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Tales of the Unexpected, Sort Of

Action Girl (a true Lulu), Astro City (broom, please) and Milk & Cheese (long story short) lead awards pack

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the August 27-September 2, 1998 Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)

Click for the review for a complete list of Eisner Winners.

by Beth Hannan Rimmels

While the Comic-Con International San Diego does not mark the end of the convention season — DragonCon, SPX '98 and Mid-Ohio Con are yet to come — it does signal the end of the major-award season. So before I get into the Con's news and gossip, I figured I'd let you know who won what.

THE LULUS First up was the second edition of the Friends of Lulu Awards, which celebrates women in comics and women-friendly comics. The buzz said Lulu of the Year was going to be a contest between Linda Medley for Castle Waiting (Olio) and Jill Thompson for Scary Godmother (Sirius). Instead, the award went to the multi-talented Sarah Dyer, creator and editor of Action Girl (Slave Labor Graphics). Not only is Action Girl a wonderful anthology (though I hesitate to use the a-word for fear of cursing it), but Dyer's given many people their first opportunity to be published.

Dale Messick of Brenda Starr fame was inducted in the Friends of Lulu Hall of Fame. The Kim Yale Award for Best New Talent went to Carla "Speed" McNeil for Finder, despite tight competition from Devin Grayson's Catwoman and Tara Jenkins' Galaxion. McNeil's win really shouldn't be a surprise: Lulu of the Year nominee Dave Roman, writer of Quicken Forbidden, commented that McNeil not only created a great fantasy series but also managed to get it out consistently every other month. That might not sound like much to readers who mainly buy titles from the larger companies, but trust me, just handling the production, marketing and distribution of a single title is all-consuming. Only the most successful self-published titles, like Jeff Smith's Bone, allow their creators the luxury of not having to hold down other jobs. (Note how budgetary constraints recently forced Linda Medley to temporarily switch Castle Waiting from quarterly to bimonthly.)

THE EISNERS, ET AL  Writer/artist Scott Shaw (Captain Carrot, Droopy and many others) opened the Eisner Awards festivities with a very funny speech that nevertheless pointed out that when the San Diego Comic Con started 29 years ago, the average comic's press run was 200,000. Today, a print run can be as low as 1,000, though, admittedly, that's for a small press title. Shaw also poked some fun at Jim Shooter's announcement that he would return to comics as a self-publisher by saying, "It would set a precedent: The first time a publisher refuses to return artwork to himself."

The first honor of the evening was the Russ Manning Award, given to the most talented new artist. The nominees were Lindenhurst, NY's Garrett Berner for Lost Stories, Tara Jenkins for Galaxion, Adrie Van Viersen for Technopolis, Jeff Weigel for Big Bang Comics and Matt Vanderpool for LifeQuest, who won for this fantasy series that is his first comic book effort.

Next on the agenda was the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award — named for the animator, not a long-lost cousin from The Beverly Hillbillies. This year's recipient, Frank Miller, was cited for his tireless championing of free speech and contributions to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Miller also spent years pressuring Marvel Comics into returning Jack Kirby's original artwork to the artist who created or co-created such legendary characters as Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer and many more. (Miller became ill right before the convention and was unable to attend.)

Tribute was also paid to Kirby's wife, Roz, who died earlier this year. Shaw pointed out that cartooning is an odd profession most people do not understand. Roz not only understood her husband Jack's love of comics, but she took care of everything so he could devote himself to his work. It's no wonder this kind lady was nicknamed "the den mother of comics."

Shaw also announced the winners of the Inkpot Awards, given by the Comic-Con staff for lifetime achievement. The winners were Lorenzo Mattotti (known for his New Yorker covers as well as his work on Murmur and Fire), Naoko Takeuchi (creator of Sailor Moon), Eddie Campbell (Eddie Campbell's Bacchus), John Broome (The Flash, Green Lantern), Nick Cardy (Aquaman, Bat Lash, Tomahawk), Paul S. Newman (Turok, The Lone Ranger), John Severin (Sgt. Fury, Unknown Soldier, Two-Fisted Tales) and Joe Simon (Captain America).

