As Angoulême’s International Comic Art Festival (Festival Internationale de la Bande Dessinée) officially kicks off today, one cartoonist will be conspicuously missing. Fortunately, his work will not be.
Bill Watterson won the event’s Grand Prix (its highest honor) last year, but the “Calvin and Hobbes” creator is acting as president of this year’s French event in absentia. The curators of his recent dual-artist exhibition (with Richard Thompson) will serve in his stead at the four-day event — the largest such comics event in Europe.
“Although he will not be attending, the organizers of the festival wanted to showcase [Watterson’s] work with an exhibition. The timing was very good, because we had already been planning an exhibition of ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ which debuted at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum last year,” Jenny Robb, the library’s head curator, tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “We were delighted to work with the organizers of the festival to make it possible for the exhibit to travel to France.”
“The originals were shipped to Angouleme earlier this month,” Robb tells Comic Riffs.
Traveling with Robb on behalf of Watterson is Caitlin McGurk, her Billy Ireland Library colleague who co-curated last year’s Watterson/Thompson show at the Ohio State University in Columbus.
“We are being brought over as guests of the festival, essentially to represent Bill Watterson and the exhibit,” McGurk tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “Bill Watterson … does not do public appearances, so Jenny and I are assuming the role of being the next-best-thing,” adds McGurk, with a winking “sorry to disappoint!”
“However, being that there are barely any photos of Watterson online, maybe I can convince a few people that I’m him,” McGurk says with a laugh. “The exhibit that we curated will be on display at the Angoulême Festival, along with a small exhibit of the History of the American Newspaper Comics that Jenny Robb also curated.
“The original art is already over there and installed — we can’t wait to see how it looks in a different gallery!”
Although it’s no surprise that Watterson isn’t appearing, it was a head-turning headline when it was announced last year that the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoonist would serve as president. Watterson told Comic Riffs last year that he wasn’t aware he’d even been nominated for the honor — and admitted that before he Googled it, he didn’t even know the career award existed.
(The festival bestows the typically obligation-laden honor without asking in advance whether you’ll accept the concomitant duties, from jurying to appearances.)
“People started talking about all the obligations that went with the prize, so I thought the whole thing was bananas,” Watterson told The Post’s Comic Riffs last November, in his only American interview about the honor, “but Angoulême assured me there were no strings attached and they’d work with whatever I’d be willing to do.”
Watterson did provide a brilliant 15-panel Angouleme poster that is an homage to comics as both art form and reading experience.
“Drawing the poster sounded fun, so I agreed to do that,” said Watterson, who also last year created several collaborative “Pearls Before Swine” strips and the film poster for “Stripped” — his first public art in nearly two decades..