News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Exhibition in photos: Christophe Blain at the 49th Angoulême International Comics Festival

 Christophe Blain, dessiner le temps. Sonia Déchamps, Antoine Guillot and Jean-Baptiste Barbier. Angoulème. Vaisseau Moebius. 17-20 March 2022.

Twice the winner for Best Album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival (2002 for the first volume of Isaac le pirate; 2013 for the second volume of Quai d'Orsay), Christophe Blain was honored with a major retrospective that framed the body of his comics work through the lens of his own cinephilia. The presentation of the exhibition within a large darkened set of rooms invoked the space of the cinema theatre, and the whole thing even ended in a rounded room that displayed his film poster work on its walls while a screen hanging down from the middle of the ceiling projected a 5 minute interview clip showing Blain speaking about some of his fetish films and their influence in his work. 

Blain's visual virtuosity with his brush and pen and inks is on fine display here. The exhibition is packed with a surplus of original pages, including a large number of preparatory sketches, that were all individually accompanied by the artist's own commentary. Everything about the exhibition, from its scenography to the non-chronological organization of Blain's work to the flow of the text and the commentary, teased out the wide extent to which Blain's cinema obsession informs almost every aspect of his comics. Some references are quite obvious, such as his clear love of the Western genre and its visual and narrative codes, but some revelations offered some new avenues of appreciation such as his admission of how the French dubbed soundtracks of many of the Hollywood films of the 1950s-60s play a major role in how he treats the rhythm and tenor of his dialogue.

As a cinephile myself, I greatly appreciated this opportunity to recontemplate Blain's comics and how he treads the intersection of bande dessinée and cinema. Antoine Guillot's intelligent framing and guiding narration through the exhibition does an excellent job of highlighting aspects of Blain's work in both a cinema and bande dessinée context. All of this work is not in vain as the wonderful catalogue collects and reprints almost the entirety of the exhibition: all the original artwork, all of Guillot's text and also all of Blain's commentary - only the collection of sketches is missing. 

-Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen

Photos are organized in an attempt to present a visual chronology of the exhibition installation as experienced in a sequential walkthrough.




Monday, March 21, 2022

Exhibitions of the 49th Angoulême International Comics Festival: Introduction

After a cancellation in 2021 and a postponement from its traditional time slot during the third week of January at the start of 2022, the Angoulême International Comics Festival returned in full swing for its 49th iteration on March 17-20. It felt particularly nice to be back especially since for many festival-goers, the last glimpse of this special town during Covid restrictions was on movie screens thanks to Wes Anderson’s loving treatment in THE FRENCH DISPATCH (2021). I happened to be staying at a house that was right in front of one of the film’s recognizable locations.


Notable additions to the town’s visual landscape included two new tributes to Albert Uderzo:

A) a huge 200 square meter mural conceived by François Boucq, located at 10 boulevard Louis Pasteur.

B) a sculpture of a menhir (6.5 meters high weighing 22.5 tons) placed just outside the train station appropriately next to the obelisk dedicated to René Goscinny.

Also outside of the train station were image installations set up by the festival that displayed political contributions by Lewis Trondheim, Riad Sattouf, Milo Manara, Victor Hussenot, Benjamin Chaud, Luiza Kwiatkowska and Natali Noszczyn that served as expressions of solidarity for the situation raging in Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian colors even lit up the facade and clock tower of City Hall, which serves as the Festival Headquarters for press and professional accreditation. 

The entrance to City Hall was also adorned with the Ukrainian flag, flanked by the flags of France and the European Union.

The situation in Ukraine also inspired a last minute addition to the official opening of the Festival that took place on the evening of Wednesday March 16: a live drawing concert featuring invited artists with the final piece auctioned for charities to support refugee relief. This concert followed the announcement of the winner of the Festival's Grand Prix award, which was bestowed upon French-Canadian artist Julie Doucet. The timing of this honor couldn't have been more appropriate, foreshadowed by the recent publication MAXIPLOTTE, a collection of her work (translated into French) edited by Jean-Christophe Menu for l'Association. I'm greatly looking forward to see what Menu and the Festival will put together for her Grand Prix exhibition to highlight the 50th edition of the Festival next year.     

Over the two and half days that I was in Angoulême, I was able to catch nine of the festival’s exhibitions. I’ll be presenting these nine exhibitions as a series of ‘exhibition in photos’ over nine individual blog entries with limited commentary. I hope the photos will offer a decent visual idea of the installation and presentation of each exhibition. My ultimate goal is to have these photos serve as the gateway to more lengthy exhibition reviews destined for the print edition of IJOCA. 

-Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen

Press badge (left) and the invitation to the Festival's opening ceremony drawn by Chris Ware

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Editor’s Notes: Censorship and the Academic Community

Editor's Notes


John A. Lent


Censorship and the Academic Community



Throughout my long run of interviewing cartoonists on every continent (except Antarctica, of course), I have heard of all types of efforts to muffle cartoonists, the punishments they are given, and their means of coping. I have heard other sad tales while serving as a board member of Cartoonists Rights Network International, almost from its beginning.

The plight of the cartoonists, especially political ones, has worsened in recent years with an escalation of authoritarianism, more two-faced democracies, "guided cartooning" (my term), Trumpism, political correctness gone awry, cancel culture, religious extremism, and a couple of cases where "freedom to cartoon" was irresponsibly used without regard for the serious consequences.

