Eyeing the Eisners: a look at the 2014 nominees

by  in Comic News Comment
Eyeing the Eisners: a look at the 2014 nominees

One of my favorite times of the year is here: the announcement of the nominees for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. I love poring over each category to look for surprises, seeing books I never heard of or never got a chance to read. I guess when you get right down to it, I love getting to celebrate awesome comics.

It seems that with each year, the Eisners get better at reflecting the comics art form and industry at that moment. The judges not only hit the fan favorites and critical darlings, but also unexpected choices and hidden gems that truly benefit from this kind of recognition. It’s where quality instead of sales rule, as it should be for an award recognizing the very best of the industry.

This year’s nominees may be the most varied and eclectic in the Eisner Awards’ 26 years: From self-published indies to Marvel and DC to traditional book publishers Scholastic and Abrams, it seems few stones were left unturned. Honors are so thoroughly distributed that just three comics received four nominations each. In years past, there were certain titles that dominated with five, six or more nominations. Looking over the list, I had some observations and, of course, some thoughts on who I’d like to see win.

First, as with last year, there’s a significant scarcity of superhero comics in comparison to years past. Hawkeye and The Adventures of Superhero Girl are really the only current superhero comics with major nominations, and the latter is the print version of a webcomic from a couple of years ago.

Moving into specific categories, there are several that had some surprises and interesting choices:

Best Short Story kicks things off with some head-turning nominations. The only issue of Adrian Tomine’s heartbreaking yet beautiful Optic Nerve series, one of the last holdouts of the comic book format among the alt/lit cartoonists, received a nod for the dark comedy “Go Owls.” But perhaps the biggest surprise in this category is a story from The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman’s immensely popular webcomic. His funny and touching tale about his childhood home burning down is a worthy nominee to stand next to Gilbert Hernandez’s untitled story in Love and Rockets: New Stories #6, Josh Simmons’ “Seaside Home” from Habit #1, and the story “Mars to Stay” by Brett Lewis and Cliff Chiang for The Witching Hour anthology. If The Oatmeal wins, it will be the first time a webcomic has done so in this category, and possibly in any category outside of the Best Digital/Webcomic (obviously not counting print collections of webcomics). Everyone in this category except for Herandez would be a first-time Eisner winner.

Has there ever been two self-published comics in the Best Single Issue category? Possibly, but it made me happy to see both Becky Cloonan’s acclaimed Demeter and Sam Sharpe’s Viewotron #2 nominated. This is Cloonan’s second consecutive year with a self-published comic in this category, and she ended up winning last year for The Mire. I confess to never having heard of Sharpe or his comics, and I was happy to investigate his website, where his work looks elegant and charming. Another surprise in this category is the sixth issue of the sleeper hit-to-be Watson and Holmes, by Brandon Easton and N. Steven Harris. That comic, which is also nominated for Best New Series, is under most people’s radars, but it garners consistently good reviews. Also in this category is the better-known Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja, with the well-liked 11th issue, and Love and Rockets: New Stories #6 again, by Los Bros. Hernandez.

The Best Continuing Series is dominated by Image Comics series, with Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye the only entry from another publisher. That has to be a first for Image. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, and Sex Criminals by Fraction and Chip Zdarsky are natural choices. And yes, that means Fraction is competing against himself with one creator-owned book and one Marvel book. Eric Stephenson and Nate Bellegard’s Nowhere Men fills out the category. The likely winner here is probably either Saga, which won last year, or Hawkeye, which was also nominated last year, but I’m pulling for Sex Criminals.

The Monkeybrain Comics digital-first series High Crimes by Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa carried on the tradition of Eisner-friendly Bandette with a nomination in Best New Series and Best Digital/Webcomic. If you want to sample it, Monkeybrain is offering the title for free on comiXology to celebrate the occasion. Once again, an online-only comic breaks out into another category, although this isn’t the first time for a digital comic. Also in the New Series category is the aforementioned Watson and Holmes by Karl Bollers, Rick Leonardi and others from New Paradigm Studios, and Image Comics hits Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, and Sex Criminals. I’m pulling for Lazarus on this one, but the Best New Series is pretty foolproof this year.

With all this talk of webcomics and digital comics in other divisions, let’s finally look at the Best Digital/Webcomics category. Melanie Gillman’s As the Crow Flies is about queer teenagers stuck in an all-white Christian youth camp. Gillman self-identifies as a “queertoonist” on Twitter, and in bios prefers the gender-less they/their. Failing Sky is by Dax Tran-Caffee, a genderqueer creator writing an experimental story about feminism and transgender issues, among other things (the comic has an unconventional structure around four inter-related stories). Seeing gender issues so prominently addressed by two excellent cartoonists in this category is incredibly refreshing when juxtaposed with most of the other print categories. Other nominees in this category are Brian Fies’ The Last Mechanical Monster, and the previously mentioned High Crimes and The Oatmeal. I expect the latter to win due to it being extremely popular and extremely good, but Gillman’s beautiful storybook-style art and gentle storytelling have really won me over.

I was happy to see an independently run personal blog get nominated for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. While Comics and Cola is operated by a comics journalist who writes for Publishers Weekly and other comics-relevant sites, I’m pleased to see Zainab Akhtar’s own efforts get recognized. But, you know, Comic Book Resources should still win. Competitive playfulness aside, I also wouldn’t want to imagine the comics coverage landscape without The Comics Journal, whether online or offline, or Multiversity Comics.

Congratulations to all of the nominees. Now it’s time to update our shopping lists.