I'm back from Algiers, where I attended FIBDA 2010, Algeria's International Comic festival. Malaak was part of the official selection for best album, so I was invited as a candidate for the award and also to sign my books alongside other authors. I had a grand time and this massive post is an attempt to put together the strongest moments of the event and introduce you to the people I spent the week with. I had intended to blog daily, but as net access was very difficult, I will forgo chronology and just throw stuff together. For pretty photos of the city itself, keep an eye on my Wild Garden blog.
Before moving on to the festival account, I wish to mention that this experience has persuaded me to create a French version of the Malaak website and post the French translation of the comic there. I realized that the French-speaking, English-lacking world is not limited to France but includes an enormous part of Africa and the Maghreb, which is a lot of people I'm de facto excluding right now.
J'insère ici une note à l'adresse de mes lecteurs francophones: Cet expérience m'a persuadée de créer une version francophone du site de Malaak et d'y mettre les pages de la BD en français. J'ai réalisé en effet qu'une énorme partie de l'Afrique et du Maghreb, sans compter la France même, n'est absolument pas à l'aise en anglais, et les exclure n'avait jamais été mon intention...Si vous avez des commentaires ou suggestions n'hésitez pas!
The main thing I retained from this experience is that people involved in comics are really awesome people, friendly, open, interested in each other's work, eager to sit and get to know the new people no matter how inexperienced they are (there are notable exceptions, but none of those was present.) This was especially true because we came from so many different places, and the worlds of European, Middle-Eastern, African and American comics were brought together possibly for the first time – there was even a Cuban comic artist who'd never left the island before.
To be there among so many was both humbling and validating. Validating because you're there as an equal, you've been flown in because they consider your very presence to be a contribution to the festival, and humbling because there are so many beautiful, gut-wrenching, or otherwise amazing projects to discover, by people still at the very beginning of their comic journey, that you feel very small and forgettable. And inspired to push yourself much further, really!
There were quite a few of us and I never got to meet everyone, but here are a few people I was lucky enough to spend quality time with.
One of the first authors I met was also one of the greatest: Jacques Ferrandez, whose Carnets d'Orient are well-known in Beirut, Lebanon being the subject of one of the volumes. He is an accomplished "bédéiste" who needs no introduction in the franco-belgian world, as well as a heartful, wonderful man. He's also so invested in Algeria that the Algerians embrace him as one of their own.
At the table in the background, with his wife, is Baru, another great name whose path I was lucky to cross.
Jacques autographing my copy of his Retour à Alger:
Fabien Vehlmann (on the right) is the new writer for the well-known series Spirou et Fantasio, which happens to be the sole Franco-Belgian comic series whose characters belong to the publisher, and so are passed on from one writer-artist team to another (like American comics). But Fabien also writes his own series, including the current Seuls, a story about a group of children who wake up in a city where everyone else has vanished, and have to survive all alone. I got hooked on the first volume, all the more so because he's teamed up with my idol Gazzotti, the artist for Soda. Fabien and I discovered we had quite a few things in common, and he's extremely funny. Gotta find a way to get him over to Beirut! In the meanwhile I'm savoring his blog, alas reserved to those with a fine mastery of the French language.
On the left is Redouane Assari better known in Algeria as Red One, the nom de plume under which he authored stories of incredible graphic quality, specializing in motor race cars and the like. He's reappearing now after a long disappearance, and I should point out the interesting fact that in "civilian" life he was a dentist!
At the extreme right in this picture is Josh Neufeld (@joshneufeld), author of the striking AD: New Orleans after the Deluge. We shared a highly unusual experience at a newspaper, which I'll go over in detail below. With the mic is Etienne Shreder (did you just think what I think you just thought?) who was here to share his remarkable story of curing himself from alcoholism by beginning to make comics. Next to him is Francis Groux, another lovely gentleman who happens to have founded the festival of Angoulême among other achievements such as climbing Everest and creating a national comic competition for inmates that turned out to have therapeutic effects.
All the way on the left is our indefatigable moderator Mohamed Bensalah from the University of Oran.
I didn't yet talk about my colleagues from Lebanon, on the left below: Amal Kaawash, from Palestine, known for her character Meiroun, and Lena Merhej, editor of the collective Samandal, who is currently deepenign her knowledge of sequential art in Germany. Lena and I both had our names respelled Algerian-style as MerheDJ and MedleDJ, which was funny enough in itself, with the added twist that some people were confused by the similarity of our names and thought we were sisters. With us came the writer Sahar Mandour, not pictured here but usually spottable at a distance by her shock of curly hair (yeah yeah I'm not one to speak.)
