'BD' in Battambang

Sylvain Moizie-Rondet Lisa Mandel Srey Bandol Vuthea
I step off the plane and into the warm morning light. I ask one of the airport moto-taxi drivers to take me to 'Salaa Barang'. - "School French". There are only two places in the city that could be. One is the French Cultural Centre, the other is my intended destination: Phare Art School

At Phare I receive a warm welcome from the staff. It's Pchum Ben weekend, so there are no classes in session. But it's a good time to relax and catch up with  some friends who have been here before: Sylvain Moizie-Rondet, and Lisa Mandel who had done the Lakhorn Kou project in Siem Reap over a year ago.  

Lakhorn Kou was a short-term teaching effort to help the children of  Krousar Thmey nonprofit learn to express themselves.  Lisa, Sylvain, and also Keu Chan and Lucie Albon used theatre techniques to help children create stories, and then helped them draw them. 

In seven months, their output was phenomenal. Six issues of the comic Lakhorn Kou (Drawn Theatre) and pages and pages of their own comics about living and working in Cambodia. (See upcoming interview in 'The Comics Interpreter' for more details.) 

A collected book of their experiences will be published in mid-October 2003, with perhaps more individual stories to follow.  

Above: Sylvain and Lisa looking at student art.

Phare school is the only one of its kind in Battambang, and perhaps all of Cambodia. It specializes in both performing and graphic arts. Its staff are mostly French speaking, and Lisa and Sylvain have been immersed in Khmer language for the last month in order to teach effectively. I've been living in Cambodia for a few years (and my French is terrible), so much of our conversation takes place in Khmer, to the amusement of our Cambodian friends. It's only when we get into more abstract discussions about art that we end up switching to English or French. 

 Lisa and Sylvain will be finishing their month-long project and returning home a few days later. With their fellow teachers, Vuthea and Srey Bandol, today they are evaluating and sorting the final projects of the students, in preparation for returning home a few days later. 

Vuthea has been illustrator for a number of nonprofit ecological publications, and Srey Bandol's hardcover children's book 'In the Land of the Elephants' has recently been published by Phnom Penh's Reyum Institute

The student art is amazing. Working in groups, they have created some beautiful full color stories. 

Click for Moto Comic

Click for Dream Comic


Exchange book

They are also doing an exchange book with a school in France, so students can trade information about their daily lives via pictures. 





Some of the students 

 Lots of new things to see, it's all a bit overwhelming! But it's great to catch up. 

I've recently come back from a comics show in Yogyakarta, Indonesia...  I've also got some CDs of classic Cambodian Rock (60's - 70's) and Indonesian pop. It's good to share. Swapping Indonesian comics with French cartoonists in Cambodia; I love living in the 21st century.

Lisa has had a nice hardcover book 'Mimi' published by Glenat in France. I'm envious both of her skill and the publishing environment over there. Hardbound 48 page Bande Dessine albums just don't sell in the States, everything is superheroes in softcover.

And Sylvain gives me more details on Institut Pacome, a collective of comics publishers in France. They do small runs of handmade books; much like Highwater Books in USA or Silent Army in Australia.  The difference? They don't sign and number their books, and get ISBN numbers for them. 

 When you pick up a book like Sylvain's Olive, you don't know how many have been printed; it doesn't wear 'small press' on its sleeve. The result? an artifact from a world where comics are drawn and made with more care. And a suggestion that world is not so far away. 

Fresh from Indonesia, it's intriguing to now talk about comics with Europeans. Lisa and Sylvain are not defensive about being cartoonists, and don't see themselves as advocates for the entire medium. Perhaps this is because in Europe, there are more alternative comics, and more opportunities to be published. They carry themselves more like professional musicians.  They enjoy doing their work. They have professional interests and personal tastes.

Institut Pacome Anthology

 But they also exist in a world that already has a place for their work. They have less self-doubt about their role as a cartoonist.

What they do share with the other artists I know is a desire to grow and refine opportunities to publish comics outside the mainstream. But they are not waving a flag; for them this seems to be a very common-sense, practical goal to be worked towards. 

Advertisement Institut Pacome

Above: Battambang Market.

Another 'practical goal' is to scan and save to CD the final results from the students. The problem is one of the computers is not working. All the artwork is saved on one computer, and the CD-Burner is on another. Sylvain and I head off to the market area to locate a CD burner to borrow. After some negotiation we get one for 10,000 riel. (About $2.50 US.) In Phnom Penh they'd probably want $10. I can see why they appreciate Battambang; it's smaller, quieter and friendlier.

Back to Phare. After some difficulty unlocking the office and convincing the computers to work, we use my flash drive and the CD burner to transfer the data and burn the CD. Woo hoo! It's all backed up. 

It's interesting to hear about the projects both of them have. Lisa is has more on the way from Glenat, and Sylvain is teaching comics online. It's great to see cartoonists gainfully employed. 

We head back to the market, drop off the CD burner, and have a drink by the riverside as the sun sets. Sylvain and Lisa really like the quiet atmosphere of Battambang, I can see what they mean. Siem Reap was the same way three years ago, now it's a boomtown. I must come out and visit again, there's lots to see. 



To be continued...


Back to QuickDraw