I don’t like the term ‘Eurocomics’.
I just like ‘Comics’. Big C.
It doesn’t matter where – or even when – they’re from.
They can be giant albums from a 70-year old European master of the medium or a Portland based 20-year old stapling together their own mini-comic. They can be from France, Japan, North America, South America, Korea, Africa, India, China or wherever living things make comics. The world’s too big and now too connected to limit yourself to who your source for comics is and where they’re from. Furthermore, with our Golden Age of reprints upon us it’s not hard to reach back into our century plus history for comics from the world over.
My goal’s to absorb it all or, at least, as much as one can in a lifetime. I want two color autobio web comics, four color superhero single issues, giant science fiction epics and everything else in between.
The trick is finding them.
Even with the advent of The Internet connecting pretty much every single artist across the globe in a click, I find the best way to do this is in person with the artists, writers and cartoonists making the books. In America, I’m particularly fond of the Baltimore Comic Con, Emerald City Comic Con and Alternative Press Expo to name a couple of the most prime examples and am looking forward to my first Stumptown Comics Festival. They’re comic-centric and attract a wide variety of artists, both established and otherwise. You can get a big charge out of meeting new people and seeing their projects.
Still, even with these great shows I found some aspects of comics missing.
Even at the gigantic shows like San Diego and the New York Comic Con I found certain types of artists lacking. While I felt the Asian scenes were represented, seeing someone like Milo Manara sign at the Dark Horse SDCC booth last year was more of an exception than the rule. If I wanted to flip through stacks of Hugo Pratt, I had to go elsewhere.
In 2010, I found such a place.
Just a week ago, I returned.
The Festival International de la Bande Dessinee takes over the small French town of Angoulême, located South of Paris, around the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Just one two-hour high speed train trip from Paris’ Montparnassee station can drop you off in one of the world’s biggest comics festivals.
Saying it draws a crowd is an understatement.
To give some perspective, the biggest show in the United States is the San Diego Comic Con International. Even if you’re not into comics, you’ve regularly heard news of it over the last several years. While movies has been a part of the show since its inception (Star Wars actually debuted there), ever since the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie was previewed, their presence – along with television and video games - exploded. Entertainment Weekly runs an annual cover feature. The New York Times, situated a country away, has reported on the show’s news. It’s gigantic, as big as it gets here.
Its attendance clocks in around 150,000.
Angoulême’s hits 250,000.
Yeah, it’s a big show.
I had been dying to go for years. Like I said, I loved my regular shows, but it sounded so alien from everything I attended. I’m not even talking about the guest list. For example, if you’ve been to an American show, you’re used to convention centers located in major cities. They mostly look the same on the inside.
Angoulême is a small town mostly located on a small, yet steep hill most likely built many a century ago to ward off invaders. At least, that’s what I get from the ancient arrow slits located all around the center of town. Throughout the hill a number of tents are erected, all focusing on a different aspect of comics. These aren’t your cheap tents either, on the inside you would think you were in a permanent building, nicer than some of those convention halls I mentioned.
Each one has its own focus, some as large – if not larger – than an entire show.
I’ll run you through the main sites.
Le Nouveau Monde is more or less APE or SPX. You’ll find some of the coolest shit here, especially in terms of new talents working on some of the most experimental work. Lots of self-published works, along side the types of books you would see stateside through Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics. Dash Shaw’s a regular at the booth for Editions Ca et La table. In 2010, I also met other American cartoonists like Mike Dawson, Alex Robinson and Frank Santoro over there. It’s also the regular home of indie juggernaut, L’Association, the original publisher of titles such as Persepolis. In fact, one of their artists, Dungeon cartoonist Lewis Trondheim, designed the festival’s mascot, Le Fauve.
I have to say, it was an interesting year for L’Association. I certainly missed their usual set up of artists and new books, but due to an employee strike their table was nothing but pamphlets explaining why their staff wasn’t working. That said, I completely stand by what they’re striking for.
Le Monde Des Bulles is a two tent set up, which is the equivalent of San Diego Comic Con featuring massive publishers such as Delcourt (they have a massive library, not the least of which are titles such as Walking Dead, Hellboy, Star Wars and many more American translations), Soleil (you’ll remember them from their recent publications with Marvel, my favorite being Sky Doll), Panini (imagine one publisher releasing everything Marvel and DC does), Casterman (publisher of Corto Maltese and American comics such as Asterios Polyp), Dargaud (the home of Blake and Mortimer and the spy epic, XIII), Jungle Comics (known best for their licensed albums, especially The Simpsons) and many more. You can also buy a selection of American imports there from our friends at Alca Comix. However, my favorite booths may be the ones run by Moulinsart, the Tintin People, and Moebius’s own Stardom Productions.
Espace Para-BD is a great mix of retailers and creators, consisting of folks such as Simone Bianchi, art book publisher CFSL Ink, concept art group Imaginism Studios, in addition to yet another Alca Comix booth. The majority of the BD I buy is out of this booth. While the publishers usually have their new material, this is where you can buy some older titles. I even bought a Manara watch there. Believe it or not, it features a woman.
In fact, the town has a massive comics presence even when the show’s not going on.
Just look at the street signs.
Their Corto Maltese statue.
Their giant Herge head.
It’s not limited to decoration. North of the center of town is the Cite De La BD, an institute dedicated to all things Bande Dessinee. During the show it’s also host to a number of talks – last year featured R. Crumb, this year featured folks like Charlie Adlard and Moebius. It was at the latter Q&A I was finally able to meet the guy I consider today’s greatest living artist, regardless of medium.
That’s Jean “Moebius” Giraud on the left, holding a copy of Nate Simpson’s upcoming Image Comics series, NONPLAYER. I only meant to show it to him, but he liked it so much (“Very cool! Beautiful!” was the exact quote) he asked if he could keep it. So, you know, look out for that this April. You can’t get higher praise.
