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With a national population of just 8.5 million people, it is not surprising that Switzerland has a smaller book market than its neighbours, such as France, Germany and Italy, but its comic industry is achieving mass growth.
Comics are a Swiss invention, first appearing in Geneva in the late 1820s by educator and politician Rudolph Töpffer. His satirical ‘illustrated stories’ were simply meant to entertain his friends, but the publication of his comic book Histoire de M. Jabot in 1830 achieved remarkable – and unexpected – success.
Due to its strategic location at the heart of Europe, Switzerland distributed comics to Germany and France in record time. Since then, comics have reached every continent, flourishing among adults as well as children in the United States, where some of the most important publishing houses, newspapers and magazines have published comics in a format of episodes.
The comic book industry experienced its original golden age from the 1930s to 1950s before a slight decline, and then witnessed a revival at the end of the 1990s. Many Swiss publishing houses then began to show a lack of faith and interest in the genre, leaving comics to specialist publishers or magazines and newspapers.
During the past five years, however, comics have once again seen an upward shift with the emergence of a new generation of Swiss illustrators who have revived the art. They have started to present outstanding work in a contemporary setting, prompting prestigious publishing houses to invest, achieving massive sales in bookshops and a strong following in libraries.
French-speaking Geneva is the main driver of the rebirth of comics, given that it is affected by the booming comic book market in France, where publishing houses have succeeded in reaching out to francophone countries such as Belgium, Canada and some African countries, heralding in a bright future for the industry.