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January 31, 2014


Euro-Comics Special: Paul Karasik In Angouleme 03

imageBy Paul Karasik

Angouleme Sans Comics

If you are now on your second day of the Angouleme Festival, you may be ready to get away from anything resembling comics and comics fans. How about ducking into a church?

In the grand tradition of most small cities in Europe, Angouleme has a lot of churches. Wasn't there a Donald Barthelme story about a town that was nothing but churches? Angouleme comes close, edged out only by the ratio per capita of bakeries. On the 12-minute walk from my hotel to my local Angouleme supermarket, there are six bakeries. Believe me, I know.

So during the Festival, if you are looking for some mid-day solitude from the rumble of the foot traffic, why not stop into one of these churches to take time off from comics and silently contemplate your deep moral personal questions (such as, exactly how are you going to explain the credit card charges for comics to the wife once you get back to the States)?

Uh-oh... you are merde-out-of-luck! Even the churches are filled with comics exhibits and fans!

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Hmmm... maybe the prestigious Angouleme Museum might be worth a quiet side-trip to avoid the crowds?

Uh-oh... they are running an exhibit on the first floor of COMICS! Unless you are fans of something called Ernest & Rebecca, a comic for the kiddies that appears to feature a petulant brat with purple hair ("Rebecca") and a cute green something with big eyes ("Ernest"), dash past the throngs of Ernest & Rebecca fans and climb upstairs.

Never mind. I'll let you in on a secret. During the Festival the Angouleme Museum is one of the best places to get away from comics throngs... once you go upstairs. Chances are you'll have the place to yourself.

"But, Paul," you protest, "I came to Angouleme 'cause I'm a comics fan! I don’t go for that high-brow museum art! I like my art to be filled with sex, violence, scatology, and weird stupid stuff!"

Mathilde, one of my students from the EESI school, grew up in Angouleme and was an Angouleme Museum guard. She cued me into a couple of secrets to delight the typical crass comics fan. I now share these secrets with you!

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Seems like a typical rustic genre scene, yes? ["Scene d'auberge," by David Teniers, 1610-1690].

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Look closer! It's rustic, alrighty! There's a guy, painted about an inch tall, dropping his Flemish drawers next to the skating rink.

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This next one I discovered all by myself ["Scene de Patinage," by Claes Molenaer, 1660]:

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Different artists, but the same rascal picture-bombed into both paintings! This time he is taking a leak.

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This is how they are displayed on the wall. Don't tell me that the Angouleme Museum curator does not have a jolly sense of humor!

O.K.... so much for the scatology category. Now for the sex and violence. The Magred collection was assembled by Dr. Jules Lhomme, a resident of Angouleme who never set foot in Africa yet amassed one of the finest collection of 19th century African artifacts in any museum. Just how he assembled this collection during the so-called Colonial Period, I leave up to your 21st century imagination.

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You want violence?

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You want sex?

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You want explicit sex?

I have been to this museum on numerous occasions but never noticed this odd composition until Mathilde pointed it out to me.

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Back in the day, before Photoshop, if you wanted to delete someone from the family portrait, you just used a scissors and bought a smaller frame!

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Now a close-up of the above by Barthelemy Van Der Helst, 1655. It is titled, "Portrait of a gentleman from Pays-Bas and his Wife," but a more accurate title might be, "Portrait of a gentleman from Pays-Bas and his Wife and their Ungrateful Daughter Who Grew Up and Ran Off with the Baker's Son."

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Finally, everyone whom I speak to in Angouleme about the museum mentions this mysteriously charming painting... so it would be a severe oversight to overlook "Jeune Taureau" ("Young Bull") by Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899). Why is the bull jumping over the fence and why does it bear that delightful smile and why was it ever painted in the first place? Some mysteries are better left for the ages.

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Paul Karasik is a cartoonist, author and educator best known for his work on the graphic novel version of City Of Glass and for bringing to a wider audience the work of Golden Age cartoonist Fletcher Hanks.

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posted 2:30 am PST | Permalink
 

 
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