The Angouleme Festival loves Women... But cannot revise the history (of comics)

Le mardi 05 janvier 2016 à 15h42

«The 2016 Angoulême Festival’s Official Selection doesn’t include any women this year! How is such forgetfulness possible?»

That is, in sum, the topic of discussion and controversy that has been building up since yesterday.

Except that... except that we must look more closely, or rather from higher up or further back.

What are we talking about? About the list of authors selected for the Festival’s «Grand Prix» Award. What is the «Grand Prix»? An award which crowns an author for all of his or her work and contribution to the history and evolution of comics. In this sense, it could be compared to the induction of rock bands into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or to an Honorary Academy Award.

The last three winners embody the nature of this prize. Their names are Willem, Bill Watterson, Katsuhiro Otomo... These artists have been creating for several decades. When one goes back that amount of time to observe what role men and women played in the field of comics, it is clear that there were very few recognized female authors at the time. If we take a closer look at Franco-Belgian comics, which we know best, and observe its main comics magazines, such as Tintin, Spirou, Pilote, A suivre, Métal Hurlant, Fluide Glacial,... it is objectively much faster to count their female authors (almost on the fingers of one hand) than their male authors.

The Festival cannot revise the history of comics.

If one wants to judge the Festival’s actions with regards to female authors in this day and age, one should turn towards its Official Selection (which takes into account books published during the past year). In this year’s Festival, female authors represent a quite significant proportion of the Selection (25% of books whereas their representation among all comic book authors is of less than 15%).

The Festival does not just select female authors, it also rewards them.

Even if they owe it all to their own talent, the Festival has played an important role in the emergence of female authors, such as Marjane Satrapi or Julie Maroh (whose works were adapted to film and crowned with success). The Festival also promotes female authors through its exhibitions, competitions, performances and other events (during the 42nd Festival, Lisa Mandel, surrounded by her female colleagues, successfully organized a performative event on «The role of men in comics» ; for the 2016 edition, there are two events planned, one called «Women in French and Swedish comics» and one called “Feminine style, masculine style, come and guess who drew what?»). Therefore, the Festival creates an open space where this issue is regularly discussed. 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.

1/2Therefore, two years ago, when the Festival changed its «Grand Prix» selection method by having all professional comic book authors elect a winner themselves (an electoral college of about 3000 voters), the Festival introduced female authors into its list of selected authors: Marjane Satrapi and Posy Simmonds. It happens to be that they collected very few votes and came in last. Thus, they were removed from the list (according to the regulations).

Even though the Festival regrets that its relationship with female authors is currently being looked upon solely through the reductive prism of the «Grand Prix», it understands that women and men of today may be sensitive to the question of the presence of female creators in comics. It also understands that the symbolic dimension attached to such a major public event as the festival, can be an opportunity for them to express their concern and defense for this cause.

And if today’s debate can allow this cause to make real progress in order to become a marker for the coming years, the Festival will have contributed to it. Consequently, the Festival will, without taking of any name, introduce, once again, the names of female authors into the list of selected authors for the 2016 «Grand Prix» Award.