Freezing Point

Today, our European columnist Matthias Wivel reports from the first day of the Angoulême festival, and there is already a lot to digest:

A dozen or so vans of the special police force CRS are parked along the back of city hall, while a press conference on the establishment of a permanent pavilion dedicated to Chinese comics is being conducted in the great hall press area. This year, the capital city of Guandong province, Guangzhou is the official partner, and the mayor is here along with a group of his officials.

Clearly part of a wider diplomatic effort in French-Chinese relations (the French prime minister happens to be traveling in China at this very moment), this is a major development presumably undergirded by a robust infusion of Chinese cash to the festival.

In the midst of all this, the bizarre choice to announce the year's grand prix, and next year's festival president, Otomo Katsuhiro this morning makes for decidedly anticlimactic PR. Otomo has been in the running for the honor for years, and has been very popular in France since his masterwork Akira was published here in the nineties, so it is hardly a surprising choice, though certainly a positive one, honoring as it does a major creator while simultaneously enhancing the festival's international profile and outlook further. The later is clearly a priority for the festival, as festival director Franck Bondoux is telling the visiting Chinese officials at the moment of this writing. 'About time,' is my first thought.

And Matthias also contributes a thoughtful essay on the complexities of Charlie Hebdo, offensive cartoons, and the importance of defending free expression. Here is a sample of that:

So is Luz’s depiction of the prophet showing Charlie solidarity racist? For many Muslims, this is of course a secondary discussion, because it is the very act of representing him that causes offense. This, however, does not make it a less important discussion to have for those insisting on engaging in this particular kind of blasphemy.

So Yes, they are racist. And No, they are not. A depressing lesson driven home by the reactions to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, and to the Danish cartoons before them, is just how limited an understanding most people seem to have of images and how they work. Across the political spectrum. Let us leave aside violent demonstrations against images not even seen, as well as the depressing notion that any man-made image could be perceived as a threat to a centuries-old, deeply complex, and meaningful faith, and concentrate on the apparently widespread notion that images, like text, are “read” and understood literally, with fixed meaning.

Language and text can be ambiguous, but not in the same way that an image can be. It is much harder to control how an image is received than it is with language, even if one adds a caption. This unpredictability has been an important motivation for iconoclasm historically, and it surely informs those who want to prevent non-believers from drawing the prophet today. They see the image one way: as an insult, for some serious enough to act upon violently. Others see these images as drawing the frontlines of free speech, and cannot accept—or do not care—that they are insulting.

The reality is that they are both, and many more things besides.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Malaysian cartoonist and satirist Zunar had his offices raided (and books seized) by police on Wednesday. Zunar was in London at the time, and so evaded possible arrest. There is more on the raid here and here.

Katsuhiro Otomo has been announced as the first Japanese winner of the Angoulême Grand Prix.

—Comics Enriched Their Lives! #IDK. David Cronenberg appears to be a pretty big Dilbert fan. One of the least important topics I've wanted to hear from Kim Thompson about this month.

—Interviews & Profiles. Whit Taylor interviews Charles Forsman. Grace Jung speaks to MariNaomi. Patrick Barkham talks to Bryan Talbot. Darling Sleeper checks in with Leslie Stein.

—Reviews & Commentary. Martin Dupuis has posted a long, image-heavy evaluation of Moebius' Airtight Garage.

For Rookie, Annie Mok writes a personal essay on Lynda Barry (among other things).

For Rain Taxi, Paul Buhle reviews some of the recent EC reprints.

The great Tucker Stone has reemerged (permanently?) to post some brief thoughts on Sophia Foster-Dimino and Alan Moore/Rick Veitch/Dave Gibbons' Mystery Incorporated.

And in a weird synchronicity, Tom Kaczynski has started blogging again too. The planets are aligning.

—Misc. The cartoonist Sean Murphy has proposed a list of creators' rights at conventions.

Zak Sally is following Anders Nilsen in finding creative ways to circumvent Amazon, and has a special offer for readers interested in joining them.