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October 26, 2008


CR Sunday Feature: Bart Beaty on the 2008 FIBD Official Selections

By Bart Beaty

I've been thinking about the Angouleme nominees for a couple of days. My first reaction was that I wasn't very enamored with the list. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of great nominees on here, and a couple of truly outstanding books, but it's nothing close to a list that I would put together. Of course, then I got over myself and remembered that they're not my awards, they're the festival's, and expecting a festival to have the same aesthetic priorities as I do would be pretty strange.

imageMy other reaction was probably just as rooted in a lack of self-awareness. I was really surprised by the sheer volume of picks that I had never seen or, in some cases, even heard of. Partly this is a function of the fact that I haven't been in Europe since last January, and so haven't been in the bookstores where I would see this material. But it made me feel really out of touch.

Now that I've had a day or two to think about it, I've realized that's not really the case. I may be out of touch, but these nominations aren't the proof of it. For better or worse, this is a very diverse set of books, and I think that there are probably very few readers who would be interested in all of the books here, or even a majority of them. At the same time, I can't imagine many BD readers who won't find something to be rooting for come the last Saturday in January when the prizes are handed out.

I gave up handicapping the awards the second that Shaun Tan's name was called in the Theatre last year. I would have had him at a 200:1 long shot. The jury changes year to year, and so looking for consistency from the awards is pointless, and, unless you know the members of any particular jury, it's tough to anticipate which way they might head. So your predictions are probably as good as mine.

Nonetheless, I did want to offer a few thoughts on the fifty-six nominees this year. Angouleme got rid of categories a few years ago, and it was a decision for the better. No hiving creative works into ridiculous categories like best inker, just a long list of the best books of the year reduced to a short list of one winner, and five runners-up at the Festival itself. Announcing the nominees now, and partnering with SNCF (the trains) and FNAC (huge entertainment store chain), gives 56 titles an unparalleled spotlight for the next three months (and, crucially, through the Christmas gift-buying season).

Let's sort them by publisher.

Acte Sud l'An 2

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La Jeune Fille et le negre, Judith Vanistendael

This is the line of books edited by comics scholar Thierry Groensteen, who always has impeccable taste. Vanistendael's book is one I haven't read, but that I know quite well as I actually spent time at last year's festival having it read to me by her Dutch publisher (my Dutch, frankly, sucks). As the title suggests, it's the story of an interracial romance and the tensions that it creates. Vanistendael is a young cartoonist with what many see as a bright future. I'm looking forward to actually reading this for myself.

*****

L'Association

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Lock Groove Comix n°1, Jean-Christophe Menu

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Les Amis, Francois Ayroles

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La Guerre d'Alan, tome 3, Emmanuel Guibert

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Le Petit Christian, tome 2, Blutch

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Le Tricheur, Ruppert et Mulot

Five nominees for the venerable French alt-comix publisher indicates that they remain the critical darlings of the Festival. Two of these, Les Amis and Le Petit Christian, I have already talked about this year. I liked them both, but I adored the Blutch and think that it might be his best work. Lock Groove Comix by Jean-Christophe Menu is a short comic about music that's not as good as his Topographie interne du M (nominated last year), although it has its charms. The Guibert book is, of course, something that you should be reading in English from First Second around this time. I've written about the previous two volumes in the past for TCJ and also in my book, Unpopular Culture. I think it's a straight-up masterpiece. Le Tricheur is another great one from Rupert and Mulot, their most substantial book to date. It's fantastic. The only reason I haven't reviewed it here is that I review all of their books here and I always say "it's great," and I don't want to sound like a broken record. But it's great. I would be thrilled if any of these books won, and I will be saddened if Blutch and Guibert don't leave with prizes.

*****

Editions ca et la

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Ferme 54, Galit et Gilad Seliktar

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Bottomless Belly Button, Dash Shaw

Ca et la, and that looks strange without the accents, means "here and there," and that's what this publisher specializes in. They do French editions of comics published elsewhere instead of original French material. They have good taste, and publish the likes of Ville Rante and Peter Kuper. The Dash Shaw book needs no additional praise from me here. Ferme 54 is an autobio book by an Israeli brother and sister duo and is one of those small books that it's great to see awards like this highlighting.

