From the Frémok/Cinquième couche show

As usual Saturday brought the crowds to Angoulême. It is difficult to get around, but it brings to the festival a heady atmosphere of art and commerce. Even the Association staff decided today partly to suspend their ongoing strike in order to support their artists who had turned up to sign their books. Killoffer, Gerner, Baudoin, Sury, Ruppert & Mulot, and several more were drawing up a storm for the throngs passing through the doors to the Nouveau monde. There is talk of upcoming negotiations between direction and staff, but for the moment the situation remains strained.

The programming has also been popular. This morning, I tried in vain to get into the CIBDI lecture hall to hear the talk by Ikeda Ryoki, the creator of the still-to-be-translated-into-English classic Rose of Versailles. I did manage to get a seat for the similarly mobbed on-stage interview with Moebius last night, even if it turned out I needn’t have bothered. Arriving late to a sweaty, overheated lecture theater, the aging maestro was given very little to work with by the interviewer, who simply let him go on and on about the trivialities of how his current retrospective at the Fondation Cartier in Paris came to be, and how he has recently returned to his classic creation Arzak. Very little effort was made to discuss the intricacies and themes of this or other works, or his thoughts on why this was a good moment to return to a character who had his day in the late 70s, or the fact that the book in question is amongst the sloppiest-looking he has turned out in a long time.

This is symptomatic of a general problem at Angoulême, which I believe I’ve addressed once or twice before: for such a high-profile international event, the on-stage interviews and panels tend to be really badly moderated. Interviewers often seem entirely unprepared and make very little use of the visuals at their disposal, and whether or not they know their subject, the resultant conversations are often dull affairs concentrating on the kind of puff press banalities one would expect from industry shills like the recently, and mercifully, dissolved Wizard. This is simply not good enough for a festival of the size, reach, and ambition of the FIBD. I don’t know what’s to be done — it hasn’t improved in the decade sine I started going and I’ve seen enough great opportunities (Clowes, Simmonds, Crumb, Burns, etc.) wasted that I think I shall simply refrain from spending my time on them in the future.

Fortunately there are so many other things to do here, and the exhibitions this year are generally solid, even if the overall slate isn’t as exciting as in previous years. The Belgian group show, which showcases three important artcomics publishers/collectives, 5ème Couche, FRMK and Employé du moi, is well curated, although it is hard not to shake the impression of a certain asymmetry: the mediocre work on display in certain sections finds itself upstaged by the Frémok people, especially Dominique Goblet, who supplements her great solo show with a selection of comics pages and two enormous, shimmering landscapes drawn with Bic pens, and Vincent Fortemps, whose selection of scratched-and-rubbed-chalk-on-perspex originals from his astonishing recent book, Par les sillons, is mesmerizing.

Now, it’s dinner time, then Saturday night in Angoulême. Always a blast.

Originally published at on 30 January 2011.