Thursday afternoon, Comic-Con International released the official slate of nominees for the 2018 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. And while Twitter was immediately abuzz with grousing about the entire list, I was personally taken aback by the five nominees for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism:
- Alter Ego, edited by Roy Thomas (TwoMorrows)
- The Comics Journal, edited by Dan Nadel, Timothy Hodler, and Tucker Stone, tcj.com (Fantagraphics)
- Hogan’s Alley, edited by Tom Heintjes
- Jack Kirby Collector, edited by John Morrow (TwoMorrows)
- PanelXPanel magazine, edited by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, panelxpanel.com
It’s not that the nominees are bad. All of them have a history of publishing excellent work and—with the exception of PanelXPanel, which began publication last year—all are prior nominees.
No, the problem was something else …. A sense that the nominees all represented a single strain of comics writing, a strain that all-too-often has been presented as the only legitimate, the only serious comics criticism.
The problem isn’t so much what’s included, but everything that’s left out.
The last several years have seen an explosion of insightful comics criticism, as well as hard-hitting reporting, not only at comics-focused outlets, but also at general pop culture sites and in the mainstream press. We’ve seen women, people of color, queer folks, and other who had for too long been excluded from the comics discourse find homes for their voices. Critics have brought ideas intersectional and interdisciplinary ideas to comics criticism, leaving the field far stronger than it was before.
And yet, aside from PanelXPanel, this list feels extremely familiar, while also being unrepresentative of the broader universe of writing about comics.
Three of the nominations, for instance, went to publications focused on comics that were decades-old. While Jack Kirby, for instance, continues to exert a lasting influence on comics that is definitely worthy of exploration, when 60% of the 2018 Eisner nominations for comics journalism/criticism focus on work published in another millennium, it’s easy to get the sense that the nominations aren’t entirely relevant.
Meanwhile, publications focused on current comics news have been entirely excluded from the nominations. Past winners Comic Book Resources and The Comics Reporter—both of which won three awards in the past decade—are absent, as were 2008 winner Newsarama and multiple past nominee The Beat. The comics news and industry commentary these sites provide was apparently unworthy of even a single nomination.
Also absent are all five of the 2017 Eisner nominees, including winner The AV Club. (And, yes, as well as Women Write About Comics, though the bulk of my personal comics writing from 2017 appeared at Comic Book Resources, Nerdist, and Book Riot.)
But while I could go on about publications—and entire genres of comics—that I felt were left out, I think the 2018 slate of nominees actually demonstrates a much bigger problem: the Eisner Awards’ Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism category is poorly designed for the current state of comics journalism.
The category, which dates back to 1992, was created at a time when comics journalism was entirely different. There were a limited number of print publications, and while they might have used freelancers as well as staff writers, people were typically associated with one publication at a time. So giving an award to a single publication made a certain amount of sense, as the publication was the product.
Fast forward to 2018, and things are entirely different. Most comics publications have moved online, and, because of the nature of content in the era of social media, the product has changed from a magazine or even a site to a single article the reader found linked on Twitter or Facebook. Meanwhile, freelance writers, struggling to make ends meet, write for any site that will accept their pitches. Last year, for instance, I published comics-related pieces in at least five separate publications, and I am not atypical in that regard.
The volume of comics-related content has also increased significantly. Today, major sites publish upwards of 30 articles a day about comics and comics-related media. With that volume, it is inevitable that some articles published by the same venue will be revelatory, while others are dross.
And, occasionally, the most consequential piece of comics journalism in years is published by a non-comics site like Buzzfeed. Jessica Testa, Tyler Kingkade, and Jay Edidin’s stellar exposé of abuse by DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza did what so few prior pieces of comics journalism have been able to do: it shook the comics industry to its core and prodded DC into finally acting, years later than it should have. And yet, as a mainstream publication with limited comics coverage, Buzzfeed was an unlikely nominee despite the genuine importance of its coverage.
With comics journalism so dramatically changed since 1992, why are we still giving awards to publications, rather than journalists and critics?
Instead of the broken status quo, I would love to see comics journalism awards that celebrate amazing writing regardless of the venue where it was published. I want to see journalists recognized for their investigative pieces and critics rewarded for their analysis. And, yes, I want to see editors applauded for the work they do.
I’d also love to see more categories, for investigative journalism, for critical features, for reviews, for the journalist or critic with the strongest body of work, and, yes, for best comics site, magazine, and zine.
And, unlike the Eisner Awards, which allow nearly all comics professionals except journalists to vote, I’d love to see the awards voted on by comic journalists and critics, as we not only know what makes a stellar piece of journalism, we also all-too-often understand just how hard it is to create an outstanding piece when pay is scarce or non-existent.
Sadly, I don’t see the Eisners—or any other comics awards—changing their ways enough to genuinely recognize quality comics journalism and criticism.
So I guess maybe we’ll just have to make our own.