Hey, remember that time absolutely no women in history were involved in important things? Remember when there were no women warriors or politicians? Remember when no woman handwrote a massive computer code that allowed humans to walk on the moon? Better still, remember when no woman ever wrote a single book or made a painting or (imagine!) created a comic? Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past week, you’ve probably read about the Angoulême Grand Prix debacle, where it seems a bunch of people actually think this way.
For those of you who missed the furore, the Angoulême prize is a lifetime achievement award for comic book creators. In its 43-year history, only one woman has ever won the prestigious prize, which is bad enough. But this year really took the piss: on the 30-strong longlist, announced last week, there was not a single woman. It’s a bit of gut-punch; not just for women comic creators but for the entire industry. As Daniel Clowes said, it’s actually “embarrassing.”
Angoulême had plenty to say about their decision, mainly:
“When you look at the prize list, you can see that the artists on it have a certain maturity and a certain age. Unfortunately, there are few women in the history of comics art. It’s a reality. If you go to the Louvre, you’ll equally find very few women artists.”
And collectively, the world face-palms.
The response to this bullshit has been as it should be. A French organisation that fights misogyny in comics, BD Égalité, called for a boycott of the prize. And Jessica Abel, an American comics creator, brought the campaign to English-speakers, resulting in twelve nominees withdrawing themselves from the list.
Among them are Brian Michael Bendis:“the lack of female presence certainly does not reflect the reality I live or work in”; Joann Sfar:“I simply do not want to participate in a ceremony that is so disconnected from the realities of contemporary comics. Thirty names, without one woman, is a slap to those who devote their lives to creating or loving comics”; and Clowes, who wrote that the prize is “now a totally meaningless ‘honor.’ What a ridiculous, embarrassing debacle.”
As a response Abel told Comics Alliance: “Every cartoonist on the list deserves to be recognized for his great work, but it’s not an honor to receive a prize so deeply tainted with sexism. I applaud my colleagues’ decision to withdraw, and hope the rest of the list follows suit.”
This outpouring of support is great, but it’s equally nuts that 12 dudes had to withdraw in order for a woman to be nominated – the prize has now announced that this year there will be no longlist and instead those on the voting committee can vote for whoever they want. Marjane Satrapi and Posy Simmonds have been nominated, but not without the petulant statement that they “received very few votes” in previous years. Steady on. You can almost see the pouty bottom lips and sulking brows around the boardroom table.
Really though, it’s not like any of this is surprising. Institutional sexism means that women will, as BD Égalité put it, “perpetually remain in second place”: “It all comes down to the disastrous glass ceiling; we’re tolerated, but never allowed top billing.” Remember we live in a world where someone fairly recently invented ‘BIC for her’, a pink or purple pen in an ‘attractive barrel design’ meant to fit exclusively in the hands of a woman. So small, so delicate. This pen may have sparked some pretty hilarious reviews (and THIS), but the fact remains: how on earth are women meant to make comics when only one pen exists to fit the tender curl of their tiny fingers?
The actual answer to that is: awesomely. As they have been doing for over 100 years. The history of comics is full of women. It’s really, really vagina-heavy. And to claim otherwise, to claim “Unfortunately, there are few women in the history of comics art” is frankly just dumb. Angoulême must have forgotten to read Jill Lepore’s Secret History of Wonder Woman, which introduces us to, amongst many other women artists, suffragist cartoonist Lou Rogers. They must have totally missed out on the underground Wimmin’s Comix in the 70s, 80s and 90s, which made stuff like queerness and sex and feminism available to comic readers.
One of the most punchable things about all this is that the history of women in comics is not a secret. Not at all. It’s just not considered important by the people who give prizes.
Hera, Give Me Strength!
Luckily, there are loads of us folk who actually do give a shit about women who make comics. Who recognise what a massive contribution they have made and who spend far too much money collecting comics by women and reading comics by women and going to events in which women talk about comics. Which brings me to possibly the best part of this article (certainly in light of Angoulême) where I get to write about an upcoming exhibition showcasing women who make comics.
Starting on the 5th of February and running until 15th May, the House of Illustration in London will be hosting the UK’s largest ever exhibition of pioneering female comic artists: Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics. The exhibition will be co-curated by Olivia Ahmad and Paul Gravett, and completely “debunks the myth that women have a limited stake in the world of comics.” From the website:
“From their early incarnations as sequential satires and newspaper strips to today’s countercultural zines, webcomics and award-winning graphic novels, comics have evolved into a complex and powerful literary form. Women have been present throughout this evolution, creating some of the most defining and provocative works of the medium… On display will be original artwork from graphic novels, comics and zines-many seen in public for the first time.”
Among the 100 artists featured are some that we have the pleasure to distribute, so it goes without saying that we’re all pretty excited about seeing the exhibition here at Turnaround HQ. We’ve been pooling our knowledge and talking about our favourites relentlessly for the last week. So in anticipation of the event (and as a middle finger to Angoulême), we thought we’d share this list with you.
Ready yourself to grow that reading pile…
What Women? Where Women? Who Women?
If you pop yourself down to the House of Illustration next month, you’ll see work by these amazing artists, all of whom have books in the Turnaround vault.
Trina Robbins started out making illustrations for science-fiction fanzines in the 50s and went on to become possibly one of the most badass and legendary women in comics. She was heavily involved with the underground comix movement, especially Wimmin’s Comix, and has been championing the work of women for decades. She’s worked on Vampriella and Wonder Woman, and was the first person to feature an out lesbian in her comic strip Sandy Comes Out (Wimmin’s Comix #1).
