A Cartoonist’s Diary

Tom Scioli: Day 2

The first visit to the inner city of Angoulême. It's a beautiful mountain fortress with twisty ancient streets. We got there early to figure out the lay of the land, get badges, and set up the table. You could tell all the cool people don't show up this early, but it was our first Angoulême, so we needed the extra time to get the lay of the land. After set-up Chris and Lisa went to buy groceries, I stayed in town to explore Angoulême a little bit. I helped a convention worker get a fallen branch out of a tree.

I keep finding myself doing things that are really uncharacteristic for me. Part of being in a radically different environment is that you realize how much of your behaviors come from environmental triggers. A new environment makes you a new person. I definitely needed this trip, needed an opportunity to forget myself a bit. Part of the life of a freelancer is living way too much inside your own head.

I bought a refillable brush pen at a local store to better facilitate tomorrow's dedicas, the elaborate drawings on the endpapers that European fans expect when they buy your book. I got a three-cheese panini at a kebab place, served with fries, mayo, and ground chili peppers. I thought I told the restauranteur in my best french that I wanted everything on it. Turns out I must've told him I want nothing on it.

I bought a Jim Starlin Docteur Strange hardcover BD at a used bookstore. It's the one with the character of "Doctor Stranger Yet." The editors didn't make an attempt to translate the name of "Doctor Stranger Yet" and just call him "Doctor Strange." It occurred to me that "Doctor Even Stranger" would be a better name, since it kind of rhymes with "Doctor Steven Strange."

After covering the inner city a bit, I walked along the battlements. I found myself at the Comics Museum. I checked out the Art Spiegelman exhibit as it was being assembled. It's the best comics-related art exhibit I've ever seen. Just the Garbage Pail Kids section alone would've made the trip to Angoulême worthwhile. After that I spent some time in the comics library. I tried to find a copy of the French hardcover collection of Steranko's Outland. The librarian pointed out the window to a castle down the street and told me that the book was was located in the archives, so I'd have to arrange a "rendezvous" to see it. I guess my chances of finding the book in a local store are not that great. I didn't realize it was that rare.

They had a copy of the super huge DC Comics 75 Years book by Paul Levitz. I paged through that for an hour to kill some time before I'd meet the Pitzers and some other friends for dinner. It must be a sign of my acculturation, but it took me a while to realize that the text of the book was written in English, not French. On the walk back stopped in a couple of other venues where art shows were being set up. This is all stuff I figured I wouldn't get to see because I'd be at the booth all day.

I was a little early for the rendezvous in front of the Hotel d' Ville, so I watched the animated presentation that was projected on the side of the building featuring the Angoulême cat.

The Pitzers and I met Reed Man and Elodie Ant for dinner. I recalled seeing an Indian restaurant earlier. We walked down some silent streets reminiscent of the night scenes in Castlevania 2. All the windows shuttered. Then we found the place.

Reed Man and Elodie are friends I'd made on my first trip to France. Reed Man's nom de' guerre is from his favorite Sup'hero Reed Richards. He's an artist and colorist and publisher of Strange Magazine, the French comic of American-style superheroes. He publishes all my work au francais, Godland, 8-Opus, and the first chapter of American Barbarian.

It's hard to compare American to French superhero scene. There are no one-to-one comparisons. Their company Organic Comix is small family operation, but it's a small family operation with wide newsstand distribution. Imagine that in America. A healthy mainstream leads to a healthy alternative.

Reed is a difficult person to describe. Punk, artist, hippie, publisher, circus performer. Reed Man had some health problems over the new year, and he wasn't quite his normal bouncing-off-the-walls self. He showed me the bill for his week-long hospital stay: Five euros.

He explained that he doesn't think he'd be a fan of superheroes if he'd grown up in the US. In France in the '70s and '80s, superheroes were frowned upon. They were viewed as dirty, poorly-printed, subversive, raunchy junk. They were subject to government censorship and would disappear then later re-appear in black and white form with a "for adults only" label. Books like The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur were considered threatening. Superhero comics were viewed like they were here in the 50's, but for slightly different reasons. They were viewed by some in the French government as violent propaganda for American capitalism and militarism targeted at children.

Reed Man said it was the forbidden nature that drew him to superhero comics. The original Strange Magazine published translations of classic Marvel comics, mostly Kirby, alongside home-grown characters like Mikros and Photonik. The new Strange, as part of Reed Man's anti-corporate punk ethos, is populated by creator-owned superhero comics.

On the walk back, we passed the giant bust of Hergé. Reed Man said one day there will be a statue of Jack Kirby. Pitzer asked, "Where would it be?" Yancy (Delancy) Street? I suggested San Diego. Nobody liked that idea because of what San Diego has become, but to me it would be perfect because of Jack's role in the convention's founding and since Kirby became a Californian in the second half of his life. I'd be happy to see it anywhere.

The Pitzers and I drove back to our Chateau wine cellar apartment, a half hour away from Angoulême. It was the first clear night and the night sky was dazzling. being a city boy, I'd never seen a sky like this, only in film and comics. It's the kind of thing I draw all the time, but it's an abstraction. I saw the real thing and was awe-struck.

Tom Scioli is the author of American Barbarian and the co-creator of Godland.