So hey, the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards are next month (if you’re eligible, the voting deadline is June 30) during the San Diego Comic-Con at Home event. Like last year, there won’t be an in-person event, and like many, I’ll miss the opportunity to get dressed up and pretend to be a bigger deal than I actually am. We here at WWAC are nominated again, but looking at the rest of the field, it sure seems a lot sparser than last year in terms of women nominees.
Writer’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Gideon Falls artist Andrea Sorrentino as a woman. He is not, and we apologize for the mistake.
Last year was not without its own problems. As we reported, it was a mess when it came to voting software and had potential problems with accuracy. That makes the end result of last year’s awards all the more bittersweet. Because not only did WWAC win the award for “Best Journalism/Periodical,” women across the industry did better than we ever have in the Eisner Awards. But because of the issues, there’ll always be some lingering doubt here — doubt that none of the winners deserve. Still, I was hopeful that it was a sign that things were going to continue on this trend, that we’d continue to see numbers track up in terms of greater gender diversity across the nominees.
Over the course of 31 Eisner Award ceremonies (1990 was skipped due to voting irregularities; the more things change, right?), women make up on average only 16% of the winners. In fact, it wasn’t even until 1992 that a woman won at all. That year, Colleen Doran became the first woman member of a creative team to win an award, when Sandman won “Best Continuing Series” for the second year in a row.
Now for the points of my research, I did only count things as the Eisner Awards listed them. If a woman was deemed important enough to be included in the description of the award listing, the book counted for my examination of winners by year. That’s not to diminish the work of great editors like Karen Berger and Shelly Bond, whose work on series like Sandman can’t be ignored, but I also didn’t have the wherewithal to research every book’s full creative teams over the course of the last 31 years of winners.
Last year, women were winners in 65% of the categories, including the first time women have ever swept the “Best Writer,” “Best Writer/Artist,” and “Best Penciler/Inker or Penciler/Inker Team” categories, the three most prestigious solo awards of the event. This was an incredible feat and one that gave many of us hope and joy about the future of the medium.
And then the nominees for the 2021 Eisners were announced. Across the board, the nominees are less inclusive than last year’s list, and in the case of gender specifically, the numbers are absolutely dire. Despite sweeping the big three solo categories last year, there’s not a single woman nominated in those categories for 2021. Overall, women are down from 32% of total nominees last year to 25% this year.
I’m going to take a closer look at the individual categories and the “Best Continuing Series” and “Best New Series” categories to see where some of the starkest gaps are and opine a bit about who I think should have been included instead.
Best Continuing Series
For this year and last year’s awards, I took the time to delve as deep as I could into full creative teams, just to try to include the most women as I could in the results. This year only a single book includes women creators: colorist Sofie Dodgson and editor Shelly Bond on Bitter Root.
Last year, three titles with women creators were nominated: in addition to the winning title Bitter Root and the women previously listed, there were letterer Cardinal Rae, colorist Triona Farrell, and editor Juliette Capra on Crowded (along with the lone nonbinary nominee I was able to find for 2019 in my researching, penciler Roe Stein), and artist Bilquis Evely on The Dreaming. This is actually a category that’s not as dire as some of the others we’re going to be looking at, but a case could be made to include John Constantine: Hellblazer which was outstanding throughout the year and did a fantastic job of showcasing colorist Jordie Bellaire’s skills.
Best New Series
Oddly, this one of the few categories where more women are technically nominated than were in 2020, however, they’re nominated for fewer books. While there were five women nominated in this category compared to four last year, four of the five from this year worked on a single title, Black Widow (writer Kelly Thompson, artist Elena Casagrande, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and editor Sarah Brunstad), while the only other woman in the category was colorist Mariasara Miotti of We Only Find Them When They’re Dead. The notable absence, in this case, is the book I thought would be a shoo-in for this category: The Dreaming: Waking Hours by G. Willow Wilson, Nick Robles, Mat Lopes, and Simon Bowland. Waking Hours was a brilliant masterclass in comics storytelling from the very first issue, and I’m absolutely stunned and saddened that we got Donny Cates’ masturbatory Crossover included here instead.
Now we’ll get into the meat of my complaints about this year’s nominees, the individual categories which are barren when looking for women representatives. We’ll start with the lone Eisner category that has never been won by a woman. In the 28 years that the Eisners have given an award for best lettering, not a single woman has ever taken home the globe. Todd Klein has though, he’s won the award 18 years out of that 28. In fact, he has more wins in the category than women have even gotten nominations. The first woman to be nominated for “Best Lettering” was Laura Lee Gulledge in 2012, 19 years after Todd Klein won the inaugural award in 1993. By that point, he’d won 16 out of the 19 years, with nary a woman to be included. 2020 was only the second year in which more than one woman had been nominated: Emilie Plateau and Tillie Walden. This brought the total number of women to ever be nominated for this award up to ten, and there the number stays because no women were nominated in 2021. This is despite Ariana Maher putting out some of the best lettering work in comics, good enough that it makes books noticeably better. Oh well, maybe she can be the first woman to win this award in 2022.
Unlike lettering, women have had decent success in this category. Women have won “Best Coloring” seven times since the category came to be in 1992, with Lynn Varley leading the way in 1999. The previously mentioned Jordie Bellaire is a two-time winner and perennial nominee. She absolutely should be on the list of nominees again this year alongside Laura Allred (also a past winner).
Best Cover Artist
This is a category that women have done really well in the last several years, and it’s absolutely shocking to me that only Peach Momoko was nominated this year. It is absurd that Jenny Frison is not included in the list of nominees, because her Wonder Woman and Catwoman covers are always stunning.
While there are other categories where women were snubbed this year (“Best Penciler/Inker or Penciler/Inker Team” and “Best Writer/Artist” come to mind, two categories where women won last year and weren’t nominated at all this year), the last one I’m going to look at a bit more in-depth on is “Best Writer.” Only two women have ever won this award, Marjorie Liu (in a tie with Tom King in 2018) and Mariko Tamaki last year, when we saw half the nominations in this category go to women. Alongside Tamaki were G. Willow Wilson and MK Reed. While Tamaki didn’t have the banner year she had in 2019, her 2020 was still very good. And beyond that, G. Willow Wilson was snubbed this year, despite writing one of the best series of the year in the aforementioned The Dreaming: Waking Hours, plus issues of Invisible Kingdom that came out in 2020. Amazing that she couldn’t be included when the nomination site’s original listing for Jonathan Hickman included “OTHERS??” as part of his body of work (that text has since been deleted). I’m a big fan of Hickman’s work with the X-line, but I believe that’s more of a showrunner role than being the best writer in the line (both Zeb Wells and Leah Williams consistently put out books in the line I enjoy more). Oh well, maybe Wilson will get recognized for the issues of The Dreaming that came out in 2021.
This year’s Eisner Award nominees are an embarrassing slide backward in terms of diversity, as they are overwhelmingly white and male. One hopes that maybe next year the awards will be more representative of the ever-diversifying readership.