Saturday, January 30, 2016

Angouleme 2016

I came to Angouleme a week and a half ago to teach a Masters class on comics and stayed on for the Festival. I have done this several times before but skipped last year. The only notable difference between this year and past years when I attended is the presence of Security Forces everywhere. Two gendarmes stand at the entrance to each tent to check backpacks and wand bodies.

The psychological effect of this is hard to assess, but the physical effect is painfully apparent. Checking backpacks and wanding bodies takes time hence the lines to get into any tent have become  sluggish, especially on the final day of the Festival. Throw some ink-wash gray drizzle on top of this and the mood is far from festive.

This may actually be a good thing for commerce. After waiting an eternity for entrance, once inside where all those comics are for sale, pent up Festival-goers let loose a torrent of repressed euros.

The Festival began with the sexist debacle described in a previous post where women were not included (also known as “excluded”) from the list of possible Grand Prix recipients. Reinforcing this masculine slant, the three blockbuster exhibits feature the works of two dead titans of European comics, and one living Japanese master: all men.

For me, the high point of the festival was discovering the work of Li Chi-tak, yes, also a man, who has been working in Hong Kong comics since 1984 when he was 17. His works range from fairly straight-forward genres (he drew a series called “Black Mask” about a guy who wore a black mask that was made into a film starring Jet Li wearing a black mask), to surreal. My favorite stuff that was on display in a small exhibition of his work at the festival is the surreal series that he drew as a weekly newspaper series.

Here are some pics taken through glass at Li Chi-tak's exhibit:

...and here's a little movie of Li Chi-tak entertaining the masses with a guest appearance by one of my favorite French cartoonists, Vincent Perriot: (hmmm...for some reason this video only appears to work on Firefox browser, sorry.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mission in Angoulême

I am in Angoulême teaching a Masters Class in Comics at the EESI School. My class of 13 bright and talented students are creating autobiographical mini-comics. With a short deadline looming, we took time off from class to cross the river prompted by the present controversy surrounding this year’s Angoulême International Comics Festival that starts this Friday. 

We had a mission.

Each year 30 names are announced as finalists for the Grand Prix. Traditionally, the winner, voted on by cartoonists published in France, gets a huge retrospective of their works the following year and must attend endless ceremonies in their honor. This year’s contenders were announced a couple of weeks ago. The controversy? Not a single female cartoonist was included on the list.

When this exclusion was pointed out to them, the official reaction from the organizers of the prize was that, “…the festival cannot revise the history of comics." Subsequently, male cartoonists on the list began to take their names off in solidarity.

Then things got messier.

The officials tried to add six women to the list. A few hours later, that idea got scrapped and they turned the whole thing into an open vote with no pre-selected list.

Still with me? Wait... things get messier, still.

To keep up with the convolutions I had to turn to my friend, comics author and scholar, Theirry Smolderen, who explained,

“In principle, as this point, anyone could win. Only dead authors and previous recipients were excluded. Oh, yes, and Claire Bretécher, for some obscure reason. She has already won the “Festival Tenth Anniversary” award in the early 1980s, and the festival decided that was a sufficient motive to exclude her from the lifetime achievement award. Joann Sfar, however, had won the very, very similar “Festival 30th Anniversary Award”, and wasn’t excluded.  Anyways, after that vote, the Festival declared that the first three names were Hermann, Alan Moore, and Clare Wendling. All of which have declared previously that they weren’t interested in getting the award, and would probably refuse it.”

The probable result at this point is that there will be no Grand Prix this year.

My students are fortunate enough to take classes three minutes away from the bastion of comics history, the Musée de Bande Dessinée, the largest institution of comic art in Europe. They have been welcomed by the Director of the Musée, Jean-Pierre Mercier, a scholar and all-around decent citizen, to partake of the museum’s treasures whenever they like.

There is nothing more illuminating to an aspiring cartoonist than to look at original comic art. So much can be learned by looking at the actual paper on which a master’s hand has marked. And here in Angoulême, the Musée allows students to actually hold the work and examine it up close.