Robbins is also a historian, and her book Pretty in Ink is probably all the Angoulême Prize needs to revaluate its opinion on the history of women in comics. It’s a dreamboat of a book, essentially an encyclopaedia of American women comic artists dating back to 1896.
Una’s debut novel-length graphic novel, Becoming/Unbecoming, was released in 2015 to overwhelmingly brilliant praise. It tells the story of sexual assault, of what it means to grow up with shame and self-doubt against the backdrop of the 1970’s Yorkshire Ripper manhunt.
Anna James, formerly of The Bookseller and creator of A Case for Books, considered it one of her “favourite books of the year” and Paul Gravett called it “Raw, revelatory and reaffirming.” If you haven’t read it yet, you really should do so.
Have a look at some of Una’s work over on her website.
Marie Severin is a massive name in comics, one that everyone who reads Marvel should be familiar with. She’s done loads of work with Marvel, and with EC comics in the 1950s, and in 2001 was inducted into the Will Eisner Comics Hall of Fame. She was Marvel’s Head Colourist until 1972, working on pretty much every comic you can think of. She moved on to drawing Hulk, Iron Man and Daredevil, amongst others, and in 1976 she co-created Spider-Woman. Basically, Severin is a Queen of comics.
Emma Vieceli has a pretty enormous CV, and it’s all great. She’s made Manga Shakespeare for SelfMadeHero, Vampire Academy for Penguin Random House, and Doctor Who comics for Titan.
She also provides guest art for big-name comics like Jem & the Holograms, and worked with Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (The Wicked & the Divine) on Marvel’s Young Avengers Volume 3: Mic Drop at the Edge of Time and Space.
And, as an aside, I just learned from her website that she also made the sketchbook Norman Bates finds in the TV series Bates Motel.
Kutsuwada is fast becoming a big name in the manga word. She writes yaoi manga, a popular manga subgenre that focuses solely on boy-on-boy love, and has recently published a shojo (romance) manga series with writer Sean Michael Wilson.
The Story of Lee Vol. 1 is about Lee, a resident of Hong Kong, who meets Matt, a fine English gentleman. They fall in love, but Lee’s dad is suspicious of the relationship and the two must fight the odds and cross a cultural divide to be together.
Go have a look at Kate Brown’s artwork on her site because it’s great. Brown has made a lot of really awesome self-published comics which you can see on her site, is co-creator of Tamsin and the Deep, and is currently working on a full-length graphic novel. She also did a guest issue of The Wicked & The Divine in July 2015.
She’s also worked with Gillen & McKelvie on Young Avengers #6: The Toll, which is collected in Young Avengers Vol 2: Alternative Culture.
It doesn’t end there…
These excellent ladies are confirmed to have work on show at the Comics Creatix exhibition. But there are so many more incredible artists who deserve a mention here. Take for example those published by Myriad. Myriad are tirelessly introducing some of the best in the business to the UK market, Una among them. Corinne Pearlman is their creative director and she really knows a thing or two about comics. Myriad’s list is varied and top-notch. Take Hannah Eaton, whose Naming Monsters, about a college student grappling with extreme emotions after losing her mother, has been called “scary good” by Alison Bechdel. Take Nicola Streeten, the author of Billy, Me & You, a surprisingly funny and hugely poignant comic about losing her young son. Nicola is also co-founder of the awesome Laydeez do Comics, whose regular meetings and events are just ace. One to watch out for is For the Love of God, Marie! by Jade Sarson (out July 2016), about a super charming polyamorous Catholic girl named Marie who loves many different people. With Sarson’s spectacular artwork there is nothing not to like about this comic.
And if you want to talk more about Marvel’s excellent line-up of women, we can do that! How about Sara Pichelli, who joined Marvel in 2008 and has worked on everything from X-Men to Spider-Man to Guardians of the Galaxy. Coincidentally, Pichelli also co-created Miles Morales with Brian Michael Bendis, one of the nominees who withdrew from the Angoulême Prize. Or Emma Rios, whose credits include Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, as well as work for Image on comics such as Pretty Deadly. Both Rios and Pichelli also contributed to Marvel’s 2010 reboot of Girl Comics, part of Marvel’s year-long Marvel Women project that produced comics entirely written, coloured and lettered by female authors and artists.
Is manga your thing? If so, we can talk about that too! How about Clamp, for instance? Clamp is an incredibly badass collective of women manga artists who have been doing their thing since the mid-80s. Some of their series include Tokyo Babylon, Tsubasa and XXXHolic, and they’ve sold over 100 million books worldwide since 2007. We could also chat about Hiromu Arakawa if you fancied. Her Fullmetal Alchemist and Heroic Legend of Arslan series are SO popular. Try selling them at ComicCon if you don’t believe me.
I think, over the course of this article, we’ve managed to ascertain that the Angoulême Grand Prix is just plain wrong when it comes to women in comics. And really, this hasn’t even scratched the surface. If you found yourself as riled up about the whole debacle as us, then be sure to grab a ticket to the Comic Creatix: 100 Women Making Comics exhibition at London’s House of Illustration.
We’ll be posting a lot more about women and comics over the coming months, so keep an eye here for author spotlights and reading lists and whatnot. And head over to our Twitter and Facebook pages, where you’ll see a lot of women and comics featured there too. Oh, and next time you’re out and about, head to your local bookshop and buy yourself a treat; let’s support these awesome women by buying their work!