Ten Women and Non-Binary Comics Creators Respond to the Myopic Elitism of the Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême
The Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême is an international lifetime achievement award given annually during the Angoulême International Comics Festival in France. Though the festival awards a number of prestigious prizes to comics creators, the Grand Prix arguably carries far more weight than any of the others, since winners are recognized for their impact on the history of comics at large. This year, all 30 of the nominees were cis men, which, given the international scope of the awards, suggests that 9eART + (the company responsible for organizing the festival) could not think of one woman, trans, or nonbinary comics creator in the world who deserved to be recognized for a decade’s worth of their work.
The Collectif des créatrices de bande dessinée contre le sexisme (a collective of cartoon creators against sexism), which had confronted the Festival a month before about their consistent lack of parity over the years, promptly called for comics creators to boycott the Festival. Media outlets did not begin to take note, however, until a number of celebrated cis male cartoonists expressed solidarity with the collective’s outrage by asking to be removed from the list of nominees. The resulting controversy has compelled Executive Director Franck Bondoux to demonstrate the full extent of the Festival’s misogynistic mentality, first through a defense in which he claimed that female artists simply have not existed in great enough numbers to even be recognized, then through a so-called mea culpa, in which he tried to pass the Festival off as a feminist endeavor whose “error” was only symbolic of a larger problem that is not the Festival's fault.
Rather than simply calling out Bondoux’s reprehensible invalidations, Julie Maroh, a prominent member of the aforementioned collective, responded with a pointed editorial focusing on a larger, more insidious facet of the problem: the fact that both the media and the public will only take an issue seriously if it is claimed by men, while anyone else’s grievances over the same issues are scoffed at and condescended to. This inveterate phenomenon, which Maroh calls social cryptomnesia, perpetuates the marginalization of the oppressed and reduces social progress to a mere “campaign slogan.” As such, the buzz will inevitably fade, and, as Maroh says, “our fighting will continue.”
In the spirit of Maroh’s argument, Nat. Brut continues the conversation by asking some prominent and emerging women and nonbinary comics creators to share their feelings about the Angoulême Grand Prix. Below, Carol Tyler, Annie Mok, Cathi Chavers, Lauren Weinstein, mickey z, The Ladydrawers Comics Collective, Esther Pearl Watson, Edie Fake, and Izzy Star open up and speak out about sexism, representation, elitism, and invisibility within the field of comics, and pay respect to the long line of women and gender non-conforming creators that came before them.
Back in 2005, John Carlin and Brian Walker curated the Masters of American Comics exhibition. 15 Men. Regarding the lack of inclusion of women, the statement was made that there just weren’t enough women with a significant body of work. I was so outraged, because I had a lot of work, an amount that has tripled in the 10 years since, as I’ve completed my Graphic Novel, Soldier’s Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father, A Daughter’s Memoir. So, in response, I created an iconic self portrait in the style of Queen Elizabeth I. It was an oil painting made with the most expensive and luscious pigments on Earth. In the royal balloon above the Queen’s (my) head, it says, “I am married to comics.” Elizabeth I once said that she was “married to England” as a way of creating the identity of Great Britain, which reminded me of my full commitment to the form, like nuns who become Brides of Christ. This painting, with all its symbolism, became my manifesto.
This time, I was outraged again by Franck Bondoux’s defense of the Angoulême Grand Prix list, in which he suggests that there are just not enough women out there who do comics. So I set up a roll call on Facebook to show just how many of us there are by creating a page called Many Many Many Women Who Make Comics, and hundreds of women in the first days have posted a portrait. Take that, Angoulême.
A bit about the painting: Cardinals (which are perched upon oak leaves) mate for life. The male is the one with the red plumage. Look how finished his flowers are, while the flowers on the female’s side have a more complex coloration. Those roses are unfinished, which is what the Queen is focusing on - what’s unfinished. Her crown is an ink bottle and her scepter is a giant pen. She holds both the muse and responsibility - the pup and all the tools. The muse is the true royalty. There are forget-me-nots on either side, and she stands on a very small patch of ground littered with things that cause injury, but she is still standing. Ernie Bushmiller’s 3 rocks (a comics staple) are there. From her belly there is one orange fleur: her one child, a daughter. The red is a cadmium pigment, the scarlet vermillion is mercury based and the blue is cobalt. That’s some serious color.
