Hello, you. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Anyway. Guess where I was the weekend before last? Did you guess ANGOULÊME? You are very clever! (Don’t listen to those other people.)
For anyone who doesn’t know what an angoulême is, I’ll explain:
Imagine if you will that you love your job like it’s the best job in the world. Imagine that you’re very good friends with a lot of other people who do the same job all around Europe, and that on those rare occasions you can all get together you do some serious socialising. Imagine that vast crowds of the general public love the job that you and your colleagues do, and are prepared to come from miles away to buy your work and revel in the general love of said job. Imagine your employers set up in immense temporary halls and structures in order to showcase and sell your work, and imagine all of this takes place in a small medieval city in France, which opens itself up every year to hundreds of events and hundreds of thousands of visitors (more than 220,000 in 2012, according to Wikipedia) in the space of just one festival.
If your job is comics, you are at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême. (‘Bande dessinée’ or ‘BD’ being the French name for comics.) It’s the second biggest comics festival in the world and THE event in the European comics calendar, held every year at the end of January. This year was their 40th anniversary.
There are enormous markets set up for the buying and selling of BDs, and you can scamper from the grand constructions of major publishers to creator-owned stands via everything in between, leaving a trail of receipts in your wake. But there’s more to it than simply shopping or browsing through new and wonderful things: there are all kinds of comics-based shenanigans – talks and live events and exhibitions and screenings – going on all over town during those few days. This year I managed to see almost two of them! The festival is so big that there’s even a fringe comics festival going on. Imagine that. Crazy.
It’s only the second time we’ve been to Angoulême, Xavier and I. The first time was in 2010 when ‘Britten et Associe’ was part of the festival’s official selection, and we were lucky enough to be there courtesy of French publishers Casterman, eating free food and rubbing shoulders with comics superstars. Mostly eating free food.
After a terrifying start (caused by our understanding of the word ‘meeting’ that didn’t at all incorporate a synonym for ‘surprise filmed interview’) we had a brilliant and unforgettable few days. We didn’t exactly know what was going on in the grand scheme of things, but we enjoyed the ride. I spent a lot of time signing dédicaces and chatting away to people in my remedial French, while Xav went on a wild shopping spree and helped out here and there with translations (he’s not a translator by trade, but that was his official purpose for being there and he did it with style). It was amazing – it was just unfortunate that we didn’t know anyone. Still though, free food.
This year, we knew EVERYONE.
Not everyone, no. But we knew a lot of people, enough that we could always find a crowd to have dinner with, or to boire some coups with at social hub Le Chat Noir. I didn’t do any hardened drinking as I was trying to be respectable, but at the same time this is France and so I never went to bed before 1am.
It’s not the easiest place to get to, Angouleme, and finding accommodation is a huge challenge, so why the hell did we go this year? I’ll tell you for why: BUSINESS. Adamtine is not available in French (the official verdict from Casterman is that it’s “too original”, which is as flattering as a rejection is ever likely to get so I’ll take it) and I desperately want to come back to the festival some day to eat free food, draw dédicaces and talk to people in my French which is still, despite three more years of lessons, remedial.
Tucked away down a side street is the Rights and Licensing Hall, where all the business – the buying and selling of foreign rights – goes down. Capituri te salutant: ‘those who are about to schmooze, salute you’. (Probably. I didn’t do Latin at school.)
Compared to the frenzy outside it’s a relatively laid-back space, containing a small coffee bar and a stage at the end of a circuit of foreign publishers’ booths. A wave of the right kind of pass gets you inside and a previous appointment, or a bold smile and a set of cojones, gets you a meeting. Coffee’s free.
The indefatigable Karrie Fransman and I were auxiliary schmoozers, as Monique Corless from Random House was already there to sell the foreign rights to Jonathan Cape/Square Peg books and was doing so ably and suavely. We’d heard that it was helpful if authors promoted their own books, though, so there we were. Watching and waiting to see if people’s appointments hadn’t turned up, and then sidling over and introducing ourselves. Karrie’s like a force of nature, and I’d like to think I was equally charming, but I was nervous and probably too sweaty for that. Still, we schmoozed those foreign editors and we schmoozed them good.
