A string of malapropisms, foppish maneuvers and public-image belly-flops came in such swift succession, you might half-guess that such a reported travesty actually required some planning. How else does one shoot himself in the clown-shod foot repeatedly — while the other foot is reinserted into his PR mouth? Why, even Marcel Marceau had to rehearse.
But now, to the alarm of many in the industry, the Bande Dessinee international festival (a.k.a. the FIBD) kept mucking it up this year out of sheer, blind organizational improvisation. All the while, the festival’s leaders couldn’t hide their defensive disdain for the criticism they endured — like some passive-aggressive French waiter who’s certain he has the upper gloved hand.
What FIBD doesn’t seem to quite grasp is that in an industry blessed with evolving festivals, the awards portion of the French event is looking rather Jurassic right about now. And like most public awards, credibility depends closely on relevance.
Come next year, the Angoulême awards process can’t risk appearing so irrelevant.
It all began early this month when the festival circulated a list of 30 Grand Prix (lifetime achievement) nominees, and female representation went zero-for-30. (Compare to the just-announced Eisner Hall of Award finalists: Sn a list of two automatic recipients and 14 nominees, one-fourth are women.)
After the group BD Egalite spotlighted the problem and led the boycott threats, Angoulême leaders promised to add a few women creators to the list — yet initially defended their roster of finalists, trying to imply that too few women met the lifetime criteria for professional greatness. (Ultimately, the only woman to win a major book award there this year was G. Willow Wilson for Ms. Marvel.)
As French writer-illustrator Julie Maroh wrote of the festival’s mental dinosaur of a director: “Franck Bondoux treated all female cartoonists with contempt and condescension on French television the evening of Wednesday, January 6, when he complained the festival was ‘buried in these female problems,’ incapable of recognizing the well-justified outcry that the absence of women on the list had provoked, even as a Claire Brétécher retrospective is drawing crowds at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.”
Bondoux, in fact, only turned mime-silent when it was time to offer up a proper mea culpa.
So for the festival, which concluded over the weekend, to then present the stunt of giving out “fake Fauve” book awards at the ceremony — reportedly without true cue or wink — was not only an ill-conceived put-on by the event emcee Richard Gaitet (who later apologized), but also a prank that reeks of petulant seething beneath the clowning mask.
American cartoonist, editor and educator Matt Madden perhaps sums up it best: “So let me make this clear: the #FauxFauves joke was a bad idea, badly executed. It is NOT a matter of artists being thin-skinned, the prank was mean and ill-conceived and its own creator acknowledges as much. And neither was it just ‘a few authors and publishers’ (‘une partie de la profession’ according to FIBD) who took offense: as far as I can tell, EVERYBODY who was there or heard of it thinks this was an indefensible gag and it’s all ANYONE talked about anywhere I went for the rest of the festival (and it continues to reverberate).
“Furthermore, no: this controversy is not simply a product of the Twitter age (another of Bondoux’s deflections).”
Angoulême has four decades of clout in a comics-adoring country. It is one of the industry’s leading festival lights. But prior to 2017’s event, perhaps an organizational intervention is needed so that the credibility of this light isn’t dimmed by the darkness of arrogance, ignorance and — in time, if unchanged — utter irrelevance.
For your sake, Angoulême: Go toward the light.