A year ago, women in the comic industry were outraged upon learning that all of the 30 nominees for the Grand Prix d’Angoulême were men. This prestigious prize is awarded each January at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in France. In response to what they viewed as an egregious oversight, a group called BD Egalité (also Women in Comics Collective Against Sexism) put together a presentation to examine the built-in sexist assumptions that stifle the advancement of female cartoonists.
Entitled, Trait féminin, trait masculin, the presentation enlisted the full participation of the packed auditorium. At issue was the question of whether or not it is possible for readers to determine the sex of a comic strip author simply by examining one of his/her plates. Apparently, female organizers had too often heard comments about how gender influenced their work and they wanted to determine if there was any legitimacy to this claim.
The results of the experiment were telling. Upon being presented with a cartoon plate, members of the audience voted on whether they thought it had been drawn by a woman or by a man. Out of 16 plates, the informal referendum established that 8 were clearly drawn by men and 3 by women. The results for 5 of the plates were undetermined, with roughly half of the audience voting for a male illustrator and the other half choosing a female. In fact, all 16 plates had been drawn by women. You can find the series of plates here.
What I find most striking about these 16 works of art is how incredibly different they are from each other. Had I not known they were all drawn by women, I’m sure that I too would have attributed many of them to male artists. It is clear that there is enormous talent in the feminine side of this industry. But as the presentation plainly makes clear, it no longer makes sense to refer a feminine side or masculine side. There are simply cartoonists offering us, the consumers of comics and graphic novels, a rich and varied selection to choose from.