On the right is Maximilien Leroy, whose book Faire le Mur was awarded Best Album for this year. I approve the choice wholeheartedly, having grabbed and read a copy early on during the festival. I don't want to get into a review here but I may do so later – I truly hope it will be translated into English soon. This is a silent scream to be set against Joe Sacco's intense investigative work. An interview with both he and Amal over the topic of the Middle East conflicts in comics can be found in French here.
Pahé below is a natural phenomenon. Don't let the photo fool you, he only behaves as long as he's drawing something. A ferocious wise ass, I would not like to be on the receiving end of his political satires. I'm quite glad to be on his good side though. Very cool guy with an amazing knack for cartooning. Here he's signing volume 1 of his autobiography, the bizarre story of a kid born in the depths of Gabon whose life ended up adapted as a cartoon show on a French tv station. (And he made me blush)
This is Didier Kassai, Central Africa, posing with pages he finished overnight at the hotel. According to his roommate Pahé, Didier manages to get his original pages stolen before every festival, forcing him to work late into the night during the festival to get some re-done in order to have something to show.
I think churning this out overnight deserves a medal in and of itself o_O
Below is Hector Sonon, from Benin, who now lives in Denmark where he is tall enough to blend in. Hector is a machine. If you lose sight of him for half a second you will find him at whatever flat surface is available, sketching madly for anybody who asks. My pal Didier in the background is wondering what he might be eating in secret.
Finally, the four graces: Joelle Ebongue from Cameroon , Gihèn Ben Mahmoud from Tunis, Joelle Esso from Cameroon too, and me.
But there was also Eduardo from France/Brazil, Japhet from Cameroon, Kash from the Congo, Paul Grist (@mistergrist, author of Jack Staff) from the UK, Nana Li (@LiNana, artist of Twelfth Night in the series Manga Shakespeare) from China/Finland/UK, Brandon Jerwa (@jerwa, writer for DC Comics) from the US, Nigar Nazar from Pakistan...
On the day of the opening, a handful of us – Lena, Josh, Sahar (the intruder!), Amal, Pahé and myself – were taken to the offices of Algérie News with a mission: replace all of the photos in today's issue with cartoons and editorial illustrations. We set about the job with zeal and in the knowledge that we'd have to miss the opening ceremony. On the other hand, we enjoyed wifi at the office for all that day. Someone finally got her twitfix...
The opportunities presented by being surrounded with cartoonists were not lost on me, and I set about getting souvenirs from my new friends. You don't have to ask twice from people who breathe through their pencils.
I caught a few colleagues on paper... Unfortunately too late to get the whole set:
My turn to sign books!
One evening we were taken to a restaurant that took so long to reach I started wondering if we were being kidnapped... I found myself seated next to Paul Grist who turned out to also be vegetarian, and as we waited and waited over an hour before food arrived, a thought crossed my mind: "I have a sneaking suspicion they're going to proudly serve us a stuffed sheep."
I shuld have kept my mouth shut. The evening became an endless source of gags... Sorry for the extremely crude scribbles as I tried to jot them down as fast as possible.
"Who's going to eat all this??"
(On the tag: "Guest of Honor". You need to be an Asterix reader to get this one...)
Below: "I left my machete at home!!"
Since we had to hike over and down to the esplanade mall to go to the bathroom, I looked around for a jeweler and sure enough found a small shop that made highly tasteful traditionally-inspired jewelry. I picked up a few items the first day:
From left to right: The Cross of the South (Kabyle), the symbol of the free man (Amazigh, which includes the Tuaregs among others), and the Judeo-Islamic Khamsa/Fatima's hand. The charming young man keeping the shop was interested in the festival but couldn't escape during opening hours. I returned the next day to treat myself to more items and pick up a few gifts, because the work was so lovely:
These are all variant designs on the Cross of the South, and they make me drool as much as did the Ethiopian crosses. Some day, somehow, I have to base a project on these series of "cross" designs.
Anyway, an hour later, a few minutes away from leaving for the airport, the young man suddenly appeared at the bookshop. He'd closed the store for half an hour, to take a look at the exhibits and get an autographed book from me. What a nice way of ending this fantastic adventure :) My heartfelt thanks go to Dalila, Rachid, Mr Chikhi, and all the volunteers – Farid, Tewfiq, Riad, Yasmine,... who went sleepless for so long to make this happen and make our stay comfortable!