I have very little skin in the game when it comes to the politics and proceedings surrounding the Angoulême Festival. I’ve been only once (and I thoroughly enjoyed myself) and I’m not French, so I don’t really have an opinion on the matter, nor do I have any deep understanding of the festival’s history or inner workings. But its important to the people around me and it affects their work and careers, so I care about that. Lewis Trondheim published an open letter on the festival in Le Monde today which is well worth a read and which includes his insights into what he feels are some of the problems with the festival and ways he thinks these could be ameliorated.
Here is a link to the Le Monde post, which is in French: http://lecomptoirdelabd.blog.lemonde.fr/2012/03/09/angouleme-bleme-ou-angouleme-je-taime-par-lewis-trondheim/
And below is my attempt at a translation. Why did I just spend an hour translating this thing? Because I think it could be interesting for the American artists I know who grumble about our own festivals to see how its done on this side of the pond, I guess. Also because translating is kind of fun (I’m a nerd). I actually have no idea if this is some kind of copyright infringement to post this on my blog without permission, so if you’re reading this and you’re either Lewis Trondheim or some head from Le Monde: sorry! All due respect!
Angoulême: Love It or Shove It
by Lewis Trondheim
Since the dawn of time, the artists have been dissatisfied with the Angoulême festival.
The publishers have been dissatisfied with the Angoulême festival.
The Cité International de la Bande Dessinée et de L’Image has been dissatisfied with the Angoulême festival.
And the Angoulême festival has been dissatisfied with the Angoulême Festival.
The artists grumble because its a waste of their time, because they don’t advance at all on their own work during this period of time, because they aren’t paid, because they don’t have time to see the exhibits, and because it’s difficult for them to get back to work immediately after returning home. There are also plenty who grumble because they weren’t invited as guests.
The publishers grumble because every year they lose dozens, if not hundreds of thousands of Euros.
They both grumble because neither of them have a voice in the planning of the event.
They both grumble because the Angoulême festival is the only national media spotlight on comics in France, and because despite everything, we can’t go without it.
Angolême’s City Hall and the chairman of the General Counsel shoot themselves in the foot and send in their foot-soldiers of the Cité and FIBD back to back without taking charge of their real responsibilities, which is to bang their fist on the table and make everyone work together.
The awards are cannibalized by the sub-awards in order to please the sponsors. We now have the SNCF Award for Detective Comics. Why not western, or science fiction? Have you ever seen a l’Oréal, Renault or Electrolux award at the Cannes Film Festival?
And there’s the FNAC Award. Too bad that the book which gets this award can’t be in the running for the festival award for best book!!!
There’s an award for best young readers book which is chosen by a jury of young readers. Why? Is the award for best detective story voted on by the police, investigators and detectives? Making a good comic for young readers is just as difficult as making any other good comic, full-stop. Why have a different jury for it?
And the Grand Prix! [The nomination of the festival president for the following years' festival] I was flattered to have been chosen by my peers, and I thank them, but I’m ashamed to have been selected before Munoz, before Blutch, before Spiegelman, before Chris Ware, Bill Watterson, Otomo, Toriyama, Tatsumi, Binet, F’murrr and many others.*
When I see, during the deliberations of the nominating committee, how many of my colleagues are neither familiar with most of these names, nor with their work, nor have they even heard of a Japanese artist, I’m ashamed! And I tell myself that I can’t do the job I was chosen for, which is to vote for the artist whose work has contributed the most to the development of comics.
That’s why I left the meeting room in the middle of the deliberations this year and why I won’t be back for the next round of nominations.
For two years, I believe, it was the artists who voted. And then they chose Gossens and Crumb. I would have more confidence in this type of nomination process than the one we have now, no matter the quality of the artists who are chosen. I want to be clear that this should not be considered as an attack against any individuals; Jean-Claude Denis, Baru, Depuy and Berbérian and myself might not have been nominated before a number of other artists. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think that these artists posses many talents, especially when it comes to myself: I’m really good at squash.
So go ahead and grumble. It’s OK, its the French thing to do, it releases tension, but it doesn’t change anything for the better.
So I propose some changes for the better.
For the Grand Prix:
A vote among all the artists.
A vote amongst all the artists who submit a short-list of three names among whom the academy of the Grand Prix would decide. There could even be time for people to read the works in question. And if a nominated work hasn’t done its work for the reader, it would be dismissed from the nomination proceedings.
For the Awards:
The president of that years’ festival should also be president of the jury.
The composition of the six members that already make up the jury will remain as they are (two journalists, two book store owners, two artists)
We’ll get rid of the sponsored awards and integrate the young readers award or any public award into the rest of the selection.
We’ll get rid of these silly award names like “intergenerational” which are planned in advance. The jury elects the best books of the year and, if it’s really necessary, the jury can find a specific name for each book, enough to satisfy the bookstores and Fnac which have a need for these kinds of hooks.
For the Festival:
To install and the take down the tents costs a fortune, between one to two
thousand million euros. Angoulême has plenty of solid infrastructure capable of holding the stands for book signings. I’m confident that in the Castro building, or in the Museum, there could be room for this.
Enough with the same old publishers’ booths. A single bookstore (maybe the Museum bookstore?) could take care of all the artists’ works.
There could be a common space for all the signings.
The artists could be guests of the festival or their publishers.
Public access to the signings should be free.
Only the books which are bought on site would be marked with a label and would be “signable.”
We could brainstorm with the publishers on a way to create uniform spaces for the artists to do signings in, with a maximum number of spaces. This wouldn’t require as much space, and we could then get rid of the tents.
Intelligent diminution, so to speak.
While there may not be any more sponsored awards, there could of course still be sponsored exhibitions, concerts, etc.
The artists could arrive the day before the festival opens to the public–on Wednesday–and would have time to see all the exhibitions if they so please.
And, in an ideal world, they could even be paid for their work.
And I’m still not even talking about moving the festival to June.
We are the players in this little community which has had the luck of being looked down on, seldom publicized, and which brings in very little money. Thanks to all that, there is also very little animosity or jealousy. And we all know each other at least a little bit.
Obviously, we don’t live in an ideal world. But we can help shape our own immediate environment. The FIBD, the Cité, the Angoulême City Hall and the General Counsel can shrug their shoulders at all these proposals. I’m taking the risk of being ridiculed and making enemies.
Or there very well could be goodwill among all and an opening of discussion.
*Translator’s note: There are no women on Mr. Trondheim’s list and I believe that only 2 of the presidents in the festival’s almost 30 year history have been women. Just an observation…