From: Industry News and Review No. 6, drawn by Françoise Mouly for Raw #1 (1980).

Françoise Mouly is a French-American comic editor, publisher and writer. She is best known for her editorship of the influential and legendary comic magazine Raw (1980-1984, 1986, 1989-1991) and the subsequent 'Little Lit' anthologies (2000-2003), where experimental cartoonists and illustrators from all over the world could blossom. While she co-edited RAW together with her husband Art Spiegelman, the majority of the magazine's design was her achievement. Since April 1993 Mouly is also art editor of The New Yorker, where she put the emphasis back on eye-catching and thought-provoking illustrations. She, for instance, designed the famous 9/11 cover (2001), partially based on an idea by Spiegelman. Mouly is also the creative force behind Toon Books (2008), which specializes in children's comic books made by professional cartoonists to encourage reading. She and her daughter Nadja also released two issues of the free comics paper Resist! (2017) to criticize the Trump administration and what it represents. Despite her long and productive career, her own graphic career has been scarce. She only wrote and drew a handful of comics. Many of her contributions to other people's artwork have remained overlooked, while she herself has been overshadowed by her far more famous husband. Yet as editor and publisher she had a significant impact on the development of both adult and children's comics for over a quarter of a century...

Early life and career
Françoise Mouly was born in 1955 as daughter of famed plastic surgeon Roger Mouly, who, along with colleague Charles Dufourtmentel, invented the breast reduction method. Mouly always felt underappreciated by her father, because he actually wanted a son and never hid his disappointment. Later in life he had no interest for her work, nor her husband, except when Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize for 'Maus' in 1991. Even then he was mostly proud that his daughter was "the wife of Art Spiegelman", and not because of her own achievements. Mouly's mother was a more positive role model. She always stressed the importance of being independent and Mouly took full advantage of this, which helped her career.

As a child, Mouly read the regular Franco-Belgian comics, with a particular love for the magazines Tintin, Pilote and Hara-Kiri (later Charlie-Hebdo). During the May 1968 student protests in Paris she joined the demonstrations. She was frequently expelled from high school for rallying other pupils to come along. The rebellious woman studied architecture at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but quickly felt trapped. The teachers encouraged pupils to express their inner self, while she was fully aware that in real life architects don't have that kind of creative freedom. It felt like a waste of time and not what she wanted in life. In 1974 she therefore dropped out and took a job as a cleaning lady. As soon as she had enough money she started to travel.

New York City
In 1974 Mouly arrived in New York City and stayed in a Salvation Army residence for a while. She managed to make ends meet by combining different jobs. Early in the morning she sold cigarettes at a newsstand, helped out with building models at a Japanese architectural agency in the afternoon and worked at Foreman's general store in the early evening. Mouly also earned bread as a plumber and electrician, while performing as an amateur actress in Richard Foreman's play 'Pandering to the Masses'. Eventually she was able to move into a loft in the Soho neighbourhood. In between Mouly got involved in New York's local artistic circle. Her dynamic personality and interest in other artists' projects were very much appreciated. Yet her English was still rusty. To improve it, she tried reading newspapers and magazines, though the language was too dry and cultivated. She switched over to comics, because it was easier to understand and at least used everyday speech. Looking for adult comics, a friend gave her a copy of the underground comix magazine Arcade, which introduced her to the work of Art Spiegelman.

Comic strip by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly for Snarf #8 (October 1978).

Art Spiegelman
While Mouly liked Arcade and met Spiegelman in person, the click wasn't instantly there. She only got more interested when she read 'Prisoner on the Hell Planet' (1973) in Short Order Comix #1, a moving four-page comic story about his mother's suicide. They soon discovered they were a perfect match. Both shared an interest in the history and artistic possibilities of comics. Spiegelman devoted essays and lectures to it, while experimenting in his own work. Mouly sometimes contributed to his writings. Since they came from different cultural backgrounds, they learned a lot from each other. Mouly was, for instance, amazed to discover that her favorite magazine Pilote was largely modelled after Mad Magazine. Likewise Spiegelman was intrigued by the European comics Mouly showed him, particularly since there was a flourishing market for serious adult comics in Europe which the United States lacked.

