Saturday, June 21, 2014

Warning: there's a Cartoonist in the house !!!

Got a call from Alliance Française de Lyon sometime back. They said they'd heard I was in town, and would I be interested in being Cartoonist in Residence. Cartoonist in Residence? Does one even want a cartoonist in residence, I thought? It sounded a shade better than monkey in residence, and a shade worse than bats in residence, and you don't usually want either in residence. Not in your own building, that is. Are you sure you don't want a cardiologist in residence, or a clinical psychiatrist in residence, I asked?

But they stuck to their story. A cartoonist, they insisted, was what they wanted. And what was more, they were willing to pay. They mentioned a nice, tidy sum: not enough to make me go screaming down Cours Lafayette in my underpants, but very respectable all the same. It was what they offered all artists in residence. Now usually I am so gratified someone wants me to draw cartoons for them, that I do it for free. The thought that someone was willing to shell out money, any sum of money, for my cartoons. That too, not just any old body, but a celebrated institution like Alliance Francais, that is known for its discerning taste. Now that thought was enough to make me go screaming down Cours Lafayette in my underpants. Only strong arms could restrain me from actually doing so.

It seems it was all part of Féstival de BD, happening around the same time in Lyon. Féstival de BD, for those not in the know, is one of the biggest cartoon festivals in the world. And Alliance Française de Lyon is partner in it. As a part of the festivities, they are housing a series of cartoonists to sketch life as it is lived in the institute. Two had come before me: Ben Lebègue, a local boy from Lyon, and Germàn Peralta, an Argentine operating from his home base (he had sketched life in AF de Rosario and had sent in his sketches by mail). I was to be the third. I was to get an artist's pass to the féstival de BD, which would enable me to attend all the pro events, and chat up the festival director and editors and whatnot. It seems Marie of Chansons sans Frontière, bless her generous soul, had swung the deal. Carole Brunie, the directrice of Alliance Française is an old chum of hers. (Nope, no relation to the more famous Carla. Not that I know, at any rate).

Anyhow, two weeks ago, I went into residence. I spent the days creeping up on unsuspecting students and showering them with tactless questions. I sketched them furtively. I crept into classes and jotted down unintentionally funny moments. I was called into classes, officially, to present my work. The students posed (mostly tactful) questions in their broken French. I responded in my marginally less broken French.

I did workshops with them. Nope, not sketching workshops - this is a language institute. I gave them copies of my comic strip without the text and asked them to imagine the dialog. Later, we compared it to what I'd actually written.

In short, a whale of a time was had. By me, at any rate. Sure hope the rest of the gang enjoyed it too.

On the 18th of June, all my sketches were released at an informal little event, along with the work previously done by the other two cartoonists. I got to meet Ben Lebègue in person and we spoke to Germàn Peralta over Skype. We did a little interview with a local TV channel (Lyon TV) and a local newspaper (Le Progres).

I took a different approach to my project than the other two cartoonists. You can see their work on the AF de Lyon blog . As you can see, one sketched the general environs; the other took a holistic view of the institute. I wanted mine to be more personal. I did a series of personal sketches of the people I met, and I  met a whole load interesting people in these two weeks.

Here is the cover sketch of my project. It is a take-off on the AF de Lyon logo and motto (Partageons une langue, Conjuguons nos cultures - sharing a language, joining our cultures).

And here are my sketches... if you want to save time, here is a video slideshow of my sketches done by the media team at Alliance Française.

All sketches copyright yours truly. All photos courtesy Alliance Française de Lyon. Many thanks to all the staff at Alliance Française who helped me: Carole, Sophie, Marion, Géraldine, Anaïs, Ghisaline, Capucine, Alice, and many others whose name I forgot to note down (stupid me!). Thanks also to all the students who agreed to talk to me and have their sketches done.

Guys: you rock!!!