For the sixth year in a row, The Beat is proud to present the Comics Industry Person of the Year, as chosen by voters in our annual creator survey. The moment we began counting votes it was clear there were two candidates: a single creator and a creative team. As we’ve done once before, we’ve opted to name a Person of the Year and a Team of the Year.
And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably already guessed: the Person of the Year is National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang; and the team is the March Book Three National Book Award winners of Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Taken together, the accomplishments of these four creators took the graphic novel and comics medium to unprecedented levels of recognition. 2016 had its low moments, but the deeds of Yang, Lewis, Aydin and Powell were a shining example for us all.
Person of the Year
Gene Luen Yang
As we mentioned, Yang had a career year, with his appointment as the Library of Congress appointed him National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature; he followed that up in September by winning a MacArthur Genius Grant. He also launched New Super-Man, one of DC’s lead titles in its Rebirth event, while continuing to work on his own comics, including Secret Coders, a book aimed at teaching middle grade students programming code. As Ambassador for literature, Yang remained the ultra class act he has always been, a gracious and thoughtful creator who understands the role he can play in not only bringing comics to a wider audience, and helping kids see the importance of reading but helping break down cultural stereotypes about Asian-Americans. Comics is so lucky to have him.
Reached for comment about his Person of the Year win, Yang wrote:
2016 was a crazy year. Speaking from my own perspective: professionally it was amazing, globally it was traumatic, personally it was challenging. (On that last note, I need to read Roz Chast’s book soon.)
Getting acknowledged by the people I admire most in the world — my fellow cartoonists — is a wonderful way to start the new year.
And our voters agreed:
– “Gene Luen Yang for his amazing work as an artist and as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, inspiring readers of all ages and backgrounds to “Read Without Walls.””
– “First, he’s a great graphic novelist and comics writer. Then he’s the Library of Congress Ambassador for Young Peoples Literature. And if that wasn’t enough (!), he gets named as a MacArthur Foundation genius. That’s a ridiculously good year for one of comics brightest lights!”
– “Gene Yang is the creator I cite constantly to students as the Renaissance Person of Comics, and I think he broke all his previous records this year. First-ever GN creator to be Library of Congress YA ambassador; gold-standard single-creator and collaborative output ranging from Superman to Secret Coders; constant NYT Graphic Books bestselling author; tremendously socioculturally engaged, accessible and generous guy.”
Team of the Year
Rep John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
The story of the graphic novel version of March is like a fairy tale in some ways, even if it’s a fairy tale born out of a story of violence, racism and the courage to try to change the world for the better no matter the cost. Rep. Lewis is already a national treasure, and his autobiography, telling the story of the American Civil Rights movement and the fateful march of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, was a classic. However bringing it to life as a beautiful and passionate graphic novel not only gave it exposure to places it had never been before — The San Diego Comic Con! — but gave Lewis’s story a vital showcase during a time when it was needed most. The October National Book Award win – the first ever for a graphic novel – was the final step in an amazing journey.
Reached for comment Powell wrote:
That’s amazing– what an honor! And it was such a rich, fantastic year for our medium in the first place, so especially thrilled. We much appreciate it.
It means the world to be recognized by other creators like this. It’s an honor every day to be a part of this team. Being recognized by those who live and breathe the craft for what our team was able to create together is the highest recognition we could receive.
Our voters felt strongly about this book and the team:
– “John Lewis took his epic life story and put it in pictures and words, and the world appreciated it. MARCH took home so many awards and honorable mentions this year, and it was impossible to ignore. Lewis has also had time to fight gun control.”
– “They tied up the March series, the books that we all should buy for our Trump-supporting friends and family. And it finally earned an Eisner, but, more importantly, it won a National Book Award, a prize that literally never has gone to a comic ever before.”
– “This is the year that Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and John Lewis completed the March trilogy, a book that’s becoming more powerful and more important by the day.”
– “The March Book Three team: Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell – for producing a major work about Lewis’ life and the Civil Rights Movement that is resonating with so many people, and winning major national literary awards.”
