Though the focus of this website is reviews and commentary, I get a lot of comics-related news releases. It’s understandable that my e-mail address would find its way onto certain distribution lists. I get specific requests for publicity on the site, which I decline, since it’s outside the mission I’ve set out for Eye on Comics. So it was no big deal when a news release about a graphic novel from Head Press Publishing popped up in my inbox. I scanned it quickly, and I was immediately struck by the fact that it begged so many questions and didn’t hold water even on the most cursory glance.
The news release is titled “EYE WITNESS: RISE OF THE APOSTLE FINALIST FOR NATIONAL BOOK AWARD.” The first thing that struck me as odd was the fact that I’d never head of Eye Witness: Rise of the Apostle. While I admit that I don’t know the details about every single title published by major, smaller or even indy publishers in the realm of comics, I do keep up enough on industry news to recognize the titles of much lauded and noteworthy releases. Not only hadn’t I heard of Rise of the Apostle, but it’s apparently the third installment in a series of four “award-winning” graphic novels.
Quoting the news release:
“ForeWord Magazine, just announced that the third book in Robert James Luedke’s, Eye Witness series…Rise of the Apostle….is a finalist in the category of Graphic Novels in their 2008 Book of the Year Awards. This is the second industry honor to come to Luedke’s, Rise of the Apostle…which has already won The 2008 National Best Book Award (for Graphic Novels), sponsored by USABookNews.com.”
I have to admit that the poor grammar and punctuation served as red flags as well. And as I was questioning what Rise of the Apostle was, I also started to ask what ForeWord Magazine‘s book awards were as well. The Head Press news release continues:
“More than 1,400 books were entered in 61 categories for FOREWORD MAGAZINE’S annual book awards. These were narrowed to 668 finalists from 376 publishers. These books represent some of the best work coming from today’s independent press community! The winners will be determined by a panel of librarians and booksellers, selected from FOREWORD’S readership. Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners, as well as Editor’s Choice Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced at a special program at BookExpo America at the Javits Center in New York City on May 29, 2009. The winners of the two Editor’s Choice Prizes will be awarded $1,500 each. The ceremony is open to all BEA attendees.”
The fact that the winners will be announced at an established book industry event brings some credibility to these awards, as do the cash prizes. I turned to ForeWord‘s website to find out what other graphic novels made the cut. In addition to Eye Witness, up for the ForeWord’s 2008 graphic-novel award are:
Good and Evil, by Michael Pearl, published No Greater Joy Ministries
Gunnerkrigg Court, by Tom Siddell, Archaia Studios Press
No Girls Allowed, by Susan Hughes, published by Kids Can Press
One Thousand Years of Manga, by Brigitte Koyama-Richard Flammarion, distributed by Rizzoli New York
The Clockwork Girl, by Sean O’Reilly and Kevin Hanna, published by Arcana Studios
The Grand Inquisitor, by John Zmirak, published by The Crossroad Publishing Company
The Spirit: A Pop-Up Graphic Novel, by Will Eisner, published by Insight Editions
I recognize a couple of titles and names. I’ve read an issue of The Clockwork Girl; while it was cute and entertaining, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would suggest it was among the best and most innovative independent releases of 2008.
So that begs the question: how does a book qualify for consideration for these awards? I found some important information on ForeWord‘s Wikipedia page. It states:
“ForeWord holds an annual contest, the Book of the Year Awards. Self-published books and those from small, independent, and university presses published between January and December of the contest year are eligible and can be entered for a small fee.”
I’m struck by two elements: that the Book of the Year Awards are referred to as “a contest,” and that any indy or small-press book is eligible “for a small fee.” Now, these wouldn’t be the first awards to charge a fee for entry, but it certainly highlights the fact that it’s far from a comprehensive review of eligible and outstanding material. Of course, there are awards with flawed requirements or assessments, both in the world of comics and outside in other areas of pop culture.
What really gives me cause for concern about ForeWord’s impartiality and propriety when it comes to assessing material, both for the awards and for review in general, is its Clarion program. Clarion is ForeWord’s review-for-fee service. Yes, that means that if an author or small-press publisher pays ForeWord to review a book, ForeWord will. Quoting from ForeWord’s website:
“If you are an author or publisher experiencing trouble getting your titles reviewed through traditional outlets, consider Clarion. For $305, we will provide you with a professional review, guaranteeing the same quality and word-length offered in the magazine.
Paying $305 for a professional 400+ word critique is the best marketing value available in this industry. Use the review in your press kit, back cover endorsement, or on your Web site. With your permission, the review will also be archived with the top three title information databases used by booksellers and librarians who make purchasing decisions: Bowker’s Books-In-Print online, Baker & Taylor’s Titlesource 3, and Ingram’s iPage, in addition to www.forewordmagazine.com.
Authors and publishers who are unsure whether they’re ready for a full review may be interested in the Clarion Preview service. For $79, bound books will receive a 2-page evaluation by one of our senior editorial staff.”
Now, the Clarion page doesn’t actually state that your $305 will buy you a positive review, but the inference is there. ForeWord promises that the review will be of use in marketing one’s book. So forgive me if I don’t place too much faith in what ForeWord views as the best books and graphic novels of 2008.
Speaking of faith, let’s turn our attention back to the Eye Witness series, and specifically, its creator, Robert James Luedke. From the Head Press Publishing website, I found this bio:
“Robert James Luedke is one of those special individuals that only come around once in a great while…a true groundbreaker! He has dedicated the last six years of his life to sharing the gospel with young people, through a format that is very popular with teen and young adult readers, but until recently has largely been devoid of works with Christian content…the graphic novel. Partly through his efforts the genre of Christian based comic books and graphic novels is beginning to blossom, as not only are other independent writers and artists using the literary style to express their faith, but major publishers, like Thomas Nelson and Zondervon, have also launched entire lines of titles to address this growing market.”
I suppose one could view Luedke as a groundbreaker, if one ignores any of the Christian comics that have come before his Eye Witness series. One-time Marvel and Archie writer/artist Al Hartley crafted Christian stories for Spire Christian Comics in the 1970s, and seven years ago, a series of graphic novels based on the popular Left Behind brand began a successful run. Those are just two examples off the top of my head; I’m sure there are innumerable others. I’m not suggesting Christian comics are prevalent in the industry by any means, but Luedke certainly hasn’t broken any major ground either.
The main page of Luedke’s Head Press Publishing website features the following slogan for the writer/publisher’s latest Eye Witness graphic novel: “Don’t believe everything you think.”
While I wisely don’t believe everything that shows up in my inbox, Luedke would be well advised to keep his own promotional tagline in mind.