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Last week, when I was packing my bags to go to the Angoulême International Comics Festival, I kept having to explain to people — even comics people — what it was.
Now that I’m back, it’s not a problem any more.
This year’s selection of Bill Watterson as the winner of the Grand Prix d’Angoulême, and the president of next year’s festival, has put Angoulême on the map for more U.S. readers — or at least, it has sent the cartoonist’s fans scurrying to the map to see where it is.
What follows is a series of first impressions from my first trip to Angoulême; check out Publishers Weekly (which provided me with a press badge) for more solid coverage, and of course no one can capture an event like Heidi MacDonald.
There are a lot of reasons to go to Angoulême — the international array of creators and publishers who are there, the opportunity to get the hottest new BDs and of course, French food, scenery and wine all spring to mind — but to me, the most impressive thing about it was that I was in a place where comics really mattered. Comics aren’t a niche product in France; they are available everywhere, they are widely read, and they are taken seriously. In my previous sojourns in France, long before I was a comics journalist, I was accustomed to seeing a rack of hardcover, full-color comics at the grocery store, train station, and bookstore.
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The Angoulême International Comics Festival is just around the corner, and the shortlist for the Grand Prix de la Ville d’Angoulême was announced on Tuesday:
Binet, Christophe Blain, Charles Burns, Pierre Christin, Daniel Clowes, Richard Corben, Bernard Cosey, Étienne Davodeau, Nicolas de Crécy, Edika, Emmanuel Guibert, Hermann, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Manu Larcenet, Milo Manara, Lorenzo Mattotti, Alan Moore, Katsuhiro Otomo, Quino, Marjane Satrapi, Joann Sfar, Jiro Taniguchi, Jean Van Hamme, Chris Ware et Bill Watterson.
The prize is awarded to a living comics creator, and traditionally the winner serves as president of the jury for the following year’s festival; previous honorees have included Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman, but the award usually goes to someone working in French-language comics.
There was a bit of controversy last year when juror Lewis Trondheim leaked the finalists on Twitter: Alan Moore, Katsohiro Otomo, Akira Toriyama, Chris Ware, and the eventual winner, Willem, who is well known in French-speaking countries but less so in the rest of the world (the poster above is his work). The Grand Prix winner is chosen by a combination of votes from French creators and a jury of past winners (l’Académie des Grands Prix), and the word on the street last year was that Toriyama was the creators’ choice but the jury overruled that and went with Willem. Toriyama was given a special prize commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dragon Ball.
If I’m reading the French article right, the process will be different this year, with the list being narrowed down to three names in a preliminary round of voting and the winner being determined by a second round in which the creators and the jurors will have an equal say.
Conventions | Although convention organizers rolled out an altered name — WonderCon Anaheim — and logo when they confirmed two weeks ago that the event will return to Anaheim, California, again next year, they insist they haven’t close the door on San Francisco. “We still want to get back to the Bay Area. […] We are in touch with [the Moscone Center organizers] fairly regularly and we have an open dialogue,” says David Glanzer, director of marketing and public relations. “They haven’t given up on us, either.” The convention was uprooted from the Moscone Center in 2012 first because of remodeling and now because of scheduling conflicts. WonderCon Anaheim will be held April 18-20. [Publishers Weekly]
Digital comics | I spoke with Archie Comics Co-CEO Jon Goldwater and iVerse Media CEO Michael Murphey about the new “all-you-can-eat” digital service, Archie Unlimited. [Good E-Reader]
Last week, we noted that comiXology had added a major French publisher, Glénat, to its lineup. The other shoe drops today with the news that the digital-comics giant has signed 12 more French publishers: Aelement Comics, Akileos, Ankama, Éditions Ça et Là, I Can Fly, Indeez Urban Éditions, Los Brignolès Éditions, Panini Comics, Sandawe, Soleil Productions, Wanga Comics and WEBellipses.
Together with Delcourt, which comiXology brought aboard in January, this group represents 40 percent of the French comics market and more than 400 titles. You can find the French-language comics here; if you were thinking it might be a little classier to read Kick-Ass in French, well, here’s your chance. All the French comics released today are available in French-speaking European countries, and most of them are available in the United States as well.
This is a logical move for comiXology; as CEO David Steinberger observed at SXSW, 40 percent of the company’s sales are outside the United States, and this expands the market even further. In keeping with this, comiXology has included a French-language navigation option in the latest release of its iOS app, version 3.3, and Android users will soon get that option as well.
Several French-language news sites are reporting that French publisher Glénat, whose properties include Titeuf and The Little Prince, has signed with comiXology and will begin releasing comics on the digital platform this month.
This is the second big score in France for comiXology, which opened a European branch in Paris in January and a few days later announced it had inked a deal with Delcourt, the largest independent publisher in France.
Glénat is the second-largest comics publisher in the French market, with a catalog of over 4,000 titles. Its properties include Le Bleu est une couleur chaude (Blue is the warmest color), whose film adaptation won the Palme d’Or in Cannes last month, as well as a range of French and Belgian comics. It’s also one of the big players in the French manga scene (although it’s unlikely any of the manga will make it onto comiXology as the licenses are usually country-specific). The number of titles to be released through comiXology has not been announced.
