Sorry about the disappearance last week! I know I missed a biggie: the announcement of the Eisner nominations. The up side of my absence is that it gave me a lot of time to think about how webcomics fit into the Eisners as a whole. And plenty of time for me to have the same argument I have every year, which is how poorly the digital comics community is represented. I’m sure you’ve already seen them, but to recap, here are the nominees for best digital/webcomic:
- Bandette by Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover (Monkeybrain/comiXology)
- Fresh Romance edited by Janelle Asselin (Rosy Press/comiXology)
- The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz (DC Digital)
- Lighten Up by Ronald Wimberly (The Nib)
- These Memories Won’t Last by Stu Campbell (self-published)
Here, we have: a digital comic sold in traditional comic style through comiXology since 2012; a comic magazine available in multiple formats that debuted in 2015; a 9-issue, digital first miniseries from a major publisher; a short comic about current events published by a digital comics publication; and a self-published, ongoing webcomic.
As a lover of webcomics, I have several problems with this. First, it seems odd that a Wonder Woman comic ended up in the same category as a self-published webcomic like These Memories Won’t Last. It also seems unfair to place Lighten Up, a single, standalone comic that can be read in a single sitting, alongside Fresh Romance, an anthology series that is, in format, more comparable to The Nib, the publisher of Lighten Up.
I want to make it clear that I take no issue with any of the nominees. They’re all great comics. But it seems strange that, given the very specific distinctions made in other categories, so many different kinds of comics can end up in the same category. But when you look at the requirements for a best digital/webcomic nominee, it starts to make sense:
“For the Best Digital Comic category, works must be longform—that is, comparable to comic books or graphic novels in storytelling or length. Webcomics similar to daily newspaper strips, for example, would not be eligible. Digital comics should have a unique URL, be part of a webcomics site, or otherwise stand alone (not be part of a blog, for instance).”
As you can see, this leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Previous winners have included webcomics like The Abominable Charles Christopher, Sin Titulo, Battlepug, Mom’s Cancer, and other comics that resemble what we typically think of as webcomics. But others fit this definition in only the most literal sense. In 2007, the award went to Sam & Max: The Big Sleep, an online arc of a larger franchise. In 2008, the winner was Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon’s comic Sugarshock!, a digital first one-shot from Dark Horse.
But it’s not just the lack of distinction between digital comics and webcomics that makes this category confusing. In the second year of the category, the award went to PvP, a classic of the webcomic canon. What’s strange is the fact that it won this award in 2006, after it had been running online for almost a decade. We’ve seen this nearly every year since the addition of the category in 2005: brand new webcomics and one-shots going up against series that have been running for years.
And this sums up the general trend of the webcomic category: it feels like a catch all, an appeasement category, something that was added just so webcomic fans would shut up about the lack of webcomic representation. But it’s not that simple, and webcomics are far more complicated and varied than their treatment would suggest, perhaps even more than print comics since anyone with an internet connection can create a webcomic.
With that said, here are a few suggestions for the Eisner committee about how to better incorporate webcomics overall.
First and most important: we need to define the boundaries between digital comics and webcomics. I know it’s tough, especially with webcomic subscription services, and nontraditional publishing platforms like Twitter and Instagram, but here are the criteria as I see it. Webcomics are self-published, either on a website or online publishing platform; each update is free to read; and the comic is intended to be read online. On the other hand, digital comics are made and distributed through a process that is very similar to print comics: they are released in an issue format, visibly resemble print comics, and each issue must be bought (just like a print comic subscription). By these criteria, Bandette, Fresh Romance, and The Legend of Wonder Woman would all be considered digital comics.
While this distinction is, in my opinion, the most important change that needs to be made to the Eisner process, there are several more ways the awards could be more accepting of those who are perhaps working the hardest to usher in a new age of comics. We have new/continuing/one-shot/limited series distinctions for print comics, so why not webcomics? Or perhaps add a category that specifically recognizes self published digital/webcomics.
Or, and this is a crazy thought, maybe we can nominate webcomics in categories other than the webcomic category. I was happy to see a comic from The Oatmeal in the best short story category, but it still feels like a lot is being overlooked. None of the creators nominated were recognized specifically for a webcomic, and there are plenty of webcomics for kids and teens that deserve recognition in those categories. I know that the Eisners are primarily for print comics, and I’m thrilled to see the print editions of Hark! A Vagrant, Nimona, and The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal getting some love. But at the same time, I feel like this recognition is coming a little late, as there are plenty of incredible, Eisner-worthy webcomics that don’t make it to print.
So listen up Eisners: all comics are comics, digital or otherwise. Webcomics have been around since the 80s, and are leading the charge towards a new era of comics that is more accepting and accessible. They deserve better.
That said, there’s always another option:
What if we start our own actual award for webcomics … what if … with categories and no popularity vote at the polls bullshit?
— Taneka Stotts (@neekaneeks) April 19, 2016
If you want to read some Eisner-worthy webcomics, here are some suggestions. I know I’m missing a lot (there are just so dang many talented webcomic creators!) so leave your favorites in the comments!
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gilman
The Immortal Nadia Greene by Jamal Campbell
Mare Internum by Der-shing Helmer
Oh Joy Sex Toy by Erika Moen
Back by K.C. Green & Anthony Clark
The Lighthouse by Colin Lawler
Eth’s Skin by Sfe R. Monster
Paranatural by Zack Morrison
Agents of the Realm by Mildred Louis
Gods Can’t Die by Z Akhmetova
Full Circle by Taneka Stotts & Christianne Goudreau