For the last five years, we’ve presented a Person of the Year award to the person who had the biggest impact on the previous 12 months; candidates are selected during the yearly Creator Survey , and the past winners have achieved a kind of consensus.
This year’s Person of the Year voting was very fragmented, as I expected it would be. There was so much going on in comics, and so many levels that it was hard to pick one driving force. Hence my opening it up to a general vote. However, out of the nominees that the creator’s survey selected, there was a clear winner.
Person of the Year
Early on I pegged Nimona as a book to watch, to see if an original YA graphic novel — one nurtured on tumblr and presented as a webcomic —could find success in the publishing world. And it did, from outstanding sales to a nomination for the National Book Award. At 24, Stevenson is the youngest NBA nominee ever, and her influence at such a young age is prodigious. With her work on Lumberjanes (winner of two Eisners and a Harvey), Runaways, Thor and the animated Wander Over Yonder she established herself as an all around talent, and her twitter feed — a bracing mix of humor and finely tuned pop culture plot and character analysis showed that her high level of craft and storytelling was no flash in the pan. She’s also developed a huge following—when I moderated a panel at SPX with her and 2011’s Person of the Year Kate Beaton, I felt like I was in the presence of two rock stars, with a packed room hanging on their every joke.
And the voters agreed:
– “I don’t think many people had a bigger breakout year than Noelle Stevenson. It’s amazing that we’re already seeing a group of up-and-coming artists who were influenced by Kate Beaton, but here we are.”
–“I believe she is a great representation of what to expect from new creators coming into the industry. Lumberjanes, and Nimona, have done very well in showing a clear response by new readers, and her work presents the success we’d like to see in the entire spectrum of the medium.”
– “Noelle Stevenson. She totally owned comics this year–pretty much every “best of” included Nimona and/or Lumberjanes… and of course Nimona was a National Book Award Nominee.”
Reached for comment, Stevenson responded:
Thank you to everyone who made 2015 such an incredible year. I continue to be amazed by the outpouring of love and support from the comics community and I look forward to many more years in your company!
It was indeed an incredible breakout year for Stevenson, and her career path from fan artist to literary figure spoke to the possibilities of the comics industry for creators in a world that doesn’t just revolve around superheroes any more. And she also represents the diversity that swept over the industry in the last five years.
Publisher of the Year (Indie Division)
Asselin came in second in the open vote and trailer Stevenson by just a handful of votes, so her achievements this year have to be noted. Asselin showed that trying to improve comics isn’t just about tweeting or blogging: it’s about doing things. She’s put her money where her mouth is on any number of issues, most notably in starting http://rosypress.com/Rosy Press, a digital romance anthology that not only presents material sorely lacking even from today’s wide ranging market, but paying contributors. Rosy Press put our six issues of Fresh Romance, with work by Kevin Wada, Yanick Paquette, Marguerite Sauvage, Babs Tarr, Janet Lee and many others, and several other publications, including Beauties by Marguerite Bennett, artist Trungles, and letterer Rachel Deering.
Told of the news, Asselin responded:
The whole reason that I started Rosy Press was because I believe that the comics industry can be more and those of us in it can have more. I reject the idea that what currently exists is the best we can do — comics can represent a wider range of genres and people, while compensating its creators with more than a loss of rights or money. I feel really proud of what we did in our first year and very appreciative of the love and support from so many great critics, readers, and industry folks. I’m also really proud of the work that our creators put out — and that so many talented people took a chance on working with a brand new publisher. But I hope it’s just the beginning and that Rosy Press can be part of the comics industry growing into a more inclusive, more interesting place.
As if launching Rosy Press wasn’t enough Asselin continued her work as the industry’s whistleblower and conscience, reporting on one of the year’s most troubling harassment stories, and helping behind the scenes with several organizations that promote industry diversity. And finally, in her spare time, she also fosters adorable kittens.
Voters agreed on her year:
– “Janelle Asselin — from Comics Alliance to Fresh Romance — Janelle has consistently proven herself to be one of the most engaging voices in the comics industry!”
