Series

Transatlantic Fiction made in France

JDW collection Noire

 

Imprimerie du Livre, Colombes, December 1951, Cover Art by Jef de Wulf. ( From Didier Poiret’s collections)  

Troughout the late 1940s and early 1950s many French publishers saw a business opportunity in trying to replicate the success of Gallimard’s iconic Série Noire, launched in 1945 by former Surrealist Marcel Duhamel.  The short-lived Collection noire franco-américaine, published by the Editions du Globe (and from 1952 by Editions du Trotteur) between 1950 and 1953, is one such venture. It is also one of the more striking as it invested in quality rather than merely aiming at supplying readers with a cheap ersatz.

The Collection Noire, like the Série Noire reflected the success of  American noir films in post-war France, as well as French curiosity for American Hard-boiled novels. While the Série Noire was largely responsible for instilling a taste for American noir in France, the editions du Globe, with their Collection Noire, sought to capitalise on this emerging market. Unlike the Série Noire, who had by then already published  American authors such as Chandler, Hammett, McCoy, Finnegan, Tracy, Cain (both Paul and James) and Latimer, the Collection Noire had no American talent to back up its “franco-américaine” credentials. Without exception, all authors were French.  The pseudonyms they adopted were often meant to sound American, and their novels were supposed to recall, in both style and theme, not to mention through their violent and bleak outlook, the authors popularised by the Série Noire.  The Collection Noire franco-americaine was not content to simply recall the Série Noire in name and for the colour scheme (namely the trademark black and yellow combination of the Série Noire). From 1951, it called upon some of the best illustrators in the trade (René Brantonne, Jef de Wulf,  Mik, Salva, among others) and in doing so departed from the beautiful austerity of the imageless Série Noire covers.

 

JDW Collection Noire1

 

While the Série Noire, at least until 1953, would show the utmost reluctance for publishing French authors, the Collection Noire featured established French writers, many of who had already published in the crime genre, and even won awards. One such author is André Helena, a true pioneer of the French noir genre and one its the best. Deemed unsuitable for publication in the Série Noire, his novel Les filles me perdront was published in 1953, the 20th volume in the Collection Noire series. Another is Joseph-Louis Sanciaume, born in 1903 and already the author of dozens of detective novels, who was awarded the 1947 Action Novel award for  Sinistre turbin ! (Collection noire, Volume 2, 1952, Illustrated by Brantonne) .

Another, Claude Ferny (aka Pierre Marchand, b. 1906), had only published a handful of crime novels (in the Series La Cagoule), before joining the ranks of the Collection Noire, with whom he went on to publish several novels, more than any other author. He would subsequently go on to write some thirty crime novels elsewhere.

Tellingly, the Collection Noire published the first Frenchman to be published in the Série Noire, Serge-Marie Arcouët (b. 1916), using in both cases the same pseudo-Aamerican pseudonym, Terry Stewart. His novel C’est dans la poche was published in the Collection Noire in 1952, with an illustration by Salva.

The  Collection Noire franco-américaine’s Cover Art can be admired at :

http://oncle-archibald.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Editions%20le%20Trotteur%20-%20Collection%20noire%20franco-am%C3%A9ricaine

http://www.papy-dulaut.com/article-la-collection-noire-franco-americaine-aux-editions-du-globe-et-aux-editions-le-trotteur-54095914.html

 

 

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The Art of French Crime Fiction

 

Luc Ferran

 

Jef de Wulf (Publisher’s advertisement for the Luc Ferran Series, Editions de l’Arabesque, 1958-1969)

Until the 21st of March, Queen’s University Library will host an exhibition on classic Crime Fiction, Spy Thrillers and Suspense Series in France. The exhibition showcases some of the 1,500 Crime Fiction books in the French language, which have been recently added to the collections, having recently been donated to the Library by the Paris-based Bibliothèque des Littératures policières (BILIPO) and other partners in the project “Visualising European Crime Fiction”. This project, led by Dr Dominique Jeannerod (School of Modern Languages) together with colleagues in the ICRH Research Group, International Crime Fiction was awarded a grant by the AHRC, as part of the Big Data in the Arts and Humanities Framework (2014-2015)

Expo1

 

Conty

The project’s chief task was to develop innovative digital methods with which to bibliographically record (database) and visually present (Graphs, Maps, Dataviz) the innumerable volumes of Crime Fiction published across Europe since the early 20th Century. The aim in developing such new digital instruments was to rethink the significance of popular culture and its dissemination in a globalised world. It was also to reconsider the role of crime fiction in a transnational, cultural and literary context. Continue reading

Blood and Sex: Violence and sexuality in Greek crime fiction series of the 1970s.

