Angoulême 2010: Friday

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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.

Neaud has a show at the festival, providing a selection of his original pages, mostly unpublished or little seen work, a good deal of it x-rated (some excised from his books), as well as paintings and photomontages of Gothic cathedrals that reveal concerns of precision and observation similar to his carefully delineated work. The occasion of all this is the re-release of his masterpiece, Journal III, in an ‘augmented edition’ to which he has added 60 pages of new material that he found himself unable to include when he first drew it. Possibly the book of the festival, I hope to return to it here in the coming months.

The president of the festival, Blutch, has curated a triple feature. The traditional show of his own work contains mostly pastels, because he doesn’t believe in exhibiting comics pages (the published book is the original, you see), and he has, in any case, been moving in the direction of this kind of work — eloquently swung images of prepubescent girls nude with bags over their heads, surrounded by gaggles of old men and the like; you know, risqué subversion in the tradition of Balthus. Not. The work is borne by a shallow indulgence in French national cliché. Decadence without a heart.

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The second feature is well put together presentation of the comics, illustrations and aggregate symbolic world of Fabio Viscogliosi. With anthropomorphism as its central device, he is a postmodern surrealist, skilled but ultimately almost entirely derivative of his modernist paragons.

Third, and best, is an historical overview of humor cartooning, from its beginnings in the 18th century until today, with modernity as its central focus. A fine selection of original by everyone from Caran d’Ache to Gluyas Williams, its a real treat, revealing the roots of Blutch’s sweeping nonchalance with the brush and the both spectacular and problematic tendency towards artistic facilità in Francophone comics these years, as well as providing plenty of eye candy.

Perhaps the best and most welcoming exhibition, however, is the showcase of the collaborative project, Match de Catch à Vielsalm, in which the Frémok stable of artists have worked with a number of handicapped people of short comics stories, all of them spectacular and some both genuinely moving and troubling. The originals of the entire book are on display, along with a workshop section where visitors can collaborate on prints with the a shifting roster of Frémok artists. Pretty sweet.

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Tomorrow will see plenty more programming, and I’m looking forward to visiting for the first time the new, improved comics center by the river, as well as to attending the Crumb panel. Tonight, the action is at Le Chat noir, the Mercure Bar and the other traditional haunts. Cheers.

Images: City Hall, Angoulême, from the Blutch show, from the Match de Catch show.

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