Thursday, October 24, 2013

FIBDA 2013 Report

Laurent Mélikian, a French comics critic who visited the Philippines in 2011 and who I met for the 7th Annual Komikon, had subsequently invited me to attend the 6th FIBDA, or the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Alger, or in English, the 6th International Comics Festival of Algeria.

I barely knew about Algeria at the time of the invitation, and I had no idea what kind of comics they had and that they had festivals at all. I was immediately intrigued. The festival would be covering all travel and accommodation expenses for me and my wife Ilyn so I really didn’t hesitate too much. I immediately said yes.

I must admit that I had concerns upon entering a country that was 99% Islamic. I know very little about that religion and what I know is most likely unfairly colored by extremists in the news. I did reassure myself with the personal knowledge that Muslims are some of the kindest and most friendly people I met, after spending a week in Jolo, Sulu during my college years.

I received an official invitation not only from FIBDA but from Khalida Toumi, the Minister of Culture of Algeria herself, which was quite remarkable. It was an indication to me that this festival was kind of big deal, and that perhaps comics was a thing that was taken seriously in that country.

Since Algeria did not have an embassy in the Philippines, we had to leave the country without visas. Which was kind of an adventure in itself. The airline going from the Philippines to Algiers, Algeria (with a stop over at Doha, Qatar) did not want to let us board without visas, in spite of the letters of invitation. We had to wait for 3 hours, nearly missing our flight, so they could send an email to Algeria, with scans of our papers, and wait for their reply. It almost seemed that we wouldn’t be able to leave at all. But at the very last minute, they let us through and we were off!

Arriving at Algiers many many many hours later, our concerns about our visas returned, but we need not have worried. As soon as we stepped off the plane we were greeted by someone who let us through the lines, got us our visas, and got us our ride to our hotel.

My first impression of Algeria is how cool it was. The Philippines was very hot in comparison. It was like being in Baguio. As we went through the streets and highways, I thought it was remarkable how clean everything was. They had very nice roads and very nice preserved old buildings.

Our driver had difficulty communicating with us since he didn’t speak English very well, and for us, we did not speak French at all, which was they spoke there outside of their own native language. The language barrier would be a distinct feature of our entire stay, not as a source of irritation surprisingly enough, but a welcome challenge to communicate simple ideas.

We soon arrived at the Hotel Safir, a venerable institution in Algiers, almost as old as our own Manila Hotel in the Philippines. Our driver let us go and we were met at the lobby by a FIBDA volunteer by the name of Ahmed. We would soon privately call him Pretty Boy Ahmed because he was just incredibly good looking. In fact, a lot of Algerians, boys and girls alike, are incredibly good looking. It was quite remarkable. It’s like everywhere we looked it was beautiful people. Ahmed knew less English than our driver so it was difficult to ask him even the simplest questions. He did know what to do and that was to check us in and get us to our rooms. Ahmed handed me his phone and it was Laurent on the line, a welcome, familiar voice. He said he couldn’t meet us at the airport as he was busy setting up the exhibits at the festival. I said it was all right and I was pretty sure we could manage.

Ilyn and I fell exhausted on our bed. It was a very long trip after all. The moment we stepped out of our door here in San Pablo, to the moment we stepped into our hotel room in Algiers it was around 26 hours. We were quite literally spent. It was 3 in the afternoon when we lay down and before we knew it, we were fast asleep and didn’t wake up until 9pm.

We went down for dinner, hoping the restaurant was still open, and at the door of the restaurant we saw Laurent, who introduced us to FIBDA coordinator Karim, who seemed to speak English well enough. We sat down at a table and before we could take a breath, there was a plate of salad in front of us. Finally. FOOD! I had been very hungry and was worried about finding something to eat in an unfamiliar place. As salads go it was all right. As soon as I finished my plate it was taken away and a plate of steak was placed in front of me. Ok. I hadn’t planned on eating meat too much on this trip but if this was the set menu, I couldn’t ignore it. I finished most of the vegetables that came with it and tasted a bit of the steak. Well… OK. The steak was kind of more than well done. The vegetables were also quite a bit overcooked. I remembered articles written by other comics artists who had visited FIBDA in the past and commented how the food “was dire”. It was something I wasn’t ready to believe. This was probably a fluke. But as hungry as I was I didn’t mind. We talked quite a bit with Laurent and then retired back to our rooms.