Let me bring to light a couple recent examples of censorship relating to books about cartooning. In late 2020, some Ohio legislators called for Kent State University to deny use in their curriculum of Susan Napier's academic book, Anime from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle:  Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. One state legislator, calling the book "way beyond pornography," threatened to take away funding from Kent State over it. The controversy began when a 17-year-old boy, not yet a college student, took a Kent State writing class that required reading Napier's book. His parents had already signed a permission form (a ridiculous act itself), that he could read the book, but then the boy complained to his father that the chapter on pornography disturbed him. The father then filed a complaint with a legislator who ran with it. Even though a few legislators became involved, nothing seriously affecting free expression and academic freedom resulted (see, Davidson, 2020, for an interview with Napier).

Ironically, the other book recently censored is about the "struggle against censorship." Written/drawn by Cherian George and Sonny Liew, Red Lines:  Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship was banned from being sold or distributed in Singapore by that city state's Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on November 1, not long after its August release. IMDA found the book to be objectionable under the Undesirable Publications Act, because, according to the Authority, it contained "offensive images that denigrate religions, including reproductions of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, which led to protests and violence overseas." Twenty-nine images were judged objectionable; publication and distribution may be allowed if the images are withdrawn, according to authorities.

To my surprise, no mention has been made thus far about the rather full accounts of the hindrances to the "freedom to cartoon" in Singapore. In "Cherian's Story" (pp. 118-128), George tells about his years as art and photo editor of Straits Times, the country's largest daily, stating that there were "some big no-go areas" for the media and that the "authorities' iron fist is wrapped in thick velvet and barely noticed by most citizens most of the time." He spends considerable time quoting former Philippines political cartoonist Deng Coy Miel, who freely admits that he traded more freedom and low pay for less autonomy and more money by moving to Singapore; George also discusses Premier Lee Kuan Yew's closing of The Singapore Herald in 1971, in the process, silencing the caustic cartoons by Morgan Chua. "Sonny's Story" (pp. 129-134), by co-author Sonny Liew, is in comic strip format with 39 panels, explaining the difficulties maintaining self-autonomy in Singapore and telling how government funds awarded him to publish his three Eisner awards-winning The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye were later withdrawn when authorities deemed the book objectionable. (See Leonard Rifas' review of Red Lines in this issue.)

What is the point of these remarks? I believe the academic community, especially that of mass media, with which comic art is aligned, needs to be aware of acts of censorship, and in more severe cases, organize group condemnations against them. Groups, such as International Association for Media and Communication Research and Association for Asian Studies, have already taken public stands when their members believed their academic freedom was threatened.


Censorship, Concerns, Conundrums


Something that is needed concerning censorship and the academy is more discussion about conundrums surrounding the subject, the gray areas between full exposure with no concern about the consequences and freedom with responsibility.

Take the Prophet Muhammad cartoons in the Danish newspapers and Charlie Hebdo, for example:  Should cartoonists provoke Islamic believers mainly to prove they have a high degree of "freedom to cartoon"? Should they mock centuries-dead religious or other leaders not even remotely in the news? Do cartoonists have an obligation to hesitate before putting to paper, controversial depictions that they know or think will lead to the loss of lives and serious destruction? Is this analogous to screaming "fire" in a crowded building when one knows there is no fire? Does the Miltonian concept of an "open marketplace of ideas" apply in these instances or any present-day situations for that matter? Should not a person be able to challenge the use of such cartoons without being designated as a denier of freedom of expression?

Other concerns that need to be expressed relate to political correctness:  How far should political correctness be allowed to extend before it becomes pre-censorship? Should racist and sexist portrayals of characters in much-earlier newspaper comic strips and animated films be altered or destroyed? With their alternation or destruction, is not the proof that they ever existed also removed? Are they not part of the historical record? Should not one be free to challenge some instances of political correctness without also being labeled racist and sexist?

Now, we have quite a few associations related to comic art--International Comics Art Forum, Comics section of Popular Culture Association, Comics Studies Society, Comic Art Working Group of the International Association for Media and Communication, and Modern Language Association's comics group. Let us hope these organizations and their members will recognize these topics as extremely significant and consider them when scheduling keynote speakers and organizing panels and roundtables.


Pleas and Promos


IJOCA's production editor, Jaehyeon Jeong, very meticulously prepared a new style plan for manuscript submissions. Looking at some manuscripts that continue to arrive, attention is not being paid to the IJOCA style. For the past 22 years, we have converted manuscripts into our style. This is extremely time-consuming and expensive. The onus of meeting style expectations is on the author.

Some of the major shortcomings of manuscripts are:

1.         Use American, not British, spellings.

2.         Punctuation, capitalization correct by U.S. standards.

3.         Format of manuscript is:

            a.         Title, byline. Keep title relatively short.

            b.         No abstract, key words needed.

c.         Manuscript text should be 1.5 spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font, and pages numbered in top right corner.


Please read IJOCA's "Manuscript Preparation Guide" and submit manuscript in a professional style.


*        *        *


In an editor's note in Vol. 21, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2019), I talked about the need to bolster the coffers of IJOCA. I suggested an all-out campaign to have more libraries subscribe and/or sell the huge stockpile of back issues as package deals. At this time, of the 47 (counting this one) issues published, 40 back numbers are available. Normally, the total cost of 40 issues would be US$2,000 for domestic institutions, US$900 for domestic individuals. As of January 2022, the cost of the 40 issues is US$700 for institutions in the U.S.; US$325 for individuals domestically. Those prices amount to a 65 percent discount. Postage must be paid by the customers. Perhaps with such low prices, we will entice researchers and/or their institution to help us unload our stockpile of back issues, at the same time as more researchers will have access to this rich repository of comic art scholarship. Please help us make this campaign a success.


*        *        *


If you change your address, please provide your new location as soon as possible. It is very costly for us to send a replacement copy.

A version of this note will appear in print in IJOCA 23:2