8 French-language comics that helped me learn French

By Matthew Jackson, AF staff

Much like Barbie once said of math class, French is tough! I took class after class in a long trajectory from middle school to college and wasn’t confident enough to read a full novel until somewhere around my second college-level course. But during that period where I was still trying to sort out my passé composés from my imparfaits, and when the subjonctif was still the dreaded word du jour, I found myself reading a lot of French comics. Why comics? Well, they’re reliably understandable, for starters. The visual aspect helped me follow the narrative even when I didn’t pick up on every piece of dialogue or description. Picking up an issue of Tintin was also far less intimidating than diving into a Camus or a Collette – which is not to imply that comics are trivial, just that there’s a lower barrier to entry. When Stendahl felt out of reach, Hergé did not. I still maintain that delving into the world of comics is one of the best ways for easing yourself into a new language, and given that France has a huge market for the medium, there’s all manner of things to choose from without limiting yourself to superheroes and spectacle. A whole slew of genres, styles, and stories live under the label of bande dessiné and it’s a world worth venturing into if you’re curious about putting your French skills to the test. Here are some of the comics and graphic novels that helped me practice my French – without feeling like homework!

The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé

Recommended if you like Indiana Jones, The Maltese Falcon, or just a good caper.

Tintin is ubiquitous for a reason. The escapades of this cowlicked-young reporter and his adorable dog Snowy (who can sort of talk but everyone mostly ignores that) are upbeat, straightforward, and reminiscent of great adventure stories from Jules Verne to John Huston. Every issue features our globe-trotting protagonist visiting a new locale and embroiling himself in local drama, which is full of lighthearted slapstick and some great sightseeing. Some issues have aged better than others (Tintin’s adventures in the Congo reflect, let’s just say, some pretty antiquated colonial views), but the series as a whole remains charming and easy to pick up. It’s also great for learning some very specific nouns (do YOU know how to say “ice pick” in French?), and the irascible Captain Haddock’s inventive approach to cursing will have you picking up some great sea-dog slang. Mille milliards de mille sabords! 

Pyongyang, Chroniques birmanes, or Jérusalem by Guy Delisle