October 8, Tuesday

Breakfast buffet was simple: Several choices of bread, butter, jam, coffee, tea, fruit juices and yogurt. To me this breakfast is just perfect. It would eventually become the best part of being at the hotel, having breakfast and meeting other comics creators.

Laurent showing Frank Margerin Elmer originals.

Laurent joined us and introduced us to Alain Frappier, a French comics artist. We were soon introduced to Chinese artist Golo Zhao, who came bouncing down to our table with a confused/surprised look on his face. Apparently, he recognized me and couldn’t figure out what the hell I was doing there. He asked me if I was the guy in the gifs doing the smile. Apparently, gifs of my “Hey, Baby” video are pretty big in China and he recognized me for it. He didn’t know I actually did comics so it was a surprise to him. Golo seemed not to know how to react for the most part. Part of his brain must have short circuited.

Laurent and Etienne Schréder.

Shortly after, I also met other artists including French artist Frank Margerin, as well as Belgian cartoonist Etienne Schréder. We talked a little bit about Tintin and clear line style that’s so well regarded in Europe.

Laurent seemed to sense that me and Ilyn were lost because we had a hard time communicating with people. Most of them spoke French, which seemed to be the International language in this part of the world. He reassured me that I would soon have an interpreter, and that another delegate from India would soon be arriving and spoke very good English.

It turned out, nearly all delegates from all these different countries for the festival were billeted at our hotel, the Hotel Safir. I thought that was perfect because it would be a great opportunity to interact with a lot of these artists in an informal and casual way. Buses were scheduled to take us to the venue some 15 minutes away usually around 9am. Laurent offered me and Ilyn if we wanted to go early as he had a car. I said yes, and Etienne came with us.

The venue was located right beside the Makam Echahid Monument, an incredibly tall monument that commemorates Algeria’s fight for independence against France. There is a big plaza around the monument where a large area was cordoned off and huge tents were erected to house the exhibits.

I felt immense pride upon seeing the Philippine flag among the gallery of flags from all participating countries.

Laurent led us to the International Comics tent where the exhibits from the Philippines, China, America, India, Finland, France, Lebanon, Tunisia, etc were set up. It was around 9am and the Festival won’t officially open until 3pm which was just fine because some of the exhibits still need to be set up. The Philippine exhibits needed a bit of arranging, and with the help of student volunteers, Ilyn helped out to arrange the exhibits properly.

Communicating with the students proved very rewarding, specially for Ilyn who was previously a teacher of students of this age. They seemed to have connected on a very close level, in spite of the language barrier. One of the coordinators observing us even said that Ilyn should stay in Algeria because she seems to be teaching these kids really well.

Satisfied that the Philippine exhibits were ready, we started walking around the tents looking at the other exhibits. I was very impressed with a few artworks from artists from Algeria including the ones below. I thought that the people were depicted really well expressed their features and their culture really well. Later on I would meet the people responsible for this comic book.

A tent at the center of the festival featured the work of only one artist, Kaci. I would learn that he is one of the most popular cartoonists in Algeria, and he will soon be honored with a Lifetime Achievement award at this same festival. We looked at his comics and we became instant fans. His strips are so funny that we laughed like idiots looking at his work inside this tent.

We finally meet up with our interpreter, Safia Ouarezki, a local Algerian who spoke excellent English with a slight British accent. She explained that she got it from living for a while in England. We got along extremely well with her and her sister Soumia, and that in spite of differences in culture and religion, there’s so many things we had in common including interests and points of view in life. Meeting these two women certainly shattered a lot of my pre-conceived notions of Islam. When it comes to this, I certainly have a lot more to learn.

Ilyn with Safia

It turns out, Safia is one of the creators of the Algerian comics we had seen earlier, which she had collaborated on with her sister Soumia, and Soumia’s husband Mahmoud Benemeur.

The festival opened that afternoon after a ribbon cutting by none other than Algeria’s Minister of Culture, Khalida Toumi. I thought that was just amazing. Their government takes comics seriously enough for them to spend so much for an International festival on comics, and not only that, this politician made no speeches or did any sort of grandstanding. She was there to look at the exhibits and the first thing she did was head for the International Comics tent, and naturally, the Philippine exhibits. I was on hand to greet her and Laurent was there to explain the exhibits in French. She spent quite a bit of time observing each piece and after, she took my hand and thanked me for participating. I for one am the grateful one for being invited, and having the opportunity to share Philippine comics with this International community.

