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Bart Beaty On TCAF 2009
posted May 7, 2009
 

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By Bart Beaty

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival begins its weekend early with two events tonight: a party at Lee's Palace and a signing by Francois Ayroles and Emmanuel Guibert at the Alliance Francaise. Sadly, I'll miss both of these as I'm not flying out for the event until Friday morning, but I wanted to take a moment to hype the event, and, specifically (in my role as Euro-snob critic), the presence of several tremendous European cartoonists who will be in attendance.

First, TCAF. I decided a few years ago that I was going to stop traveling to most comics shows aside from Angouleme and Fumetto. I don't like the format of a bunch of cartoonists sitting at tables selling their books. It makes me uncomfortable, and it's just not my vision of what a comics festival should be. I still make time in my schedule for TCAF, however. It's intimate and, most importantly, it still holds out the hope of treating comics like an art form rather than as an entertainment commodity.

What strikes me most about TCAF is how eager they are to showcase world-class talent. There are people out there more qualified than I to speak on the fact that Yoshihiro Tatsumi is coming (but don't think that I'm not as excited as anyone else about the possibility of meeting him), so I wanted to fill you in on why you should be checking out the European guests.

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* Francois Ayroles. Ayroles is one of my all-time favorite cartoonists because he is unbelievably smart about comics history and the comics form. One of the key players in the experimental OuBaPo movement, Ayroles has pushed the boundaries of the form in really impressive ways, while (and this is the tricky part) continuing to make comics that are accessible and fun. His comics adaption of Playback, by Raymond Chandler, was translated a few years back to little acclaim on this side of the Atlantic. It's a book that shows off his drawing skills, but not the type of work that drew me to him. For that, check out Les Parleurs (no text), and the two volumes of his Key Moments in the History of Comics. If your French is up to it, his best single book is undoubtedly his most recent, Les Amis, which was nominated for the Grand Prize at Angouleme last year.

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* Anke Feuchtenberger. The grand dame of German art comics, Feuchtenberger is at the top of my list of outstanding contemporary cartoonists. She rarely makes appearances in North America (her last, to my knowledge, was at ICAF/SPX likely close to a decade ago). Her work is beautiful and uncompromising, and she has been exhibiting her work in important galleries and museums for about a decade and a half. Her W the Whore books (written by Katrin de Vries) have been translated into English by Bries, but remain tragically little known. Perhaps everything you need to know about her sensibility can be summed up in the phrase that she used as the title for one of her catalogues: When My Dog Dies, I'll Make Myself a Jacket.

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* Emmanuel Guibert. Thanks to the efforts of First Second, Guibert is finally receiving the attention in North America that he so rightfully deserves. For years he was my answer to the question "what French cartoonist should be translated next?" His books with Joann Sfar (the children's series Sardine, and the incredible adventure tale The Professor's Daughter) are a great introduction to his work, but he has also produced some of the most amazing comics biographies in recent years. Alan's War, recently collected into a single volume, describes the wartime experiences of Guibert's friend Alan Cope. It's an amazing accomplishment and a haunting book. The Photographer, forthcoming imminently, is an even stronger book, detailing Didier Lefevre's journey to Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. The Photographer, which won a prize at Angouleme in 2007, is, without question, one of the most amazing comics of this decade.

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* Florent Ruppert. I had proposed to present a paper at the scholarly portion of TCAF (Another New Narrative) on the work of Florent Ruppert and Jerome Mulot long before I learned that Ruppert would be attending the event himself. Great news, since I think that Ruppert and Mulot may be the most interesting cartoonists to have emerged from France in the last five years. Little of their work is available in English (though some is forthcoming), so you may have to sate your interest with their amazing two-page contribution to Kramer's Ergot 7 (one of that book's highlights). Everything that this duo touch is golden, and their mixture of comics creation and live performance is like little that is happening in the comics scene today. Pick up a copy of Safari Monseigneur or Panier de Singe (prize winner at Angouleme). I love Le Tricheur best of all their published work to date.

I'm hosting discussions with each of the French artists over the course of the weekend, and Feuchtenberger will be interviewed by the highly capable Mark Nevins. Please consider stopping by these panels, as this is a unique opportunity to learn more about some of the most interesting cartoonists working today.

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* Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 9-10 2009

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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 or here.

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