Comics Festival in Angouleme by Nye Wright

Thu 10 Feb 2011 by Angela_McKay

The 2011 Festival International de le Bande Desinée in Angoulême is completely different at every turn. Each year this venerable, old gray lady of a town is taken over by world of comics for a week. But she doesn’t then spend the rest of the year trying to forget it.  The streets are all named after famous cartoonists, and lovely old buildings in the old town have multi-storey murals that delight young and old.

In fact, the amazing house we stayed in — with one of the warmest, and most welcoming families we could ever have hoped to meet (Gertrude and I secretly hope that our family ends up being half as cool as Manon, Jeanne, Sandrine and Pierre) — was just around the corner from this guy.

Each day you walk the cobbled streets of the city to go between exhibits on the Franco-Belgian new wave, the pavilion of young talent or the showcase gallery show of the Festival’s 2011 president Baru. And then each night, you retire to one of the towns many quirky little restaurants for a delicious French meal, and then head to a café/bar for a drink (or 6) late into the night.  Then repeat the next day.

The Musée de la bande desinée down the hill from the city and across the river hosts a great year round exhibit focusing on the history of comics. It has come great temporary exhibits, and a bookshop that makes high art aficionados and geeks alike drool.
Then heading back up toward the city proper, you come to the Cité de la Bande Desinée, a converted old factory that now does rotating year round shows and exhibits (this is where Baru was). Amazing to think that a town that doesn’t host either a theme park or act as the home to a lunatic comics collecting hobbyist has spent public funds on building and maintaining this things.

Then, throughout the Festival, there were talks and events, including Paul Gravett talking about under-appreciated British pioneer Leo Baxendale.

And there was the wonderfully self-deprecating, but wonderful insightful Charlie Adlard.

There was the venerable lion of 60s and 70s French Metal Hurlant, Moebius.

And an odd morning session on the American New Wave, featuring John Pham, Marc Bell and Dash Shaw.  At one point, it looked like the moderator, not sure what to make of his panel, gave up and started texting…

The best part about the convention for me however was the number of people there reading comics.  They weren’t looking for lunch boxes or mint condition action figures.  They were there to read, buy and enjoy comics.

One of my favourite rituals of the French Festival circuit is the “Dedicace” line.  People wait patiently for hours to get a dedication in their books by their favourite authors.  But these are no mean “Thanks for showing up, he’s my signature.” No each author dutifully draws some original piece in the reader’s book– and spends ages doing it — and does it for free!

The highlight for me of the whole festival however was the Concert de Dessin.  Making graphic art is a solitary process where an artist disappears for weeks, or months as a time, suffers silently, alone making stuff.  Then one day, they present some work, but the process of making it is a distant memory enjoyed by only one.
In these concerts, artists riffed overhead as the musical stylings of a love story played in their heads.  And we got the watch the creation of a comic in much the same way we listen to a concert and hear a story in music.  I loved it.  It transcended the solitary nature of visual art with the performance nature of the concert.  And in the end, I was moved by the plaintive emotional journey of the luchador they ended up drawing to the music.

It was also nice to see a friend face at the concert as Manon — the lovely elder daughter of the family with who we stayed — was working there as an usher to help people find seats in the sold out shows.

It was a total surprise also that two the “cartoonists without fear” who’d been drawing for our delight was French BD heavy hitters Dupuy and Berberian!
Anyway, I’ve got some more Rosetta Stone to curl up with so that my French next year is not so paltry and I don’t find myself jealous of the communication stylings of native 3 year olds.
Looking forward already to FIBD 2012!