If you’re looking for French-language comics in Paris you have a lot of options. There are bookstores everywhere, and most (if not all) of them carry comics. There are also a myriad of bande dessinée specialty shops and boutiques, a whole district devoted to such shops (Rue Dante), as well as flea markets and antique malls. The options can be a bit overwhelming, and would definitely require more than one little blog post to capture the landscape. My most recent pass through Paris was brief (and my suitcase space is limited), so I chose to focus on a small press boutique that came highly recommended to me by my local friends. As a means to focus my endeavor, I was on the hunt for comics and zines of the small press and short run variety, and Le Monte-en-l’air did not disappoint.
I saw briefly the print, art, and children’s book rooms, but did not have the full day needed to comb through the massive inventory of this shop, so I headed straight for the comics room. Even here, I had to set perimeters—focused searching—in order to make it out with finances intact. This room was stuffed to the gills with one of the greatest concentrations of Europe’s best small press comics and zines I have seen yet. Not to mention, they have a killer blog. Definitely leave yourself some time for this place.
For quick reference to the above-mentioned spot, check out the itinerary section of the blog.
Few are better at creating alternate universes than that of Franco-Belgian comics visionaries François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. With a keen focus on the culture, politics, and architecture of these places, they have been exploring the themes of changing urbanism amidst neo-futuristic fantasy landscapes, set on their own version of earth, for the last 35 years. Each volume of the series takes place in a different city, with its own distinct infrastructure; with their latest installment of the Les Cités Obscures series, Revoir Paris (Casterman, 2014), the duo gives the French capital their own elegant, science-fiction makeover. In conjunction with this release, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patriomoine has invited them to curate a show to host their vision, a vision well-supplemented with the work of Paris’ legacy of innovators. Part art exhibit, part speculative installation, there is as much attention given to the city’s history of urban planning and design as there is to fantasy and utopian daydream. This past weekend, I had the pleasure to indulge my fancy and take it all in.
From the moment I had entered the exhibit room, I could tell that everything I had read about the show had been regurgitated from the press release. These reviews made no mention of the overwhelming ambience—the mood created by the layout, the lighting, and the minimalist, atmospheric soundscapes—that subtly filled in the gaps of the room not occupied by art or installation. All of these elements combined to create, very appropriately, what felt like a vault in time. As viewers, we were isolated from the outside world and left only to focus on these concepts, which in their own ways could just as easily be thought to forecast certain visions—both realized and not—of the future of civilization itself. It was most effective.
The original artwork of François Schuiten was displayed in rows in the middle, where visitors could view the incredible draughtsmanship up close—deftly composed, meticulously executed, and elegantly hand-colored. Schuiten has an amazing knack of maintaining the scope of his worlds by always leaving the grandeur right outside the window; while his stories are filled with a great deal of intimacy, one never forgets that just beyond the frame lay a sprawling, sometimes incomprehensible city, one that is not afraid to tempt both the limits of horizon and sky above. This section contained nearly 100 original compositions: concept art of his design of Paris’ Arts et Metiers metro stop, Jules Verne’s Paris in the Twentieth Century, the Greater Paris project, and most recently, Revoir Paris.
The Schuiten originals alone would have been compelling enough, but to make this exhibit even more thought-provoking, was the inclusion of tribute to those individuals that have marked two centuries’ worth of innovation of the city. Organized by themes like metamorphosis of the capital, world expositions, transportation infrastructure, the city from the sky, the periphery, and utopian spirit, these sections included classic conceptual architectural art, drawings, and models by Haussmann, Robida, Le Corbusier, Hector Horeau, Auguste Perret, Jean Nouvel, and many more. The exhibit was altogether stunning, and absolutely worthy of permanent display.
To buy recent english translations of the series, visit Alaxis Press.
Barcelona has great comic shops. Like, really great. In the brief time I was there, I had time to visit three—they were all located in beautiful buildings in incredibly charming parts of town. From what I could tell, they had all done well to carve out relative niches in the scene, giving visitors reason to see them all.
I was drawn into this store by the Corto Maltese cardboard cutout perched on a balcony on the the third floor of the exterior. He was joined by two other characters that I was unfamiliar with—one manga, one fantasy—but oddly enough, the tactic worked. From the outside I could see that the space was big, so I was sure that I would find something interesting. And I did. While the independent section was minimal (but well-chosen), it was full of great selections from artists from around the world. The space was well-balanced between larger European albums, reprints of mainstream American comics, toys, and even a section devoted to selling original comic art. Not exactly my kind of store (and my Spanish is non-existent), but hey, I walked away with this charming little Marion Fayolle book, something that I’ve been interested in for quite some time. So yeah, while there’s probably something for everyone, it’s more geared to the Spanish audience. Nonetheless, definitely worth the visit.
The Freaks comics shop is the midpoint in what is an impressive run of three Freaks media stores, the other two specializing in DVDs and art books. While this shop had a little bit of mainstream stuff (appropriately relegated to a tiny back room), the independent stuff is on full display here. Comprising two long center tables, the first focused on original Spanish books and Spanish-language reprints of foreign works. Regrettably, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to take notes, but I did have enough time to drool over these gorgeous Prison Pit reprints. The second table had an impressive selection of non-Spanish indie stuff from all over—Kuš, Drawn and Quarterly, First Second, Fantagraphics, No Brow, etc.—so a must stop for anyone, especially you.
