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Bart Beaty Previews Angouleme Festival 2008
posted January 23, 2008

By Bart Beaty

imageTomorrow marks the opening of the 35th Festival International de la Bande Dessinee in Angouleme. Love it or hate it (and many do both at the same time), it's the biggest comics festival on the block, a meeting place for tens of thousands of comics professionals and fans that will overwhelm this small medieval French town for the next four exhausting days.

Angouleme is an overwhelming experience. Like the large American conventions, its backbone is made up of publisher's booths where wares are sold and artists come to meet their adoring public and put drawings in books. Also like American conventions, there are a number of panels organized through the event featuring artists in conversation. But unlike American conventions, there are numerous art exhibitions spread across the Festival to captivate the visitor's attention, and also spectacles including concerts and, of course, the presentation of the awards.

The return to the centre of town looks to be a welcome return to form. For the past few years the Festival was displaced by the construction of a new mall. With the cranes gone and construction complete, the Festival has taken back some of its old space. The largest publishers are back on the Champ de Mars, with the fanzine tent located not far away. On the Place New York, one time home of the fanzine tent, a new tent, with the gimmicky name "A New World" has been installed, anchored by the smaller publishers like L'Association and Cornelius at one end and the International Rights area at the other. A quantum upgrqde on the past two years of chaos and shuttle buses.

There are a number of potentially fascinating exhibitions this year. Festival president Jose Munoz has curated an exhibition of Argentine comics at the CNBDI. The comics museum also features exhibits of work by Luciano Bottaro, the remarkably prolific Italian children's cartoonist, and Ben Katchor, one of the most unique voices working in this medium. Across the street, the work of another Italian master, Sergio Toppi, will be on display at the Musee du Papier, a wonderful opportunity to explore the contributions of this figure who is tragically little known outside his home country.

For manga fans, an exhibition of the work by the all-female comics collective CLAMP will be on display, while children's comics are represented in the form of Julien Neel's Lou, one of the most celebrated of recent comics series for young people. Angouleme's Theatre hosts a video, produced by Benoit Peeters, celebrating the 35 past presidents of the Festival, while the Ateliers Magelis hosts an exhibition of science fiction in comics.

imageOne of the great things about Angouleme is the fact that they present events that are unlike anything you're likely to see anywhere else. Take, for example, "Sale Affaire (du sexe et du crime)", a one-woman show starring the Caesar-winning actress Yolande Moreau. Presented at the Theatre on Saturday night, the show will be accompanied by live drawings produced by Pascal Rabate, the award-winning author of Ibicus. Similarly, on Thursday night, Joann Sfar will be providing live drawings for a performance by the French poet-singer-songwriter Thomas Fersen. These unique blendings of comics and music and comics and theatre are one of the great things about a Festival of this type.

Among the panels this year are Jose Munoz and Guy Delisle talking about Burma; Scott McCloud, Benoit Peeters, and Thierry Groensteen talking about the comics form; Florence Cestac, Serge Clerc and Jean-Pierre Dionnet on the topic of the earliest French independent comics, and a discussion with Tanino Liberatore.

And, oh yeah, there will be some comics for sale too.

It all starts tomorrow. If you're in town, I'll be by the bar at the Chat Noir. France banned smoking in bars earlier this month -- we'll see how that holds up in the traditionally smoke-filled, deal-making rooms of the Hotel Mercure by Saturday night.


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