Tue, 28 Mar 2023

Getting youth involved is a key aim of the Angoulême international comics festival. Each year, students and young people enter the festival's numerous competitions or are called upon to act as jury members. Proof that the future of the art form is in good hands, both in terms of creativity and a growing readership.

The prizewinners in the eleven different "Discovery" and "Young Talent" categories were announced on Thursday evening at the annual Angoulême International Comics festival - a testament to the growing involvement of young people in the world of the comic strip.

Jury president for the School comics prize, Jeremie Moreau stressed how impressed he was with the quality of the artwork entered in the various categories this year.

He quipped that ironically he was glad he didn't win it the first time he entered at age 8. Why? Well, he felt that losing had only made him work harder and practice more. This paid off as he went on to win the School Comic prize in 2005, and then the Fauve d'Or for best youth comic in 2018.

Moreau reminded the audience that making comics is a serious business and it's never too early to start. 95 percent of those who win the top youth prize at Angoulême have since gone on to make a career out of illustrating or writing comics he noted.

As an example of this trend, the youngest winners of the night were 8-year-old classmates Linda Di Bari and Mila Estelle Finazzo Pinana who won the Best Scenario Prize.

Sneaky squirrels

Loud applause could be heard as they appeared on the stage to collect their coveted trophies in the shape of the festival's cute mascot cat, known as the "Fauve".

When asked how they got the idea for their winning panel entitled "L'ecureuil malin"(The Sneaky Squirrel) they hesitated and in their little voices replied humbly that they "don't know really". The magic of pure imagination!

The festival, celebrating its 50th year of existence, is clearly looking to the future. The youth section is designed not only to "give kids the desire to read" but to "make learning fun".

For a long time associated with low-brow popular culture, comics are now gaining a reputation as a cultural product in their own right, with some teachers calling for this genre to be used more widely in schools.

Addressing society's issues

And comics are no longer just associated with frivolous topics. Two of the main prizes at this year's festival went to works that directly address inequality and discrimination in society.

The Secondary school prize for the Poitiers area went to Jean-David Morvan, David Evrard and Walter Pezzali for "Simone". Their comic is based on a real-life hero Simone Lagrange who as a young girl was tortured by Nazi chief Klaus Barbie in 1944, helped the Resistance fighters, was deported but survived to testify against Barbie in court.

It was also to be noted that among the recipients, more than half were girls and women, showing that the balance has definitely tipped, and a new generation of writers and creators is taking over.

The 'mental load' of Emma, French feminist comic-strip creator

Women may have often struggled to make their mark in what for has a long time been seen as a man's world, but the new generation is turning this model on its head.

Not only is gender and sexuality openly broached by many of the writers, they are not afraid of affirming their personalities, throwing off labels, or exploring controversial issues linked to society and politics.

Anouk Zou is a case in point. Awarded the Young Talent regional prize for "Je n'aime pas la concurrence" (I don't like competition) she told the public that somewhat ironically, her text rails against the very system that gave her a prize, pointing out how competitions can be damaging to the esteem of young people, making them feel inadequate if they don't fit the mould.

At ease with technology

The young generation has discovered a new freedom to express themselves through different mediums and this resonates with today's readers.

Over in the Manga City pavilion, Mimi Szeto from Hong Kong has the audience captivated as she draws with her Apple pen in real time, her fluid line drawings appearing on a large screen on the stage.

Like others of her generation, she's very comfortable with technology and much of her work gets published and promoted directly through social media channels like Instagram.

With her latest book, "A Small Step" she is one of the 15 emerging talents on display from the Hong Kong comics scene. She hopes that a fruitful meeting with a publishing house at the festival will see her book published in France.

The issue of being a young female illustrator "has never been an issue" she told RFI. In fact she says it's been an advantage, as women "tend to be more attentive to detail" and are more perceptive when it comes to sensing what the public wants.

African stories

Meanwhile, in the 'Quartier Jeunesse' - one of the special youth pavilions of the festival - Ivorian author Marguerite Abouet is thrilled to cross paths with young readers who have come with their teachers to explore the interactive exhibition "La Vie comme elle va" (And so goes life).

It takes visitors into Abouet's childhood growing up in the Abidjan suburb of Youpougon, her family, her friends and the roots of her characters.

The star of the day is Aya, a young, outspoken woman with big dreams and a big heart, inspired by the author's strong role model of a mother.

Thanks to the visibility of a festival like Angoulême, the international comics world can be sure to find many more role models just like her both inside and outside the covers of a book.

Originally published on RFI

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