The ruckus started last week when Chester Brown and Seth wrote an open letter to the Canadian Governor General Literary Awards committee. The letter, also signed by such luminaries as Lynda Barry, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and other heavy hitters, was to protest that the awards committee had nominated the graphic novel SKIM, for an award in children’s literature, but had seen fit to recognize only writer Mariko Tamaki; artist Jillian Tamaki isn’t mentioned, and she isn’t even invited to the awards ceremony.
The letter writers think this is an injustice:
We’re guessing that the jury who read SKIM saw it as an illustrated novel. It’s not; it’s a graphic novel. In illustrated novels, the words carry the burden of telling the story, and the illustrations serve as a form of visual reinforcement. But in graphic novels, the words and pictures BOTH tell the story, and there are often sequences (sometimes whole graphic novels) where the images alone convey the narrative. The text of a graphic novel cannot be separated from its illustrations because the words and the pictures together ARE the text. Try to imagine evaluating SKIM if you couldn’t see the drawings. Jillian’s contribution to the book goes beyond mere illustration: she was as responsible for telling the story as Mariko was.
However, despite the eloquent plea, the Canada Council for the Arts, won’t add Jillian to the list of nominations:
The Canada Council for the Arts won’t add Canadian illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s name to the official list of nominees in the text category for this year’s Governor-General’s Award for children’s literature. “We’re a little bit late in the game” to either discuss the issue or make the addition, Melanie Rutledge, head of writing and publishing for the Canada Council, said Wednesday evening. But “we’ll take it under consideration going forward. … We’re always wanting feedback like this.”
The story has been picked up by numerous news outlets, both Canadian and comics-related. Jillian Tamaki remains gracious under the circumstances:
“I’m not going to say much about it beyond that I appreciate their letter,” Tamaki said Friday, from her apartment in New York. Tamaki, who is in her mid-20s, grew up in Calgary and graduated from the Alberta College of Art & Design in 2003. “The people that co-signed and those two creators are my heroes,” she says. “It definitely was surprising. I knew the letter was going to be coming out, but I was floored that the comics community was so caring. I was flattered and touched.”
The awards will be presented tomorrow night. The insights of artistry of the Tamaki cousins’ collaboration have already received much attention and acclaim. SKIM’s nomination for the prestigious award speaks to its literary merit and depth; sadly, there are still a few people out there who think that pictures somehow make things less literary, and that’s a damned shame.