The Sexism of the Angoulême Grand Prix
By Stephanie Cooke
What is Angoulême?
Angoulême is a comic book convention that takes place at the beginning of the year in the town of Angoulême in France. Angoulême is a few hours in the southwest region of France and has been host to the comics festival since 1974.
The festival is among the biggest comic celebrations in the world, ranking at number three (after Lucca Comics & Games in Italy) for highest attended at over 220,000 people in 2012.
I had the privilege of attending the festival that year and it’s unlike any show that you have been to in North America. The whole town takes part and is host to exhibits and shows at a wide variety of places, including beautiful churches and castles. It’s pretty incredible to behold.
The Official Awards of the International Comics Festival
Many conventions have their own awards but very few really wind up getting being widely recognized and coveted. Sure, everyone loves to win an award but Joe Schmo’s Award For Comic Stuff just doesn’t have the same weight as winning an Eisner Award.
There are several different categories for Angoulême’s awards but one of the biggest is the Angoulême Grand Prix.
What is the Angoulême Grand Prix?
The Angoulême Grand Prix is a lifetime achievement award to honour the work that his/her have accomplished over the year. It’s a living creator honour since part of the prize is that whoever wins the award becomes the president of the following year’s festival.
What’s the controversy?
It’s 2016. We have countless women within the community that not only create the comics that we love to consume, but they keep the whole freaking thing going (have you ever looked behind-the-scenes at how many women work for publishers like Image?) but I digress. The main focus in this instance are the creators.
In the 43 years of the Angoulême Grand Prix’s existence, the honour has only ever been awarded to one woman: artist Florence Cestac in 2000 (she also illustrated the cartoon to the right which, if you don’t parlez-vous Français, depicts a woman among several men mentioning exactly what we’ve gone over, that the award has only ever been given to one woman. The mean shrug and look indifferent (as you can see), saying “gosh, really?” while the caption reads, “Of course, this idea has not even occurred to them.”)
Again, it’s 2016. I reiterate the year because apparently the folks at Angoulême didn’t get the memo. This year, among 30 creators nominated to receive the Angoulême Grand Prix, not a single woman was listed.
What makes matters even worse is that the Festival, when asked to comment, replied with “The Festival cannot remake the history of comics” and that “positive discrimination” (called “affirmative action” in the United States) “has no place in the arts.”
Why is this an issue?
Because it’s 2016.
What creators have withdrawn their names from the ballot?
Brian Michael Bendis, Christophe Blain, François Bourgeon, Charles Burns, Pierre Christin, Daniel Clowes, Etienne Davodeau, Milo Manara, Riad Sattouf, Joann Sfar, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Ware.
Most expressed their desire to be withdrawn via blogs and/or social media. These are what some of the creators listed about had to say about their decision:
“As I drifted off to sleep last night I thought of my daughters. my smart, strong willed daughters who will STILL have to fight for their equal rights and how they will STILL have to fend off some men treating them as objects before they can see them as individuals and how insane it seems to me… The lack of female presence certainly does not reflect the reality I live or work in…”
–Brian Michael Bendis
“Angoulême Grand Prix is now a totally meaningless ‘honor.’ What a ridiculous, embarrassing debacle.”
“I request to withdraw my name from this anachronistic list,” he wrote. “I simply do not want to participate in a ceremony that is so disconnected from the realities of contemporary comics. Thirty names, without one woman, is a slap to those who devote their lives to creating or loving comics.”
What’s the Solution?
In order to appease the masses (and it seems that’s the only reason they’re doing it), the Festival went ahead and added Marjane Satrapi and Posy Simmonds to the list, both former nominees for the award in previous years. However, the organizers then went ahead and announced they won’t propose any names for the festival’s lifetime achievement award at all, and will instead allow academy members to vote for whomever they like. Yay?
With this current trend in escalation, we expect to receive word tomorrow that the name of the award has been changed from the Angoulême Grand Prix to the We Don’t Actually Read Any Comics So You Tell Us Who’s Relevant and Stuff Award.
The European group BD Égalité, or Women in Comics Collective Against Sexism released a statement in response to the initial announcement of the nominees (sans women), which has been translated by Jessica Abel and put into a graphic. Read it below:
On A Final Note:
Angoulême Comics Festival? The next time you need some female nominees, maybe try actually reading some comics out there to be enlightened as to the many incredible women who’ve helped pioneer this industry including Lynda Barry, Louise Simonson, Trina Robbins, Ramona Fradon, Jill Thompson, Karen Berger (although obviously not a creator), Raina Telgemeier, Carla Speed McNeil, Alison Bechdel, Annie Goetzinger, Rose O’Neill, Nell Brinkley, Marie Severin, Grace Drayton, Dale Messick, Jackie Ormes, Renee French, Rumiko Takahashi, Colleen Doran, Pia Guerra, Lily Renée… AND MORE. Like, LOTS more.