While the winners were clear, other figures also got a lot of support. Here’s the runners up:
Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio
– “DC fought a full court press on every level: event series, competitive pricing, returnability, creator-exclusives deals, launching a recruitment/training program, identifying the emerging indie-hipster-punk readership and creating an indie-sensibility imprint to target them, recognizing Vertigo is no longer that indie-sensibility imprint, getting better (tho still struggling) at synthesizing publishing schedules with film/tv campaigns. It didn’t all work, but enough of it did that it successfully disrupted the market. Whether or not it sticks remains to be seen. If either DC movie worked creatively they would have crushed the year. Maybe Wonder Woman does it for them next year if they can continue the full court press to take advantage of it.”
– “Geoff Johns is by far the most singular figure in comics this year. Through his Rebirth special, he established a brand new tone for DC Comics’ periodical line that was focused on heart over fist. It’s an editorial shift that, for now at least, has paid off in dividends. Moreover, Johns has not only made his presence known in the comics industry but pop culture at large. As the newly minted Chief Creative Officer at DC, his name appears at the start of all the CW network DC shows from Supergirl to The Flash. It will also appear in future DC universe films, which he is currently working to rebrand following this year’s questionable releases. As a co-writer of the upcoming Wonder Woman film, Johns is a relatively unique anomaly– a comic book writer who has been given the opportunity to put his words on the biggest screens around the world.”
– “Keeping in line with what I feel is the biggest story, it’d have to be Geoff Johns. DC Rebirth was the best DC issues in years and his hand in guiding the relaunch has led to not only success for DC but it allowed for both traditional, classic DC hero books and for more risky ventures like Young Animal and the upcoming Wildstorm.”
C. Spike Trotman
– “Spike has been changing the entire indie comics scene in recent years with her anthologies, and is poised to do so even more now that she’s opened up Iron Circus to submissions and is expanding her line-up.”
_ “She’s working her ass off to redefine what it means to be an indie comics publisher, and the titles she took on as part of her open call are just the beginning. I’m especially impressed by how she’s tackling aspects of the business that have historically been indie comics’ greatest barriers to growth, like trying new paths of distribution. And as a creator working with her, I can vouch that she’s been flexible and supportive as a publisher in unique and important ways.”
– “The little fiefdom they’ve carved out at Image to execute Island and the 8house line has resulted in a swift and powerful revolution in fantasy and science fiction storytelling in the mainstream. They’re getting creators and stories that you’d never ordinarily see in that venue a brand new audience, resulting in brilliant work like Ancestor, Habitat, and Mirror.
– “Brandon Graham, for making the anthology cool again.”
– “Having seen an auditorium of tweens LOSE THEIR SHIT when she asked, ‘Want to see some pages from my next book?'”
– “She consistently creates comics that are both original and have broad appeal. She is single-handedly bringing up a whole new generation of comics readers.”
And the rest, all of them notable and deserving of a mention:
– “Annie Koyama. She goes to extreme measures to support people, some of which she isn’t even publishing. She gives and gives. She helps people connect with others, even when she has nothing to gain.”
– “Anshuman Iddamsetty – the editor behind Hazlitt’s amazing Comics feature. Hazlitt has always run amazing comics from as far as I can tell, and 2016 was no exception with heavy-hitters by K.L. Ricks, Jillian Tamaki, Rory Frances and J Bearhat, Ben Urkowitz, Jeremy Sorese, and Kris Mukai. Out of the spotlight, Anshuman has quietly assembled one of the most vital and exciting comics sections anywhere.”
– “Brian K Vaughan. Not only is he creating incredible series after incredible series, he also manages to do it all the while avoiding being caught in all the comic industry controversies. So many of the other top creators seem to thrive off of it. That said, I could have just missed any stories about him.”
– “Brittney Williams and Hope Larson, because their comic Goldie Vance is just fantastic. It works on so many levels! So they’re both my “Persons Of The Year.”
– “Carey Pietsch! “The Adventure Zine” that she co-organized raised over $150,000 for Facing Hunger, and she was just announced as the artist of the official “The Adventure Zone” graphic novels from First Second, which are going to be incredible! As well as being incredibly talented and prolific, she’s a kind and welcoming fixture of the comics community.”
