Potential Themes of Comics: Immigration

So, today I’d like to talk to you about theme. Yeah – theme, that annoying thing your high school English teacher made you extract from whatever “coming-of-age” Victorian novel he/she was making you read at the time. Having a theme – some sort of lofty message the author is trying to impart on his or her readers – is a hallmark of art, according to so-called experts, because it has meaning that transcends the surface of the medium…blah, blah blah. In short, my opinion on theme is that, if you look hard enough, any fiction or image could have a meaning, even one that the creator did not intend. That is why when I am working on this project, I am trying not to read to deeply into every comic ever published, and instead have decided to focus on those where the author wrote it with the expressed purpose of beating his audience over the head with his message.

However even with those measures, I realize I am still casting my net too broadly – “political and social thought” covers a lot (need I link to the Obama the Barbarian vs. Sarah Palin the Ice Queen comics?). If I am going to compare American comic books to bande-dessinĂ©e, I am going to need to study a common issue, even if what I am concentrating on is simply how opinions on these issues are conveyed and not the opinions themselves. So I’ve decided on a problem that both the United States and France share – immigration.

Here’s a quick background history on immigration in both countries:

America, as you probably know, had a burgeoning immigrant population until the 1920s, when more restrictive quotas were put in place to limit it. This pattern continued until 1965, when quotas limiting immigration based on national origin were banned by the Hart Cellar Act, which not only allowed a greater number to enter the country, but also shifted the focus of immigration from Europe to areas like Latin America. Since then, the number of both legal and illegal immigrants has been climbing steadily, provoking *ahem* some unrest among the native population.

France in many regards is rather similar. The main difference stems from the fact that France does not have the long background of immigrant history, dating all the way back to its origins, like we do. Instead, that history seems to date from the aftermath of World War I, when France encouraged it in the hopes of rejuvenating a population that had lost 1.4 of its 40 million. This trend continued and even grew after World War II, when a postwar economic boom led to even more pouring in. The civil war leading to loss of Algeria in the 1960s meant that a large segment of these were Arabs, who had a more difficult time integrating to French culture than the Eastern European immigrants of the past. Tensions only escalated when economic hard times set in in the mid 1970s, and immigration was sharply curtailed afterwords as a result. Today, 5% of France’s population are immigrants, and about 30% of all children born there today have at least one parent who is an immigrant.

One quick, general observation: I find it interesting how easy it is to find bandedessinĂ©e about immigration in comparison to traditional comic books. Sure, we did have them – back in the 1920s – but one would think that on a hot-button issue like immigration, there would be more of it. Can this be traced to a fundamental cultural difference between the two nations? TUNE IN NEXT TIME (maybe) TO FIND OUT!