France’s most prestigious literary award for comics is embroiled in controversy after its organizers released a list of 30 nominees for the award that did not include any women.
The Festival d’Angoulême's all-male list of nominees was immediately denounced by BD Egalite, a collective of French female cartoonists, who released a statement calling for a boycott of the 2016 Grand Prix d’Angoulême. BD Egalite's statement said: “We protest this obvious discrimination, this total negation of our representation in a medium practiced by more women every year.”
The Angoulême Festival International de la Bande Desinée (FIBD), which opens at the end of January, is the most prestigious comics festival in Europe. And the Grand Prix d’Angoulême is the festival's lifetime achievement award, and highest literary honor. With the prize comes a full exhibition the following year, extensive media attention and, in most cases, a boost in big book sales.
After the list was released on Tuesday, bestselling French cartoonist and Grand Prix d’Angoulême nominee Riad Sattouf (Arab of the Future) was the first to demand that his name be withdrawn from contention. Other French cartoonists—among them Milo Manara, Joann Sfar, Pierre Cristin, Etienne Davodeau and Christophe Blaine—quickly followed. A number of American cartoonists who were also nominated, such as Chris Ware and Dan Clowes, joined the French boycott and asked to be removed from the list.
In response to the boycott, festival organizers initially offered to add six women to the list of nominees. Then the FIBD withdrew the list completely. Instead, cartoonists will now be allowed to vote for any artist they wish.
The new nomination process has done little, though, to halt the chorus of voices now speaking out against the prize. American comics artist Jessica Abel (Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio), a French speaker who lives in France who has also been a juror for the festival's book prizes (a separate award category), posted a notice on Facebook in support of the boycott. Clowes, one of the Grand Prix d’Angoulême nominees who came out early in favor of the boycott, is equally nonplussed. He called said the nomination list is "now a totally meaningless ‘honor.’" He then added that the list has led to "a ridiculous, embarrassing debacle.”
Remarks in defense of the list by Franck Bondoux, CEO of 9eArt (a company set up in 2007 to oversee and manage the Angoulême festival), only served to generate more support for the boycott. Bondoux said, to French media outlets that "there are few women in the history of comics. It's a reality. If you go to the Louvre, you will also find very few female artists.” In reaction to his remarks, cartoonists in France and the U.S. began posting lists of acclaimed female cartoonists on social media.
The BD Egalite statement noted that over the 43 years the Grand Prix has been awarded, only one woman, Florence Cestac, has ever been honored. In its statement, BD Egalite said: “We simply ask for the consideration of the reality of our existence and of our value.”