Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 13, 2008

A Response From The DWAs Regarding The Charge That They Discriminate


On yesterday morning, I noticed a posting by Hervé St. Louis about the Doug Wright Awards, accusing them of discrimination and criticizing them over their self-characterization as a Canadian awards considering their policy to only consider English-language work. Last evening, I got the following e-mail in response from Brad MacKay:
All of those involved with The Doug Wright Awards are committed to the best in Canadian comics, and that includes work created by francophone cartoonists. A simple glance at our website supports this; Michel Rabagliati won the Best Book award in 2006 for Paul Moves Out, Albéric Bourgeois was inducted into the Giants of the North in 2006, and Guy Delisle (Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea), Genevieve Castrée (PAMPLEMOUSSI) and Julie Doucet (365 Days: A Diary) have all received nominations.

The Wright Awards were created back in the winter of 2004 to fill what we believed was a vacuum in terms of recognition for Canadian comics and cartoonists. One of the first things we did in our initial planning stages was discuss the inclusion of French-language comics. The amount of work it entailed to do the medium justice (and the fact that the Prix Bédélys, a Montreal-based organization that recognises the best in Quebec's comic industry, already existed) led us to put the idea on ice for the time being.

Each year since the issue has arisen at our meetings, and we've fervently debated the whether or not to include French comics-works. In the end, we've decided that any effort on our part would be not only repetitive, but perhaps even presumptive. (What business would an outside -- i.e., Anglophone -- organization have judging the best in Francophone comics?)

This is why we added the "English-only" requirement to our submission guidelines; not as a prohibition, but rather to make it clear what our scope was. (We even included a link to the Bédélys on our site, but it was accidentally deleted -- along with our entire Links page -- when we did a mild re-design last month. Rest assured we will remedy this shortly.)

The fact that we consider English language comics does not in any way make us less Canadian than say, for lack of a better comparison, The Prix Bédélys. This country was founded by two cultures, and last time I checked you don't have to be fluent in French and English to call yourself Canadian.

There are plenty of English-language awards that promote themselves as "Canadian" (The Giller Prize being the most prominent) and that fact does not exclude them from being Canadian or calling themselves such.

Further, we have never made the claim that we are the only Canadian comic award. Rather we consider ourselves to be part of a small but growing effort to raise the profile of all cartoonists in Canada, regardless of the language they work in, or what province they live in.

Suffice to say, we recognise the tremendous talent that exists in the French-language comics community. At our upcoming planning meeting, the topic of whether or not the DWAs needs to expand it's scope to include French comics (whether that means creating a new branch of the organization, or forging some sort of association) will certainly be on the agenda.
Earlier yesterday, I received the following responses.

From Bart Beaty:
I think that the analogy drawn by Hervé St-Louis between language and bodily mutilation obscures more than it illuminates, but I do think, otherwise, that he is absolutely correct. I have been dismayed by the fact that the DWA present themselves as a Canadian award when they do not consider works in French. The DWA's vision of Canadian comics is, frankly, one that I can't endorse. Despite his over-heated rhetoric, St-Louis has highlighted a very serious issue with these prizes.
Robin McConnell:
saw that article by Hervé St-Louis. Here's what i think, while i may not be a part of the DWA's, I am canadian comic geek. The DWA's are not a complete Canadian award. They do not touch on mainstream comics at all, and in that aspect, they are already lacking of being a pan-Canadian award. The Shusters do claim to be very pan-Canadian based and have a focus on covering French and English products.

As a westcoaster, French comix have nothing to do with me, and I am sure the same can be said about how folks in Quebec would feel about much of the work that some of our locals produce.
David Turgeon:
Regarding the DWA criticism, I think it boils down to one thing: if
you claim your award to be "Canadian" but do not take into consideration the fact that there are two official languages in Canada, then you are not a legitimate Canadian award.

Indeed, there are two awards for French comics in French-speaking Quebec (Bédélys and Bédéis Causa) and obviously, none of them claim to be "Canadian" or to represent the entirety of Canadian comics. The Shuster Awards, on the other hand, do accept French language comics (though I must say the French text on their website seems to have been written by a ten-year old, i.e. they don't make it seem like they are even able to read the French comics that are submitted to them -- anyway, whole other story).

Beyond all the rhetoric, what Hervé St.Louis seems to suggest is that the DWA either accept French language comics, or that they stop claiming to be a "Canadian" award.

As for my own opinion, there's not much to it. I think St.Louis' request is reasonable. Some people will make this a can of worms but really it's mostly about the DWA clarifying where they stand on that issue, hopefully without resorting to hypocrisy or sweet-talk. I don't think a Francophone or a Quebecer would be shocked about the existence of an award for English language comics in Canada if it is correctly labeled as such (again, there are TWO French language awards, and the fact is that English and French comic cultures are significantly different so it actually does make sense to have language-specific awards).

The larger language issue at play boils down to one thing: the perception that English-speaking Canadians tend to view their country as inherently English when convenient, only to reverse to Bilingualism when some form of Quebec Separatism is at play. Again it's a perception but it is one which French-speaking Canadians are very sensitive to, probably much more so than English-speaking Canadians might think we are.
Patrick Bérubé:
I am writing concerning my editor's article about the Wright Awards and you reaction to it. First, I would like to mention that, even if he is French-Canadian like me, I do not agree on everything he wrote. Nevertheless, I will stand by him for no other reason that he is my editor and that he gave me my chance as a reviewer/feature writer even if my English is clearly not as good as my colleagues.

