés d’Annam, the reader follows a young French officer in Indochina as he confronts colonial atrocities, discovers Vietnamese nationalism (through a Vietnamese woman as in Une épopée française) before finally, after much soul searching, deserting to the Viet Minh.

What makes these early BDs on the Indochina War so remarkable is the extent to which their publication coincided with, if not participated in a wider French battle over the memory of colonialism and the failed wars of decolonization in Indochina and Algeria. Indeed, as these comics came off the press, the Boudarel affair exploded and set off a sustained, sometimes violent and always passionate debate in the media. Georges Boudarel had joined the Viet Minh as a young man; the French Right singled him out in the early 1990s as a war criminal. Significantly, shortly before the Boudarel affair began, Lax and Giroud had relied upon Jacques Doyon’s Les soldats blancs de Ho Chi Minh, and at least to some extent the person of Georges Boudarel described in Doyon’s book, to construct the main character in Les oubliés d’Annam. More recently, in 2003 Stanislas and Rullier have returned to the Indochina War with La vie de Victor Levallois: Trafic en Indochine, and La route de Cao Bang. Lax and Giroud produced something of a colonial sequel to the Oubliés d’Annam on the Algerian War, entitled Azrayen. See also CINEMA; CULTURE; HISTORY; INTELLECTUALS; NOVELS.