The Flemish representation at the 39th international comic festival in Angoulême made more of a splash than ever. Like last year, authors Brecht Evens and Olivier Schrauwen were nominated for prestigious prizes, the annual Flemish Party was a resounding success and the Flemish were everywhere in the French press. The Flemish Literature Fund (FLF) looks back at a successful festival.
In 2009, Flanders hosted Europe's biggest comic festival. It was not long before everyone was talking about the work of young Brecht Evens, one of the twenty graphic novelists the FLF presented at the central exhibition ‘Ceci n'est pas la BD flamande’ [These are not Flemish comics]. Olivier Schrauwen, whose ‘My boy’ had by then already been translated into French, Finish and German, was one of the most fêted graphic artists at this highly enjoyable exhibition.
Last year, Evens was awarded the Prix de l'Audace in Angoulême for the French translation of ‘Ergens waar je niet wil zijn’ [The Wrong Place] (Oogachtend), which launched his international career. In addition to France, the book has been published in Canada, Great Britain, Germany and Spain and is due out in Korea in the spring. Most of Evens’ publishers also signed up for the nominated title, ‘De liefhebbers’ [The Making Of], which is certain to attract interest in many other countries.
At just 25, Evens has star status among French and international graphic novel readers. The queues were long at his book-signing table at the stands of both his Flemish publishers and his French publisher, Actes Sud. A total of 6,500 copies of ‘Les Amateurs’ was sold, which means a second impression will be required. Actes Sud sold 200 copies of the highly-praised album and at the Flemish stand another hundred plus changed hands.
An exceptionally positive article in the French quality daily ‘Le Monde’ undoubtedly helped sales. It commented that it can’t have been easy for the jury to choose between the 5,000 titles published in French this year. It went on to name a number of titles the paper felt stood a chance of winning a prize, such as Craig Thompson’s ‘Habibi’ and Etienne Davodeau’s ‘Les Ignorants’. “But Belgian Brecht Evens’ ‘Les Amateurs’ is certainly not to be missed. … This is the kind of book you start leafing through in the bookshop and then can’t put down". Praise was then heaped on Evens himself and his graphic novels.
Olivier Schrauwen was nominated for the third time for the prestigious prizes in Angoulême: Last year, the French translation of his ‘De man die zijn baard liet groeien’ [The Man Who Let His Beard Grow] (Bries) was nominated, and in 2007 his debut ‘My boy’ (Bries). This year, his exceptionally beautiful edition of ‘Le miroir de Mowgli’ [Mowgli’s Mirror] was released by the independent French publishers Ouvroir Humoir. In the end, Schrauwen was not awarded a prize, even though he was more or less expected to. Art Spiegelman, jury chairman and American author of ‘Maus’, talks in the January issue of the French magazine ‘Zoo’ of the European graphic novel as a significant source of inspiration and mentions Olivier Schrauwen in the same breath as Javier Mariscal, Lorenzo Mattotti, Moebius, Lewis Trondheim, Jacques Tardi and José Muñoz.
Olivier Schrauwen’s work is appreciated and admired by many of his colleagues. He is also the most translated of all Flemish authors in the 2009 exhibition. His work has been translated into English, French, German, Finnish, Polish, Spanish and Italian and publications are soon due out in Norwegian.
After five years of active promotion, the tally for graphic novel translations supported by the FLF currently stands at forty-two. The FLF had more than thirty meetings with international publishers and strip festival organisers at Angoulême. New work was shown, but discussions were above all about all projects still in the pipeline. The majority concerned ‘Toen David zijn stem verloor’ [When David Lost his Voice] (Oog en Blik), the new book by Judith Vanistendael. Le Lombard published the title in France simultaneously with the Dutch edition and it has received nothing but rave reviews. Vanistendael was invited to draw both the cover and the cartoon for Thursday’s Angoulême special edition of ‘Le Charante Libre’, which also featured an interview with her. Great publicity, as this paper, which is distributed during the festival, is to be found everywhere in the city.
And the Flemish made even more of a splash. On Thursday evening, the FLF organised a Flemish Party together with the Strip Turnhout festival organisers, the distribution company Pinceel Stripverspreiding, the Flemish Representation in Paris and Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT). The three authors who travelled to Angoulême with the FLF - Leen Van Hulst, Ivan Adriaenssens and Wauter Mannaert – designed an invitation in the shape of a beer mat and illustrator Jan Van Der Veken acted as DJ. There was a tremendous attendance, with more than 300 publishers, journalists and other professionals.
Earlier that evening, Nix, the author of ‘Kinky and Cosy’, was on stage during the festival's opening ceremony, dressed as one of his characters. He announced that an animated series based on his popular cartoons will be ready by the end of the year. The French-Belgian co-production of 500 short films will be recorded in English and offered for sale worldwide. The first edition of ‘Kinky & Cosy’ made the New York Times bestsellers list in 2011.
The FLF announced that it would be the fourth and last time it was to present its popular sales stand at Angoulême in the form of a café. The big and beautifully decorated sales stand, ‘Café BD Chez les flamands’, in the safe hands of the Antwerp comic shop Mekanik-Strip, was particularly admired for the originality and high quality of the books it was selling: original graphic novels and translated work by Flemish authors.
Next year, the FLF will, naturally, again be present at Angoulême. Meetings with international graphic novel publishers are essential, but the FLF also attaches a great deal of importance to the visibility of Flemish graphic novels at the festival. It is hoped that the Flemish government will continue to support the FLF's efforts in promoting Flemish graphic novels internationally. There is no doubt that the fund’s prominent presence at Angoulême over the past four years has been fruitful.