THE EISNERS 2002
Last week, the Eisner Award nominations for 2002 came out. Reaction was swift. Some people praised the diversity of the selections by the Eisner judges, while others were disappointed that their favorite stories, creators, and titles didn't make the cut.
This year's nominations seem to be the least exclusive set that I can remember. A single force does not dominate it. There's no sweeping recommendation for a certain line or a certain company. Heck, even the once formidable ABC lineup of books merited only the briefest of nominations.
The Eisners ballots are selected by a commission of five judges, who read and respond to materials sent in by publishers and creators of their own work, as well as whatever the judges may happen to bring to the table. After a weekend spent cooped up in an office in San Diego, the nomination list is announced and the debates begin. Ballots are sent to industry professionals, who make the final votes.
Let's keep in mind a few things before proceeding. Each category (except the Hall of Fame) is limited to five selections. In any given year, that's a very tight list to come up with. You try to pick the best five single issues of comics this past year, or the best five writers or artists. There are dozens of creators open for certain categories and hundreds of books and stories for others. It's a statistical nightmare, when you think about it.
Also, five people arrive at this list. There isn't a broad consensus. In one way, this is good. It ensures that a popular favorite isn't guaranteed a nomination just because more people have read it than others. On the other hand, you're putting a lot of pressure on just five sets of shoulders. No one single person is going to have read everything. Just because you have five people in one room, you can't be sure that they're going to know everything. Furthermore, the field is often limited by whatever material is sent in. If there's an item that a couple of the judges liked but that the others haven't read and don't have access to, it's not going to make it to the list, no matter how good it might be.
It's not a perfect system, but which one is? It's a pretty good one, though, and very much a unique one. While there are some notable absences and a few real head scratchers on the list, it's not a bad list overall. It's something I can live with.
That said, I'm going to rip the nominations to shreds now, because I'm an internet columnist and that's what I do. The following is a list of the more notable nominations, with my commentary on who I'm rooting for, who I think will win, who got left off, who doesn't belong, etc.
Best Short Story
"The Adventures of Hergé," by Boquet, Fromental, and Stanislas, in Drawn & Quarterly, vol. 4 (Drawn & Quarterly)
"The Eltingville Club in 'The Intervention,'" by Evan Dorkin, in Dork #9 (Slave Labor)
"His Story," by Dave McKean, in Bento #1 and Pictures That [Tick] (Hourglass/Allen Spiegel Fine Arts)
"Me and Edith Head," by Sara Ryan and Steve Lieber, in Cicada, vol. 4 no. 1 (Carus Publishing)
"Oh, To Celebrate," by Miriam Katin in Drawn & Quarterly, vol. 4 (Drawn & Quarterly)
"The Willful Death of a Stereotype," by Chris Staros and Bo Hampton, in Expo 2001 (The EXPO)
"The Willful Death of a Stereotype" is a beautiful-looking thing. It's 23 pages of nice gray washed artwork from Bo Hampton, with suitably bouncy lettering on top of it. The story is an autobiographical piece of Staros' attempt to gain popularity in school. While it's a nice little story, it felt stretched out needlessly to me and, ultimately, not the best of short stories I've ever read.
Aside from that, I haven't read anything else. I'll be picking up a copy of "Me and Edith Head" in Pittsburgh next week, though, and I'll be sure to review it here.
Best Single Issue
Eightball #22, by Dan Clowes (Fantagraphics)
The Fall, by Ed Brubaker and Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly)
Finder #22: "Fight Scene," by Carla Speed McNeil (Lightspeed)
100 Bullets #27: "Idol Chatter," by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (Vertigo/DC)
Optic Nerve #8: Bomb Scare," by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)
THE FALL is a victim of having too many comics. It's around here somewhere, but I haven't read it. I'd love to look at it now so I can review it for you, but I'd have to dig it up somewhere. UGH
The issue of 100 BULLETS that is nominated is the series' best story so far. It belongs on this list.
But where is TANGLED WEB #4, "Severance Package," from Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso? (Both are nominated in other categories, so it's not like they've flown under the radar.) Where is my sentimental favorite, PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #33, the Uncle Ben and Mets baseball issue? I'm a Yankees fan and I still loved that story. Where is ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #13? Heck, if that book were printed by Fantagraphics, it would be hailed as "a tender coming-of-age story that touches a nerve all of us are familiar with."
In a year when Marvel has done so much great work, the nominations they received are often puzzling.
