Being a judge in the Eisner Awards meant making hard choices. It's like being an admissions officer at Harvard: You could make a top-notch set of picks, throw them away, and still have a strong field for the second set. With six judges each having a different voice, sometimes a book that one or two of us think is the greatest thing since sliced bread doesn't make the final cut.
Here's my short list of comics that, if it were up to me, would have gotten Eisner nominations.
Best Limited Series
One of my favorite series of 2011 was Spontaneous, by Brett Weldele and Joe Harris. It's a great crypto-mystery about spontaneous human combustion, with a nerdy know-it-all played off against an aggressive reporter. The story has its flaws, but I couldn't put it down.
Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7)
Nina in That Makes Me Mad: We had an unusually strong field of children's books, even after we split the category into two age groups, but this book was my first choice for a nomination. The writing is sharp and perceptive, and Hilary Knight's illustrations are amazing. Even the page layouts are awesome. This is a book that speaks directly to children, in a voice they can understand, yet does it with an elegance that adults can appreciate as well.
Best Publication for Young Adults (Ages 12-17)
The Last Dragon, by fantasy writer Jane Yolen and Magic: The Gathering artist Rebecca Guay, is a stunningly beautiful book with a real classic fantasy look in the tradition of N.C. Wyeth. I knew it would be lovely to look at, but what surprised me was the witty script and a delightful story that even a fantasy-averse reader like me can enjoy.
Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Every story in this beautifully produced book is a gem, which is no surprise considering the stellar lineup of writers and artists: Roger Langridge, Marjorie Liu, Jeff Parker, Colleen Coover. The stories are all traditional fairy tale-type stories, tied together by the framing device of the storyteller sitting by the fire, talking to his dog. There are only scant references to the television program that inspired the book, and it's quite possible to enjoy the one without ever seeing the other.
Best Digital Comic
I was really surprised that The Abaddon, Koren Shadmi's updated take on Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, didn't make the cut. The story, of a disoriented former soldier who moves into the apartment from hell, is both original and intriguing, and Shadmi's austere yet expressive style really sells it.
Also, while I was happy to see Dylan Meconis's short story Outfoxed make the cut, I would have loved to see her longer supernatural story Family Man on the list as well. Set in 18th-century Germany, it's the story of a theologian who finds a place in a university in the hinterlands where strange things happen in the light of the full moon.
Best Graphic Novel
I fell in love with Snaps, by Rebecca Kraatz, because of the concept behind it: It grew out of a handful of vintage photos that Kraatz found in a flea market; she studied the people in the photos and imagined lives for them, then told their stories in an intertwined set of short vignettes. Kraatz's art has a simple, almost naive look, but her storytelling techniques and panel compositions are wonderfully creative. This is a book you have to look at twice to truly appreciate.
New Category: Best Self-Published Comic or Mini-Comic
There are good practical reasons not to have this category — there would be millions of submissions, and the comics can be hard to find — but self-published comics and mini-comics are the life blood of comics and I would love to see them recognized. Some of these were entered in the best one-shot category, but they are too different to stand up there. Here are some of the books I would choose:
The Potter's Pet, by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline: This is a professional-quality comic and it's beautifully produced, with a lovely color cover. Lamb and Paroline are now working on the Ice Age and Adventure Time comics for BOOM! Studios.
Wolves, by Becky Cloonan: This one is simply beautiful, and the digital version is the best 99 cents you'll spend all week. Heck, all year!