It was the year of the woman in comics. No question. As readers, as creators and as characters, Finally. As I tallied the votes for this year’s Person of the Year, as chosen by industry professionals, I suspected a woman would win, and the voting was extremely close—and really could have been one of a half dozen people—but eking out a win as 2014 Comics INdustry PErson of the Year was Raina Telgemeier. While the votes were cast before the recent Wall Street Journal piece, it generally summed up all the reasons why she deserves to be the Person of the Year. Telgemeier is one of the first cartoonists to become a name author for kids based on her graphic novels alone—Smile has appeared on the NY Times bestseller chart for 133 weeks, and in 2014 she had three spots, with Smile, Drama and Sisters, which debuted in the fall with a 200,000 first printing. And according to the WSJ, Smile now has 1.5 million copies in print, with Sisters close behind with 1.4 million. A while ago I joked that Smile is the new Watchmen, and based on these numbers it’s not far off.
The reasons for her success? The empathy and insight that only a much loved book can provide. Smile is a dental drama—the main storyline follows young Raina’s anxiety and medical issues after knocking out her front teeth, a nightmare that most of us have had at one time or another. It’s also coming of age story, with observations about about fitting in, looking presentable, dealing with family pressures and the beginnings of romance. It’s a personal story, but Telgemeier’s sure cartooning, sharp humor and strong characterization have given it the universality to turn it into a perennial. Drama and Sisters are cut from the same cloth. It’s comics at it most approachable and relatable.
Recognizing Telgemeier also salutes someone who takes advantage of all the opportunities available for authors to connect with readers. She’s a tireless traveler, speaking in front of schools and libraries and forging a personal connection with her readers. I’ve seen her audiences, and they are in love with her.
Voters praised Telgemeier for all of this and more.
— “She held the TOP THREE SPOTS on the NYT GN bestseller list. She’s a cultural force and one of the finest talents in all comicdom. Heckuva nice person to boot.”
— “She creates mature, well-crafted stories that appeal to both kids and adults (as my family’s worn out copies of her books attest).”
— “She’s so successful and yet I feel like much of the comics industry dismisses her work. She outsells pretty much everyone while making comics primarily for young girls. That is awesome. She is awesome.”
Reached for a response to the Person of the Year accolade, Telgemeier was typically succinct and modest.
“I have always wanted to tell personal stories, in comics form, that connect with all types of readers. I’m thrilled that 2014 brought that wish, and then some!”
Telgemeier’s win represents the huge evolution in the comics industry that 2014 solidified—women readers finally got a chance to be recognized and made several books best sellers. Kids comics have become one of the fastest growing book categories, period. And she’s not the only woman who made an impact, as the rest of the voting shows.
The next four people all got significant and equal support among voters. Consider them Creators and Publishers of the Year.
Kelly Sue DeConnick had a killer 2014, with two Image books bracketing the year, the boldly experimental Pretty Deadly and the adventurous Bitch Planet. And of course, Captain Marvel for Marvel showed how a creator can create a passionate fan base—the Carol Corps held meet ups around the con circuit and flooded tumblr with images—culminating in the announcement of a Captain Marvel movie in 2018. DeConnick received her first nomination Best Writer in the 2014 Eisners, and in general made her mark every way a creator could in 2014. As a comcis vet whose career goes back to the 90s, it’s high time she got the recognition. Voters saluted DeConnick’s dedication and singular writing voice.
— “ She’s a great writer that knows how to build a loyal and passionate audience, which is very important in this industry. Her career isn’t based on one publisher, but instead built on the brand of Kelly Sue DeConnick. She’s selling comics at anywhere from impressive to respectable numbers. And she does it all with an unapologetically feminist attitude that I respect immensely.
— “Kelly Sue DeConnick because she’s a well respected writer and basically kicks ass.”
— “Kelly Sue DeConnick. Her commitment and connection to her fans as well as her constant encouragement, energy and passion for equality in the comics community. She’s an incredible writer and a role model for women in the industry.”
If 20214 was the year of Women in Comics, Janelle Asselin often ws the public face of it, thanks to her fearless writing on the subject, including an article on a Teen Titans cover that was considered dangerous that it inspired rape threats. With her writing for Comics Alliance she established the “Hire This Woman” feature that cast the spotlight on dozens of deserving creators, and later she published the results of a survey that showed that 25% of comic con attendees have been sexually harassed at a convention. Being the public face of a revolution wasn’t always safe or easy, but Asselin never stepped down no matter how fierce the opposition, as voters noted.
— “Janelle Asselin for her critical work, but also for being a woman unafraid of being a woman in public with an opinion, a point of view.”