Then it was onto the main event itself — the Eisner Awards, named for Will Eisner, legendary creator of The Spirit. A variety of guests were presenters but Eisner himself handed out the awards to the winners. About halfway through the presentation, Jeff Smith announced that he was distressed last year because the 81-year-old Eisner stood during the entire presentation. To rectify that, Smith and Kurt Busiek brought in a gold and red velvet throne. The crowd found it wonderfully amusing, as did Eisner. Yet except for a brief period right after the throne was brought out, Eisner still stood through the entire presentation.

The big awards held a few surprises. I expected Vittorio Giardino's A Jew in Communist Prague to take home something but that book — and NBM, its publisher — went home empty-handed. I was disappointed because this moving, reality-based work is so good that it earned the spot next to Maus on my bookshelf. With one partial exception, there were no sweeps this year, as happened last year with DC's Kingdom Come. The types of titles were as diverse as the nominations (in my humble opinion as part of the nominating committee this year). Winners ranged from the all-ages Batman & Superman Adventures: World's Finest (DC) for Best Graphic Album-New to Miller's gritty, violent Sin City: That Yellow Bastard (Dark Horse) for Best Graphic Album-Reprint.

Busiek, Brent Anderson and Will Blyberg were the closest thing this year's awards had to a sweep — Kurt Busiek's Astro City (Homage/Jukebox Productions) claimed top prize for Best Single Issue (#10, "Show Them All"), Best Serialized Story (#4-9, "Confession") and Best Continuing Series. Alex Ross also won Best Cover Artist for his work on both Astro City and Uncle Sam (DC). The first time he stepped to the podium, Busiek confided that the award was the second best thing that happened to him this year. The first was when his wife said, while they were visiting Perth, Australia, "The test is positive." The very pregnant Ann Busiek didn't seem to mind Kurt's admission to the hundreds in attendance.

Anderson was just as personal when the trio accepted their second award. He commented that people who don't read comics don't always understand why grown-ups spend their time on these things. He then went on to tell the story of how last year two guys from Los Angeles talked to him at the show. They told him that in their neighborhood, drive-by shootings are common and that many people they know have been killed. They felt that they had to come down to San Diego to meet the creators because Astro City helps get them through. Anderson was visibly choked up when he added that the title gave them hope. This reaction is not unusual. Calling Astro City a slice-of-life book in a superhero world doesn't even begin to do it justice. While no two stories are alike, Busiek and company manage to draw the reader in unlike any other title I've read.

Garth Ennis wasn't present for his win as Best Writer for Preacher, Hitman, Unknown Soldier and Bloody Mary: Lady Liberty. Supposedly, he was in a pub having a drink. Considering how much time his characters spend in bars, that shouldn't be surprising.

Writer/artist Evan Dorkin (Milk & Cheese, Dork!) brought the house down — and delayed the end of the show — with his hysterical speech ("No one else used their time, so I will. I don't know why most winners act like their book was canceled"). Dorkin, who never minces words, started off his acceptance speech for Best Short Story by saying, "I have several jokes, such as if this is the best short story of the year, this industry deserves to die." He then thanked various people, including his "parents for doing it, even if they didn't love each other very much."

Linda Medley's wins for Best New Series and Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition were deserved — and expected. Though I'm beginning to think that the latter award should go to the person who comes in second. (Think about it: To some degree, all awards go to the person or project that is best known.)

To no one's surprise, the late Archie Goodwin made it to the Eisner Hall of Fame. Editor/writer Goodwin, one of the nicest people in comics, is still deeply mourned by his colleagues, as was evident in DC editor Mike Carlin's acceptance speech on Goodwin's behalf. Jeph Loeb also credited Goodwin for Batman: The Long Halloween's win for Best Limited Series. We miss you, Archie.

 

Column 1998 Long Island Voice. Comic books featured 1997 Matt Vanderpool (for LifeQuest), Jukebox Productions (for Kurt Busiek's Astro City) and DC Comics (for Batman: The Long Halloween).