Some Breath King
«Comic Art Lab Hits US for First Time in Minneapolis» — the story on KTSP’s news (the local ABC affiliate) kicks off with a bang, delivered with with typical American poise and confidence. Two years after what had been its last edition in the Royal Saltworks in Arc-et-Senans (France), Pierre, Feuille, Ciseaux, laboratoire de bande dessinée lives again and lands across the Ocean. Replacing the grandiose and subdued panorama designed by Claude Nicolas Ledoux, the modern buildings of the Minneapolis College of Arts and Design (MCAD) ; instead of the (sometimes) polar October weather in Eastern France, smoldering August heat in Minnesota ; and even if the small Franco-Belgian delegation attempts some form of resistance, English is really the universal language here.
What does not change, is the energy vibrating through the air in the workroom ; it’s the enthusiasm shown by everyone ; it’s the richness of the exchanges and the meetings that happen here ; it’s also the incredible productivity on display, an idea formulated in the morning being put into action during the day, and eventually put on the walls of the exhibition area by nightfall. The (magical ?) formula of PFC, this week of residency organized around OuBaPo-inspired exercises, is still met with the same excitement — something tangible late at night on Saturday, when all with gather to try and put the finishing touches to the main thread of this stay : the fold-out, screenprinted book Some Breath King/Break Something suggested by Anders Nilsen, where each page is the result of a collaboration, and which will be for sale the following day at PFC’s table during the Autoptic festival (another first in Minneapolis).
As for putting together this book, coming up with such a group of creators is of course a question of energy, but even more a question of subtlety and intelligence. The assembled crowd is a flawless line-up of talents, carefully balanced between Americans and Europeans, between established and budding artists, between PFC veterans and first-timers. While musicians are used to perform on stage, cartooning is a solitary, personal, sometimes deeply intimate activity. But here, there’s no time for playing coy, there are exercises left and right, collaborations fall into place, and suddenly all the focus is on creating together, again and again. Two floors below on the cafeteria terrace, soon there’s only one long table where everyone come to eat and chat, mirroring the ebullient space of Room 430. In the evening, the same arrangement can sometimes be found at the Mexican bar, a block over. This motivation is clearly catching, eventually reaching Jaime Hernandez who, during the special night dedicated to him and the exhibit of his work, will gladly join the fray and sit down at the common (drawing) table.
If there was a single, fundamental difference for this American incarnation of PFC, it would probably be this opening towards others. Happening alongside various events leading to Autoptic (exhibitions, concerts, talks) and complemented by a series of creative workshops with students (led by June, the brain behind this crazy project), PFC#4 saw both artists and creations talk, meet, exchange, in a circulation that the closed architecture (and the remote location) of the Saltworks had not really allowed. In the end, the only thing missing from MCAD was the availability, close to the artists, of presses and other screenprinting apparatus that made of the PFC editions at the Royal Saltworks an experience of total creation.
The conclusion of the original «trilogy» had all the marking of a cycle ending — this fourth installment proved that motivation (and fun) were still as thriving as before. But it should be noted that Pierre, Feuille, Ciseaux, laboratoire de bande dessinée remains truly unique — and the question from the audience during the talk on Saturday, about the existence of similar initiatives, was painfully short («none»). Therefore, it is important, even necessary, to try and invent new ways to share and communicate this exceptionnal experience — both through what happens there, and through what is being produced there. Yet, this presents a few difficulties. On one hand, most of the exercises are conceived without any consideration for the page (not to mention the book), and publishing them often represents a challenge ; on the other hand, there’s the question of the sheer volume of what is being produced along the way. For instance, the 24″ exercise is conducted two or three times a day, in groups, and each PFC edition generates close to 250 pages of varying interest. For this sole exercise, one would have to read, sort, select and organize over a thousand pages — before even considering publishing them.
This might seem like a daunting task, but it is without a doubt absolutely essential if the experience is to exist beyond its sole participants. On the day following the end of PFC#4, Jaime Hernandez posted on Twitter : «That international group at MCAD who destroyed comics forever the past week are my heroes.» I couldn’t have put it better.
- Or, loosely translated in English : «Rock, Paper, Scissors, experiments in comics.»
- «Ouvroir de Bande dessinée Potentielle», or «Workshop of Potential Comics» — a reference to the «OuLiPo», «Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle», or «Workshop of Potential Litterature».
- Beside Benoît Preteseille who has attended all four editions, JC Menu (PFC#1), Domitille Collardey (PFC#2), Anders Nilsen (PFC#3), Max de Radigues (PFC#2) and Zak Sally (PFC#3) were all there for an encore.
- The local legislation regarding alcohol consumption might be the only real surprise for the Europeans (and the main difference with previous PFC editions), with the MCAD buildings being off-limit.
- Minneapolis being an American city though, most of this «circulation» was made by car, and the invaluable help provided by the numerous volunteer drivers who ran across town (always with a smile) to make it possible should be duly noted and thanked.
- Still, L.L. de Mars and Choi Juhyun’s Ressac (published by Tanibis) or L.L. de Mars and Benoît Preteseille’s Carré Carré Carré Carré (Polystyrène) elegantly prove that solutions can be found.
- On a page with a simple two by three grid, each artist has four minutes to complete a panel, before handing it over to the next cartoonist in line. Some constraints are added to the mix, be it on the content of each panel, or on the overall theme of the page.