To make the this painting, I took an old acrylic painting and gessoed over it. Overnight, rained dripped in my little screen tent and made the dark drip you see on the right. Instead of painting over it, I worked it into the composition, as ink drips coming off the pen.
Many years after completing “I Am Married to Comics,” I came across an image of a pair of gloves given by Queen Elizabeth I to my 22nd Great Grandmother, Margaret Edgecombe, the Queen’s maid in waiting. They had the same coloring as the dress I painted from imagination.
I Am Married to Comics, oil, approx. 30" x 40", 2006
CAROL TYLER is an award winning comic book artist/writer whose autobiographical stories reflect her struggles as an artist, worker, wife and mother. She teaches Comics, Graphic Novels & Sequential Art at the University of Cincinnati and is also a Residency Artist with the Ohio Arts Council. She's the author of Late Bloomer, The Job Thing, and Soldier’s Heart: The Campaign to Understand my WWII Veteran Father, A Daughter’s Memoir (the complete You’ll Never Know collection).
1. Like so many artists and comics creators, my introduction to comics came through being exposed to the work of a handful of white cis male cartoonists. Let me be clear: this is not a relatable anecdote. This is an injustice.
2. As a queer latina artist from an impoverished background, continuing to create comics despite constant invalidation and invisibility is, for me, a radical act.
3. The most important thing we can do is amplify each other. MariNaomi, Chitra Ganesh, Amanda Baeza, Erika Lopez,Yumi Sakugawa, and Marjane Satrapi are just a few of the queer and/or women of color comics creators who are influencing my current practice, and there are so many more making important work that deserve to be recognized.
4. I will continue to do everything within my (somewhat limited) means to dismantle the white supremacist heteropatriarchal stronghold that has its white-knuckled hands around this industry's throat by continuing to primarily publish women and non-binary cartoonists in each new installment of Early Edition, Nat. Brut's comics section.
KAYLA E. is a queer Latina artist, editor, and designer from Texas. She's the Editor-in-Chief and Art Director of Nat. Brut. Her comics confront issues of abuse, erosion of personal space, the destructive undercurrents of gender roles, and the heightened trauma of childhood misogyny. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in The Comics Journal, Rough House, The New Delta Review, Black Eye, and The Spectacle.
I wrote this in response to to Zainab Akhtar and J.A. Micheline's reflections on comics in 2015 on the blog Comics & Cola, and a number of experiences I had re: the comics "community" this year, as well as the Angoulême news.
ANNIE MOK is an author-illustrator, Rookie Mag regular contributor, actress, musician, co-creator of Swim Thru Fire with Sophia Foster-Dimino, co-star in the upcoming feature film Phaesporia, and the former frontwoman for See-Through Girls. @HeyAnnieMok
Photo credit: Thom Carroll / PhillyVoice
Like many, I’m disappointed by the sexism in the Angoulême Grand Prix’s list of nominees. However, sexism in the comic industry is as real and as virulent as it is in any other industry.
One main thing we, as readers, look for in media are reflections of ourselves. As a black, nonbinary comic artist, I often feel excluded from the comics community because, from characters to creators, white cis men have been at the forefront of the industry for many years. The Grand Prix’s nomination list enforces white cis men's stronghold as the forefront of comics talent.
What does another handful of cis men receiving accolades do for me and others like me? Awards like these are meant to motivate and encourage young artists. They are meant to serve as inspiration, to demonstrate that anyone can make it to the top as long as their work is good. One could argue that the work made by the nominees is, in fact, good work. And I'm not saying it's not. However, they are not the ONLY creators making good work.
It is natural to seek role models in the industry you want to pursue. Giving nonbinary/POC/WOC/women access to the main stage would open doors for thousands of young artists and ignite the hearts of many. The Grand Prix’s exclusionary sexism not only makes nonbinary/POC/WOC/women feel excluded, but also casts a spotlight on the cis white male point of view, and denies us a chance to tell our stories to a wider audience.
CATHI CHAVERS is a black, queer cartoonist based in New York City and a senior at the School of Visual Arts. She has a soft spot for bees and hopes to be a meme someday. @notcathi
A Woman's Place...in Comics
When I first started making comics in the late 90s, I was deeply inspired by Julie Doucet and Lynda Barry, who were telling stories that I could feel, that seemed alive. Doucet’s My New York Diary showed, in obsessive detail, her everyday life, trying to make art in the city with a bad boyfriend. Lynda Barry blew my mind with her characters’ voices. She was inventing a new, more visceral and poetic fiction with words and pictures. Later, I read Phoebe Gloeckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, which shows, with expert rendering, all the power and confusion of teenage sexuality. I’ve been laughing at Roz Chast in The New Yorker since I was a kid, but recently she came out with Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, a frank and poignant graphic novel about caring for her elderly parents. Alison Bechdel revolutionized the memoir genre with Fun Home and her “Bechdel Test” strip changed what women are “allowed” to talk about in movies and TV. Carol Tyler ‘s single-panel comic “Anatomy of A New Mom” gave me more of an idea of what to expect post-partum than any pregnancy book I’d ever read.
What strikes me about all of this work is its uncompromising honesty and the risks its authors have taken with storytelling. These artists shifted the trajectory of what everyone makes comics about. I owe them my career. They’ve given me the strength to make controversial, funny, personal work, most recently about genetic testing and pregnancy andtrying to juggle being an artist and having a kid.
Why do these women get left off of the lists? Is there something dangerous about their stories? Is it “TMI?” Is their work not “pretty” enough? Women who influenced us all still get nudged to the side, placed in some kind of alternate “confessional” canon, left out of a history they helped create.
The Angoulême Grand Prix debacle is a particularly egregious example in a long line of institutions snubbing women. Ten years ago, the Masters of American Comics museum exhibition didn’t include a single female artist. When the show came to New York and the contemporary half of the work hung at the Jewish Museum, Dan Nadel, the current co-editor of the online Comics Journal, set up a show blocks away at the Adam Baumgold Gallery called Telling Tales: Contemporary Women Cartoonists. It featured many of the women I’ve mentioned already. I was honored to be in that show.
The author’s invitation image for Telling Tales: Contemporary Women Cartoonists, at the Adam Baumgold Gallery, 2006
Indeed, I’ve personally felt nothing but support from important male cartoonists, critics, and publishers - the ones who end up making all the lists - which is why it continues to baffle me that women like Barry and Chast haven’t been appropriately “canonized.” Who exactly is excluding them? Is it just that the work doesn’t fit neatly in the line between Winsor McCay and Chris Ware (both of whose work I love)?
As a mentor at the School of Visual Arts, where I teach cartooning (a role I take very seriously), I see the future unfolding, and it’s somewhat heartening. This year, the number of women on the faculty has exploded: Diane Noomin, Emily Flake, Meredith Gran, and Joan Hilty all teach there now. I have many students of color and LGBTQIA students, and they are doing compelling work. Students put work on the web, where, with the democracy of the Internet, they gain a massive audience (though how sustainable any of this is is another issue). Now the race problem seems far worse than the gender problem, since there’s actually a hungry audience for comics by women. Raina Teglemeier, Gabrielle Bell, Jillian Tamaki, Kate Beaton, and Lisa Hanawalt have all pushed into the “mainstream,” but only because of the women before them.
I feel a debt of gratitude to my predecessors. I hope they can be recognized right alongside the men at the highest level, rather than being marginalized to a separate category, cleansed out of history because they don’t fit. There were only 5 women in the Comics Journal's top 100 comics of the 20th century. Hopefully, the list of the top 100 cartoonists of the 21st century will look a lot different.
LAUREN WEINSTEIN is an award winning cartoonist, illustrator, painter, avid gardener and teacher. She has published three books: Girl Stories, Inside Vineyland and Goddess of War. Her work has been included inThe Best American Comics, An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, and The Graphic Cannon. Her comic, "Carriers," about waiting to see if her unborn daughter had Cystic Fibrosis, won a gold medal from The Society of Illustrators. She is currently making comics about mostly about science and motherhood for publications including Nautil.us, and The Paris Review. She teaches at The School of Visual Arts and is working on a graphic novel for Henry Holt tentatively entitled How To Draw a Nose.
Awards are whatever; I don't think they are important. Someone has to choose a nominee, and certainly that someone is lacking in some or all aspects of perception, especially if they are an Old Guy (unless they are actively working on bettering themselves, and even then there is still potential to overlook so much work due to a lifetime of ignorance). This sort of thing is and has been par for the course for forever, and is disappointing, for sure, but not surprising. This was an obvious failure, and as a result there was a call to protest the awards. People noticed, there were responses by some nominees (whatever the motive, there was response), and people were upset. I think that's good, but not every injustice is as blatant as this one - there are failures hidden in the cracks and built into the structure. I'm glad this situation garnered a response from the community, but I hope we are committed in the long run to responding to future issues, including those that are quiet, less tangible, or less obvious to one's own experience.
mickey zachelli was born in 1983 and lives in providence, ri. pricetapes.storenvy.com
Women and nonbinary people not being nominated for—or winning—awards is unseemly, certainly, and of course any institution that claims to honor contributions to a form but only, in fact, honors white people, or cis male people, or able-bodied people, is doing a very crap job indeed. Award ceremonies should be representative of the state of a form; Angoulême's Grand Prix is clearly not.
Yet annual awards are, at best, yearly reminders of the grinding effect of gender bias—as well as racial and other biases—on the creative vitality of a community. In 2012, as part of our ongoing research into barriers in comics publishing (set to go global this summer), we polled every creator we could find—even people who wouldn’t have called themselves comics creators, since a lot of artists who combine text and image find the label to be gendered. We found that, of the folks we polled, only 54% identified as male, while 39% identified as female, and 7% identified as nonbinary, genderqueer, or other.
This should dispel any lingering suspicion that only male creators deserve awards, since they only make up a hair over half of the field. But here’s where it gets interesting: equal rates of women and men—slightly over 50% of each—submitted work to publishers that year, while only 37% of nonbinary creators did the same. Yet even more than that percentage of males—75%—said they’d been published, while female and nonbinary creators were published at precisely the same rates as they had submitted work. What does that mean? It means that, in comics, the primary reason more men are published than anyone else is because their work is being sought out by editors and publishers. Men in comics are given opportunities that women and nonbinary people aren't, and this adds up fast in terms of cash money. Of those who earned incomes from making comics in 2012, 92% of the creators who earned incomes over the poverty line were male, and only 8% were female, while no single nonbinary creator that we spoke to earned more than $600 per year from comics.
It is only when we get into specific dollar amounts—actual average earnings—that we can see the impact such awards have on the ability of diverse creators to make work in comics. You know that statistic about women in the US (and we need to point out that we're talking mostly about white women) earning, on average, seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man earns? In comics, for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns twenty-seven cents, and a nonbinary creator earns three and a half cents.
Oversight or criminal negligence? Someone's gotta draw the line somewhere. News to the Grand Prix committee: more and more, the men you're reading aren't the only ones holding the pens any longer.
THE LADYDRAWERS COLLECTIVE (AKA “The Ladydrawers”) is an unofficially affiliated group that researches, performs, and publishes comics and texts about how economics, race, sexuality, and gender impact the comics industry, other media, and our culture at large. Our data comes from original research conducted in the public realm by students, interns, volunteers, and supporters around the globe. Our content—including comic books, online strips, posters, postcards, games, apparel—is created by a range of folks interested in, and with a range of experiences in, the comics industry, including professionals and newcomers.
ESTHER PEARL WATSON
When I began illustrating in the mid-90s, I believed sexism to be over. I believed I was hired for my talent. It quickly became apparent that I was wrong. There was a difference in they way I was treated in illustration, and later in comics, compared to my husband, who was in the same field. When our daughter was born, I became very aware that women branded themselves and their work differently in order to compete. There seemed to be an unspoken message that successful female comic artists had to be young and have hetero-normative sex appeal, whereas men were allowed to have flaws and age. As a middle-aged woman, I saw many female friends whose work faded away from comics after being ignored by anthologies, awards, and comics festivals. Today, I see progress and feel hopeful.
Here are some ways to make a difference:
Hire more women and minorities as editors and art directors. Publishers can create apprenticeships and mentorships specifically for underrepresented demographics, which would lead to more diversity in management. These diverse editors and art directors would, in turn, hire diverse authors and artists. This is good business and would change the industry in a positive way. As consumers, we can support publishers who provide relatable content for a wide variety of individuals.
Also, our culture encourages and celebrates youth, but ignores age and experience as part of the comic industry’s history. If we show examples of work by artists of various ages and experience in positions of success and achievement, then judges like Franck Bondoux of the Angoulême festival might be more open to recognizing women of a certain age in the industry, and the history, of comic art.
Let’s each change what we can now and strengthen our growing comics community.
ESTHER PEARL WATSON grew up in Dallas/Fort Worth area and has an MFA from CalArts. Her paintings have exhibited world wide, including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Her award-winning comic,Unlovable, is published in Bust Magazine and with Fantagraphics. Her newest comic, Blood Lady Commandos, appeared on Vice online. She currently teaches at Art Center College of Design.
In comics, the support provided by awards, publishers, festivals, reviewers, and readers means so much in sustaining talented artists. This support helps artists expand their audience, develop their voice, and find the means to continue making work. So often these forms of encouragement make the difference between an artist being able to mature in the medium and one deciding to abandon it.
Comics has to learn to recognize and support people who aren’t men, people who aren’t white, and people who aren’t straight. This means taking risks in encouraging and sustaining artists. It means seeking out work, new and old, that expands what comics can be, and it means helping promote work by underrepresented authors. This is about expanding networks outside of self-perpetuating exclusion.
At this point in comics history, to say that there aren’t any women deserving of the Grand Prix at Angoulême is ridiculous . . . and we have always been at this point. There is no one way for a “Lifetime Achievement” to look, nor is there one type of person who can obtain it, any more than there is a singular comics canon or a universal comics scene. The history of the medium is multi-directional and multi-form; as we acknowledge it, we shape what happens in it. The more open we become, the more interesting the conversation gets for everyone.
EDIE FAKE is an artist living in the California High Desert. He is a co-founder of CAKE- the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo and his first graphic novel, Gaylord Phoenix, won the 2011 Ignatz award for Outstanding Graphic Novel.
When I think about the Angoulême Grand Prix, I mostly feel pity. When I close my eyes and try to imagine what my education in comics would have looked like without women, without people of color, without queer folks, my world shrinks ten-thousand-fold. What a small sliver of human experience that would be. What a dull and stunted vision of the “state of comics,” if you could even call it that.
A friend of mine recently introduced me as “Cartoonist Izzy Star” to a group of people I did not know. My body stiffened. “Oh no, I’m not a cartoonist,” I heard myself start to say. I swallowed the rest of that sentence, squeezed out a hello, and spent a good part of the evening trying to disappear into my chair.
While I’ve drawn comics for as long as I can remember, I’ve never called myself a cartoonist. Not once. There are many reasons I’ve never granted myself membership to this club. Most notably, no one has ever given me permission to be a cartoonist. After a lifetime of seeing whose work counted as “canon,” seeing anthologies absent of women’s voices, of queer voices, how could I possibly have felt like I deserved to be a cartoonist?
As far as representation goes, being a white cis queer woman gives me a gentle hill to climb (and, as a queer girl with short hair and round glasses, I quite literally see myself in comics all the time). But even a blockade as small as this has proven vast enough to give me serious pause. I owe everything to the wonderful cartoonists that came before me who were not paralyzed by fear. Those women who were not so easily derailed, who did not wait around for someone to give them permission. Those cartoonists taught me so much of what I know about being human. They guided me through depression, through heartbreak, through triumphs.
The Grand Prix’s unfathomably tone deaf response - which amounted to something along the lines of, “Women?! We love women! Here is an example of three whole women we have heard of. You are welcome women.” - has pretty much solidified their place as an irrelevant relic. A prize is only as valuable as its prestige among its readers, and I can’t imagine the Grand Prix has much of that left. But enough pity for the lazy. We’ve wasted enough time on them already.
IZZY STAR lives in Austin, Texas where she works in social services by day and draws cartoons also by day.
Nat. Brut's Suggested Further Reading:
Lauren McCubbin - The Not-So-Secret History of Comics Drawn by Women
Matt Thorn - Angoulême Organizers Flaunt Their Ignorance
Shea Hennum - 30 Men, Zero Women: Analyzing the Great Angouleme Grand Prix Nomination Debacle
Susanna Scrivo - Grand Prix d’Angoulême: When Reading Comics Is More Exhausting Than Digging in a Mine
Do you have suggestions for other articles concerning sexism in the comics industry that you think should be added to this further reading list? Email us and let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org!