Europe’s biggest comics festival opened in Angoulême, France Thursday with the streets thronged with avid comics readers and the rights center jammed with meetings from publishers around the world. Although renowned as the biggest event for French language comics, American cartoonists were much in evidence in the “Nouveau Monde” exhibit of independent publishers, even as more graphic novel lines are being published and as French comics are crossing over into English.
At a roundtable discussion on international graphic novel publishing, U.K.-based Titan Books publishing director Chris Teather announced that they are launching a line of translated graphic novels later this year, although the names of the titles are still under wraps. Although it’s been a slow build, French comics are gradually finding a bigger audience in the U.S.—sales are up 30% in the last year at Cinebooks, a U.K. publisher focused on Euro-comics which publishes the Lucky Luke series, a humorous western, in the U.S. Cinebooks’ publisher Olivier Cadic credits the growth to patience and using social media to help readers stay aware of new material.
At Çá et Lá, a 10-year-old indie house, publisher Serge Ewencyk brought over several American cartoonists including Gregory Benton, Frank Santoro, Dash Shaw and Derf, whose My Friend Dahmer (Abrams ComicArts in the U.S.) is in its fourth printing in France, even though “no one here know who Jeffrey Dahmer is,” said Ewencyk. Çá et Lá has published the French editions of many respected books including Ulli Lust’s Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, an acclaimed memoir that was also chosen as a 2013 PW Best Book. Ewencyk told PW that while American cartoonists such as Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes are stars in France, newer cartoonists are also building a following, including Dash Shaw, whose graphic novel New School (published by Fantagraphics in the U.S.) is being spotlighted at the festival. Both New School and My Friend Dahmer are nominated for the graphic novel of the year award in France.
Another publisher promoting English language work is L’Employé du Moi, whose list features cartoonists Joe Lambert, Chuck Forsman and Alec Longstreath, all graduates of the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, where L’Employé’s Max de Radigués served a fellowship. Although the audience for indie American work in France is small, it’s growing, said de Radigués. Though in some cases the French audience is even more receptive—Longstreth has two books out in France but hasn’t published a collection in the U.S. yet.
Sam Arthur, managing director of London-based indie comics house Nobrow Press, said the festival was a great opportunity to meet authors, publishers, and customers. "When we first came to Angouleme three years ago, we had no idea what we were doing," he said. "We just kind of came here with a suitcase of books. After the first day they were sold out, and we were stunned.” After selling out all their titles, Arthur said, he planned to shutter his booth and just enjoy the festival, but Angouleme organizers had different ideas. “The organizers said you can't leave your stand empty, you have to get more books, so we called up our only employee at the time and got her to get another suitcase of books and get on the next flight. We sold out by the last day. This is a really good place to come and do a bit of networking, but it pays for itself because we sell the books,” Arthur said.
Nobrow publishes graphic novels as well as a line of children's picture books and graphic novels under the imprint Flying Eye. They had one book debuting at the show, Shackleton's Journey, a picture book about the doomed Antarctic exhibition, and they also had the winner of last year's Prix Revelation, Dockwood. At the booth, they were offering an array of books in French and English, although Arthur said they were moving away from translating their own books toward selling the rights to French publishers; Nobrow also buys the rights to French-language books for publication in the English-language market.
Next to Nobrow, Pete Maresca, publisher of Sunday Press Books was set up, selling his oversized hardcover collections of turn of the century newspaper comics strips, such as Windsor McCray’s classic Little Nemo as well as original art from his own collection. Maresca is a veteran of many Angouleme festivals—“if you stop coming you lose your hotel room,” he joked, noting the festival’s notorious room shortage—but noted that the comics-savvy audience remained receptive to his impressive list of archivally produced facsimile reprints.
In France, the book is still a beautiful object first, and the French editions of U.S comic reflect that, with larger pages, and more lavish production in many cases.