First, congratulations to all the Harvey Award nominees who were announced yesterday!
Now that that’s over with, let’s make some FRIENDS. Folks around the web seemed to be puzzled, irked and/or resigned by yesterday nominations. The Harveys noms are voted on by comics professional on an open ballot — you can write in whoever you please. Unfortunately, faced with the blank page, folks often decide it’s too onerous a task to remember the best of what came out in the previous year. Understandable. It’s unknown how many ballots are cast in the nominating process each year, but its suspected to be not very many because the results are invariably skewed by some voting bloc or another. The first well remembered example of this was 2002’s CrossGen showing. CrossGen’s Chris Oarr claimed he had merely distributed ballots at the company’s Florida campus/studio/sweatshop, and people had supported the home team, but it was a bit of a shock for many.
It was the first suggestion that a small voting bloc could make for a strong showing for a book outside the “usual suspects” of critical acclaim. (If you browse through the archives at this page, you’ll see that the nominees prior to 2002 — and most subsequent years — were quite respectable roundups of beloved cartoonists, many of them studied and reprinted and given other signs of mass critical acceptance.)
A few years ago Don Rosa and (later) Gemstone’s Disney comics began to show up regularly in the nominations. Once again, it seemed that a dedicated faction was getting together to represent their homeboy. It was kind of cheesy, but Disney comics are also beloved the world over, Don Rosa is a household name in Denmark, and, if it isn’t you cup of tea, at least there was some pedigree.
Unless, of course, you read Travis Seitler’s post here on the Beat that describes an organized ballot stuffing effort. Spurge calls for the Harveys to be ended , and Seitler’s whistle blowing may just be the last nail in the camel’s back — it’s going to be hard to take the Harveys seriously again.
It even makes you wonder about last year’s, strong showing for Abrams (represented again this year by Kyle Baker, Al Jaffee, and Jeff Kinney.) There’s no denying the Wimpy Kid author’s greatness, but Best Inker two years in a row is a bit of a head scratcher.
So what about this year’s nominees?
What of NASCAR HEROES #5? The equal of LOVE AND ROCKETS Volume 1? Or perhaps the equal of Al Jaffee?
Maybe no one set out to do something so embarrassing and amateurish to make the awards look even worse than they ever had. Maybe there was an organized effort…or maybe someone just handed out a lot of paper ballots locally (a lot of nominees are located around the Baltimore area, where the con is located) and the people filling out printed ballots are disproportionately represented.
The years I voted in the Harvey nominations, I had a paper ballot — a paper ballot is much harder to ignore than a link to a webpage, even if mailing it is harder. We take paper more seriously.
And before I say another word, the onus is on us. Anyone who didn’t vote in the Harvey nominations has only themselves to blame and can’t complain. That would include me, myself, the writer of this blog. I had every intention of voting in the Harvey nominations and had a paper ballot and all, knowing that this very thing could happen, and hoping my lone vote would carry some heft. But in the end I didn’t have time and I let you all down.
So…I can’t complain. I don’t know if Tom Spurgeon or Joe Keatinge or Evan Dorkin, one of the loudest complainers about the noms, voted or not. But the same strictures apply.
Are these questionable Harvey nominations bad for comics? Not really. The fact is that no one is voting is because the awards are gradually becoming something of a joke, just because of nominations like NASCAR HEROES #5. And the more things become a joke, the less people are like to vote. It’s a vicious cycle. And it is probably best to pretend none of this happened. Because people made some very very very odd choices here. Just to be clear, I’m not knocking the nominees. I’m knocking the people who VOTED for this year’s nominees. I would love to sit down and hear what they were thinking. For instance, let’s look at the nominations for Best Cartoonist…you know, cartoonist…the hallowed profession of Kirby, Takahashi, Clowes.
NOTE: The first version of this post had a long section of art sample from the Harvey nominated cartoonists followed by a lot of art samples of non-Harvey-nominated cartoonists but I decided that was kind of using a blunderbuss and have removed it. Suffice to say that if you REALLY THINK LAR DESOUZA IS A BETTER CARTOONIST THAN EDDIE CAMPBELL OR JILL THOMPSON OR SEAN PHILLIPS, then let’s talk about it. Be prepared to defend your answer. I mean really defend it.
There are a lot of puzzling choices on the Harvey ballot, choices that are odd at best and uninformed at worst. For instance, someone pointed out to me that Jamie Grant was nominated as both best colorist and best inker for ALL-STAR SUPERMAN…but as inker he is a “Digital inker” who merely digitally fixes the pencils to a point where they are clean enough to be reproduced. Is this actually inking? Did anyone who voted in this category know what inking actually IS and why people are good or bad at it?
Or take the SPECIAL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN PRESENTATION category:
COMPLETE LOCAL: HARDCOVER EDITION, Ryan Kelly and Brian Wood, Oni Press
KIRBY: KING OF COMICS, Mark Evanier, Abrams Books
QUEEN AND COUNTRY: VOLUME 3, Greg Rucka, Mike Norton, Steve Rolston, and Chris Samnee, Oni Press
TALL TALES, Al Jaffee, Abrams Books
WONDERMARK, VOL. 1: BEARDS OF OUR FOREFATHERS, David Malki, Dark Horse Comics
Now, I like Al Jaffee and TALL TALES just fine and it was a swell book but it was really a pretty ordinary little hardcover book, very well designed and executed, but there was nothing about it that made me leap up and cry “My God! This deserves an award!” Not compared to any random book published by Drawn & Quarterly, to name just one company. (PS: if the Doug Wright book doesn’t sweep of categories of this kind in 2010 I will be forced to eat my copy.)
Johanna Draper Carlson already has a post up on how to “fix” the Harveys. Seitler’s organized ballot stuffing exposé may increase calls for increased vigilance, but really, it’s up to us. Unless the people who this kind of thing irks actually get off our duffs and participate, the nominations will still be easy to game. And at this point, I’m not even sure anyone cares enough any more. Maybe Tom is right, and it’s just time to shut the thing down.