Festival Time: Nevermind It’s Over (Reflections)

Afterthoughts

Well, I survived my first festival. It was a whole heck of a lot to take in, so bear with my as I try to synthesize all this (some two weeks later) and make it interesting. For starters, I’m a planner. I like making lists; I like having some general idea of what it is I would like to get out of something, so it was difficult to figure out just what my approach to FIBD would be. What would I see? Who would I try to meet? What books do I need? And to make things even more complicated, I’m dipping my toes in the waters of amateur-professionalism (Comic Book Fantasy Camp 2015), so what amount of time do I want to devote to meeting new people? Alas, no list was made, and I totally winged it.

First Impressions

The infrastructure alone needed for the festival was staggering. In the weeks leading up to the festival, I watched the convention and its workers slowly take over the city—there were a dozen or so temporary, climate-controlled, convention tents constructed throughout key points in the center of town. These were serious little buildings, with glass-plated, locking doors, carpeted, and totally protected from the elements. And now that the festival is over, I am watching the process in reverse; there is a slow, lingering sadness taking over the city, the collective coming down of the season’s big event, when the city will return to its winter dormancy.

But back to the convention. The general feeling that I got from professionals was that this was mostly a social event, not necessarily a place to make money. From my little corner of the festival, it was difficult to pin people down, even Jessica, who was busy with signings, meetings, and dinners all weekend.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, most people seemed intent on having a good time. The only strong lingering aspect of the Hebdo aftermath was the nuisance of heightened security. In contrast to the emotions building up to the event, the opening ceremony was underwhelming; Matt Madden had this to say on his facebook page:

“Went to the “launch” ceremony hosted by the mayor of Angoulême and the Festival director which promised the unveiling of a powerful and poignant statement about comics and free speech. Was dismayed by the result: a platitude framing a kitschy panorama of inoffensive BD characters that could just as easily decorate a flea market’s used comics stand. I wouldn’t bother to comment except that this was all done with great solemnity and pomp. And all the while, a much more powerful and simple statement hangs right beside the new one, only now its overshadowed.”

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Kitschy panorama of inoffensive BD characters. Photo by Matt Madden.

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Photo by Matt Madden.

 

Day One – Barbier, Pavillon Chine, Calvin and Hobbes, Sillages

I spent my first day trying to take in as many of the exhibits as I could before the lines formed. I started my morning off with Alex Barbier and the Chinese exhibit, both of which are areas of comics I knew very little about.

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Alex Barbier.

While the tone and some themes of Barbier’s work were a little intense for me, I was still completely blown away by this exhibit. I loved the photographic and nostalgic qualities of his paintings, the gritty details, and the self-loathing introspection. In contrast, the Chinese exhibit was a ton of fun. Knowing very little, I was suprised to see the level of whimsy, style, and parallels to early American works like McCay. Artists of note included Zhang Leping and Wang Hongli.

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Wang Hongli.

After a random lunch with Maison des Auteurs residents and luminaries Sophie Guerrive, Jorje A. Mhaya, and Benjamin Frisch, I tagged along with Benjamin and the SCAD crew to the Calvin and Hobbes exhibit, complete with introduction by show organizers and Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum and Library curators Jenny Robb and Caitlin McGuirk. Not having thought about or read Calvin Hobbes in (regrettably) some years, I was surprised at how emotional this exhibit was for me. Organized by Watterson’s themes (seasons, family, escape) and ending with the very last Calvin and Hobbes strip, this exhibit near moved me to tears.

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Can someone give me a tissue?

The evening was all about the Sillages opening reception for the exhibit at La Maison des Auteurs. This exhibit collected the work of 33 residents, past and present, in a mind-blowing range of styles. Artists included: Jessica Abel, Jorj A. Mhaya, Olivier Balez, Mai Li Bernard, François Bertin, Apolo Cacho, Stéphanie Cadoret, Delphine Chauvet, Juhyun Choi, Samir Dahmani, Rachel Deville, Sani Djibo, Lei Fang, Nathalie Ferlut, Benjamin Frisch, Anneli Furmark, Golo, Sophie Guerrive, Salvador Jacobo Torres, Aidan Koch, Julien Lambert, Lola Lorente, Matt Madden, Nylso, Amruta Patil, Pepo Perez, Chema Peral, Aude Soleilhac, Michaël Sterckeman, Sylvain-Moizie, Manon Textoris, Lucas Varela, and Ronald Wimberly.

Day Two

This day I had informally reserved for checking out the booths. This was the day that I would aim to shop. I normally set up some kind of perimeters of “how” to shop (like, buying only things I can’t get online) so while I took notes at how the majors looked (how elaborate their booths were—like miniature stores), I didn’t buy anything from them. My eyes were fixed strictly on the independents. I spent most of the afternoon at the Nouveau Monde tent, and later, in the company of Cornelius auteur Jérome Dubois, at the F.O.F.F. (Fuck Off Angoulême Festival). I will be digging into these purchases in a later post.

Day Three

This day was a bit aimless… After Benjamin and I tried to take advantage of our pro passes (failed hunt for free cognac?), I ended up having coffee with cartoonists Mike Dawson and Brendan Leach and cartoonist/TCAF representative Georgia Webber, and then wandering the L’Émploye du Moi exhibit with them. After that, it was dinner and drinks at the Mercure with Jenny Robb and Caitlin McGuirk of Billy Ireland, Frederick Schroeder and Dave Kellett (creators of the Stripped documentary), Benjamin, and internationally renowned cartoonist and essayist Dylan Horrocks. The night was filled with awesome Stan Lee/Moomin joke mash-ups. Seriously, they were real good.

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Mike Dawson versus the world/l’Émploye du moi offices.

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Left to right: Frederick Schroeder, Ryan W. Brewer, Benjamin Frisch, Jenny Robb, David Kellett, and Dylan Horrocks. Photo by Caitlin McGurk.

 

Day Four

After I had safely relocated back to my pre-festival lodging, I was relieved to approach the day with a relaxed attitude. I spent the first bit taking another lap through the Watterson exhibit, as well as visiting the pristine representation of the work of Fabien Nury. After a quick bilingual Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples panel, I met with Dargaud social media representative Delphine Bonardi about some marketing ideas I have for Trish Trash. And then it was off to lunch at Chez Madden/Abel, where I noshed with American cartoonists Josh Neufeld and Nick Bertozzi, Jenny and Caitlin, British academic Paul Gravett, and senior Dargaud editor Thomas Ragon.

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Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

 

I realize that reading this sounds like a lot of name-dropping. And it is. But it’s here to reflect the diversity in personalities and range in occupation that you meet at a convention like this. It’s a microcosm of the industry at large, and evidence of the ways in which you can eke out a niche if you’re so willing to put in the time and effort.

So here goes nothing.

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