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 computerssabotaging missions to Jupiter. But if futurist Arthur C. Clarke's visionof the 21st century hasn't yet come true, Scott McCloud's has-- the 2003 Eisner Awards include a nomination for a Web comic: JustineShaw's "NowhereGirl" has been nominated for Best New Series and Shaw herself has beennominated for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition.

"I hadn't really thought about it after submitting," Shaw told CBR Newslast week. "I did not think I had a chance at it, so it was very much outof left-field when I heard."

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

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

"'Nowhere Girl' is supposed to be the story of a young person living inthe western world, taught to hate herself to the brink of self destruction,who upon growing up becomes all-too happily complicit in the system/societywhich 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, awareof the system itself and her role in it, and what to do next. Is there anext step? Is self-destruction the only way out? Is it possible to changethe 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 respondto those who she meets who have already found their answer of how to dealwith 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 prettysimple and effective user interface: You can flip through the pages, goback and find a page earlier or leap ahead to the end; it has a coverimage, it has a linear flow, panels are read top to bottom (left to rightor right to left depending on language). It's easy to navigate and servesto tell the story.

"I wanted to capture as much of that as I could. Why re-invent the wheelfor something like 'Nowhere Girl?' It doesn't need it and would be muddledby anything fancy. The original user interface for 'Nowhere Girl' left alot to be desired, but then, I had crapped it out in like 2 days. Thecurrent version I'm pretty pleased with, in terms of people being able tonavigate fairly freely from any page in the story. It's slower than a papercomic of course (though faster than the original version), but I think ituses most of the navigational features to their best advantage.

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

If you're looking for "Nowhere Girl" #3, there's unfortunately going tobe a bit of a wait.

"And, it could be a long, long time," Shaw said. "Since December 2002 Ihave had some significant problems in the areas of finance, housing andemployment. Nothing everyone else isn't also dealing with, just a sign ofthe times. However, it has prevented me from working on my cartooning, andlikely will continue to prevent that for the foreseeable future. I am luckyI was able to finish 'Nowhere Girl' #2 right before the bottom dropped outof my life, heh."

The Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition Award served as something of aspringboard for previous winners -- or at least signified the sea changetowards a much larger and commercial career -- including Evan Dorkin, TonyMillionaire, Linda Medley and most especially Brian Michael Bendis. Shaw'snot gunning to be in their same tier of the industry.

"Each time I read something like that it dawns on me fresh, the caliberof people who are also nominated for this award, and who have been in thepast. Dude, I am so not worthy. I feel like a fraud! I am just an amateurwho does this in her spare time, which is sparcer and sparcer ... I workmostly in the tech industry and am very happy with that career path, if notthe stability right now.

"To answer your question, I do not currently have any ambitions for acareer 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 knowyet, 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 thecomics scene and what everyone is doing as I used to be, so I can't claimto have read every comic on the list of Eisner nominees. I used to readtons of comics, but not so many anymore. But then, how many people haveread 'Nowhere Girl?' I imagine this awards nomination being the first mosthave 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 humblepremature congratulations and wish them all the best with their work. Ihope the award brings them much happiness and continued and greatersuccess."

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