Alternative at Angouleme

The buildings for the festival in Angouleme are actually semi-permanent structures made of wood and vinyl from the same tent DNA as the air-conditioned dance tents you see at outdoor festivals during summer. The structures at Angouleme are designed to fit into the open space available (presumably park land in the city square), but they are also heated and it’s easy to forget that you’re in a building that will be taken down at the end of the festival.

In the square next to the indie/alternative/small press building was a presentation about a long-running series in the Charleroi style called Les Tuniques Bleues. When we went by the first time, it was filled with screaming schoolchildren who were doing some kind of choreographed reaction to the series, I think. Their enthusiasm for the series was very real, despite the staging. The odd thing was that I had never heard of the series before I started looking at the list of events for the festival. Just something else to get caught up on.

I actually took the time in the cold late afternoon to look at the panels of the presentation. There were six panels per kiosk and five or six kiosks. The panels were about various aspects of the series – where the characters had gone, prisoner of war camps in the South during the Civil War, what historical events and figures the characters encountered, how the series dealt with issues like slavery and so forth. It was fairly informational and probably would have been very interesting if I could read more than a third of the text.

But the use of illustration did provide enough context to give me an idea of what each topic was about and how the topic was integrated into the comic. Given the obvious deference given to the series, the presentation was probably not designed to induce people to read it. But it was intended to explain to people why the series was good and what it had done, correctly or not. I gather that this kind of spotlight is something they have done every year of the festival and I wonder what other comics had been picked out for special consideration – and what was said about them.

The first table in the main entrance of the alternative hall was L’Association, arguably the biggest indie publisher around. Formed by the likes of Lewis Trondheim and David B., L’Association treads the fine line between creating art and creating commercial product. There’s an entire chapter about L’Association in Bart Beaty’s excellent book Unpopular Culture that’s well worth reading. And, of course, they got to sit at the front of the alternative hall. That’s what prestige and a good reputation will do for you.

The remainder of the hall was a long corridor of booths, filled with small and alternative press creators. Erotic publishers were mixed in with children’s book makers and solo artists self-publishing stuff that they’ve been putting out for twenty years. There was a strong vibe of the experimental small press that I would expect to find at Small Press Expo – which tells me that there is always room at the bottom to do weird stuff in an attempt to learn what works.

We ran into two different groups of British comics creators – BASTARDS and Alternative Press. We got several books from each of them. I also picked up a fair number of catalogs. These give me an idea of what the mid-sized publishers were putting out without wasting my time on the day of, trying to puzzle through endless back cover texts. One thing I did notice was the volume of mid-size publishers at the show. The erotic publishers shared space with Sarbacane and Tanibis, who were fairly indicative of what was available.

Possibly the most valuable artifacts that I brought back from Angouleme were the catalogs, buyer’s guides and magazines that carried reviews. They’ve given me insight into what sells and what the range of material available actually is. I found several books in these publications that looked good enough to pick up when I was there. I suspect that I will be shopping from these catalogs for years to come.

Next week, I will be talking about the mainstream publishers at Angouleme, which was an altogether different experience.