Immigration & marriage complications
When Mouly returned to France in December 1976, Spiegelman joined her for a few weeks. At the end of his vacation he asked her to move to the USA and offered to pay her travel expenses. Mouly accepted his first offer, but rejected the second, as she rather paid for it herself. After saving enough money she moved to New York City in 1977, only to be halted at the immigration office. The tourist visa she'd used during her 1974 visit had been expired after three months. Since she had stayed in the country longer than legally allowed, she was supposed to be instantly deported back to France! Luckily it was Friday evening and she was flat-out broke. Since she couldn't afford a return ticket, the customs officers had to wait for a judge's order, who wasn't approachable at that hour. Therefore they started rummaging through her luggage, looking for something to pay the sum, even reading her love letters to Spiegelman out loud. Mouly protested in tears, but they told her that she had no right to call her own consulate, because the immigration office was a "no man's land". When Spiegelman arrived at the airport, he arranged a lawyer and thus Mouly was released under his custody.

To make sure she wasn't repatriated, Spiegelman decided to marry Mouly, so she could legally move in with him. However, a new problem arose, because his father was a very devout Jew and Mouly wasn't Jewish. Spiegelman felt his dad just had to accept her, but Mouly pitied him and agreed to convert to Judaism. In normal circumstances such a conversion would take nine months, too long if Mouly wanted to avoid repatriation. They found a reformed synagogue where the rabbi arranged everything in a special six week course. By July 1977 Spiegelman and Mouly were officially husband and wife. Despite having respect for Jewish culture, they always admitted not being religious at all.

In 1978 Spiegelman found a steady job at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He helped Mouly find a vocation as freelance colorist for Marvel Comics, coloring issues in the series 'Star Wars', 'Ghost Rider', 'Black Panther', 'Daredevil', 'Captain Marvel', 'Dr. Strange', 'The Defenders' and 'Spider-Woman'. While most people would consider this job devoid of any creative individual expression, Mouly saw it differently. Inspired by the Russian constructivist movement, she started experimenting with different shades of color. She soon realized how the mood of a story could change drastically by just altering its colors here and there.

Mouly helped her husband with compiling some of his older comics into his first book, 'Breakdowns' (1977). Unfortunately it barely made its money back. Spiegelman wasn't a household name yet and most of the content was far too experimental. But she suspected another reason too. Mouly felt 'Breakdowns' could have benefited from better promotion as well as presentation. Yet at that time there was no platform for alternative cartoonists. The underground comix press had petered out. Spiegelman published in a few newspapers and magazines, but was always expected to keep his work family friendly. He could be more risky in nudie magazines like Hugh Hefner's Playboy, yet the demand was limited to pure sex stories. Mouly was stunned that Europe had several adult comic magazines like L'Écho des Savanes, Fluide Glacial and (Á Suivre), while the only genuine U.S. adult comic magazine was Heavy Metal... a translation of the French Métal Hurlant!

First (1980) and last (1991) issue of Raw. Illustrations by Art Spiegelman (left) and Robert Crumb (right).

Raw Books & Graphics
Realizing she'd better take matters in her own hands, Mouly studied offset printing. In 1978 she and Spiegelman founded the publishing company Raw Books & Graphics. They distributed postcards and prints by both U.S. and European cartoonists, among them Spiegelman himself, Bill Griffith and Joost Swarte. Raw's 'The Streets of SoHo Map and Guide' sold advertising space to merchants who operated in the Soho neighborhood in Manhattan, New York. There was an actual need for such a guide and it had to be updated every year, thus bringing in a lot of cash on a regular basis. The company also brought out the 'Mailbooks' booklets: 8-page comics by pioneers such as Rodolphe Töpffer and Caran d'Ache, as well as contemporary artists like Mark Beyer, Pascal Doury, Heinz Emigholz and Bruno Richard. Raw's 'Zippyscope' was based on a ViewMaster and presented episodes of Bill Griffith's 'Zippy the Pinhead' as a slideshow.

Raw magazine
With now enough money, publicity and expertise, the couple decided to create an actual adult comic magazine. In July 1980 Raw hit the market. It offered a spot to both established alternative cartoonists, graphic designers and illustrators, as well as new talent. Thanks to Spiegelman's roots in the U.S. underground comix scene and Mouly's connections with the European comic scene, Raw attracted artists - and readers! - from all over the world. Innovation was the norm. Lay-outs, designs, graphic style, page numbering and content were all free for experimentation. Many comics dealt with controversial subject matter. Contributors were allowed to draw how and whatever they pleased, while Mouly presented everything in the finest possible way. High quality paper and top-notch printing techniques were the standard. Raw's glossy look made it stand out among all the grudgy obscure comic magazines from the past. She and Spiegelman worked hard to bring Raw to the right target audience. They not only promoted it in comics circles, but also through media devoted to high art and literature. Although intended as a one-shot magazine, Raw became an unexpected bestseller and lasted 11 years and an equal amount of issues. By the time the final issue came out in June 1991, Raw had reached its goals. It proved the marketability of adult comics and had introduced dozens of artists to a global audience.

