Last year the Beat inaugurated the Person of the Year award. In an industry where changing the status quo isn’t always greeted with joy, this is our way of recognizing the people who either move the needle and shake things up or exemplify a level of excellence that others can aspire to.
To get some idea of who the industry is looking to for leadership, we asked participants in our Year-End Survey to name a person of the year. Respondents were promised anonymity in their comments, but some chose to be quoted.
Last year, Robert Kirkman was an easy winner – the runaway success of The Walking Dead and his business acumen in both remaining the public face of the show, and putting his profits into things like his own Skybound Image imprint were hard to miss.
This year, votes were much more across the board. One person clearly got the most votes as a single person. However, an executive team had more votes overall when votes for both people were added up. So, we used our executive power to declare both a Person of the Year and a Team of the Year. So who moved the comics industry in 2011 and will continue to be heard in 2012? Read on.
Person of the Year – Kate Beaton
Webcartoonist, author, historian, performance artist—2011 was Kate Beaton’s oyster. With the publication of her collected comics in HARK! A VAGRANT! from D&Q (just last week named Book of the Year by PW’s critics, and included on Time’s Books of the Year list), Beaton’s popularity grew from its already impressive dimensions. She also launched a monthly comics/comedy cabaret with Michael Kupperman, and continued to be one of the smartest, savviest creators out there. One of our sharpest memories of 2011 was watching two readers sitting giggling for half an hour as they read their just-signed copy of HARK! A VAGRANT!.
In choosing Beaton, respondents were clearly impressed by her overall talent, and ability to retain her loyal audience:
— Web-comics superstar turned print bestseller. Funny, smart, young…the future.
— DC is the big story, but that’s more of a team effort. As removed as I was from comics this year, it seemed like the dominant persona was Kate Beaton. She was everywhere, and everything she did was awesome. She’s the one creator in comics who has truly universal appeal. Everyone knows her. Everyone loves her. And for good reason.
— KATE BEATONS!!!!! ALL THE KATE BEATONS!!… sorry, the all caps got me excited there.
— Kate Beaton pretty much took over the world, and she did so with grace and candor.
Reached for comment on her win, Beaton sent this statement:
“It’s been a really big year for me with the book coming out, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the tremendous support I’ve been given. Thank you so much.”
Team Of The Year: DC Entertainment Co-publishers Dan DiDio And Jim Lee
The acknowledgement of the huge impact DC’s co-publishers had on the comics industry this year can be filed under least surprising things ever. With the renumbering, relaunching and reimagining of the DC superhero universe as The New 52, DC dominated headlines and sales charts from June on, reversing Marvel’s long-time dominance in the direct sales market and boosting sales levels to levels long gone. While some respondents had mixed feelings about The New 52, all recognized the huge amount of hard work and daring it took to shake things up:
— Dan Didio. Whether you like him or loathe him, he made a commitment, stood by it and put his entire career behind it. The DCU’s change will be talked about for years. As one of the architects, and as the one constantly hammered for these things, I’m giving it to him.
— Dan Didio. I have no way of knowing whether what he did with the DC New 52 has any real staying power, but he and his team managed to blow a lot of the dust off the DC comics line and there are now some very good comics on the racks under that banner. I now buy twice as many DC monthlies than I used to. To get someone as jaded as me interested again is something of an achievement in itself. Yes it’s all a bit more conservative than I would have liked and the whole enterprise does seem a little unstable, but Didio put his neck on the line to do this and I think it has paid off.
— While I am not sure the new 52 is good for comics it is definitely one of the biggest things to happen and Didio is the man behind it.
— Dan DiDio. Dude held onto a seat that everyone thought he’d lose, and then oversaw a siege on Marvel’s market dominance without much to support it beyond press releases, frightened editors, and a neverending supply of desperate freelancer cannon fodder.
— Jim Lee. I worked for Jim in the early days of WildStorm and was always impressed by the way he could come up with ways to get readers excited about comics. DC’s relaunch this year was the boldest thing I’ve ever seen a publisher do. It sold lots more books for DC and got fans excited again about comics. IDW saw increased sales (pre-orders and re-orders) across the board at the end of 2011 and there’s no question that was a direct result of the DC relaunch. – Ted Adams
— Dan Didio & Jim Lee. The DC relaunch, though I think flawed in many ways execution-wise, was at least the kind of big thinking that comics should strive for.
— Jim Lee for not only co-publishing The New 52 while balancing a hundred other responsibilities for DC, including making his art deadlines— and he and his wife Carla added a new kid to the Lee team with the late December birth of their daughter River Charlotte!