*****

Cambourakis

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Mon Frere nocturne, Joanna Hellgren

I haven't seen a copy of this book. The plot description (a young boy may be the reincarnation of his dead brother) does nothing for me, but the art samples I've seen are exceptional -- starkly minimalist and highly personal. This is a book that I'll read based on its nomination.

*****

Casterman

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Esthetique et filatures, Tanxxx et Lisa Mandel

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Le Gout du chlore, Bastien Vives

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Pluie du paradis, Yu lu

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Pauvres zheros, Baru, Pierre Pelot, Rivages / Casterman / Noir

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Shutter Island, Christian De Metter, Dennis Lehane, Rivages / Casterman / Noir

The Tanxxx and Mandel book is from Casterman's new KSTR line, which are longer (100+ pages) books. The cover really puts me off and I don't think that this story of patricide is going to be for me. The Vives book is also from KSTR and just came out this month -- I don't really know a thing about it. I've heard good things about the Yu Lu book, but I'm no big fan of hyper-realism in comics art. I'd certainly give it a look based on the nomination. The two books here that I am very interested in are the ones by Baru and the De Metter. Both are from the other new Casterman series this year, a noir line adapting literary works into comics. Pelot is a French genre writer with hundreds of books to his names, and Lehane, of course, may be best known as the author of Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, dense, dark crime novels. I am dying to read Baru's take on his Shutter Island but Casterman won't send me a review copy. I'll have to buy my own. Good year for Casterman, really. Four nominations in their two new lines had to have them popping some corks on Thursday.

*****

Cornelius

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Sequelles, Hugues Micol

A bit of a disappointment to see only one Cornelius book nominated this year. It's a good one though. Micol's book is set in a nightmarishly bizarre Tokyo. The festival blurb compares it to a cross between Kirby and Kurosawa. That doesn't seem entirely correct to me, but I think it's a great image nonetheless so I'm not going to try to improve on it.

*****

Dargaud

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The Autobiography Of A Mitroll, Mum Is Dead, tome 1, Bouzard

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De Gaulle a la plage, Ferri

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Gus, tome 3, Christophe Blain, Dargaud

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Long John Silver, Neptune, tome 2, Dorison & Lauffray

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Le Marquis d'Anaon, La chambre de Kheops, tome 5, Bonhomme & Vehlmann

Lots of series nominated here. The Bouzard book, which has an October release date and is brand new, interests me quite a bit and I am likely to give it a thorough look. The Gus book I will certainly pick up, since I will buy anything Blain puts his name to. I was under the impression that this book wasn't to be released until next month -- perhaps the jury is composed of time travelers? Ferri's sense of humor isn't mine, and I passed on the De Gaulle book a couple of times. The Long John Silver book is one of those exquisitely drawn French adventure books that bore me to tears, and the Marquis d'Anaon is just the type of genre work that makes my eyes glaze over as I walk through the big French chain bookstores. The nominations for these last two are the type that leave me scratching my head.

*****

Delcourt
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Filles perdues, Moore et Gebbie

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L'Heritage du colonel, Varela et Trillo

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La Force des humbles, Hiroshi Hirata

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Loin d'etre parfait, Adrian Tomine

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Wanted, Millar, Jones et Mounts

I assume that I don't need to say much about Lost Girls or Shortcomings for readers of this site at this point in time. The Hirata book is a samurai manga that didn't look so super hot when I flipped through it recently. I'm sort of interested in seeing the Varela book -- he's a youngish Argentinian cartoonist -- although I definitely run hot and cold on Trillo's writing (more often cold). In all honesty, the fact that Wanted has been nominated for this prize made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

*****

Denoel Graphic

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Tamara Drewe, Posy Simmonds

I shouldn't have to plug this here, but since Simmonds may be the single-most underrated cartoonist on the planet right now, I will just note how very much I hope that she wins one of the prizes. In a perfect comics world, Simmonds would have annual parades in her honor. I mean, she's so good that she made me re-read Thomas Hardy. Please, jury members, vote for this book.

