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World War I, political satire and violence against women are the major societal issues which will be at the heart of the Angoulême Comics Festival from 30 January to 2 February.

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Created on 25 January 1974, the Angoulême Comics Festival has become the leading event of its kind in Europe. The organizers have always emphasized the artistic recognition of comics authors, which encourages foreign authors, from Italy, Spain, Belgium and elsewhere, to attend. Chaired by Willem, an illustrator known for his satirical drawings in the French daily newspaper Libération, this year the Festival is particularly honouring Korean comics.

As one of the rare festivals entirely dedicated to comics, Angoulême provides both intrigue and surprises. “Asian countries, which have a strong presence in the world of mangas in particular, are trying to understand our art form,” says the Festival’s delegate general, Franck Bondoux.

International exposure

The Festival, which is internationally oriented, especially aims to promote the export of French comics, in the same way that the United States and Japan export their respective comics and mangas.

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Willem, Chair of the 2014 Festival

This year, the Festival also hosts the exhibition Korea: Flowers that never fade on the initiative of the South Korean government.

According to Gilles Ratier, the general secretary of the Association of Comic Book Critics and Journalists (ACBD), comics remain "the most crisis-resistant sector of publishing, although it is naturally suffering the economic consequences." Four major groups (Media-Participations, Glénat, Guy Delcourt and Gallimard) make up 43.7% of output. In total, 117 albums had a print run of at least 50,000 copies, the best-selling being Asterix’s latest album, Asterix and the Picts (2.48 million), ahead of Blake and Mortimer (445,000). Asterix comics are today translated into over 107 languages and dialects.

Societal issues high on the agenda

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This year the organizers wanted to focus on societal issues, so the 2014 Festival is geared towards a mature, adult audience.As the director-general states, “Comics are no longer just for children – we now want them to deal with global issues and to send out a message.”

The 200,000 people expected to attend will also be able to see the flagship exhibition of the 41st Festival, which is also a topical event: Tardi et la Grande Guerre (Tardi and the Great War) opens the commemorations of the 1914-1918 centenary, while celebrating one of the greatest contemporary comics artists. The Festival also pays tribute to Quino, a major South American cartoonist, and his character Mafalda. This little girl, whom he created during the Argentine military dictatorship, provides a child’s perspective on society and the world of adults.

Other societal issues are violence against women and gender inequality, and the publishers Des ronds dans l’O have released a series of collections on these themes which sadly remain all too common. The issue of illness is also addressed, via the Ernest Rebecca series published by Lombard. In pedagogical terms, these albums are aimed at young readers.

Fun-filled comics still going strong

Although emphasis is placed on societal issues this year, the Festival organizers have not neglected the more light-hearted offerings. There will be an exhibition to mark 80 years of Le Journal de Mickey, Disney’s oldest publication in France, which from the outset has been a vehicle for distributing French and European comic strips.

“The sector still has good times ahead as it is increasingly a source of inspiration for cinema," says Gilles Ratier. In 2013, no less than 10 new film releases were based on comics, such as Quai d’Orsay and Blue is the Warmest Colour. But many challenges remain, such as digital distribution.

Although the Angoulême Festival is still France’s main showpiece in the world of comics, the cultural phenomenon is gaining ground, with a total of 514 comics-based events held in 2013.

Barbara Leblanc
The Festival in numbers (2013)
. 260 exhibitors
. 7,000 industry professionals
. 1,600 authors
. 800 journalists

publie le 27/01/2014

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