For the last 42 years, comic book artists, writers and aficionados have made the annual pilgrimage to the French city of Angoulême for its internationally-renowned comic book festival. Hundreds of thousands comics lovers gather in the south-western city to celebrate the art and award groundbreaking work that's been done in the preceding months.
This year would have been no different were it not for a number of unfortunate editorial decisions that seemingly doomed the festival to be labeled as a train wreck before it even began.
Back at the beginning of January, the Festival's awarding committee announced the list of 30 finalists that were being considered for the Grand Prix. (If this were the Oscars, the Grand Prix would be Best Picture.) Stunningly, not a single one of the nominees was a woman.
Shocked, a number of the male artists who'd been nominated petitioned to have their names taken out of the running in protest. Together, Charles Burns (Black Hole), Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan), Daniel Clowes (Ghost World), and Riad Sattouf (The Arab of the Future) stood in solidarity with the female artists and creators who'd put their stamp on mainstream comics and made 2015 one of the best years for women in comics.
The Festival's immediate response left much to be desired.
“Festival cannot remake the history of comics” officials said, after agreeing to add authors Marjane Satrapi (Persopolis ) and Posy Simmonds (Gemma Bovery) to the line up. “Positive discrimination has no place in the arts.”
Now, in an act almost seemingly as tone-deaf as shutting female creators out of the competition entirely, the Festival's organizers have pulled a prank on those creators that were in the running. The Festival took place over the weekend and during the Grand Prix ceremony, comedian Richard Gaitet took to the stage and began to fire off a number of names that had apparently won.
“This will be the shortest ceremony in history," Gaitet said to the assembled crowd. "Because all we want to do is drink and dance.”
As the bemused crowd tried to make sense of what Gaitet was talking about, two new announcers got on stage and proceeded to inform the audience that the list of "winners" was actually a joke. They then proceeded to announce the real winners.
“Bravo Richard, for that joke about the false awards and the size of the Grand Prix," the announcers reportedly said. "We laughed a lot, but now we must go.”
None of the people who'd been announced first were in on the joke, apparently. Among the actual winners were G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel.
“We were all happy, we had tears in our eyes, and then we were humiliated,” Komikku editor Sam Soubigui said. “Happily, my authors weren’t there, so I didn’t have to explain this shitty French humor to them.”
As social media fallout began to pile up in response to Gaitet's prank, Festival officials went into a defensive mode and stood by the comedian's decision. To his credit, Gaitet issued a personal apology later, calling out each of the creators he'd fooled by name in hopes of making clear just how sorry he was.
“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. “Nor did I realize the importance of social networks in this context.”
He continued: “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.”