Reached for comment, DiDio and Lee released the following statement:
“In 2011, we took a major risk because we felt that’s what the industry needed. It’s been so rewarding to see the response both from the fans and from the industry pundits. Given Comic Beat¹s longtime standing in the industry, we’re honored by this recognition. But the story’s not over, and we’ve got another big year ahead of us.”
The rest of the DC team was also mentioned several times:
— Geoff Johns, who seems to keep finding new ways to make DC more successful, along with lots of help, of course.
— If I could, this is an award I’d give to the entire DC management team, since The New 52 revitalized mainstream comics (at least for the 4th quarter!) The One-Time Only Stunt of audaciously re-starting their entire line of comics, while fielding nothing but flack for the six months running up to the launch is something that gets at least a hearty pat on the back and “Keep it going!” for everyone on the DC team.
— Diane Nelson. She actually is engaging with the audience that exists and broadening to markets poorly supported in the past. The “DC Nation” push is what Marvel wishes “Marvel Zombies” were like nowadays.
Person Of The Year Honorable Mention: Dylan Williams
Running a very strong third in the voting, if the winner had been chosen on sheer emotion, the late Sparkplug publisher Dylan Williams would have won. He succumbed to cancer in September — just as the part of the comics industry he loved so much were gathered at SPX— and the outpouring of emotion hasn’t stopped since. It’s very clear from the heartfelt tributes that poured in that although Williams’ loss is painful, he left a legacy of love for the comics medium that will keep inspiring people for years to come:
— Hands down– Dylan Williams. His passing was unbelievably sad, but I think in certain ways it galvanized a certain…feeling among many of the artists I know, in a very positive way. There’s never going to be anyone like him again; hot shit writers/ artists/ publishers come and go, but some people make an impression much deeper than whatever’s going on at the moment. Dylan was like that, as a publisher and a human being. His impact will be felt (probably in very invisible, quiet ways) for…I don’t know– forever. It certainly will for me.
— Dylan Williams is the Person of the Year for 2011. There aren’t many people in the history of comics who are as important as Dylan to the development of the medium. Dylan’s no martyr, and losing him was brutal, but it really did get everyone mobilized on our side of the comics divide.
— Dylan Williams, who will be missed, but whose presence will continue to cause ripples through alternative comics in ways most of us won’t ever even realize.
The people who carried on Sparkplug after Williams’s death were also noted:
— For me it’s definitely Virginia Paine. She did all of the heavy lifting of keeping Sparkplug going when we were all emotional wrecks and dealing with too much this year. I don’t know how she did it. She’s amazing. I’m so glad to have her as a partner and friend as we move towards the future of Sparkplug with Emily Nilsson. Also – Virginia’s comics and zines are very quiet and beautiful just like her. Check out her personal work. — Tom Neely
The Digital Crew
After these three clear frontrunners, several industry figures still had widespread support. The digital side of things were recognized with a slew of votes for comiXology, David Steinberger and John D. Roberts:
— David Steinberger. Like Steve Geppi, but in a growing company. He’s established very strong position in the place everybody wants to be.
–David Steinberger and the rest of the comiXology team. It was a great year for digital, but a STUPENDOUS year for comiXology. They changed the game for good.
— This year ComiXology seemed to finally win the way in terms of mainstream comics “iTunes.” Their aggressive development of applications for a variety of platforms and their nearly all-encompassing list of affiliated publishers have made them a major player in the North American comics industry.
The late Steve Jobs was also mentioned several times for the way the iPad has revolutionized the way we read comics:
— Steve Jobs. He affected everything we do and will continue to have an impact on the way we see digital comics for a long time.
— Steve Jobs. Comics continued to expand in digital form on the iPad, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Jobs.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was noted for his role in the tablet wars and publishing in general:
— Love him or hate him, the decisions he makes at Amazon (Kindle Fire, Price Check, heavy discounting, buying Book Depository, starting a publishing company…etc.) have far reaching consequences for everyone in the comic publishing business and needs to be reckoned with.
— Jeff Bezos. While everyone was questioning the future of bricks and mortar vs. digital for the distribution of comics, he swooped in with the Kindle Fire and cut a deal with DC Comics that made Amazon a potentially huge player in the world of comics, not just for the big two but for self-publishers.
2011 was the year gender issues really fired up the world of comics, whether with enthusiasm – as with the Womanthology book – or with angry blog postings. Accordingly, a few of the players in this arena got strong support.
, who put together the huge Womanthology anthology and set a comics fundraising record on Kickstarter in the process.
