From our continental correspondent: Angouleme – the dust settles (slowly)

Published On February 2, 2016 | By Wim | Comics, Continental Correspondent

In the aftermath of one of the most controversial editions of the Festival of Angoulême ever (if publicity was what the organizers were after, well, they got it), some quite remarkable statements could be picked up the past few days.


(Matt Madden, photo by Gert Jan Pos)

Reacting to the disastrous awards ceremony, Matt Madden, cartoonist, teacher and member of the Festival’s jury, made this statement on Facebook:

“I’d like to make some final remarks about the awards ceremony and the Angoulême International Comics Festival from my personal perspective as an international cartoonist currently living in Angoulême who happened to be on the Grand Jury this year. The jury has made a public statement about the ceremony (also in English) but I have a few additional observations of a more frank nature that I believe to be worth sharing. Views expressed are solely my own and are intended to help us all move past this… memorable festival.

As we pointed out in our jury letter, it wasn’t only the Faux Fauves‬ that were offensive at the awards ceremony (and they WERE indeed offensive—about which more below), there was also the retrograde use of two live pin-up girls in sexy outfits (maybe it was meant to be ironic and hip, but it was still two women parading around as eye candy), and then there was the “cute” conceit wherein all the award-winners were required to do a spontaneous drawing on a giant pad of paper in exchange for their awards. Dance for it, monkey!

The MC, Richard Gaitet, has apologized profusely and sincerely for the fauves prank and I accept the mea culpa. He does not, however, apologize for the general humiliation and denigration of the rest of the show (which I grant that—barring the prank—would likely have been met with no more than eye rolls and Twitter sniping).

Another example of disrespect for authors: rushing apologetically through the list of talent contest awards so quickly that most people completely missed it (plus they royally screwed up the slides—a recurring technical problem throughout this no doubt very expensive evening). My student Camilo Vieco from ÉESI’s Master BD Angoulême program won the Prix Jeunes Talents Region, but you’d never know it.

Now, as for the festival organizers — and this is the real reason I’m taking the time away from the drawing table to write this post — their response was lamentably defensive, and tone-deaf, just like most of their responses to the Grand Prix fiasco, and director Franck Bondoux only made matters worse by evoking Charlie Hebdo to defend this disaster. Please, Mr. Bondoux, please stop speaking in public. Get a PR person tout de suite.

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). Even 20 years ago this prank would have caused a scandal. So WHY does the festival, in its “Précision” (“clarification,” not “apology”), downplay the screw-up so defensively and so unrepentingly? Why do they condescendingly explain snarky humor as if we’d never seen Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes (where, by the way, he makes fun of rich and powerful narcissists, not struggling cartoonists and their publishers)? And why, finally, rather than simply assuming responsibility and apologizing do they include this loathsome and absolutely insulting proposal:

“l’organisation du Festival se tient prête à présenter par écrit ses regrets à ceux des auteurs de bande dessinée qui auraient pu se sentir froissés par cette séquence.”

…saying in essence that if you send them a wetter saying you got your feewings hurt they’ll happily send you back a note saying “sowwy!”

In sum, what has most dismayed me this year is not the mistakes themselves (the grand prix, the fauves prank) but the knee-jerk and condescending response on the part of the festival virtually every step of the way. It really didn’t need to play out this way. And I honestly believe that with some soul-searching and re-organization the festival can do much better next year, after all I know that the festival is made up of good people who sincerely love comics.

Meanwhile, the very important work done by the États Generaux de la Bande Dessinée, BD Égalité, and other initiatives having to do with urgent issues of sexism and economic hardship facing cartoonists in France and around the world — and let’s not forget the festival itself, its exhibits, Otomo-san, and the “vrais fauves” — have all been overshadowed by the media circus the grand prix and awards ceremony farces have generated…”

Culture minister Pellerin (photo ActuaLitté)

(Culture minister Pellerin (photo ActuaLitté))

In the wake of the controversy about the lack of women candidates on the Grand Prix long list, French culture minister Fleur Pellerin announced that eight French cartoonists would receive the order of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. But, even though this is completely in line with the French tradition to honour their artists, the reaction of said artists was at least as much “typically French”. Julie Maroh, Tanxx, Aurélie Neyret and Chloé Cruchaudet flatly refused the honour, asking what this honour was supposed to be a compensation for, and that more fundamental changes are needed to the way the Festival (and comics in general) is handled.


(“OH LOOK! Eight shooting stars at the same time” by Julie Maroh)

Maroh summarised her point with a short comic, showing women cartoonists protesting the treatment of women in the BD industry when suddenly eight shooting stars appear in the sky. After which, nothing really changes. To be continued.

(many thanks to Matt for so kindly allowing to quote him at such length on this subject)

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