Mouly and Spiegelman were Raw's co-editors, with Robert Sikoryak joining in as associate editor from issue #7 (May 1985) on. But in reality Raw was mostly Mouly's labor of love. She was involved with almost all aspects of its production. Through her experience at Marvel, she colored some of the black-and-white illustrations, including Joost Swarte's cover for Raw issue #2 (December 1980). She was also in charge of the printing, binding, design, publication, distribution and marketing. Under her lead this little independent magazine became a worldwide bestseller in only a few years.

Comics by Mouly
Françoise Mouly wrote and drew one comic, 'Industry and Review No. 6', which appeared in Raw's first issue (July 1980). The comic features a woman in a printing plant who is so frustrated about her life that she contemplates suicide. She doubts whether she is "just a slave (...), not an "artist". 'Industry and Review No. 6' is notable for its inventive use of panels and lay-out and self-reflexivity. Mouly herself had suffered from depressions and creative frustrations and the protagonist in the comic is, just like herself, a printer. In the final panel it is revealed that the very comic she's working on is indeed 'Industry and Review No. 6' itself. As journalist and author Jeet Heer suggested in his book 'In Love with Art: Françoise Mouly's Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman' (2013), this brings a spark of hope, as it implies that the printing employee is an artist after all.

In the third issue (July 1981) Mouly scripted 'Food for Thought', a critique of the food industry, drawn by Art Young. Eight years later she provided the design for a text piece by Tom DeHaven, 'With Margaret Neely as Peg', which appeared in issue #9 (July 1989). The work is essentially a collage of old anti-communist posters and book covers. Mouly's final contribution to Raw was the script of 'This Little Piggy Went to Market' in the 10th issue (May 1990), painted by Sue Coe.

The New Yorker, the 24 September 2001 cover after the 9/11 terrorist attacks a week earlier. 

The New Yorker
In 1992 Mouly succeeded Lee Lorenz as art editor of The New Yorker at special request of chief editor Trina Brown. Despite creative differences, both agreed that eye-catching cover illustrations had to become the prime focus again, just like in the magazine's golden era. Mouly instantly put her stamp on it. When the magazine's offices moved, she checked the new floor plan and noticed her future office would lack walls. Rather than complain about it, she just visited the place on a Sunday and, with her past experience in architecture, built these walls herself! Through her connections, Mouly brought in many famous names to design some of the most iconic and talked about covers in The New Yorker's history. She sometimes compared her job to that of a kindergarten teacher, because "just like young children, artists can be self-centered, but absolutely charming and need a lot of care and attention". Mouly also felt the cartoons in the New Yorker had to address current affairs again, not shying away from controversy. Many, especially by Spiegelman, sparked outrage, but the publicity doubled its circulation! Nevertheless some covers were still rejected. By 2012 Mouly and her daughter Nadja had enough together (about 950!) to publish them in book form as 'Blown Covers' (2012).

While Mouly usually didn't design any covers herself, she was involved with the iconic image made to commemorate the victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. The famous cover appears to be completely black, but on closer inspection it reveals a slightly lighter silhouette of the two World Trade Center towers. The illustration was officially made by Spiegelman, but actually most of the design and coloring was done by Mouly. She gave her husband the credit because he came up with the idea of the lighter shades of black. 

Little Lit
At the turn of the 20th into the 21st century, Mouly had become the driving force behind Raw Junior (1999), the label behind the 'Little Lit' anthologies. Mouly and Spiegelman edited three volumes, published by HarperCollins: 'Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies' (2000), 'Strange Stories for Strange Kids' (2001) and 'It Was a Dark and Silly Night' (2003). The series collected avant-gardistic comic stories aimed at children; not only by Spiegelman and other former Raw artists, but also by prominent authors and illustrators of children's books. In 2006 a selection from the original three books was published under the title 'Big Fat Little Lit' by Puffin Books. The anthologies are predecessors of Mouly's Toon Books company, which has published children's comics "from the Little Lit Library" since 2008.

Toon Books
Mouly ventured into publishing with the establishment of the labels Toon Books (2008) and Toon Graphics (2014), usually collected under the denominator Toon Books. The company has specialized in child friendly books intended to motivate young audiences into reading. The project came about because Mouly was appalled at the quality of most children's literature. Looking for suitable books for her own kids, she eventually imported some French-language children's books and comics and had them translated. This gave her the idea to publish educational comics fit for readers between age 5 and 8. In the past parents and educators had always dismissed comics as "inferior literature". But nowadays, in an era of TV, video games and Internet, these same critical voices were actually glad that kids at least read comics, because most never read a book. Children connect very strongly with visual clues. Since picture books and comic books are closely related and have a centuries-old connected past, Mouly decided to combine them. Much to her surprise all publishers rejected her idea, because it was "too difficult to categorize". Having learned from her experience with Raw, she decided to found her own publishing company.

