Angouleme is a quaint town located in the Bordeaux region, in the southwest of France. Yet the festival it plays host to annually has little to do with wine. For the past thirty years, the town has celebrated Bandes Dessinées, or comic strips, with such verve that comics have become a local speciality!
“It all began in 1972”, recalls Dominique Brécheteau, current director of the Angouleme International Comics Festival. “Francis Groux, a comics enthusiast, decided to organise a two-week celebration of comics in the town of Angouleme, and invited artists from Paris”. Many comic strip luminaries answered the call, including Hugo Pratt, the Italian creator of Corto Maltese, and Burne Hogarth, the American cartoonist who became the illustrator of Tarzan. From the onset, the Festival received the support of artists from around the world and the town’s inhabitants, and was an immediate success. Two years later, on 25 January 1974, the city officially inaugurated the first Angouleme International Comics Festival. Since then, every year, citizens, comics enthusiasts, publishers, artists, cartoonists and writers alike have gathered in Angouleme during the last week of January.
At the close of each annual event, one artist is awarded the Grand Prize for his entire body of work, an honour presented by the Grand Prize Academy. The original prize was designed by celebrated French cartoonist Alain Saint-Ogan. “When the International Comics Festival was first created, Francis Groux wanted Saint-Ogan - an extremely popular cartoonist and France’s oldest comic strip artist at the time - to chair the event”, explains Mr. Brécheteau, a key Festival figure who has been involved in the event from its inception. “He asked Saint-Ogan to design a prize. For health reasons, the famed artist was not able to attend the Festival’s first edition, and he passed away before the second Festival. The prize’s original design was kept as a tribute to Saint-Ogan”.
In consultation with the artistic director of the International Comics Festival, the winner of the Grand Prize chairs the Festival’s following edition, helping to select the main artists and themes and to organise various events. In 2005, the prize was awarded to French artist Georges Wolinski, who will design the posters and visuals for the next Festival, scheduled to take place from 26 to 29 January 2006. Thanks to Wolinski, this year’s Festival will be the crossroads for images in all shapes and forms, with many live performances as well. The city will also pay tribute to Italian painter and illustrator Buzzelli. Influenced by its various chairmen, the Festival evolves continuously. Certain events are carried over year after year, such as the International Meetings, introduced during the 2003 chairmanship of François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. This event highlights the most creative aspects of an author’s work and has showcased the likes of Art Spiegelman, Jiro Taniguchi and Dave McKean. In 2004, a section entirely dedicated to the art of manga was also inaugurated.
Always on the lookout for new forms of comic strips, the International Comics Festival seeks to foster vocational aspirations and new talents. In 1982, on the occasion of the Festival’s 10th anniversary celebration, a special department was created at the Regional Fine Arts School: “the Comics Vocational Training Workshop”. Indeed, comics have become a regional speciality. A new art school, the Ecole Supérieure de l’Image (ESI), will soon be inaugurated under the aegis of the French Ministry of Culture and the Poitou Charente Region. Established in the city’s centre, the school will offer training and laboratories highlighting comic art. In 2001, the Festival introduced the “Young Talents” Pavilion, a venue within the Festival that provides very complete information for anybody interested in pursuing a career in comics and the world of images. In addition, the Young Talents competition gives 20 unpublished authors the opportunity to show their work to the Festival’s audience by staging a collective exhibit that travels to Greece and Switzerland. The young authors can also meet the 7,000 comics professionals hailing from the four corners of the world.
While the Festival hosts an average of 200,000 visitors annually, many publishers are also in attendance, drawn by an event created in 1990 and organised in parallel to the Festival: the International Rights Market. Reserved for professionals, it provides a meeting forum aimed at promoting the negotiation, sale and purchase of editorial rights. The International Rights Market welcomes publishers from around the world. “It’s a real melting-pot”, observes Julie Réhaume, the Festival’s press agent. “Representatives from over 25 pays come to the Festival. While there are many Europeans, Japanese publishers such as Shogakukan and the American publishers of Marvel and DC Comics also make the trip. For professionals, this is an opportunity to pursue contacts initiated at the October Frankfort Book Fair and to focus on their area of expertise”. The International Rights Market is held alongside an event that is praised by all for its friendly atmosphere: undoubtedly an environment conducive to exchanges of all sorts!