— Renae DeLiz. I honestly think that her “little” idea with Womanthology, that went on to be such a huge Kickstarter success, has opened up some incredibly important dialog and is in fact making actual changes in the industry for the long haul.
— She took a germ of an idea from casual chit-chat on Twitter and ran with it, striking a nerve and awakening a dormant beast from a dissatisfied slumber, giving amateur and pro-women creators alike a chance to bring their voices together. The success of the Womanthology Kickstarter campaign gave very real, tangible proof of support for women in comics, and interest in women’s voices and perspectives– not to mention the diversity of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender expression! Such diversity as I believe is the key to the survival of the comics industry, and it was thanks to Renae De Liz that we got to see how much possibility lay down that path. — Alexa Dickman
This fan who stood up at every New 52 panel at San Diego and stood her ground until her questions were answered was met with first anger and then, due to her resilience, actually prompted the first acknowledgement by management that an issue even existed, and got several votes.
— Kyrax2, who – in her Batgirl costume – confronted Dan Didio at the San Diego Comic-Con International and asked the questions some of us who are female superhero comics fans have at least thought about for decades. The furor has died down considerably, but she made me think long and hard about why I like superhero comics, and what factors are causing problems for me and tainting my enjoyment. I’m in a distinct minority here, but she did have an impact on some of us, for good or ill.
— Kyrax2. Agree or disagree with her methods, she brought the entire industry and the mainstream media’s attention to an issue that has too often been dismissed. (Suzette Chan)
Three other industry figures who received passionate support that should be noted:
Annie Koyama – this Canadian publisher would probably win any popularity contest you chose to run. The books she publishes are impeccable and her resilient, upbeat personality has made her one of the most loved figures in comics.
— We should be grateful to Annie Koyama, publisher of Koyama Press, who is behind some of the best new comics around and seems to really care about her cartoonists’ visions. She’s clearly enthusiastic and supportive without being blind to top level quality.
— Annie Koyama! She’s smart, generous, canny, and has the best taste in the industry. I don’t know whether to hug her or swear fealty to her.
Richard Thompson, another universally loved figure who this year turned in stellar work on his comic strip Cul de Sac while battling the effects of Parkinson’s Disease and topped it off by winning the Reuben Award.
— Between turning in another amazing year of his strip Cul de Sac, winning the Reuben Award, inspiring the ultra-elusive Bill Watterson to paint a portrait of his character Petey, and being very polite when I puked all over his favorite Mexican restaurant (I should not have gotten out of bed that morning), Richard Thompson deserves recognition for a hell of a year.
Finally, last year’s winner, Robert Kirkman, continues to impress many.
–Robert Kirkman is still winner and champion
— Robert Kirkman gets the tap again this year for the insane success of “Walking Dead,” dominating cable television, killing on the trade paperback sales charts, and selling briskly in digital form. He’s worked insanely hard, continues to think out of the box, and is living the dream.
— People like the 3-headed monster at DC garnered more headlines (and rightfully so, their launch was hugely successful and impressive), but Kevin made an unexpected and enthusiastic return to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and spent endless hours not only working on the new series, working on the deluxe reprints, but just getting back out in everyone’s minds again and meeting the fans. This included his impressive art installation and gallery show (and wall mural) at Meltdown Comics in LA, all the while still running Heavy Metal magazine, developing properties for film, and working on new comic projects besides.
–Dean has long been one of the crossover indie/mainstream mainstays. Having honed his chops assisting Simonson on Thor, Chaykin on American Flagg, and Sienkiewiscz on Elektra Assassin. In 2006 he founded ACT-I-VATE.com and has been a fierce nurturer of up-and-coming talent and of putting your work online for folks to see. In 2011 he fired on all cylinders.
— Ah, that’s an obvious one, yes. SCOTT SNYDER. From a GREAT but low-key book like Iron Man: Noir to American Vampire, and BOOM! Swamp Thing AND Batman, to be universally considered one of the best, if not the best, new writers in the industry. Some people would say “scratch that NEW and leave it on BEST WRITER” and they would probably be right about that. — David Macho
— Chester Brown is the person of the year. Whether you liked the book or not, Chester Brown may be the one person in comics who truly has the courage of his convictions. For two decades, he has consistently reinvented the medium without a shred of pretension or irony. He is ONLY a cartoonist, he is not an illustrator, editor, writer or designer. His commitment to the medium; belief in what the medium can do; insistence to not rest on his laurels; his ability to be political without being patronizing or knee-jerk; is what separates him from other 80s-90s peers such as Frank Miller and Grant Morrison. In a medium that prides itself on iconoclasm, Chester Brown is our one true iconoclast.
