WE MAY NEVER see a list of Angouleme festival finalists again. And after four decades of them, such a permanent change just might be for the best.
That’s because for 2016, within a matter of days, we saw the Angouleme event finally bungle its way to the right decision, but not before a fiasco played out in embarrassing and tone-deaf form. It became a matter so mishandled, it could prompt the question: What’s French for “Barney Fife”?
Angouleme’s annual Festival international de la bande dessinée (FIBD) is, of course, one of the world’s most esteemed comics festivals, greatly aided by the high regard that France has historically had for sequential art. To some creators from less “enlightened” nations, the Angoulême international fest can even feel like some Valhalla of visual appreciation.
Which is why it’s especially a shame that this week, ahead of the festival that kicks off Jan. 29, FIBD so badly botched the selection of its 2016 Grand Prix recipient — a presidency that also serves as a lifetime achievement award.
The list of FIBD’s previous 43 Grand Prix honorees in general represents a who’s-who of comics legends, albeit one with a leaning toward French creators. But the biggest blemish on that list involves what and who is not there: Only one woman (Florence Cestac, in 2000) has ever received the honor.
Yet if there’s a number more powerful than “one” in the optics around most any major award, it is, of course, zero. So when a list of 30 Grand Prix candidates was circulated early this week, and the sum total of the women represented came to zero — well, FIBD had a PR powderkeg on its inky hands. (So much for egalite.) Calls for a boycott came swiftly, and a dozen or so Grand Prix candidates asked to be removed from consideration. (Compare that to some recent years, when the inclusion of even a lone woman on the Grand Prix long list apparently help averted any backlash.)
So FIBD, scrambling to address the crisis as more than one-third of its Grand Prix candidates pulled out — and social media and media spread word of the boycott threat spearheaded by BD Egalite) — tried to mend fences by announcing it would add female names to the list.
Yet this soon rang as a half-hearted concession that could not mask the heavy scent of condescension. In an attempt to deflect blame, FIBD said in a statement that it could not remake the history of comics — essentially (and absurdly) claiming a dearth of worthy women candidates. This pitiful defense continued by claiming that you won’t find many women artists on the walls of the Louvre, either.
Then, to add flame to the misfire, the festival noted that two women creators — Marjane Satrapi and Posy Simmonds — had recently been considered yet had received a low vote total. In other words: From its defensive crouch, FIBD was now willing to publicly woman-shame — which only worsened the PR nightmare as to the festival’s hostile inequality. (In its series of follow-up justifications and comparative stats, the festival even attempted a defense involving just how current one’s comics resume was — a standard applied to Satrapi that some recent male winners would not have met.)
O, such anti-woman shenanigans. Somewhere, a political cartoonist might draw Lady Liberty scowling at the shamelessness of it all.
(The festival does emphasize in a new statement, it’s worth noting, the fairer representation of women creators in other categories — a statement of fact, if not also a bit of misdirection.)
Finally, though, FIBD reached the best Grand Prix-saving decision it could have — a last, best option — announcing: “The festival is submitting the election of the ‘Grand Prix’ winner to the absolute free choice of authors starting as soon as this 2016 edition. No nominee list will therefore be proposed to voters and the choice of which colleague they will vote for, will be completely left up to them.*
In other words: You, much of the comics industry, clearly don’t trust our choices. All right, fine — YOU pick ’em.
And now, we have perhaps the most enlightened resolution yet. Most all awards are political, naturally, and sometimes awfully insular, thereby perpetuating biases of multiple types by a voting body.
So why not let authorial democracy reign beyond 2016, instituting this approach as annual ritual?
At least until a few influential publishers attempt to commandeer the vote.