A Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition: Justine Shaw of ‘Nowhere Girl’

by  in Comic News Comment
A Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition: Justine Shaw of ‘Nowhere Girl’

It’s 2003, and we don’t have colonies on the moon, or have killer computers
sabotaging missions to Jupiter. But if futurist Arthur C. Clarke’s vision
of the 21st century hasn’t yet come true, Scott McCloud‘s has
— the 2003 Eisner Awards include a nomination for a Web comic: Justine
Shaw’s “Nowhere
” has been nominated for Best New Series and Shaw herself has been
nominated for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition.

“I hadn’t really thought about it after submitting,” Shaw told CBR News
last week. “I did not think I had a chance at it, so it was very much out
of left-field when I heard.”

The awards are to be given out Friday, July 18 at Comic-Con
in San Diego.

So what is the first-ever Web comic nominated for a Best New Series
Eisner award about?

“‘Nowhere Girl’ is supposed to be the story of a young person living in
the western world, taught to hate herself to the brink of self destruction,
who upon growing up becomes all-too happily complicit in the system/society
which originally abused her. So, she in essence becomes the abuser herself:
a selfish, manipulative, bigoted materialistic shell, a cog in the machine.
The overall story is supposed to follow her becoming aware of that, aware
of the system itself and her role in it, and what to do next. Is there a
next step? Is self-destruction the only way out? Is it possible to change
the system, or live within it without losing your own soul, and if so, how?
How do you get past your own prejudices and fears? And how will she respond
to those who she meets who have already found their answer of how to deal
with the system which abused them, and how to respond in kind?”

“Nowhere Girl” may be the first Web comic nominated for an Eisner award,
but in many ways, it’s a fairly standard comic for all that.

“I wanted it to read like a traditional paper comic as much as possible,
while still making it feel ‘native’ on the Web. A paper comic has a pretty
simple and effective user interface: You can flip through the pages, go
back and find a page earlier or leap ahead to the end; it has a cover
image, it has a linear flow, panels are read top to bottom (left to right
or right to left depending on language). It’s easy to navigate and serves
to tell the story.

“I wanted to capture as much of that as I could. Why re-invent the wheel
for something like ‘Nowhere Girl?’ It doesn’t need it and would be muddled
by anything fancy. The original user interface for ‘Nowhere Girl’ left a
lot to be desired, but then, I had crapped it out in like 2 days. The
current version I’m pretty pleased with, in terms of people being able to
navigate fairly freely from any page in the story. It’s slower than a paper
comic of course (though faster than the original version), but I think it
uses most of the navigational features to their best advantage.

“I originally of course wanted NG to be a paper comic, but when I
decided to make it Web-only (cheaper by far, and I could do the whole thing
myself without having to rely on anyone else except for Web-hosting), I set
about drawing and formatting each page as ‘wide-screen’ to best match the
shape of most computer monitors. I assumed this was locking myself into the
Web-comic format and would preclude any paper version down the road and I
decided to accept that, particularly seeing how the comic market had sunk
during the 1990s. However, I’m told it is not necessarily a barrier (having
a comic in ‘wide-screen’) when printing anyway, so, I will hopefully do a
printed version some day, if only a limited run.”

If you’re looking for “Nowhere Girl” #3, there’s unfortunately going to
be a bit of a wait.

“And, it could be a long, long time,” Shaw said. “Since December 2002 I
have had some significant problems in the areas of finance, housing and
employment. Nothing everyone else isn’t also dealing with, just a sign of
the times. However, it has prevented me from working on my cartooning, and
likely will continue to prevent that for the foreseeable future. I am lucky
I was able to finish ‘Nowhere Girl’ #2 right before the bottom dropped out
of my life, heh.”

The Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition Award served as something of a
springboard for previous winners — or at least signified the sea change
towards a much larger and commercial career — including Evan Dorkin, Tony
Millionaire, Linda Medley and most especially Brian Michael Bendis. Shaw’s
not gunning to be in their same tier of the industry.

“Each time I read something like that it dawns on me fresh, the caliber
of people who are also nominated for this award, and who have been in the
past. Dude, I am so not worthy. I feel like a fraud! I am just an amateur
who does this in her spare time, which is sparcer and sparcer … I work
mostly in the tech industry and am very happy with that career path, if not
the stability right now.

“To answer your question, I do not currently have any ambitions for a
career in the comics field, though I would never say never. I love comics,
but am chiefly interested in finishing the story I set out to tell in
‘Nowhere Girl’ part 1. NG might be the only comic I ever do, I don’t know
yet, I’ll figure that out once I’m close to done with it.”

Shaw is somewhat familiar with the other nominees in her category.

“I have read some of their work, yes. I am not as ‘plugged in’ to the
comics scene and what everyone is doing as I used to be, so I can’t claim
to have read every comic on the list of Eisner nominees. I used to read
tons of comics, but not so many anymore. But then, how many people have
read ‘Nowhere Girl?’ I imagine this awards nomination being the first most
have heard of NG, or me, and they’re like, ‘… who? What? Next, please.’
There’s just so much content out there now.

“As for predicting who will win …. *ahem* (puts on best Yoda voice):
‘always in motion, is the future, yeeess: difficult to predict.’

“Seriously, I can’t even guess. Whoever wins, I offer my humble
premature congratulations and wish them all the best with their work. I
hope the award brings them much happiness and continued and greater