Farid Boudjellal

Farid Boudjellal, the Author of Armenian Granny

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YEREVAN / PARIS — Farid Boudjellal, born in 1953, is a French comics book author, artist and scriptwriter. Born to Algerian immigrants, he grew up in Toulon, in the south of France. He studied literature and sociology at the university. In 1978, he published short stories in Circus and Charlie Mensuel. His first long story, L’Oud, was published by Futuropolis.

In Paris, he moved into a studio with José Jover and Roland Monpierre.

In 1986, Boudjellal produced the poster for “Le Gone du Chaâba,” a film adaptation of a work by Azouz Begag.

He writes numerous screenplays and draws numerous albums devoted to the theme of immigration, the housing crisis in France, racism and handicaps. In 1998, the first volume of Petit Polio appeared, enabled him to reach a large audience and, in 1999, to win the Ecumenical Prize at the International Festival of Comics in Angoulême, France.

Dear Farid, it is my pleasure to present you to readers worldwide. French comics are famous in the world. Characters like Tintin, Asterix and Titeuf are recognizable worldwide.

Often comics are linked to childhood, even if today it has more or less distanced from it. Those who did not read comics as a child find it very difficult to approach this medium. Reading a comic is not that easy. You have to grasp the page as a whole, read both the text and the image.

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Some researchers attribute the origin of comics to cave paintings. Do you agree?

Why not? A comic is not an illustration. You need at least two images to enter it. The comic strip is the space of time between these two images. It can pass a quarter of a second or billions of years. This is the specificity of comics, which makes it a narrative art in the same way as the novel, the cinema or the theater.

Your comic books show that the comic book artists don’t just entertain; you always raise social issues. In this uncertain time what role can comics play?

The first subject of comics, and arguably of all narrative arts, is the comic book itself. You can express all your concerns there. The main thing is to be both readable and innovative.

What is more important thing for a comics’ artist?

Readability, both in terms of drawing and texts.

Many say that the era of printed books is approaching to the end. E-books will prevail, but do you see future for e-comics?

I believe that comics will be modified more by digital technology than writing, which risks nothing. If you write that the sky is blue on a wall, digital book, or paper book, the sky is always blue. For comics it is different because it is about using all the tools that digital, movement and sound offer you. A comic on a digital book is not quite a comic anymore.

It is obvious your character Petit Polio, a little Algerian living in Toulon, is your alter ego. How much you biography is expressed in it?

We only speak well of what we know well. Little Polio is indeed my alter-ego, but his name is Mahmoud and mine is Farid. Autobiography does not exist; the only reality is the blank page because the past is dead. I think that we say a lot more about ourselves by passing our imagination than fragments of our life.

I came across your family history while learning about the Armenians in Algeria. Thus I learned about your grandmother Marie Bedros Caramanian, the heroine of your book Mémé d’Arménie (“Armenian Granny”). My impression is that Armenian grandmothers have strong influence on their grandchildren, Turkish lawyer Fethiye Cetin and French actress Anny Romand dedicated books to their Armenian grannies. Please tell us about your medz-ma – from where she was and what was her influence on her grandchildren?

In fact, as my grandmother lived in Toulon, I got to know her much better than my Algerian family. She was very pious and looked after the Armenian church at Baudin Street. Her small room was adorned with sacred objects that fascinated me. My grandmother never spoke of the Genocide she and her family had suffered. On the other hand, she expressed it involuntarily because she could not stand the slightest violence, whether oral, physical, televised … When the Turkish navy landed in Toulon, she did not go outside.

Your book on your grandmother was published in Armenian in Istanbul. How did that happen?

Personally, I have had nothing to do with it. As soon as it appears, a book escapes you completely and belongs to the reader. It was a publisher who wanted to translate it. I just gave my consent.

It was translated also in Turkish. What was the reaction?

Likewise, I only learned late that there was a Turkish edition. In fact, there are three editions, two Armenian and one Turkish. I am happy that my album lives in these regions. Alas, I have had no feedback from readers or the editor.

In 2017 a brilliant comics book on Armenian subject, La Structure est pourrie, camarade (The Structure is Rotten, Comrade) by Viken Berberian and Yann Kebbi was published by Actes Sud BD in French. Do you know this volume and have you ever met Armenian comics artists?

I don’t know this album but I think I will read it. And yes, I have already met more than one colleague from Armenia.

Before the sad events of 2020 we had a comics festival in Yerevan – I hope with the normalization of life, so you can visit your grandmother’s country again.

I visited Yerevan three times for courses organized by the Association for the Promotion of Comics in Armenia, co-founded by late Mr. Jean Mardikian, the co-founder of the International Festival of Comics in Angoulême and Laurent Mélikian, who is very active in this field. We have had run comic book workshops for Armenians. An album was born from this experience. There is no lack of talents in Armenia. Of course, I am quite ready to come back to Armenia…

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