La Maison des auteurs - Cité Internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image
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I learned about Angouleme International Comics Festival during an international comics seminar organized by the Ministry of Culture in 2011. The following year, I joined a comics team, Taiwan Comix, and participated independently in the 39th Angouleme International Comics Festival, hoping to learn more things. Upon my return, I organized what I saw, and published a comic book “Worst Europe Trip” (Gaea Books). I had a rough understanding on European comics festivals, and when I learned about the four-month AIR program at Angouleme, I applied right away, hoping to learn more about Angouleme in the four months.
Software and Hardware at Residency
La maison de auteurs is a subordinate unit of la cite internationale de la bande dessinee et de l’image, taking care of all comic artists in residence. The facility consists of a four-story studio, and at the entrance on the ground floor are offices of administration staff and the director. (Currently, there are two full-time employees in charge of la maison des auteurs; one is Director Pili and the other is Madame Brigitte. She speaks English, and is in charge of administrative affairs and accommodation of artists. She is the one who artists contact the most. During the comics festival, they would recruit part-time employees due to added workload.)
At the center on the ground floor is a small meeting room, behind it are the library and the public computer area, where you can find the public printer. (Artists only need to pay basic cost for printing. Each artist has a rechargeable printing card that is used for payment; a color A3 costs only 0.3 euro.) During the residency, artists can also borrow books from the library. (However, the comic library on the second floor in la cite internationale de la bande dessinee et de l’image has a more diverse collection of books. This library is more like a school library in a university.)
Studios are on the second to the fourth floors. Studios come in different sizes; some are for single occupant and some are shared by two or more people. Every studio is equipped with a computer. (OS is Windows in French. The center will provide you account and password so you can access the internet. The computers are connected to the printer on the ground floor. I used my own laptop which is in Chinese and is more convenient.)
I shared a studio on the third floor (or second floor in France) with a Mexican comic artist, Eme de Armario. He came to the residency program under the subsidy by French Cultural Association in Mexico.
B1 consists of a gallery and a multifunctional café, which were only open to the public during specific times of the year, such as the dates of joint exhibitions by artists in residence during the comics festival (The joint exhibition of 2016 was titled “Graphic Babel.” During my stay there, the space was only open for four days during the comics festival). On regular days, artists can use the space for socializing or parties. The space is also used for the opening and the closing ceremonies of the 24-hr comics marathon.
Artists will receive a keycard for around-the-clock access to the building. Artists whose residency programs are over (having no keycard), can still use the public area on the ground floor during the center’s office hours. It seems like an alumni reunion.
La maison des auteurs also provides accommodation. In addition to the dormitory, some other apartments scatter in various locations in the city. Some are owned by the city government, and some others are private-owned short-term rentals. Most of these residences are within five-minute walk from la maison des auteurs; some flats are for single occupants, and some are shared. Since the residency program is quite long, usually there will be loved ones or family members coming for longer visits. Some artists even move in with pet dogs. With prior notification, all these things are permitted.
I shared a place with Au Yao-hsiang, which was only two minutes away from the studio. Apartments are fully functional and you can move in with one baggage. La maison des auteurs will take language and gender into consideration, and arrange appropriate roommates. There are big ovens, electric water kettle, refrigerator, 4-burner stove, pillow and comforter, hangers and washing machine, and kitchenware. However, there is no internet, TV, microwave, and hairdryer. (You may get a hairdryer from a supermarket with the lowest cost of 10 euros.)
Artists in residence enjoy full access to the resources of la cite internationale de la bande dessinee et l’image, such as ticket discount, free access to the library, and free admission to the museum. (However, I was limited by my French ability, and did not use the resources as much.)
At the height of the comics festival, over 20 comic artists from around the world will come to la maison des auteurs (maximum capacity; after the festival, only about 10 people remained). Based on my observation, most of these artists are all very capable, but they are much more focused on their own directions, creating along the border of comics and art. They do not really consider the market when they create stories, and over half of them create works first and then look for a publisher. This model of operation for talented creative minds can be rarely found in Asia where commercial publication dominates.
Instead of assessing the result based on production value, la maison des auteurs provides resources from cultural perspective to establish itself amongst major European comics hubs. This has made it a famous AIR site in Europe. Since 1998, over 1000 comic artists have come here. At Angouleme, life is simple and living expenses are low. Most importantly, with the advantage of the local comics festival, it attracts outstanding talents from all over the world. Many of them even decided to stay and reside in France afterwards.
The youngest artists here are about 23 years old, freshly graduated from college (they do no accept students); whereas the oldest is 67. Most of the artists are with more than 30 years in experience.
During the residency program, artists work on their own projects, which are not required to be related to France or Angouleme. The only connection between the artists is the joint exhibition during the comics festival. The duration of the residency program depends on the proposals submitted by artists, with a maximum term of 4 years. The shortest, based on what I have heard, is two months, but the artist may ask for extension. However, for those who ask for extension, accommodation is not provided. Many artists in residence decided to stay here or in France after because the environment is more sound that they are able to use their time at la maison to build connections with publishers.
Since we shared studio and apartment, some artists had a lot of chances to interact. For other artists, we would visit their studios sometimes, to see different creative media and methods. However, everyone had different agendas, sometimes people would go home or go work in other European countries. We worked in different hours, so there were some artists whom I had never interacted with and got to know.
About every two weeks, we would have dinner gathering at the apartment. Sometimes we went to a bar. We talked about football and movies, and exchanged information about everyday life. We mainly communicated in French, Spanish, and English, and the environment is ideal for outgoing comic artists who love to meet people from all around the world. Here, I learned that there are also AIR programs for comic artists in South Korea. I was invited to host a comics workshop in South Korea, and also gathered some information on comics festival in Italy.
French artists Francois Alain, Elric Dufau, and Golo Nadaud, set up the “Marsam” comics website, inviting all the artists in residence to submit works, and they would translate them into French and publish online. In this way, French readers who are interested have a chance to be exposed to different works.
Taiwan is more distant from Europe, so we are not as familiar with the imagination and culture of European comics. It is also true the other way around, Europe is not at all familiar with but is very interested in Taiwanese comics. I plan to compile these experiences and publish in my new work, so that interested readers in Taiwan can access another perspective.
How to explain to European readers that Taiwanese comics also use Chinese but is unlike its counterparts in China and Hong Kong, and that its style is heavily influenced by Japan is also something that needs to be considered devising strategies to participate in exhibitions. In addition to categorization based on artists’ works, this is a major issue for curators.
Artists in residence are helpful to the Angouleme International Comics Festival and the two sides should work closer together. Artists in residence can provide more local information, and through exchange with la maison des auteurs, we can also further increase exposure of Taiwanese comic brands.
I also gained a lot in terms of developing my style and narrative format. I was exposed to traditional hardcover to small comic books published independently without ISBN and learned that I am not alone on this creative journey. Also, during the comics festival, I negotiated with a Spanish alternative publisher about the Spanish version of “Worst Europe Trip,” which is now in preparation phase. I look forward to having my works published in Spanish-speaking countries!
One special thing is the independent bookstores subsidized by the government here, allowing French artists to publish their own works independently and also to be seen, including some very artistic screen printed posters. Large chain bookstores in Angouleme have designated independent comics areas, showing how much the French people value comics and its culture. However, traditional publishing still faces the grave challenge of digital publishing, and currently France has an issue of aging reading population.
- Images Resource：LIANG Mickeyman