– “Janelle Asselin and Spike Trotman for forming small presses that publish the type of comics they want to see in the world, and using Kickstarter to prove those comics have an audience.”
Publisher of the Year – (Top Twenty Division)
Valiant fan networks provided an overwhelming write-in vote for Shamdasani, the CEO and CCO of Valiant, and for readers to speak as passionately as they did about the executive of a comics company, he must be doing something right. But he also received support in the industry poll, with one voter writing:
–“Dinesh helped bring in more talent to Valiant on the creative side, but most importantly, he and the rest of the Valiant team secured a huge investment that positions the company to build on the foundations they’ve established over the past few years and potentially challenge Marvel and DC. They just need some big hits (in comics and film) to get there.”
At conventions, Shamdasani is an engaging, approachable presence, doubtless part of the reason for his fan support. While launching a new line of superhero stories is just about the hardest thing to accomplish in the direct market, Valiant has stayed the course, and is now getting more attention for their books outside their core fanbase with a more diverse line-up and fresh talent. Of all the new publishers who launched in the last five years, Valiant has created the strongest base, and it looks like they’ll be here for a while.
Publisher of the Year (Retired)
It is almost a tradition now to extend Person of the Year laurels to someone who has left a former position, and this year it was Chris Oliveros, who stepped down as publisher of Drawn & Quarterly after 25 years of making some of the best comics ever published. If there’s someone for whom the term “enduring legacy” was coined, it’s Oliveros—but he’s embarked on a new career going back to his cartooning roots with The Envelope Manufacturer, out this month. A quiet, unassuming man, the outpouring of respect for him from all segments of the industry was a testament to his integrity and vision. Some comments:
– Chris Oliveros and Peggy Burns at Drawn & Quarterly. Chris for stepping down after 25 years of making great books that stretched and expanded the definition of what comics could be, Peggy for helping to get those books further out in the world for the past 12 or 13 years and now picking up the baton as publisher. Also, Tom Devlin is okay, too.
– Chris established one of the finer publishing houses ever built.
Men of the Year
Brian K Vaughan and Chip Zdarsky
BKV was a co-winner for Team of the Year in 2012, and his accomplishments this year were just as great, Saga staying on course, launching Paper Girls and We Stand on Guard while keeping his online Panel Syndicate publishing operations going, and another role model for creators to aspire to. As one voter noted “It seems like he’s become a second Kirkman-level success. It’s good to see someone else having that kind of success and makes Kirkman slightly less of an anomaly. “
Zdarsky was mentioned on several creator ballots and got a huge turnout in the online voting. After 15 years of toiling at various ends of the comics biz, Steve Murray — to give him his proper name—had a breakout year with the ongoing success of Sex Criminals, and picking up writing duties on Howard the Duck and Kaptara, which brought Kagan McLeod back to drawing comics. Also, if any comics person should ever get in a car to get coffee with Jerry Seinfeld, I’d pick Zdarsky–he’s hilarious.
–“Crap. It’s Chip Zdarsky, isn’t it? He finally became the Mayor of Comics, like he threatened he would. EVERYONE TO THE LIFEBOATS ITS MASS HYSTERIA”
– “Chip Zdarsky! Finally that talented man gets the recognition he deserves. They like to say he came out of nowhere like a newcomer but he’s been here for years.”
Other Creators who made it big in 2015
§ Raina Telgemeier won Person of the Year in 2014 but showed no signs of slowing down in 2015, as she held six of the top ten slots in the NY Times best seller list at once. And the industry still loves her.
– “I almost put down “”no vote””; not that there wasn’t plenty of good work, it’s just that no one person was dominant. But then again, comics is a business and one person continues to be dominant force in bringing in both the money that’s necessary to sustain the current business, and the readers that will sustain it in the future. So: Raina Telgemeier.”
§ Kelly Sue DeConnick has had growing support every year, and just a few more books and she’s a potential Person of the Year. Wrote one voter: “DeConnick has made an indelible mark on comics through both licensed and creator-owned work and has in the last year transcended mere “”comic book writer”” to become an inspirational and aspirational voice for comics, especially for women/diversity in comics. Her Bitch Planet is not just a brilliant comic but a movement unto itself and one we desperately need.”
