Thanks to the likes of Monet, Matisse, Gaugin, Cézanne and their ilk, France has become synonymous with the kind of art that students and critics will continue to ponder over for centuries. Yet of all the many and varying styles that come flooding to people’s minds when they think of this artistically abundant country, we bet cartoons don’t even make the cut. But ask any comic-loving enthusiast worth their salt where mecca is, and they’ll likely start chattering excitedly about a small south-western city, located a mere 90 minutes from the ‘sleeping beauty’ of Bordeaux.
For street art aficionados, Angoulême may as well be paradise; every corner, crevice, nook and cranny offers something new for visitors to be fascinated by. There are murals on the walls and windows, designs on the signal boxes and signposts, paintings on the telephone poles and traffic lights, and even colourful caricatures hidden down furtive little alleyways – visible only to those who know where to find them.
For over forty years, this place has been building its reputation as the ‘Cannes of Comics’ thanks to the talent that flocks here each January to attend ‘Le Festival International de la Bande Dessinee’ (International Comics Festival) – the third largest event of its kind in the world. In a frenzied three day celebration, over 200,000 eager fans, reporters and professionals set up shop within the Romanesque walls to talk everything from original spreads to new-age strips, and specially invited artists are given plots on which to paint all-new frescoes throughout the town. Presiding over all the action is the bust of TinTin creator Hergé, sitting in the centre of a street that was renamed in his honour in 2003, and providing a wonderful starting point from which to begin what is likely to be a very long day of exploring.
Even after all the hustle and bustle of the festivities have died down, the town remains a treasure trove of tromp l’oeil illusions (such as Max Cabanes’ La Fille des Ramparts, pictured above) and more gorgeous graffiti than you could ever realistically look at in a lifetime. Several of the pieces have their own stories to tell, depict significant characters or pay homage to illustrators across the eras, and you’ll likely find the answers to any questions you have at the perfectly placed Comic Museum, only ever a short walk away on Rue de Bordeaux.
While you needn’t have a pre-existing passion for the printed page to visit, you’ll certainly come away with an appreciation for this most modern of art forms in a country which holds the comic-strip in incredibly high regard. And who knows, perhaps you’ll even be inspired to start scribbling an Asterix of your very own.