— “Janelle Asselin, for supporting women throughout the industry, and for getting her voice heard.”
Publishers of the Year
Two very different publishers were cited by survey respondents for their achievements in 2014.
First was repeat winner Eric Stephenson of Image Comics, who was the 2012 Industry Person of the Year. And just incase you weren’t paying attention. Image Comics absolutely ruled comics in 2014, not only putting out amazing title after amazing title—The Fade Out, Bitch Planet, Sex Criminals, Low, Nailbiter, Shutter, The Wicked and the Divine, Outcast, Wytches, Soverign, Starlight, Trees, Supreme: Blue Rose, EGOs, Southern Bastards, MPH, The Cowl, The Superannuated Man, The Inhumans, Ody-C, Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw to name a few. And returning favorites Saga, Walking Dead, Manhattan Projects, Lazarus, Pretty Deadlin, Elephantmen, East of West, Chew, Revival, Sex, Rat Queens Black Science, Velvet, Zero, Deadly Class, Five Ghosts and many more. And the next IMage Expo kicks off on Thursday with even MORE comics announcements! So yeah. Image Comics—this is perhaps the greatest line-up of periodicals in the history of American comics publishing.
–“I’ll pick Eric Stephenson again. For being successful, creatively and commercially, with comics, rather than ancillary stuff.”
— “Same answer for me as the last few years, but he’s continuing to change the way comic books are created, marketed, distributed and read. There’s frankly no competition in terms of innovation amongst the publishers of serialized genre comic books. Other companies do what they do well, but in terms of making an long-term focused future for comics beyond decades old characters their creators have little to no equity in and licensed products promoting other media, Stephenson has made Image Comics into the Big One publisher.”
— “I was going to say it’s a tie between every member of the army of new readers I’ve seen lined up past the horizon line at shows in the last 12 months. I don’t know where they came from, but I hope they’re here to stay. But since I was asked [to pick a person], I’ll instead say I think Eric Stephenson was probably the single human who did the most to make this crazy year possible. The vast majority of the year’s successes had to cross his desk before they were detonated on an unsuspecting world.”
— “If we’re limiting it to comics, it has to be Eric Stephenson again, at least until someone else comes along and builds another whole new branch on the industry tree. (Can you build branches on trees?)”
Gary Groth also received much support. Fantagraphics one time bad boy, is now a mature publishers who weathered a very difficult year in 2014 and co-starred in perhaps the best publicity stunt of the year. And the books published were amazing, from The Complete Zap to How to Be Happy, Hip Hop Family Tree, An Age of License, Arsene Schrauwen, Megahex, The Lonesome Go, The Late Child and other Animals, Gast, The Love Bunglers, The Amateurs and ongoing reprints of the best comics ever published, from Carl Barks to EC to Peanuts to Steve Ditko.
–“He survived the loss of his business partner, Kim Thompson, in 2013, and led Fantagraphics to a very successful 2014, highlighted by his company’s most ambitious project ever, THE COMPLETE ZAP, which instantly sold out. He was also honored in our beloved hometown of Seattle as the recipient of a prestigious STRANGER GENIUS AWARD.”
–“Maintained Fantagraphics despite loss of co-owner. Won the Stranger Genius award for publishing. Published Zap comics and started a new underground comics imprint. Acted in place of “Comics” in a marriage to comics by Simon Hanselmann.”
— “Gary “Genius” Groth. Like a shark, always moving forward, relentlessly.”
Plenty of other people got mentioned by voters, and as usual the responses provide a panorama of the industry in 2014.
Roz Chast had a huge year with her funny and bittersweet memoir of her parents decline Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant becoming the first adult graphic novel to get a National Book Award nomination, and winning many other awards while staying on the best sellers list. And voters noticed.
–“Roz Chast really cleaned it up with her book Can’t We Talk About Something Else? From what I can see, it appeared on more “Best Books of 2014” lists than comics-themed lists, which I found exciting.”
–“Roz Chast, for all the mainstream success and attention she got for her graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”
The Power Players
The Marvel Studios head had a huge impact on what comics are published and how the public perceives them, with the success of Guardians of the Galaxy even made Howard the Duck safe again.
–“Kevin Feige, who continues to guide Marvel Studios with an uncannily sure hand.”
The Amazon head oftens shows up on this list but this year he made even more headlines than usual—purchasing Comixology in April and warring with Hachette and other publishers for most of the year.
