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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 09:08 GMT
Comic lovers flock to French festival
Comics attract a wide range of ages to the festival
Comics attract a wide range of ages to the festival

Thousands of people flocked to this year's annual comics gathering in France - Le Festival International de la Bande Dessinee. It is the largest comics festival in the world outside Japan and this year it celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Angouleme welcomed more than 200,000 visitors from around the world, keen to see the latest comics, meet artists, visit exhibitions and see the presentations of L'Alph Arts, the most prestigious awards in comics.

Herge
Angouleme is comics' only international melting pot

Bart Beaty, comics expert, as Herge statue was unveiled
This year's 30th anniversary was celebrated in style, with Angouleme's busiest street renamed from Rue Marengo to Rue Herge, after the Belgian creator of Tintin.

A large bust of Herge was unveiled in the newly christened street by Crown Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium.

Angouleme, in western France, is known as the comics capital of the world, having one the world's very few, and most respected, undergraduate courses in comics creation at its school of visual arts.

It may also have the best comics museum in the world, Le Centre National pour la Bande Desinee et Imagery or the CNBDI as it is often known.

As comics historian Paul Gravett puts it: "Angouleme is not just the Cannes of comics, but also the Mecca."

Mr Gravett thinks British publishers should take this sector of publishing seriously and come to the festival.

"If Asterix - a comic based around ancient Gaul - can work there's no reason why many books here shouldn't find an audience in the UK," he says.

But Angouleme is about much more than merely selling comics, it is really about people who believe in the potential of the art form coming to see that potential being realised.

France is a much more visual society... with a better evolved sense of design

Tony Bennett, Knockabout Comics
Bart Beaty of US magazine The Comics Journal says: "Angouleme is comics' only international melting pot, the only place where comics creators from Europe and America get together to exchange ideas and really create the future of the medium."

Celebrations

Every January, the town taken over by the festival with shops decorating their windows with comic art and huge tents being set up for creators and publishers.

Exhibitions include the massive displays at the CNBDI to the less orthodox Underboom, the "off-festival" celebrations.

Naturally, the majority of visitors and exhibitors are French, unsurprising in a country where comics are held in such high esteem, and are recognised as Le 9eme Art, the ninth of the major art forms.

Indeed, the left-wing national paper Liberation produces a comics special on the first day of the festival, in which every image on every page - from the adverts to the business section - is created by a comics artist.

Tony Bennett, publisher of UK company Knockabout Comics, has been coming to the festival for 19 years.

He said: "The festival allows us to sell things we consider to be high quality and useful to the future of comics, which don't necessarily sell so well in the rest of the year.

"France is a much more visual society with a better evolved sense of design."

See also:

04 Dec 02 | England
13 Nov 02 | Entertainment
12 Apr 02 | UK
21 Dec 02 | Entertainment
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