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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty's Angouleme 2006 Report and Photo Gallery
posted February 1, 2006
 

As the pamphlet produced by the Pirates Litteraires so bluntly put it, there was a hole in the heart of Angouleme this year. The question was: what would fill it? For many the answer was depressing: snow. For others, things were not so simple.

Angouleme 2006 was a memorable show, perhaps the most memorable of the nine I have attended. But was it a good show? I doubt that many will ultimately count it among the greats. There were many problems, though generally few were of the Festival's making. The two most prominent were the construction and the snow.

First, the construction. Traditionally, the two largest tents at Angouleme have been housed on the Champ de Mars, slightly off from the center of town (it's a bus depot). This provides a center of gravity for the show, and then exhibitions and some smaller tents were scattered around town, a short walk away. This year, the Champ de Mars was an enormous hole about 40 feet down into the limestone with huge cranes and dump trucks in it, as they are building a new mall to be the commercial center of the town. Thus, many of the biggest publishers were relocated to where the small publishers used to be around the town hall. The small publishers were put on the hill leading down to the CNBDI (a terrible location for them, I've never seen the fanzine space so empty). Casterman and Glenat (two of the biggest publishers there) were out of the loop as well. The three (count 'em!) manga tents were all over the place. It was not actually difficult to find your way around, and in fact most things were more centrally located now that the town hall was the center of the festival. But there was no real common area either, and that hurt the show a lot from an attendee's perspective.

Second, the snow. Well, what can you do? You hold a festival in January, there's always this risk. On the Wednesday before the show, Angouleme was positively balmy, but by Saturday (the main day for attendance by the vast public) roads were closed across France, trains were delayed. It was, simply, a disaster as maybe six inches of wet snow fell on the crowds. Publishers glared as attendees shook snow off their clothes and onto the books, and attendance was noticeably down. Way down, would be my guess. The difficulty of travel, plus a president who is not a commercial powerhouse, made this appear to be the least attended festival in a decade. The festival is claiming that attendance over the first two days was the same as last year, but that Saturday was down 50% because of the first snow at the festival in twenty years. Many skeptics are going to suggest that even those numbers are inflated. Still, the festival was plenty huge. There were 8000 professionals alone. Indeed, with huge publishing house Dupuis returning to the festival this year after a twenty-plus year absence, they were forced to find lodging in Cognac, about forty minutes outside of town.

So, through no real fault of their own, things didn't go so well.

The other big change though, was through some fault of the festival. A large number of small publishers boycotted this year, including L'Association, Cornelius, Fremok, Atrabile, Drozophile and, literally, dozens of others. These publishers have (correctly) noted that the festival really isn't about them and the type of work that they do. Given that things were moving into the city center this year anyway, these publishers opted to run their own festival concurrently on a side street. The event was an offshoot of the Pirates Literraires events that have been established by the French small press comics scene working together with art book publishers, scholarly presses, and other publishers on the margins of the mainstream book industry. Events preceding Angouleme have been held in Paris and Brussels.

This version of the Pirates was exclusively comic book publishers. They printed posters (with a beautiful Richard McGuire image) announcing their own events at various bars around town (a map would have been helpful), and a storefront of their own. These included debates on topics such as: "Is there a crisis in comics?" "Should we continue to do book signings?" And, "Do we need an Angouleme?" The debates I attended were interesting, and generally attended by a standing-room only crowd of about forty people. In some instances there was not too much debate, as all the participants were roughly in accord, but some substantive issues were raised in a way that I have never seen them so raised at San Diego or SPX.

The Pirates also hosted film screenings and a lecture by Ben Katchor, bravely reading strips in French before switching to English, with translation by Fremok's Yvan Alagbe. Of course, in the end, even the Pirates ran into trouble, as one of their bars kicked them out for not buying enough drinks. Fortunately, they were able to relocate quickly, but it was a sad moment when the rebellion was accused of being too sober. On Sunday morning I spoke with Yvan Alagbe about the success or failure of the counter-festival. He told me that the jury will be out for a while until receipts are tallied and some critical distance is gained. Fremok boycotted last year as well, so this was a return on their own terms, but it will be interesting to see if the other publishers will continue to counter-program, or treat this as a one-year holiday from the booths. It was clear that many of the small press stalwarts were relieved to be freed from mercantile obligations for a year (was that a spring I saw in Menu's step?), but it is difficult to imagine how L'Association could boycott a festival at which one of their founders is to be president.

As for the rest of the festival, well it lacked a certain something exciting. The exhibitions this year had few people raving. By far the most beautiful was that of Martin tom Dieck, hosted by the local comics and illustration school. Dieck was the first winner of their art prize, a good idea to host an exhibition by someone that the festival might overlook. Next year's winner was announced as Richard McGuire, so you can see that their standards of excellence are actually standards of excellence. The Wolinski exhibition at the CNBDI failed to convince many that he was a deserving president, unless you are a big fan of blowjob jokes. For a fourth year (!) running, the main exhibition was Musees Imaginaires, suggesting that the CNBDI and Festival simply don't have the budget any longer to mount lavish shows (like 2000's Moebius retrospective). A side room had a great exhibit, Peur(s) de Noir, in advance of the animated film by Dupuy-Berberian, Mattotti, Charles Burns, Blutch and others. That film looks fantastic. The lobby had a Guido Buzzelli show, which was interesting. The theatre hosted two interesting shows. The first featured a dozen Finnish artists, each represented by four or five pages. Upstairs, Dargaud was featured in a show contrasting the greats of Pilote magazine (Mandryka, Giraud, Gotlib) with the current generation of Poisson Pilote authors (Blain, Trondheim, Sfar, Larcenet). The highlight here was a video of various pairs of artists speaking with each other. Oh, and the original art by Blain paired with original art by Jean Giraud. Fantastic.

The prizes were what they were. Gipi would be my second choice for best book, so that was all right with me. He's becoming a star in France, with half a dozen long books out. Hopefully the success (?) of his short Ignatz debut from Fantagraphics and a forthcoming book from First Second will speed the translation of much of this work. Giving a heritage prize to Locas made me laugh, since it's not like the work was exactly out of print, but whatever. The Davodeau book was a well deserving winner. Gibrat and Blacksad are not award winners to me, but I don't get a vote. I usually don't like most of the Oscar winners either.

As for the big prize, that was interesting. Two years ago the Festival turned a page into the 1990s by rewarding Zep, the most commercially successful of all the artists to debut in that decade. This seemed to be the start of something, but then they wildly reversed course with Wolinski. This year another full turn, and back to Lewis Trondheim, arguably the most important French cartoonist of the past fifteen years. I am one of those who applauds this choice, and I am not one of the cynics who believes that it was because L'Association withdrew this year (though there was some rumbling to that effect). Nonetheless, Trondheim's selection promises to be an interesting one for next year. I am already looking forward to going back. My only disappointment was that I had Joann Sfar in the pool.

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Photo Gallery
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1. Where's Katchor? Can you spot famed American cartoonist Ben Katchor at the opening of the Martin tom Dieck exhibition?

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2. Didn't there used to be a festival right around here?

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3. The madness that is Angouleme.

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4. Anders Nilsen and Paul Hornschmeier sign at the Actes Sud booth.

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5. The Pirate store, locus of the anti-festival. Richard McGuire-painted gate on the left side.

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6. Nice weather here.

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7. A Troll guards the Soleil booth. Hey, it kept ME out.

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8. Dupuis, publisher of Spirou, returned after a two decade absence -- and brought snow with them.

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