By Hervé St-Louis
March 21, 2009 - 11:25
In August 2008, a few days after the announcement of the
2008 Doug Wright Award winners,
The Comic Book Bin officially disapproved of
the award because of discriminatory practises against French speaking
Canadians. The Doug Wright Ward (DWA) is one of the many Canadian awards for
the Canadian comic book industry. This led to a long series of comments and
arguments in the blogosphere and at
The Comic Book Bin itself. Officials from the DWA responded that they
did not practise discrimination against French speaking Canadians.
The issue was left at that, with both sides mutually not accepting what the other had to say. But in terms of legitimacy, the DWA suffered by not having the largest and most visited Canadian-based comic book magazine supporting their efforts. While the American comic book media and non comic book related Canadian media continued to recognize the DWA, their case always felt weak by not having a party that was directly concerned and related to their industry and of the same country accepting them. The question of discrimination against Francophones was also never properly addressed, which left a nagging feeling of inappropriateness with the Doug Wright Award. You can’t call yourself a Canadian prize if you refuse to accept works published in French. Canada is officially a bilingual country where both English and French are equal in all areas, by law but also by custom and tradition.
The Doug Wright Award seem to understand the idiocy of excluding French works now. They haven’t publicly apologized for their past transgressions, but now they clearly state that their award is for works published in English only and that they are not national in scope. They are an award for English Canadian works. And that is a fair position. However, they continue to argue that they should have access to French works translated into English. This is where I had a problem with the DWA and where my minority report starts, and where the majority report of The Comic Book Bin ends.
The Comic Book Bin is not a democracy, but it’s not far from that ideal. After being presented with a new state of affairs by the officials of the DWA, the majority of the writers and editors at The Comic Book Bin decided to finally recognize the Doug Wright Award, judging their clarification sufficient. They basically outvoted me the publisher! And that’s fair. So from now on The Comic Book Bin recognizes the Doug Wright Award.
Now to my minority report. I still have issues with the DWA based on translated works. Previously, I have argued and continue to believe so, that if you translate French literature in English that it does not become English literature. Molière remains Molière. Shakespear remains Shakespear. A rose is a rose. Looking at the Best Book Category of the DWA , you’ll notice that half of the nominees for 2009, are translated works. They were published previously in French by one Montreal-based publisher and one from Europe. Another Montreal-based publisher, Drawn & Quarterly translated them in English.
I have several problems with this. First, having the two books discriminates negatively against English cartoonists. These works are not English Canadian comic book literature. They are French Canadian. Their presence on the ballot removes two key spots from potential English speaking contenders. These two awards will be honoured in French Canada. Do they need the extra recognition while other works stay in limbo?
Second, Drawn & Quarterly, as a publisher is disproportionately promoted for doing not much work at all, and not taking many risks. Drawn & Quarterly, for years has found itself is an envious niche unfair to its competition. It receives a lot of grants from the Quebec and Canadian governments to publish comic books. Those grants are not available to comparable publishers like Top Shelf Comics, Fantagraphics or other Canadian publishers like Arcana Studio, Red5 Comics, or Udon Comics. All Drawn & Quarterly’s publisher has to do, is walk down St-Denis Street in Montreal and go take a peek at the catalogue of French comic book publishers like La Pastèque, sign a few contracts, get a few grants, find a translator – and Montreal is full of them so they are cheap – and there you go, instant success. Drawn & Quarterly plucks the best selling series from the French language publishers and laughs all the way to the bank, with Canadian taxpayers’ money to boot. It’s a given that if a comic book is critically acclaimed in French Canada, France and the rest of Europe, where they are also distributed, that the comic book will get a warm reception in the same markets in North America.
Third, the DWA really favours the same clique of creators year after year. They all know each other, all live in Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa. The award itself is but a window to allow prominent Toronto comic book store and sponsor, The Beguiling, to sell more copies. The award is not pan Canadian. Apparently, Canadians from all cities were encouraged to send nominees. I never heard of that or saw any evidence.
To be fair to the Doug Wright Award, they rightly made a distinction of nominating Canadian works in English, rather than English Canadian works. This is how they can open the door to translated works. It’s not based on the ethnicity of the cartoonist, but the language of publishing. On that narrow technical loophole, translated works can be accepted. And so I have to rally with the majority opinion at The Comic Book Bin and officially recognize the Doug Wright Award and wish the best of luck to all their nominees.