Best Serialized Story
Amazing Spider-Man #30-35: "Coming Home," by J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita Jr., and Scott Hanna (Marvel)
Hellblazer #164-167: "Highwater," by Brian Azzarello and Marcelo Frusin (Vertigo/DC)
Finder #18-22: "Talisman," by Carla Speed McNeil (Lightspeed)
New X-Men #114-117: "E Is for Extinction," by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Ethan Van Sciver, and Tim Townsend (Marvel)
Queen and Country #1-4: "Operation: Broken Ground," by Greg Rucka and Steve Rolston (Oni)
This is what I mean. I enjoyed both the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and NEW X-MEN stories, but I'm not sure I'd be including them here. That said:
This is a category I've read most of the nominees for. The only one I haven't read is FINDER, a book that I just can't get into.
I think my vote would go for QUEEN AND COUNTRY on this one. It's recently been collected, so go out and buy it today if you haven't read it already. Rucka and Rolston did great work together here.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN would be a close second, for entertainment value, while NEW X-MEN and HELLBLAZER would come close behind. I'm just afraid that I'm downgrading my opinion of "E Is for Extinction" based on the way the book has slid downhill since then.
I would have liked to see Bob Gale's storyline in DAREDEVIL nominated here, with Phil Winslade's art. I thought it was a fun roller-coaster ride, and it's a story that might come back up, given recent events in the Bendis-penned series.
Best Continuing Series
Finder. by Carla Speed McNeil (Lightspeed)
100 Bullets, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (Vertigo/DC)
Planetary, by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (Wildstorm/DC)
Queen & Country, by Greg Rucka and Steve Rolston (Oni)
Ruse, by Mark Waid, Butch Guice, and Michael Perkins (CrossGen)
This is the category that winds up being the embarrassment of the nomination pool. PLANETARY? "Continuing?" Well, yes, it's still continuing. But only two issues came out last year. I'm sorry, but I think you have to put out a book on a regular basis for it to be considered properly in this category. PLANETARY?!? Look, if you want to nominate Warren Ellis for something this badly, give him TRANSMETROPOLITAN. It's a title that would deserve a nomination in this category. Ellis and Darick Robertson did a great job last year in banging the book out month after month and making it one of the most interesting reads in comics. PLANETARY is a great comic, but it doesn't belong here.
RUSE didn't premiere until October and still managed to get out three entire issues before the close of 2001.
I'd also want to include THE FLASH on this list. Yes, it's a straight super-hero book. I know that's anathema to this kind of thing, but it's just that good of a book. And the creative team hasn't missed a deadline or skipped an issue since they began together. In fact, they've even done extra work together for SECRET FILES AND ORIGINS.
Along those same lines, X-FORCE was a book crying out for a nomination of some kind, yet completely shut out. That's too bad.
Best Limited Series
Enemy Ace: War in Heaven, by Garth Ennis, Chris Weston, Christian Alamy, and Russ Heath (DC)
Hellboy: Conqueror Worm, by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse Maverick)
Hopeless Savages, by Jen Van Meter, Christine Norrie, and Chynna Clugston-Major (Oni)
Rose, by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess (Cartoon Books)
Scary Godmother: Ghouls Out for Summer, by Jill Thompson (Sirius)
ROSE bored me. HOPELESS SAVAGES is cute, but not the amazing piece of narrative excellence that I too often see it portrayed as. HELLBOY and SCARY GODMOTHER are perennial Eisner favorites. I'm going with ENEMY ACE, which was mostly overlooked last year, but produced two excellent prestige format issues. The first issue by Chris Weston is a gorgeous piece of work, and Russ Heath did an excellent job finishing the story up in the second issue.
Best New Series
Private Beach, by David Hahn (Slave Labor)
Queen & Country, by Greg Rucka and Steve Rolston (Oni)
Ruse by Mark Waid, Butch Guice, and Michael Perkins (CrossGen)
The Sandwalk Adventures, by Jay Hosler (Active Synapse)
True Story, Swear to God, by Tom Beland (Clib's Boy Comics)
This is the category that's going to kill me. I've reviewed every one of these titles at some point in the past year (click on their titles to see), and loved them all. RUSE is my favorite on-going series right now, so I might have to give the nod to it.
While there have only been two issues out so far (only one of which is eligible as a 2001 publication), TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD is another favorite and very easy to digest, while being touching. Ok, how about I give this award to TRUE STORY and give RUSE the nod for "Best Continuing Series"?
