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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty Reviews Bienvenue a Boboland And Talks Grand Prizes
posted December 11, 2008
 

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By Bart Beaty

On Tuesday, Tom offered Posy Simmonds as a candidate for the presidency of Angouleme next year, but qualified his suggestion by saying: "Granted, I have no idea on what basis these things are voted, so I'm just projecting"

Simmonds is a great choice. I've already said here that I'd love to see her win a prize at this year's festival, and I think she is one of the top cartoonists working anywhere in the world today. But she won't win the presidency. Alas.

Here's the way that they do it, as I understand it. The Grand Prize at Angouleme is voted on by past winners of the Grand Prize, or, at least, the ones who show up at the festival to voice their opinions (some, like Crumb or Tardi or Bilal don't generally come, while many others are there pretty much every year). I think that they all have lunch together and talk about who should win. It sounds very civilized, but many cynics (and I will plead guilty to this) contend that it leads to cronyism. If you have a dozen cartoonists sitting around, having lunch and recalling the good ol' days, they seem more likely to elect absent friends than truly deserving winners.

This is why there seems, from time to time, to be a generational struggle over the prize. Zep won for 2004 (with Joann Sfar getting the "30th Anniversary Prize"), which was a sea change from the previous winners, indicating the arrival of the generation who made their mark in the 1990s. Then, in 2005, things swung back with Georges Wolinski. 2006 was Trondheim, a return to the 1990s stars. Last year was Munoz, an overlooked master from a previous generation (reportedly strongly advocated for by Trondheim). This year is Dupuy-Berberian, so we've been bouncing back and forth, although it's possible that we could be in for a lengthy run of 1990s stars now.

There are good reasons for a model like this (it's more of an honor to be acclaimed by your honored peers) and obvious drawbacks insofar as people who aren't part of the "club" may be excluded. Simmonds, who, as far as I know, has only been to Angouleme once or twice, isn't part of that club. The qualification for the Grand Prize isn't talent and influence (though all the winners do have that going for them), but also connections, something that has to be kept in mind.

And speaking of connections, one of Dupuy-Berberian's new books (they're so prolific I hate to say "their new book" only to learn that they have six others...) is all about the sorts of benefits that come from power -- economic, cultural or symbolic.

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Bienvenue a Boboland collects a series of strips originally published in the humor magazine Fluide Glacial. Set in a Paris that David Brooks would find familiar, the book relentlessly savages new urban bohemians who shop for ethical designer furniture while sipping fair trade decaf with their screaming children in tow. As the shaved headed university professor and father of a three year old whose wardrobe has been purchased primarily at co-ops, it was hard to imagine that they weren't picking on me. In fact, I fear that they may just be.

imageThe denizens of Dupuy-Berberian's Boboland are repulsive creatures. Real estate speculators, tattooed waitresses, film producers, talk show hosts, unscrupulous novelists, ad men and other reprobates, they are consumed by their own lives to the exclusion of everything around them. The authors get good mileage out of a homeless man by the Canal St. Martin, and also from an elderly widow in the book's most pathetic scene, but otherwise there is no one here much worth caring about.

imageAt first I thought the book, which is drawn in an extremely loose style, was merely a simple diversion, as few of the early pieces really drew me in. It was when they answered the plaintive cry of their most neurotic worrier, "Dans quel monde vit-on?" (What kind of world do we live in?) with the title of their next story: "Dans Quel Monde Vuitton?" that I was thoroughly hooked. Dupuy and Berberian know exactly whose world we're living in.

This is the type of cynical and black-hearted book in which a jogger with a heart attack dies because his potential rescuers don't like the music on his iPod. Maybe the best segment features two authors whose books have been printed with the covers switched. The critic's darling is initially appalled, but comes to love the celebrity attached to writing a best-seller. The best-selling writer, who, by the way, always used a ghost writer anyway, finds cold comfort in his suddenly enthusiastic reviews. Despite the praise, he is dropped by his publisher.

It has an acid humor that is genuinely corrosive, and it highlights how important connections have become in a world where quality no longer seems to matter the way that it used to. I'm glad that quality still matters in the selection of the Grand Prize at Angouleme, and I would encourage the jury to read Bienvenue a Boboland closely, lest they be tempted to reward their circle of friends, rather than simply asking the best cartoonists in the world to join them.

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Bienvenue a Boboland: Le comportement humain en milieu urbain, Fluide Glacial, 34 pages, 2858158622 (ISBN10), 9782858158621 (ISBN13), May 2008.

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