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January 25, 2007

Bart Beaty at Angouleme 04: Comics Reporter’s Formal Festival Preview


Bart Beaty Reports In From Angouleme:

If it's the last Thursday in January, this must be the opening day of the Festival International de la Bande Dessinee in Angouleme, France's enormous celebration of all things comics, hosted each year in a little medieval town. The organizers will be praying for no repeat of the snow that last year shut down the trains and highways and kept tens of thousands away. The rest of us will be just trying to figure out what the hell is happening.

Last year the Festival was thrown into disarray by the construction of a new shopping space on what used to be the main grounds of the event. The arrangements made to work around the construction seemed to please no one at all -- and even led to the creation of a counter-festival organized by the small press publishers. This year everything has changed once more. The biggest shift is that the publishers have been moved way, way out of downtown, out past the museum (the CNBDI) basically on the road to Cognac and Bordeaux. Okay, maybe not that far but the official map estimates a 25-minute walk back to the old town, and that may be a little optimistic. This is an enormous change, and all the e-mails I keep getting are from people predicting disaster. We'll see.

Of course, at Angouleme hanging out at the publisher booths hoping to get things signed or to pick up the latest and greatest books is just about the least interesting thing to do. The highlights for this year include:

imageThe concerts. As in the past two years, there will be a series (three, actually) of live cartooning performances featuring Zep, Ludovic Debeurme, Dupuy & Berberian, Loisel, Tripp, Ville Ranta, Francois Schuiten, and others. Basically, each artist draws a panel which is then projected on a giant screen for the audience to see, all set to a musical arrangement by Areski Belkacem. New this year is a comic strip improv match, featuring artists from Fluide Glacial, and, the highlight has to be a live performance by avant-garde songstress Brigitte Fontaine, accompanied by eight musicians and Blutch, drawing based on the music. That's Saturday night at the theater, and I am hoping tickets haven't sold out already.

And, of course, there are the exhibitions. This year the biggest of these is the Kid Paddle exhibition, which is 500 square meters dedicated to the children's comics phenomenon. The World Comics Expo, which seeks to examine comics as a worldwide phenomenon looks to be one of the more ambitious undertakings of the Festival in recent years. Festival President Lewis Trondheim declined the opportunity of a career retrospective exhibition, and instead has opted to create the 7 Wonders of Comics Art at different locations around the town. He is also one of the 24 cartoonists who began working on a 24-hour comic book at the Maison des Auteurs on Tuesday. The theatre hosts an exhibition dedicated to the work of Pierre Christin, the CNBDI hosts a Jim Woodring retrospective, the Place St Martial celebrates the 100th birthday of Herge, and the art school hosts the work of Richard McGuire. To name but a few.


Angouleme is not big on panels in the American comic-con sense, but they do have something better: International Meetings, where two disparate artists just sit and talk comics. This year features discussions including: Blutch & Jessica Abel, Alison Bechdel & Fabrice Neaud, and appearances by the likes of Charles Burns, Jeff Smith, Toppi, Trondheim and Mattioli. Additionally, five artists this year will work, in public, on a current project, taking questions from the audience: Riad Sattouf, Lewis Trondheim, Joann Sfar, Etienne Davodeau, and Mathieu Sapin.

So, there is a lot to be done and a lot to see. The big questions, however, all revolve around logistics. With such a drastic change to the layout of the Festival, what will be the impact? And what will moving things from the center of town do to the biggest comics event in Europe?

Let the madness begin.
posted 2:20 am PST | Permalink

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