An exciting “mini-con” of events, as journalists dubbed it, took place last week in Chicago during the American Library Association’s 2017 Annual Conference, June 22-25. Organized by the French Comics Association in cooperation with ALA and Europe Comics, the large-scale initiative aimed to promote European comics and graphic novels among American librarians and educators, and included bringing seven European creators stateside, running a booth during the conference, and holding several events on-site and around Chicago.
The seven European creators invited were Guy Delisle (Hostage, Drawn & Quarterly), Pénélope Bagieu (California Dreamin’, First Second Books), Jérémie Royer (Audubon, On the Wings of the World, Nobrow), David Étien (The Baker Street Four, Insight Editions), Marguerite Abouet (Aya, Drawn & Quarterly), and Teresa Radice & Stefano Turconi (Globetrotting Viola, Tunué/Europe Comics).
The mini-con was launched on Thursday evening with the Comics That Kiss Better Cross-Cultural Celebration held at Sector 2337, where the European creators joined forces with two Chicago-based cartoonists to amuse an enthusiastic audience by reading live extracts from their works. The event was co-organized by Chicago’s own independent comics festival, CAKE, and was followed by signings and drinks.
Friday featured a day-long forum dedicated to comics inaugurated by Children’s Literature Ambassador Gene Yang. The forum included a series of panels analyzing the grammar of comics, the uses of comics in teaching and talk-back sessions between industry professionals — including publishers and creators — and the librarians and educators in the audience.
The librarians in attendance asked a variety of questions, but those most striking for the panel of professionals had to do with the need for diversity in the American market and the desire to have more European comics, both print and digital, in American libraries.
Saturday morning opened with Europe Comics’ own panel comparing the rise of graphic novels for kids in Europe and the USA with panelists that included publishers Mark Siegel (First Second) and Marco Bernardini (Tunué), and creators Vera Brosgol (Anya’s Ghost, First Second), Teresa Radice and Stefano Turconi (Globetrotting Viola). The two publishers concluded that there still is some bias regarding the usefulness of graphic novels for children, especially among parents, but in the past decade both the USA and Italy have seen a considerable increase in the popularity and improvement in the social status of the genre. The creators gave some insights into their work and inspirations, concluding that what really matters to them is telling a good story.
On Saturday afternoon the European creators visited the opening of the International School of Comics’ exhibition Drawn in Europe, which included works by Stefano Turconi, Teresa Radice, David Étien, Jérémie Royer and Federico Bertolucci.
On Sunday, librarians could attend even more European panels discussing differences and similarities between European and American comics, ownership in comics, French comics on the big screen and more.
Throughout the show, the FCA/Europe Comics booth remained crowded, not just because of the complimentary French croissants on Saturday morning. The European authors received considerable attention during their signings and panels and the positive feedback and encouraging curiosity of American librarians will definitely make FCA and Europe Comics want to return to ALA Annual in 2018.