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Dateline: Luzern
posted May 3, 2005

If it's spring, and you really want to see Thomas Ott in a white suit playing the tamborine, Luzern is the place to be.

Fumetto, which ran from 16-24 April this year, proved again that the Swiss do the comics festival better than just about anyone around. Situated in a quaint town surrounded by mountains, this year even the weather (mostly) cooperated, with festival goers roaming the streets, checking out the dozens of exhibitions of original comics art on display. And what exhibitions they were, this year! How about:

* Guest of honor, Max, whose images were splashed all over town. An exhibition at the Festsaal Makenliebhaber, surrounded by masks, provided a career-spanning overview of the Spanish master's work, including comics, illustration and animation. Max himself was on hand all week, teaching art classes and talking about his revived anthology (Nosotros Somos los Meurtos) and the almost completed Bardin book, due out next year (quick -- someone snap up the English language rights for this one)


* The other big solo show featured the work of Jean-Christophe Menu, another career-spanning retrospective, this one taking up two floors of the Galerie Brandgassli. With works from his early fanzine days to the present, one could watch the evolution of this fascinating cartoonist. Menu was on hand with a new mini-comic, entitled "M le merci," a gift to all the contributors to his birthday book, M le Menu. Even rarer than the first book, Menu pointedly told me, "This one, you don't get." Alas!


* To my mind one of the best shows was the Blab! retrospective, taking place at the Kunstmuseum Luzern. Here works by Sue Coe, Stephane Blanquet, David Sandlin, Gary Baseman and more than a dozen others vied for attention. Featuring a mixture of illustration, painting, and comics, this exhibit more than almost any other demonstrated the breadth of what comics are all about these days.

* Matti Hagelberg was represented in the Blab! show, and also in the Finnish comics exhibition. Held upstairs at the Hotel Lowengraben (the town's former prison), this room featured the work of Finnish luminaries like Jenni Rope, Johanna Rojola, Ville Ranta, and Katja Tukiainen.


* One of the more unusual exhibitions featured the work of Edmond Baudoin, presented in the lobby of Hotel Schweizerhof, a five star hotel right down on the lake. The exhibition featured original pages from Baudoin's books as well as new illustrations done specifically for the festival in the lobby of the Schweizerhof. Thus, one could look simultaneously at Baudoin's drawings and the subject of the drawings -- a rare treat indeed. This was a spectacular mini-show.


* Even more unusual was the show by Nicolas Robel, entitled How Should I Know? Visitors to the Galerie Partikel were greeted by a video of a young Nicolas (and his brother Xavier) shot by his father in the 1970s. An orange line led through the screen to a wall which was covered by copies of preparatory work, sketches, and final images from many of Robel's books. The line continued around the room to take in an audio cd compiled by the artist, and ultimately to a book, printed by BuLB comics (and, in the interests of disclosure, containing an essays by yours truly, as well as other writers examining Robel's work). The whole experience examined the role of the visual in the construction of knowledge through memory, with video leading to illustrations leading to sound leading to the finished book. I thought that it was one of the smartest comics exhibitions that I have seen, although Robel was criticized by some for being a) too arty, and b) showing no originals. The originals, however were back in Geneva with the rest of the exhibition, which exists in both cities at once. I'd like to see more artists pushing themselves into new areas like Robel did with this show.

But, really, that was only the tip of the iceberg. Other exhibitions included the work of Isabelle Pralong, the art students of Atak, Melk Thalmann, Jurg Benninger, Grrrr (a nice exhibition including a space rebuilt with cardboard), Mawil, Le Dernier Cri (showing the film that debuted at this year's Angou festival), Daniel Bosshart, Andy Kamber, and an exhibition featured the dance of death in comics and other media. And, really, that wasn't all!

Too much to see in just a couple of days, plus the usual signings, lectures, and parties. Plus, on Saturday night, we all got to see Thomas Ott rock out with Beelzebub, his hard edged rockabilly band. It was all just too much, and I left feeling slightly overwhelmed. But in a good way.

Next time: A look at the highly awaited new book from Thomas Ott.