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January 31, 2007


Bart Beaty In Angouleme 08: Festival Wrap-Up and Bart’s Photo Gallery

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Bart Beaty Reports On Angouleme:

Given all of his public denunciations of the commercialized aspect of the Angouleme Festival, it is ironic that Lewis Trondheim presided over what was the most commercially-oriented of any of the ten Festivals that I have attended. Indeed, this year the focus on book-selling at Angouleme reached a fevered pitch, with the festival moving out of the center of town and creating a giant comics shopping mall that placed almost all of its emphasis on mercantile issues. If you were just looking to sell books, this year's set up was probably ideal. If you think that comics are an art form, you were out of luck. This was, by far, the worst Angouleme that I have ever attended, the type of event that by Saturday had me depressed and wondering why I come at all.

When he was elected President, Trondheim spoke out aggressively and controversially on a number of issues, picking a fight with the sponsors (particularly the Leclerc superstores, the French equivalent of Wal-Mart), and calling for free admissions and an end to the publishers' domination of the event through the form of publishing booths. Of course, what we got was a festival totally and completely dedicated to preserving the interests of the biggest publishers. The sponsors remained the same, admissions remained in place, and the whole event became BD World, a place where you pay your entry to see artists signing books. With the old town virtually removed from the festival this year, there was little to do other than wander around the loud publishers tent and hope to meet some artists that you've long admired.

The one thing that Trondheim seemed to understand by the time the Festival arrived is that the ceremonial title of president is just that, ceremonial. He was not authorized to make changes, and in fact the festival moved in the totally opposite direction to what he had called for. The changes that he did make, to the prizes, were generally well received and will likely be continued. But that was about the only thing from this festival that should be kept.

Probably the biggest problem of the Festival this year was the fact that the exhibitions were, to put it mildly, poor. While strolling the exhibitions at Angouleme is usually a good way to spend a day or more, this year it seemed a little bit like grimly ticking off boxes on an itinerary.

The big exhibition this year was also, by far, the biggest dud that I have ever seen. The Universal Exposition was the subject of jokes even before the Festival began. Placed in the space that once held the fanzines (and which was now all but deserted), it consisted of two shipping containers placed side by side. Upon entering, the viewer was met by a sadly over-designed walkway featuring photocopies of comics pages on light boxes. That was it. It took about 15 seconds to take in the total disappointment of the thing, and, sadly, people were queuing for up to 15 minutes at times to get in. This exhibition is meant to be expanded each year over the next several years, but I would advise the Festival to simply get rid of it now while it still can. It did absolutely nothing to promote the art form and was, frankly, an embarrassment.

The Champ de Mars held the largest exhibition space, most of which was given over to Kid Paddle, Midam's humor strip for young people. This was a good use of space, if totally uninteresting to someone like myself. The kids liked it, which is what was important. The rest of the tent was given over to exhibitions featuring comics by school-aged children (a contest involving schools) and to an exhibition of sports-related manga series. There were also rooms showing anime, and spaces for lectures and talks. This space was packed on Saturday, and, indeed, when I first tried to get in the line was considerably too long. The success of this space in the old town demonstrated the importance of the city and of themed exhibitions to the festival as a whole.

One of the big disappointments of the year was that, for the first time, there was no exhibition of work by the President. Trondheim, for reasons that I am unclear of, declined the opportunity to show his work. Instead he installed seven gag pieces around town. I only saw six of them (three at the theatre, three at Espace Franquin). These included original Smurfs comics pages (i.e. pages drawn by the Smurfs), the most expensive comics page in the world (a frame with shattered glass, the page having been "stolen") and so on. Each of these was worth, at best, a minor giggle, and was certainly little consolation for those of us who would have liked to have seen his work featured, or more material featuring the small press movement to which he is so intricately linked.

