French comic book vocabulary - A practical guide to comics terminology

Updated: November 8, 2023 by Mylene in French Vocabulary  ▪  

comics french vocabulary

French comics are at the heart of the culture of many francophone countries. To most language learners, a bande dessinée is first and foremost a fun way to learn new French vocabulary. To better understand the world of French comics, we’ll explore a useful comic book vocabulary.

Grow your French vocabulary with French comics but first the basics of this art…

What’s a BD?

A bande dessinée is a French-language narrative made of images and written text. French people refer to a comic book as “BD” which is the abbreviation of “bande dessinée”.

person drawing comics paper pencil

The essential vocabulary of comic books

Below is a useful list of French vocabulary related to comics vocabulary. Words are grouped by categories. You’ll learn about the main elements you find in a BD as well as the numerous stages of production and the preparatory work.

From an idea to a plan

Scénario, découpage, and storyboard are the first steps when creating a comic book:

  • Un scénario: A written outline of the story.
  • Un découpage: A detailed version of the outline.
  • Un storyboard: A graphic organizer to visual sketch illustrations or images of the outline.

The main parts of a page in a comic book

A comic book is made of a number of pages with illustrations and texts.

Each individual page in a comic book is composed of:

  • Une planche: A single page of a BD with multiple strips (bandes). Key moments are usually placed in the bottom-right of the planche. Suspense is created and readers will turn the page.
  • Une bande: A single row of images.
  • Une case: An individual image within a border (cadrage).
  • Un cadrage: The border of a single image (case).
pile old comic books

Drawing and coloring the comic book

Now that the comic book has its main elements, the next step is to draw it manually or digitally. The drawings are followed by the inking and coloring step.

Find below the associated French vocabulary:

  • Le crayonnage: The essential phase of drawing the comic.
  • L’encrage: The inking step to add depth to the drawing.
  • La coloration: The phase of adding colors, shades, and other lighting effects.

The key elements in every comic book

Every comic book contains dialogues and to represent this within the illustration, we use the following French vocabulary:

  • Un personnage: A character, usually a person.
  • Une bulle: Also called, phylactère, it contains the words or thoughts of the characters.
  • Un appendice: This element is connected to the subject in order to identify the speaker.
  • Un lettrage: This step refers to how the text is printed within les bulles to report speech.
  • Un récitatif: This refers to the narrator’s voice that is usually used to explain actions that aren’t possible to represent through images (e.g., during this time..).
  • Une onomatopée: This refers to every word that represents the sound itself (e.g. pop, bang, whizz, etc.).
onomatopoeia words sounds boom zap baang pop pow

From the world of cinema

The worlds of cinema and comic books share the term plan. In BD, plan is used for scene-setting. It includes le plan général, le plan moyen, le plan américain, le plan rapproché which all are different ways to represent the subject of an image seen at various distances.

Here is a list of French vocabulary associated with the scene settings in comic books:

  • Un plan général: It’s a general view of the whole scene that highlights the background and the decor.
  • Un plan moyen: It’s a shot to frame the characters within the general decor.
  • Un plan américain: It’s a shot where the focus is on the characters involved in a discussion. Their gestures are important. The decor is secondary.
  • Un plan rapproché: It’s a shot of the head and upper body of the character while focusing on the dialogue and the psychological expression.
  • Un gros plan: It’s a view that hones on a specific object or a facial expression.
  • Une plongée: It’s a top view that looks down upon the viewed characters to place them in relation to each other and to the surrounding environment.
  • Une contre plongée: It is the opposite of a plongée. It’s a view from below.

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What’s the difference between American and French comics?

American comics refer to thin and periodical publications that tell stories via illustrations (about 32 pages). Besides comic books, Americans categorize books of longer format as graphic novels. These novels tell stories via illustrations but are hardcover and contain a beginning, middle, and an end.

As for French comics, it is important to understand that in France, unlike the USA, comic books and graphic novels are hardcover and therefore are all categorized as graphic novels in the US. You can read Why Do French Comics Sell Abroad to learn more about this difference and about the French culture in general.

young kid reading comics

Which comic festival is the largest in Europe?

The largest comic event in Europe is Lucca Comics & Games that takes place every year in Lucca, Tuscany. It’s the second-largest event in the world. 

If you’re specifically looking to discover the French and Belgian comics then you should learn more about The Angoulême International Comics Festival (Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême). It takes place every year in January in the French city Angoulême. This comics festival is the second largest festival that takes place in Europe.

Grow your French vocabulary

I hope you enjoyed this list of useful French comic vocabulary. You can also visualize the web story that lists 10 popular Franco-Belgian comics.

Growing your vocabulary is important and will help you to improve your French. To stay up to date on the latest French learning materials, connect with Master Your French on social media. You can follow us on Instagram @masteryourfrench, Twitter @myourfrench, and Master Your French channel on YouTube.

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