Who was the comics industry person of the year for 2021? In the past we’ve seen many creators win – but this year’s winner is someone behind three previous POTY. Someone invisible to the comics reading public but indispensable behind the scenes. In some years, the voting is very close but there was no contest this time.
Judy Hansen is an agent (her company is Hansen Literary Agency) but she’s much more than that. She is someone with a vision for what comics could be…and, more importantly, what a career in comics could be. The fact that comics creators with bestselling series are now making the kind of money that bestselling authors should is very much due to Judy’s hard-nosed negotiation skills…and detailed knowledge of not only publishing but media and readers.
I’m proud to call Judy a friend, and someone who has given me sound advice on any number of topics over the years. I’ve seen her in action at behind the scenes industry task forces, and seen the results on the bestseller lists. Among her clients: Raina, Gene Luen Yang, Jerry Craft, Scott McCloud, Kazu Kibuishi, and many more. The way her clients dominate sales charts is a testament to her eye for talent, but it’s no fluke. A great agent not only sees talent but mentors and develops it. (No, she is not accepting new clients, sorry.)
Other Person of the Year winners were well deserved and fitting, but the votes for Judy really honor one of the unsung heroes of the rise of the graphic novel. When contacted she provided a photo that is a delight in itself: a hardworking agent is always on the phone!
We reached out to Judy for a comment and she replied:
“I feel honored that my colleagues have chosen to recognize me in this way. I am blessed to have been able to work with so many wonderful people over the years who are talented, kind, and creative. My work behind the scenes to help comics creators have careers and creative opportunities that they otherwise might not have had is a passion for me. Since starting my agency in Sydney, Australia in 1997, I have made it a mission to open doors for literary comics creators into other businesses including trade book publishing, film/TV/streaming, video game and merchandise licensing. And new digital distribution platforms and collectibles like NFTs will provide new opportunities. The future for comics is extraordinary. It is a joy to be a part of the expansion!”
And here’s what voters had to say:
- Judy Hansen – just tirelessly linking the world of comics and comics creators with all forms of entertainment in the word at large.
- Judy Hansen has been a beacon and a bellwether for decades, but no one has had more insight on the state of the industry in this odd era as Judy. She’s constantly looking forward and beyond, helping not only her clients, but comics at large, to rise to the greatest of heights!
- Judy Hansen! She’s kept so many creators I know working and sane.
- Hands down, no one knows comics better. She is a sand-dollar among the sea urchins.
- Indefatigable champion of her clients, fighting for their long term careers across media, an unrivaled knowledge of the graphic novel industry, and a role in shaping it at so many levels for years to come.
- Judy Hansen. No single person I know has a better insight into the trends in the comics and graphic novel industry. That extends to who is publishing what, what stories are finding a market and where they are succeeding. She has tremendous insight into the minutiae of marketing and storytelling and has been a terrific mentor for many emerging cartoonists.
- Judith Hansen has been an important guiding light behind the scenes for decades. The recent barrier-breaking achievements of creators like Raina Telgemeier, Gene Luen Yang, and Jerry Craft (all clients of Judy’s), and many of the key industry decisions that set the stage for those achievements, were encouraged and foreseen by Judith Hansen, often long before the philosophies that guided them were considered “conventional wisdom.” Judy has been a tireless advocate for her creators (myself included) but also for comics as an art form and an industry. Judith Hansen has been the person of the year *behind* the person of the year, year after year, and she’s not done yet. – Scott McCloud
Voters had a lot of other people to honor this year however. Foremost among them, the legendary artist George Pérez, who had given us so much joy and wonder in his work …and is now showing us how to live the time you have left with grace and gratitude.
- George Pérez – for a career so sweeping and successful and a personality so enthusiastic and charming that he represents what’s best about comics, and the outpouring of love and support in the wake of his announcement has been amazing and heartwarming.
- George Perez is the comics industry person of the year. Any other answer is wrong. This doesn’t need explanation.
- George Perez. For sad reasons, to be sure, but what a legend. He’s touched so many fans and influenced so many creators – the outpouring of love and support over the news of his diagnosis was universal – and maybe the one thing everyone in the industry can actually agree about.
- George Perez. The recent bleak update on George’s health status serves as another reminder of the terribly random whims of fate; but the resultant celebration of his decades of impressive, inspiring work also show what an inspiring artistic titan he has been in this industry.
WRITER OF THE YEAR
Writers usually make a good showing in the voting, and this year was no exception. James Tynion IV was the breakout star of 2021, launching new publishing ventures and explaining why he was moving on from a Big Two career while going out with a bang. His move to Substack was a stunner, but showed that creators have more options than ever.