Shaenon K. Garrity
— She not only continued her great and underappreciated daily comic Skin Horse, but reprinted Narbonic, which wrapped more than five years ago, and earned nearly $30K to publish it through Kickstarter. Not as much money as Womanthology took in, sure, but she’s got 100-something fewer creators working on her book. I don’t know if it was the most under-reported story of the year, but it’s probably in the top ten.
— What other comic creator had a hand in shaping the face of the Occupy Movement. And he didn’t get all uppity or egotist about it. (Take note, Frank Miller.)
— She’s making journalistic and editorial cartooning relevant again simply by showing up where important things are happening.
— His return to art duties on Hellboy is something a lot of people have really be longing for.
— It’s a tough choice this year, Geoff Johns had another good year; Scott Snyder was kicking major butt; but I’ll pick Jeff Lemire. Animal Man is one of the best books in the 52 line, Superboy is a solid book, Sweet Tooth continues to surprise, and his Essex County Trilogy became a sensation in Canada when it was featured on Canada Reads. – Mark Askwith
No one is working harder to spread the gospel of comics 24 hours a day than Jerzy Drozd. He’s the co-organizer of the annual Kids Read Comics festival, host of the weekly Comics Are Great video podcast, curated Chelsea, Michigan’s first ever fine art gallery exhibit of comic pages, is a sequential art teacher, co-founder of Lean Into Art digital comics classes, and a tireless cheerleader for all the comics artists he comes into contact with. Jerzy traveled to over 20 libraries giving free comics workshops in 2011 alone, and enthusiastically shared his love of comics advocacy at the Ignite Ann Arbor and Ignite Great Lakes presentation series. He also managed to find time to produce several great mini-comics like Boulder and Fleet: Adventurers for Hire! And it sounds like he already has more lined up for next year!
— Brandon Graham for making us all excited about comics.
— How he’s been able to keep SLG running for 25 years — at times seemingly by sheer force of will and often despite his own doubts — is pretty amazing. It’s a sad reality that more often then not it’s never the guys who do something first who succeed, but it’s the guys who build on that foundation who break through to wider success. In this case it’s nice to see one of the indie originals, whose seen the highs and lows, still pushing the envelope.
— Box Brown for revitalizing “the floppy” with his Retrofit Comics.
Kevin Feige and the team at Marvel Studios.
— Betting all your chips on putting Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers all in line and playing off each other in continuity, and then delivering big box office success is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. It was a huge risk — what if Thor had tanked? — that only in retrospect is so successful that it looks like a no-brainer.
Not all the picks were entirely laudatory:
His downfall shows us that the greed and excess of the 90s that spilled over into the new century has finally come to a close. Wizard used to be one of the, if not the most powerful voice in comics. Now it no longer exists.
We don’t need any more guys like Shamus. The industry is full of kind, nice, hard working and earnest people. We need to encourage and discuss their efforts, not the schlocky antics of snake-oil salesmen and circus promoters.
Some of those who left us were also recognized:
— Joe Simon. A legend in comics who saw his co-creation on the big screen this year and then passed away and the impressive age of 98.
— Jerry Robinson, RIP. He generously shared not only his talent but his grace for 70+ years.
— Sad: Dwayne McDuffie
— Jack Kirby, for inspiring a boycott of Marvel/Disney products for their blatant disrespect to the legacy of the man to whom they owe everything, and reminding everyone who really is The King.
And finally, some abstract winners:
— Much like Time Magazine’s pick of “the protester”, my person of the year is the digital delivery system. Perhaps I can aim this at the feet of companies like, Comixology. Jim Lee was the force behind The New 52 and Robert Kirkman was the drive behind The Walking Dead but both (and others) are making sure they are front and center on digital. It’s not even an option. Digital has changed the industry in both subtle and remarkable ways and it has reached new audiences while retaining much of the old.
— People whom I know who have done selfless acts of unprompted, un-press-released kindnesses to help many creators in the industry, both individually and as a whole, without the need for public accolades, or really any care if anyone knows or not. I’d challenge us all, for the new year, to do one wonderful thing for someone else– something substantial– and do it anonymously, without the need for personal gain or garnishment. Those that do that, are the Person of the Year in my book, and we’ll never know really who they are.
And the last one…our own personal favorite:
— Any artist or writer who produces their work straight from the heart and not just for a paycheck.
Thanks to all for voting and congratulations to the winners.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.