*****

Diantre

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Mon gras et moi, Gally

Here's where the policy of nominating 56 books really works. Not only had I not previously heard of Gally, I hadn't even heard of her publisher, Diantre. A few clicks on the internet and I've read a few pages from her blog. That's how these nominations should work. Looks to be a body image book, and quite possibly a good one. I'm interested enough to take a look.

*****

Drugstore

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Le Roi des mouches, L'Origine du monde, tome 2, Mezzo et Pirus

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No comment, Yvan Brun

Actually, I don't know anything about the publisher Drugstore either. I do know that the first volume in the Mezzo and Pirus series came out some years ago from Albin Michel, but I've never been a big fan of their work. No Comment seems interesting: a wordless book about man's inhumanity to man. Where are all these new publishers coming from?

*****

Dupuis

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Marzi (1984-1987): la Pologne vue par les yeux d'une enfant, Savoia et Sowa

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Spirou et Fantasio, Le Journal d'un ingenu, Emile Bravo

Dupuis, of course, is not so new. The stalwart publishing house gave us one of the most enjoyable books of the year in Bravo's re-imagining of Spirou and Fantasio. All mainstream comics should be this good. Hell, all comics should be this good, mainstream or not. I just really, really loved this book. Marzi also looks to have its charms. The story of a young girl in Poland before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it may have a bit of the Persepolis tone about it, but it also has a genuine visual charm provided by Savoia's art.

*****

Ego Comme X

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American Elf, James Kochalka

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Le Gout du paradis, Nine Antico

Nice to see James Kochalka up for this award. He'll be featured on the power-packed Saturday of this year's Festival (check out this line-up of talks: Posy Simmonds, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, James Kochalka, Melinda Gebbie, Bernie Wrightson. All speaking one after the other. I hope I don't have to go to the bathroom and risk losing my seat). The Antico book is a first for her. I'm partial to books from Ego Comme X, but the art put me off a bit here and I wasn't in a rush to look at it more closely.

*****

Employe du Moi

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3 declinaisons, Pierre Maurel

This one came out in March, but I still haven't seen it. It's described as "social fiction" about people living close to unemployment and in precarious positions. I will certainly keep my eyes opened for it.

*****

Fluide Glacial

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Les Bidochon, tome 19, Binet

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Lucien, Toujours la banane, tome 9, Frank Margerin

Lucien, of course, is the major character of one of the major humor cartoonists in French comics history. A product of the 1980s, Margerin resurrected Lucien at the end of the 1990s for two books, and now, eight years later, has brought him out of retirement again. This just came out, so I haven't seen it yet, but I expect I will like it. I'm one of those people that believes once you've been named President of the Festival (as Margerin was) you should be ineligible for any further awards from it, but it's not hard to convince me that Margerin likely deserves this. On the other hand, there is no comics work anywhere in the world that I dislike as much as I dislike Les Bidochon.

*****

Futuropolis

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Lulu femme nue, premier livre, Etienne Davodeau

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BigFoot, Troisieme Balade -- creatures, Nicolas Dumontheuil adapte de Richard Brautigan

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Martha Jane Cannary, tome 1, Blanchin et Perrissin

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Matteo, Jean-Pierre Gibrat

Davodeau is one of those artists who is consistently nominated for these prizes, and his work is quite good. I'm not sure why no one has ever taken a shot at translating him (too political? too agricultural?). I'm behind on his books, but will pick this one up. The Dumontheuil is from a series I haven't been reading. It is, in fact, about Big Foot just as the name suggests. Not my thing. Matteo is a new one this month that I haven't seen. Seems to be a fairly classically done historical novel about the inter-war period and grand European events like the Spanish Civil War. Martha Jane Cannary will be known to fans of Deadwood as "Calamity Jane." This one I really want to read, not because I'm a fan of Deadwood so much as it is a new western series by Matthieu Blanchin, who has previously done primarily autobio material for L'Association and Ego Comme X and I want to see how his skill set transfers over to this kind of work. Ok, plus I like Deadwood.

