Towards the end of January, the French town of Angoulême becomes the centre of the universe for comic strip enthusiasts: this has been happening every year for the past 37 years !
Once upon a time, at the beginning of the 1970s, a group of fanatical comic strip fans organised an exhibition, then a bigger exhibition, then a convention and then a full-blown festival. As the years went by, the team of organisers grew and the festival got bigger and bigger. Today, Angoulême is one of the essential comic strip events of the year, ranking alongside the San Diego Comic-Con International in California. Although these festivals are thriving, it is sad to note that many other festivals born before, during or after the 1970s are now nothing more than memories. Nonetheless, Angoulême is livelier than ever. And yet 37 years ago, most people probably wouldn't have bet on the future of the event.
An unlikely setting
Angoulême is a very unlikely place in which to host a comic strip convention. The beautiful town in the Charente département of France doesn't have a history of comic strips: none of the key authors were born there, the town has no major comic strip magazine to boast of and no comic strip publishers are based there. The only link between comic strips and Angoulême is the fact that the town is famous for making paper. The banks of the River Charente were once peppered with paper mills, and the quality of their output was the envy of the whole of Europe. Today you can step back in time and visit the prestigious past of this industry at the Angoulême Museum of Paper. Are there any other links to be made between comics and Angoulême? The famous author Honoré de Balzac set one of his novels in the high and low quartiers of the town: the story Illusions perdues is told against the backdrop of the printing industry. Yet the link is tenuous as while Balzac is renowned in the field of literature, he isn't very well known in comic strips! So what was it that transformed this implausible town into the capital city of comics?
A meeting of talent, passion for comics and political will
In Angoulême, fans of comic strips found an ideal breeding ground on which to develop interest in the '9th Art', to use the expression coined by Morris, author of Lucky Luke.There was a stagnation of trade in the region and local government was keen to reorganise the economy of the entire county. The 1970s saw an explosion of new comic strips, not only from traditional publishers such as Dupuis, Lombard, Dargaud and Casterman, but also from new companies destined for great futures such as the Grenoble publishers Jacques Glénat.New magazines such as Métal hurlant, Charlie, A suivre and Fluide glacial joined the veteran periodicals Tintin, Spirou and Pilote. Comic strips were no longer restricted to children's' series and instead began to address all kinds of adult themes. New authors emerged, each with their own individual style.Officials for the town and regional government, alongside the French Minister for Culture and companies such as the SNCF (French railway system) united in their efforts to make January the month of comic strips in Angoulême.
All styles brought together
Angoulême quickly became involved in the promotion of what was then called 'new comics', while still recognising pioneers such as Hergé, Franquin, Jijé, Vandersteen and many others. Things didn't always go smoothly: Albert Uderzo, the inspired creator of Astérix (with co-creator René Goscinny - comic strip heroes often have two creators: an artist and a writer) expressed the simmering discontent of famous authors who believed that they had been sidelined by the organisers of the festival. The feeling was that the festival officials favoured young, less ?commercial' authors without paying enough attention to the ?founding fathers' who had secured success for comic strips in France, Switzerland and Belgium since the end of the Second World War. Although some of these complaints may have been justified, they don't detract from the fact that Angoulême has become a driving force behind the success of the 9th Art.
Hergé and Angoulême
Throughout his life and career, Hergé kept up very good relations with the Angoulême Festival. Among the treasured exhibits at the Comic Strip Museum, two superb original plates from King Ottokar's Sceptre (the black and white version published in Le Petit Vingtième) can be seen. Rue Hergé runs from the town hall towards a monumental bust of Hergé which Jack Lang, French Minister of Culture, commissioned from the author's friend Chang who was living in France at the time.
The future holds...
The graphic arts are going through a profound upheaval. We are reaching a stage of global artistic expressiveness. The CIBDI - Centre International de la Bande Dessinée et de l'Image (International Centre of Comic Strips and Images) - in Angoulême closely reflects this evolution, showcasing the mutually interactive worlds of the graphic arts and cinema. Thanks to the energy and atmosphere created by the comic strip festival, the capital city of the Charente département has become the world capital of graphics and visual entertainment. This is why the upcoming Tintin movie by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson will take pride of place in Angoulême in 2011!
The Angoulême Comic Strip Festival will take place from 28 to 31 January 2010.
The festival website is www.bdangouleme.com< p class="texte">More information about the CIBDI and the Comic Strip Museum can be found at www.citebd.org
Discover Angoulême on the official tourist website www.bdangouleme.com
Contact the Museum of Paper - Le Nil - by telephone: 00 33 (0)5 45 92 73 43