What I can do instead is try to clarify the situation and explain where his frustrations might come from. I will not get into the cultural French/English debate. If I ever meet you at a convention, we can have a few beers and I will tell you everything you want to know about this 300 + years feud and all the political games that are being played. For the moment suffice to say that the French Canadian comic book scene is living a small golden age. We get reprint from our classic materials, new and young cartoonist push the medium farther than before, artists are becoming Europe's lovechilds and many works for the American big two. We even got rid of the US/Europe format war and started publishing for our own needs.

The problem is that all that seems to go unnoticed by the English speaking parts of the country (Canada that is). If you work in Europe nobody know you here. If you work for the big two you might win an Eisner which is not a Canadian Award. The Shuster Awards made some effort to translate their website and add french nominees but only recently and with moderate results. If you publish in french 25 millions out of 32 millions people will not understand a word of what you wrote.

As you can see, you can't get much national (as in Canada, not Québec...) recognition if you are a french speaking author. In this context, frustration can easily sets in even for people like me who are not involved in the creation process. We simpy wish creators we admire get the attention they deserve.

I do not know enough about the Wright Awards and their nomination process to say that you can't win if you are not one of the few translated artists. But as I said, I will stand by my editor's opinion and I just wanted to shed some lights on the situation.
Sean Craig:
I think it's important to recognize that the issues raised by M. St. Louis are subject to more nuance than he and those who agree with him are willing to let on. I'll do my best to explain my thoughts.

Of note, I am a Toronto-born dual citizen, raised and educated in Texas and New England. I was born to New Brunswickers and have Acadian in my blood. I'm proud of my French-Canadian ancestors who gave me my green eyes.

M. St. Louis' statements likening the Wrights to racists and sexists gave me serious pause, coming from a place where, not long before my childhood, segregation was a legal policy. They seem to have undermined his arguments with a number of your readers, but even without these unnecessary statements he's managed to make a personal argument without considering the facts before him.

Like M. St Louis and the Wrights, I recognize the artistic talent, past and present, that French-Canada has given to its country and to the rest of the world. Studying art history, I was exposed to Jean-Paul Riopelle, Claude Gauvreau, and Paul-Emile Borduas, who helped shape the modern sensibilities of secular liberalism in Canada. Gavreau was a writer whose output was limited to the French language, but he is nonetheless a towering figure in Canada's artistic and social histories. I celebrate his contributions, and those of all the Automatistes, to the arts as distinctly Canadian -- just as much as I celebrate the work of an English group like Kids in the Hall as a considerable Canadian achievement in the arts.

I take care in recognizing that there are distinct English and French cultural paradigms in our country and I recognize that they carry the same national weight. As I result, I see no grounds for rejecting an institution that operates within either framework, or both.

I find it ridiculous to say that we can't be proud of French language work as Canadian or English language work as Canadian without being limited by qualifiers and asterisks. The Wrights award Canadian works, as does the Giller Prize, the Canadian League of Poets' Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction, and the Canada Award -- given out for an achievement in English-language television at the Gemini Awards by the federal government's Ministry of Canadian Heritage. These are all English language awards and they are unquestionably Canadian, even according to the standards of the national, bilingual government.

To me, the same standards go for French language cultural institutions. They are Canadian, they support Canadian artists, and their productivity is equally as important to our country as that of English language institutions. I have no problems with a French language institution in Canada calling itself Canadian. Why? Because it is. There's not anything to argue here. Despite this, M. St Louis argues just that: nothing.

If M. St Louis wants to balkanize our country's artistic community, claiming that only certain people and organizations are privileged enough to call themselves Canadian, I can only wish him luck with this highly dubious task. The Wrights, the Shusters, the Bédélys, and the Bédéis Causa are all crucially important to the Canadian cartooning community. The awards all claim their own bases and overlap in scope, covering more ground than any one organization could. We have a tight-knit cartooning community and I'm glad to have them all out there working on its behalf. The Shusters this year recognizing Cecil Castelucci and the Wrights recognizing Ann Marie Fleming were wonderful steps for women in the medium and show what progress Canadian comics are making with demographics across the board.

Personally, I think that recognition in artistic fields within linguistic frames maintains a national integrity. Clearly, M. St Louis does not. I hope that, considering things like the Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren (a Dutch language literary award that is handed out in alternating years by the Belgian monarch--- the leader of a country with three official languages), he will reconsider his position and acknowledge that Canada and multi-lingual countries around the world have moved beyond the divisive, unavailing arguments he is trying to make.

I applaud the Wrights commitment to recognizing works that push the comics medium forward. They recognize books that run the gamut from mainstream superhero genre exercises (Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier) to self-published minis (Jason Kieffer's Kieffer). Every Canadian cartooning award could stand to see some improvement. M. St. Louis seems, more than anything, intent on starting a self-glorified message board/blog crusade. I hope this is not the case, and I hope he will resign himself to the fact that French language and English language institutions are Canadian and that the majority of us in this country are proud to call them our own. If he wants to reject the Gillers, the Wrights, and even the standards of the federal government, he is absolutely welcome to. If he wants to reject all French and English Canadian institutions that are unilingual, he is welcome to. If he wants to participate with all Canadians in recognizing the uniqueness and the strengths of our linguistic bonds and divisions, I would welcome him. Regardless, the rest of us will continue to salute the red and white and take pride in all sides of the terre de nos aieux.
Thank you to all that took the time to write in.
posted 8:28 am PST | Permalink

Daily Blog Archives
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
Full Archives