Angoulême 2009: Blutch Takes Grand Prix

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So, I’ve finally made it home after a three-leg train journey from sunny southern France to an England blanketed in powdered snow and plagued by traffic delays. We were long gone when the prize winners and the Grand Prix were announced, but thanks to a friend on the spot, we learned that Blutch took the big one this time round.

This makes a lot of sense. Blutch, real name Christian Hincker, is one of the great draughtsmen of the form and has spawned an entire generation of clones, significantly shaping one of the dominant style of French-language comics, mainstream or alternative, these years: what one might call the ‘ligne libre’ or something to that effect. The kind of elegantly wrought free linework that makes contemporary French comics so pretty and so boring (I’ve written more about it here). In the States he is less well known, but is a significant artist’s artist inspiring a diehard following, with Craig Thompson as his most obvious epigone.

The choice of him as next year’s festival president furthermore tends to confirm the notion, held by many, that the Angoulême academy is run by a bunch of professional nepotists. It is rare to see someone from outside the circles of the voting membership get the award, and even rarer to see someone whose work is primarily published in a language other than French get admitted to their august lot. Blutch not only is stylistically simpatico with this year’s presidents, Dupuy and Berberian, they also semi-famously shared a studio for many years. Talk about perpetuating a problematic image and undermining the otherwise high profile of this, the most international and diverse comics festivals. But whatever reservations one might have, it should be emphasised that it is first and foremost a well-deserved recognition of a major artist.

Concerning the official selection of the comic of the year and ‘Essentials’, it consists mainly of middling auteur comics and packs few surprises. Winshluss’ Pinocchio was expected to chart high, being easily the most buzzed about book on the festival this year. It’s an ambitious, energetic and enormously impressive-looking monster of a book. offering a darkly comical re-interpretation of the Pinocchio story as originally told by Carlo Collodi.

Winshluss, who under his given name Vincent Paronnaud was the co-director with Marjane Satrapi on the Persepolis movie, was already consecrated at the festival with an impressively designed show, mixing a healthy selection of drawings and comics pages of all kinds — he’s both deliriously inventive and highly talented — with tongue-in-cheek installations, fashioning the space as a kind of mock cemetary. What exactly the point was, beyond the bells and whistles, I’m not sure, but it was both energetic and rather fun. I haven’t read Pinocchio yet, and will therefore withhold judgment, but it looks to me like as something along those same lines.

Besides Posy Simmonds’ masterful Tamara Drewe, the rest of the field to me looks less worthy than many of the other books that were nominated, seeming as they do to mostly be books catering to a broad audience, without challenging it unduly. The charming but grossly overrated Spirou book — basically the French-Belgian equivalent of Wolverine: Originhad to make the selection, for example. And Blutch’s equally charming, if somewhat trifling Petit Christian 2 was a timely choice, and also one of the better efforts of his long career. Comics documentarian Etienne Davodeau is solid, and he keeps winning prizes. I should start paying more attention to him.

Shigeru Mizuki’s wartime memoir Operation Mort, which took the heritage award, by the way looks absolutely stunning. This, more than any of the others, I shall be looking forward to reading (complaints have been made about the fact that Mizuki’s Nonnonba was selected as Best Comic two years ago, but I don’t see how that should necessarily prevent another award).

Here’s the selection, with all the inconsequential special awards cut (for the complete list, go here):

FAUVE D’OR – PRIX DU MEILLEUR ALBUM
Pinocchio, Winshluss

L’ESSENTIEL FNAC/SNCF
Mon gras et moi, Gally

LES ESSENTIELS
Lulu femme nue, vol. 1, Etienne Davodeau
Martha Jane Cannary les années 1852-1869, Blanchin et Perrissin
Le Petit Christian, vol. 2, Blutch
Spirou, le journal d’un ingénu, Emile Bravo
Tamara Drewe, Posy Simmonds

L’ESSENTIEL REVELATION
Le goût du chlore, Bastien Vivès

L’ESSENTIEL PATRIMOINE
Opération Mort, Shigeru Mizuki

L’ESSENTIEL JEUNESSE
Le Petit Prince, Joann Sfar, after Saint Exupéry

PRIX DE LA BANDE DESSINEE ALTERNATIVE
DMPP, France

Illo by Blutch for a Hans Christian Andersen show put together by the Hamelin crew a few years back.

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