Every year we ask participants in our Creator Survey to name a 2019 Comics Industry Person of the Year, and once again they have spoken. There were two clear-cut frontrunners and we’re once again naming TWO industry figures who impacted us last year: Tom Spurgeon and Dav Pilkey.
PERSON OF THE YEAR
First, on a tragic note, the support for the late Tom Spurgeon for Person of the Year was overwhelming. We’ve already written about what Tom meant to us personally, but every day his loss is felt more and more, and his untimely death left a gaping hole in not only comics journalism and comics events but just the spirit of the industry. I think Tom would be surprised and humbled to find out how much he was loved, but I hope somehow he knew this, and also knew how invaluable he was to comics for the last 20 years. There will never be another like him.
We reached out to Tom’s brother, Whit, who was a frequent collaborator on The Comics Reporter with his convention photos, for a statement:
“Tom usually tried to downplay awards, but he was also genuinely flattered by them — he was touched and humbled that people in the industry appreciated his work.
If he was still around, I’m sure he’d say something far more eloquent (and self-effacing) than a simple thank you, but I’ll say for Tom and his immediate family (his mom, Sunny McFarren, brother, Dan Spurgeon, and me) that he would have considered this an honor. We thank all you folks for remembering Tom and appreciating his work.”
And others spoke as well:
— Thomas Spurgeon for his tireless work championing comics and comic artists.
— I wasn’t very close to Tom but his death hit a lot of people hard. Feels wrong to put anyone else.
— Tom Spurgeon, in memoriam. I truly did not realize how much I relied on his wit and canny insights/updates as a kind of daily ballast in this industry until the day he was gone. He was an obsessive mad genius, a starter of fires and fights, but somehow also incredibly and consistently generous and inspiring in his love for the medium, his voracious and broad reading, and his staunchness of character. An incredible loss.
— Tom Spurgeon. His death sent shockwaves through comics and reminded us how important just one or two connectors like him can be in nurturing a community. He was an inspiration as a writer, editor, show organizer, and much more. He can never be replaced, but hopefully people will step up in his absence.
— Tom Spurgeon. I wish we had bestowed him with even more praise in his lifetime, but he left a legacy of goodwill for the industry that we will carry forward for generations. Rest in Comics, Tom.
— Tom Spurgeon. This is the first time I’m voting for someone because of the void he leaves behind.
— Tom may be the industry’s Francis Bacon, the last person who knew everything.
— Tom Spurgeon. I don’t like to make posthumous nominations but his impact is undeniable.
— We’d like to note this is the third time that the Industry Person of the Year has been awarded posthumously, following Stan Lee, last year, and Kim Thompson in 2013. It’s a sad but necessary tradition.
While Spurgeon was much on the minds of people, 2019 was without a shred of a hint of a doubt the year of the kids comic, and no one triumphed like Dav Pilkey, who had not one but TWO behemoth sellers.
Pilkey had a year that only a tiny handful of authors at their very peak could match. Dog Man: Fetch 22 had a five million copy first printing, and sold more than 500,000 copies in a few weeks; his previous book, Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls – which only came out in August – has sold more than a million copies, according to Bookscan and was the third-biggest selling book of any kind in 2019. Since its debut, the eight Dog Man books have sold more than 26 million copies, and have excited kids reading like nothing else happening. Pilkey was also named PW’s Person of the Year, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Both Pilkey and his publisher responded to the news of being named Person of the Year:
It is such an honor to be named with Tom Spurgeon. Tom Spurgeon dedicated his life to bringing back the importance of comics as art here in the U.S., as well as being a true advocate for cartoonists. I owe a debt of gratitude to the overwhelming number of artists throughout the history of comics and the brilliant cartoonists today, like Jeff Smith, Lynda Barry, Art Spiegelman, Marjane Sartrapi who continue to set the bar higher and higher. Thanks to comics, I discovered a love for reading. I am humbled by and grateful for the art form of comics.
— Dav Pilkey, author and illustrator
Dav Pilkey’s books with their trademark humor and heart are embraced and devoured by kids, families and teachers around the world. As a published author and illustrator for over thirty years, Dav’s work spans across various age groups and formats—from stunning picture books which have earned awards including a Caldecott Honor, early readers, the bestselling Captain Underpants series which helped to create the illustrated chapter book category, to the publication of his first graphic novel Super Diaper Baby nearly twenty years ago, and with the phenomenal success of the Dog Man series—Dav Pilkey’s growth and influence as a renowned storyteller is remarkable. At Scholastic we are thrilled and incredibly proud of Dav Pilkey’s much-deserved recognition as “Comics Industry Person of the Year.”
