France and Belgium have a long tradition of excellent comics, not all of which are that well known in the Anglo-Saxon world. This tradition is built partly on a very old legacy of illustration (who hasn't been awed by the work of Gustave Doré?), but also on the very fortunate encounter between American and European sensibilities when the art of the bande dessinée was being set up in the first half of the XXth century.
During WWII and the German occupation, American comic strips were obviously banned in occupiued Europe. Many future greats provided their own versions of Tarzan or Flash Gordon, honing their skills for what was to come later. A few years later, creators like Goscinny, Morris or Mézières would spend considerable time in the U.S. (Mézières was a cowboy in Utah!); meanwhile, people like Albert Uderzo would change a Walt Disney-looking style into their own.
A big difference between the Franco-Belgian comics and American ones is that the former were not distributed as a periodical pamphlet. For many decades, they were serialized in weekly journals (Coeurs Vaillants, Pif, Mickey, Tintin, Spirou, Pilote). They were also frequently not meant as pure entertainment; Coeurs Vaillants, for example, was a catholic publication and it's not surprising that the stories it featured would contain some didactic or moralistic material (and that's not necessarily a bad thing)! The stories would later be collected in books, usually hardcovers, which means Franco-Belgian comics were early on trated as "real" books and available in regular bookstores. This granted them a certain respectability and a wider readership than if they had been confined to specialty shops.
In this thread, I will cover series that are maybe not as widely known as they deserve (or just some tat I find cool). With the advent of new technology that makes dissemination of printed work easier, maybe they'll all be available in several languages some day.
The first one is a historical series going back to 1948 : Alix. It depicts the many adventures of a young man during the last days of the Roman Republic, which serves as a very rich background and an endless source of revoltin' developments!
Alix was born in Gaul, and as a small boy ended up in the eastern part of the Roman world. (Alix' father was a soldier in a Gallic corps fighting the Parthians for Rome; of his mother we know nothing). Captured and orphaned at a young age, he was a slave to the Parthians in Khorsabad until the city fell to the Romans.
This is the first images from my 1956 copy of Alix l'intrépide, the beginning of the series. The art is still a bit stiff, very classical-looking, but we can see that much research has been invested in getting the architecture, the clothes and the uniforms right. The plot is a little Ben-Hur (well... make that a LOT Ben-Hur) but since that's before the Charlton Heston movie I'm sure that can be forgiven.
Alix would be adopted by a respectable Roman in this story and so become a Roman citizen. He'd also gain the friendship and gratitude of Caesar, who was getting ready for what would be the siege of Alesia (and the final conquest of Gaul).