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Bart Beaty Examines the Angouleme ‘08 Nominees
posted January 17, 2008


By Bart Beaty

I may be supremely unqualified to speak to this year's Angouleme awards nominees in an authoritative fashion. 2007 was the first year in quite some time that my only trip to France coincided with the Festival, and because only a small handful of French publishers send me review copies of their books, almost everything that came out late in the year is something that I will be seeing for the first time when I arrive in Paris on Sunday. As it stands, I've only read slightly more than half of the 50 nominees. Nonetheless, I'll give it my best shot because each year Angouleme produces, arguably, the most notable comics prize in the world, and a preview is called for. So consider these rough notes on what looks like an excellent list of nominees.

Last year the Festival changed its awards policy. Gone were the old categories (Best Writer, Best Artist, etc) and in its place arrived a long list of -- 50 books -- that were eligible for the prizes, and a shorter list nominated for the Prix du Patrimoine (the Heritage Prize). From this list of 50, a jury selects one overall winner and several runners-up. Last year the overall winner was Shigeru Mizuki's NonNonBa, the first manga ever to win the award.


The odds of a manga winning again this year have been considerably reduced in 2008. Of the 50 nominees this year, only four are by Japanese creators (Taiyo Matsumoto, Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba, Kyoko Okazaki, and Hideo Azuma), while two of the Heritage Prize nominees are Japanese (Hiroshi Hirata and Shinichi Abe). I'm sad to say that, with the exception of Ohba and Obata's Death Note, I've read none of these. The one that immediately leaps out at me is Abe's Un Gentil garcon (Cornelius), who is described as an heir to the great Yoshiharu Tsuge and compared to Raymond Carver. This book is one that I will definitely be picking up next week. Because Cornelius was the big winner with NonNonBa last year I am reluctant to predict another prize for them, but if I had to pick a manga to win a prize it would be this one.

If the Japanese are less well-represented this year than last, the same cannot be said for the Americans. A number of slots have been reserved for books that will be well known to readers on this side of the Atlantic, and the nominees are a veritable who's who of Big Name Cartoonists: Chris Ware, Peter Bagge, Joe Matt, Robert Crumb, and Jules Feiffer among them. At the same time, newer voices are being singled out for praise, including Marisa Acocella Marchetto for Cancer and the City, Shaun Tan for The Arrival, Linda Medley for Castle Waiting, and Gene Yang for American Born Chinese. Throw in a few others, like Jason, Rutu Modan and Ralph Konig, all of whom have work that is well-known in English, and you can see for yourself that this is a very strong list of contenders. Look for at least one of these books to wind up a winner next Saturday. A smart bet would be Exit Wounds.


Of course, the bulk of the nominees for France's top comics prize are, unsurprisingly, French or French-speaking. The list this year is an excellent one filled with great diversity. While there are a few mainstream nominees that interest me very little, including the new XIII by Jean Giraud and Jean Van Hamme, Alain Dodier's Jerome K Jerome Bloche and a new Cites Obscures book by Schuiten and Peeters, there is far less sense this year of the nominating committee trying desperately to find at least one nominee from all the major publishers. Indeed, things seem far more concentrated this year, with a large number of nominations going to the post-L'Association crowd (Trondheim, Sfar, and Riad Sattouf are all nominated twice, for example, and David B. and Christophe Blain are also nominees). I anticipate Sattouf wandering home with a prize this year.

One thing that a nomination list this large does is focus attention on books that otherwise might go overlooked. For me, this year's nominees feature several artists with whom I am not particularly familiar. As a result, I will be taking a close look at Chaque Chose by the 22-year-old Julien Neel (the creator of the Lou series), Construire un feu by Christophe Chaboute (a Jack London-style tale set in northern Canada), Le Feul by Jean-Charles Gaudin & Frederic Peynet (might have a few too many swords for my taste), Kiki de Montparnasse by Catel & Bocquet (set in the libertine Paris of the 1920s), Aude Picault's Moi Je et Caetera (another young author), Mourir partir revenir by Zeina Abirached (which sounds fascinating -- a story set in Beirut in a similar vein to Persepolis), and, finally, Vilebrequin by Obion & Arnaud Le Gouefflec. In all, this is an impressive list of artists to explore, and I am grateful that the committee has pointed me in their direction. While I don't anticipate actually picking up all of their books, it is invaluable that an award such as these continues to recognize new voices and not grow stale.