–“It seems like it could end up being Jeff Bezos. Amazon’s purchase of Comixology will almost certainly have a huge impact on digital sales and distribution, and it’s already sparked a turf war with Apple and a surge of interest in alternative digital comics companies, with some big deals happening in the past couple of weeks. If the digital marketplace really expands, that will dramatically reshape how we all go about our business. Again, though, this feels way too early to tell.”
–“Jeff Bezos, for good or ill. Right now I’m leaning towards “ill”, since stopping in-app purchases, which Amazon did with remarkable speed — where’s my share of the 30% you altruistically snatched back from greedy ‘ol Apple, Jeff B? — make getting new issues of Bandette more of a hassle.”
Several big two comics editors and creators made a mark this year, notably DC’s Mark Doyle who freshened up the Batman line while remaining at one of the year’s biggest nailbiters over whether he would stay on with DC; and the Ms. Marvel team of G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat also were noted.
–“G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat get my vote for blowing the doors wide open for the entire industry when it comes to diversity in comics. They found a huge audience for MS. MARVEL, a book about a Pakistani Muslim heroine, and changed everything. They’re my heroes.”
–“G. Willow Wilson. She’s leading a charge into important new spaces with a strong voice, writing great super hero stories that speak to both young and old comic readers. We need ten more people like her taking us into the future.”
–“Mark Doyle. The Batman books under his editorial-ship are the most creative and exciting I’ve seen in a very long time. Everything feels fresh and exciting. Titles like Batgirl and Gotham Academy are a real breath of fresh air. Any book he’s editing is now automatically more exciting. That’s rare nowadays.”
A couple of creators made their ark not only for their work but for their outspoken marketing techniques.
–“Simon Hanselmann-His Marriage at SPX was so absurd and over the top and that extremely long kiss between Gary and Simon is a memory that will stay with me for a long time. In second place the duo of Mike Dawson and James Sturm for all their internet controversies they bequeathed.
— “Kate Leth. This may seem a bit of a strange pick at first but there are two primary reason for this. One Kate represents the upwards trend of women in comics not only that but she helped found the valkyries which is helping change the comics landscape on a ground floor level. Lastly one of the biggest trends I see in comics is the kind of adventure time style and considering Leth writes a lot of those books that is a huge thing as well.”
–“It’s a toss-up between CHIP ZDARSKY and KATE LETH.
Now I’ve written that it gives me the image of frenetic masturbation while crouched between a judgmental Chip and Kate.
So, yes, a toss-up between Chip and Kate.”
The Nondisclosure Hero
A couple of people mentioned what was one of the most important stories of the year—one whose final effects have yet to be felt, the settlement between the heirs of Jack Kirby and Marvel. It’s a decision that netted the Kirby family an 8 figure settlement and is seeing a renewed enthusiasm for Kirby’s contributions to the Marvel universe now official.
–“Legally, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Without her request for supplementary briefing in the Kirby case, the settlement would exist only in an alternate reality.”
–“Whoever the fuck finally got the Kirby Estate some money (and by the way— nice job dodging that bullet, Marvel! also: FUCK YOU, you stink).”
–“Jack Kirby, now posthumously rewarded both financially and through proper credits on his creations and co-creations.”
A couple of people mentioned a creator who was never far from the thoughts of his friend as he battled for his life. Photographer writer Seth Kushner started the year on top, with a successful Kickstarter for SCHMUCK, but in April was diagnosed with leukemia and after being given a death sentence made a miraculous recvery. He’s now home and planning a new publication date for SCHMUCK. If there was ever an icon for not giving up, it’s Seth Kushner.
–“Seth Kushner. Cancer survivor. A symbol of resilience for us all.”
–“Seth Kushner. On the heels of successfully funding the Kickstarter for his upcoming graphic novel SCHMUCK, Seth got sick post-MoCCA and soon discovered he had an aggressive form of Leukemia that should have killed him eight-months later. A week ago he walked out of the hospital cancer-free. What cured him is a story for Seth to tell, but what kept him alive (besides family and friends) was his love for comix and TV and movies. Throughout chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant and setbacks and complications, Seth kept developing and writing his creator-owned comix with his collaborators while drawing daily superheroes and Star Wars characters for his son Jackson — from his hospital bed. Seth even drew Matt Wagner’s Grendel for the Baltimore Comicon 2014 Yearbook. And, get this, Seth doesn’t draw. But why let comix and cancer stop him? He may not be the CEO of a comic book company and he may not be the creative “architect” that re-contextualized a superhero’s legacy, but Seth Kushner is a photographer, writer, artist, studio mate, husband, father and, most importantly, he’s a friend. A friend of comix. And, if there’s anything the comic book industry needs to keep it alive and thriving, it’s true blue friends like Seth Kushner, who is a living inspiration for us all.”
