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January 31, 2010

Bart Beaty in Angouleme 2010—04


Bart Beaty

The argument that I was having at 5:00 AM in the bar at the Hotel Mercure was: Was this the best Angouleme of recent memory?

Here are the arguments of the "No" side: First, it snowed, and when it didn't snow it rained. Second, there was no single book that everyone agreed was the first must-have of 2010. Third, there was no exhibition so astonishingly awesome that people saw it multiple times.

Here are the arguments of the "Yes" side: First, to put a festival on the last weekend of January is to defy the gods of weather -- you should expect a little snow, and, besides, it always cleared up in the afternoon. Second, there were so many excellent books on display it is crazy to criticize the Festival on these grounds. Put it this way: Robert Crumb and Joe Sacco were here promoting two of the best books of recent memory and their offerings simply blended in. Comics are raising the bar so high that we risk becoming jaded to the presence of exceptional works in our midst. Third, it is true that none of the shows will be rhapsodized about at future events with a "you shoulda been here when..." tone, but the great exhibitions were thick on the ground: Neaud, Gerner, FRMK, Lecroart (comics made out of wood!), Fabio, did we mention Blutch? If you didn't like this show, you were blind.

imageSo count me among those who say yes, this was a best ever kind of Festival.

What would've put it over the edge for even the harshest detractors (and there were very few of those) was the Cent Pour Cent exhibition at the brand new museum. This show, in which 100 cartoonists redrew or reworked a page by the masters of the form from the museum's collection, was overlong and inconsistent. By my count, about 15 of the pairings were mind-blowingly awesome (hello, Edmond Baudoin), about 30 were failures (if you want to adapt Frank King, Herge, Will Eisner, Charles Schulz, or Moebius you'd better bring your "A" game), and the rest were varying shades of pretty good. Still, it is hard to fault a show where you see original pages by Jack Davis, Loustal, Alberto Breccia and Mattotti as soon as you walk in the door.

As for the new museum itself, the building is quite nice. The bookstore, everyone agrees, should become the model for all comic book stores everywhere -- it is the Platonic ideal. The permanent collection, housed in the large central space, was spectacular and informative. Snaking around the room are a series of glass cases holding original art, and examples of significant works. Unlike the old CNBDI, I could reasonably see a visitor spending an entire afternoon here. What happens to the old building I have no idea. Most people voted for turning it into a hotel or bar.

The other knock on this year's festival would be that it was a tad sedate. Maybe I'm not invited to the good parties (most likely...), but there was a very laid back energy this year.

As for the prizes, there were few books deemed to be safe bets for a Fauve but I wad still surprised to see Riad Sattouff walk off with the Fauve d'Or for best book no matter how funny it is.

The choice of Baru as president for next year is, of course, an overdue one. Baru is one of the grand masters whose career began in the 1970s and who has worked continuously at a high level. I believe that he is the only person to have won the prize for best book at Angouleme twice. About five years late, but still so well deserved.

So, 12 hours after my argument I am convinced more than ever that I will look back on this Angouleme as one of the great ones. Moreover, I have already reserved my room for 2011.

posted 9:00 am PST | Permalink

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