Arrived in Angoulême fairly late the afternoon yesterday, so last night was spent mostly catching up. As mentioned in several places already, the big story here is the ongoing strike at L’Association (I’ve been writing about it here and here). Their booth, which is placed at the head of the big so-called Noveau monde tent (which houses all the small press publishers, fanzine emporia, etc) has a massive sign up saying “Employees on Strike,” with pamphlets out explaining the situation, and no books for sale. One speculates whether, as bad as this surely is for the publisher (in terms of sales in addition to everything else), it might also be something of a perverse, unintended PR scoop. At any rate, this particular Angoulême will surely be remembered by many as the one with l’Asso on strike.
To go with this very French past-time, serendipitously, festival president Baru’s exhibition has a decidedly political focus. A master of social realism in comics, the exhibition hall is dotted with documentary videos, props (pinball machines, and billboards connoting a working class environment. The main attraction, of course, is Baru’s originals: a healthy serving from his early autobiographically inflected Quéquette Blues (1984-86), a similar number of pages from his fifties flashback Les Années Sputnik (1999-2003), plus assorted. Most impressively, however, the entirety of his manga masterpiece L’Autoroute du soleil (1995) is mounted in a massive hanging display. They are immaculately crafted things — daringly laid out, yet fluid in their storytelling and with hardly any corrections visible.
The problem with Baru is that he has become increasingly taken with his own craft. His books, though always enjoyable and admirably consistent in their engagement with working class social reality, ultimately seem driven by aestehtics more than anything else. Though still a breeze to read, the pages are stylish rather than dramatic, putting graphic efficacy first and tastefully watercolored. This is evident from the display of pages from L’Enragé (2004-6), which is kind of an expanded version of his previous boxing-oriented story, The Road to America (1990). Gone is the gruff, Tardi-inspired brushwork of Quéquette Blues and even the tempo of Autoroute. Its ostentatious sequences of Raging Bull-esque boxing stills distract somewhat from the matter at hand.
The second of the old CNBDI two punch is the Dominique Goblet show upstairs. Mixing work from her books with unpublished work and very large pencil drawings, it is a beautiful display of an artist especially attentive to subjective, emotional reality. Her images of Northern lights, rendered in colored pencil and Bic pens, stand luminously on the page; her dark log cabins and furtively glanced men on the hunt, instill a symbolic, Lynchian sense of helplessness before power; and her and daughter Nikita Foussoul’s portraits of each other, published last year in the decade-long narrative of a relationship, Chronographie, for all their varied quality of execution exhibit deep engagement with life beyond outward appearance.
Goblet gave a talk to a small audience, first in the nearby auditorium, and afterwards in the exhibition itself. She stressed the importance of truth in comics: how the ellipsis of paneling allows montages of emotionally resonant elements that may not necessarily be factually true as represented, but instead synthesize into a more significant inner truth, for artist as well as reader. Faire semblant c’est mentir, as her great 2007 book is entitled: “To pretend is to lie” — postulating Truth in autobiography is bound to fail.
Time to go. Moebius is giving an auditorium talk in half an hour. Should be fun. More tomorrow.
Originally published at TCJ.com on 28 January 2011.