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January 28, 2014

Conversational Euro-Comics: Bart Beaty On Why He Won’t Be Attending This Year’s Angouleme Festival

By Bart Beaty

For almost a year now I've been thinking about what I would say today. For the first time since 1997, I am not in Angouleme awaiting the opening of Europe's grandest comics festival. I had imagined I could write a blistering "Why I'm Boycotting the Angouleme Festival" piece, but the fact is that I'm not boycotting -- I'm just not going.

imageOf all the times that I have gone to Angouleme, last year was, by far, the most difficult. A lot of that -- almost all of it, in fact -- was caused by things that had absolutely nothing at all to do with the Festival. They had to do with getting older, and having friends who are getting older. Yet the fact remains: for three Angoulemes in a row I had a close friend from the Festival pass away shortly after the show, and last year I learned of the passing of one of my dearest friends literally five minutes after arriving in town. I think I kind of snapped at that moment, and I decided I wouldn't be back this year.

The funny thing is that the reason I had all of these friends is because of Angouleme. They were all people from all over the world who I met in Le Chat Noir, or at the Mercure. They were people with whom I ate at Passe Muraille and Le Terminus. Over the years, they became the main reason to attend. Every year I flew more than 5000 miles to see my friends, who shared an interest in European comics in this slightly goofy French town. It was great.

The Festival? It can be good, it can be bad. You can't put your foot down and say "That's it, I'm done with Angouleme!" any more than you can say that you're done with comics. I've seen a lot of crap during my time there, but I also got to walk through Le Musee Ferraille with Art Spiegelman and got to dance at the Galerie MR with Edmond Baudoin. Angouleme can be truly great, and it can be truly maddening (when it rains, oh, when it rains).

I recognize that my decision to stay home -- and today that's a decision that I'm not yet regretting at all -- says more about me and my interests and my priorities than it says about Angouleme. Angouleme will roll on without me just fine. It is true that certain parts of the Festival look a little more threadbare every year, but, by the same token, there's going to be a huge Tardi show there this year. There's always something great, even when there's not much going on.

Even the much discussed changes to the presidency don't bother me. I could argue that they've ruined it, but it was probably already ruined in the first place -- and besides, they've tinkered with the format in the past anyway. No, what I've come to realize is that Angouleme is an enormous Rorschach test of an event -- we all project onto it our hopes and dreams, our exasperations and our nightmares. You can't love it, you can't hate it -- it just is.

I'll surely be back. If not next year, then sometime. Hopefully sometime soon, when I can think of the Festival fondly and wish to rejoin it, not out of a sense of obligation, but from a sense of longing. To all of my friends who will be there beginning tomorrow, I wish you well.


Bart Beaty is the head of the Department Of English at the University of Calgary. He is one of the best writers about comics generally and about modern European comics specifically. Learn more about him here.

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