Comic news

Angoulême and the “I didn’t think comics were serious” mentality

Saturday, January 30th, was the prestigious Angouleme International Comics Festival in France, where comic creators and publishers gathered to receive awards in several fields, as well as the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angouleme–a lifetime achievement award in comics.

Angouleme is a huge festival, one of the largest for comics in the entire world. The awards are extremely prestigious. The turn-out for the festival is immense and the entire city shuts down for the festival.

In terms of comics, this festival is no joke.

Saturday saw a horrifically cruel and unprofessional faux pas on the part of award organizers (followed by less-than-satisfactory apologies that did not help anything) when “false fauves” were given out as prizes. That is to say, they gave out the awards (including best series to Saga and best comic for young people to Aaron Renier’s The Unsinkable Walker Bean) and then took them away as fake.

The “real” awards were then given out while the first set was left to suffer humiliation, confusion, and probably a fair amount of rage at having been pranked. Artists were notified of their wins, only to have to be told moments later that it was all a big joke after all.

As you can imagine, this was met by criticism from everyone from the almost-winners…

as well as other comic professionals…

and even other comics awards festivals…

The grand jury in charge of the awards was quick to speak out, distancing themselves from the stunt in this, translated from French:

“We, the members of the Grand Jury for this year’s Angoulême International Comics Festival, had an amiable meeting during which we chose the winners of the “fauves” in perfect harmony. We were surprised to be left out of the awards ceremony and then alarmed to hear the MC, whom we’ve never met, claim that we’d gone through contentious deliberations. By the end we were stupefied by the cruelty and vulgarity of the ceremony as a whole. The announcement of fake awards, which broke the hearts of numerous authors, publishers, and readers, in addition to the sexist and off-color remarks of the MC are beneath the dignity of a festival that remains an internationally respected flagship event in the world of comics. We are happy to have had the chance to make a contribution by awarding radical, unique works that will mark the history of the Ninth Art.”

The statement was signed by all members of the panel.

The MC of the evening, comedian Richard Gaitet, has come out apologizing sincerely for the stunt.

“My fundamental mistake was failing to grasp the range of expectations and hopes, the strong emotions that reigned in the room on such an occasion,” he said. “I am sincerely sorry for having hurt the professionals who work very hard to support this major art that I love: comics. No, it was neither the place nor the time nor the year to try such a trick.”

In sharp contrast, the only person unapologetic was Angouleme’s executive director, Franck Bondoux, who blamed “the dictatorship of the tweet” in a claim that it would have been funny without social media intervening. Boundoux also tried to defend himself by saying that all award ceremonies have jokes in them.

It’s no doubt that this kind of stunt would not be accepted at any major award ceremony, no matter what it was for. But what is frustrating and particularly telling is the fact that some people are trying to claim that because it was a comics awards ceremony, it didn’t matter. In fact, Gaitet (who had been given creative liberty to spice up the previously-complained-to-be-boring award ceremony) said he did it because he thought comic creators would be fine laughing at themselves.

The problem here is that we should have gotten better from Angouleme. Comic creators, fans, publishers–everyone deserved to be treated like an actual artform, not just a joke that people throw together for fun. People make their livings creating this art, they sell it and we buy it with all the seriousness of other art forms.

They deserve to be treated as such.

According to ComicChron, North America saw $579 million dollars in comic sales last year. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. So, we can’t say that comics don’t deserve respect because of a lack of revenue.

We can’t even say that comics aren’t serious in content, actually. Gone are the days of a comic book (or graphic novel) being exclusively “comical.” Among some of the nominees for the awards: Fin and Catharsis both discuss moving on after death of those close to you; Pozla’s Lousy Health Record chronicles a life in and out of the hospital for Chron’s disease; even superhero comic Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 touches on issues such as immigration in America.

Comics can and have covered any tough topic imaginable–cancer, rape, murder, death, abortion, poverty. There are nonfiction comics of every spread, covering current events, politics, social change, war and terrorism.

Comic creators do not easily create such pieces, either. To name just a few of the things involved in creating a comic: the time and money that goes into an artist’s education; the hours of drafting and writing and rewriting; the collaboration between all parties involved in creation; the research; the actual drawing and writing processes; the business of printing, publishing, marketing, and distributing said comic.

Creating comics is a serious business, no matter how funny some of the resulting comic books may be. To the content creators, certainly, their time and efforts are no laughing matter.

It’s time the rest of the world acted like it, and it is truly devastating that such an esteemed pinnacle as Angouleme would forget it.

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