Bande Dessineé au Cambodge
In French, they’re called bande dessineé. In Khmer there are many colloquial terms. Regardless of the name, it’s clear that Cambodians love stories with pictures. Romance, horror, comedy, adventure, film and novel adaptations – whatever the genre, bande dessineé are received with enthusiasm by the reading public. It’s no surprise that this Exposition features educational comics, as non-governmental organizations try to utilize this popular format.
By statistics, Cambodia is one of the least literate countries in Asia. By statistics, Cambodian bande dessineé publishing is at one of its lowest levels. But these ‘facts’ do not quite fit with what we see of Khmer readers and dessinateurs. With a readership that will quickly reach out to read bande dessineé, and authors who speak passionately about this art form, it is difficult to imagine there was a time when bande dessineé were even more popular.
In the 1960s and 1970s publishing - and Khmer bande dessineé - flourished. It was during this time that artists Hul Sophon and Uth Roeun learned their trade as professionals, finding inspiration from French bande dessineé, international cinema and and Cambodia’s own rich heritage.
All this came to a halt during the upheaval of the Khmer Rouge years. Some artists survived on the basis of their designing skills, others hid their creative ability to work as farmers. Many artists and their works were lost forever.
During the mid-1980s there was a revival of Cambodian bande dessineé. At the time there was little foreign media in Cambodia, and far less publishing.
A population hungry for entertainment embraced bande dessineé, generally romance and legend stories, all of which were reviewed by the Ministry of Culture. Students from the School of Fine Arts (Or Yuthea, Sen Samandara, Hue Chenda, Y Lida) noted the popularity of the first few comics that were issued, and quickly began to produce their own. They were joined by artists who had studied prior to the revolution (Em Satya, Sin Yang Phirom) as well as self-taught artists (Im Sokha).
With the entrance of foreign media and more competition for reading and entertainment, the allure of bande dessineé quickly faded in the early 1990s. Many artists stopped drawing bande dessineé and turned to other forms of illustration. As a result, few new comics are produced today, and many are reprints, over ten years old. These are printed by bookshops and wholesalers, who keep classic stories available to the public but do not pay royalties to artists.
The largest producers of new bande dessineé today are non-governmental organizations, as can be seen in the work of Vit Tharin, Nhek Sokhaleap, and Heang Kanol. Nearly all the artists in our exposition have contributed to educational bande dessineé such as Tam Tam and Mom & Mab. Some have drawn educational comics with more adult themes as well.
They are joined by the ‘digital generation’ of artists (Soeung Makara, Hong Bora) who use their hands and their computers to create new stories and reinterpret classics. And for a look at what the future may hold, we have included some student art from Phare Art School. These students have been taught by French dessinateurs, who are part of the growing number of foreign artists drawing about Cambodia.
In addition to bande dessineé Khmer artists also do painting, storyboards, architectural designs, illustrations, political cartoons, children’s books, and much more. They rarely distinguish between one form and another. This attitude can be seen as one of both pragmatism, as well as an awareness that visual art forms are interconnected.
The lack of a strong market demand for bande dessineé results in a culture that values them less. Often they are thought of as children’s literature. They are rarely studied or archived.
Do you want to find and read the bande dessineé exhibited here today? Some you can find in the market. Some are in CCF’s Mediatheque. But many will never be reprinted, and never be found in a library. Unlike other countries, there is no professional association of dessinateurs, and Khmer artists are often too busy with their present work to maintain archives of their past efforts.
Problems such as these are this is the focus of our Rencontre, ‘True Stories’. You are welcome to join the exposition’s artists, as well as scholars, readers and book sector professionals as they discuss ways to improve the art and business of bande dessineé.
Exposition Opening Friday October 22 6:30
Exposition October 23 - October 07
Rencontre bande dessineé October 23, 10:00am – 12:00
Children’s Workshop, October 28, 10:00 am -12:00 CCF Mediatheque
Lire en Fęte, November 04, 05, 06.