Inside the Oscars of the Comic Book World
(This Stripped column originally appeared in the May 7-14, 1998 Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)
Click here for the complete list of the 1998 Eisner Award Finalists
by Beth Hannan Rimmels
It seems that all anyone talks about anymore besides the fact that business is bad is how most of what the comics industry publishes these days is crap. You know the spiels: Today's angst-ridden, hyper-muscled, thong-wearing superheroes aren't as noble or as much fun as the Golden and Silver Age creations. Or, conversely, they're not as gritty as Frank Miller and Alan Moore's groundbreaking characterizations. Alternative comics aren't alternative enough, and there's nothing to read other than superhero books and stories about neurotic young people whining about life.
The naysayers are wrong on all counts. If anything characterizes this year's batch of Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards nominees it's diversity. During my stint as an Eisner Awards judge last month, I was struck by the realization of how much of the submitted material was genuinely worthy of consideration and how hard it was to winnow down the list.
No one book swept all the categories, though Gon Swimmin' did damn well. In fact, I can only think of three categories where I would feel confident in predicting a winner. No, I'm not going to tell you in this space it might sway votes. But if you e-mail me, I'll spill. Though I'm sure no one will be surprised if Archie Goodwin, the influential editor and writer who died in March, makes the Hall of Fame this year.
Anyway, the diversity shown in this year's nominees isn't just paper deep. How else can you characterize nominees that range from Mark Crilley's gently adventurous Akiko and Jeff Smith's epic-for-all-ages Bone competing against Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's thought-provoking, if not blasphemous, Preacher and Chris Ware's unique Acme Novelty Library for Best Continuing Series? Or the sensitive coming-of-age tale A Touch of Silver, the fabulous Castle Waiting, Long Island's own Lost Stories and the genre-busting Soulwind competing with the sick humor of Squee! for Best New Series?
WHERE DO YOU PUT ALL THE GOOD STUFF?
Judging, while a lot of fun, was also a bitch this year. Because there was so much good stuff to consider, it took much longer than some previous years. Anything that was recommended highly by at least two judges moved to the top of the list for anyone who hadn't read it. We were also trying to be extremely fair so we didn't cut as ruthlessly as we could have in our first pass at trimming the ballot. For the record, we originally started out with a 32-page, single-spaced list of everything submitted for consideration. From that, we eventually cut the list down to an average of five nominees, though some categories had as many as seven, in each of the 27 categories.
The categories themselves, unlike many other awards, are totally up to the judges to determine. There's no debate, obviously, over categories like Best Serialized Story or Best Continuing Series, but others were trickier. I confess to spearheading the suggestion to drop Best Editor. Why? Because having worked with some great editors over the years, I know that the best editors are invisible in the final product and a bad editor can make even the best writers look terrible. Writer/artist Steve Bissette (Tyrant, Swamp-Thing) had similar reasons for dispensing with Best Penciler and Best Inker as separate categories. Only the final product is submitted to the Eisner judges and it's virtually impossible to separate pencils from inks. A good inker can make an average penciler look great and great pencils can be obliterated by bad inking.
The stickiest decision, though, was how to break down and whether to break down Best Writer/Artist. Not breaking it down somewhat would leave out some really talented people unfairly, but how to break it down was hell. The knee-jerk reaction is to break it into humor and drama, but what do you do with books that don't fit either description? I laugh at both Bone and Castle Waiting but would not label either one a "humor" book, particularly as the saga in Bone gradually turns darker.
New titles like Pakkin's Land, Soulwind, Lost Stories, Quicken Forbidden and LifeQuest seem firmly planted in the middle. Something amusing might happen or a character might say something funny, but not with the frequency of books like Groo or Gon or Roswell, Little Green Man. The stories are serious with dramatic consequences but not dramas on the level of A Jew in Communist Prague or Berlin or The Borden Tragedy. In the end, we faked it by breaking them into Best Writer/Artist-Humor and Best Writer/Artist so the latter could include things that aren't humorous, without labeling it drama. I don't envy next year's judges in trying to sort out that tangle of thorns.
It's a particularly rough year when Neil Gaiman doesn't make the cut for Best Short Story. In some ways, that helped to show that we did a good job, in my humble opinion. Each judge was disappointed that certain things didn't make the final cut. In my case, those disappointments included Quicken Forbidden for Best New Series, Naughty Bits for Best Humor Publication, Poison Elves for Best Continuing Series, Jimmie Robinson for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition and James Robinson's "Vampirella vs. Dracula" in Vampirella/Dracula: Centennial for Best Short Story. The latter seemed particularly appropriate to honor considering Archie Goodwin's passing.
But I was also very happy that other items did make the cut, such as "Willow Warriors" from Weird War Tales for Best Short Story; John Ostrander for Best Writer for The Kents and The Spectre; Batgirl, Superman and Batman & Robin Adventures for their various categories and The Borden Tragedy, A Wizard's Tale and Scary Godmother for Best Graphic Album-New.
The definition of a compromise is that each side feels they conceded something and each side feels that they won something. By that definition, this year's Eisner nominees should be a set of compromises that should please most fans, regardless of who takes home the prize at the Comic-Con International San Diego in August.
Media Connection: On 'Nuff Said this week, hosts Ken Gale and Ed Menje talk with Geoff Grogan, writer/artist/publisher of Dr. Speck, a tongue-in-cheek comic with a Tibetan flavor in the storyline. Dr. Speck was recently dropped by Diamond Distribution, they'll also discuss comic book distribution, non-comic shop outlets and non-super-hero comics. If you care about the comics industry, you probably want to tune in for this show as distribution is one of the key factors affecting the growth of the industry right now. They will also take listener phone calls. 'Nuff Said airs from midnight May 10 to 1 a.m. May 11 on WBAI-FM (99.5).
Column © 1998 Long Island Voice. Kurt Busiek's Astro City artwork © 1997 Jukebox Productions. A Jew in Communist Prague © 1997 NBM. Batman & Robin Adventures © 1997 DC Comics.