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The Eisner Awards Discourse You Weren't Expecting

Comics, FYI
The Eisner Awards Discourse You Weren't Expecting
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #39 • View online
I have feelings about one particular category in the Eisner Awards, and you’re about to find out what they are.

The announcement of the nominees for this year’s Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards earlier this week brought with it the traditional complicated set of feelings that accompany each year’s nominees. Firstly, there’s a sense of happy nostalgia; I was an Eisner judge in 2018, and it was an experience I loved dearly – how often in your life do you get an excuse to just concentrate on reading comics, and so many comics you otherwise wouldn’t have had reason to discover? – and would eagerly repeat. It was ridiculous, stressful, exhausting, and honestly, an incredible amount of fun.
Secondly, there’s the sense as I suspect everyone has, that either particular projects have been overlooked, or else other projects have been… okay, perhaps “unjustly recognized” is putting it a little too strongly, but something along those lines. Anyone who says that they read through the Eisner nomination list each year without thinking, “Oh, they liked that book that much? Really?” is a liar, as far as I’m concerned. This impulse, though, is tempered by flashbacks to my judging experience and the awareness that the very method of selecting the final nominee list is an imperfect one that demonstrates the limits of both mathematical democracy and just how tired everyone gets late at night on the final day of judging in a San Diego conference room where you can’t open the windows. 
The third response that I have to any Eisner nominations list is, simultaneously, the most niche and the most strong every single year. Namely, my belief that the Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism category needs to be almost entirely overhauled so as to keep pace with the industry and cultural space as it actually exists today. 
Let me explain.
My complaint(s) about this category are, I think, pretty simple and relatively structural. Let’s start with the inescapable fact that, as it currently stands, it’s too broad to be useful. “Comics-Related Periodical” and “Comics-Related Journalism” are, to my mind, two different things; there’s crossover between the two, of course – surely any comics-related periodical is going to feature comics-related journalism of some sort by its very definition – but they’re actually the same thing, especially when it comes to how you define “best.” I genuinely love a lot of the magazines put out by TwoMorrows, and I think that Alter Ego – which is nominated in the category this year, as is often the case – is both an enjoyable and educationally important read… but I think there’s also a case to be made for describing the writing in there as being closer to the material appearing in the Best Academic/Scholarly Work than what we’d call “journalism,” per se. It is, however, a damn fine periodical, so… I guess it’s earned its place in the category as it currently stands… maybe…?
By contrast, I think there is some genuinely amazing, important “comics-related journalism” happening that goes overlooked by the Eisners because the category isn’t built in such a way to actually recognize it. Here’s where I tell a story from my judging experience, which feels particularly instructive and pretty much guarantees that I’d never, ever get invited back to judge anything ever again. (I mean, I think this might already have burned my bridges with the Eisners, but if it hadn’t, what I’m about to share almost certainly will.)
In 2017, Buzzfeed ran a story about Eddie Berganza’s history of sexual harrassment at DC. The result of literal years’ worth of work, it was painstakingly researched with a mountain of interviews, and it was carefully constructed and well written; it also prompted DC to take action against Berganza, firing him days after the Buzzfeed story went live. It was, to my mind at the time and still today, unmistakably one of the most important and “best” pieces of comics journalism of the year, and therefore a shoo-in for an Eisner nomination. Or so I thought.
The five nominees in the Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism category in the 2018 awards were Alter Ego, The Comics Journal, Hogan’s Alley, The Jack Kirby Collector, and PanelXPanel
I am throwing no shade at any of those nominees, I want to point out*; I’m especially glad we got PanelXPanel on there, in what I think was its first year of publication. However, note the lack of the Buzzfeed piece. Its absence had nothing to do with my fellow judges, who – to the best of my admittedly faulty memory – agreed that it was a good and important story that should be recognized, and everything to do with the definition of the category in the eyes of the award organizers. After I put forward the piece for consideration, I was told that the Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism category was intended not for individual stories, but specifically for outlets that primarily and reliably covered comics and the comic book industry on a regular basis across the period that covered by that year’s awards.
On the one hand, I get that definition when it comes to looking at the category as “comics-related periodicals, which feature journalism.” On the other, as it relates to a category for comic-related journalism, it’s a horrible failure that prioritizes fan press over… well, actual journalism if it comes from a mainstream outlet. As comics and comic culture have become increasingly central to mass popular culture, there’s been an increase in good writing about comics and the comic industry in mainstream publications – The New York Times, The Guardian, New York Magazine/Vulture, Wired, The Hollywood Reporter and more regularly put out reporting that stands up to anything else out there, and often stands above it** – but, as it was explained to me at the time, that’s not what the category was meant for.
I suggested, at the time, that the definition of the category be changed to address the problem, only to be told that to do so at that point would be unfair to those who had already submitted themselves for consideration that year. To the best of my knowledge, the category hasn’t been amended, nor the subject addressed, since; certainly, the nominees in the last few years suggest that nothing has really changed. 
Ideally, I’d like to see the Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism category split in two in the future – Best Comics-Related Periodical, and Best Comics-Related Journalism – with the latter structured to recognize individual stories or individual writers instead of a cumulative effort. Maybe that means that, some years, there would only be three nominees instead of five, or maybe one year it would mean ten nominees. It would certainly require some thinking, and no small level of work on the part of the judges each year… but the end result would almost certainly be something more worthwhile, in my eyes.
I mean, we could also have the conversation about whether or not the Eisners, like all industry awards, are inherently flawed and the victims of structural bias, but maybe we’ll save that for the weekend of the ceremony, I guess.
* Okay, fine; there’s one nominee I don’t think deserves to be on the list, especially give what wasn’t, but some fights are lost in these things; it’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately. (No, I won’t say who it is. Knock yourself out guessing.)
** I remain salty that THR’s Heat Vision was never nominated for an Eisner in the years I was there as a regular contributor, I confess. I really think the work we did in 2020 – which included stories on how the pandemic impacted the industry, Warren Ellis’ sexual harassment, online voting irregularities at the Eisners, and more – deserved it. We even covered the industry regularly and reliably at the time!
Awkward Self-Hype Department: Talking of journalism and outlets, as I just was: ReedPop’s new outlet, Popverse, launched this week. It’s under the leadership of former Newsarama regular Chris Arrant, and features a whole host of writers attached… including myself. I’m going to be writing pretty regularly over there, if all goes to plan, so if you’re not sick of me holding court about comics here, now you know somewhere else to find me. (I’ll still be contributing to THR, Wired, and elsewhere, as well. I’m just going to be busy, is all.) 
That said, no, I don’t know why my author photo on the site is sideways. I’m assuming it’s a mistake, rather than an aesthetic choice, but I don’t know; I kind of like it.
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Graeme McMillan

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