– “Carol Tyler, she had an incredible impact and her name is epic in indie comics.”
– “Dan Slott. The guy is a machine and Spider Man doesn’t falter.”
– “Jim Demonakos. The convention business is expanding like crazy. ReedPOP now has dozens of shows with “Comic” in the title, and it’s Jim who is preserving our place in that ecosystem, making sure that the people who make comics still matter at those shows.”
– “Jimmy Palmiotti – Jimmy just wants to make good comics and doesn’t care about the politics. Make great stuff, enjoy your fans, appreciate your career. Company owned, creator owned. All of it. That’s Jimmy. He’s a beacon for other creators to model as they develop their career.”
– “Jonah Weiland. Let’s be happy for somebody who earned it.”
– “KC Green / Matt Furie. These two artists saw their work define the year at both ends of the spectrum. For many, KC Green’s “This is fine” is 2016 distilled to its essence, while Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog arguably played a significant role in building community among Trump supporters (particularly new/lapsed voters) and, by demonizing a ubiquitous and somewhat played-out meme while falling for an obvious troll, leading a percentage of the younger/web demographics to conclude that the Clinton campaign was out of touch. Any account of the historic election of 2016 without these two creators would be incomplete.”
– “Marc Andreyko! The undertaking of Love is Love was enormous! He organized a massive project with the top talent in comics AND hollywood so that all the proceeds may go to the Orlando victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Marc is the reason I am proud to work in comic books. He is doing real good.”
Noah Van Sciver
– “Matthew Rosenberg, Steve Orlando. They have both made monumental advances in their crafts and careers, and have supported and championed their peers/new voices/visions in the industry.”
– “Sana Amanat. I’m obviously horribly biased (she’s my editor on Hawkeye) but I truly believe that publishers having someone like Amanat not only on staff, but in a position of some power, makes all the difference in the world. Before Amanat, it was hard to find one or two female led monthly titles from Marvel, and now it’s hard to even imagine a Marvel world in which that was ever the case. Here’s hoping we never have to see those dark ages again and instead continue to slowly push the needle.”
– “Shelly Bond because she is an innovator and instigator and an icon in comics.”
– “Spencer Simpson. So I may be the only person putting Spencer on here but the thing about comics people forget is that at the end of the day it’s based on sales like any other business. If your a small publisher there are probably 200 diamond accounts that matter and of those 50 that really really matter. One of those accounts is Books-A-Million which Spencer is the buyer for. However the thing about him that makes him so important is he is willing to take a chance on smaller publishers/projects that do well. A lot of publishers margins rely on Spencer and buyers like him to have a shot at all. Plus he is actively looking for ways to make the market better and stronger. Finally with the demise of Hastings it further maximizes the importance of the Books A Million account and Spencer.”
– “Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze had a huge impact with their Black Panther series.”
– “I am always inspired by people that remain positive and inspire those around them, and I think the job Diane Nelson has been doing this past year has been an amazing one. Her message is on point, the creation of lines of books and product aimed at younger females was brilliant, and It was super exciting to see her so involved with so many cool things…and to end the year at the U.N talking about Wonder Woman to the world, well…she truly is an inspiration to me.”
– “Tom Hart. Rosalie Lightning is a benchmark book. My brother died when I was really little right after his first birthday. That book reverberates with me so much.”
– “Wil Moss. All of the most exciting books at Marvel are coming from his side of the world, and he’s making the House of Ideas a more exciting and inclusive place. I look forward to him becoming more and more important at Marvel.”
Finally, Jimmy Palmiotti wrote the following about someone we all miss:
“My dear departed friend Darwyn Cooke. Darwyn left us this past year and left behind him such amazing groundbreaking work that he will inspire generations to come. On a personal level, he taught me to not be complacent with things. That pushing back does not have to be a threat, and that we could and should do anything we want as artists, and if one company doesn’t agree, there is another waiting to take advantage of the situation. I think of him every day and take great joy whenever I see new fans discovering his work. He is very missed.”
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.