I have been reading and collecting comics for years. It began – as usual – in childhood, when we were allowed to go to a comic exchange store once a week and exchange ten old comics for ten other old comics for 10 Austrian Schillings (less than a dollar). I had devoured most of the comics on the same day.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that many of the comics exchanged were actually comic books, where only a few pages of a comic album were printed. So instead of a whole Smurf story, it was just four or eight pages from a typical 40-60 page album.
But reading comics stopped when I was a teenager. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I came across a comic book store in Orleans, France, which to my surprise was not frequented by children, but mainly by adults. I flipped through a series of albums until I stumbled across a page that I knew from my French class in high school. A double spread of Marcel Gotlieb, originally printed in the legendary comic magazine Pilote, was there in a complete edition of his work.
And so began my passion for collecting Franco-Belgian comics – or, as the French say, BDs (bandes dessineés) – in which I not only acquired the now complete albums of the heroes of my childhood history, but above all learned to understand the art and work behind the BDs in general. So for years I have always subscribed to at least one French comic magazine, which deals with the scenarists, illustrators and colorists, introduces them and comments on the new releases. Currently I am an enthusiastic reader of Casemate, which not only introduces comics, but also brings them closer and reports from the “scene”.
During a visit to Strasbourg I came across a beautifully drawn and coloured album from the lesser known Parisian publisher Éditions Daniel Maghen, which tells the story of Mata Hari. Born as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Netherlands, the exotic dancer had fascinated Europe with her arts and charm at the turn of the century and during the First World War.
Her fame, however, became immortal through her work as a spy for the Germans in France, which led to a death sentence in 1917. Her life and fate still fascinate people because they contained all the elements – sex, love, money, celebrities, war, exotic countries – that make a good spy story.
The scenarist Esther Gil and her husband, the illustrator of the album, Laurent Paturaud, present a skilfully drawn and narrated interpretation of the famous spy. The style of drawing is very traditional and detailed, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the era.
By the way, I myself have a number of instagram pictures that I post under the term Café & BD. In my favourite cafés I prefer to read the latest albums. Anyone who wants to follow me on Instagram is welcome to do so.