While the name might perhaps conjure up visions of a yet-known talented French mid-fielder, aged sixteen – possibly – and guaranteed a bright future in the Premier League, Fabrice Linck is no such individual. Alas, although football plays a huge part in his life, the nearest Fabrice (40) gets to a match ball is the occasional attendance at Stade de la Meinau, and even then it’s simply to support the home side RC Strasbourg, or ‘le Racing’ as they’re known.
However Monsieur Linck cannot be categorised along with other regular supporters, who exercise their love of the game by buying merchandise, season tickets and satellite dishes. Fabrice prefers to turn what he sees of the beautiful game into an art-form: bande dessinée; putting pen to paper to create what is known as ‘BD’ to the man-in-the-street (pronounced ‘beedy’) or ‘comic-strips’ to you and I.
In France there’s no shame in being an author of comic art, in fact it carries a certain amount of kudos, partly because comic ‘albums’ sell in quantities comparable to those experienced by the literature market and partly because they are also enjoyed by readers of all ages. If you ever happen to visit the home of a Frenchman you will likely note at least one bookshelf displaying a collection of comic albums, upon which there will be least one Asterix or Tintin title. By contrast, in Britain, anyone caught with a collection of comic books on their shelves after the age of eighteen would be subject to ridicule. It’s far cooler to display a collection of Nick Hornby’s – even if you haven’t even read them, or even like them.
“C’est dans notre culture” he explains; in French; obviously; I shall translate. “It’s part of our culture” he explains. “For us, it’s even an art form, the ninth art!”
Linck explains that he became an author of football ‘BD’ purely by accident “One day, I had an unexpected call from an old work colleague (and also now an editor) who needed a writer.” The writing project in question was a centenary album for local stars of ‘le foot’ Racing Club de Strasbourg to celebrate their colourful hundred year history. A noteworthy history, given that Strasbourg are the only team to have played in both the German and French leagues. One thing led to another and Linck soon found himself working on a similar project for Lille Métropole FC entitled ‘Hors jeu!’ (Offside) for junior fans of the Ligue 1 club. This didn’t challenge Linck’s allegiance to Strasbourg however as he explains “I don’t really support one team over another, I’m always for the French national side and RC Strasbourg (the first time I went to Stade de la Meinau was 1979, the year they were champions of France, and I still go from time to time). If not, I like Arsenal, Barcelona and Real Madrid.” So Linck is comfortable approaching other clubs to sell his niche specialism in a country that is both football and BD mad.
Linck’s love of BD, and perhaps his interest in FC Barça, can be traced back to Éric Castel a French comic-book hero of the 1980s whose adventures at FC Barcelona spanned sixteen volumes over a twelve year period, the complete set now sitting proudly on Linck’s bookshelves. Éric Castel tells of a French footballer whom, after recovering from an injury at Inter Milan, moves to Barcelona to relaunch his career, where he falls in love with the country and the fans. Like all good childhood heroes the ‘adventures’ he has are usually based upon good morals and journeys of self-discovery. Not surprisingly then Éric Castel has been consigned to history, not least one supposes because good morals and journeys of self-discovery are the last things on your average soccer player’s agenda these days. If Castel were to be reborn in the modern era – he’d probably have to be a womanising, snow-blowing playboy in order to have any credibility, and his wife/girlfriend would probably play a big part in his ‘adventures’.
Of course it’s no one man job, creating a comic-book, for each title Linck must collaborate with an illustrator and a colourist in order to turn each of his scripts into a finished comic-strip. “As the illustrators I collaborate with aren’t from Strasbourg, we work thanks to the internet. I write and send the scenes that I create by mail. Then the illustrator sends me a layout. I make the corrections, if necessary, and then the illustrator works on a storyboard. If everything is ok, we go into colour.” The results are published by a small local publishing house and then distributed to a number of high street and online stores across France. “The Strasbourg book sold well, in fact it was a best-seller in Strasbourg December 2006, and Offside! for Lille, did well too. For Sideline it’s been average, but the reception has been rather good”.
Sideline is Linck’s first independent album, outside of any club or major publishing house, a fictional whodunit set in the English Premier League. The story unfolds at a mythical ‘London United FC’ where a young attractive woman having recently taken over the club presidency calls in a private detective to track down the club’s finance director, Osbourne, who appears to have gone AWOL with some highly sensitive paperwork. “Essentially with Sideline there were two goals. The first was to reveal what goes on behind the scenes in the world of football. For The Osmond Affair (book 1) the idea was to construct a story around the massive foreign investments being made in English clubs. The second was to convey, as a backdrop, the ambiance in France during the World Cup 2006. Before the competition and during the first round almost everyone made fun of the French team (a bit like now); and then, after victory against Spain in the knockout stages, people came out onto the streets as diehard supporters, which made me laugh.” The book has received some reasonably good reviews thanks in no small part to the stunning artwork of Daniele Di Matteo and brushstrokes of colourist M. Andolfo, Linck’s talented collaborators.
Linck believes that football offers plenty of other possibilities for future fiction projects “themes that I envisage exploiting? Violence in certain French (and foreign) stadiums and doping in Italy.” however reveals that he is already in discussions with another Ligue 1 club for another sponsored title.
Unfortunately for Anglophone readers, none of Linck’s titles are yet available in English, however all of the original versions can be purchased online at amazon.fr for those who can, or are willing to learn to read French.
Extract from an article written for Goal Weekly in April 2010.