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Learning to Take Comics Seriously

The New Yorker’s Françoise Mouly on the “gateway drug” to literature

For someone whose work is the outward face of the inviolable, highbrow New Yorker, Françoise Mouly has never been one to shy away from getting her hands dirty. In her youth, she worked as a plumber, electrician, and Grand Central Station cigarette vendor. And in the ‘80s, when Mouly co-founded pioneering comic book magazine RAW, she hand-bound each copy, churning out pages on a small, secondhand printing press at home. But while Mouly began RAW as a do-it-yourself project, distinctly “underground” in its content and audience, as the art editor of the glossy New Yorker, she now reaches millions every week with her work, which includes some of the most groundbreaking, provocative covers in the magazine’s history.

When Mouly first moved to New York from Paris as a young architecture student in 1974, she turned to comic books to help her learn English. Having grown up on cartoons chronicling the adventures of characters like Asterix and Philémon, she was dismayed to find not only a dearth of comics on American newsstands, but also a prevailing cultural attitude that comics were lowbrow filth, dangerous to children, and a fundamentally unserious medium. Now a veteran of the funny book game, when not working on The New Yorker, Mouly is taking on the historical and ongoing prejudices against comics, touting both their educational and artistic merit with her award-winning TOON Books imprint. TOON publishes high-quality comics for children, producing graphic books that target specific age ranges and tap into the way kids grow as readers. And last fall, the company launched their TOON Graphics line for older kids and adults, a bridge for the company’s young fans to a lifetime love of comics.

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