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(Creative) Madness in series

 The Original French Version HERE - The English version has been translated by Jon-Michael McLean


Series are at the heart of the production of books for youth, from creations for very small children to novels for teenagers. They insure a considerable share of the success of books and thus constitute weighty commercial stakes. Yet, they don’t limit themselves to these stakes and occasionally make use of creativity and innovation. A range explored in the latest edition of the review Hors-Cadre[s], April 2018.


Series go back to the origins of books for children. In France, the very first collection of picture books designated and identified in this way is a series, the one created by the great publisher Hetzel (historic publisher of Jules Verne), author of the character Mademoiselle Lili. These picture books form an ensemble whose major interest resides in the pre-eminence of drawings over text and in his adaptation « at a child’s level » of the 24 great drawings of the Danish artist Lorenz Frölich.


Despite these well-noted beginnings, series today suffer from a devalued critical regard. «Whether one castigates standardization linked with mediums which could curb the capacity of the imagination, standardization of products, submission to the laws of the market and toreaders’ expectations which produce a dynamic of consumption, it is most often a question of deploring mechanisms of the mass merchandise culture. The question arises regarding creation and originality.» assures Marianne Berissi in the last edition that the review Hors-Cadre[s] devoted to this topic.


Now, the phenomenon of series, a veritable success-producing machine, is just as capable of offering innovative achievements. Because everything actually happens as if series also wished to escape their expected destiny, forged since the origins of the genre, and continuously reexamine the strict codes that condition them. Faced with the risk of weariness of infinite extension, series can once again become their own lever of creation, of an extraordinary narrative fertility. Hence the famous « recurring characters » who free themselves from their original setting and come back to surprise the reader, as does the mischievous Zuza d’Anaïs

Vaugelade, interviewed in this edition. The regrowth of series in transformed conditions, or even the invention of the prequel or the spin-off, this thumbing of the nose at the finiteness of overly worn-out series, can also be the motive and energy behind eminently literary titles, like those of the creator Mélanie Rutten.


Series are thus paradoxical and the balance is delicate, between certainty and uncertainty, predictability and unpredictability. Consequently, improvisation, the indeterminate nature of the first title of that which is not yet a series, could very well be fixed as the secret recipe of the success of certain series. This is in any case the thesis developed by the journalist Philippe-Jean Catinchi, who compares some « shipwrecked » series (that is to say, stopped for reasons of commercial failure) with other series which had not been conceived as such and which, overtime and according to the author’s inspiration, gradually established a delighted audience, whose enthusiasm nourishs the pursuit of the production.


Yet the most seductive of paradoxes is perhaps the one at work in the structure itself of the series, between linearity, necessary chronology and unfolding of various titles – or arrangement and scattering. It is ultimately then that the reader comes back to the foreground of the stage and that we see established the immense liberty of the reader « to inhabit » a series according to his or her good enjoyment.

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