fibdThe 41st Graphic Novel Festival starts today at Angoulême. I’ve wondered about going several times but it’s quite a drive, plus I’m not a particular bande dessinée (BD) fan. Ruadhri is – he’s accro to them as they say here (accro = short for accroché i.e. hooked on) but he’s not a fan of car travel. Plus he’s poorly at the moment and needs to stay warm by the fire.

Apparently it’s quite a spectacle. Angoulême is an attractive medieval town (you don’t see the best of it from the ring road, which is the closest I’ve ever got) and it fills with banners, tents and statues as part of the festival. It’s the largest comic book event in Europe, with 260 exhibitors, 1,600 cartoonists from all over the world and literally hundreds of events, such as panels, concerts and talks. Sales of rights in BDs will be going on too.

However, controversy has reared its ugly head this year, affecting both the Official Selections (given to outstanding works in various categories) and the Grand Prix, which goes to a single cartoonist for his/her lifetime’s achievement.

The trouble is that this year the Official Selections include titles some BD heavies consider to be too populist (e.g. US titles Saga and Hawkeye). And as for the Grand Prix, well pffft,something else they say here – a lot. This prize is voted on by cartoonists at the Festival. Last year some of the younger voters started a movement to recognize international BD creators, shock horror. Non-French cartoonists have received the award in the past but it hasn’t been popular. This year fourteen top French creators are boycotting the voting as they consider it’s being swamped by these pesky youngsters. The three finalists for this year’s GP are Watchmen’s Alan Moore, Calvin and Hobbes’ Bill Watterson and Katsuhiro Ottomo, creator of Akira. The winner gets a plaque and also serves as Grand Marshal for the following year’s festival, helping plan the activities and taking part in many. The problem is that Moore hasn’t been to a comics show in over thirty years and Watterson is a recluse. There are concerns over how they’d shape up as Grand Marshal, should they win.

And if that’s not enough, a French magazine about comics has written a long, grumbly open letter to the minister of culture in France. It’s here if you’re interested.

However, the French love their festivals, and they’ve been few and far between since Christmas, so there’ll no doubt be a large and enthusiastic turnout at Angoulême for the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée.

Finally, a few BD facts and figures from 2013:

This is the 19th volume in the series, published just yesterday

This is the 19th volume in the series, published just yesterday

417 million euros spent in 2013, increase of 1.4% on 2012. Specialist bookshops saw 7.8% growth in sales, mainly due to rival shops like Virgin and Chapitre closing.

36 million volumes were sold.

The latest Asterix book – Asterix and the Picts – was the star with 1.6m volumes sold.

‘Comics’ i.e. BDs anglo-saxonnes (for which read American-influenced) are most popular, growing 14.5% in sales e.g. Delacourt’s Walking Dead series sold 520000 copies in 2013.

Mangas’ popularity slipping, down 8.5% but this is possibly explained by several major series coming to an end.