—Ellie Berger, President, Scholastic Trade.
And his fellow creators agreed:
— Dav Pilkey. Without a doubt the most successful comic maker of 2019, Pilkey set new heights for the ubiquity that graphic novels can achieve. With 5 million copy first print run on the eighth volume of DOG MAN and over 26 million copies of the previous seven volumes in print, Pilkey virtually doesn’t have any competition. More importantly, his work is helping foster a new generation of comic book and graphic novel readers.
— Dav Pilkey. In part, because you cannot deny what Dog Man is doing for the comics industry right now. Graphic novels for all ages have been on the upswing for a while, and it has taken the smell of “Harry Potter money” to get publishers moving.
— Dav Pilkey. My six year old and I are really enjoying his Dog Man books, and as impressively fast as he puts them out, it’s still not fast enough. And he’s good people, too.
— Dav Pilkey. Everyone’s looking for the next Dog Man.
— Dav Pilkey and Raina Telgemeier, the true giants of the comic industry who represent the present and future of the medium.
— Dav Pilkey: He is just setting a new bar for the medium.
Although Pilkey and Spurgeon garnered by far the most votes, there were many other deserving and notable people who received mentions. So let’s take a look!
Team of the Year:
Several of our respondents called out Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell for Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, and it seems only fitting to note their collaboration. Tamaki is, of course, an all-around superstar in comics with her work for DC, First Second and everywhere else. Valero-O’Connell is a rising star whose indie work and lush, emotive storytelling on Laura Dean herald a huge talent.
— Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. No one had a better year creatively than these two.
— Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Mariko Tamaki (Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me) winning awards and dominating the indie market. More queer and diverse characters please!
The Kids Are Really Doing All Right
But many, many names from the world of mainstream publishing, and specifically, the supernova of kids comics publishing that reached its biggest explosion yet in 2019, were cited in our survey, led of course, by Queen Raina, whose Guts was another record setting triumph.
— Raina Telgemeier who’s become a major voice not just in YA and graphic novels but publishing in general. It’s not surprising that comics publishers are trying to tap into the YA market after her best-selling GUTS this year.
— Raina – I’m sure many are saying this and I wholeheartedly agree. Raina Telgemeier. Friends of mine who don’t read comics know who she is because their kids adore her and her work. And it’s made them seek out other work out there.
— Charlie Olsen of Inkwell Management. I recognize that amazing agents have been operating in comics for a long time — Denis Kitchen, Judi Hansen — but not until recently have they been established as a commonly viable professional option, and Charlie has set that standard for the current era, from establishing Nate Powell and Matt Kindt as literary powerhouses to breaking Noelle Stevenson and Carey Pietsch into cross-platform stardom.
— David Saylor is a close second for this category in my mind for the slate he’s assembled at Graphix. Yes, he has the backing and infrastructure of Scholastic behind him, but the fact that he has created the closest thing to a Disney-like publisher in comics – they publish relatively few books and cartoonists but virtually everyone of them is a gigantic hit – is incredibly impressive. It’s precise, targeted and dominant.
— Jen Wang – with THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER she leveled up as a major voice; and vaulted again with STARGAZING.
— Penelope Bagieu is fully at home in France and in North America, with BRAZEN: REBEL LADIES WHO ROCKED THE WORLD – an immeasurably timely and resonant book for our times.
— Jerry Craft – his graphic novel NEW KID has topped so many “best of 2019” book lists and has won many awards. Jerry has paid his dues, working as a comics writer/artist for a long time, and it’s wonderful to see his book succeed so well.
— Lucy Knisley really stood out to me this year. She had two books come out- the picture book “You Are New” from Chronicle Books and her sixth full length graphic memoir “Kid Gloves”. She was also extremely prolific with small domestic autobio comics on Instagram, including a set of very poignant ones about the life and death of Linney, her larger-than-life orange cat. Very shortly after Linney’s death Knisley announced a forthcoming book about her.
— Michelle Wells, Executive Editor DC Children’s YA titles
— Faith Erin Hicks, who has published something like 1500 pages of comics in the last 10 years, and who this year won (another) Eisner and had a book on the New York Times bestseller list (Pumpkinheads)
Writer of the Year:
Although Tom King had a lock on this for the last few years, Jonathan Hickman was mentioned several times for reinvigorating the X-Men, one of the great franchises in comics history,
— Johnathan Hickman for masterfully reviving the X-Men franchise
— Jonathan Hickman, who’s seems to have figured out a way to make people care about The X-Men again… for the first time in a good, long while.