The Algerian Minister of Culture Khalida Toumi (in black) with Laurent.

As for the Philippine exhibit itself, we were given space for only 15 pieces of art and two shelves for comics. I brought artwork from our great masters of course like Francisco V. Coching, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo, and a few of mine. I also brought komiks from the 1950s as well as new comic books. I hope that one day we can come back to future FIBDAs with a bigger Filipino contingent of artists, and larger space for exhibits, presenting a wider view of who we are as Filipino comics creators.

Ilyn and I continued to walk around the other exhibits and found this large tent full of comics from Cameroon.

Later, we met a few comics creators from Congo. Thankfully, this one spoke English very well and we talked a bit about comics from their country. It turns out that like the Philippines, they were publishing their own comics.

Back at the International Comics tent, I met up again with Golo Zhao, and I saw some of his works and they were just extraordinary. It’s hard to see in these pictures, but his art is incredibly detailed and beautifully laid out. I also love the colors.

Golo introduced me to his fellow artist from China (who I first thought was his dad, ha! ha!) Li Kunwu.

Night soon fell and it became rather cold. So cold that I couldn’t stay outside for too long. I just had to get inside one of the tents. I took that as a reminder to bring a jacket the following day. Going inside one of the tents seemed just right because Kaci was being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and recognition and appreciation were being bestowed upon a group of veteran Algerian cartoonists.

At the ceremony, one of the artists from Congo, Asimba Bathy, spotted me taking a video of the proceedings. He stood beside me holding his video camera as I shot my footage as if waiting for something. After I finished, he handed me his camera and through bits of sign language and pointing at his camera, it seemed that he wanted me to figure out what was wrong with it. I saw that it was stuck on pause and much as I tried to tinker with it, I couldn’t figure it out. In fact, my tinkering might have even further broke it. I got a little afraid because Asimba was a huge dude and he looked quite a bit like Idris Elba. I gave the camera back, shrugged my shoulders, feeling bad I couldn’t help him out.

October 9, Wednesday

Breakfast was something we always looked forward to. The food was simple, but it was just perfect for us. The windows outside the hotel restaurant looked out into the Mediterranean and sunrise was always awesome.

Laurent once again offered to give us an early ride to the venue and we said yes. I like going early because it gives me the chance to go around the festival before the crowds come. This time I visited the bookstore, and of course, this bookstore contained nothing but comics! I soon spotted ELMER!

Earlier at breakfast we had met another Laurent, Laurent Lolméde, a cartoonist known for his autobiographical comics. He was remarkable because he kept drawing all the time, He kept making all these little comics depicting everything that he had done, including breakfast at Hotel Safir that morning. I think I spotted him drawing me!

Comics by Laurent Lolméde.

Later, I made it a point to look at his exhibits. While looking at Laurent’s work, the original Laurent introduced us to this artist from Kosovo who just arrived, Gani Jakupi.

With Gani Jakupi

Comics by Gani Jakupi.
Gani and us quickly got along and we were soon sharing stories of each others countries. It turns out, he lives in Barcelona now creating comics and making music. How awesome is that? His art, he described, is created panel by panel. Each panel is a huge illustration done separately that’s all put together on one page. As such he said, it takes a long time for him to finish a book.

With Golo and Sarnath Banerjee.

We discovered the VIP room and there Golo invited to interview me for his website. Apparently, he still can’t get over meeting the dude from the viral smiling gif. Sarnath Banerjee suddenly appeared beside us, engaging us in conversation. I met Sarnath, the English speaking Indian dude that Laurent had told me about, the previous evening. Among all the people I met at this festival, Sarnath is probably the most unique and most memorable. He’s deeply intelligent, funny, and has always something witty to say about everything. As such, I believe he makes friends rather quickly. He’s such an open guy and easy to relate to. That morning he seemed kind of bored and wanted to rock the Casbah. Apparently, the “Casbah” is an actual place in Algiers, a kind of a public market where one can probably find the most authentic part of their culture. I think artists are attracted to that and Sarnath kept going on about it for several days.

