Photo by Alistair Dabbs @2023

Angoulême 2023 was when things returned to regularly scheduled programming – in time for its fiftieth anniversary event and – to be sure – the influential International Comic Arts Festival (FIBD) had come back strong. After a Covid-cancelled 2021 event and an Omicron-delayed 2022 event, the festival was finally able to resume its regularly scheduled programming slot – late January, in the freezing medieval home it has known and loved since 1974. And the public was here for it.

As mentioned, the 2022 event was shifted to March following December’s Omicron wave. When it did return, France had only just removed mask mandates and other covid restrictions. People came but the crowds weren’t there. This year’s event was a whole other matter. Crowds came. Oh boy, did the crowds come.

Inside the tents – Photo by Dean Simons @2023

On the Saturday – the busiest day in any festival weekend – there was so many people that there were queues circling each of the main comics pavilions (Monde des Bulles/World of Bubbles, for the European mainstream; Nouveau Monde/New World, for alternative and world publishers; and Manga City, for manga and work from Southern Asia). In the case of one, there were two heavy lines snaking in two separate directions up the town’s main shopping street!

Attack on Titan Exhibition, Angoulême ’23 Photo Alistair Dabbs ©2023

One of the highlights of any Angoulême is the incredible exhibitions that the festival is able to pull off. There were retrospectives of the work of Margeurite Abouet, Julie Doucet, Philippe Druillet, Junji Ito, and Ryoichi Ikegami. There was also a special exhibition of Hajime Isayama’s smash hit manga series Attack on Titan – showing original pages spanning moments from the series 2009 beginning to 2021 end. All were stunning.

Inside the Junji Ito Exhibition, Angoulême ’23 Photo Alistair Dabbs ©2023
Inside the Junji Ito Exhibition, Angoulême ’23 Photo Alistair Dabbs ©2023

Of the exhibitions Junji Ito’s might have been the most astounding. A lot of his original pages were on display and you were able to see close up how intricately detailed the horror mangaka’s linework is. Simply breath-taking.

Angoulême’s fiftieth year had crowds galore and the special edition merchandise for this year had sold most of its stock allocation by the end of the first day, on Thursday. People were hungry to take away a piece of this historic festival.

The recent scandal regarding Bastien Vives – a rising star in the French scene whose penchant for provocation and outrage boiled over with the announcement of a special exhibition in December that had to be cancelled – was not wholly forgotten. Not least by protestors placing posters decrying paedophilia in comics. His work was not banned from the festival, as his publisher Casterman was still selling his (relatively uncontroversial) critically acclaimed books at their stand. A public debate was supposedly arranged by the festival but apparently it didn’t go down without a hitch since only one side – the pro-freedom of speech reps – showed up to participate.

There were some disappointments of the Angoulême 2023 weekend. One was the surprised shrinkage of the Manga City pavilion. Usually an enormous marquee with manga, manhwa, and manhua galore, this year it was tied on to another building that you had to enter before reaching Manga City itself. The building featured a skateboarding halfpipe (with skateboarders), breakdancers and a food court. No comics though. Very odd. Once you entered Manga City you noticed how much smaller it had become. At least half, perhaps a third, of its size in previous years. The major publishers were present, as were the always welcome delegations of Taiwan and Hong Kong comics showing off the latest new work in their markets. Just a shame it felt so cramped – especially when you consider the pandemic induced explosion in manga consumption in France.

Some exhibitions didn’t quite suit their locations (Elle Résiste, Elles Résistante a graphic biography series of the life of WW2 resistance fighter and activist Madeleine Riffaud might have been more appropriate in the town’s war museum and the space reallocated to give Doucet’s – the Grand Prix of last year – sufficient room to be enjoyed.

One of the weakest exhibitions of the weekend was Colours. A broad term and could have been used any number of ways to make an interesting exhibition. It lacked a throughline or sufficient context to make the – absolutely stunning – collection on display really resonate. It is strange to think that you could look at original Calvo, McKay, Druillet, Moebius, etc. alongside the work of more recent masters of the form and come out wondering what the point of it was.

Overall it was an extremely busy return to form for one of the world’s premiere festivals of the sequential artform, and a welcome reminder that there is always more fantastic comics work to discover outside the Anglo-American bubble.

Eve of FIBD ’23: Recreating the first FIBD poster in with thousands and thousands of candles  – Photo: Alistair Dabbs ©2023
Angoulême ’23 – Photo: Dean Simons ©2023
Lancement du 50e Festival de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême :
Point-presse prévu aujourd’hui à 11h55 au Quartier Manga City
Dans le cadre du lancement de 50e édition du Festival International de la Bande Dessinée (FIBD) d’Angoulême, Alain Rousset, président du Conseil régional de Nouvelle-Aquitaine, tiendra un point-presse, aujourd’hui jeudi 26 janvier à 11h55 à l’espace Conférence du Quartier Manga City, pour présenter le Quartier Manga City et la Halle Alligator 57.
Ce point-presse se tiendra en présence de Rima Abdul-Malak, ministre de la Culture ; Charline Claveau, vice-présidente du Conseil régional en charge de la Culture ; Philippe Bouty, président du Conseil départemental de Charente ; Xavier Bonnefont, maire d’Angoulême ; Franck Bondoux, directeur général du FIBD, Philippe Barre, directeur général de Darwin, et de Raphaël Poli, directeur général SNCF Retail & Connexions.
Contact presse :
Rachid Belhadj – 05 57 57 02 75 / [email protected]
International Rights Market @ Angoulême 2023 – Photo: Alistair Dabbs ©2023
Angoulême 2023 – Photo: Alistair Dabbs ©2023
Angoulême 2023 – Photo: Alistair Dabbs ©2023