But several other writers were noted as well:
— David S. Walker. While I’m tempted to say Chris Ware, since Rusty Brown was such a tremendous book and every time he releases a work is an event, I’m going with David F. Walker. Bitter Root is such an incredible series and I will read anything he is working on.
— Ed Brubaker shows the industry how it’s done. He continues to provide top-notch work but with firm and focused creator control.
— Grant Morrison for his Green Lantern run.
— Robert Kirkman deserves it for ending The Walking Dead in the fashion he did, on his own terms.
— Stan Lee. Despite Stan’s passing late in 2018, it really hit home in 2019 with Captain Marvel, Spider-Man Far From Home, and Avengers Endgame all paying tribute to his work.
— Tom King
The New Wave
Several creators whose work is pushing boundaries were mentioned:
— Ron Wimberly and Ezra Claytan Daniels. Wimberly successfully kickstarted LAAB, an art magazine focusing on black representation in sci-fi and culture, and had his excellent graphic novel “Prince of Cats” picked up for a TV adaption (to be directed by Spike Lee!) Daniels’ 2018 book “Upgrade Soul” received an impressive number of award nominations and wins this year (Nominated for 2019 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: Reprint, Winner of the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics, Winner of the DiNKy Award for Diversity in Comics, Nominated for 2019 Harvey Award for Book of the Year, Nominated for 2019 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Artist and Outstanding Graphic Novel, Nominated for 2019 Ringo Award for Best Artist and Best Original Graphic Novel). He also released BTTM FDRS with Ben Passmore.
— Danny Lore, whose output this year has been incredible in terms of scope, consistency, and quality.
Kevin Feige often gets mentions in this survey and the successful culmination of the Thanos Saga – which only spanned 22 films – moved several to mention him, and let’s give him that Endgame victory lap:
— Kevin Feige – He was given the keys to the entire kingdom. Will he be able to make the actual comics matter to casual readers again?
— Lots of candidates, but I think it’s got to be Kevin Feige (again, probably). He’s got a real touch, and strengthening his ties with the publishing end of Marvel makes a lot of sense.
And finally those who defy easy categories but deserve notice:
— Chris Butcher: The spread of festival-style comics shows as city-integrated cultural events in North America owes a huge debt to Chris Butcher, and his recognition by the government of France strikes me as a high point in their societal acceptance. We may never regard them as our own version of the Ninth Art, but Chevalier Butcher will never stop trying to drag us to that point.
— Frederick Aldama. He has been surveying and recognizing POC; specifically, Latinx and Brown creators.
— Nick Anderson. The former editorial cartoonist for the Houston Chronicle is trying to reinvent the form with his free email newsletter counterpoint, that actually pays cartoonists decent money to produce political cartoons. So far it’s going well. Considering that the entire form was pretty much down the toilet, that’s revolutionary.
— Matt Bors of The Nib
— Rachel Smythe of Lore Olympus
— Zainab Akhtar of Short Box
— Tillie Walden, Cartoonist
— Annie Koyama – the beloved publisher is hanging it up as a publisher in 2020, but hopefully she’ll be back some day in another way.
And finally some very special picks that I hope you will heed:
— The person of the year is some kids I’ve never heard of, who will fall in love with comics and realize that he, she and/or they can make them too–and then proceed to blow everybody’s minds with their genius as they take the artform’s capacity for artists to achieve intimate connections with their audience to unprecedented levels. Prepare thyself.
— My vote is for the honor to be shared by all eleven people targeted by the defamation lawsuit, after speaking out against another creator’s sexual misconduct: Whit Taylor, Laura Knetzger, Josh O’Neill, Tom Kaczynski, Hazel Newlevant, Emma Louthan, Ben Passmore, Emi Gennis, Jordan Shiveley, Morgan Pielli and Rob Clough.
Finally Jim Ottaviani had some personal thoughts that are definitely worth heeding:
— More a persona than a person, but it seems to me that the Grim Reaper was more visible than usual. That may just be because I personally knew more of the people who died than usual, and found it more shocking and sad as a result. So please tell a friend or a colleague you love and admire them (or their work) today. No, really, how about today? There’s no better time.
Once again, many thanks to the creators who took the time to vote on this – the responses are always thoughtful and give a true snapshot of where we’re at.
And who will be the Person of the Year in 2020? Start your engines now!
Previous Person of the Year winners:
2018: Stan Lee and Olivia Jaimes
2017: Emil Ferris
2016: Gene Luen Yang and the March Trilogy Team
2015: Noelle Stevenson
2014: Raina Telgemeier
2013: Kim Thompson
2012: Eric Stephenson
2011: Kate Beaton/Jim Lee & Dan DiDio
2010: Robert Kirkman