Of course, the nominee list is also full of authors whose work I know quite well, or which I had already decided to pick up. Jacques Tardi is a nominee for a new Adele Blanc-Sec book which I haven't yet read. Casanave & Tuot are nominated for their books about Baudelaire, which I have coveted for some time. Fido face a son destin is a new book by Sebastien Lumineau from the Trondheim-edited Shampooing collection, and it looks just great. I'll buy anything at all done by Emile Bravo, so his Ma mama nest en Amerique, elle a rencontre Buffalo Bill, with Jean Regnaud, is a must-have. La Marie en plastique is a new one from Pascal Rabate & David Prudhomme, both of whom are artists I am always on the lookout for. Bruno Heitz, who was off my radar for a few years, is back with Le Roman de renart, which looks just gorgeous. And, finally, Trois ombres by Cyril Pedrosa is another from the Shampooing line that I am really looking forward to.

That's already quite the list, but, to my mind, the best are still to come. I have reviewed some of the remaining nominees here this year, and have been saving some of the books for a rainy reviewing day, but, for my money, these are the top ten French-language books in the competition this year. I'll be happy to see any of these nominees standing in the winner's circle next Saturday night.

* Ibn al Rabin -- L'Autre fin du monde (Atrabile). 1120 pages of Swiss hyper-minimalism. I can't get enough of this stuff.

image* Guy Delisle -- Chroniques Birmanes (Delcourt/Shampooing). Have you read Pyongyang and Shenzhen? Now, Delisle does Burma. The man is a master.

* Isabelle Pralong -- L'Elephant (Vertige Graphic). I was pleasantly stunned to see this incredibly talented woman nominated here. Pralong's work is unconventional and powerful.

* Dominique Goblet -- Faire semblant c'est mentir (L'Association). I called it the best book of the year on this site once already, and I'll do it again. Goblet is a genius.

* Ludovic Debeurme -- Le Grand Autre (Cornelius). He was a winner last year for the first part of Lucille, and now he's back with a Lacanian-inspired dreamscape.

* Nikola Witko -- Le Gros Lot (Carabas). No one in comics makes me laugh like Witko. No one.

* Nicolas De Crecy -- Journal d'un Fantome (Futuropolis). One of my absolute favorites of recent years. De Crecy is so talented it makes my head hurt.

image* Otto T. & Gregory Jarry -- Petite histoire des colonies francaises (Flblb). An inventive satire of France's colonial past and one of the few truly independent nominees of the year.

* Jean-Christophe Menu -- Topographie Interne (Requins Marteaux). A collection of Menu's strips done for a French Mac magazine that heads off into all sorts of unexpected directions.

* Florence Cestac -- La Veritable histoire de Futuropolis (Dargaud). I haven't read this one yet, but I love Cestac, I loved Futuropolis, and I just can't wait to read this book. I may buy this one before I even check into my hotel.

So, there you have it. A really fine list of books. You can find sample pages of all the nominees at the Festival's website (and even order them direct from Festival sponsor, FNAC), and I would urge you to check them out. Winners will be announced next weekend and you can follow the news from the Festival right here beginning next week.


* from Dominique Goblet's Faire semblant c'est mentir
* cover to Shinichi Abe's Un Gentil garcon
* cover to one of Riad Sattouf's nominated works
* page from Bruno Heitz' Le Roman de renart
* cover to Guy Delisle's Chroniques Birmanes
* cover to Petite histoire des colonies francaises
* cover to Ludovic Debeurme's Le Grand Autre (below)


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