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.
Add to this an instructive section that presents examples of the work process behind creating a comic, with original material from a wide variety of artists, as well as an exhibition space for rotating displays of the museum’s holdings, a special room at the moment devoted to the recently deceased Martin Vaughn-James’ masterpiece The Cage, a propitious bookstore, an auditorium and other facilities and you have a pretty great nexus of all French comic book realities.
The major show of the season is called Cent pour Cent and pairs 100 original pages from the museum’s collection with 100 contemporary cartoonist, each offering their take on one: e.g. Jack Davis and Loustal, George Herriman and JC Menu, Moebius and Kazuichi Hanawa, etc., etc. It’s a bit of a gimmick and most of the recreations aren’t particularly inspiring, but a few stand out for being clever, thoughtful or just plain gorgeous — Hagelberg’s linocut stylings for example is an hilarious match for Burne Hogarth contorted anatomies, Jessica Abel hilariously switches facial features and hairdos between two Caniff characters, Ruppert and Mulot discuss testicular masturbation with Killoffer over one of his pages from 676 Apparitions of Killoffer. Ultimately, however, the draw is the original pages on display — all the greats of the Franco-Belgian and American traditions are there and it’s hugely inspiring to see them side by side thus.
Today’s program included an appearance by R. Crumb who was here to talk about Genesis to a packed lecture hall at the comics center. Sadly, the interviewer was badly prepared and asked only uninspiring questions that Crumb could evade with his trademark self-irony. Badly informed and unprepared interviewers, unfortunately, have long been a problem of the festival programming and although steps have been taken to rectify it in recent years, it is still far from a solved problem. When you have Crumb in front of you and the Bible as your subject, you shouldn’t waste time talking about Fritz the Cat, sexual obsessions, or the other cliches of Crumb’s career, and you sure shouldn’t allow the man to get away with his “I have no answer for you, I just did it that way”, especially not when there are openings to talk about his thoughts on faith or history as presented in the Old Testament.
Fortunately, there were a few interesting questions from the audience, one of which prompted Crumb reticently to admit that his intention was partly to dissuade people from what he sees as the tribalist worldview of the Old Testament, even if tribalism in a small community, or in music, is a natural and important impulse in us.
Off to dinner now, then drink.
Images: Bronze statue of Corto Maltese outside the new comics centre, the pairing of Hogarth and Hagelberg in the Cent pour Cent exhibition, the room devoted to Vaughn-James’ The Cage.