Angoulême 2016 postscript
I left the international comics festival in Angoulême this past February pretty much resolved not to return. By most accounts the festival was a disaster. Others have reported, much more succinctly than I, how out of step, out of touch, and out of decent coffee this event has become.
This year’s blatant misogyny and insensitivity revealed the uncomfortable truth that the festival is tired and stodgy.
Going to Angoulême is like going to the elephant’s birthday party only to be stomped on by the elephant who does not know why people are making such a fuss over getting ground into the mud as he greedily finishes off the entire birthday cake.
...And yet, in the midst of this narrow-minded sediment for members of the boys' club, there are nuggets of shiny comics-related expertise and esoterica. Things happen to me there that could only happen in Angoulême.
A few days before the festival began, Jean-Pierre Mercier, the Director of the Musée de la Bande Dessinée, invited me out to lunch. We took the short cut through the museum and out the back door, passing, along the way, the frantic last-minute hanging of the Morris exhibit.
Morris was a cartoonist who created a much-beloved character named Lucky Luke and in doing so cemented some fundamental rules for 20th century French cartoonists, namely to make comics about the American West and limit yourself to only one name.
Most of such cartoonists beloved by generations of Europeans leave me cold. And I mean truly beloved. While suggesting that the festival be burnt to the ground may elicit a complicit shrug from a French comics fan, to dismiss Franquin, Gotlib, and Moebius is heresy punishable by being burnt to the ground, yourself.
Morris, however, is to me a different kettle of ink. I kinda like his stuff. He knows how to stage an action and design a page so that every gag pays off and in all sorts of unexpected ways. And here he was, as a part of this festival.
Morris was also one of those guys who did nothing but make comics…well, almost nothing but make comics. In his spare time, he carved little wooden toy figures of his creations…little toy figures that move.
As Jean-Pierre and I trotted through the mounting of the exhibit, we stopped at a glass case not yet sealed and Jean-Pierre delicately reached in and demonstrated Morris’ handiwork in action. Amazing.
Another only-in-Angoulême moment occurred in the Press Room, which, as you may recall from 1930’s movies, is supposed to be a crowded, smoke-filled room lit by a dangling light bulb and badly in need of a paint job. In Angoulême, the Press Room has 15 ft. high windows snuggled by velvet drapes. You can just make out the chandelier in this photo:
(l to r) Paul Gravett, Jean Mardikian, Paul Karasik, and
someone trying to actually file a story in the Press Room.
And here is where I found comics historian, Paul Gravett, chatting merrily to Jean Mardikian, one of the guys who founded the festival. Gravett’s usual way of chatting to anyone is merrily and he has the uncanny ability to be everywhere at the Festival simultaneously.
The two men were flipping through photostats of pages of British romance comics from the 1970s featuring Carnaby Street ingénues with panda eye-makeup, straight hair, and white hip boots and guys all wielding sideburns that a mouse could get lost in. Not really my cup of tea, but these particular pages were weirdly notable.
On top of each page sat a transparent sheet of acetate bearing a reduced copy of the line art but with the translated English lettered in French inside the word balloons. They had been sitting in Mardikian‘s attic for decades and the transparencies had become semi-attached to the photstats creating an unintentionally wonderful gestalt. Again, only in Angoulême.
So, OK guys (and I do mean guys): get rid of the stodginess of Angoulême. Burn it to the ground, but in its ashes allow for a new festival to arise. Move the commerce to the sides and give the art events some breathing room. Bring the artists into the planning stages to create a new model for the entire festival. And, while you’re at it, skip the whole awards charade. Shake the whole thing up. I really want to like this festival ‘cause things occur to me there that simply do not happen anywhere else on the planet. But some big things must change.