§ The team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie is also coming on strong with The Wicked & Divine becoming a cult comic with a passionate fanbase, and the relaunch of Phonogram. As one voter put it “It’s been some time since I’ve seen creators inspire the kind of fan devotion and ownership of characters that we used to see in Neil Gaiman during the heyday of Sandman, but this year Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson’s work on the Wicked and Divine inspired much of the same kind of fervor and emotional response that drove to make that comic one of the few Image books to challenge the ever-present dominance of Saga in online conversations. One quick glace at Wicked+Divine on Tumblr and sheer amount of cosplay inspired by the series at Cons across the country (and world) should basically tell the tale, but I can’t think of another big release that’s stuck the landing this hard with its readership, particularly when its second arc stuck the knife right into their collective hearts. Every issue has basically become a mini-event for the converted, and at least in the circles I travel in, that noise is near deafening. For that reason alone, it’s hard for me to choose anyone more deserving than the team behind what may likely end up being one of the defining comics of this era.
§ Among mainstream creators Scott Snyder has stayed on top of the charts for a long time, and his new efforts in education mean his influence will be felt for a while.
– “Scott Snyder, bar none. While there have been some pretty important movers and shakers behind the scenes (Corey Murphy), and in the limelight (Kieron Gillen), no one manages to effectively work every facet of the business as well as Snyder. WYTCHES is one of the breakout hit comics of the year and BATMAN, despite some fans’ disdain for Batbunny, still sells gangbusters. He is the only creator who can overrule creative and business decisions made by the higher-ups at DC Comics, and is generally beloved by fans. With the announcement of his DC Creative Writing class, Snyder has positioned himself to assemble a coalition within DC. It is quite possible that we’ll see him ascend to an executive position in the years to come. It speaks to his authority and acumen that he could instead easily leave DC and leverage his creator-owned properties in other mediums like Mark Millar does.”
Rest in Peace
Japanese comics master Shigeru Mizuki had a strong write in vote. The creator of the “boy with monster” genre and chronicler of Japanese history is one of the all-time greats and his work is still being discovered in the US.
–“This 93-year old WWII veteran was a unique genius who influenced almost every Japanese comics artist, and many Western ones as well–even if they didn’t know it. His 60+ year comic legacy can be seen in things like Pokémon and the films of Hayao Miyazaki like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Mizuki’s intense, honest accounts of his time in WWII continue to reverberate decades after he wrote them, and he was only just becoming known in the West when he died unexpectedly. æ
Seth Kushner: the photographer turned comics writer was felled by leukemia after battling it bravely for a year, and his love of comics and writing—a love cut short just as it was developing—touched many people
The Staff of Charlie Hebdo: 2015 started out cruelly with the murder of six of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists including editor Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier). It was a dark event that cast a pall over the French comics community and set off a year of turmoil and debate in Europe.
As always many different people had support and votes: here’s a cross section:
— Brandon Graham for putting together Island.
— Bill Griffith, for reinventing himself as a graphic novelist, after 30-plus years as a strip cartoonist.
— Annie Mok
— Dan Slott for writing consistently brilliant and entertaining work.
— Erica Henderson
— Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba
— Frank Miller
— G. Willow Wilson. It is huge that MS. MARVEL won a Hugo and that she has created this kind of excitement around a cool Muslim teen girl in this sociopolitical moment.
— Derf Backderf
— Jason Aarons had a hell of a year. Writer of the top book in the industry and several other series, ranging in tone from straight superheroes to gritty crime books.
— Inio Asano
— Julia Wertz for helping bust up the boys-club that is The New Yorker.
— Marguerite Bennett has been killing it this year!
— Michel Fiffe
— Paul Pope
— Riad Sattouf. His “The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir” was Angoulême Best book in January; the second volume is a huge best-seller in France as well as the first one; it’s been already translated in many countries, including the USA; the subject is of course very important from a worldwide perspective.