What was interesting to learn, and might be of especial interest to any UK comickers looking for a French translation, was just how rigid the publishers (particularly French publishers) are on the formats of their catalogues. Their books are usually organised into series that have a unifying tone, or a certain kind of theme, and are all identified by their dimensions and general style of artwork. Unless you design your book for a particular foreign publisher, a lot of its suitability is down to chance: a number of times we’d sit down with editors who’d flick through our books appreciatively but tell us that they were the wrong size.
The whole thing seems oddly restrictive, especially when looking at the section of my own graphic novel shelves that house the ‘British’ collection. It’s brimming with eclectic charm. Like a kid’s mouth: all adult and baby teeth combined. I guess it helps to have a recognisable line in such a competitive arena, but I can’t say I like the uniform approach. It’s not up to me, though, and I still feel guilty that some poor Casterman employee had to painstakingly go through every single page of Britten and take out a horizontal sliver so that it could fit into their catalogue.
I know it sounds improbable, but I’m not going to lie: meeting all these people on a full charm offensive was hard work. It involved being a lot pushier than I’d generally like to be, and I’d be the first to admit I didn’t really know what I was doing. It was actually quite a relief to be in meetings when my book had been discounted early on for being the wrong format, because then there was nothing at stake and we could just have a nice chat.
Even if nothing comes of these meetings, though, the festival was worth it. We worked hard and we played hard: we schmoozed and we boozed, and there’s nothing like hanging around with friendly faces in a city that’s charged with comics enthusiasm!
Finally seeing the printed version of La Villa Sur La Falaise – Casterman sent one out but it went to my old flat and subsequently disappeared. It looked very nice, since you ask. You should probably buy it.
Learning the correct way to high five from the ever-lovely Aneurin (Nye) Wright: always look at the other person’s elbow. This led to more high-fiving than I honestly felt comfortable with, but it’s rude to leave people hanging.
Explaining to a lady in my remedial French while briefly minding the Comica stand that Comix Reader is made up of contributions from comic artists who distribute and pay for the distribution themselves. It’s available for free in order to get the comics out there. (Three of its contributors, Mike Medaglia, Elliot Baggott and Andy Poyiadgi brought it out to Angoulême to distribute.) Generally the amount of support for comics in France means that creators with this level of talent would be published, and so self-publication like this is very rare. The French lady was impressed and took a copy. That’s right, madame, we kick some self-publishing derrière here in the UK.
Brainstorming over lunch for the Lakes festival; electricity and pasta! Do you wish there was a big international European comics festival in the UK on the scale of Angoulême? WATCH THIS SPACE.
Laughing at Megan Donnolley’s broken glasses at the Comica stand. I was a bit tired and hysterical by this point – sorry, Megan.
Listening to a talk by Jason Shiga almost by accident (we were expecting to see Matt Madden but he wasn’t there due to a clash on the timetable) – I was only vaguely aware of him before, but the guy is clearly some kind of genius; incorporating mathematics into his comics to create multiple choice stories. I left wanting to own everything he has ever made ever.
Meeting briefly, on the last night, the charming and very famous Charlie Adlard of The Walking Dead fame. Also, standing quite close to Guy Delisle at the Chat Noir. Of course I didn’t go up and say hello, the guy’s a hero!
Going to sleep. Every single night. It was the only downtime we got…
Learning after we got back that Glyn Dillon and Jon McNaught both won awards, the Prix Spécial du Jury and the Prix Révélation respectively! (If you’ve only just learned what an angoulême is, these awards are the Palme d’Or of the comic world, i.e. BIG news and more culturally important than, say, the Oscars. If you have two hands, use them now to applaud.)
Arriving slightly too late one day and missing out on a dédicace from Juanjo Guarnido, legendary artist of Blacksad. Putaindebordeldemerde…