Angoulême 2010: Saturday

Reporting live from the Angoulême festival: Saturday is here and its been a busy day. Crowded as usual, negotiating the often tight exhibition spaces and lecture theaters can be trying, but is certainly worth it. We started the day at the new comics center, which I must say is amazing. Under new directorship and with a spacious new scenically situated in a row of refurbished and expanded row of factory buildings across the river, this is a major upgrade that the long ailing institution sorely needed.

The central space presents the history of Franco-Belgian and American comics in a set of serpentine display cases that mix original pages and publications as well as video and other material. Their collections are amazing, including originals from most of the major artists, from Saint Ogan to Caniff, from Franquin to Chris Ware. A just objection would be that the presentation ignores other parts of the world. There is a section with a short history on manga, but it is rather meager and includes no originals. Something to work on for the museum.

Angoulême 2010: Friday

Reporting live from the Angoulême festival: The rain didn’t keep people away. Friday has been fairly busy, with the exhibition areas and tents filled as usual with a broad, heterogenous audience. I spent the day taking in various exhibitions and browsing the exhibitors’ tables in the alternative tent, ending my day of programming by attending the on-stage interview with comics autobiographer Fabrice Neaud.

Neaud’s approach to autobiography is at once intensely personal and political, drawn realistically with a nigh-unflinching portrayal of his emotional life as well as his interaction with friends, strangers, lovers. Neaud candidly discussed his views on ‘right of the image’ and the notion that one has the prerogative to control representations of oneself, even if they’re based on public appearances. Neaud has suffered the consequences of representing people in this way both in lost friendships and physical hurt. A hurt that has forced him to reconsider his approach to his work, if not actually stopping him, and has made him want to leave his hometown from fear of reprisal, and it has embroiled him in a draining lawsuit.


Here we are! The FIBD is now alive and somewhat kicking. Thursday was somewhat drizzly and we didn’t manage to take in a whole lot of it, since we arrived and got installed somewhat late. Today looks promising though — time to take in some of the fine-looking exhibitions, I think, and the cruise for comics in the alternative tent.

Above: first look: Moebius wacom’ing in the main tent. Always here, always great to see him!

Picks of the Week

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • London Review of Books: “The Darwin Show” Steven Shapin examines the phenomenon that was the Darwin year, the multifarious contexts in which Darwin takes centre stage these years, as well as the man and his work in this bravura effort.
  • David Bordwell: “Kurosawa’s Early Spring”. A reluctant if incisive analysis of Kurosawa’s early work and his innovations in editing. A fine start to the Kurosawa centenary this year.
  • Tom Spurgeon: “A Blind Man’s Elephant in the Room”. If you hadn’t noticed, this is a golden age for the comic book medium. Spurgeon points to the obvious we might have missed in this invigorating essay.
  • Jacques Martin RIP

    One of the grand old men of Franco-Belgian comics, Jacques Martin just died at age 88. One of Hergé’s most important assistants through the 1950s and 60s (notably on the South Sea Sharks and Tintin in Tibet) and one of the pillars of Tintin Magazine, he acrimoniously struck out on his own in 1972 to concentrate on his own comics, which in some ways owed more to the other great master of Belgian adventure comics of the time, E. P. Jacobs.

    A kind of illustrative elaboration of the ligne claire, Martin’s style was somewhat dry but worked perfectly well for the kind of historical reconstructions he so loved. His best series, Alix (1948-2009), narrates the adventures of a young Gaul and his friend, the former slave boy Enak, around the Antique world c. 50 BC. The earliest stories, especially, combine edifying archeological accuracy with a perilous sense of edginess to create a unique storybook-as-pulp feel. And the sublimated homoeroticism between the two central characters lends the work a valuable extra dimension. His other main series, Lefranc (1952-2009), is a contemporary SF/suspense affair that always seemed a little too retrograde to quite take off, a kind of nostalgic update of 1930s SF clichés.

    Later he created a number of additional historical series, all of them mostly executed by assistants. In this, he was following in the footsteps of his great mentor, creating his comics as head of a studio, populated by people dedicated to his house style. Already an anachronism in the 1980s, it only got duller as it went on, but the fact remains that he was one of the great craftsmen of the post-war generation and an important ambassador of old school literary values in comics.

    For me, however, his works soars highest in the sense of precision and freezing solitude he brings to the Tibetan landscape in Hergé’s 1958 masterpiece.

    Picks of the Week

    “one reason there are so many dead in Haiti is that agriculture in the countryside was no longer providing a livelihood for Haitian peasants; they moved in the thousands to the capital, they built shanties on the sides of canyons; all gone now. I won’t go over the arguments against globalization for countries like Haiti here. Suffice it to say that Haiti, once the Pearl of the Antilles, once France’s most valuable and productive colony, and still into the 19th century at least an important provider of the world’s sugar, rum, and coffee, is now a net importer.”

    — Amy Wilentz

    The picks of the week from around the web.

    All right, back to this, which will be the first picks of the year, not to mention the first for a long time.

  • Haiti. While we hope for all good things for Haiti’s future, Amy Wilentz and Tracy Kidder explain how it is an even greater tragedy than it could have been.
  • Comics criticism. There last few weeks have been great for people who like reading about comics. In addition to the selection of the year’s “best” that I participated in, there has been Tom Spurgeon’s overall excellent interviews with a number of critics about the books of the decade, and on TCJ R. Fiore has resurrected his half-a-decade old, still fine essay on the Simpsons and Mad. Oh, and the great David Levine gets his due with the re-up of Gary Groth’s great decade-and-a-half old interview with him.
  • David Foster Wallace on “how to think”. Read this inspiring commencement address of 2005 by the sadly departed author for an a slight injection of optimism at this otherwise bleak moment. (Suggested by Emma.)
  • 2009 — The Year in Comics Criticism

    As the more assiduous comics internauts will already have noticed, I took part in the recent selection of the year’s best comics criticism hosted at The Hooded Utilitarian. Run by Ng Suat Tong, it was put together by a panel that also included head utilitarian Noah Berlatsky, cartoonist and commentator Frank Santoro, and the critic Tucker Stone (as well as a sixth judge who unfortunately had to withdraw). For more on the process itself, see Suat’s explanation in the posting of the final results.

    Although conceived as a list of ten, we could only agree on seven pieces in the time allotted. They are as follows: