Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Nomination's the Honor. No, Really!

My friend Mike Peterson (journalist, editor, and proprietor of the very fine Comic Strip of the Day blog) has a saying: "Plaques are for haques." I get that, especially in his world of newspapering where regional, state and national competitions pass out more ribbons than a jam-making contest at the county fair. Although I ruefully note that, in my two years as a reporter for a daily newspaper, I never won one. Still, if I'd stuck around long enough I would have, and like the 49th person named "Employee of the Month" at a 50-person firm, it wouldn't have fooled anyone.

And yet. I've won some plaques and statuettes and doodads with little spinning globes on top, and I like them just fine thankyouverymuch. A token of respect from one's peers, or from a group that thinks you did a good job dipping into their area of expertise, is very gratifying. They look good on a shelf. Sometimes they get you noticed by people who otherwise wouldn't and maybe help sell a few books. I am happy and grateful for them.

Today is the deadline for comics professionals to cast their votes for the industry's Eisner Awards, to be presented this July at the San Diego Comic-Con. I cast my votes for both the Eisners and the complementary/competing Harvey Award nominations weeks ago, and had a few thoughts about the process.

Voting for these awards is a responsibility I take seriously, but even with the best intentions I find hard to do "right." First and foremost, there's just too much stuff out there for anyone to read it all. If I'm entirely ignorant in a category, I leave it blank. If I've seen, say, three out of five, I think it's fair to cast a vote even though one I've missed might theoretically be better. I make an effort to at least familiarize myself with all the nominees. Excerpts are often available online, and a look through a couple weeks of a webcomic's archives gives a good feel.

Honestly, the first thing I do is scan the list for work done by friends or my publisher, Abrams. I don't think that's a scandalous confession; I'd never base my entire decision on it, and I often vote for something else I sincerely feel is superior, but I think supporting the home team is a valid tie-breaker. I'll especially throw a vote to a pal if it's obvious they're going to get crushed. Everyone, including me, loves an underdog.

When deciding how seriously to take an award, you have to know how they're awarded. For example, Harvey Award nominees are chosen via an open vote of comics professionals; in contrast, Eisner Award nominations are determined by a committee of industry experts (representing a cross-section of creators, academics, retailers, etc.) who look through hundreds of works to put together a short list. In both cases, the nominees are then published and pros get several weeks to vote for their favorites, and there's the rub.

It all comes down to popularity, and why shouldn't it? That's the point. Generally, someone who's been active and beloved in the business for 30 years will beat someone nobody's ever heard of. Generally, a book that sold 500,000 copies will beat a book that sold 5,000. Many years there are one or two critically acclaimed big sellers that take every category they're in*. How could it be otherwise? And yet that outcome has little to do with the intrinsic quality of the work. That's the big grain of salt you've got to swallow along with the results.

I've been fortunate to win both an Eisner and Harvey award; I've also been nominated for other Eisner and Harvey awards and lost. I don't place any importance on the losses--don't honestly remember what they were, except for one that stung. In 2010, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow got an Eisner nomination for Best Publication Design and I sincerely believe that, if you'd locked all the voters in a room and made them read all the nominees, we would've deservedly won that one. But that's not how the process works.

In that case, just knowing that a committee of comics experts had pored through scores of submissions and decided that mine was one of the year's six best-designed books was honor enough. No, really!

* Says the guy who lost to Fun Home and Asterios Polyp.


John Taber said...

You know I love your stuff Brian but even being mentioned in the same breath as Asterious Polyp is an honor. That might be the best graphic storytelling product I have read in the last 10 years. ;)

Mike Peterson said...

You need to employ more people. At least, that's how "Braveheart" won Best Picture. I'm not sure all the extras in those battle scenes were voting members of the Academy, but the people who hung them with rags and then smeared each one with mud were.

Not sure how you translate that into the comics industry, but you'll think of something.

Brian Fies said...

John: Yes, I guess Polyp was pretty good (sigh....)

Mike: Good idea! I need ghosts and gofers and a whole team. It's been done before--Ham Fisher, Bob Kane, Jim Davis. Don't know how I'll fit them into my spare bedroom, but we'll make it work.