Passings | Dr. Scott Henson, who retired from a career as a neurosurgeon and became a cartoonist, has died at the age of 52. Henson, who treated Superman actor Christopher Reeve after his fall, took up the pen after his health problems forced him to leave the medical field and created the panel cartoon Natural Selection under the pen name Russ Wallace. The cartoon was picked up by Creators Syndicate and syndicated nationwide. [The Charleston Gazette]
Publishing | Deb Aoki provides a thorough analysis of Tokyopop’s Anime Expo panel, in which the once-shuttered manga publisher announced a new title and hinted at more. [About.com]
Creators | Paul Levitz discusses Worlds’ Finest, his buddy comic featuring Power Girl and Huntress: “There’s always been a certain level of humor and cool confidence in a light way associated with Power Girl that’s been fun, and the Huntress has always been the more determined of the women in the DC Universe — a woman with a sense of mission and a crossbow ready to take your eye out. [USA Today]
Publishing | According to the San Diego Comic Con schedule, Archaia will publish an adaptation of Shotaro Ishinomori’s classic sci-fi manga Cyborg 009, “reimagined” in Western style. The adaptation will be written by F. J. DeSanto and Brad Cramp, and illustrated by Trevor Hairsine. In case you missed it, David Brothers recently wrote a fascinating piece on the original. [Anime News Network]
Creators | Colleen Doran is looking for original art from her creator-owned series A Distant Soil. “I require good quality scans of the art for the future editions of the print books, as well as the upcoming digital editions … If you purchased A Distant Soil original art, I would be very grateful if you would get in touch with me.” [A Distant Soil]
An odd little remix of Art Spiegelman’s Maus caused a bit of a stir at this year’s Angouleme International Comics Festival (of which Spiegelman was the honorary president), and now it looks like the remaining copies of the book will be destroyed at the behest of Spiegelman’s publisher.
Creators | The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has given $500,000 toward the creation of a chair in animation at the University of California, Los Angeles. The Matt Groening Chair in Animation at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television will “allow visiting master artists to teach classes” and “bring working professionals with wide-ranging expertise” to work with students. The cartoonist, a graduate of Evergreen State College in Washington, makes an annual $50,000 donation to UCLA to help students who create socially conscious animated shorts. [The New York Times]
Legal | Attorneys for comics retailer and convention organizer Michael George, who’s serving a life sentence for the 1990 murder of his first wife Barbara, made arguments Monday on a motion for acquittal or a new trial — that would make George’s third — on the basis that there was insufficient evidence for conviction, and that the prosecutor raised a new issue in closing arguments. [Detroit Free Press]
The European webcomics site Zampano, which has been running for about two years in German, is now available in English as well (and French, if you happen to swing that way). David Boller, the mind behind the site, is a Swiss creator who lived in the U.S. for 16 years; his credits include work on Spider-Man, Witchblade, and Elfquest, and he and his wife Mary Hildebrandt wrote and drew manga (under the imprint Lime Manga) that were published in Germany by Tokyopop but never made it over here.
The site is currently featuring six comics, each of which updates at least once a week. Four are by Boller: Endless Sky: A Swiss in America is an autobiographical comic about Boller’s experiences in the comics industry; Aïr is a story of the political and economic struggles of the Touareg people of Niger; Bakuba is a collection of African folk tales; and Tell: The Legend Returns! is an ambiguous-superhero story about a William Tell-like figure who appears in a future Switzerland to fight for the common man… or maybe not.
The styles and subjects are varied, but the stories all show an overall air of professionalism; judging from the vertical layouts, all are intended as print comics either now or in the future.
The French love to complain that anything that isn’t French is ruining their culture, so the manga boom (it’s huge over there, and for pretty much the same reasons it was a hit over here) occasioned much tut-tutting when it was still fresh. Uderzo, the illustrator of the venerable Astérix, even made a comic in which his characters were attacked by foreign creatures called “Nagma,” a fairly transparent acronym. But complain as he might, as this 2006 article attests, the kids were gobbling up InuYasha, while “Visitors clustered around the Asterix booth nearby were mostly men over 40.”
Last week, France Today took a fresh look at the French-language comics scene (many well known BDs are actually by Belgian and Swiss creators) and presented a different take on the influence of manga. Most of the biggest sellers—Tintin, Astérix, Blake and Mortimer—are over 50 years old, and their sales have been slipping for some time.
The lesson, says Xavier Guilbert, editor-in-chief of the comics website du9.org, seems to be clear: their age is beginning to show. “It’s reasonable to think that the stalwarts of the comic books market might not resonate as much with the younger generation today,” as he puts it.
What the success of manga over the last decade has done, says Guilbert, is not so much push out traditional BD as distract French publishers from the falling sales they were seeing in their existing stables anyway. “They went after manga and forgot to develop their own catalogs,” he argues. That’s a problem now, because with most of the successful Japanese titles now translated into French, manga sales have started to slow.