SAGrec1

By Nikos Filippaios (PhD candidate, University of Ioannina, Greece)

Since its beginning, crime fiction in Greece has usually been distributed by publishers in multi-volume series. The first series of crime fiction translated into Greek were published from the 1910s to the 1930s, initially outside of Greece, in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, where many Greek-speaking people lived, and some years later in Athens (Kassis, 165). Before long however, it centred exclusively around publishers, translators and writers based in Athens. In addition to series of novels and short stories, many magazines appeared dedicated exclusively to crime fiction and the successful family magazines of the era often featured detective stories. Following the difficult decade of the 1940s, in which Greece was wracked by the Second World War and a civil war, the crime, and popular fiction publishing industry in Greece in general, prospered. After the mid-1950s however, something of a “golden era” for popular literature in Greece, a slow decline began, culminating in a defeat by the cinema, TV and, finally, digital media (Filippaios 2015, 5-19).

Cover of Greek edition of 'Berlin, Check-point Charlie' by Gerard De Villiers. It was published in 1975 as volume 533 of the “Viper” series by Papyros. Translation was by Tasso Kavvadia, an actress, radio producer and translator. She was an important figure during this time in Greece.

Cover of Greek edition of ‘Berlin, Check-point Charlie’ by Gérard De Villiers. It was published in 1975 as volume 533 of the “Viper” series by Papyros. Translation was by Tasso Kavvadia, an actress, radio producer and translator. She was an important figure during this time in Greece.

A compelling phenomenon visible in the evolution of Greek crime fiction of this time is an increasing shift towards violence and sexuality, a trend which began during the early 1970s and lasted at least until the end of the decade. This shift became evident between 1968 and 1972, with the appearance of three new series. The most important of these was the “VIPER Series of crime fiction novel by Papyros (English: “papyrus”) Publications, a publishing house established in 1936 in Athens, which expanded into the crime fiction genre in 1968. This series was so successful that, not only did it continue publishing until the early 1990s, but some volumes can still be found in kiosks and bookshops around Greece today (Koskinas, 21/01/2014). “VIPER” initially followed the trend of other famous crime fiction series, including mainly classic writers such as Agatha Christie and James Chase. But from 1975 onwards, its publisher turned chiefly to Gérard De Villiers’ SAS novels. After Ian Fleming’s James Bond, SAS’s Malko Linge was the next most famous literary spy who fascinated Greek readers with his violent and erotic adventures.

The Greek edition of SAS à l'ouest de Jérusalem by Gérard De Villiers. Also translated by Tasso Kavvadia, it was published in 1976 as volume 610 of the “Viper” series. Its weathered cover shows the connection between popular literature and the everyday life of its readers.

The Greek edition of ‘SAS à l’ouest de Jérusalem’ by Gérard De Villiers. Also translated by Tasso Kavvadia, it was published in 1976 as volume 610 of the “Viper” series.
Its weathered cover shows the connection between popular literature and the everyday life of its readers.

In fact, Papyrus Publications’ interest in a more hard-core subgenre of crime fiction, such as the spy novel, probably influenced two other, smaller series. Although both featured fewer volumes and were distributed by smaller publishing houses, they followed the trend of “blood and sex” from inception. The first of these was “Fascinating Pocket Books” and was published by Panthir (English: ‘panther’) Publications. Probably active between 1970 and 1973, Panthir Publications was created and curated by Dimitris Chanos, a writer and publisher who began his career in the iconic crime fiction pulp magazine Mask (Chanos, 221-240). From its very first volumes, Panthir adopted a very specific approach: (a) focusing on “hard-boiled” crime fiction writers, mainly Mickey Spillane, and (b) replacing older cover illustrations, usually with photo collages of scantily clad women, an aesthetic which borrows elements from soft-core pornography. Along the same vein, “Modern Pocket Books”, one of the first attempts from Kampanas Publications and also circulating during early 70s, adopted a similar approach to its covers, but with slightly more conservative images. The main writer featuring in “Modern Pocket Books” was Anthony Morton, a pen name of John Greasy. Particularly popular were his spy novels featuring “the Baron”.

