While the film industry’s been wrestling with the complete shut-out of any people of color from the Oscars acting nominations, a similar storm has been brewing over comics’ most prestigious award. Unfortunately, #AngoulemesSoMale does not a great hashtag make, so it may have flown under your radar! It all revolves around a lifetime achievement award given to a comics creator called the Grand Prix d’Angouleme and given at the International Comics Festival in Angouleme, France. It awards one creator for their entire body of work, and then that wining creator’s work is exhibited at the next year’s festival. Only one woman has ever won the Grand Prix, Florence Cestac, a renowned French cartoonist who won back in 2000. The Festival’s list of nominees was announced earlier this month and not a single woman was nominated.
Yup, out of thirty nominees on the Festival’s short-list, not a single woman’s body of work was considered prestigious enough to potentially qualify for the Grand Prix. Outcry to the lack of female nominees started with BD Egalite, a group of female French creators and spread from there. The festival’s executive director defended the lack of nominees by more or less saying ‘hey, blame history, not us!’ when quoted as saying “Unfortunately, there are few women in the history of comics,” Franck Bondoux said. “That’s the reality. Similarly, if you go to the Louvre, you will find few women artists. The festival loves women, but we cannot rewrite the history of comics.”
Unsurprisingly, people weren’t very happy with Bondoux’s comments, considering how he utterly ignores the fact that women have been in the comics industry since its inception, but despite producing great, important work they were marginalized and contributions were downplayed, including not receiving the accolades their male colleagues were awarded. Something that is still happening and which women’s exclusion from nominees for the Grand Prix just furthers! Twelve nominees pulled their names out of consideration for the award, including well-known figures in American comics like Brian Michael Bendis, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, and Bill Sienkiewicz.
I really liked what Bendis said about the festival’s lack of women “[t]he lack of female presence certainly does not reflect the reality I live or work in.” This isn’t about ancient comics history or about changing the past. It’s about recognizing women creators now and looking past the blinders of what was considered ‘great’ in the past may have been overlooking some really great work. BD Egalite released a statement that summed it up quite nicely: “If for him, absolutely no woman in the world deserves to be included on the 2016 list of nominees, and that is a reflection of the reality of the comics world today, it is time for Franck Bondoux to change his job.” (translated from the original French.)
Facing a firestorm of criticism, the Festival scrambled to first add women to the list of nominees, before deciding to throw out the shortlist all together and allow the entire voting body to write in who their own nominee. The Academy, by the way, are comics professionals who have been accredited by the Festival, which requires publication in France as part of the requirement. Interestingly enough, it’s not 100% clear if the Festival requires publication in print or if digital-only creators whose work is available in France. Rosy Press publisher Jannelle Asselin talked about the problems with that on her Twitter:
After the open voting for any nominees, the Festival announced the list of finalists: Alan Moore, Hermann Huppen, and Claire Wendling. Alan Moore is probably pretty familiar to English-language comic readers as a noted grumpy comics wizard and writer of Watchmen and Tom Strong. He’s probably not going to show up if he wins, as he’s stated previously he’s not interested in the award. Hermann Huppen is a well-known Belgian cartoonist who created Jeremiah, a long-running sci-fi comic that was serialized in English in Heavy Metal and inspired a brief Showtime TV series. Claire Wendling is a well-known French illustrator, who, in addition to her work in comics, also has produced a great deal of work in animation and video games. She’s also said she doesn’t want the award, because while she’s appreciative of all the positive focus on her work she’s not a fan of all the attention. Which, hey, before you rush to say that means she shouldn’t win it, let me remind you that Bill Watterson won the award in 2014 and he is literally a recluse.
The winner will be announced this weekend at the Festival, and, whoever the final selection is, it will definitely inspire more conversation about sexism in the industry and just how important industry awards are.
Beyond this year’s controversy, there’s a whole lot of interesting background about the Grand Prix award if you want to know more about the Grand Prix. Even though there’s more of an international presence in the last few years, the awards are still heavily tilted toward Franco-Belgian creators, and it was only last year that Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of Akira, became the first Asian creator to ever win the Grand Prix. Plus there was the whole ‘SodaStream as a sponsor’ issue, which may be settled for now but could rear its ugly head at any time. The one good thing that came out of the Festival’s fail is the social media reaction to highlight female creators with great bodies of work that could merit consideration. Check out the Twitter hashtag #WomenDoBD for women around the world who are industry titans in their own right.