One of the places we wanted to visit while we were in Angouleme was the BD Museum. We’ve been to Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore and the BD Museum in Brussels. This would give us a chance to compare and contrast the three and get a sense for what the French considered museum-worthy.
One of the things we noticed from the map of the town was that the BD Museum was on the bus route of a special bus that took festival goers on a set route around town. When we got on the bus, we discovered why this was necessary. The main portion of the comic festival is in the town square, which is on top of a massive piece of high ground, way up high. The BD Museum, which is next to a river, is on the flat, low ground. The bus provided a way to go from up to down (and vice versa). Did I mention that the town was very hilly?
By the time we got to the BD Museum, our feet were starting to ache from the combined effects of six consecutive days spent wandering Brussels, Paris and now Angouleme. We really wanted a place to sit down. Thank god for the BD Musuem.
You have to cross the bridge to get to the museum. Halfway across the bridge is a bronze statue of Corto Maltese, looking up into the clouds. The museum itself is housed in what looks like an old paper factory. The inside of the museum, however, is space-age as all get out.
I understand that the main exhibit room just received a major makeover in the past few years. I don’t know what it looked like before, but now it looks like someone stole Kubrick’s interior sets from 2001 and molded them into the space. Scattered throughout are massive benches that people can use to sit down. In the center of the seating area are dozens of comics that people can sit and read for as long as they want. The museum is actually designed to be interactive and treats the museum-goer like a library guest.
The exhibits themselves were very interesting and informative, with laminated cards in English. The timeline of comics were broken down logically and Anglo-Saxon comics were placed in their proper socio-historical context, vis-à-vis the French comics of the time. The collection on display was very extensive and I got to play “I have that book.”
The special exhibition (created specifically for the festival) was a show called Cent Pour Cent, where 100 cartoonists reinterpreted 100 classic comic pages. Of course, there is a massive book that reprints all 200 pages, side by side for comparison purposes. The show itself was great. Some of the pages were a bit abstract, but the pages that were good worked very well.
Of course, the best way to judge a museum is by its gift shop. Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, for example, has the worst gift shop I have ever been in. This is especially distressing, considering the business that the owner is affiliated with. By comparison, the gift shop in the Brussels BD Museum was fantastic. But the gift shop in the Angouleme BD Museum was like walking into a store like Waldenbooks – beautifully arranged tables overflowing with books. My wife pointed out that it was the local comic shop for the people in the surrounding towns; a small price to pay for living in the middle of nowhere, I guess.
One of the great things about the gift shop was the fact that it stocked art supplies in the front of the store. This meant that the intention was not just to sell comics, but the means of making comics as well. I don’t know if the students visiting the museum got the message that they were intended (indeed, encouraged) to eventually take up the pencil if they wanted, but it was there.
There were other exhibits in the surrounding buildings, but we were so beat at that point that we took the bus back to the top of the town, found a bar and split a bottle of wine. If we had been staying in town, we might have gone back to our rooms for a quick nap before trying to see Enki Bilal, but our train was coming to whisk us back to Paris instead.
As in Brussels, seeing such a well thought-out museum dedicated to the ninth art was very satisfying. Again, it provided some context for the mass entertainment that I’d been wandering around in all day and gave me some material to look out for in the future. I would recommend this place for a visit on its own, but it’s worth visiting during the festival to get the full effect, the context and the spirit of goodwill that’s generated.
Next week is the last installment of the 12 part journey through French comics country: the series wrap-up.