Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Eisners.

2012 Eisner Judges - Benjamin Saunders, Larry Marder, Brigid Alverson, Calum Johnston,
Jesse Karp, and Mary Sturhann {photo by Jackie Estrada)

The Eisner nominees have been posted.
As always people are ecstatic and mortified by the list.
Can't say that I blame them.

You put six people widely different comic book backgrounds with widely divergent tastes and the results can wind up looking rather inexplicable.
I got that during the voting and I get it again today.

In the end, it all came down to six votes and the goings often got strange.
Below is the bit of commentary I was asked to write for the Eisner page on the Comic-Con site.
So here goes:

Okay, comic book, it's just you and me now. Let's see what you got."

That's the method I used each time I cracked the cover of a comic as an Eisner judge. On my side, I had 50+ years of continuous comics reading since the dawn of the Silver Age. Add to that my credentials as creator of small but respected alternative comic, Beanworld.
All the hoopdee-doo, the hype, the heat, the raving complimentary blurbs on the back cover, the placements on year's end top 10 lists, previous award-winning reputation of publisher and creative teams went out the window. It came down to the story I was reading at that moment and how that story filtered through my brain.

That's what judging is. And that's how it went with me. I approached each and every comic book I read with the most open mind I was capable of summoning.

Now, I don't want to get too deep here, but anyone who has ever been around me for any length of time understands that I don't believe in any sort of measurement of something commonly known as "quality in art." This is something that often drives people crazy because it is their living and livelihood to be the arbiters of what "quality in art" is.

My personal standard is simple but I believe honest. "I found this interesting"opposed to "I found this uninteresting." I'm passing judgment based solely on my own taste. I believe that is what an Eisner jury is chosen to do, and so, that is what I did.

I was tapped to be a judge with five other people. I didn't know any of them previously and only knew two by reputation. We corresponded a bit at first and had our first real intermeshing as we went through the process of selecting two giants of the comics artform to the Hall of Fame. Then we also chose the candidates to be voted upon for the other hall of fame spots. It was an opportunity to get some insight into the other judges' thought processes. And for them to sneak a peek into mine.

Then the books started coming. There were so many books and comics to read before the judging meeting in March. At one point I was reading at least three trades a day. I took this responsibility so seriously that I stopped working on my own book. Well, I had to; I knew I couldn't forcefeed my brain that much of other people's stuff and still pretend that my own creative decisions weren't getting disrupted by the process. I like to be able to savor my comics reading experience and then let the book resonate for a while. An Eisner judge doesn't have that luxury.

By the time we convened in San Diego for the judging, I thought I'd done a pretty good job of keeping up with most of the books eligible for an Eisner nomination. That thought went out the window when I saw the huge stacks of books I still needed to read.

Being sequestered in a room with the other judges for day after day was a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can't begin to recall how many comics I read one after the other over those three nights and days. And there is nothing comparable to a bit of sorbet to cleanse one's palate between courses of devouring books. Every single time I thought I was getting a handle on a category, another judge would hold up a book say "Hey, guys, have you read this yet?" Read it? I hadn't even noticed it before.

The conversations, to put it mildly, were quite lively. Some of the other judges are far more educated than me and used a lot of the language of academia and criticism. I rolled my eyes more than once at them as they did right back at me. And as a creator, I won't kid around, it's painfully difficult to witness the work I most admired of another creator get cut. But a round of voting was definitive and we kept moving along. I don't think I've ever talked about other people's comics so much, for so long, in my entire life. And that really covers a lot of personal history in our business.

As the final vote tally gelled, books I never thought would be cut didn't manage to make it to the finish line. Everyone felt individual pains in that way. Reality is six people casting votes, and you really don't know how the chips are going to fall. Do I think another jury of other people would have placed other books into nomination? Yes, of course I do. One thing I'm certain of, in my opinion, everyone got a fair shake with these judges.


So read the lines and in between the lines and make of it whatever you think I'm saying or leaving left unsaid. I just want to add, that as someone who witnessed and participated in the whole thing, I can say that no one was deliberately "snubbed."
What an awful thing to say.
It implies a mean-spiritedness on behalf of the judges.
The judges are all people who love the comics medium.
Just some just didn't love the same comics that you did.
If, and when, you are ever asked to be an Eisner judge, then you'll understand what I'm struggling to express, a little bit better.

And now, as Forest Gump said "That's all i have to say about that."



Greg McElhatton said...

As a former Eisner judge myself, I've always said that it's near-impossible to get five people to agree on what to eat for dinner, much less the best comics published in a given year.

The end result is that you'll end up with a ballot where no one will have every single thing they loved on it, but everyone will be happy with it overall. And ultimately, that's all you can ask for.

Desert Scribe said...

Of course judging all comes down to personal taste. A British SF author recently made waves when he posted a screed about the nominees for a certain award (he thought other books should have made the cut). U.S. author John Scalzi posted a response that you might find relevant.