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Conversational Euro-Comics Bart Beaty’s Sunday Report From Angouleme: Spiegelman, Prizes
posted January 30, 2011


By Bart Beaty

Art Spiegelman will be the President of the 39th Festival International de la Bande Dessinee in January 2012. The FIBD has turned its attention to the United States the first time since Robert Crumb won the prize in 1999. I spoke last night with more than one of the electors (the presidency is voted on exclusively by the former presidents who are in attendance) who anticipated that this would be the most wide open race in many years, and, for me, the choice could not be more appropriate or overdue. Spiegelman becomes only the third American to be awarded the prize, after Crumb and Will Eisner.

Spiegelman, of course, is arguably the most acclaimed cartoonist alive on the planet, but is sometimes overlooked in France where his pre- and post-Maus work is less well known than it is in the US. Spiegelman previously won the Alph-Art for his best known work.

imageThe other immediate headline are this year's prize winners. Manuele Fior won the Fauve d'Or d'Or for Cinq Mille kilometres par seconde (Atrabile).

The other winners: Julie Maroh wins the Prize voted on by the public for Bleu est use couleur chaude. David Mazzuchelli's Asterios Polyp wins the Special Jury Prize. Fabian Nury and Sylvain Vallee win the series prize for Il etait use fois en France v. 4. Naoki Urusawa won the intergenerational prize for Pluto. Joe Sacco's Footnotes from Gaza won the prize for global outlook. Brecht Evens won the prize for audacity for Les Noceurs (The Wrong Place, from D+Q). Elodie Durand and Ulli Lust shared the Prix revelation for La Paranthese and Trop n'est pas asses respectively.

With those matters concluded, all that remains is the post mortem. Simplest terms: Good festival, not a great one. This was my 15th time at FIBD and I would rank this as about 12th or 13th best of those, ahead of only some of the construction displacement disasters of a few years back when the town was building a new mall. There was not much actually wrong with this festival, but it just never seemed to amount to a whole lot. I don't really have a lasting image to take home with me.

One problem was that none of the exhibitions were truly memorable. Three were good or very good, but none were the kind of jaw-droppers that make you say "Have you seen....?" and then rush off to see it again. Not every year will generate a Musee Ferraille, of course, but this year lacked electricity.

The best were these:

imageBaru. No surprise. I've loved Baru's work forever. The first column I ever wrote for The Comics Journal (in 1997) was a rave about his L'Autoroute du soleil, and he was the first artist I ever queued up to get a drawing from (Loustal and Mattotti were the others). I've read everything that he's ever published. So I was primed to love this.

Baru's show occupied the main display space in the Castro Building (the 'old' comics museum across from the new CIBDI). A darkened room with rockabilly playing, the area proceeded roughly chronologically through the artist's career. Because he works in direct color, many of the pages are just gorgeous, fully painted marvels. Video screens hung from the ceiling playing footage of working class French life, while in the corner kids played pinball, foosball and stared at the jukebox playing strange little black discs rather than mp3 files.

Without a doubt, the highlight was the presentation of the original art for Autoroute, which hung from the ceiling as a plexiglass wall, hundreds of pages in an overwhelming mural. A side room also included work by his contemporaries and friends (Etienne Davodeau, Igort...). Baru is one of the most politically vocal of the Angouleme presidents (he once wrote a book titled 'Vive la classe!'), and this exhibit brought that aspect of his work nicely to the fore.

Upstairs in the Castro was the second notable exhibition, that of Dominique Goblet. Goblet is the Belgian painter/cartoonist who published two astounding books in 2010, Les Hommes-Loups (FRMK) and Chronographie (L'Association), in collaboration with her daughter Nikita Fossoul, which was my favorite book of last year. Pages from both of these were on display here, alongside selections from earlier autobiographical works (Souvenir d'une journee parfaite and Faire semblant c'est mentir). New pages from a work in progress about Norway were cryptically compelling, and two extremely large pencil drawings book-ended the show. More than almost any cartoonist going, Goblet creates works that provokes a genuine unease, even a dis-ease, that are nonetheless strikingly beautiful.

The other show that I liked was the one highlighting the new generation of French-speaking Belgian cartoonists, which also included Goblet. This show featured hundreds of pages by more than a dozen significant artists working in non-traditional comics styles. Expertly presented, is show is now touring and the organizers are hoping to find places to show it in the United States. We should all hope that the leading arts comics festivals explore this opportunity, because it is the kind of thing that would strike most American viewers as a revelation.

There were a lot of other shows this year, but none spoke much to me. The CIBDI (the new museum) had a parody and comics show that included too many photocopies for my taste (though I know people who quite liked it). Peanuts was just a collection of copies under glass, and hardly qualifies as anything at all. The Hotel St Simon showed photos of past festivals, which was nice, but not essential viewing. I didn't see Le Monde du Troy because I know what naked women and men with swords look like, but the line on Saturday was several hundred meters long. Angouleme isn't totally unlike San Diego.

imageFor many, the primary goal of FIBD is getting books signed. People will queue for hours to meet their comics heroes. Guarnido had the longest lines that I saw, with Blacksad fans waiting half a day for a roll of the dice. Apparently when you got to him he threw a die. With a six you got a drawing, anything else got you a signature. There were disappointed fans going back a second time.

There must have been a lot of autograph hunters, because this year Angouleme returned to being packed to the rafters. I thought Thursday crowds were down from normal, Friday seemed typical, and Saturday was just stupid. Did all of France suddenly decide to come to town? The line for the 'main' tent (housing Dargaud, Casterman, Delcourt, Dupuis and the manga area) at midday seemed to be about a half hour, but once in you could not move at all. I'm told that at one point the line to pay at Delcourt occupied the entire space of their booth.

Even in the Nouveau Monde (home to L'Association, Cornelius, Actes Sud, Ca et La, and the fanzine area) things were deranged on Saturday. It's a narrow tent, so one superstar can clog the whole place. When you get a Brecht Evens signing, the line can make the hall impassable. If there were ever a fire when La Pasteque had Michel Rabagliati at their booth we all would've died for sure. I thought Saturday was as packed as any day in the past ten years, and I will be interested to read the final attendance figures.

imageThe dark note of the festival was at the L'Association booth, often one of the busiest. Their seven salaried employees went on strike on January 10, and that continued through the event. Gone were the books, replaced by statements about the strike. For two days little happened at their booth, but on Saturday artists who were present were permitted to place their own books on the table and sell them themselves. When I visited Jochen Gerner, Caroline Sury, Edmond Baudoin, Mattt Konture, and Ruppert + Mulot were signing, while Killoffer watched on.

Jean-Christophe Menu, the face of L'Asso, was in attendance, but not at the booth (at least I never saw him there). I talked to dozens of L'Asso artists and employees and interested parties over the course of the weekend and I came away without knowing anything. Everyone has a different take and different information. Conclusions ran the gamut from: they're doomed to it will all be resolved this week, from all the employees will be fired and the organization's legal status changed to Menu is leaving. I don't know what to believe, other than that people think this will be a key week, and a lot of people are worried that the most important publisher of comics in the past twenty years could be in danger of closing.

Now I'm going to get some sleep before the long flight home from Frankfurt. Hopefully they won't weigh my carry-on, because all those comics have put me way over my weight allowance, as they always do.


* photo of Art Spiegelman by me, big prize winner from Fior and Atrabile, Baru's L'Autoroute art, Guarnido's Blacksad art, Ruppert & Mulot's latest from L'Association.