The France Today article does miss another point, made in the earlier piece, that manga are more inviting for girls. BDs tend to be guy comics, with mostly male characters doing things that guys like to read about, and that’s fine, but it leaves half the potential audience with few choices. If there is a BD renaissance, it would be nice to see more female creators and characters take center stage.
Willy Vandersteen’s family set out to clear his name, but they ended up doing just the opposite.
Wim at the Forbidden Planet blog has the story: Vandersteen was a popular Belgian cartoonist who created the popular comic Suske en Wiske (also known as Bob et Bobette), which ran in the Belgian Journal de Tintin and its Dutch equivalent, Kuifje. Born in Antwerp in 1913, he took up cartooning around 1939 and got his first newspaper strip, in the paper De Dag, 1941. His career gathered momentum during the war, and Suske en Wiske was first published in 1945. His work continued to be popular until his death in 1990.
Although Vandersteen was a well loved cartoonist, rumors have long circulated that during the German occupation of Belgium, he did illustrations for books and magazines that were sympathetic to the occupation and had overtones of anti-Semitism. The drawings, which were signed with an alias, were done in a style similar to Vandersteen’s, but throughout his life, the artist denied any connection with it. Finally, to put the rumors at rest, Vandersteen’s family and his publisher, Standaard Uitgeverij, hired a group of independent historians to research the question.
McDonald’s established a beachhead in France long ago, so I’m not exactly sure why this is news, except that August is a slow news month in France because everyone is on vacation: The handful of writers who are left to mind the store have apparently whipped themselves into a lather of indignation over the use of an Asterix cartoon to advertise McDonald’s.
“After resisting the Romans, have the Americans finally scalped the invincible little Gaul?” thundered Le Figaro, according to the UK paper The Telegraph. Having eaten pizzas shaped like Smurfs and ice cream from a plastic Pingu head when I lived over there, I’m not sure what the fuss is about. The French aren’t usually adverse to using licensed characters to sell crap, and this isn’t even the first time Asterix has been used to plug the Golden Arches; he subbed for Ronald McDonald briefly in 2001. Nonetheless, a spokesman for Asterix’s publisher, Albert René, had to rise to the Gauls’ defense: “Asterix remains a rebel,” he said. “He doesn’t work for (McDonald’s) but with (McDonald’s). The Gauls ‘come as they are’, as the slogan says. We are not defenders of ‘malbouffe’ (bad food)”. And, he pointed out, they declined to use Obelix in a Diet Coke ad because it did not “correspond to the values of the character.”
Asterix co-creator Albert Uderzo OK’d the ad campaign, and his studio did the art.
Most adult comics readers probably have never heard of Lerner’s Graphic Universe imprint; Lerner produces children’s books for the library trade, and when we were kids, their output was fairly stodgy. But no more! Their Graphic Universe line, launched in 2006, includes some stunningly good reads: Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue’s Hamster and Cheese: Private Eye stories, which is laugh-out-loud funny even for adults, and the French series The Elsewhere Chronicles, a fantasy adventure that is literary in a First Second sort of way, if you know what I mean. (And they get bonus points from me for hiring the very talented Tintin Pantoja to illustrate their Manga Math Mysteries.)
Their most interesting upcoming series is the French fantasy trilogy Nola’s Worlds (original title: Alta Donna), which meshes manga-influenced art (as popular in France as over here) with the more traditional French color comic style. Editorial assistant Erin Finnegan interviewed the artist, MiniKim, at the GU blog, and they have also launched an art blog to show off the work in progress. Pop (Mélanie Buffière) is the colorist.The finished books will all come out this fall, and from the look of it, they will be a worthwhile read for adults as well as for kids.
Indy comics: Johanna Draper Carlson reviews a handful of self-published comics at Comics Worth Reading.
History: Jason Thompson takes a look at the early days of manga publishing and the creator Ippongi Bang, who drew rebel manga and liked a good party, too.
Quickies: Top Shelf recently brought over not one but four Swedish graphic novels. Not sure where to start? Rick Marshall has quick looks at all four, ranked in his order of preference.
Art comix: Charles Hatfield is pleasantly mystified by Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions, a wispily drawn story about conceptual artists.
Previews: The reader is the winner every time when Paul Gravett plays the Previews game.
Review: Greg McElhatton reads the graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and concludes that you can stretch a joke too thin.
Politics: I don’t follow DC’s non-manga lines closely enough to be able to intelligently evaluate Rob McMonigal’s claim that the company is regressing into a white-male bastion, and I won’t go there with the Tea Party logic, but I’m including this link for discussion purposes. One could argue the opposite, that they kept CMX going long after they probably should have killed it, but I think that CMX, like Minx, could have been a success if anyone outside the immediate circle of editors had acted like they cared.
Criticism: Domingos Isabelinho launches his new column at The Hooded Utilitarian with some musings on criticsm, wondering, “What twisted mind picks up the scalpel after love?” and then puts Pierre Duba’s Racines under the microscope. Also at HU: Noah Berlatsky, ever the contrarian, turns in a rare negative review of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster.