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Comics

Fantagraphics Artist Daniel Clowes Takes on Gender Inequality in Comics Establishment

Tricia Romano
The Seattle Times (TNS)

Artist Daniel Clowes and his publisher Fantagraphics, unleashed a storm of media attention last week when they announced Clowes would be withdrawing his name as nominee for the prestigious Grand Prix d’Angouleme

Sometimes it takes a man to bring attention to gender inequality.

Artist Daniel Clowes (“Ghost World”) and his publisher, Georgetown, Wash.,-based Fantagraphics, unleashed a storm of media attention last week when they announced Clowes would be withdrawing his name as nominee for the prestigious Grand Prix d’Angouleme, an honor bestowed on a comic creator for body of work or for “achievement in the evolution of comics.”

No women are on the list of 30 nominees.

“I support the boycott of Angouleme and am withdrawing my name from any consideration for what is now a totally meaningless honor,’” the Oscar-nominated Clowes, who lives in Oakland, Calif., posted on Fantagraphics’ website. “What a ridiculous, embarrassing debacle.”

The boycott is led by the Women In Comics Collective Against Sexism. The group posted on its website that the award has financial implications: “The media covers the Grand Prix winner extensively, and the distinction makes a huge impact in the bookstore, to the benefit of booksellers, publishers and the award-winning author.”

American comics creator Jessica Abel posted the news of the boycott on her Facebook page, and the news spread. Abel, who with her husband, comic artist Matt Madden, is an artist-in-residence at La Maison des Auteurs in Angouleme, France, contacted Eric Reynolds, the associate publisher of Fantagraphics, asking if he’d tell Clowes and the other Fantagraphics artists nominated, Chris Ware and Charles Burns.

“It really was a no-brainer,” Reynolds said. “It don’t think it was a terribly courageous decision as it was a moral and ethical one.”

The Grand Prix winner serves as president of the Angouleme festival for a year following the announcement. Only one woman in the fest’s 43-year history has been selected: Florence Cestac, a French artist, in 2000. Only a handful of women have been nominated, among them, French-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi, best known for the “Persepolis” series.

“This is one of those things you know you are on the right side of history. Artists are not going to look less bold in the future. Their [the committee’s] original decision to not put anyone on the list is more absurd,” Reynolds said.

But, he said, “Even us at Fantagraphics one of the more progressive publishers, employing many female staff and females artist, there’s still an imbalance. No doubt about it.”

G. Willow Wilson, a Seattle-based Marvel comic book artist whose anthology “Ms. Marvel” has appeared on The New York Times best-seller list for graphic novels, said, “A lot of these issues, the problem comes from apathy and oversight.”

She applauded Clowes for drawing attention to the issue. “He took a big risk and I admire him for that,” she said.

After Clowes’ announcement, he was joined by fellow nominees Ware, Burns, Michael Bendi and others, bringing the total to 10.

Franck Bondoux, executive officer of the Angouleme International Comics Festival, which awards the honor, told the Le Monde newspaper, “Unfortunately, there are few women in the history of comics. It’s a reality. If you go to the Louvre, you will also find quite few female artists.”

Though festival organizers announced on Wednesday that they would add some women to the list for consideration, they posted on the contest website that “It is objectively faster to count the female creators (almost on the fingers of one hand) than the males.”

Sabrina Taylor, a co-founder of Seattle Ladies Comic Book Club, a group of about 50 comic fans and artists, said, “It’s hard not to take it as almost fear. From what I see all the time in social movement when people refuse to acknowledge a group or give a place at the table, it’s a fear of losing power. The comic book industry definitely suffers from that.”

Both Reynolds and Taylor found Bondoux’s comments laughable, pointing out numerous artists that could be considered such as Wilson and Kelly Sue DeConnick, who also creates comics for Marvel, and French social satirist Claire Bretecher.

The award organizers aren’t entirely without admiration for female artists. Wilson’s “Ms. Marvel” was chosen as an official selection for the Angouleme festival this year.

“Many times sexism is seen as something malicious. A lot of the times, it’s more complacence,” Wilson said. “Nobody bothers to ask, ‘How come there are no women in this room?’”

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