When it comes to the comics industry, accusations of sexism is a daily exercise, so with no surprise, today is like any other day. But unlike most days, this new accusation hits closer to home, as I am French and the newest target is the biggest “Bandes Dessinées” festival in, dare I say, the world.
Oh, yes, this term will come up a lot, “Bandes Dessinées” is our own nifty way of talking about the French/Belgian medium of cartooning, unlike most countries that produce comics on a monthly or weekly basis, our artists usually take another direction, delivering a high quality 52 page story with big pages and hard covers, usually once or twice a year only. That said since we’re lazy, we also use Bandes Dessinées, or BDs, to talk about North American comics and Japanese mangas.
The list of the thirty nominated creators for the new “Grand Prix”, the “Grand Prize”, the biggest award Angouleme can deliver is out. The winner of the Grand Prix will be the President of next year’s festival, no less. The so-called problem is that of the 30 nominees none of them are women. Surely this must mean there is some sort of sexism in place. Surely female and male creators alike should boycott this horrible organization that would deny women their rightful place. (As of this writing Daniel Clowes and Fantagraphics have withdrawn from the Grand Prix and called for a boycott.) Surely, unless… Unless you use common sense.
But first, a bit of a history lesson for you. What is the “Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême”. And what is the “Grand Prize”?
The Festival has existed since 1974. The city of Angoulême where it takes place quickly became the French capital of BDs, with walls all around town covered with cartoon characters, book shops flourishing at every corner, and hundreds of artists gathering at the festival every year.
Since the first year of the festival, The Grand Prize, has been given to recognize a creator’s accomplishments.. The most important has been the creator’s career and the influence it has had on the BD/comics industry.. The winner of the Grand Prize also becomes the new President of the festival. Previously this meantthey were the one making the decision for the winner of the following year. As years passed, it became a collective decision among the current and all past Presidents. However, last year the rules were changed. The ability to vote for the candidates and decide the winner of the prize was expanded to a greater number of creators through the industry. Any artist accredited to the festival could vote for the following year. This meant that any creator who participated in an official capacity at the festival whether it was to have a table exhibit or perform a signing was allowed to vote.
This happened for very specific reasons. The French are largely influenced by the French, and will mostly influence other French. Of course, some French creators are well known internationally. First and foremost is Jean Giraud AKA Moebius. But if you were to look at the list of past winners, you wouldn’t know most of them if you’re not French. Very few non-French creators have won the Grand Prix. Those who did are decidedly the stuff of legend. We are talking Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Bill Watterson, and most recently Katsuhiro Otomo. But as the majority of winners were French (or Belgian, or Swiss, same thing), it was very difficult for non-French creators to be nominated, let alone win. In order to reduce the difficulty, the ability to vote passed from a few dozen people to a few hundred.
With the new voting members set, they chose who they believed to be the most influential and deserving of the Grand Prix. To claim that because the list of nominees did not include a woman the festival is sexist; it is absurd. It would mean the voting members somehow colluded together in a grand conspiracy to specifically make sure no women were nominated. It is utterly ridiculous and nonsensical. Instead of being sexist, it more than likely just means the 30 nominees were more qualified to receive the award in the eyes of the voting members.
It is aso my opinion that the Grand Prix should be treated like a lifetime achievement award. Anyone under the age of 50 probably hasn’t had enough time to qualify for such a reward. Unless they tragically died and you want to make a gesture, it simply doesn’t make sense. French creator Riad Sattouf refused his nomination because there were no women on the list. He shouldn’t have even been nominated. At age 37, he has only produced two books worth a damn. He simply does not belong on the list.
I’ve seen loads and loads of outraged people saying “But I can tell you dozens of talented women working in comics right now”. Yes, me too and I can tell you dozens of men that weren’t included either. But let’s remember the idea behind the Grand Prix is that it is a lifetime achievement award based on your influence on an international level.
There are a few names I’ve seen that might qualify: Rumiko Takahashi, Riyoko Ikeda, and Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi is still pretty young at 46 and she actually had been previously nominated for the Grand Prix. Her biggest success is Persepolis which is not only a great book but a great animated film too. It educated a lot of kids and adults. And surely, the fact that I can not name you any other book by Satrapi than Persepolis is due to my own shortcomings. To be honest, I can not name another book Art Spiegelman made besides Maus. The other two women I had to google because I didn’t even know who they were. If I have to google someone it probably doesn’t qualify them as being internationally influential. They should not get a nomination.
Itis also very important to consider that Angouleme does not just deliver the Grand Prix, it delivers a dozen of prizes during the festival, for “Best Book”, “Jury’s Special Prize”, “Best Series”, “Best Revelation”, “Best Young Readers Book” and so on. All of those categories see a lot of books with womenin a writing or art position (often both). This year’s official selection features books such as Nimona, Ms. Marvel, and Saga. Of the 40 books selected nine are done by female creators. But somehow that fact has been completely ignored by the individuals calling for a boycott and screaming in outrage.
Before you begin to seethe with anger, just use your brain instead of being senselessly offended. You will realize that Angouleme isn’t sexist and doesn’t hate women. Instead the hundreds of creators who voted for the most influential creators thought those who received the nomination were the most deserving. These are the creators own choices! There just weren’t any women deserving of the Grand Prix this year.” Heck, even Bendis and Sienkiewicz are only here because some of those creators have Netflix. There is no conspiracy, there is no misogyny, there is no discrimination.