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Rocambole !

 

Munch

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas’s thousand pages novel of revenge and metamorphosis (first serialized  from 1844 to 1846 in the Journal des Débats), portrays the ultimate Avenger character. Or, as Umberto Eco pointed out in a famous essay, the prototype of all later superhuman action heroes, up to  James Bond. But the arch-villain, the predecessor  of the invincible evil geniuses of incredible powers, the masterminds of Crime in Literature, Film, Comics and Poetry (such as Lautréamont’s  Maldoror) was created no long after him, and not far from there. Rocambole‘s adventures were first published in 1857, in another Parisian  newspaper, La Patrie.  And they amounted to considerably more pages in total, as their author, Viscount Ponson du Terrail wrote nine Rocambole  novels until his death in 1871.  Ambiguity and complexity, an embrace of the fantastic and the willingness to stretch the readers’ belief for  the benefit of narrative expediency  (or through plain forgetfulness) are their distinctive features.  Quite  a heinous villain in some of the books (Les exploits de Rocambole, La  Revanche de Baccarat) he is a more likeable hero in others; loosing his looks (to vitriol) in an adventure, he finds them again in a subsequent one.  This very plasticity and openness,  which make the plot subject to dramatic changes of course have contributed to the Series’ success and led to the  coining of the adjective rocambolesque. 
While the books are, regrettably,  rarely read now, they have been adapted as comics (see below) and movies, with Rocambole morphed into a Superhero (below).   The novels themselves  are still in print in many countries and no popular fiction library would be complete without them.  The posters and  book covers reproduced below are more than the remains  of a great popular success ; they carry  the stamps of this success, and for us the signs which can be read to better understand  what conditioned it. Continue reading

2500 Years of Noir

 OR

Oedipe roi, adapted by Didier Lamaison, Série noire, 2355,  Gallimard, 2004
 

The Classical Tragedy is the matrix of the noir novel. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is the mother (!) of all tragedies. Gallimard’s Série Noire is the most iconic of the series devoted to the noir genre. It thus seemed almost unavoidable that the Série Noire would publish a novelisation of Œdipe roi as a roman noir.  Not only is it the story of an investigation centred on a crime, and on an enigma, but the tragic plot of the devastating fall of a flawed hero, at the hands of both a malevolent fate and his blind ambition, has profound echoes in the noir genre. From his arrival in a city plagued by fear and division (like in Hammett’s “Poisonville”) to his social elevation, followed by the discovery that he is himself the culprit, to the intertwined dimensions of the collective (public unrest, civic duties, public office) and the private (anxieties, name, secret, genealogy, sex) such echoes abound. In all these situations (and to say nothing in particular about the role of transgression, violence, horror and mutilation) tragedy is revealed as a classic form of noir, just as noir appears as a modern expression of tragedy.

What might, however, sound  slightly more surprising is that this novelisation, “adapted from the myth” has become, 25 centuries after the original creation, one of the best-sellers in the Série Noire. It has had various re-editions. One of them was published together with a new traduction of the original tragedy. Continue reading

The other life of French Crime Fiction Authors in Portugal

  Groc Torres

Léon Groc (1882-1956), O Segredo da Praça Maldita (La Place maudite, Le Lynx, 1941),  Lisboa, 1947

The International Circulation of Cultural Works operates like a magnetic field. Forces interact, currents drive materials in different directions, at different speed, in various magnitudes. Such effects can be observed in the reception  of French Crime Fiction authors, between the 1930’s and 1960’s, in countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal. In these countries, a secular tradition of French cultural influence offered an outlet to a French production which was at this point in time experiencing a severe  competition from the English and American markets.  There had been a  Golden Age  in French language Crime Fiction too (Simenon, Steeman, Véry, Decrest, Boileau, Nord, Vindry and others…) but it was, in most countries, overshadowed by the success of English language Golden Age crime fiction. Even on the French literary field the successful import of the Detection Club authors created  a tough competition for French authors in the thirties.  After the war, the Noir vogue would even engineered a  process of eviction of new, American or American sounding authors. Continue reading