Angoulême is famous above all for its Festival international de la bande dessinée (FIBD), a celebration of comic book art that every January attracts thousands of visitors to the town.
Artists and fans flock to Angoulême from around the globe, but the art form they come to admire is cherished particularly by the French.
Global recognition for modern creativity
The city won international recognition when Unesco named it a Ville Créative in 2019 for its pioneering role in promoting the ninth art of bande dessinée.
The town’s contemporary reputation as a crucible of creativity is not, however, limited to its annual BD shindig.
Angoulême has another arty string to its bow, one that tempts travellers all year round, and which has earned it the title of Cité de l’Image.
Over 30 murals to visit
Throughout the Middle Ages, the ramparts of Angoulême kept citizens safe and enemies at bay.
In more recent times, however, the city’s walls have served an entirely different purpose, designed to entice visitors rather than repel them.
The small-scale graphics of comic book characters have been magnified and painted on the walls of buildings old and new around Angoulême.
More than 30 vast murals now adorn the buildings of the Charentais town, and these striking artworks have undoubtedly contributed to its well-earned moniker of Ville Créative.
While the comic festival has been running every January, year after year (except for in 2021 because of Covid), the painted murals of Angoulême are a more recent addition.
So what made Angoulême a magnet for mural artists?
No historic links with wall art
Like every other French town, paintings would have adorned the walls of the town’s churches during the Middle Ages, but Angoulême doesn’t appear to have held a particular pedigree for medieval wall painting.
The cathedral of Saint-Pierre is famous for its sculpted Romanesque façade, its paintings long since lost in the mists of time.
You can still see nineteenth-century paintings in the chapel of Saint Joseph in the church of Saint Andrew, but this hardly counts as a centuries-long affinity with the art of wall painting.
Started with regeneration project
The town’s love affair with murals started in 1982, when Angoulême was just another neglected industrial town.
The Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, introduced a nationwide initiative called Des murs en France, which aimed to regenerate towns by making something beautiful out of unloved buildings.
Lang’s project picked 13 different artists to create a wall painting in 13 French towns.
‘Wall of heroes’ was first mural
The Icelandic postmodern pop artist Guðmundur Guðmundsson, a.k.a Erró, transformed the wall of a social housing building in Angoulême’s Ma Campagne quarter into an homage to his favourite cartoon and comic characters.
From a previously drab wall burst forth Batman, Tweetie Pie, Wonder Woman, Tarzan and Tintin in an explosion of colour.
Erró called his creation mur des héros, and so began Angoulême’s gradual transformation into a permanent outdoor exhibition site.
Growing reputation as comic book city
The next step came in 1997, when André Juillard, President of the Jury of the 24th edition of FIBD, took comic book art into the streets by placing 25 enormous painted canvasses on different walls in the old town and calling it Sur les traces d’André Juillard.
These works were temporary, but they sowed the seeds for the slick walking tours that tourists now enjoy.
In the years that followed Juilliard’s town-wide street art exhibition, the municipality worked with Cité de la Création to launch a series of large murals that would reflect the town’s growing reputation for being the home of bande dessinée.
Since then, paintings of French BD stalwarts like Titeuf, Lucky Luke and Boule et Bill have been commissioned for walls around the town.
Take a tour with Angoulême app
Most recently, in 2021, on the end wall of 10, boulevard Louis Pasteur, artist François Boucq designed a joyful homage to Albert Uderzo, who died in March 2020.
In Uderzo dans son cosmos, the artist’s co-creations, including Astérix and Obélix, seem to fly directly from his imagination and out into the world, as he sits at his desk in the centre of the painted wall.
Nothing can compare with seeing these gigantic visions of cartoonish mayhem in the flesh (really, on brick and stone), but those who can’t make it to Angoulême in person can partake in a far more sedentary parcours by downloading the town’s free app, Murs BD Angoulême