Through her vast network she managed to attract many notable writers, including Paul Auster, Neil Gaiman, William Joyce, Barbara McClintock, David Sedaris and Lemony Snicket. Famous U.S. cartoonists and illustrators like Harry Bliss, Frank Cammuso, Lilli Carré, Daniel Clowes, Eleanor Davis, Ian Falconer, Renée French, Elise Gravel, Dean Haspiel, Geoffrey Hayes, R. Kikuo Johnson, William Joyce, Hilary Knight, Steven Kroll, Jay Lynch, David Macaulay, Barbara McClintock, Kevin McCloskey, Tony Millionaire, David Nytra, Barnaby Richards, Marc Rosenthal, Theresa Rowe, Maurice Sendak, Jeff Smith, James Sturm and Drew Weing illustrated different titles. Mouly also brought in foreign artists, among them Jean-Luc & Philippe Coudray, Fred, Liniers, Lorenzo Mattotti, Rutu Modan, Carlos Nine, Yvan Pommaux, Claude Ponti, Agnès Rosenstiehl and Frank Viva. Art Spiegelman wrote and illustrated 'Jack and the Box' (2008) and 'Be A Nose' (2009). Daughter Nadja wrote 'Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework' (2010) and 'Zig and Wikki in The Cow' (2012), illustrated by Trade Loeffler, and 'Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure' (2015), illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez.

All books are consulted with pedagogical advisors to get a grip on which words and consonants can be used. The books are tested in schools to see whether children enjoy and understand them and how fluently then can read the stories. The finished product is sometimes fine-tuned based on this research. The Toon Books are also available as audio books and downloadable online learning tools. Through CarTOON Maker, readers are invited to make their own cartoons. Some titles were translated and won awards, such as Eleanor Davis' 'Stinky' and Geoffrey Hayes' 'Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!', which respectively won the 2009 and 2010 Theodore Seuss Geisel Award. Jeff Smith's 'Little Mouse Gets Ready' won the Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor Award (2009). At first Diamond Books distributed the titles, but thanks to all this acclaim Toon Books struck a distribution partnership with Candlewick Press in 2010.

Resist issue #1 (art by Gayle Kabaker) and #2 (art by Malika Favre). 

On 8 November 2016 Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. His controversial public image and policies motivated Mouly and her daughter Nadja to bring out a special protest newspaper, Resist!, to appear as a free giveaway issue to Smoke Signal, a quarterly comic anthology. They asked many artists, both professionals such as Alison Bechdel and Lynda Barry, as well as amateurs, to make special cartoons, comics and illustrations. Most of its contributors were female, though some men also sent in material. Interviewed by Betsy Gomez for CBLDF on 13 January 2017, Mouly said that Resist! celebrates "everything we have in common, of not just women, but men also, and people for whom gender is fluid, as well as young, as well as old, as well as professional artists, as well as doctors and lawyers and grandmothers, as well as everyone who feels that they lost something on November 8th - they should be able to find something here that is at least as sustaining as what was taken away that day." Resist!! was widely distributed on 20 January 2017, to coincide with president Donald Trump's inauguration day. A second issue appeared in June 2017.

Françoise Mouly won two Harvey Awards, respectively in 1989 and 1991, both shared with her husband. The first one awarded their publication of Charles Burns' 'Hardboiled Detective Stories', the second their work on Raw. She received the Richard Gangel Art Director Award (2011) by the Society of Illustrators and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (2014) for her promotion of children's literature. In 2015 she was given the Smithsonian Ingenuity Award for her work in Education. Mouly was honored as a Chevalier dans les Arts et des Lettres (2011), followed by a title as Chevalier dans le Légion d'Honneur (2015).

Françoise Mouly and Spiegelman have two children, Nadja (1987) and Dashiell (1991).

Books about Françoise Mouly
For those interested in Mouly's life and career, Jeet Heer's book 'In Love with Art: Françoise Mouly's Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman' (Coach House Books, Toronto, 2013) is a must-read.

Art Spiegelman, Françoise Mouly and daughter Nadja appear in Spiegelman's comic 'In the Shadow of No Towers' (2003).

Series and books by Françoise Mouly you can order today:


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