So we asked the Museum to cull a few examples of work by women cartoonists and went to examine history. We were met by Nelly Lavaure, who took us into the inner sanctum where she had laid out not merely a few examples, but dozens of works in every comics genre by extraordinary female cartoonists including:

Claire Bretécher
Florence Cestac
Olivia Clavel
Nicole Claveloux
Jacqueline Cohen
Bernadette Després
Rachel Deville
Julie Doucet
Lilliane (et Fred) Funcken
Annie Goetzinger
Lynn Johnston
Laureline Mattiussi
Chantal Montellier
Marie Pommepuy
Aude Samama
Johanna Schipper
Caroline Sury

Conclusion: Women have been making museum-worthy comics for years. We don’t need to change history, we just need to pay attention to it.

Mission accomplished!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Day Trip to Bordeaux

Bordeaux is a swell town to visit and a city I could see myself living in some day if I ever learned a few more words in French and depending on how the upcoming US Presidential election turns out.

It is very cosmopolitan and by that I mean that everywhere there are people who are strolling around dressed very well, very shabbily, and, though it is January, people who are barely dressed at all. And, since it is Bordeaux, there is lots of fine wine and gourmet cuisine everywhere. Such as this:

HFC: Halal Fried Chicken

And literally around the corner, 47 steps away (I counted), this:
CFC: Chilly Fried Chicken (though it is also halal)

I like to go into old churches and look at poorly lit old stuff. Unlike the twisting streets of your typical European city, you can never get lost in a church. They are all laid out basically the same. Like a cross...and don't you forget it, heathen!

The Cathedral of St. Andre is dim, cold, and large (the town recently vetoed the idea of renaming it The Cathedral of St. Andre the Giant). There may be some wonderful things in there to see, but I kept bumping into tourists stumbling around taking selfies in the dim light so I gave up and headed to the exit.

On my way there I noticed a small, well lit annex that turned out to be a gallery of two rooms with about 30 first-rate painting, sculpture and reliquaries. The work that struck me was the early renaissance stuff that curiously appeared to be mostly Italian.

Here is one of two paintings on exhibit of the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine. This was an event that I never heard of, but I suspect that the mystical part had to do with Catherine getting married to a baby who liked to play with his toes... at least I think that's what he is playing with.

Baby Jesus ate his fruits and vegetables and so should you.

And then, there was this. Is this is one of the greatest Madonna and Child paintings ever? I don’t think I have ever seen Mary tweak the Baby’s earlobe like that with her Lincoln Log fingers, but it is charming. And the Baby Jesus’s poke actual seems to push Mary’s bemused mouth a little to the side. It’s a hell of a painting.

Next stop, the Musée des Beaux Arts. The last time I was here a few years ago, these galleries were closed for renovation. The bathrooms definitely got an upgrade, but the rooms themselves in the pre-19th century wing do not appear to have been upgraded or even swept since the reign of Charles de Gaulle.

Several reviews on TripAdvisor commented that this was a good place to take the kiddies...seriously?! All I can say is that whoever curated this impressive collection had a taste for flesh...seriously!!

“Slave Trader” by Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli (nice last name, dude!)

“David Holding the Head of Goliath” by Aubin Vouet

“The Miracle of Saint Justus” By “Pierre” Paul Rubins

“Painting Crowned by Fame” by Sebastiano Mazzoni

“Saint Sebastian Aided by Irene” Attributed to the Maitre a la Chandelle

“Giotto in Chimabue’s Studio” by Jules Ziegler
Huh? This is a subject that I know a bit about. Chimabue was Giotto's teacher whom Giotto left in the dust. So, in this version of reality, Giotto was half naked in Chimabue’s studio when he got the idea that he could completely revolutionize Western painting forever by making flesh more supple and rounded and fleshy?!?!

Why does that painting remind me of this comic? On second thought, don’t answer that question.