guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

Eisners 2017

I watch the Emmys, the Golden Globes. I have watched every Oscars for the last 50 years—and I will almost certainly watch all the rest of them until they finally hang up this whole "film" thing—and never once have I walked away feeling that the ceremony conferred any meaningful honors on the best work of the previous year. But it is a spectacle, a ritual, a strange act of purgation in which Hollywood pretends for a season to be something it is not (and of course, therefore, inevitably has no idea how to judge itself). And it is all Hollywood, which is for me a world apart and a world for which I have at best loving contempt.

For those of us who inhabit our gutterworld, of course, comics is different. I find sitting through the comics awards programs deeply painful. I can't help but feel the disappointment of anyone in the room who worked so hard and didn't win (or, worse, did not get nominated), the self-doubt of everyone who did win ("Do I deserve this? Can I ever make another book?"), and the frantic desperation of everyone called on to play the role of hosts or presenters who cannot wait to retire to the anonymity of the crowd. For a small and intimate community, awards are frankly gut-wrenching things. I myself managed to skip all three of the ceremonies for which I was nominated for an Eisner, not because I couldn't bear to lose in public (as a loving hanger-on in the world of comics, it truly was just awesome to be invited to the party), but because I couldn't bear for people to feel the need to extend to me comfort and support that others deserved and perhaps needed more.

In fact, so wigged-out do awards in comics make me, that in all my years of writing about comics, I have largely avoided the topic. But I feel compelled for some reason to pause over last night's Eisners, to celebrate some fabulous nominees (some of whom also were fabulous winners).

The big star of the evening was Sonny Liew who took home three awards, including Best Writer/Artist. He is totally deserving, but perhaps most exciting is to see the orbit of America's still-provincial understanding of global comics begin to expand to include Singapore. I expected him to win in the "Asian" category (despite there being some terrific work nominated), but winning Writer/Artist is a meaningful step towards something like a truly international awards ceremony.

Still, Writer/Artist included some fabulous cartoonists doing some of their best work, including Tom Hart's heartbreaking masterpiece Rosalie Lightning, one of my very favorite works of the decade, along with Jessica Abel and Box Brown, who I admire like hell and also really like as people. Yeah, I kind of hate comics awards.

I try not to complain about the winners, and really what's the point, since the Eisners try to appeal to all and thus inevitably must disappoint everyone. But the Best Single-Issue/One-Shot award was a disappointment to me only because I wanted Noah Van Sciver (Blammo) or Ben Passmore (Your Black Friend) to win. But it was very cool to have these books acknowledged on this stage, and hopefully everyone will grab a copy of them.

I cannot complain about Vision winning best limited series or Saga winning best continuing series. Seems more than fair enough in both cases. Same for Jughead in Humor and Lemire and Ormston's Black Hammer winning Best New Series (Black Hammer should not work—haven't we done this conceit before?—and yet it does, really well. So, yeah!). Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts winning in the "9-12" category was as close to a slam dunk as could have been imagined (if bookies had odds on Eisners, it would have been something like a 1:10 bet) and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl winning in the YA category will outrage no one (although I personally would have loved to see Abel's Trish Trash: Roller Girl of Mars win that one).

I thought the Anthology category was one of the toughest this year, with so many worthy titles. I'll confess, I actually think the least accomplished anthology of the group won—Love is Love—but it was dedicated to such a good cause it is impossible to get agitated about it. Island is the best anthology comic in years, Kramer's 9 was a return to form for the illustrious alt anthology, and Spanish Fever was an important contribution to our understanding of a world of European comics beyond France and Belgium. They should pass out awards to all of them, honestly.

In Reality-Based Work (one of the dumber category names in the Eisners), again there were just too many deserving titles (including the aforementioned Rosalie Lightning). But in the end there was only one inevitable winner: the third and final volume of the remarkable March. What John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell accomplished with that series has probably done more good for the world of comics (and, hopefully, in the world at large... although I am less confident in my ability to judge the world beyond comics) than any other title since Maus.

I was thrilled to see Jason Shiga's completely batshit insane Demon win "Best Graphic Album—Reprint" (why "reprint"? because it was published first online?). I just got my hands on Volume 3 of the series, and it just keeps getting better (and more deranged).

I think the right title probably won for Best U.S. Edition of International Material. Dark Horse's edition of Moebius's The World of Edena is just stunning and a treasure for all fans of the late master's work. Still, I hope Paco Roca's Wrinkles gets some love, as it is a special work by a Spanish cartoonist who deserves a lot more fans here in the U.S. (again, part of the problem with U.S. comicdom's blinkered vision of the world, which includes Japan, France and America and often forgets about the rest of the planet's long history with the form).

If any title other than The Complete Wimmen’s Comix had won the Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books prize I probably would have blown a gasket. Fortunately, my gaskets were safe. Best Comics-Related Book was probably the only other category I was prepared to go to pieces over, but again the voters saved me by giving the Eisner to Michael Tisserand's Krazy. Phew.

Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips was a tougher category, and while I love Peter Maresca's Sunday Press edition of Dick Tracy, I was really rooting for Barnaby to finally get some bling. Ah well.

Finally, I feel I should probably say something about the Best Academic/Scholarly Work award. Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation by Carolyn Cocca took the prize, and it is a strong volume. Among the nominees, the book deserved the prize. But those of us who follow academic comics scholarship closely cannot help but wonder what went wrong with this year's nominations: where, for example, was Scott Bukatman's Hellboy's World, Hillary Chute's Disaster Drawn, Ramzi Fawaz's New Mutants, and Christopher Pizzino's Arresting Development—all of which are major works and significant interventions in the field? Still, not really complaining here. I am grateful to the Eisners for having the category at all, an acknowledgment by comics professionals of the growth and (I hope) utility of comics studies as a field.

Ultimately, these awards for us comics folks are really a chance to reflect back on the year that was, and to recommit ourselves to the year to come. There will always be blind spots, missed opportunities, and Monday Saturday morning quarterbacks kvetching about it all. But while Hollywood pretends to be a community once a year, comics really is one, and it is one that seeks always to make of itself something better than it was before. As someone who has been hanging around these parts for the better part of a half-century, I know for certain that it does and will.


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