IN THE WORLD OF COMICS, you don’t get much more prestigious than the French lifetime achievement award known as the Angoulême Grand Prix — for female comic book writers, especially, it’s the Holy Grail, since only one has ever won the prize. When the nominees for the 43rd annual prize were announced earlier this month, the news threw comics creators into an uproar. Out of 30 finalists, none were female.
Outrage poured in. Male nominees withdrew their names, appalled. French feminist group BD Égalité called for a voting boycott, noting that, “in 43 years, Florence Cestac has been the only woman ever to receive [the Grand Prix].” In his withdrawal from the Grand Prix roster, Ghost World author Daniel Clowes supported BD Égalité, saying that the award “is now a totally meaningless ‘honor.’”
Following the massive backlash, the Angoulême Festival added two female comic book writers — Marjane Satrapi and Posy Simmonds — to its list of nominees. However, as The Mary Sue’s Maddy Myers points out, Satrapi and Simmonds were given a nod only after 12 male competitors refused to participate. Broken down further, only when the pool dwindled to 18 names did the Grand Prix committee add two women — to get an even 20.
Most disturbing in all of this is the Festival’s response. In a January 5 article titled “The Angoulême Festival Loves Women… But Cannot Rewrite the History (of Comics),” the committee shrugs off community criticism by reminding us all that it offers “[a]n award which crowns an author for all of his or her work and contribution to the history and evolution of comics.”
Now, let’s pause there. If that’s true, if the Angoulême Grand Prix is a merit-based award, then the committee’s claim is that no female comic book writers have made a meaningful contribution to comics history and culture. Never mind Alison Bechdel, whose “Dykes to Watch Out For” strip gave birth to the Bechdel-Wallace Test. Or how about Gail Simone, who writes comic books and comics criticism? No, says the Angoulême committee, none of these women in comics has done enough.
But, you see, the Grand Prix is not a merit-based award. Since 2013, the Festival has selected a longlist of comics creators and asked “professional comic book authors” to elect the finalists. Now, most of us realize that the sexism entrenched in “boys’ clubs” means that voting systems like this one will only support the status quo — see also: “tyranny of the masses.” Of course, the committee does not see things this way.
In fact, the Festival claims that this system proves its own fairness, especially when one considers the fact that the Angoulême “does not just select female authors, it also rewards them.” Yes, the Festival credits itself with the successes of Satrapi and Julie Maroh. Then there’s the fact that, in two years, the Angoulême has “create[d] an open space” for three women-run events. Take that, sexism!
This meager offering is fair enough for them because, as the committee’s response puts it, “The Festival is a proactive player in the cause for female authors; however, it will not disadvantage them through positive discrimination which would make no sense artistically speaking.” That means that, no, they won’t be putting more female comic book writers and authors of color on their lists for the sake of fairness, because that’s not really fair, because this is a merit-based award, even though it isn’t.
Except that, you know, the Angoulême totally engaged in some “positive discrimination” this year. The paragraph that immediately precedes the anti-affirmative-action statement above contains this gem:
In this year’s Festival, female authors represent a quite significant proportion of the [Official] Selection (25% of books whereas their representation among all comic book authors is of less than 15%).
So, the Festival does not condone “positive discrimination” unless it makes the Angoulême appear more progressive than it actually is. When you’re nearly doubling the representation of women in your field, you can pat yourself on the back, but when those women hit the glass ceiling, well, all’s fair, amirite?
Before you go thinking that the Grand Prix’s Official Selection was in some way woman-heavy, consider this. Following the uproar, the Angoulême removed the original list of nominees, but you can still find them at the bottom of this Lemonade article, along with a statement from Angoulême Festival CEO Franck Bondoux, in which he explains why 30 men and not one woman found their way onto the list of nominees: “[T]here 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.”
There you have it, folks. Just like the history of art has no sexism whatsoever, so does the Angoulême Festival honor male comic book creators based on their individual merit and community standing. And if all the Grand Prix winners happen to be male, well, that’s because their fellow comic book creators — 85 percent of which are also male — thought they were the most damn deserving.