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“You don’t have to be an expert on comics to enjoy them”

For many years, comics and graphic novels have been one focus of the Guest of Honour appearance. In 2017, France will hold to this tradition and give the genre special attention. In our interview, Mathieu Diez, coordinator of the French comic programme and director of Lyon BD Festival, gives us a glimpse at what to expect in October.

fbm: Mr Diez, what highlights can we expect at the Book Fair in October?

Mathieu Diez: One highlight I would like to point out are the artists: We have some major French comic book artists coming over for the Book Fair. Among others we have Riad Sattouf, Pénélope Bagieu, Albertine, Zeina Abirached, David Vandermeulen, as well as Didier Conrad and Jean-Yves Ferri, the new authors of Asterix, joining us. One focus this year will be on original work.

Guest of Honour France

Learn more about the Guest of Honour comic programme.

Visit the Guest of Honour website
For example, the exhibition in the Guest of Honour pavilion, produced by La Cité de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême, will show many original pieces by French artists spanning the last 20 years. The Ping Pong Initiative, produced by Lyon BD, features original creations and reportings on the book fair by artists from France, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. You can see the first pieces here: www.frankfurt2017.com. And finally, we will also be present in the city centre of Frankfurt, for example at the Museum Angewandte Kunst (Museum for Applied Arts) with the exhibition “Mapping Dreams – The Art of Marc-Antoine Mathieu”

fbm: If you would have to choose: What are your top three comic artists and genres?

Mathieu: Obviously, I can’t name my top three artists, or the other 1,997 artists I know would be disappointed that I didn’t mention them. However, my top three genres I can name. Many start reading comics as kids and they keep the affection for the genre they enjoyed during that early age. For me it’s Tintin and Asterix. Over the years, I have started to enjoy Graphic Novels. Although anyone in the comic scene will tell you that Graphic Novels are not a new style, it was this genre that opened cultural institutions for comics since they seemed more mature. In reality, all types are just comics, the difference are the topics that the older genres didn’t really cover. Graphic Novels have brought more people to comics and that is great.

I am a fan of the first person reportage, for example Mathieu Sapin’s book “Gérard – Cinq années dans les pattes de Depardieu”. Sapin spent five years getting to know Gérard Depardieu and the comic tells the story from his point of view. Or in “Les nouvelles de la Jungle de Calais”, artist Lisa Mandel shares her experiences from the refugee camp “The Jungle” in Calais where she spent six months sketching what she witnessed. The reportage isn’t new either, but it is booming at the moment. In the end, comics are a medium, and not necessarily entertainment.

Many feel that they have to know something about comics to read comics; they think comics are only good for geeks. Then I remind them that you don’t need to be a film expert to enjoy the cinema and the same goes for comics. Just try it, and you will like it. Comics are like a piece of art and each artist uses their canvas in a different way.

fbm: Comic artists and their work now take a centre role in cultural exhibitions and programmes. In your own opinion, how has this transformation come about?

Mathieu: In the 70s, the so-called golden age of comics in France, we had comics such as Tintin and Asterix, works designed by great artists. But concerning these comics we had a cliche in mind: comics are humorous, for children and no real literature. For a long time this misconception prevailed. Over the years, especially in the 1990s, artists started to use different subjects, styles and brought a new dimension to the genre. Today a lot is happening: Comics are a medium and an art form. As medium you find them in newspapers, TV, reportage, initiatives such as Ping Pong. Comics show an artist’s view on things, they are books and art that can be found in a museum. Comics tell a story, but the story does not have to be fiction.

fbm: The comic genre has always been a very political genre that reflects current developments. How important is representation (gender, race, religion) for the future of the genre?

Mathieu: In the French history of comics, between the 50’s and the 70’s, comics were always considered to be something for boys and girls were expected to do other things. This notion lasted a very long time. Luckily, things have changed and female artists are treating comics like their male counterparts. Today, we have many different artists, themes and styles that can be found in the comic scene. With this, comics have reached a new level, they resemble our reality, they reached a new level of maturity and I think it’s only the beginning.