The Comic Strip Festival is held in Angoulême, one of my favourite cities here in the Charente region. For a start, it’s the capital of our department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine (formerly known as Poitou-Charentes and still thought of that way by many of the French). And it really is a wonderful place to walk around.
The town is full of old cobbled streets, restaurants and shops. You almost feel like you’re stepping back in time. The architecture is a fusion of mediaeval and renaissance, with a bit of Parisian glamour thrown in for good measure.
Sitting up high on a plateau overlooking the Charente river. Its strategic position saw it become a fortified town when the Romans took possession.
A quick history of Angoulême
Known as the “balcony of the southwest” Angoulême has a vibrant history. One that sees it related to England through Isabella of Angoulême, daughter and heiress of Aymer Taillefer, Count of Angoulême and Alice of Courtenay.
She was rumoured to have been a great beauty, and as such caught the attention of King John of England when she was just 12 years old. They were married on 24th August 1200, at Bordeaux. She was crowned Queen of England on 9th October at Westminster Abbey.
Suffice it to say Angouleme’s history has certainly been full of turbulence and ups and downs. And there’s plenty to see and do. But one thing you’ll notice as you walk around the city is the street art.
Everywhere you look, walls are filled with murals. The streets pay homage to comic artists with a variety of statues. Even the street names have little speech bubbles, indicating the comic roots of the city.
So what is the obsession with cartoon art in Angoulême?
Well before I answer that we first need to look at the way art is classified here in France. This one certainly had me thrown the first time it came up in conversation.
You may have heard me talk about my French neighbour Anne. She lives down the road in the next village and has been a big supporter in my education of French culture. Anyway, Anne loves art and I’d often heard her refer to the 1st Art or the 3rd Art. I had absolutely no idea what she meant, so I asked her.
Apparently, here in France art is categorised or classified, and it originally started with 5 main categories:
These were used during the 19th and 20th centuries and more recently another five were added:
- Performing Arts, dance, theatre, mime, and circus
- Media Arts, TV, radio, and photography
- Comics – this is where Angoulême comes in
- Video Games and multimedia
If you want to read more on the history of the art classification this article on Wikipedia is a good place to start >>>
The 9th Art in France - The Comic
It may seem strange to us that the French put so much importance on comics. But think back to your childhood. Did you not have comics when you were younger? I know my brother and I did. He had The Beano and I had Twinkle. We loved them and couldn’t wait to get them each week from the newsagent.
Well in France they’ve taken their love of the comic one step further. Here in Angoulême they have a museum dedicated to comics, the Comic Museum of Angoulême. Inside you’ll find a book shop dedicated to all things comics, and a display of famous comic book artwork.
The Comic Strip Festival in Angoulême
But the big event is the comic strip festival, the Festival International de la Bande Desinée, held each year in January in the city. And this year, 2023, they’re celebrating 50 years.
Over four days the event pulls in around 250,000 visitors from around the world to celebrate the comic.
Now the type of comics we’re talking about have certainly moved on a little from the days of Twinkle and the Beano. Today’s comics are works of art and include series such as TinTin and Asterix.
Their value is reflected in a variety of awards presented throughout the event including a lifetime achievement award, Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême, given to a comic’s author for his contribution to the world of comics.
So if you happen to be in Angoulême in late January the event is being held 26-29th. There is also a pro day one day earlier on the 25th. It’s well worth a visit and for details on times, authors who will be exhibiting etc. visit the official website for more details >>>