We can’t all be winners, folks —we can’t even all be nominees. The Eisner Awards nomination always ignite a debate wth one saide or another feeling snubbed and dissed, because the choices are particularly dependent on each year’s jury—its makeup can skew this way or that. The 2013 edition skewed towards….well, if you really look at the list it didn’t so much skew towards anything as skewing AWAY from superhero comics. But even there, Marvel’s Hawkeye TIED with Chris Ware’s epochal Building Stories for second most nominations — I wouldn’t exactly call that a superhero snub, would you?
But let’s back up for a minute. The first controversy over this year’s noms was The “Frank Santoro Before Watchmen Blacklist” Outrage. iFanboy has the most complete account of the matter: basically back in the winter of 2012, Eisner judge Santoro tumblred the following:
Before Watchmen blacklist
Here’s a handy list of all the comics makers who participated in Before Watchmen. I refuse to buy or read anything by these folks: Neal Adams, Rafael Albuquerque, Michael Allred, Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Jordi Bernet, Tim Bradstreet, Massimo Carnevale, Cliff Chiang, Michael Cho, Amanda Conner, Darwyn Cooke, David Finch, Gary Frank, Richard Friend, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Michael Golden, John Higgins, Adam Hughes, Phil Jimenez, Jock, J.G. Jones, Dave Johnson, Michael Kaluta, Chip Kidd, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Jae Lee, Jim Lee, John Paul Leon, Joshua Middleton, Phil Noto, Kevin Nowlan, Olly Moss, Joe Prado, Paul Pope, Ivan Reis, Eduardo Risso, P. Craig Russell, Steve Rude, Chris Samnee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ryan Sook, Brian Stelfreeze, Jim Steranko, J. Michael Straczynski, Jill Thompson, Bruce Timm, Ethan Van Sciver, Len Wein
Well, a bold statement, a rash one and one made in the heat of outrage of the existence of Before Watchmen. Flash forward to this week when the post was retrieved in order to show he should never have been allowed to judge comics again. Questioned by many over his objectivity, Santoro released the following statement:
I definitely had strong feelings about Before Watchmen when it was announced. However, once I became an Eisner judge, I took my responsibility seriously, set my feelings aside, and considered the books that were submitted—as did all the other judges. (And I don’t believe any of the other judges had actually seen that particular blog post.) These titles and creators were up against strong competition in all the categories for which they qualified, and ultimately none of them made the final nominations list. I actually went to bat for Steve Rude and Darwyn Cooke specifically. Some of the creators I listed in the posting are indeed nominated for Eisners for other work they did. So no, it did not affect the judging decisions.
I know Frank, and I’ve worked with Frank, and no one loves comics more; no one cares about good comics more. While I love and respect my friends who worked on Before Watchmen—and some people on that list are among my best friends on earth—my advice to them is also to just move on. I know some of them worked on the project from decent motives, but that’s just corporate comics for you: homages and rehashings.
I know my dear friend Jimmy Palmiotti expressed strong twitter thoughts about the work of Amanda Conner, but as I’ve written before, DC should be desperately trying to publish a new Amanda Conner project, not having her work on prequels or sequels or whatever. In fact they should be trying to develop new books by Neal Adams, Rafael Albuquerque, Michael Allred, Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Jordi Bernet, Tim Bradstreet, Massimo Carnevale, Cliff Chiang, Michael Cho, Amanda Conner, Darwyn Cooke, David Finch, Gary Frank, Richard Friend, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Michael Golden, John Higgins, Adam Hughes, Phil Jimenez, Jock, J.G. Jones, Dave Johnson, Michael Kaluta, Chip Kidd, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Jae Lee, Jim Lee, John Paul Leon, Joshua Middleton, Phil Noto, Kevin Nowlan, Olly Moss, Joe Prado, Paul Pope, Ivan Reis, Eduardo Risso, P. Craig Russell, Steve Rude, Chris Samnee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ryan Sook, Brian Stelfreeze, Jim Steranko, J. Michael Straczynski, Jill Thompson, Bruce Timm, Ethan Van Sciver and Len Wein. Can you imagine how great that comics line would be?
But alas, that is not how it works.
I think Santoro’s judge cred has been upheld by his own statements, the actual nominations and statements from past judges on how one person isn’t really able to control the voting room. (Tom Spurgeon also has some particularly cogent thoughts on the whole megillah.) I’m actually more disturbed by the thought that expressing some kind of ethical stance about something somehow disqualifies you from being able to judge esthetics. Isn’t that the OPPOSITE of how it works? I know that the comics world is one big happy picnic, but when someone pees in the picnic basket, shouldn’t they at least be scolded? (If you are unclear on who I think did the peeing, read some of my links very carefully.)
A far more annoying (to me anyway) suggestion is that by mostly ignoring superhero comics—DC only got two noms, and besides Hawkeye, Marvel didn’t show much—the 2013 Eisner Awards were somehow under representing a bunch of great comics
To this I respond: WHERE HAVE YOU PEOPLE BEEN?!?!
Have you actually looked at the crazy, small press indie stuff that got nominated this year that are only read by five people?
You know, things like Adventures Time. And A Wrinkle in Time. And Baby Blues.
Some crazy indie shit there.
And Star Wars, Wally Wood and Uncle Scrooge.
And the small publishers picked, like Pantheon and Bloomsbury.
Even if you’re just talking comics, it’s not exactly All Blaise Larmee all the time: Dark Horse Presents, Saga, a book originally created by Rob Liefeld. Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips, those unpopular small press guys. And a story by Michael Kupperman about Albert Einstein and Mark Twain landing on the moon. Nutty.
Okay some of the names may not be that familiar to you, unless you read actual reviews of comics that aren’t on ComicBookMovieSpectacularNews.com. But I can assure you that Michael DeForge, Ethan Rilly and Luke Pearson are consistently well reviewed by intelligent people inside and outside the comics bathyscaphe.
There was one book on the list I had never heard of. An anthology called Where Is Dead Zero?. Now what the…I figured this had to be some micro-press experimental anthology, right?
Nope. It’s an art anthology put together by Disney animators in their spare time. Weird, ugly stuff like this, by Brian Kesinger
I admit, I’m in a privileged position: as the graphic novel reviews editor at Publishers Weekly, I see pretty much everything there is to see—except Marvel—so I have an unusually wide viewpoint on all this. Most of the books that this year’s judges picked are consistently well-reviewed. Of course there were a lot of excellent books that didn’t make it, but before you cry bias and unfair, I suggest you sit down and read some of the nominees. You may just be shocked at what you find.
I am not trying to put down the hard work and immense talents of folks who work in the superhero genre. They are passionate and do their best. But it’s just not the only genre on the shelf any more. The most vibrant and resonant creative energies in comics were far from the New 52 or Marvel Now in 2012. If you want to read superhero comics and enjoy them, that’s fine, but enjoy them for what they are most of the time, fun yarns about heroes and villains.
Another judge this year was the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna and he sums up the judging experience thus:
Time and again, my fellow judges made these bittersweet or brutal calls with a clear-eyed conviction. They set the standard high.
The resulting ballot, I believe, is a fittingly diverse representation of the amazing year in comics that was 2012. So many great titles, so much great talent. Comics is enjoying an embarrassment of creative riches.
Are there titles or people I’d add? Of course — most every passionate comics fan would. But I’m proud of what this overall ballot stands for — an affirming list that says: Look at how a wide range of gifted creatives made 2012 an unforgettable year for comic achievement. Let’s hope this ballot sparks not only sales, but also discovery.
2012 was an extraordinary year, and that’s what everyone in the industry should be grateful for.
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.