Monday, 6 February, 2023
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French fest drops cartoonist amid threats after incest row

France's top comics festival said Wednesday it is cancelling an appearance by an author criticised for depicting incest and sexualising children after threats of violence against him.

The Angouleme International Comics Festival said it was "not possible" to go ahead with an appearance by Bastien Vives that "could pose such risks to an author and, potentially... to festival-goers," adding that staff had also faced "intimidation".

Vives, 38, has long been seen as a star of France's much-loved graphic novel scene and was due to be honoured at the festival -- one of the world's leading comics events -- in January.

But there have been protests and a petition opposing his inclusion, and Vives said he had received death threats online.

His stories about a childhood romance ("A Sister"), or a young woman's sexual awakening ("The Blouse") had erotic elements, but were widely considered moving and sophisticated.

But other works -- most notably "Petit Paul" about a 10-year-old with oversized genitals -- led to accusations that he was promoting paedophilia, despite its absurdist style.

"Petit Paul" was pulled from bookstores after an uproar in 2018, while other work has been criticised for normalising incest -- a hot-button issue in France after some high-profile scandals.

Vives's reputation has not been helped by previous comments that smack of deliberate provocation -- "Incest excites me to death," he told Madmoizelle magazine in 2017 -- as well as malicious comments made online under a pseudonym attacking a woman cartoonist.

He has denied claims that the pornographic elements in his work relate to his own desires.

"If it has to be said again, I'll say it again: No, I'm not a paedophile and, no, it is not my fantasy. If you want to read my works honestly, you will easily realise that," he told Le Parisien this week.

Despite the cancellation, the festival defended the author, saying it "considers that the work of Bastien Vives, as a whole, falls within the scope of freedom of expression and that it is up to the law to draw the boundaries in this area and the judiciary to enforce them."