Best Title for a Younger Audience
Courageous Princess: The Quest for Home, by Rod Espinosa (Antarctic)
Herobear and the Kid, by Mike Kunkel (Astonish)
Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly (HarperCollins)
Patty Cake & Friends, by Scott Roberts (Amaze Ink/Slave Labor)
The Return of Alison Dare, Little Miss Adventures, by J. Torres and J. Bone (Oni)
I want ALISON DARE to win. I like HEROBEAR AND THE KID and all, but it's not that far off from DANGER GIRL when it comes to scheduling problems and producing more ancillary products than comics.
Bizarro Comics, edited by Joey Cavalieri (DC)
Comics Journal Winter Special 2002, edited by Gary Groth and Anne Elizabeth Moore (Fantagraphics)
Drawn & Quarterly, vol. 4, edited by Chris Oliveros (Drawn & Quarterly)
Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly (HarperCollins)
Oni Press Summer Color Special 2001, edited by Jamie Rich (Oni)
It's possible that BIZARRO COMICS was a bit overhyped. Aside from the controversial Kyle Baker story, I can't remember much else that was in the book. The ONI PRESS SUMMER COLOR SPECIAL 2001, however, featured one of the funniest stories in recent memory with the Bendis/Oeming modern comics parody bit. I'm putting my theoretical vote there.
Best Graphic Album-Reprint
Batman: Dark Victory, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (DC)
Berlin: City of Stones, by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly)
Box Office Poison, by Alex Robinson (Top Shelf)
Scatterbrain, edited by Phil Amara and Scott Allie (Dark Horse Maverick)
Stray Bullets: Other People, by David Lapham (El Capitan)
I'm not sure what the definition for this award is. Is it just the quality of the story, or is it the packaging for it? Or a combination of the two? I think I'd give the award to the 600 page white brick, BOX OFFICE POISON. It's an impressive package.
BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN originally showed me what a hardcover book could be a couple of years ago. It looked from the outside like any other normal hardcover prose book with a dust jacket. It wasn't until you opened it up that you realized it was a comic book. That's pretty cool. DARK VICTORY is the sequel and doesn't, thus, hold the same amount of uniqueness to it. It's still a nice package in the same format. Marvel's DAREDEVIL: YELLOW seems poised to follow in its footsteps.
I hope that the MURDER ME DEAD hardcover shows up in this category next year for David Lapham. It's going to have a lot of competition, though, between the announced AUTHORITY hardcover and the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN hardcover.
Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material
Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo (Dark Horse)
Eagle, by Kaiji Kawaguchi (Viz)
Hey, Wait . . . by Jason (Fantagraphics)
Nogegon, by Luc and Francois Schuiten (Humanoids)
Uzumaki, by Junji Ito (Viz)
I'm surprised to see no LONE WOLF AND CUB on this list. I can only imagine that Dark Horse sent in AKIRA, but not LW&C for consideration. LW&C won big last year, so they might want to prevent a vote-splitting this year. This is AKIRA's year, and it's a pretty impressive package. There are now six affordable black and white trade paperbacks containing the entirety of the story.
I liked NOGEGON a lot. It's an oversized hardcover book from Humanoids press, with some beautiful art by Francois Schuiton, about a symmetrical world. The same artist did the BRUSEL book, also out last year.
EAGLE is a critics' favorite. I haven't read it yet, but I do have the first collection sitting on my shelf... Don't be surprised to see it pull off the victory here.
Brian Azzarello, 100 Bullets, Hellblazer (Vertigo/DC)
Brian Michael Bendis, Powers (Image); Alias, Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man (Marvel)
Grant Morrison, FF 1234, New X-Men (Marvel)
Greg Rucka, Queen & Country (Oni); Detective Comics (DC)
Mark Waid, Ruse (CrossGen)
Can't disagree with any of these choices. If I were a voting man, I'd probably pick off Waid for not putting out enough material (3 issues), and Morrison for pretty nearly the same reason. I liked his FANTASTIC FOUR mini-series and NEW X-MEN, but I don't think those two put him in the same category this year as Bendis, Rucka, and Azzarello. Bendis got off to a horrible start on a DAREDEVIL story that had sat in the drawers for years at Marvel. But his current story arc, as well as his work on POWERS and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, more than make up for that. ALIAS ain't bad, either.
Azzarello's 100 BULLETS is a masterful book, but his HELLBLAZER has been a contentious book, particularly amongst long-time John Constantine fans. That might lose him votes.