Safia, Ville Ranta and Laurent.

I soon got to meet another artist, Ville Ranta from Finland, who I also would get along quite well with. Ville Ranta and I have the same publisher in France, and both of us would be in Paris the following week for a series of signings at local Paris comic book stores.

Ville is also quite a unique individual. He has a peculiar way of speaking in English that’s steady and clear that I find strangely appealing. Like Sarnath, he’s immensely intelligent, a little bit more private, with a sense of humor that just comes out of the blue.

Ilyn and I spent the rest of the morning looking at more exhibits.

Corto Maltese.

Algerian Comics Veterans

There was tent that invited young artists to draw and have their work displayed around the tent. Ilyn was finagled into drawing something and she seemed to really enjoy doing it!

Hung out with Golo a little bit more. I think he would soon be leaving so it’s nice to exchange a few more stories with him before he goes.

That afternoon was spent signing and hanging out with Gani Jakupi. The more I talked to him, the more interesting he became. Sarnath passed by to talk a little bit, commented on how cold it was and retreated back to the VIP room. After the signing, we followed him there. I didn’t get the chance to sit down because I met Kaci!

He asked if I was Filipino and I said yes. I think he knew because had been to the Philippines previously. I said that I became an instant fan of his the moment I saw his work, and he expressed a genuine interest to read my work. Since all my free copies of ELMER were back at the hotel, he actually bought one at the bookstore and had me sign it. It was awesome! I wanted to buy a collection of his strips, but I was told they were all sold out. Oh well!!

Gani, Safia and Sarnath.

Back at the VIP room, deep and meaningful conversations I had gotten used to were ongoing as I joined Gani, Safia and Sarnath at one corner of the room. Sarnath talked about how the growth of comics can only come about from outside influences as current comics thrive on feeding on itself. To be honest, I always feel like my brain is an oven when I talk to Sarnath, which is just fine. It’s exhilarating to have my brain exercised every time I talk to this dude.

All of a sudden I felt a tap on my shoulder and a loud “GERRRY!!!” coming from behind me. I turned around and there was Bira Dantas, an online pal of mine for 10 years who I was meeting for the first time at that very moment.

I knew he was coming but I was surprised to see how young he was. And it was surprising how vibrant, eager, and happy he was, not just to meet me, but he seemed to be that way all the time. He was so excited about just everything, and welcomed everyone with a big smile. His stories never stopped. One moment he would be talking about a Brazil he loved, then he talked about his dream of going to Cuba, and then next moment he would be playing his harmonica. He was like a whirlwind. I thought Bira just had to be the happiest cartoonist in all of FIBDA.

That evening we were all shuttled up to the residence of the Minister of Culture for a big dinner. Once again, no big speeches from her, just a genuine welcome to all of the delegates. I thought FINALLY! Some REAL Algerian food!

They served us some really nice local appetizers and for the main dish, their traditional couscous with chicken, beef and vegetables. To me it tasted vaguely like Pochero here in the Philippines, but the couscous made the taste rather unique. Those who previously complained that the food in Algeria was “dire” simply didn’t have the authentic stuff, which was just delicious. I guess the hotel thought it best to serve dishes that may be familiar to us, but for people like me, I always want to taste what’s unique to any place I visit.

At the dinner I met this extremely talented and young English comics creator named Isabel Greenberg. She showed us her work, “The Encyclopedia of Early Earth” and it was work of remarkable professionalism and maturity. I think this girl will go places in the world of comics!

October 10, Thursday

Ok, we were pretty much absent from the festival today as we took some personal time for ourselves. What we can say is that we did go to the beach for a short while. We were driven by another one of those extremely handsome dudes named Lotfi. Naturally, we eventually came to call him Pretty Boy Lotfi. He was extremely nice and very eager to show us around. What I notice from most Algerians I met is that they are eager to hear what other people think of Algeria. They are very proud of their culture,specially their music. You would think a young dude like Lotfi would be into western music, but he kept playing all these traditional Algerian stuff which was just fascinating to hear.

That night I hung around with a few other artists during dinner and later, talked well into the early morning at the 3rd floor terrace overlooking the bay. My new friends missed me during the festival and I apologized and assured them I would be there the entire day Friday.

