The Man Who Loves Comics

How a wacky comic, our French teacher, and a chance find reawakened my comic collecting passion.

In the Floridsdorf district of Vienna, on the eastern side of the Danube, near our apartment at the time was a so-called Gemeindebau, a housing complex built and operated by the city of Vienna in the 1920s that had stores, kindergartens, doctors’ offices and a farmers’ market. Such community buildings were small villages in the city, and as a child these were our places where we gained experience and where our whole world lay.

In the arcades of this municipal building there were business premises, among others a novel exchange store. This has long since ceased to exist, but here is a photo from Google Maps of what it currently looks like.

The Schlingerhof in Vienna’s 21st district, with storefronts in the arcades that housed a novel exchange store in the late 1970s, which I had the privilege of frequenting once a week.

In one of the arcades there was a comic exchange store, and in it I, then still an elementary school student, could exchange 10 old used comic books for 10 new used comic books. For 10 shillings, which at the time was about 1.5 deutschmarks, and according to the conversion rate was equivalent to 71 cents, which adjusted for inflation would be about €1.90 today.

Mostly these stacks of comic books were pretty tattered, and had many excerpts from larger comic books. For example, four to six pages each appeared in them from a Lucky Luke, Smurfs, or Benny Bärenstark album, always right in the middle. And, of course, entire stories by Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Caspar and many others. As a child, it was not so noticeable to me that I always read only parts of the stories from the albums, the main thing was that they were comics. And buying the albums themselves with all the stories was too expensive. Anyway, that’s how I was introduced to the world of many different comics.

Then, when we had moved to another part of town and I had promised the novel exchange seller that I would only come to her, I stopped exchanging comic books or buying comics. Until 1984, when I bought a U-Comix booklet – a German underground comic magazin – at the train station of an Austrian vacation village. This comic book was definitely not meant for children, as you can tell from the cover, but that’s exactly why it was so fascinating.

U-Comix October 1984 cover

In the magazine, as I would find out many years later, were comics by a number of cartoonists and scenarists who came from France, creating both children’s comics and adult comics. The comic that seemed the weirdest to me was by a French cartoonist who went by the artist name Édika.

His stories were so woozy, peppered with sexual innuendos, highly dynamic and the male characters, always provided big noses, were absolutely driven, while the women, mostly equipped with oversized sexual attributes, represented the calm within themselves. Time and again Édika breaks the fourth wall by having the comic characters suddenly show up at his drawing studio and the story takes a completely different turn, mostly having to do with the fact that he, Édika, can’t finish the drawing in time for the deadline. Often his comics also end without a punchline, which at this point doesn’t bother anymore, because so much loopy and funny stuff has already happened in between that it seems only fitting.

It wasn’t until the French classes we took in high school that comics returned to my reading list. Our teacher always brightened up the lessons with excerpts from comics, which were supposed to make it easier and motivate us to learn French.

Many years later, in August and September 1996, I was on vacation in France for the first time, and on the tour that was to take me along the Loire, I also passed through Orléans. There I stumbled into a comic book store, which I was surprised to discover was not frequented by children, but by adults. While browsing, I pulled out this volume of Les Dingodossiers by René Goscinny and Marcel Gotlieb. Asterix fans will immediately recognize the name Goscinny. Together with Albert Uderzo, he had created this Gallic hero.

And when I opened this album, my eyes fell on a double page spread titled La Rentrée des Profs (The Return of the Professors), which is about how teachers returning from summer vacation have certain difficulties finding their way back into the daily routine of teaching. For students, this is a refreshingly different perspective, because until then, all you ever think about is how students are coy before school starts, but the fact that teachers also have a life outside of school, and thus are people with their own desires and problems, didn’t necessarily occur to you.

And it was exactly this double-page spread that our French teacher had submitted for study back in high school. Of course, I immediately bought the album and also the others in the series, and that was the beginning of my passion for collecting French comic books.

First came the usual suspects. Tintin, Gaston, Lucky Luke, the Smurfs. But very soon I expanded my collection to more unusual albums, less known in our country, and to new releases. Every year, several thousand comic books are published in France and Belgium, covering everything from fantasy, science fiction, history, vampires, mystery, Mickey Mouse, erotica, literary processing to everyday stories.

A glance at a part of my comic library

The drawing styles are broad. They range from the drawing styles we know from Asterix and Tintin, to hyperrealistic drawings and photo novels. Techniques such as watercolors, colored pencil drawings or the computer with vector graphics are all represented. And there are true works of art among them, which contradict the opinion about comics as kids’ stuff and garbage that still prevails in the German-speaking world.

Currently, my library contains about 700 to 800 comic books, as well as a number of anthologies and magazines dedicated to comics, cartoons and satire. Since the beginning, I have also been a subscriber to the French comics magazine Casemate, which brings reviews of new comics releases and interviews the cartoonists, scenarists and colorists. I study this monthly magazine and then put the next albums on my shopping list.

Meanwhile, I also collect specific series, and sometimes I even chase after albums that are no longer even available as new releases, but which I know from my childhood, such as Old Nick and Blackbeard, whose old albums you have to get on ebay today and which cost three times as much as a brand new comic.

Old Nick and Blackbeard, French Edition

For some years now, anthologies have proven to be a real goldmine for publishers and collectors. So it’s no wonder that many old comics are reissued in such anthologies, which allow a collector to complete his collection.

And that brings us back to Édika and the U-Comix. Because the Édika anthology, which brings together his work chronologically in several anthologies, now allows me to better understand his work, which I know from the U-Comix of 1984 and other years, as well as from the wacky French magazine Fluide Glacial, to which I have subscribed for years.

Anthologie Édika

And in the first volume, which contains all of Édika’s drawings between 1979 and 1984, you will now find the French edition of this comic quoted at the beginning, End of Vacation.

Attentive readers will already have recognized that I always review comic books that I found particularly worth mentioning. Many have also been published in German and can and should be discovered even by those not familiar with French.

My supply is taken care of: I regularly order albums from France and immerse myself in the world of comic art.

Current pile of unread comic books

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