Bendis seems like such an obvious choice here, but Rucka has had an extremely strong year on only two series. QUEEN AND COUNTRY is a horribly under read book, but has nearly unanimous critical acclaim to it. DETECTIVE COMICS may be a bit more mainstream, but is still a quality read that shows off the new tools that Rucka acquires for the world of comic book storytelling. (Hmm, WildStorm FX could have been considered for a nomination for their coloring on DETECTIVE alone, too.)
I think the race is between Bendis and Rucka. The lesson to be learned here is to move to Oregon if you want to be taken seriously as a comics writer.
Jessica Abel, La Perdida (Fantagraphics)
Dan Clowes, Eightball (Fantagraphics)
Carla Speed McNeil, Finder (Lightspeed)
James Sturm, The Golem's Mighty Swing (Drawn & Quarterly)
Adrian Tomine, Optic Nerve (Drawn & Quarterly)
This raises a good question. How many Writer/Artists are there left at Marvel/DC/Image? Or even Oni and Dark Horse? I can think of John Byrne, but that's about it.
I think it's funny that Tom Beland isn't on this list, given his other nominations. I'm not reading anything into that, by the way. It's just funny the way things work out sometimes.
Tom Beland, True Story, Swear to God (Clib's Boy Comics)
Chynna Clugston-Major, Blue Monday: Absolute Beginners (Oni)
Evan Dorkin, Dork (Slave Labor)
Makoto Kobayashi, "What's Michael?" in Super Manga Blast (Dark Horse)
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library (Fantagraphics)
Judd Winick, The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius (Oni)
Chris Ware is over-rated. "What's Michael?" isn't a bad comic, but it's not my thing. Winick, Dorkin, Beland, and Clugston-Major are a formidable stack of nominees. I wouldn't be surprised to see Winick walk home with something this year, after being upset in the final selections last year. If Tom Beland doesn't get Best New Series, I hope he wins something here.
Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team
John Cassaday, Planetary (Wildstorm/DC)
Butch Guice, Ruse (CrossGen)
Gene Ha, Top 10 (ABC)
Humberto Ramos/Sandra Hope, Out There (Wildstorm/DC)
Eduardo Risso, 100 Bullets (Vertigo/DC)
Francois Schuitten, Brusel (NBM); Nogegon (Humanoids)
This one's tough, and I have to admit that I'm surprised to see Humberto Ramos' name on this list. He just doesn't seem to fit in too well with the other choices. I wouldn't be upset with any of these artists getting the prize, but I'll probably pull for Gene Ha and Zander Cannon on TOP 10.
There have been some comments about the lack of nominations for the ABC line. It's an odd year, indeed, when Alan Moore isn't up for a Best Writer award. I think it might be a combination of things.
The first is that the ABC line has fared very well over the past couple of years with the Eisners. This judging committee seemed to take it to heart to add a little variety to the awards, whether subconsciously or not. In addition to that, the line just wasn't new anymore. It's human nature; the new stuff tends to be sexier than the established juggernauts.
Second, the ABC line hit a number of speed bumps in 2001. TOP 10 was far behind schedule. Issue #11 came out in March, with #12 in August. TOMORROW STORIES #10 came out in April, with #11 in August. TOM STRONG only saw three new issues, in April, May, and August. The addition of the TERRIFIC TALES series began only in November, and things seem to be back on track now. PROMETHEA is the only title still living up to its promise on a regular basis. Even that title only saw 6 issues released, though.
The only thing associated with the ABC line that picked up steam was the hardcover reprints. I have a nice section of shelf space now with hardcover editions of TOM STRONG (2), PROMETHEA (2), TOMORROW STORIES, and TOP 10 (2, with all issues collected).
Edgar Delgado/Studio F, Out There (Wildstorm/DC)
Laura DePuy, Ruse (CrossGen); Ministry of Space (Image)
Patricia Mulvihill, Wonder Woman (DC), 100 Bullets (Vertigo/DC)
Jose Villarrubia, Fantastic Four 1234 (Marvel)
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #15 (Fantagraphics)
I can't argue against any of these colorists. I enjoyed all of their work in the year 2001. Heck, the coloring was the only thing I liked about ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY.
It's a shame there can't be more nominations, though. CrossGen's Caesar Rodriguez has done some flat out amazing stuff on SCION and SOJOURN. My perennial favorite, Lee Loughridge, seems to get no respect from any corner of the industry. His work on ROBIN: YEAR ONE and BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES adds a warmth to the art it touches.
I'm happy to see Edgar Delgado/Studio F nominated in this category, since I've specifically mentioned how good their stuff is here in the past.