October 11, Friday

After another breakfast welcoming the sunrise at the hotel restaurant, Laurent invited us once again to go to the festival early. I saw Golo there and it seemed it was his last day and he had to leave that morning. I quickly went back to my room and gave him a spare English copy of Elmer and we said our goodbyes.

In the car to the venue, we had another rider, a comics artist from Lebanon named Barrack Rima. Barrack seemed like a very quiet, very friendly, and quite a gentle person. We had coffee near the festival venue and exchanged anecdotes about comics and about our homes.

With Laurent and Barrack Rima.

Comics by Barrack Rima.

I thought this would be a perfect time to do a kind of a virtual video walk-through of the entire festival venue. The video is very long at almost 30 minutes. It was shot continuously, going through nearly all areas of the festival in just one go. 

I attended a talk on Cuban comics which was presented in French. I understood none of it, but I appreciated the visuals, which were very interesting. The presenters from Cuba, Duchy Man Valderá and Lysbeth Daumont Robles , showed me some vintage Cuban comics from the 1970s, some of which were for mature readers.

Lysbeth had previously spoken to me during the dinner at the Minister of Culture’s residence, and she was very interested in the archiving and preservation efforts I’ve been doing for Philippine comics. She wants to do the same for Cuba.

That afternoon I had more signings, this time with French comics creators Bruno Loth and Vanyda. We were soon joined by Bira, who continued to impress me with his exuberance and gaiety. He engaged each person who approached his table with such joy and openness that people immediately felt comfortable with him. Being the kind of introvert that I am, I was truly amazed. Bira gave me two of his “Bira Zines” while I gave him an English copy of Elmer. I had to leave Bira after a while to do a talk on Philippine comics at a different location.

I was surprised that more people than I expected showed up, including Tom Kaczynski, the lone American cartoonist at the festival who I had met during dinner two nights before. Tom was very keenly interested to learn about Philippine comics, having been impressed by the works of Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo and Alex Niño for their work on US comics.

Since I only had some 45 minutes for my talk, part of which would need to make way for translations, I’ve had to make my talk short, but as informative as I could.

At the Q&A session, the questions that were posed to me were very good and very substantial, an obvious sign that people were actually listening and not just sitting down so they could take a rest. I was very glad to see so much interest in Philippine comics, and comments I got later told me most people never knew about Philippine comics until this festival, and they had no idea that it had such a huge publication history with a roster of excellent artists.

I gave Safia and Soumia a copy of the English version of Elmer in appreciation for the help they’ve given us during the festival. They were very happy to receive it in English as the only version available at the festival was in French.

With Tom and Safia.

Back at the signing, Bira would go on signing and doing caricatures well into the night. Since we didn’t have lights at our signing tent, Bira had to work with as much light as was still available, until he could draw no more. It was quite inspiring.

Resting at one of the concrete benches kind of shivering in the cold after the signing, we were invited by one of the Algerian coordinators if we wanted to watch a concert. And of course we said yes. Surprisingly, we were led through a large crowd of people wanting to get in the convert venue and given a seat right at front. Apparently guests at the festival had kind of a VIP pass for the concert. The crowd already in the venue seemed pretty excited. Of course, we had no idea what we were in for. As soon as the band, Djamawi Africa, came in, there was a thunderous roar. Apparently, this band was very famous in Algeria. They must have been like the Eraserheads here in the Philippines. Really, the crowd just went crazy. Of course, we just had to clap along so we won’t look so clueless.

I took a video of the first song they performed.

It didn’t take long before the band impressed us by their performance. I thought they were very good! They used a variety of styles from reggae, to traditional to some pop and rock sensibilities and before long I was genuinely clapping along and tapping my feet to the beat.

After the first song, a mosh pit formed in front of the stage right in front of us and after the 2nd song, it all started to get crazy. Lysbeth and Bira jumped in the mosh pit and started dancing like crazy. It was exhilarating, but man, I thought it was time to step out because the crowd was getting a little too wild.

We soon discovered that the first bus on the way back to the hotel was already full. We had to wait another hour (until the concert finished) so the 2nd bus would fill up and leave. We didn’t mind too much. We just spent the time looking at the photos we so far took and look at the locals visit the monument.

