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January 30, 2013


Bart Beaty In Angouleme 2013 01: Opening Day

imageBy Bart Beaty

For the 40th time, the world of comics turns its eyes to the banks of the Charente, where, under ominously grey skies, the Festival International de la Bande Dessinee convenes today. The grand-daddy of Europe's comics conventions, taking place (for the first time in at least a generation) partially in February, runs Thursday to Sunday, and will host, according to organizers, hundreds of thousands of guests, journalists, artists, publishers, and eager autograph-seeking audience members, filling this small medieval French town well past its capacity.

This year's FIBD is being overseen by an unlikely President, Jean-C Denis, best known as the creator of Luc Leroi (recently collected into a doorstop single volume by Futuropolis). Denis was a surprise selection last year, someone who had not been widely touted for the presidency as he is neither a large-scale commercial success, a critic's darling, nor a generation-defining talent. Lacking the star quality that has defined the vast majority of the festival's presidents, Denis has opted for a small-ish show at the Hotel St Simon, a space that is often reserved for secondary or even tertiary exhibitions.

What promises to be the largest and best attended exhibition at the Festival celebrates the career of Uderzo, selected as the millennial "special" president in 2000, but who has not had a major retrospective here. This is the exhibition that will likely make or break that reputation of this event. The combination of one the art form's all-time most popular figures, the crowd-friendly Asterix characters, and pages that are hyper-slick seems well positioned for a crowd pleaser if it is well presented. There is no doubt that Uderzo is the public face of this event in many ways.

The Festival will host a number of additional exhibitions, and while the total number seems down slightly from some recent years, there is a wide range of material on display, ranging from Disney comics to retrospectives featuring the comics of Andreas, Comes, and Penelope Bagieu. I will be honest and admit that few of these shows do anything for me on paper. The show that I am most looking forward to is on new tendencies in Flemish cartooning, which is pegged around the explosive success of Brecht Evens, who has quickly become symbolic of the new wave of young comics superstars at the Festival (alongside the likes of Bastien Vives and Ruppert/Mulot). In terms of events, the highlight promises to be Thursday's OuBaPo show of experimental comics storytelling, although the Concerts des Dessins will continue again this year, and they are always charming.

For most, the big attraction are the tents, filled to overflowing with fans seeking the opportunity to meet their favorite authors, queuing for hours sometimes to get a book signed. As always, action will be split between the big tent, home of the most commercial publishers, and the Bulle New York, which houses the independents and the smaller presses. One notable trend over the past few years have been national associations buying tables in the New York tent, pooling resources. The Flemish have turned this into a real strength, with their beautifully curated space, but over the past couple of years we have seen it from the Finns, and, this year, from the British. It's a great idea, and it makes the Festival just that much more international.

The biggest change at this year's Festival will be the way that the President is selected. A ballot has been published, with 16 nominees suggested by the past-presidents. These range from major historical figures (Cosey) to international artists (Taniguchi, Simmonds), important French artists of the past two decades (De Crecy, Larcenet) and even writers (Moore, Christin, Van Hamme). The intent seems to be to break a logjam among the electors, although it is not perfectly clear if the artists present at the Festival are directly electing the next president (as Les Inrocks claims) or are merely providing guidance to the jury of former presidents. I'm on the side of those who say that it doesn't much matter, as the whole process seems to have been rendered somewhat nonsensical.

There is a somewhat muted feeling coming into this Festival as compared to recent years. Certainly the Spiegelman presidency had a greater sense of possibility last year, and to some extent this edition seems like "just" an Angouleme, rather than a big event. That said, the hype is still out there. Les Inrocks has an Angouleme-themed cover right now, as does Telerama, which has a Bastien Vives cover (which would be the equivalent of Michael Deforge doing the cover for Entertainment Weekly the week of San Diego). Vives is the star of all things at the moment (he will be performing a concert des dessins at Le Nef on Saturday night), and his new collection of blog comics (titled, simply Bande Dessinee) opens with a lovely piece in which two parents try to come to grips with the idea that their child is a gifted comics creator: says the father, "There's even a festival that recognizes them [cartoonists] in Angouleme"; to which the mother replies "In Angouleme? But that's horrible." Well, for the next four days, let's hope not.

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To learn more about Dr. Beaty, or to contact him, try here.

Those interested in buying comics talked about in Bart Beaty's articles might try here.

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