Dan Clowes, Eightball #22 (Fantagraphics)
Todd Klein, Promethea, Tom Strong's Terrific Tales, Tomorrow Stories, Top 10, Greyshirt (ABC); The Sandman Presents: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Dreams But Were Afraid to Ask (Vertigo/DC); Detective Comics, The Dark Knight Strikes Again (DC); Castle Waiting (Olio); Universe X (Marvel)
Stan Sakai, Usagi Yojimbo, Groo: Death & Taxes (Dark Horse Maverick)
Dave Sim, Cerebus (Aardvark-Vanaheim)
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #15 (Fantagraphics)
Dan Clowes?!? He's a capable letterer and there's nothing wrong with his stuff, but it's merely adequate. That's it. Surely, they could have found someone else for that slot with a better sense of style. John Workman. Tom Orzechowski. Sean Konot.
I hope it's Dave Sim's year, myself. He'll probably be overlooked for political reasons -- he made an ass out of himself on more than one occasion in 2001 -- but his lettering is an integral part of CEREBUS. It adds as much flavor and texture to the dialogue as Gerhard's backgrounds adds to the art. Sim knows what he's doing with every word in every word balloon.
I am impressed, however, that the overwhelming consensus from the Eisner judges is that hand lettering is a great thing. The majority of the work nominated here is not computerized. Notice the lack of nominations for Comicraft this year. (I would have lived with a nomination for Chris Eliopoulos for his work on THE DEFENDERS, which very quietly broke the panel borders in a most John Workman-esque manner.)
Best Cover Artist
Tim Bradstreet, Hellblazer (DC)
Dave Johnson, Detective Comics (DC), 100 Bullets (Vertigo/DC)
J. G. Jones, Codename: Knockout, Transmetropolitan (Vertigo/DC)
Jae Lee, "Our Worlds at War" specials (DC); Fantastic Four 1234 (Marvel)
Mike Mignola, Hellboy: Conqueror Worm (Dark Horse Maverick)
Phil Noto got robbed. I would have happily kept J.G. Jones off this list in Noto's favor. I think he's just a better cover designer.
Best Comics-Related Periodical
Alter Ego, edited by Roy Thomas (TwoMorrows)
Comic Book Artist, edited by Jon Cooke (TwoMorrows)
The Comics Journal, edited by Gary Groth and Anne Elizabeth Moore (Fantagraphics)
How did COMICOLOGY not make the list?!? I think it shipped as many issues as PLANETARY did in 2001. It was the perfect middle ground between THE COMICS JOURNAL and WIZARD. I can only hope this is some problem with the submission-for-consideration process.
Best Publication Design
Acme Novelty Library #15, designed by Chris Ware (Fantagraphics)
Drawn & Quarterly, vol. 4, designed by Chris Oliveros (Drawn & Quarterly)
Non #5, designed by Jordan Crane (Red Ink)
OPUS, vol. 2, designed by Barry Windsor-Smith (Fantagraphics)
Red Star vol. 1: The Battle of Kar Dathra's Gate, designed by Team Red Star (Image)
Scatterbrain, designed by Cary Grazzini and Craig Thompson (Dark Horse Maverick)
That OPUS is a nice book, but I think RED STAR deserves the award the most. It's going to have a bigger influence over time than the rest of the nominees, and is a nice package on its own.
Hall of Fame
Judges' Choices: Charles Biro, Osamu Tezuka
Nominees (4 will be chosen):
Dan De Carlo
All of the names on this list deserve entry into the Hall of Fame. I have a feeling that the sympathy vote will put Dan De Carlo and John Buscema in this year. Of course, I thought De Carlo was a lock last year if only as an industry-wide show of support for his fight against Archie. Whoops.
I think Sergio Aragones has a pretty good shot at this. He's an Eisners-favorite, always up on the dais each year as presenter and/or award winner.
I think it's a complete toss-up after that. Herge stands a chance just to keep the inductees multi-continental. I think if Buscema gets in, then Romita won't, because putting two Marvel mainstays in at the same time would be redundant. It just doesn't work that way.
There's only one thing for certain: The ceremony will be held on Friday night at the San Diego Comic-Con and will probably run about a half hour uncomfortably too long. And Will Eisner will walk away with a gorgeous woman on each arm. He's a Man's Man.
In a few months, we can look back on this column and laugh at how wrong I was about all of this.
Pipeline returns on Tuesday for more reviews.
More than 350 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.