The Herge exhibition was maybe the weakest of the lot. Having been scooped by the Pompidou Centre's major installation celebrating the centenary of Remi's birth, Angouleme just simply gave up without a fight. They posted some blown up panels, some text about how Herge never traveled in real life but did so in his work, blah blah blah. This was among the worst efforts by the Festival in the ten years I've been attending. Pathetic, really. Meanwhile, Nick Rodwell, who controls the Tintin empire, used the occasion of the festival to confirm the construction of a Tintin museum in Belgium, a forthcoming Steven Spielberg Tintin film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and the fact that he is suing Casterman to regain the rights to the Herge material.

So was anything worth seeing? Well, the CNBDI hosted, for about the fifth year, their Imaginary Museums exhibition. Clearly, the CNBDI has run out of money. Angouleme, as former director Thierry Groensteen indicated to one of the local papers, is a bad location for it, as the region does little tourism. Budgets are down, and the museum is starting to look a bit worn. Upstairs hosted an exhibition by Jim Woodring, the undisputed champion effort this year and the only thing anyone that I talked to seemed to like. The consensus was that all the exhibitions were poor save Woodring's, about which no one could say anything negative. Downstairs was an exhibition of work by Richard McGuire that consisted almost entirely of blown-up illustrations done as posters. This was a major disappointment, as I had been waiting for this exhibition all year (it was announced at the 2006 Festival). I later learned that McGuire had been discouraged from presenting original art since it would be displayed in the lobby, and was, therefore, prone to being stolen.

The Maison des Auteurs presented the work of their artists in residence in the form of Archeographie, a mock archeological dig. This was well presented, as always, and is a nice way to see works in progress from some significant young artists like Aude Samana and Olivier Bramanti.

Finally, the exhibition highlight of the year for me was, sadly, not even comics. The sculptor Bernard Pras, whose work uses optical effects and found objects, has been doing a series of works based on superhero images. This year, at the Espace Franquin, he installed a new piece based on 1970s-era Captain America imagery. This was a great piece, but when the best exhibition at a show of comics art is not comics, something has gone desperately, miserably wrong with the priorities of the Festival as a whole.

The problem in a nutshell is that Angouleme has lost the balance between commerce and art that at least made it tolerable. While the festival will never be an art-first festival like Fumetto, there is also no reason that it should merely become a book-selling convention like San Diego and SPX. Angouleme once had the balance between the two, to a greater or lesser degree, but it seems to be gone at the moment. More and better exhibitions in the town are called for. More and better events as well. Yes, the publishers threatened to bolt if a new emphasis wasn't placed on book-selling, but in winning that battle Angouleme is at risk of losing the war for its soul.

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Photo Gallery
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on Saturday, Angouleme renamed one of its streets for Rene Goscinny, writer of the Asterix series. Guess who showed up?

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the navettes were the talk of the Festival, when they worked and when they didn't

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Bernard Pras' Captain America sculpture. Peer through the lens and you can see what you're looking at

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comics fans line up for tickets. Not a Wolverine costume to be seen

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the line getting off the bus extended along here, around the corner, around another corner -- you get the idea

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sadly, this photo did not come out. Nicolas Mahler debuts the models for his Flaschko inaction figures at the Chat Noir bar, circa 3:30 in the morning. The beer didn't help the camera focus

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inside the dreadful Universal Exhibition. Those are glowing photocopies on the left and right

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at the L'Association booth. Matt Madden signs in the foreground, Edmond Baudoin (red shirt) signs behind him, Guy Delisle talks with Ruppert and Mulot in the background

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the Richard McGuire exhibition at the CNBDI featured blow-ups of his work

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Delcourt's booth had a Little Nemo theme this year, and an elaborate walking bed

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reading the Trondheim-created Smurfs comics pages at the Theatre

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President Trondheim greets his adoring public

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Lewis Trondheim gives a lecture to 500 people in a room that comfortably holds 150

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at the Jim Woodring exhibition

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Next time: A final word on Festival President Lewis Trondheim in light of two of his newer books, the break-up of the L'Association gang, and what it all could possibly mean.

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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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posted 2:50 am PST | Permalink
 

 
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