January 7, 2016
Protesting sexism, comic book artists pull out of running for Angoulême Grand Prix
by Liam O’Brien
Every year, the Angoulême Comics Festival awards their Grand Prix to a deserving artist whose body of work or contribution to the art form has been deemed especially significant. Past winners include Bill Watterson, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, and most recently the manga artist Katsuhiro Otomo.
Notice a common quality among those winners? You’re not the only one. This year, ten artists nominated for the award have abdicated their nominations in protest of the all-male shortlist.
Angelique Chrisafis reports for The Guardian:
Daniel Clowes, who was Oscar-nominated for the screenplay adaptation of his series Ghost World, joined the French graphic novelist Joann Sfar and the award-winning French-Syrian Riad Sattouf in demanding their names be removed, after a campaigning collective called for a boycott.
The absence of women from the 30-strong shortlist has sparked a row in France, which has a long tradition of comics, graphic novels, satirical cartoons and caricature, and boasts of the scale of its Angoulême gatherings.
The “grand prix” is a lifetime achievement award at Angoulême, and the winner is named president of the following year’s festival. In the festival’s 43-year history, just one woman, the French artist Florence Cestac, has won.
Seven more nominees subsequently withdrew from consideration. Previous female nominees for the Grand Prix include Marjane Satrapi and Posy Simmonds.
This also isn’t the first year that the prize has been the subject of controversy. The festival also incurred a backlash in 2014, this time against the more inclusive (non-Francophone) list of nominees and the younger jury.
Along with the high-profile exeunt of the first three nominees, a protest has been mounted by Women In Comics Collective Against Sexism, which called for a boycott of the awards:
With the Grand Prix of Angoulême, the comics world recognizes one of its own for their entire career. This award is not only honorary, it has an obvious economic impact: the media covers the Grand Prix winner extensively, and the distinction makes a huge impact in the bookstore, to the benefit of booksellers, publishers and…the award-winning author.
We simply ask for a consideration of the reality of our existence and of our value.
Clowes’ announcement of his withdrawal was a bit more barbed:
I support the boycott of Angoulême and am withdrawing my name from any consideration for what is now a totally meaningless honour. What a ridiculous, embarrassing debacle.
Franck Bondoux, the Executive Officer of the festival, was quick to offer a non-explanation for the shortlist’s overwhelming maleness; they just couldn’t find any women! Speaking with Le Monde, Bondoux argued:
When you look at the prize list, you can see the artists on it have a certain maturity and a certain age. Unfortunately, there are few women in the history of comics art. It’s a reality. If you go to the Louvre, you’ll equally find very few women artists.
However, it appears that Bondoux will soon eat his words, as the Festival recently issued a statement to the effect that, though they stand firm on the position of “women are hard to find,” they will be adding “new names” (one assumes this means female artists) to the shortlist.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.