When we first booked our trip in August of 2009, we tried to get a hotel room in Angouleme for a day or two during the festival. Then we discovered that every hotel room within an 80 mile radius of the town is booked solid almost a year in advance; many of the participants probably book for next year as they are checking out.
As a compromise, we took a day trip from Paris to Angouleme. We left Montparnasse at 7:30 in the morning, which got us into Angouleme at about 10:30. At the end of the day, we caught a train at 20:50, which got us back into Paris at about midnight. Waking up early enough to catch the train sucked, but having three hours of enforced not walking on the return trip after a whole day of tromping around Angouleme was quite nice.
Angouleme bills itself as the City of Festivals, but we reckon that its traditional role as the center of paper-making and printing for this region of France is what originally made it a festival destination for BD. At any rate, the city itself is very happy to be a tourist destination and many businesses feature random BD albums in their store displays, even if the additions don’t make sense. One shoe store had a few Tintin books thrown in with the sneakers, for example.
One shock that we received upon walking from the train station to the town center was the fact that Angouleme is, unlike Brussels and Paris, not flat. Not at all flat. Rather the opposite, really. The maps we had of the town didn’t mention anything about hills.
After some effort, we managed to find our bearings and visit a few of the vending halls and the museum across the river – each of which I’ll get to in later essays. At the end of the night, we sat in a space-age bar next to the Hotel de Ville and killed a bottle of wine over a pile of comics that we really couldn’t read. Still, it was a very nice way to end what had been a slightly frustrating, physically taxing, mentally exhausting day.
One thing my wife pointed out when we were on the train back to Paris was that the Angouleme festival really had no demographic. There were multiple school groups in attendance – elementary school through late high school. (Could you imagine an American school taking students on a field trip to a comic book convention?) There were entire families – with and without children. There were little old ladies shopping by themselves and there were sisters, brothers, fathers and sons shoulder to shoulder in the crowd.
Everyone was looking for the material that spoke to them, but they knew that there would be something (most likely many things) to their taste. Even the camera crew from the French news program that had been filming all day had their bag of comics with the equipment.
Frankly, considering how much the Europeans seem to detest traveling over long distances, it was astonishing to see the volumes of people wandering around the town and shopping in the various marketplaces. The festival was 37 in 2010, which means that several people in the crowd had probably grown up with the festival. That level of engagement is extremely encouraging to see, especially considering the state of our comics market. The crowds in Angouleme – even on a rainy Friday afternoon in January – were bigger than they were at Heroes Con or Baltimore Comic Con, both of which I attended in 2009. And I actually heard that attendance was down slightly overall this year – probably due to the weather.
Next week, I’ll talk about alternative comics in Angouleme, part 9 of 13.