Hosted every year in France, the Angoulême International Comics Festival is the biggest comic con in the world, surpassing even San Diego’s mighty Comic-Con International by tens of thousands of attendees. But like the San Diego show and its Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, Angoulême comes with its own venerable awards celebrating sequential art from around the world, the most auspicious of which is the Angoulême Grand Prix, given every year to a living comics creator as a kind of lifetime achievement award. This year’s went to a most deserving artist indeed: Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of one of the medium's undisputed masterworks, Akira.

A 1980s cyberpunk epic told across six phonebook-sized volumes filled to the brim with some of the most exciting and breathtaking comic book artwork you can find anywhere, Akira is the story of super-science, politics and youth in revolt set against a post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo. Its main characters are Kaneda and Tetsuo, two motorcycle gang members and the best of friends — until the latter is cursed with uncontrollable powers that manifest as ultra-violent expressions of his crippling self-loathing and jealousy.

Otomo explores nihilism and violence in the series, telling the story of a conflicted, corrupt and desperate city borne out of a fictional catastrophic event that recalls the the real-life bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Japanese people’s struggle to redefine their nation in the post-war era.

In addition to being one of the world's most influential comic books, Akira also made a massive impact in the realm of cinema, with Otomo's painstaking adaptation becoming the first of many anime features to break down the cultural barriers to North American audiences. The exquisite film and its venerable source material are so beloved, that Hollywood plans to produce a whitewashed live-action version have been met with disdain from fans.

 

 

Otomo is only the fifth non-European artist to win the Grand Prix. He was nominated last year, but lost to the similarly esteemed American cartoonist Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes. One of the reasons the Grand Prix is such a prestigious prize is that its winner is chosen by past recipients, with the latest meant to serve as president of the next year’s jury.

This year's other nominees included the Belgian cartoonist Hermann, author of  Bernard Prince and Jeremiah; and Alan Moore, writer of Watchmen, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.