Angoulême Honors Fallen Charlie Hebdo Staff with “Charlie Freedom of Speech” Award

The aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks has left the comics world shaken, but it has also motivated cartoonists around the world to stand in solidarity with creators’ fundamental right to free expression. This past week, was another demonstration of the strength of cartooning community took place at the 42nd Angoulême International Comics Festival in France.

Amidst the celebration of comics that the festival brings each year, one of the biggest highlights of the festival was the inaugural “Charlie Freedom of Speech” award, as well as a special Grand Prix award, which were presented in honor of the cartoonists and editorial staff that lost their lives during the Charlie Hebdo attack. The comics festival also featured “Je Suis Charlie: The History of Charlie Hebdo,” an exhibition that showcased issues of the magazine for attendees. A memorial book collecting 170 cartoons from over 800 submissions to commemorate the fallen is planned for later this year.

As festival director Franck Bondoux said before the celebrations commenced, “The 2015 festival will be a time for remembering but we also want to show that life goes on… Even if it is overshadowed by the Charlie drama, Angoulême must remain a celebration of comic books.”

And a true celebration of comics it was! Exhibits ranged from a collection of works by Calvin and Hobbes’ Bill Watterson; to a showcase of works by the legendary comics creator Jack Kirby; to an exhibit on Swedish cartoonist Tove Jansson’s loveable children’s character, Moomin; and a retrospective on manga artist Jiro Taniguchi.

This year marked a true milestone in the comics industry, though, with the prestigious Grand Prix Lifetime Achievement award going to manga artist Katsuhiro Otomo, the first Japanese recipient of the award. The multiple award-wining creator behind Akira, Otomo is not only a recognized master of the manga and anime industries, but his work also introduced serious Japanese animation to the western world in a way that hadn’t been done before. His unique views and perspectives, as well as cinematic complexity and directorial skills, opened the door for the manga and anime industries in the United States and Europe in the 1980s by showing viewers that creative works coming out of Japan were in a class comparable to, if not better than, any cinematic production being produced in Hollywood at that time. His work has truly fostered a mainstream acceptance of manga and anime, so congratulations are due to Mr. Otomo on his sensational win of the Grand Prix award!

Amidst all of these festivities the only thing that was noticeably lacking, though, was fear. In light of recent events, security was increased, but this was truly an event celebrating comics, creators, and freedom of speech in an uninhibited, unafraid, courageous manner. If ever there was a true demonstration of the strength of the comics and cartoonist community to not only stand by one another but outwardly and vocally express the importance of the power of the pen to incite social awareness and change, this year’s Angoulême International Comics Festival was that testament.

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!