The 50th Angoulême International Comics Festival, held every year in south-western France, was officially inaugurated on Wednesday with a ceremony to grant the coveted Grand Prix d'Angoulême. This year's award for career excellence went to Franco-Syrian author Riad Sattouf.
Sattouf was up against two other candidates nominated by peers for the Grand Prize this year: the American writer Alison Bechdel and French writer and illustrator Catherine Meurisse.
Wednesday's opening ceremony was attended by French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak and 2022 Grand Prize winner Canadian writer Julie Doucet, who also designed one the three 2023 posters.
Festivities began with a demonstration of breakdance followed by a live drawing performance, marking the official start of a four-day bonanza featuring autograph sessions, professional workshops, conferences and exhibitions.
Sattouf latest work is the sixth and final volume of his best-selling "L'Arabe du Futur" (The Arab of the Future) series, based on his experiences growing up in Libya and Syria.
Translated into 23 languages, Sattouf is one of the few authors to have won the Fauve d'or (Golden Fauve award) for the best album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival twice, in 2010 and in 2015. He also designed one of the 2023 posters.
Sattouf is also well-loved by younger readers who discovered his quirky teenage girl character Esther. He has also directed two feature-length films.
Red carpet for manga heroes
The festival is hoping to return to its pre-Covid score of 200,000 visitors after a slightly under par year in 2022 in terms of turnout, and a cancelled edition in 2021.
For that, Angoulême is betting on manga to attract crowds, and has rolled out the red carpet for special guests from Japan, some for the first time.
Manga, Japanese comics, or Japanese-inspired comics, have carved out a special place among booksellers in France in recent years.
In 2022 according to the GfK institute, of the 100 best-selling books, a quarter were manga.
The festival is hosting the first exhibition in Europe of Hajime Isayama, author of "Attack of the Titans", a worldwide success in books and animated series.
This 36-year-old international manga star will give a masterclass on Saturday at the Angoulême theatre, which is already sold out.
Other "mangakas" honored with an exhibition each are Ryoichi Ikegami, 78, famous for his gangster characters, cartoonist among others of the series "Crying Freeman", and Junji Ito, 59, whose work in the horror genre has just been adapted into a series by Netflix.
A new improved Manga City - a 2,500 m2 pavilion - will be a must for fans, with meetings, debates, screenings and even drawing lessons. Added to this is Halle 57, redecorated as a large Asian city under the name of Alligator 57.
Around the world in four days
In a bid to further expand its international reputation, the festival is also banking on a new display called the Worldwide Comics Explosion - 10 emerging authors from the comics universe with talents from Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, United States, Norway, Finland, Argentina, Belgium and Italy.
Young Talents will also have their own pavilion and prizes awarded on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the festival organisers hope to move past the scandal involving star French author Bastien Vivès who is under investigation after a complaint he was distributing child pornography through his sexually explicit work.
The 38-year-old was due to be honoured at the festival with an exhibition that has now been cancelled after online protests and a petition lead by NGOs.
French comics festival pulls plug on author over incest row
In response, co director Sonia Dechamps told France Info that there would be a meeting around the questions raised by this affair, with the participation of the designer of Coco, Benoît Peeters, in collaboration with Le Point magazine.
"The objective is to question the current state of comics, on freedom of expression and on the question of whether we can represent everything, in particular concerning sexuality," she said.
The other main prizes of the festival will be announced at the Ceremonie des Fauves on Saturday evening.