The Ninth Art is comics

Beginning BD: What is the “Ninth Art”?

Welcome to an all new series here on that I’m calling “Beginning BD.”  This series of articles will give you a gentle introduction to the world of Franco-Belgian comics: the terminology, the history, the creators, the culture.

You may have heard of Franco-Belgian comics referred to as being “The Ninth Art.”  Heck, it’s on all the Cinebook covers.

ninth art cinebook

What does it mean? Where does it come from?


What Are the First Eight Arts?

  1. Architecture
  2. Sculpture
  3. Painting
  4. Music
  5. Dance
  6. Poetry
  7. Film
  8. Television

Yes, in that order.  I guess you needed to have a house before you needed to decorate it with a good sculpture. And then what else would you put up on those walls besides a good painting?

But why doesn’t radio count?  Is vlogging on YouTube the tenth art?I have so many questions…

Comics comes after television despite predating it because comics were accepted as a cultural norm later, in the 1960s.

By the way, don’t for a second buy any arguments about modeling being the ninth art, nor whatever this Ted talk is about.


Who Came Up With Those Categories?

A critic, of course!  Claude Beylie was a French film critic.  He first used the term in an article he wrote for the magazine, “Lettres et Medecins” in 1964.  He built that list up from some earlier writings by an Italian “film theoretician,” Ricciotto Canudo.

A series of articles written for the Spirou Journal in the next few years recounting the history of comics popularized the phrase.  Maurice De Bevere wrote that series.  You know him better under his pen name, Morris, with which he created “Lucky Luke.”

Maurice De Bevere, a.k.a. Lucky Luke's creator, Morris


It took three people to get us there, but here we are. “Ninth Art.”

The very term helps to show how engrained comics are in the culture of France and Belgium.  They’re not disposable or a mere pulp novelty.  They are a part of the overall culture, just as common as television, movies, and dance.

Comics aren’t IP machines or research and development for Hollywood.  OK, there’s a little of that since profits must be made, but the larger acceptance of comics means a need for a greater variety of comics and a more open acceptance of them than we’ve ever had here in America.

Take a look at what happens in Angouleme every year to see that.

Photo Credit:
Picture of Morris By Peters, Hans / Anefo – Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo (cropped) Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang, bestanddeelnummer 924-5891, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl,


  • JC Lebourdais January 23, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    This sounds promising.
    I wasn’t aware of the Morris connection.
    I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    • Augie January 24, 2018 at 12:52 am

      Thanks! The plan is to keep them short and sweet, have them answer a single question, and hopefully pull something unexpected or particularly interesting out of it all. I also hope I pull this off without looking like that American idiot who thinks he knows what he’s doing, but is actually completely clueless.

      I like a good challenge.

  • Arcturus January 24, 2018 at 5:51 am

    This sounds like fun.
    Like the guy above I didn’t know the creator of Lucky Luke had a hand in this.

    On a less serious note, why are books not on the list? As in the ones with no pictures… ;P

    • Augie January 24, 2018 at 6:35 am

      I guess “poetry” is it? I have no idea. It’s a bizarre list in many ways. This guy would be eviscerated on the internet today with a listicle like this. 😉

      • JC LEBOURDAIS January 24, 2018 at 4:14 pm

        The answer is: there are two classifications of Arts.
        The classic ones (from the Ancient Greeks) and the modern ones (from the XXth century).
        I could only find a page in French on Wikipedia explaining it.
        The same page in English talks about something else entirely.

        It can’t just be a French thing, right?

        • Augie January 25, 2018 at 10:32 am

          I admit that I never studied “The Classics” in school, so I’m not sure. “The Ninth Art” is really the first time I had ever heard of this classification system.

  • JC Lebourdais January 28, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    We do learn the classics in school here.
    I must have been about fifteen I think, when we go through Hegel’s philosophy teachings. This must be the equivalent of college for you, I believe, although I have to admit the American education system doesn’t make much sense to me.

    The classic (also called “fine”) arts go:

    1-architecture ;
    2-sculpture ;
    3-painting ;
    4-music ;

    This is derived from the main muses of antiquity:

    Calliope; Epic poetry
    Clio: History
    Euterpe: Music, Song, and Lyric Poetry
    Erato; Love poetry
    Melpomene: Tragedy
    Polyhymnia: Hymns
    Terpsichore: Dance
    Thalia: Comedy
    Urania: Astronomy

    Those I learned from greek and latin classes but I already knew them from Wonder Woman, which got me interested in Mythology in the first place.

    Then in the 20th century, the modern definitions are also 10 like the classic muses:

    1st art : architecture
    2e art : sculpture ;
    3e art : visual arts (painting/drawing) ;
    4e art : music ;
    5e art : littérature, regroups poetry, novels and essays;
    6e art : scenic arts, which are dance theatre, mime and circus
    7e art : cinéma ;
    8e art : media arts, regroup radio, télévision and photography ;
    9e art : bande dessinée, manga & comics.
    10e art : vidéo games.

    That about covers it


What do YOU think?

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