When asked where in Spain I could buy books by fellow Maison des Auteurs residents Los Bravù, they replied with this. With barely a barcode in the entire store, the entire emphasis is on small press. You could easily lose an entire day browsing, so I chose the easy way out and asked the owner to pick works by his favorite Spanish artists, and threw in some Decadence (U.K.) stuff for good measure. They have an amazing website too, by the way.
For quick reference to all of the above-mentioned spots, check out the itinerary section of the blog.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I went from spending the last three weeks living practically alone, in a spacious five-bedroom house (with a giant flat-screen television—a veritable bachelor palace) to this, a twin bed (with a really nice frame, though), in what appears to be a dining room.
But I guess that’s what happens when a town with a municipal population of 42,000 (178,000 including the surrounding area) receives over 200,000 guests for the 2nd largest comic festival in all of Europe.
You get stuck in a dining room.
I picked up this collection on what will be the first of many trips to boutique comics shop Le Comptoir des Images here in Angoulême. I will probably devote an entire post to this shop and its relationship to the surrounding artistic community, so suffice it to say for now this place is simply awesome.
There was a large selection of books present by local and beloved publisher Éditions Ego Comme X, so it was difficult to choose just one. They are beautiful to hold, lovingly-crafted, high quality printings with an intimate and personal feel to them. Once I had my selections narrowed down to a small handful, I made my final choice based on what in other circumstances might be superficial criteria: economy and design.
An Inventory of Experience: Sorting Through the Details
The coffret (“little box”) Le Périodique (“journal”), is a collection of five 32-page autobiographical zines by Frédéric Poincelet, originally published between October 1999 and January 2002, nestled together in a beautiful cardstock sleeve and re-released in January 2013; priced at 19€, I couldn’t pass this up. Rather than compile these zines into one collection, I think it makes sense to keep them as individual episodes; the covers present the volumes in what might be unique periods in the author’s life: combatif, égocentrique, excessif, dépressif, and définitif, all presented in a gorgeous matte finish and dynamic colors.. Poincelet’s stories are made up of a series of smaller experiences and full of little details; this format compels the reader to sort through these details, adding to the author’s loose and personal narrative style.
Fredéréric Poincelet has a historian’s attention to detail, recounting these stories as memories like you and I would—memories of love, desire, and creative exploration—but full of visual metaphor. These stories are unique too, in that he writes them as both an artist and fan, capturing the time period of the medium and creative process of the comic book artist, name-dropping his influences (Dupuy, Killoffer, Trondheim) along the way. These stories strike a perfect and honest balance between humility and pretentiousness, a space that most of us can relate to, albeit reluctantly.
Éditions Ego Comme X
This publisher is a well-curated, literary comics small press of the first order. Founded in Angoulême in 1994 by Xavier Mussat, Fabrice Neaud, and current editorial director Loïc Néhou, they have kept their output to an impressive, but minimal, 4-5 releases a year. With a keen editorial eye to autobiography, diary, and memoir, they have published an impressive roster of international auteurs: Aristophane, Frédéric Boilet, Jeffrey Brown, James Kochalka, Benoît Peeters, John Porcellino, Sylvie Rancourt, and many others.
Wow. When I had conceived the Comics Vacation (Comics + Travel + Everything In Between) blog, this was exactly the kind of opportunity I had in mind; however, I wasn’t sure what this opportunity would look like at the time, or if I would actually manage to pull it off. In terms of thematic scope, this trip hits all of the key criteria.
So what am I doing here exactly? How did this all come about? Here’s the story, in brief.
I like comics. I like European comics, and I especially like French comics. After discovering les bande dessinées a number of years ago, I’ve been collecting and reading them, entertaining the notion of one day being fluent enough to translate them professionally. In my undergraduate studies I minored in French, optimistic that this background would one day serve a higher purpose. In my current course of study, publishing, I’ve been searching to collect a wealth of experiences to reflect my interests and skills, to differentiate myself as an aspiring comics publishing professional. My French skills are less than awesome, and conventional wisdom says immersion is absolutely necessary; I’ve always had it in mind that I would study in France.
After a successful summer internship with Fantagraphics Books in Seattle, I began to research opportunities abroad. I wrote a cover letter and C.V. en français and sent it out to seven small and large publishers in Toulouse, Angoulême, Paris, and Brussels. Of those messages sent, I received five very polite rejection letters.
A few weeks after I sent the last of the letters, I received an email from cartoonist Jessica Abel. Jessica is on extended residency at La Maison des Auteurs, a comics cultural institution in Angoulême, and had received my contact info from one of the very publishers to decline. After a couple of weeks of discussion of expectations and abilities, it was set. I would intern for her for three months, doing production and marketing on her forthcoming graphic novel Out on the Wire: Subtitle TBD (Crown Publishing Group, August 2015), and to a lesser extent, Trish Trash: Rollergirl sur Mars (Dargaud, January 2015), her first original French language album to be released at the upcoming 42nd annual Festival International de Bande Dessinée (FIBD).