*****

Gallimard

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Tresor, Lucie Durbiano

Durbiano was nominated (I think) a couple of years ago, and has come a long way in a short period of time. Her work has a bit of a ratty clear line look to it. This is another recent release, this one is about a naïve young woman falling in love in Paris in the 1950s. I'm not a super-fan of her work, but I know a bunch of them. She's another that I think would do very well in translation.

*****

Glenat

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Les Gouttes de Dieu, tome 1, Tadashi Agi et Shu Okimoto

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Max Fridman, tome 5, Vittorio Giardino

I don't know the manga, but I am oh-so tempted to buy a copy just based on the plot description: to receive his inheritance, a young man must be able to identify 12 bottles of wine! This is just bizarre enough to be entertaining to me. Giardino, of course, is one of those mainstream Eurocomics masters that you've got to be a real cynic not to appreciate on at least some level. Somebody must be translating this series, right?

*****

Kana

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Undercurrent, Toyoda

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Ushijima, tome 3, Manabe

I don't know either of these series. The only manga I read in French is by Taniguchi. Ushijima is a yakuza story, but for my tastes Undercurrent looks like the one that is worth flipping through.

*****

Editions Lito

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Bons mauvais grands et petits joueurs, Anne Rouquette
Another artist and publisher with whom I'm not familiar. I can't say much other than I really like this cover, and if the insides look anything like this I'll be happy to read it.

*****

Lombard

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Jonathan, Elle, tome 14, Cosey
Cosey, like Giardino, is a genuine master who initially made his name in the 1970s, but I haven't been reading Jonathan since he brought that series back to life in the late-1990s. These are the sorts of people that I'm happy to see nominated but that I'd probably never bother to renew my interest in.

*****

Paquet

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Cite 14, saison 1, Gabus et Reutimann
Last year, my friend Alfred dragged me into the busiest Angou tent on the busiest day because he heard a rumor that the new issue of this series was out and he had to have it. This is a collection of comics that were serialized. Adventure and intrigue and all those things. Based on Alfred's frustrations waiting for the issues, I opted to wait for the collection and am eager to see what the fuss is all about.

*****

Rackham

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Oncle Gabby, Tony Millionaire
It's Sock Monkey, but in French!

*****

Requins Marteaux

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Pinocchio, Winshluss

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Salade de fluits, tome , Mathieu Sapin

The FNAC site is telling me that Pinocchio isn't out yet, so either the jury has advance copies or they have a lot of faith in Winshluss. I sure do. I think that he's pretty much the funniest guy in comics, and I snap up his material at any opportunity. This will be no exception. Sapin is also pretty damn funny himself, though I've been more partial to his Supermurgeman series than this one.

*****

Sarbacane

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Nage libre, Sebastien Chrisostome

This is another first book, this time about three fish. I sort of wrote it off as a children's humor book, but I'm willing to look again. The fish are cute, at least.

*****

Soleil

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Harding Was Here, tome 1, Midam et Adam

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Le Livre des destins, La Metamorphose, tome 2, Le Tendre et Biancarelli

Harding Was Here is from the creator of Kid Paddle, one of the great recent successes of kid-friendly comics. This series (which I believe he only writes, Adam draws) is about a time traveling art collector. I admit, I sort of like the concept. Le Livre des destines is exactly the sort of French genre comics that I don't pay attention to. Sorry.

*****

Tonkam

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Le Voleur de visages, Junji Ito

More horror manga for the people who love horror manga. I'm pretty agnostic about the whole genre, despite the best efforts of many to convert me.

*****

Vents d'Ouest

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Tout seul, Christophe Chaboute
Chaboute won a prize at Angouleme about a decade ago, though I've never paid great attention to his work. This is a big one, about 400 pages, so it might be time for a reappraisal on my part.

Looking over the list, I'm impressed by the diversity but a little underwhelmed at the state of French comics. If this is the best on offer (a big 'if') there are not too many slam-dunks for all-time classics here. There are a lot of very good books, and a couple that I enjoyed immensely, but not many game changers here that we'll be looking back on 20 years from now and marveling about.

Finally, if Wanted wins a prize, I will never go back to Angouleme.

*****

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.

*****
*****
 
posted 3:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
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