Les Bidochon is a French bande dessinée written and drawn by Christian Binet and published by Editions Fluide Glaciale in France and Belgium from around 1980 to the present day. It deals with the trials and tribulations of existence as a lower-middle class married couple somewhere in France (the location is never, AFAIK, given exactly.) As of August 2005, there are 18 volumes of about 50 or so pages each in existence, each of which deals with, and satirises, a different aspect of the couples' existence, ranging from living in an HLM (Habitations à Loyer Moderé, the French equivalent of council flats), and going to a holiday camp in Brittany, to the late 1990s fad for exercise machines, reality TV, and falling into the compound interest trap.

So who are these people? Well, they are Robert and Raymonde Bidochon. Although it is never explicitly stated what exactly they do all day, we can surmise that Robert has a job in an office, and Raymonde stays at home and cleans up and cooks for him. Their respective modes of dress would seem to support this; Robert wears a shirt and tie, trousers, braces (which cross over at the back in the stereotypical French style) and a beret (this is the most important item of clothing he possesses - he always wears his beret, even in bed, most likely because he's bald), and is drawn with a pot belly, painfully thin limbs, and a huge nose, while Raymonde wears the same frumpy dress with an apron stapled to the front (but not in bed.) She's shown as highly corpulent and saggy, and with a huge nose as well. In terms of character, they are always either hopelessly intrepid and treat everyday occurrences as if they were some great adventure, or they are opposites, with one or the other of them hopelessly in love with the latest trend or fad or idea and the other adamantly opposed. But all the same, they see their goals in life to be constantly trying to get with the rat race of the day, trying desperately to be seen as more than the working lower-middle-class suburbanites that they are.

There are a few other recurring peripheral characters in Les Bidochon as well. Most notably, these are René and Giselle, the Bidochons' chic, trendy, neighbours in the later strips which are as classy and upmarket and upwardly mobile as the Bidochons aren't, and they almost come to be so far removed from Robert and Raymonde that they're effectively both sides of the same coin, in that their goals in life seem to be to try and keep themselves from falling out of the rat race of the day so as not to be seen as the pretentious lower-middle-class suburbanites that they are.

The only other recurring character to my knowledge (I've yet to read all 18 volumes by the way, so if anyone can correct me on this, please don't hesitate to /msg me) is the ubiquitous bratty kid. There's one of these in many, many episodes of Les Bidochon and it's quite obvious that the author really hates irritating small children, and very often Robert does something vicious yet not undeserved to said children, like teaching them about centrifugal force on a playground roundabout at a full sprint, or claiming that the length he's just surreptitiously crimped out out of sight on a beach is some fish that are floating. Incidentally, this hatred of small children isn't just confined to Les Bidochon; for in one of Binet's other bandes dessinée, named Histoires ordinaires, a puppet artist snaps after years of thankless stress at the children who see his show and laments to his audience that he's still stuck here after 30 years' service playing the same tired old repertoire to a "bunch of bratty bedwetters" and "petits cons".

The major theme of the strip is that of how sublimely ridiculous modern life is, above all how the French see their own lives as so ridiculous. For example , in Volume 7, when Robert Bidochon goes into hospital for a heart bypass, it is noted that the hospital staff refer to their patients entirely in the third person:

"He takes his seat over there and waits for the nurse to come and collect him, please." "What's he doing not in his pyjamas? He changes into them immediately, please." "He pedals harder now, so as to keep the needle in a vertical orientation."

Or, when they are at the Breton holiday camp in Volume 2, the owner of a restaurant that does traditional Breton fare is incensed when the rep asks a favour of him for the coachload of tourists that just arrived: "No, I won't play the maracas and sing for these paella-munching imbeciles!" The restauranteur's exasperation is even more heightened when the tourists start asking for slight variations to the dishes on offer, then more variations, then more, until they're left with what is effectively "Six goulashes, four paellas, nine boeuf bourguignons and eight steak-frites." We can all relate to these situations, simply because we know them to be stereotypically true. After all, who hasn't seen an advert for some sort of hair product which promises something akin to "soft, flowing hair, like a wheat-field, that he'll not be able to resist" or a brand of nail varnish which promises to make one's nails "bewitching" in appearance? Sometimes this play on stereotypes is, I must say, taken a bit too far, though; for example, one ridiculously expensive fortune-teller gives Robert a numerological readout, not by adding up his date of birth or anything like that, but through the PAN number on his credit card.

Not all of the volumes, however, have a single storyline which runs through them. For example, Volume 5, named "Ragots intimes" or "Personal Arguments", features various short sketches on the theme of marital discord, with titles such as "How to repair a kitchen sink," "Phone conversation," (in which a crank instructs Raymonde to do something obscene with the phone handset while he knocks one out) and "The Sunday Evening Film" (which ends up with the pair of them sleeping through most of it but still claiming afterwards that it was a cinematic masterpiece.) Volume 14, "Des instants inoubliables" (or "Unforgettable Moments") is a similar volume, which is themed around social sins, such as asking for steak-frites and red wine in a very upmarket macrobiotic restaurant, and suchlike.

As for the artistic style, if one is familiar with the Christian Binet's fellow French dessinateurs Wolinski and Jean-Marc Reiser (of Phantasmes fame - "c'est Broadway!") then it's a similar style, in black and white with rough, crude pen strokes and people with massive noses, deliberately out-of-proportion bodies, and huge mouths that always open downwards in a flat, artless manner. As crude as this style might be, though (not for Les Bidochon the painstakingly oil-painted panels of Sambre or the precise and simple-yet-detailed ligne claire style of Tintin) it does allow a huge variety of facial expressions. For example, uncharacteristic and overblown happiness can be shown by stretching their mouths upwards rather than down when they talk, and boredom by a lemon-faced neutrality. There's also some playing around with speech balloons in the strip; for example, Binet might draw a quick sketch of a knife being driven into something after Raymonde answers the phone with a very acidic "Allo", or descriptions of things might be shortened to the character in question pointing to the item and a sketch of what he or she says it's like in the speech bubble. While varying the shape of a speech bubble to convey meanings isn't unusual in the world of comics (and Binet does that as well), I've only rarely seen this method of conveying such subtleties.

Here, for posterity, is a quick rundown of the current (as of August 2005) volumes of Les Bidochon. All titles are in French, as far as I know they've not yet been translated into English. A few unofficial scanlations may exist though:

1. Roman d'amour
2. En vacances
3. En habitation à loyer moderé
4. Maison, sucrée maison
5. Ragots intimes
6. En voyage organisé
7. Assujettis sociaux
8. Vent du soir
9. Les fous sont lâchés
10. Usagers de la route
11. Matin, midi et soir, suivi de matin, midi et soir
12. Téléspectateurs
13. La vie de mariage
14. Des instants inoubliables
15. Bidochon mère
16. Toniques
17. Usent le forfait
18. Voient tout, savent tout

If you're interested and want to read more, you can order the various BDs either at www.amazon.fr or direct from the publishers, Editions Fluide Glacial, at www.fluideglacial.com. Would I recommend Les Bidochon? Well of course (as long as you read French!)