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The term bandes dessinées contains no indication of subject matter, unlike the American terms "comics" and "funnies", which imply a humorous art form.Indeed, the distinction of comics as the "ninth art" is prevalent in Francophone scholarship on the form (le neuvième art), as is the concept of comics criticism and scholarship itself.
In North America, the more serious Franco-Belgian comics are often seen as equivalent to what is known as graphic novels—though it has been observed that Americans originally used the expression to describe everything that deviated from their standard, 32-page comic book, meaning that all larger-sized, longer Franco-Belgian comic albums fell under the heading as far as they were concerned.In recent decades the English "graphic novel" expression has increasingly been adopted in Europe as well, but there with the specific intent to discriminate between comics intended for a more younger and/or general readership, and those which feature more adult, mature and literary themes, not rarely in conjuncture with an innovative and/or experimental comic art style.As a result, European comic scholars have retroactively identified the 1962 Barbarella comic by Jean-Claude Forest (for its theme) and the first 1967 Corto Maltese adventure Una ballata del mare salato (A Ballad of the Salt Sea) by Hugo Pratt (for both art, and story style) in particular, as the comics up for consideration as the first European "graphic novels".During the 19th century there were many artists in Europe drawing cartoons, occasionally even utilizing sequential multi-panel narration, albeit mostly with clarifying captions and dialogue placed under the panels rather than the word balloons commonly used today.) are comics that are created for a Belgian and French audience.These countries have a long tradition in comics and comic books, where they are known as BDs, an abbreviation of bandes dessinées (literally drawn strips) in French and stripverhalen (literally strip stories) or simply strips in Dutch.
Flemish Belgian comic books (originally written in Dutch) are influenced by Francophone comics, yet have a distinctly different style, both in art as well as in spirit.In Europe, the French language is spoken natively not only in France but also by about 40% of the population of Belgium and about 20% of the population of Switzerland.The shared language creates an artistic and commercial market where national identity is often blurred.While French language publications are habitually translated into Dutch/Flemish, the same does not hold true in the opposite direction as Flemish publications are less commonly translated into French, due to the disparate cultures in Flanders and France/French Belgium.Likewise, despite the shared language, but again due to the disparate history and culture, Flemish comic books are not that common in the Netherlands, save for some notable exceptions, particularly the Willy Vandersteen creations, notably Suske en Wiske which is as popular in the Netherlands as it is in Flanders.Among the most popular Franco-Belgian comics that have achieved international fame are The Adventures of Tintin, Gaston Lagaffe, Asterix, Lucky Luke and The Smurfs.