Bringing Empathy and Understanding Through the 9th Art


“I think that empathy and understanding can be brought together through the pleasurable reading of graphic novels, what the Francophones call the 9th art,” says Professor Anne-Marie Picard.

For the last two years, the Department of French Studies and Modern Languages at AUP has worked to incorporate graphic novels (bandes dessinées, or BDs) into French language learning, which has proven to be a valuable educational tool and a fun activity for students. This spring, the course is going beyond the walls of the classroom for the second time during the Graphic Novel Festival Festival BD II: Résistances, Révolutions: La bande dessinée dans le tumulte de l’Histoire, hosted by the AUP Library between April 8 and 19.

As is typical of AUP, the events are organized by both faculty and students. Students enrolled in the high-intermediate French course FR2200 French and Culture will present their posters and their favorite BDs on Wednesday April 17 and Thursday April 18 and will be present in the Celeste Schenck Atrium throughout the festival to walk people through the exhibition. 

By delving as much as possible into a diverse selection of historical graphic novels, I aimed to have students find out about the experiences of oppressed groups.

Professor Anne-Marie Picard

“BDs offer intermediality and multidisciplinary at their best,” explains Professor Anne-Marie Picard. Because reading a BD involves language and visual narratives, students work quite hard to access this particular artistic mode of multi-tiered expression.  

Picard had created a course last year entitled Women's Rights and Graphic Novels in light of the multiple new publications in French on the history of women’s struggles. That led to the University’s first edition of the festival, along with guest speakers and drawing workshops led by female graphic artists. 

The first edition of the festival aimed to show the AUP community that Francophone BDs are no longer sexist and that the medium had been appropriated – since the 2000 international bestseller Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – and by many other women authors and graphic artists. This year, Picard broadened the theme to worldwide historical contexts, focusing on the resilience of survivors, resistance movements and revolutions, taking the 9th art as a window onto the major uprisings and resistance movements throughout world history.  

“By delving as much as possible into a diverse selection of historical graphic novels, I aimed to have students find out about the experiences of oppressed groups such as African slaves, Native Americans, the suffering and resilience of survivors of dictatorial regimes, victims of colonial rules and foreign occupations, including the Algerian war of independence and the French Resistance.” 

The exhibition highlights the educational and entertaining role of graphic novels in the Francophone world. The Library’s carefully selected collection of graphic works (some of which are in English) will demonstrate how artists and writers have used the medium of graphic narratives to communicate the dark hours of history, but also to bear witness to the spirit of resistance and the struggles for justice and freedom around the world. From the French Revolution to contemporary conflicts, from the survival of slaves to the genocide of European Jews and Rwandans, each work invites us to deepen our reflection on the forces of human resilience and desire for change, thus offering an experience that is both educational and emotionally rich. 

Join us for an illustrated journey through the tumultuous pages of history, seen from the unique perspective of graphic novels.