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Posted at 1:01 PM ET, 01/31/2011

ART SPIEGELMAN reacts to winning grand prize at Angoulême

By Michael Cavna

Art Spiegelman in his Manhattan studio. (Helayne Seidman for The Washington Post)Enlarge Image

In a year jam-packed with projects, promises and deadlines, Art Spiegelman didn't think his 2011 workload could get any heavier. Then he got the call:

Bonjour, this is the Angoulême festival. Would you have any problem accepting our Grand Prix honor?

"I didn't think I could say 'no' without causing an international incident of Bush-like proportions," jokes the Pulitzer-winning creator of "Maus," speaking to Comic Riffs on Monday by phone.

As the Angoulême International Comics Festival's Grand Prix recipient, Spiegelman knows the gig entails accepting the role of president for the following fest -- in other words: Help plan the entire Angoulême 2012.

"Within five-eighths-of-a-second of hearing the news, my wife [New Yorker art director Françoise Mouly] said, 'Merde!' " Spiegelman recounts wryly. "She could see immediately what lie ahead."

What lies ahead is being the steering hand for the festival's exhibits and conferences and programs. "I don't know whether you should say 'congratulations' or 'condolences,' " says the artist, noting what a prestigious honor it is -- while also remembering how it was when American friend and colleague R. Crumb received the same honor for the 2000 festival.

"Crumb didn't want to even meet the press," Spiegelman recalls. "He escaped out a door and went flea-market shopping in the neighborhoods. They vowed never to pick another American.

"I won't be as bad as that," he says, laughing.

(The only other American besides them to receive the Grand Prix honor is Will Eisner, in 1975. The four-day fest, which began four decades ago, now draws roughly 200,000 visitors to southern France.)

Over the weekend, the event's Grand Jury Prize went to American David Mazzucchelli, for his graphic novel "Asterios Polyp." Italy's Manuele Fior won the Golden Prize for comic strip album "Five Thousand Kilometres Per Second."

Other award winners included the Maltese-American graphic novelist Joe Sacco; Japan's Naoki Urasawa: and Belgian Brecht Evens.


Spiegelman is weeks away from a deadline on his latest project, "Metamaus," a look back at the landmark, Holocaust-memoir graphic-novel work that the cartoonist remains best-known for.

"After that, I was going to end this period of great retrospection," Spiegelman says. "This [Angoulême] sort of dents that automatically."

Any career retrospective of Spiegelman must especially include his early underground comix work, including the '70s comics anthology Arcade: The Comics Revue (co-founded with "Zippy the Pinhead" creator Bill Griffith); RAW, the comics anthology he and his wife launched in 1980; and his widely acclaimed New Yorker magazine cover published shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Spiegelman, though, sounds humble about receiving the Grand Prix now. "It would have made sense 15 years ago," the 62-year-old artist tells 'Riffs. "I feel like President Obama and the Peace Prize -- the timing's all wrong."

THE 'RIFFS INTERVIEW: "Maus's" Art Spiegelman

An excerpt from 'Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!' (© 2008 by Art Spiegelman/Reprinted with permission by Pantheon Books)Enlarge Image

By Michael Cavna  | January 31, 2011; 1:01 PM ET
Categories:  General, The Graphic Novel  | Tags:  Angoulême, Art Spiegelman, Bill Griffith, Francoise Mouly, Maus, R. Crumb, Will Eisner  
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That's nice. As an old friend and girlfriend of Art's, I certainly am happy to hear he is doing well.
I have encouraged him throughout the years and am always pleased to hear that the pride I took in him when we were teenagers (or I was; he was a few years older than I) has found its complete fulfillment.

Posted by: ladybellefiske | February 6, 2011 6:34 PM | Report abuse

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