Comic strips had never really been on my radar to help my students learn French, until one of them mentioned it to me one day, saying she was finding it very helpful and entertaining.
I often stress how important it is to use a variety of learning material to keep yourself entertained and motivated and because it’s a pleasant form of spaced repetition. What you learn in one piece of material you often find in another and so you avoid the tedious bore of repeating the same things with the same material. It’s very effective.
Helpful and entertaining are the best way to describe using comic strips to learn and practice spoken French.
Did it ever occur to you that reading French comic strips out loud is a fantastic way to practice and start speaking French? Most comic strips are stories in the form of dialog. What’s even better for language learners, is that most speech bubbles are usually quite short, making it easy to understand and follow along. Yet, despite the fact that each speech or line is short, there is still a lot of new vocabulary that you can add to your language arsenal.
Reading is the best way to improve your vocabulary.
Comic strips have various levels of difficulty so no matter what level of French you’re currently at, you’ll find something to improve your French, even to the point of not only understanding an Ach!lle Talon, but appreciating it’s sense of humour.
Below, I’ve broken down 18 comic strips according to their level of difficulty to help you pick something that is appropriate for your level. I’ve included a visual sample for each but you can find many more online by typing the name of the comic strip and “extrait”, meaning extract. For example, Astérix et Obélix extrait or extraits and then clicking on Google Images for visual results. (And comic strip is called une bande dessinée or BD in French.) The name of each comic strip also directly links to FNAC‘s store (the most popular books and multimedia store in France) if you want to have an idea of the book covers.
Finally, most of the comic strips listed below are classics and been around for over 50 years. It’s also worth noting that most of these comic strips are Belgian. The Belgians have a reputation for producing great comic strips and many of their creations have become classics in the French-speaking world, Tintin and Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs) probably being the most internationally famous of all.
And now, without further ado, here they are!
Most of the comic strips in this list are about the adventures of a little boy and are aimed at children which is why they are so great for you if you’re currently at an elementary level.
- Les blagues de Toto (Schoolboy) – FRENCH, 2004. (Click here for a sample.)
- Cédric (Schoolboy) – BELGIAN, 1986 (Click here for a sample.)
- Benoît Brisefer (Schoolboy) – BELGIAN, 1960 (Click here for a sample.)
- Yakari (Native American Boy) – SWISS, 1969 (Click here for a sample.)
- Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs) – BELGIAN, 1958 (Click here for a sample.)
Okay. So. It’s not like reading Les Schtroumpfs is going to much improve your French. 😅 But.
If you want to do a funny exercise (in class or on your own), you can try to replace all the “schtroumpf” words with the correct French verb or adverb. THAT is going to improve your French. 🙂
A word about Titeuf: This is a comic strip that, I’m very sorry to say, was invented and created by a Swiss in 1993. It’s hugely popular among young people but I personally find it highly distasteful. Most of the stories and jokes are way below the waistline and despite being a comic strip about a little schoolboy for children, it’s definitely not something you want to put in your kids’ hands. Just saying. In case your kid gets this as a well-meant birthday present or brings one home from school. (And the classic “It’s good for kids’ sexual education” argument doesn’t stand.)
- Boule et Bill – BELGIAN, 1959
This is a classic comic strip about a boy, his parents and their dog. It depicts a stereotypical family life and can be a great comic strip to get if you’re planning on living in France for any amount of time.
- Spirou et Fantasio – BELGIAN, 1938
Probably the oldest and most widely recognized comic strip. It’s been around for generations. It’s about two friends who have adventures together.
- Gaston Lagaffe – BELGIAN, 1938
Also a classic. Gaston Lagaffe (from the French une gaffe = a silly/stupid mistake) first only appeared in Spirou et Fantasio stories until his character became so popular that he got his own comic strip in 1960. He’s the anti-hero by definition, always inventing dangerous or crazy things. The setting is mostly in his office where Fantasio is his work colleague.
- Astérix et Obélix – FRENCH, 1959
No introduction needed here! (Click here for a sample.)
- Tintin – BELGIAN, 1929
No introduction needed here either! (Click here for a sample.)
- Ach!lle Talon – FRENCH-BELGIAN, 1963
(From the word “talon d’Achille” = Achille’s heel)
A great classic but can be difficult to understand. There are a lot of puns, word play and some social issues and satire in there. You need a good level of French and understanding of French culture and society to be able to truly appreciate the content. That said, if you want to be thrown in at the deep end, you can start reading this before you have all these skills and knowledge and have a native speaker or French teacher explain it to you in order to acquire these skills. It’s definitely highly recommended if you’re planning on moving to France long-term or interacting with the French on a regular basis, be it on a personal or professional level.
- Blake et Mortimer – BELGIAN, 1946
A detective-themed comic strip. (Click here for a sample.)
- Ric Hochet – BELGIAN, 1963
A detective-themed comic strip. (Click here for a sample.)
- Barbe Rouge – FRENCH, 1959
A pirate-themed comic strip. (Click here for a sample.)
- Les Tuniques Bleues -BELGIAN, 1968
I often wonder how Americans would feel about this comic strip. It’s about two soldiers from the Union Army during the American Civil War and while it depicts the horrors of the Civil War a little, the stories center around these two soldiers who are always arguing with each other in a comic sort of way.
- Buck Danny – FRENCH-BELGIAN, 1947
This is an aviation-themed comic strip. I wouldn’t recommend reading this unless you’re already at an advanced level, well-versed in the aviation field yourself or needing the vocabulary, etc. for professional reasons. There’s obviously also a bit of English in there.
- Michel Vaillant – FRENCH-BELGIAN, 1957
This is a racing-car themed comic strip and it can already be accessible for an intermediate or upper-intermediate level.
Of course, there are many, many, MANY more French comic strips to choose from, especially more recent ones and even some with a female hero.
So, if you want to discover more comic strips, especially more recent ones or different genres (there are some quite good historical ones, for example), you can check out FNAC’s online store under Livres, BD (Bande Dessinée) and pick according to genre or theme you’re interested in. Perhaps you can order them on your country’s Amazon site but, at least for those living in the US, I often found that purchasing directly from FNAC is cheaper, even when including shipping (of course you’d have to purchase several books, CDs or DVDs at once to make it worth your while, but shipping costs are truly reasonable there.)
If there are any other comic strips you enjoy or that you can recommend, let us know in the comments below!
To your success,