by Jeremy Melloul
Back again from Angouleme, reporting on Friday and this show never ceases to amaze.
The festival is a whirlwind of encounters and conversations about industry business, the medium itself, and comparing itineraries, centered primarily on indulging in the delicious food and drink available in this region of France.
Most striking is the celebration of the medium of comics itself, which remains moving and interesting even after the initial shock wears off and will endure even past your first trip to Angouleme.
These celebrations take many forms, open-air exhibits on the streets themselves, entire sections of the festival dedicated to niche publishing, and museum-style exhibits in proper museums or repurposed stores, whose walls become adorned with comic art.
With a ticket to the festival all these exhibits are free for you to explore, allowing you to immerse yourself in these artists’ work and appreciate both the legacy stories and new experiments they spotlight.
However, that’s little benefit to you following the festival from abroad, so I wanted to take advantage of my presence here to give you a lens into some of what you might encounter.
On my first day in Angouleme (Day 0), I wandered straight into one such exhibit that was displaying work from Thorgal – a French comic that began publishing in 1977 and, today, is one of the most popular French language comics of all time.
Seeing the work presented in this way – with wall-to-wall art and a large selection o titles catering both to longtime fans and fans-to-be – and treated with such care and respect changes your relationship to it. It forces you to consider how you think about sequential art and encourages you treat it with respect not simply for having been created and the skill that requires, but also for how it represents the potential of the medium of comics.
There are many other such festivals – some organized by the Angouleme International Comics Festival directly, like “Contemporary Lighting in Bande Dessinée” and others independently or in loose partnership with the festival, such as Spin Off.
Spin Off is a small press and self-publishing event within Angouleme that has been running since 2017. Featuring zines, pins, and all sorts of other eclectic products it adds to the already overwhelming volume of work you can find in the festival’s Nouveau Monde (New World) tent and allows the festival to cater to an even wider audience.
There’s also La Cité Internationale de la bande dessinee et de l’image, a comics museum celebrating comic book art.
They have six exhibitions running during the festival spotlighting all sorts of works, including:
An exhibit that tells the story of the French publisher Futuropolis, as told by the people that founded it and the author’s they published, which includes such people as Robert Crumb and Florence Cestac (the first woman to have won the Grand Prix at Angouleme, in 2000, and the only one to do so until Rumiko this year).
Florence Cestac, Détournement
A presentation of Florence Cestac’s works spotlighting, specifically, her use of the technique of détournement in her work.
The others are: In Situ, which presents the work of the cite’s authors in residence. Thalatha (“three” in Arabic), which collects 34 screen-printed works using three colors all created by international authors. Kenshiro Sakamoto: from Buster Keel to Happy Adventures, which spotlights his work and career. And, finally, Divinatory Tarot, an exhibit by Marquis, a studio of artists, who drew tarot cards and created works accordingly.
And that’s all happening in only one location, even if it is a central one.
There are many other events that could occupy your time.
And, of course, there are also the featured Exhibitions, which only serve to underline that at Angouleme it’s the medium of comics that comes first, not the industry. It’s a remarkable feat for that truth to hold even despite the obvious commercial interest at play for the festival as a business and for the individual publishers who attend.
These exhibitions feature well-curated collections of illustrations and sequential art. This year, there were ten such exhibitions.
Tom-Tom and Nana Present: Everything Bernadette Despres
Richard Corben – Giving Form to the Imaginary
Batman 80 Years: An American Genre Unmasked
Milo Manara, A Maestro’s Path from Pratt to Caravage
Taiyo Matsumoto, Drawing Childhood
Tsutomu Nihei – Seeing the Future
Each of these exhibitions could be their own post and merit several hours of viewing. At Angouleme you quickly are forced to realize that there just isn’t actually time to see everything properly, even across four days.
I took the time to see both the Taiyo Matsumoto (Sunny, No. 5, Tekkon Kinkreet) and Richard Corben (Heavy Metal, Neverwhere, Den) exhibits and really enjoyed both. It’s a testament to the growing internationalism of comics and the festival that so many of the exhibits above feature creators from beyond France and even Europe.
Pictures from the Matsumoto gallery
When you see the incredible art on display you realize, different as they might be from each other, comics are comics regardless from where they come and we’re all speaking the same language – even if the dialects may defer from country to country. In fact, those distinctions are part of the point of comics – they’re broader influences that shape the work and voices of the artists we now admire.
I was fortunate enough to get to see the Richard Corben exhibits with some friends and be guided through his work by the very kind José Villarrubia. Jose is a Spanish-American artist who has done a lot of work in the American comic industry as a colorist. He’s worked with Bill Sienkiewicz, Paul Pope, Jeff Lemire, and, most notably in this context, Richard Corben.
The insights he was able to offer on his tour only gave me a deeper appreciation for the work on display and cemented my thoughts around the importance of celebrating comic book art – in all its forms, from zines, to literary graphic novels, and everything in between or beyond.
If we support the medium and encourage experimentation we’ll see new stories and new ways of telling stories and increasingly explore the medium’s creative potential. So, I hope you track down the work mentioned here for yourself and continue to read widely and spread the sequential gospel.
[Check out Jeremy’s podcast on the business of comics at The Creator at Large.]