After two months of planning and twenty-seven hours of travel, I was in my new home in Angoulême on Tuesday, January 6th. The next day I went in to La Maison des Auteurs for a short orientation. The facility, a short and beautiful walk through Angoulême’s centre-ville, is classy, modern, and industrious—clearly a place to get work done. I said hello to Matt Madden, Jessica’s husband, fellow resident, and co-author of the Drawing Words and Writing Pictures and Mastering Comics (First Second) series of how-to textbooks, as well as his celebrated 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style and many others. I took my short and beautiful stroll home through the old-world feel of Angoulême, into the maison-charantais-style house I now call home. Little did I know that during my brief few hours out, everything had changed.
I spent the remainder of the night glued to the television watching news of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. With all of the context to consider, I was slow to come to my own conclusion. There are so many perspectives to consider: the cartoonist, the patriot, the ex-patriot, the radical Muslim, the French Muslim, etc.; and the implications are many: free speech, terrorism, religion, racism, satire. It’s only been four days as I write this, and I’m overwhelmed and confused as I collect an ever-growing number of articles and commentary to contribute to a later post. Only a mere days after the event, and the FIBD has already announced the creation of a new award: “the prix Charlie de liberté d’éxpression.”
The next day the studio was eerie calm. I began work on Out on the Wire, and naturally, that was great. I ate lunch with Jessica and Matt, and after work, Jessica gave me a brief walking tour before treating me to dinner. But excited as I was, the air was still heavy, and it was odd to feel excitement at such a somber time. And today, without really knowing why, I marched with an estimated 20,000 people in a marche citoyenne. As the sun sets on my first week here, it has already been an experience that I will never forget.
A Timeless Sense of Place
I stumbled upon this book in a Montreal bookstore a few years ago. Then unfamiliar with her work, I felt that I should buy it solely on the premise that it was about a man wandering a strange, new place—the exact situation I was in at the time. The moods of Gabriella Giandelli’s stories are very much built on the places they inhabit. It seems important to her that these stories—in order to last, to remain timeless—occur in places removed from any specific time period. By making them so, she is able to add an additional layer to what is already a haunting atmosphere; in books like Sous Les Feuilles (Seuil) and Interiorae (Fantagraphics Books), the reader is often left feeling disoriented. Part of the allure of these places and stories is discovering what they are all about.
Sous Les Feuilles seems to exist not in a place where time has stopped, but a place where it is irrelevant. The characters seem lost, but at home. The architecture, decor, and clothing seem vaguely twentieth century, but there is nothing to identify them as such. These elements are evocative of a parallel universe; the village is sparsely populated, inducing a feeling of purgatory.
The infrastructure is cold, yet cared for. This is not a place abandoned and without love. The village is densely structured, but where are all the people? The world is insulated and self-contained; in many of the scenes within the village, the sky is ommited, hinting at the fact that there might not be a world beyond this. Even those parts of the story that take place in the surrounding forest are so deeply enshrouded by foliage that the same remains true there.
It takes a special skill to construct a world so closely resembling our own, yet wholly different. Gabriella Giandelli’s worlds are just familiar enough for the reader to get comfortable, but eerie enough that you wonder if you were ever there at all.
This Could Be Your Family
Already familiar with Three Shadows (First Second), I bought this book for myself as a 32nd birthday gift. Portugal (Aire Libré/Dupuis) is an ambitious, introspective narrative with an incredibly expressive and lush palette; but beyond its technical virtuosity and dynamic color play, what this book does best is master human relationships. Pedrosa’s style—linework with a subtle shakiness—brings his characters to life through their flaws and vulnerability. This is an unforgettable story about family: a story about generations and their personalities, a story about the promises we try to keep to ourselves and to each other.
The story follows cartoonist Simon Muchat as he tries to shake stagnation and a wavering relationship by accepting an invitation to spend time with family in Portugal, where he has not been since he was a boy. The characters are complicated and authentic, and the story, sentimental without pandering. Their expressions and dialogue are so relatable that It’s easy to make these people your own family—because you already recognize them; it’s easy to get lost in their arguments, (the most beautiful arguments I’ve ever seen) and feel awkward in their tension. The magnetic dynamic is palpable; you can feel every tug of emotion. Every lull is made heavy with drama, and lingers long after the page has been turned.
For Simon, the truth reveals itself in seemingly banal and familiar places; long, awkward car rides with a self-absorbed, disappointed father, where the silence speaks the loudest.
But Portugal is far from dour. There are drunken, late-night conversations full of sweetness, cigarettes, and interruptions. There are breakdowns (automotive and otherwise), and cramped car rides that are hilarious and stressful, where brothers and sisters express their love through criticism, while they expose secrets and smoke pot. The sibling chemistry is explosive, surly, and realistic.
With Portugal, Pedrosa is fully in control, but he allows his characters incredible freedom. They are confident and casual as they move about their lives, and the time you spend with them is intimate, dramatic, and joyful.