- James Tynion IV and Ram V. The reason why I can’t decide between the two is because I think they each had an amazing year where, in my view, each broke out of their ‘zone’ if you will and branched into new territories. Tynion IV by jumping head first into creator-owned work both in-and-outside the traditional channels (i.e. Substack); and Ram V for really spreading out across both ‘for hire’ and creator owned projects and bringing his unique view & voice to both in equal measure.
- James Tynion IV. Leaving DC for Substack opened up the floodgates of A-list Big Two talent betting on digital and themselves, and that’s on top of wrapping up his run on Batman, as well as juggling red-hot creator-owned titles like The Nice House on the Lake, Department of Truth, and Something Is Killing The Children.
- James Tynion. By all standard wisdom, he should be over-saturating the market, wearing thin his welcome–but it’s just not happening, because the books are excellent and all scratch different itches, and he’s got a wisdom and perspective honed by watching how other pros have navigated the industry and medium before him. He’s not just following in their footsteps–he’s figuring out how to do it better and smarter. The absolute flex of willingly stepping off of BATMAN, of all books, to focus on your creator-owned projects? It’s no coincidence that Substack led their push with him at the forefront, and I’ll bet his second year helps shape where other creators take their newsletters, too.
Several other writers got nods from voters – while business decisions and distributor upheaval made headlines, it’s the people who put the ideas on paper who ultimately drive the industry.
- Ed Brubaker, for his clear-headedness about the business side of comics and consistently excellent work on the creative side.
- Jerry Craft, who inadvertently found himself on the front lines of a cultural war and represented the comics field with class and grace.
- Jerry Craft. This year seemed to be in a holding pattern. No huge breakouts, the usual suspects continued hitting it out of the park either in sales or critical reception, no one person seemed to dominate the comics landscape. I’m going to pick Jerry Craft, who deserves to sell more books and get more attention, though I wish it wasn’t because of people trying to ban his books.
- Mariko Tamaki. She continues to excel between her mainstream and indie work. And with the creation of Surely Books, where she’ll curate works from LGBTQIA+ creators, she’ll continue to be a major force/influence in comics. (You can quote me!)
- Tom Taylor is having a hell of a year, pushing legacy characters in new and different directions.
THE PEOPLE ON THE FRONTLINES
In a tough year of change, organizing against the forces of chaos was more important than ever, and two groups got multiple mentions, the now official Comic Book Workers United and librarians, who will bear the brunt of the coming culture war stroms in comics.
- CBWU, the union formed by Image Comics workers, is a very small group and they absolutely deserve recognition for taking a step that most workers in the comics industry have only talked about for a long time, and that has already changed the conversation in the industry in terms of what is possible in labor organization and helped educate workers and creators on the different options available for organizing. Leanna, one of the CBWU members highlighted on their website, says “Change doesn’t have to be this negative, scary thing. It can be empowering and unifying.”
- Comic Book Workers United – I don’t know who they are, but they were the bravest people in the industry this year. And the work they are doing stands the chance to create lasting change.
- The people that have helped push some of the greatest comics of all time to the direct market, readers, libraries, etc. We need more people like them in this industry:
- Emilio Bautista
- Ryan Brewer
- Leanna Caunter
- Marla Eizik
- Drew Fitzgerald
- Melissa Gifford
- Chloe Ramos
- Tricia Ramos
- Jon Schlaffman
- Erika Schnatz
- SCHOOL LIBRARIANS! Also librarians in general, but I feel like we’re finally well past the stigma that comics aren’t “real” books, and librarians are more and more getting kids into reading via comics, and really doing the heaving lifting as far as convincing parents and teachers and the like that graphic novels are legitimate literature. And librarians are basically at the frontline when it comes to getting reading material to audiences that otherwise may have figures of authority trying NOT to let people have access to books.
THE UNSUNG HEROES
- The social media all-star comic book letterer trifecta: Joe Caramanga, Sara Linsley and Nate Peikos. Nate’s authorship of THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO COMIC BOOK LETTERING has cemented his status as the master craftsman/cartoonist superstar he’s always been. I always learn something new every time Sara dives deep into the nitty-gritty of the lettering production process. And it’s such a joy to follow Joe’s daily, singular personal crusade to educate people about vaccinations, raise money for charity and eat donuts. All three of them give so generously of their time, their knowledge, their tools and themselves to de-mistify the most mis-understood part of the comics making craft.
