Forget about who’ll walk away with Eisner Awards on Friday at San Diego’s Comic-Con. Sure, there’ll be worthy winners. In my feature on Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters, which garnered multiple well-deserved nominations, I wrote that it would easily top any comics and design “best of” award. More on that notion momentarily. But honestly, the Eisners are much more a popularity contest among comics industry professionals than it is any real gauge of who and what is most worthy in any given category. Simply put, personal favoritism is the dominating determinant. Nevertheless, the Eisners themselves do serve a valuable and commendable function. Truth is, it’s not only an honor just to be nominated, it’s the only worthwhile honor, inasmuch as the nominee list news we can most usefully use. Here’s why.
Every year, Comic-Con International’s awards committee assembles a panel of a half-dozen or so judges. Each bring a unique interest, perspective, and expertise: creator, scholar, critic/reviewer, retailer, librarian, and a Comic-Con rep. Together, they critically winnow down an enormous amount of published material to arrive at a small handful under each category. CalState Northridge professor Charles Hatfield, who was part of the selection committee a few years ago, has described the process as “like going to Comics Heaven—if Heaven is a place where you work really hard, fence with a table full of smart, demanding, and dedicated people, and learn something about your own biases in the process.” He was also pleased to learn what he describes as “the importance of voting past my prejudices.” Now there’s an attribute that’s practically nonexistent among the voters.
Diligence and dedication such as this is why anyone in search of recommend reading should check out all the nominees in all categories of interest. You also might jump to Wonder Women of the Eisner Awards, my feature from last year that included several judges’ choices who didn’t bring home a trophy but who are nevertheless not to be overlooked. However, locating worthwhile info on these artists and publications is much easier said than done. You can’t rely on the official site; its design is a frightful mess, and very difficult to navigate quickly and efficiently. Plus, its page of nominees is merely a basic bullet point listing. But there is more good news everyone can use, courtesy of Fanbase Press.
Fanbase publishes a diverse line that ranges from young adult stories such as Quince, currently in the running for the Eisners’ “Best Digital Comic” Award, to horror genre tales like Identity Thief. It also maintains an internet presence that offers a “top geek stories of the week” podcast and a number of pop culture blogs. For the past month, Fanbase serialized “Countdown to the Eisners,” a daily look at every one of the 30-something categories. Each entry includes a representative image, a concise description, and a purchase link. It’s astonishing, and rather disappointing, that a resource as handy as this isn’t more widespread.
Another problem with the Eisners—for printmag.com readers anyway—is that there’s only one category, Best Publication Design, that relates—in a limited way—to our primary passions. This seems a shame, what with graphic design experimentation and innovation flourishing across so many genres of the comics medium; just look of current works not only by Emil Ferris but also by the likes of Chris Ware, Howard Chaykin, and internationally, Paolo Bacileri, all names scattered about over this year’s Eisner nominee categories. So maybe it’s time to introduce an alternative option, one that might be called, let’s say, the “Print Comics & Design Awards.”
As an example of what an award winner might look like, let’s take Greg Preston’s The Artist Within, Photographic Portraits Of Artists: Book 2. As an independently published photo book, it most likely flew way below the Eisner radar. Still, its stunning shots devotedly documents cartoon creators captured in their natural habitat, i.e., studio spaces that are rich with visual indicators and hints about their personalities and methodologies. The diverse spectrum of 130 or so artists encompasses Al Hirschfeld, Drew Friedman, Carl Barks, Pat Oliphant, and Bernie Wrightson. The book also covers some noted pros in animation like Ollie Johnson, Chuck Jones, Genndy Tartakovsky, and Syd Mead as well as illustrators and designers such as R.O. Blechman, Dave Willardson, and Drew Struzan. Hell, you’ll even find art superstars who’ve contributed to this site: Steve Brodner, Seymour Chwast, and J.J. Sedelmaier.
Several Within artists, like Bill Sienkiewicz, Trina Robbins, Steve Leahloha, Mary Fleener, Geoff Darrow, Keith Knight, and Scott Gandell are at this week’s Comic Con…and, incidentally, available to sign their Artist Within photos. Even Greg Preston himself will be in attendance, at the Society of Illustrators of LA booth, to hawk his book, the just-announced winner of the first “Comics and Design Awards Proposal Award.”
Perhaps this C&D Awards notion might someday materialize. Meanwhile, skip the Eisner ceremony and investigate Fanbase Press’s full, detailed list of nominees; you’ll be glad you did. And enjoy this sampling of Greg’s photos.