I briefly met him the year before, right after he completed a two hour live-drawing demonstration at the WACOM booth and was impressed by how someone who has been involved in the medium since the 1960s was still looking at what came tomorrow and kept an enthusiasm I usually only see with younger cartoonist brand new to making comics. Good guy, that Moebius.
Across the river is the Musée De La BD, featuring the most impressive permanent collection of comic book art I’ve ever seen, featuring a wide range of cartoonists and artists from comics grandfather Rodolphe Töpffer, Frank Miller, Herge, C.C. Beck and Rob Liefeld, among many others. Each year they also have a special exposition. Last year it was people doing Krazy Kat covers, this time around it was all about Parodies, which included guys like Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Robert Sikoryak and Johnny Ryan.
They also had some programming, my favorite of which I went to almost on accident. Fellow Stardust enthusiast and the man responsible for bringing Fletcher Hanks to the masses, Paul Karasik, was doing a talk. We had corresponded a bit online and got along pretty famously, even though he hated my take on Stardust with Mike Allred. Still, I had always wanted to meet him face to face as I always felt we were otherwise kindred spirits.
It turned out he was part of a larger block of programming put on the Platinum Group, which, as I understand it, is a collective of various comics researchers and experts, including the museum itself. They went over its new initiatives and findings, including the establishment of a Scandinavian comics society, Sunday Press Publisher Peter Maresca’s new Forgotten Fantasy Sunday Comics and the museum’s latest discoveries, such as lost pages of the original graphic novel, Maestro, and an entire sketchbook believed to belong to the artist Cham. Paul presented two pieces, one about his upcoming book How To Read Nancy (in which he flawlessly breaks down 40 elements of comics in one three panel Nancy Strip) and a brief history of Adaptation in comics, including examples from the awful Partridge Family series and his brilliant adaptation with Asterios Polyp (itself a Grand Jury winner at Angouleme!) cartoonist David Mazzuchelli, Paul Auster’s City of Glass.
Luckily for me, the presentations were in English with each and every one extremely fascinating in their own unique way. In a way, they exemplified one of my favorite aspects of the festival: I’m a guy who has read comics his whole life, appreciates them and their history the world over, yet they featured so much I had never seen or, at the very least, new elements and perspective on those comics and creators I was familiar with.
For instance, every year they choose a Grand Prix winner – think lifetime achievement award – who then becomes the president of the festival the following year and helps curate the event. This also includes an exposition of their work and in some cases, other special programming focused on them.
Last year, while Craig Thompson mentor Blutch was the Grand Prix, Baru won the prize, giving him the huge exposition, design of the festival’s marketing and a number of events including a live art concert with Jon Spencer’s Heavy Trash.
That’s right – a comics show featuring one of the world’s best rock bands doing what they do best as some of the world’s best cartoonists, well, do the same.
Anyway, while I was familiar with both Blutch and Baru’s work, their expositions were massive, containing work I had never seen before. Blutch’s in particular featured a number of his own personal sketchbooks. Both were intimate yet comprehensive looks into masters of the medium. I’m looking forward to seeing what next year’s Grand Prix, Maus cartoonist art spiegelman, brings together for the event.
Although, there’s much more than just the big names.
Like I said, you can find a lot of cool new stuff at Le Nouveau Monde, but there’s a lot to be found throughout the show. Not only does the festival put on an exposition taking up an entire tent called Pavillon Jeunes Talents concentrated on selected new, young creators, but there’s a number of independent expositions throughout. My personal favorite was L’exposition CARTNETS, put on by a collective of students (from Angouleme’s own permanent BD university), L’association ARGH.
I’ve talked at a number of schools stateside in the role of an editor for PopGun, most recently at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Editor’s Day. It’s always a fantastic experience as I’m absolutely fascinated to see what tomorrow’s creators are excited about and producing. It’s always impressive as their fresh enthusiasm for the medium is infectious.
Meeting students from an international school was fascinating in its own way. Seeing what they were working on and hearing what they were into was a different experience than I’m used to.
I spent a good chunk of time talking to L’association ARGH’s President, Li Wei, about his work and influences, which included Will Eisner and Wally Wood. I’ve previously found creators don’t get into them these days until later in life, but here was a young student already well versed in their entire bodies of work. I also found his own art very impressive as his pieces and sketchbooks jumped around from one art style to another seemingly on a whim and with ease.
After editing or at least overseeing 2000+ pages of PopGun, I might expect to be getting used to how much amazing talent is out there. Luckily, it’s quite the opposite. Considering how, in the grand scheme of things, each member of L’association ARGH is really only starting, it was even more impressive to see all the work they had to show. I know I’ll personally be keeping an eye out for what each and every one of them are working on next.
I suppose that sums up what I find so attractive about visiting Angoulême: while other stateside shows are a great time and a wonderful way to connect and reconnect with artists from all over, I’m never ready for what I’ll find at Festival International de la Bande Dessinee. I can try to keep up to date from home, but even with the number of blogs and foreign news sites up and about it’s hard to keep completely on top of what’s coming out. Most of the works and creators never make it over here, save for what our friends at Stuart Ng Books bring over. I never know what to expect when I go there, so I end up with the sensation of going on a four day roller coaster of All New Comics.
My creative batteries are always refilled.
But that’s just Angoulême.
Next week, I’m telling you all about Paris, the differences between the French Market & the US and quite possibly my favorite street in the entire world.
Special Thanks to Dyane for her support and fact checking.
Please note: while I focused on talking about this year’s show, I displayed pictures from 2011 and 2010. I felt they helped illustrate the point I’m trying to make here: this festival is awesome and you need to go.