— Sophie Campbell. She is currently penciling Jem and the Holograms. I interviewed her some years ago when she was still Ross Campbell about her Minx book water Baby, and she was very humble and captivating when talking about her art. She has been so courageous, to switch from one identity to the other and be opened about it, right at the beginning of her run on Jem. She’s a role model, no less.”
— Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
— To me it’s a tie between artist Ramona Fradon and writer Trina Robbins. Both are still active in comics and convention circuit and have contributed a great deal over the decades- at the age of 90 Ramona can be seen working and tabling Artist Alley, and Trina Robbins just wrote an issue of Sensation Comics Wonder Woman and she must be close to 80 years old now. Suck it, ageists!
— Tom Hart
— Matt Fraction
— Letterers, The Unsung Heroes
— Gene Yang
— Grant Morrison
— Michel Fiffe
— Mark Waid
— Annie Koyama [Ed: A perennial favorite!]
— David Brothers
— Eric Stephenson. Again.
— Mark Siegel, Gina Gagliano, Calista Brill – the amazing staff of First Second Books. This publishing company has been producing outstanding, high-quality graphic novels for kids, teens, and adults from the get-go 10 years ago. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, a First Second title, was just named the top choice in Publisher Weekly’s 10th Annual Graphic Novel Critics Poll, and two of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards honors books – This One Summer and Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust – are also First Second titles.
— Mike Marts
— Sana Amanat
— Ted Adams, IDW CEO. Not only is Publishing thriving, but he took over as CEO of IDW Media Holdings, has built IDW Games into a successful division, and is three for three with IDW Entertainment properties being taken to market and getting full-season or pilot commitments (Wynonna Earp, 13 eps coming to SyFy Spring ’16, Brooklyn Animal Control pilot filming now for USA Networks, and Dirk Gently picked up by BBC America.
Miscellaneous Industry Figures:
— Karen Green, for championing graphic novels in academia.
— Charlotte Fullerton for helping to establish the Dwayne McDuffie Award.
— Walter Jimenez, a teacher for special needs students of ages 18-21 in the Lewisville, TX ISD, who facilitated Starfish Comic Expo as part of the Focus on the Future program. ‘Jimenez, a Focus on the Future teacher, said he has two main goals for the Starfish Comic Expo: to teach his students life skills and bridge the gap between the special-needs community and the community at large.’ A BEAUTIFUL example of the reach and power of comics into all populations!”
— Bob Iger. While he doesn’t work hands-on in comics, his handprint is everywhere. With the release of the new Star Wars movie and Marvel’s continued success, the shelves are filled with more Disney product now than ever. His corporate quest for entertainment dominance is complete. Great for fans and the talent entrusted to be brand custodians, but arguably bad for creative growth and opportunities for originality. It is certainly tougher to be heard over the noise now than ever.
— John D. Roberts and David Steinberger. We tend to focus on creatives and comics-celebrities as the people of most importance in this industry. These two dudes brought us kicking and screaming into the present with foresight and a vision that was lacking among leaders of the field.”
Concepts and Groups:
Finally some people always pick an entity as the Person of the Year.
— “It’s a bit outside of the box, but it’s not a single person but a group. I think it’s the retailers getting more involved with the companies and their output, interacting and creating product for just their stores and working on expanding the audience coming in to shop.”
– “It’s clear that the COSPLAYER should be the person of the year. This past year, Cosplayers came into their own as an integral, passionate, revenue-generating and important part of the industry. Their influence is wide-ranging and changing the scope of fandom. They have influenced retail and are riding the crest of today’s maker culture and the personalization trend. Cosplay also provides the perfect entry ramp for many new young fans, and kids who attend conventions, or comic shops during Free Comic Book Day, routinely arrive in costumes.”
— Netflix, because now comics adaptations can chill.
And to wrap it all up, here’s the dream of the year, courtesy of one artist:
— “A hypothetical publisher who not only makes the books exactly the way the authors desire (including properly shared credit among collaborators), but also promotes their work brilliantly worldwide, while paying them promptly and providing a proper and efficient accounting.”
And with that it’s time to start gearing up for 2016 Person of the year. Thanks to all who voted!
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.