Other names, other heroes
There was a long list of people who got a single vote. It’s a list that spans the year we had in 2014—a year of diversity and change.
–Alison Bechdel, certified genius.
–Bill Kartalopolous !
— “David S. Goyer. Outlining the DC Universe in movies, exec producing Constantine, creating Krypton for Syfy, working on Sandman, and doing DaVinci’s Demons in his spare time? We aren’t seeing all of his efforts coming to fruition this year, but there may not be a more crucial person as far as making all of this stuff work.”
— Eleanor Davis
— Emily Carroll
–“Gene Luen Yang. Besides being one of the most important contemporary graphic novelists, I believe his speech at the 2014 National Book Gala at the Library of Congress is the Comics Moment of the Year. In a speech that lasted maybe 10 minutes, Gene may have not only inspired his peers, but it could be the motivation for many more new voices coming into the comics market.”
–“You could make a pretty solid argument for Geoff Johns, spinning DC’s comics into TV successes.”
–“Gina Gagliano of First Second Books. She pretty much got half the company’s publications this year on the New York Times Bestseller list, AGAIN. Who else can say that for graphic novels?”
–“Jack Davis, who recently announced he is retiring from drawing. He is a giant in the world of illustration and cartooning. So glad I had the chance to hear him speak at the Brooklyn Comics Arts Festival a few years back. To say he was an inspiration is such an understatement.”
–“Emma Rios, for providing an inspirational example and for leading from the front.”
–“Jason Shiga. When publishers balked at DEMON, he took it to Patreon and has been happily plugging away at the comic on his own terms. It’s great to see people like him and Keith Knight getting some solid financial support from their loyal readers.”
–“Jillian Tamaki—for some of the most beautiful comics pages ever put to paper.”
–“John Porcellino. John went on a massive tour this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of King Cat, his new book Hospital Suite and the documentary film about his career called Root Hog or Die. To have self published a minicomic for 25 years is an accomplishment in itself, but John’s work and career has served as an inspiration to countless cartoonists over the years and the ecosystem of small press/independent/art/alt comics, whatever you call it, would not be as healthy as it is without his quiet, enduring example of grace and fortitude.”
–“Josh Bayer lives & breathes comics. Anyone who has had a conversation with him or been in a class he taught knows what an impact comics had on him as a child, and it seems he’s determined to pay it back with tutelage and encouragement. Personally, I feel 2014’s “Theth” is his most accomplished work yet.”
–“Mark Siegel, Editorial Director of First Second. His enthusiasm, energy and international vision has made First Second a very successful publisher in just a very few years.”
–“Matt Bors — he’s assisting creators of so many different varieties in publishing.”
–“Michael Uslan (executive producer of the Batman films) gets enough credit so my vote is for him. He is one of our true ambassadors. His love and enthusiasm for the medium and creative spirit continues to drive progress.”
–“Mike Mignola — 20 years of HELLBOY and still counting!”
–“NOELLE FLIPPIN’ STEVENSON I don’t know if the comics industry deserves to have Noelle Stevenson in it, but she was easily the most amazing person of 2014. When not completing her wonderful webcomic Nimona, she was working on a series of interesting books over at places like BOOM!, commenting on comics over on Twitter, or just generally elevating the place. She’s the coolest person in the World, it seems, and she’s spent the year jumping onto unexpected project after unexpected project. She doesn’t give off any airs of doing work for hire – every project she’s on seems to be something she seriously loves doing, and that passion and sense of fun radiate wildly off every comic she’s involved with.”
–“Richard Maguire. HERE is an amazing work of comfortable patience and deliberate choices.
— “Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (chief creative officer at Archie). The artistic teams he is building at Archie are amazing. The fact that 10 years ago, he was first threaten to be sued -for suggesting a gay version of Archie in a play- by the same company that would finally produce Kevin Keller in his own comic and have Archie died while protecting Kevin is pretty amazing.”
–“Roman Muradov got to do the Penguin Classics cover for Dubliners, my dream project, so he’s the winner of the century as far as I’m concerned.”
— Scott Dunbier
–“Stan Sakai. He became the face of the comic community as we all rallied to help his wife through donations and art contributions, and at the same time celebrating his generous twenty-five year gift to the medium with the award winning series, Usagi Yojimbo. Such dedication is rare and his success stems greatly from the support of his wife, the community and his endearing talent.”
And finally, the abstract:
–“All those who have rallied to support creative people who have found themselves in trouble, whether from financial or medical difficulties; as well as all the people who facilitate significant work by contributing to crowdfunding efforts.”
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.