- TRANSLATORS! More than half of our 2021 list were translations. Our Korean to English translator Janet Hong and her dedication to Keum-Suk Gendry-Kim; Yeong-Shin Ma; Yeon-sik Hong; our Japanese to English translators Zack Davisson and his work on Shigeru Mizuki; Ryan Holmberg and his work on Yoshihiro Tsuge and more; our French to English translators Aleshia Jensen and Helge Dascher who bring our Quebecois cartoonists such as Mirion Malle, Guy Delisle and Pascal Girard to the rest of the world; and our newest translators Orion Martin on Zuo Ma’s Night Bus and Ishai Mishory on Rutu Modan’s Tunnels. Translators do not get enough credit in North American comics. All of our translators in all languages are invaluable, many times we purchase the book before being able to read it. All of our translators work hand in hand with our editors to make sure the cartoonists’ tone and intent is perfectly captured. Who translated Brecht Evens’ City of Belgium? That would be a joint partnership between Brecht and his editor Tom Devlin who go panel by panel during hours of video calls. Sounds tedious, but judging from the laughs that emanate through the office, they have a great time. Translations are about twice the work of an english graphic novel, but if you have a fantastic translator, the added work can be enjoyable! – Peggy Burns
- Adrian Wassel. As the EiC of Vault Comics, Adrian has been steering this five-year-old publisher into success after success, with no end in sight. With numerous titles from high-profile creators slated to drop in 2022, the company’s market share and street cred are set to shoot into the stratosphere. (Feel free to quote me.)
- Annie Koyama – her grants and support have helped so many indie cartoonists during this traumatic year. (Editor’s note: Yes I know she isn’t publishing any more but she’s a perenniel on this list!)
- Ross Richie -his tireless BOOM! efforts push the medium into new places, both celebrating the positive things and providing a runway to the future
- Sven Larsen – Vice President, Licensed publishing, Marvel. If you love the many amazing Marvel books published this year by Taschen, The Folio Society, Abrams, Scholastic, and many others, Mr. Larsen is the man responsible for making it happen at Marvel. These titles entice mature collectors, but also new readers and old fans, plus they generate excitement, glamour, and respect for a medium once thought of as “disposable”.
- Todd McFarlane – He pumped a lot of money into comic shops and got a lot of fans back in the game.
It takes more than a village to make an industry, and as always, there were singular votes for singular people who all make this the weird and wonderful world it is.
- Ben Katchor. This was yet another year where Ben ran the NY Comics Symposium, a weekly series where anyone (especially those outside of traditional comics culture) can speak (in whatever structure they choose) on comics. It’s an idealistic project that Katchor makes it a concrete reality week after week, year after year. This year was no different than any other, but it deserves to be noted as an important part of comics culture.
- Harmony Becker, Himawari House was an awesome achievement!
- JACK KIRBY—because I’ve been on a Kirby kick lately, and there’s nothing like the Fourth World, before or since.
- Jaime Hernandez. Has he been a “person of the year” yet?
- Joe Giella, the last surviving DC artist since The Golden Age and the oldest surviving Batman artist.
- Leanne Krecic and her 4.4 million subscribers to Let’s Play
- Ngozi Ukazu
- ORIANA LECKERT at Kickstarter for taking the crowdfunding to the next level, interacting with creators, helping them focus their campaigns, and being there ,on the ground, with creators concerns.
- Scott Snyder
- Rachel Smythe
- Stan Sakai. He has produced his creator-owned Usagi Yojimbo series continually for more than 35 years. His work has been consistently excellent and engaging. In 2021 he won two Eisner Awards for Usagi Yojimbo, and two Ringo Awards, including one for Best Cartoonist. I don’t mind being quoted.
- Stephanie Phillips
We lost many good ones in 2021, and one in particular:
- Jesse Hamm. For me it can only be my dear friend Jesse Hamm, who passed away suddenly this year. He was a great artist who hasn’t gotten his due as well as a kind, funny, deeply moral person. A terrible loss.
- Jesse Hamm. Missing him every day.
AND THE REAL HEROES
There’s always one unusual pick that sums up the year that was, and I think the people behind the MRNA vaccine technology definitely apply.
- Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó-– the two people most responsible for getting conventions up and going again.
And there you have this year’s list. Many thanks again to all who voted, and shared their thoughts. And now let’s see who break out in 2022!
Methodology: As part of our annual Creator Survey we ask participants to chose a Person fo the Year, someone who moved the needle or had an impact.
PREVIOUS PERSON OF THE YEAR WINNERS:
2020: Gene Luen Yang
2019: Dav Pilkey and Tom Spurgeon
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