Cartoonist R. Kikuo Johnson (No One Else) is part of the 2023 cohort to receive the Whiting Award, possibly the first cartoonist to do so.

R Kikuo Johnson self portrait from his website

The Whiting Awards said:

“The Whiting Foundation is proud to announce the recipients of the 2023 Whiting Awards, given annually to ten emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. The awards, of $50,000 each, are based on early accomplishment and the promise of great work to come.”

R. Kikuo Johnson is already a multi-award winning cartoonist and illustrator whose 2021 graphic novel No One Else (Fantagraphics) received a 2022 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel, an LA Times Book Prize, and was a Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize Honor Book. His other books include Night Fisher (2005/reissued 2021 – Fantagraphics) and The Shark King (2012, Toon Books). Aside from comics, he is also a prolific editorial and advertising illustrator – notably providing covers for the New Yorker. He is based in Hawaii and New York.

Established in 1985, the annual Whiting Awards are dedicated to emerging talents in fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry fields. The path to nomination is very indirect – with a changing annual pool of anonymous individuals in the literary, retail, editorial or academic field from across the US being invited to propose candidates, with an additional committee selecting winners.

The intent of the Whiting Awards, according to their website:

“We hope to identify exceptional new writers who have yet to make their mark in the literary culture. Though the writers may not necessarily be young (talent may emerge at any age), the grant ideally offers recipients a first opportunity to devote themselves fully to writing, and the recognition has a significant impact. Whiting winners have gone on to win numerous prestigious awards and fellowships, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Obie Award, and MacArthur, Guggenheim, and Lannan fellowships, and their work has shaped and advanced literature in this country over the past three decades. “

Among this year’s other prize winners are Marcia Douglas, Sidik Fofan, and Carribean Fragoza for Fiction; Linda Kinstler and Stephania Taladrid for Nonfiction; Tommye Blount, Ama Codjoe and Emma Wippermann for Poetry; and Mia Chung for Drama.

One previous Whiting winner from the comics space is novelist Benjamin Percy (2008, Fiction), who has since written various titles for the Big Two – including Green Arrow and Teen Titans for DC, and Wolverine, X-Force, and Ghost Rider for Marvel.