October 12, Saturday

At breakfast we were joined by Laurent, Sarnath, and Ville. For Ville, I think it would be his last breakfast with us before he left for Paris. Laurent once again invited us to go early to the festival, but this time he proposed that we go via public transportation. Which was just cool with us! We were joined by Chinese artist Chongrui Nie, who is this amazing artist who did Judge Bao, recently translated and released by Archaia Press. Nie spoke absolutely no English and it was hard trying to describe to him that we were going to ride a train and a cable car to the venue. So I just drew it on paper and he understood right away! “OK!" He said, with a large smile and an enthusiastic thumbs up.

And so off we went! We had to walk quite a bit to the subway train terminal, but I took that as an opportunity to sight see and take pictures of Algiers’ amazingly well preserved old buildings. Algiers is a truly beautiful city and I hope more people would be made aware of it.

After the subway train ride, we had to take a cable car up to the monument beside the festival venue. Inside the cable car was a group of teenage Algerian girls who immediately took an interest in us and started talking with us. They knew English quite well and at first they asked us if we were Chinese. I said oh, just him, pointing to Nie. Ilyn and I were Filipinos, and they were quite surprised at that. We’re probably the very first Filipinos they ever met. We soon got to talking and as expected, Ilyn naturally got on very well with them. They were extremely friendly and nice to us, even taking the time to protect us from a flower vendor who seemed to want to take advantage of us. That’s because I just had to buy Ilyn a flower because it was her birthday. When the kids learned of this, one of the girls gave Ilyn her bracelet because she said it was the only thing she could give. It was so heartwarming. Perfect strangers being very nice to us. That’s the general experience we have had with most Algerians.

Since it was Ilyn’s birthday, I wanted to treat her to a nice lunch at one of the local restaurants. None of that pretend stuff at the hotel. We found a nice restaurant near the festival venue called “Restaurant Mezghena”.

By this time we already knew some of the words. Poulet meant chicken, Poissons meant fish and Boissons meant drinks. So Ilyn had fish, I had chicken. Ilyn had bottled water and I had Fanta. Damn that Fanta. Why don’t we have this in the Philippines? I remember we had this before. Sure, we have Royal, but Fanta has all kinds of flavors: Apple, Orange, Four Seasons, Lemon, etc. In any case it was very nice lunch. Meals in Algeria all seemed to always come with bread. There just has to be bread. This one came with mayonnaise and a spicy sauce that seemed perfect for the bread.

Back at the festival I signed some more books, this time with Sarnath.

It was also Gani’s time to go back home so we said our goodbyes.

A small group soon formed at one of the tables with writers and artists from Finland (Ville), me (Philippines), Laurent (France), Sarnath (India) and Bira (Brazil) and only now upon looking at the photos am I amazed at the interaction of different individuals from all sorts of different countries. But at that moment, I didn’t feel that. I only felt I was in the company of peers and compatriots in comics and we were all the same, interacting together through the love of comics.

That evening we attended the awarding ceremonies where our friends (and interpreters) Safia and Soumia Ouarezki and Soumia’s husband Mahmoud Benemeur won a comics award for their comic book anthology “ Déchaînés ”. We were so happy and proud for them.

Later, we went out to the buses because we didn’t want to be left behind like we were the previous night. It turned out the buses were not yet there so Sarnath, Ville, Ilyn and I just hung out talking about our experiences. One of the coordinators, Tarik Benmzeiane, came to greet us and gave us an early goodbye in case we don’t get the chance to speak again.

Tarik had always been friendly with us and very helpful every time he saw us. For me, I was quite fascinated by Tarik and kept looking at him because he reminded me so much of Arlan. Even Ilyn seems to think there is a resemblance.

I sort of got to expect some kind of big farewell dinner. I think Laurent said something about this months before. There would be roast sheep and things like that, but it turns out this year there wouldn’t be anything like that. Which was just fine. I wish we had known that previously so we could have eaten outside, but as it is, we ended up having our last dinner at the hotel where food is, well, I gotta say I can cook better.

