Over the course of this series about the 2016 Eisner Award Nominees, we’ve been focusing on individual titles that many comics fans may have either missed or overlooked. Without question, every comic mentioned in the 2016 Nominee list is something worth reading and exploring. In addition to titles being recognized, there are several less book-specific categories of nomination that highlight various technical or creative aspects of our favourite medium. In our final article in this series, we should give some of these creators and works their due.
For “Best Writer”, there are five nominees, most of whom have already been mentioned here connected with their individual titles (Jason Aaron from Southern Bastards, Ed Brubaker of The Fade Out, and Marjorie Liu of Monstress are all nominated here), as well as G. Willow Wilson, writer of Ms. Marvel (one of the few “Big Two” titles to get a nod) and John Allison, creator of the web comic Giant Days. Great writing makes for great comics, but it isn’t the only factor. Just like a great screenplay can be ruined with bad direction, writing is only one piece of the comics puzzle. Luckily, these writers have great artists, letterers, and colourists to work with and the comics they make are all worth reading. There might be a little bit of cognitive dissonance with the nominations here, just as with other awards such as the Oscars (for example — how can a title such as Minimum Wage be nominated for Best Limited Series and yet writer Bob Fingerman doesn’t get a nod for writing?), but it seems as if in the end it’s better to have a wide variety of nominees here than pile all the award chips on one title. If the Eisners are about nothing else, they’re about drawing people to the best our favourite medium can produce, and thus spreading around the credit gives readers more points of entry into the world of comics.
The artistic awards are even more parsed and diverse, reflecting the numerous different ways in which comics art is created in the year 2016. There’s a category for Best Writer/Artist, another for Best Penciller/Inker (which includes Joelle Jones for her wonderful work on Lady Killer and Nate Powell’s stunning achievements in March: Book Two) and yet another category for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist. (That last category includes the only nomination for one of our favourite titles, Descender, recognizing Dustin Nguyen’s wonderful ability to create a sci-fi universe populated by realistic and emotionally true characters.)
The art-related awards also include a category for Best Cover Artist, unquestionably an art form in and of itself for comics — just think of the many pieces of cover art hanging in the average fan’s office or home. (Joelle Jones gets another nod in this category for Lady Killer.) Best Colouring (pardon the Canadian spelling) is also a separate category, with the journeyman nature of that work clearly evident by the numerous different titles most of the nominees have worked on in the past year. (Nominee Dave Stewart, for example, has no less than nine titles for which he’s being recognized.)
The sometimes-forgotten art of letter has its own category, Best Lettering, which includes recognition for Troy Little’s work on the comics adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Lucy Kinsley’s contribution to the superb Fantagraphics title Displacement. Best Publication Design is also a category easy to miss, although the packaging and presentation of our favourite medium is sometimes one of the most enjoyable things about it, and often lost in the new world of digital and webcomics. (Sandman Gallery Edition gets one of its many nominations here.)
Then there are the categories that aren’t from comics creators but from others (like me) who operate within the industry in other roles. The coveted Best Academic/Scholarly Work is something of a personal goal of most of us who write about comics but aren’t ourselves comics creators. Nick Sousanis is a colleague, for example, and I’m very happy to report his latest work, Unflattening is nominated in this category. A relentless disassembly of our perceptions of what narrative is (or can be), Nick’s book goes deep into an understanding of the very nature of the comics medium, showing its capacity for allowing stories to burst into multi-dimensional storytelling, beyond anything mere prose can evoke. Like many comics scholars, Sousanis sees the words-pictures combination of our favourite medium as emphatically more/and rather than diluted half and half. The words offer new meaning to the pictures and vice-versa in an ever-ascending spiral of meaning. Far from how some mainstream critics define the medium (haughtily sniffing that “Well, anything is easier when you have pictures, like a children’s book…”), Sousanis is one of the many voices calling for a reconsideration of the rhetorical possibilities of comics. It’s also impossible for me to be objective about my appreciation for the work done by Graphic Medicine, and their anthology of papers, Graphic Medicine Manifesto (edited by M. K. Czerwiec et al.) is also nominated this year. Graphic Medicine does important work with our medium, particularly focusing on representing illness in the medium of comics. Too often, historically speaking, patient illness, especially mental illness, is represented through their physicians, whether that be through medical photographs or reports to the scientific community or the public at large. One of the most important contributions of Graphic Medicine is how it allows those who suffer to tell their own stories. This is, of course, not new, but it’s one of the most powerful and valuable applications of our favourite medium, and this book sets the stage for even more patients (and doctors) to come forward and share their stories in the ongoing process of healing.
The Eisners aren’t the Oscars, nor should they be. Our medium is different from film (to say the least), and rather than an egregious fashion show/cash grab, our awards ceremony embraces diversity, recognizes scholarly work, honours journalism, is inclusive of new ways to convey stories like webcomics and has, at its heart, only the interests of honouring achievement and attracting new readers. For those lucky enough to be able to be in San Diego this summer I simply say that I’m envious of your opportunity to participate in the celebration and perhaps in some future year I’ll be there with you to raise a glass (or at least a voice) to comics, a medium that, in 2016, still has almost unlimited potential for creating powerful and moving works of sequential art.