112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

BD and 8 May: Rewriting Franco-Algerian history in bande dessinée

Veronica Dean, "University of California, Los Angeles"

By examining representations of national identity through the lens of Mark McKinney’s Franco-Algerian affrontier (affront + frontier), I argue that Azouz Begag’s Leçons coloniales rewrites – and redraws – colonial history to confront the contemporary francophone reader in a way that is unique to the popular visual-verbal medium of bande dessinée.


Set in Sétif, Algeria in 1945, Leçons coloniales marks Azouz Begag’s artistic move into the medium of bande dessinée (BD), as well as a temporal shift from the postcolonial to the colonial era and a geographic relocation from France to Algeria. The title Leçons coloniales (Colonial Lessons) evokes two issues at the core of Begag’s work in literature, sociology, and politics: education and the politics of (post)colonization. This pioneer of beur literature has reworked these themes in various media from novels and children’s literature to film and political memoirs, typically in a contemporary, postcolonial setting and often in a semiautobiographical style. Despite these shifts, Leçons coloniales contains leçons postcoloniales for the reader, and the former French Minister for Equal Opportunities has made explicit his pedagogical and political intentions behind the one-shot album de bande dessinée illustrated by Djillali Defali. This pedagogic text raises questions about the leçons within the narrative. What can the past teach us? Have lessons been learned about the colonial encounter, and if so, how are they influencing the current situation in France? 

With political concerns expressed through explicit pedagogical intentions, what remains to be examined is how they are articulated in this popular medium and why this pioneer of beur literature chose bande dessinée to convey the history of the Sétif massacres – a piece of Franco-Algerian history that continues to be contested today. Although bande dessinée is a cultural phenomenon in the Francophone world, this medium and its genre of colonial history receive little attention from literary scholars. By employing what Mark McKinney has termed the Franco-Algerian affrontier (combining affront and frontier) to examine representations of national identity, I argue that Leçons coloniales’ rewriting – and redrawing – of colonial history confronts the contemporary reader in a way that is unique to this popular visual-verbal medium. The BD simultaneously honors the past, draws striking socio-political parallels between the colonial past and the postcolonial present, and ultimately directs the reader’s attention to the future. In my analysis, I will highlight certain features of bande dessinée that make it an effective way of communicating colonial history to the reader, illustrating why Begag considers it to be “le médium idéal pour toucher les jeunes” (“the ideal medium to reach young people”) (Vely).    


Begag, Azouz, and Djillali Defali. Leçons Coloniales. Paris: Éditions Delcourt, 2012.  

---. Interview by Yannick Vely. “Azouz Begag: La colonisation est un viol.” Parismatch.fr, Paris Match, 2012.

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