The dinner that night was surprising though, it was stewed beef with pasta and cheese, which was quite an unusual combination. Even more surprising was that the beef tasted exactly like kaldereta. In fact, it was kaldereta. Just the Hotel Safir version of it. Sarnath tasted the beef and said he liked it, and said he’d have it. Instead, he was given some steak, which was again kind of overcooked. He gave it to Ville who accepted it without so much fuss. On the other hand, I was puzzled. I asked Sarnath weren’t Indians not supposed to eat beef? He said “Yes.”, which I thought was kind of funny. He had given up eating meat he said, but with the hotel’s set menu, it gave him little choice.

I gave Sarnath my last copy of the English version of Elmer, and he seemed genuinely touched at the gesture. He said I could ask him anything and I said, well, I could use a beer. And his hand immediately went up to call a waiter for a round of beers. Now alcohol is generally not allowed in Algeria, but since Hotel Safir is an international hotel, beers in this place was allowed. Since this was also our last dinner, I thought it was the best time to finally have some beer.

My tolerance for alcohol is pretty low. Very very low. So after finishing just one bottle, I was already on the verge of being drunk and being very talkative. I started to say things I wouldn’t normally say. We then moved from the restaurant to the 3rd floor terrace where we continued our conversations. We all knew full well it was our last night together and so we had to make the best of it. Bira interviewed me on video for a Brazilian website. Soumia, Safia and Mahmoud gave me a copy of “ Déchaînés ”, with sketch from Mahmoud, inked by Soumia. I got to talk quite a bit to Soumia, who was very open about a lot of ideas. She asked about my other projects and I told her about “Where Bold Stars Go To Die” and surprisingly enough, she really liked the story and she wants to read it for herself.

I got to talk with Bruno Loth, who told me that he lived in a vineyard in Bordeaux, which seemed so fascinating to me. I asked him if they had those big barrels where people stepped on the grapes to squeeze the juice out. And he said yes. I thought that was very cool.

Very soon I was getting very tired and sleepy so I called it a night. Just as I was leaving the terrace, Etienne was coming on. This was already around 1:30 in the morning.

October 13, Sunday

At breakfast we met Tunisian cartoonist Yassine Ellil for the first time. It was just unfortunate that there were so much more writers and artists we didn’t get to meet and interact with, but I was so very glad for those creators we did get to meet. Meeting them proved more valuable to me than anything else I got from the festival. Seeing them and their talent was very inspiring and it further encouraged me to pursue creating my own comics.

We only had a few hours left before we had to leave for the airport so Ilyn and I decided to take a walk outside the hotel and venture the streets of Algiers on our own. We found a plaza full of sidewalk vendors and unlike sidewalk vendors here in the Philippines selling trinkets, clothes, food, and the like, vendors here in Algiers sell books. Tons of books! And not only that, they dress extremely well.

Looking for a place to eat we spotted a familiar shawarma vertical meat spit.

Only in this place, shawarma is called “Chawarma”. Because of difficulty in translation, they gave us chawarma on a plate rather than in a pita bread. But that’s just perfectly all right. The chawarma on the plate was just simply AWESOME. It was probably the best chawarma I ever had.

The different thing is, they don’t use that spicy garlic sauce. They use simply mayonnaise, which was just fine. There were all sorts of different things in it like beets, fries, olives, shredded carrots, cucumber, tomato and lettuce. The meat was just simply terrific. One of the best meals we’ve had in Algeria.

Before we left the hotel, Sarnath met us at the lobby. He wouldn’t be leaving until Monday, and it made him quite sad. He asked coordinator Karim (whom we met on the first day) to stop us from leaving, but of course, there was nothing he could do. Soumia, Safia and Mahmoud were also there to see us off. We had a bit of conversation and a bit of a kerfuffle with a grasshopper before it was time to go.

I told all three that I was going to give them money, to which they reacted to in shock. “No! Why?” They asked. I told them not to worry. It was just a bit of a joke. I said I would give them Philippine money as a remembrance of us. And that they gladly accepted.

And before we knew it, we were on a car on the way back to the airport.

It was quite an extraordinary experience, one that I would take with me for as long as live. I hope the friendships I made in that week would last, even through long distance. I really hope I could meet them all again one day, and I guess one way to make sure of that is to just continue creating my own comics. I came home extraordinarily inspired and I just can’t wait to write and draw again.

I’m extremely grateful to all who made this trip possible, specially Laurent Mélikian, FIBDA, and of course the government of Algeria for inviting me and giving me and Ilyn this experience that we will simply never forget.

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