Free speech and the “ninth art”

logo angoulemeWith the international comics competition Animate Europe, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation connected the European idea with the comics art in 2013. 35.000 visitors saw the resulting exhibition in various locations around Europe last year. Reason enough to visit the Festival de la Bande Dessinée in the French town Angoulême. This comics festival end of January, the biggest of its kind in Europe, is normally a family reunion of sorts for comics artists, publishers and comics arts aficionados from all over the world. For forty-two years it has been a celebration of the “ninth art” presenting its full scope to hundreds of thousands of professionals and visitors.

IMG_5725This years’ edition was overshadowed by the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack earlier that month. Instead of this festival’s president Bill Watterson and his famous comics characters Calvin & Hobbes who should have been in the focus, the festival organizers spontaneously made the tribute to the victims’ work the overarching theme of the festival. Not only was there a Charlie Hebdo exhibition at the comics museum and were the magazine’s past front pages posted all over town. There was even a square named after the magazine and the editorial team awarded a special Grand Prix. And what’s more, a new “Charlie Hebdo Freedom of Speech Award” saw the light and will be awarded yearly from now on to artists who fight against censorship and repression.

Although the festival brought together all the big names in the comics business today, it also had an air of nostalgia about it, most of the important exhibitions not looking ahead at the future of this art and the evolution of the business, but back to the impressive work of artists such as Bill Watterson and this year’s Grand Prix winner Katsuhiro Otomo who haven’t drawn in years, or the late Jack Kirby, the American super hero artist, or Tove Jansson, the Finnish creator of the Moomins. But besides that, there were still an overwhelming lot of artists and their creative work to discover. The publishers’, arts schools, comics festival organizers’ and other comics associations’ stands were squeezed into several enormous tents set up in the largest squares of the town, which made it virtually impossible to see and experience it all.

Judging by the attention the comics art is getting during those four festival days, you could say that it is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a cross-over form of literature in its own right able to bring across serious plots in only seemingly a more light-hearted way. But life is getting harder for comics artists today. The sheer number of publications makes it difficult for artists to live off their art.

IMG_5750As an encouragement to students and upcoming artists and at the same time as a means to reignite the dormant debate on the future of Europe amongst young people, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom is organizing this year for the second time the international comics competition Animate Europe and is still extending its call for entries. With this mission, we mingled with the Angoulême crowd discussing the necessity of support to this beautiful and diverse art as well as of the search for a new narrative for Europe. What will Europe look like in 25, 50 or 100 years? Are you a comics artist and do you have a vision for Europe? Join our competition before 15 March!

Christina Brunnenkamp