by Hannah Means-Shannon
It was a year for considering what has changed and what has stayed the same in comics at the Harvey Awards. While a new MC, Phil LaMarr, took the stage, many of the nominees for the awards appeared pretty evenly stacked between superhero works from Marvel and DC and indie publishers with a wide variety of material from adult to all-ages content. Another feature of the nominations was the predominance of multiple nods to the same works, leaving a certain amount of anticipation not just about what works and creators would win a Harvey, but even about how many Harveys might one particular nominee might garner.
Phil LaMarr, whose voice-performance credits include Futurama and Family Guy, was a perfect fit for the awards, bringing his own inveterate and die-hard comics fandom into his detail-oriented lampooning of the current comics climate in an era when comic plots are intentionally “in constant crisis”. He critiqued the constant character crises in DC’s NEW 52 and Marvel’s MARVEL NOW! as a teenage overreaction to the shifts in an over-dramatized social life and asked, pointedly, why we need all the reboots and re-numbering. “Why can’t we have “Marvel Chill” instead of MARVEL NOW!, he demanded, or “Same 52” from DC. In a room packed with plenty of Marvel and DC talent, LaMarr’s perplexity had guests hooting and cheering.
Boom! CEO and Founder Ross Richie took the opportunity, as keynote speaker, to give a direct assessment of the position of comics in pop culture right now, a kind of “state of the union” address for comics, and came to some affirming conclusions while challenging creators about the future of the form. He started off with the observation that comics legend Joe Kubert’s recent passing received little attention from mainstream media while it ,nevertheless, shook the world of comics to the core. Comics professionals, previously acclimated to the “cold familiarity of icy rejection” from social attention are now living in changing times when Arkham Asylum is the hottest video game of the year, The Walking Dead becomes a hit TV show and The Avengers and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises films dominated the box office. Ritchie’s challenge to the audience was to look a few steps ahead of change and answer for themselves “What are we going to do now that we’re the cool kids?” With mainstream eyes increasingly on comics, how are we going to use that influence and caché in a responsible way?
The awards were presented by an array of creators involved in every area of production, from Scott Snyder to Dirk Wood, Dean Haspiel, and David Peterson. While a number of awards were accepted in absentia, guests seemed especially pleased with the evening’s tallies, including resounding applause for Marvel and emphatic appreciation for the personal vision of indie works.
Scott Snyder presented Chris Eliopoulos with Best Letterer Award for Marvel’s “FEAR ITSELF”, and Dark Horse’s Dave Stewart with Best Colorist for “HELLBOY: THE FURY”.
Dirk Wood announced “CUL DE SAC” by Richard Thompson as the Best Syndicated Strip and Kate Beaton’s “HARK! A VAGRANT” from Drawn and Quarterly received the first of its several awards as Best Online Comics Work.
Dean Haspiel, presenting Best American Edition of Foreign Material and Best Inker put the event on pause briefly to point out the significance of each of these awards and share anecdotes about the impact of each field on his career. He recalled his mentor Walt Simonson showing him the remarkable artwork of the Japanese edition of AKIRA as a teen, and the frustration of being unable to decipher it due to a lack of English editions. “THE MANARA LIBRARY, VOLUME 1: INDIAN SUMMER AND OTHER STORIES” from Dark Horse took the award for bringing stellar international material to American readers.
Haspiel brought in a surprise guest to present the award for Best Inker, inking veteran Joe Rubinstein whose work on the Marvel’s “OFFICIAL HANDBOOK” over the course of twenty years, as well as work for Dark Horse and DC sets the standard in the field. Rubinstein championed the role and philosophy of inking as an “invisible art” and Rubinstein and Haspiel listed many of the great contributing inkers of comics history before presenting Joe Rivera of Marvel with the award for his work on “DAREDEVIL”.
Mark Waid, who was an often-quoted guest of the ceremony, accepted the Best New Series award for “DAREDEVIL” along with the series’ team while the most promising new talent award went to Sara Pichelli for her work on “ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN” for Marvel comics.
The Special Award for Humor in comics honored Kate Beaton’s “HARK! A VAGRANT” yet again, and later Beaton also took the award for Best Cartoonist for “HARK!” making a substantial sweep of nomination categories. The award for Best Original Graphic Publication for Younger Readers, in turn, went to Vera Brosgol’s “ANYA’S GHOST” from First Second.
“DARK HORSE PRESENTS” was singled out for Best Anthology, while Walt Simonson’s “THE MIGHTY THOR, ARTIST’S EDITION”, from IDW, won best domestic reprint project, sparking further jocular banter between Simonson and Haspiel on the floor. Shortly thereafter, Simonson was honored yet again for the artist’s edition of Thor with a Special Award for Excellence in Presentation, and guests enthusiastically celebrated Simonson’s inspirational contribution to comic art over the years.
Doubling up became the rule when J. H. Williams received the award for Best Cover Artist for his work on “BATWOMAN” from DC, and later Williams was also named Best Artist for “BATWOMAN”. Likewise “JIM HENSON’S TALE OF SAND” from Archaia Entertainment won for both Best Original Graphic Album and also Best Single Issue or Story.
‘GENIUS ISOLATED: THE LIFE AND ART OF ALEX TOTH” from IDW received the award for Best Biographical, Historical, or Journalistic Presentation, and Daniel Clowes’ “THE DEATH RAY” from Drawn and Quarterly got a look in as Best Graphic Album Previously Published.
Marvel’s “DAREDEVIL” appeared again to collect the rest of its haul of awards in the Best Continuing or Limited Series and also for Mark Waid’s work as Best Writer. It was a Daredevil night, and the creative team behind the work was visibly delighted and overwhelmed by the support for the series.
While there was a reassuring air of business as usual in the high quality of comics nominated and recognized, two awards in particular elicited a big emotional response from guests. The legendary comics artist Joe Kubert, who was an invited guest to the awards prior to his death on August 12th, was honored with a Humanitarian of the Year Award by Kevin Brogan of the Hero Initiative. Brogan broke down into tears of gratitude over Kubert’s contribution to the field and many had the same reaction to remembering Kubert and acknowledging the loss to comics. When John Romita Jr. was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by both his father John Romita Sr. and Stan Lee, the Harveys got a chance to do what they do best: recognize the hard work and determination of comics creators to make an impact on the professional standard, role and reputation of comics in the community. Both landmark awards recognized the role of the Harvey awards in celebrating a degree of continuity in the comics medium and remembering those who have prepared the way for the current generation of creators.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart.She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and WordPress.
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.