Angoulême is one of those French cities by-passed by the modern autoroutes. So a place missed by most road travellers. And it is a community where the TGV to Bordeaux pauses for just two minutes, before the doors slide shut and the train heads on to the south, speeding past the homely stone villages that are a feature of this part of western France. Yet for aficionados of the comic strip, Angoulême is much more than just a brief stop on the train.
The comic strip, or bande dessinée, is a peculiarly polarising art form, derided by its detractors but celebrated by its devotees for its cultural vitality. And for those devotees, Angoulême is the undisputed capital of the art. The city hosts its enormous comic strip festival, called the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée, in late January each year. It is an event which regularly pulls close to a quarter of a million visitors to the city on the Charente river. Large marquees swarm with avid fans; there are performances, interviews and exhibitions; and artists sign and dedicate endless copies of their books.
Reminders of Angoulême's association with bande dessinée (or BD, as it is often colloquially called) are dotted throughout the town. There is a statue of Hergé, the Belgian creator of Tintin, in the town centre - in a street that was renamed Rue Hergé in 2003. Street numbers on many house fronts are written in bulles; and paintings by celebrated BD artists adorn the sides of various buildings.