The nominees for what is generally seen as the pinnacle of North American comics awards have been announced, and as I read through the list I was struck by how many surprises there were to be found this year. Overall, it’s a solid list of honorees, and I don’t think many in the industry will take umbrage by those chosen for the final cut (for the full list of nominees, click here). I have no doubt that those that step up on stage at the awards ceremony at the 2009 Comic-Con International San Diego on July 24. Here are some random thoughts about the choices that the Eisner judges made this year. Bear in mind, this column isn’t about my picks for the winner, but rather some stray thoughts about the choices and even the categorization themselves.
Best Continuing Series
All Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC)
Given the praise heaped upon this series over the course of its run from 2006 to 2008, I don’t think anyone will be surprised to see it included in the Eisner noms. What’s curious, however, is its inclusion in the continuing-series category. As I understand it, All Star Superman was always planned as a finite series, though it wasn’t explicitly billed as such. I can’t help but wonder why J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston’s The Twelve, which is also slated for a 12-issue run, was included as a nominee for best limited series, but Morrison and Quitely’s tribute to the Silver Age of the Man of Steel is labelled differently. Is it because that’s how it was submitted by its publisher? Was it the judges who made the determination?
Best New Series
Invincible Iron Man, by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca (Marvel)
This situation brings up an interesting question: when is a new series not a new series? Marvel has been relaunched its various flagship titles with new first issues for years now, but it’s also been undoing those relaunches when someone realizes that a major title is about to hit a milestone number of issues. Marvel relaunched Thor (a nominee for best continuing series this year) in 2007 with a new #1, but it recently renumbered the series so Thor #600 could be published. Marvel’s done this with Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four in the past as well. It’s safe to assume the same could happen with the publisher’s main Iron Man title as well sometime in the not-too-distant future. I can attest to the fact that the quality of the writing and the art in Invincible Iron Man merit an Eisner nom. But is it fair for it to be included here, given the publisher’s track record with these relaunches?
Best New Series
Echo, by Terry Moore (Abstract Studio)
I’m thrilled to see Moore’s work honored after a long and successful run on Strangers in Paradise, one of the big success stories of self-published comics. Of course, Moore wasn’t the only self-publishing writer/artist to try another kick at the can in 2008. I was quite surprised to see Jeff (Bone) Smith’s RASL overlooked in this category. I wonder if the scant number of issues he released as compared to the other nominees (on monthly schedules) played a part? It’s not as though the Cartoon Books crowd was overlooked, as colorist Steve Hamaker got a nomination for his work on a couple of Bone reprints.
Best New Series
Madame Xanadu, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley and Richard Friend (Vertigo/DC)
Matt Wagner, Zorro (Dynamite); Madame Xanadu (Vertigo/DC)
Best Cover Artist
Matt Wagner, Zorro (Dynamite); Grendel: Behold the Devil (Dark Horse)
I think this was probably the biggest surprise I found in the nominee list. It’s not that Matt Wagner’s not a great talent; it’s just that these projects aren’t really what he’s known for. There hasn’t been a great deal of buzz about either Madame Xanadu or Zorro, but I suspect these nominations might get a few more readers to sit up and take notice of what Wagner’s been up to since tackling a couple of Batman projects for DC. Interestingly, Wagner is up against Amy Reeder Hadley, his artist on Madame Xanadu, for best cover artist. Again, it’s a big surprise, but this is a big year for Wagner.
Faryl Dalrymple, Omega: The Unknown (Marvel)
Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules! (Renaissance)
Scott Morse, Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! (Red Window)
Nate Powell, Swallow Me Whole (Top Shelf)
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #19 (Acme)
The message here is unmistakable: unconventional approaches to lettering, albeit traditional in that it’s done by hand, are what the judges appreciated in 2008 works they reviewed. Eternal nominee Todd Klein is missing from the list, but clearly, the award this year is about different approaches to the letters, ones that also blend into the art and convey more than the mere meaning of the words. For some reason, I rather like such a guiding philosophy in certain categories such as this one.
Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
Comic Book Resources, produced by Jonah Weiland
The Comics Journal, edited by Gary Groth, Michael Dean, and Kristy Valenti (Fantagraphics)
The Comics Reporter, produced by Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael
Comics Comics, edited by Timothy Hodler and Dan Nadel (PictureBox)
This category and list is bound to get tongues wagging about one specific element: the absence of Matt Brady and Mike Doran’s Newsarama. I can’t help but wonder if its omission says something about the redesign that occurred when Imaginova acquired the long-time comics portal site.
In general, the Eisner nominees drive home the notion that independent and small publishers are the ones who are offering the strongest work in terms of original graphic novels and anthologies, while super-hero publishers and titles remain at the forefront of the ongoing, episodic approach to comics. Some have argued the latter is a dying beast, but given some of the strong work we saw in that format in 2008, I don’t think that’s the case.