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The idea for the International st-Just cartoon festival (St-Just-le-Martel 32e Festival International de la Caricatura & Du Dessin de Presse et d' Humour ) came more than 31 years ago to Gerard Vandenbroucke, the mayor. As far as I can tell Gerard has always been mayor of this small town set in rolling french countryside where cows seriously outnumber people.

Gerard is a Socialist, because, as my son points out, he likes to socialize.

It appears the whole town is social-ist, too. Not content socializing with just each other, three decades ago the people here, led by their visionary mayor, banded together to throw a party that would attract people from all over the globe. Cartoonists seemed to be a worldwide phenomenon, and being French with a soft spot for artists, St-Justians choose my profession to celebrate.

They eventually built two world class halls that are combination museum/convention/reception centers with plenty of room to socialize in. Think Mormon stake center with wine and a cultural hall that is actually dedicated to culture and not basketball.

For two weeks every October, cartoonists from around the world arrive to be fed, feted and fatted. This year, there are almost 200, who stay as guests of the town, more often than not in the homes of citizens. Sometimes remarkable bonds spring up between host and guest. Alex Watson, a Scottish cartoonist, has been returning to stay with the same family for decades.

I arrive with the American contingent. Including a spouse and son, there are six of us. Daryl Cagle is our leader and the only one who has previously attended. Besides being a cartoonist, he is also the head of a cartoon syndicate that carries cartoons from around the world.

Among Cagle's cartoonists are Steve Sack and Bob Englehart, both here in St-Just, Bob with his wife, Pat. My son and I round out the crew.

Instead of being shared out to the homes of locals, we are put up in a hotel outside of town. After much discussion we attribute this state of affairs to our American Exceptionalism: our hosts thought we would be more comfortable being together. After even more discussion we still aren't sure what this says about us Americans.

Next: Innocents Abroad