On Friday, July 19, at the San Diego Comic-Con, the Eisner Awards will be handed out to the best-of-the-best in the world. They will join luminaries from yesteryear such as All-Star Superman and …
Well, to be honest, the only reason I remembered that All-Star Superman got the award was that I just downloaded the issues on Comixology during the recent sale, and the “Eisner Award Winner” circle was on all the covers. Seriously, comics folks, if you want to have your award breathlessly mentioned in the same vein as the Oscars, you’re gonna need to do a better job of branding.
And each year, the Sugarshock-o-meter is around to select the winners. Named after its first official triumph, when, over at ComixTalk, it correctly predicted that Joss Whedon (director of Cabin In The Woods, Much Ado About Nothing, and a little passion project that some folks call The Avengers) would bring home the award after penning a little comic about an intergalactic rock band called Sugarshock.
Since then, the Sugarshock-o-meter has had an 80% accuracy record. It stumbled a little the next year after failing to predict the 2009 winner: Finder, by Carla Speed MacNeil. (The Sugarshock-o-meter foolishly predicted the winner to be Vs.) Since then, it’s been running smoothly on all gears. Sin Titulo, The Abominable Charles Christopher, and Battlepug were all solidly selected by the Sugarshock-o-meter as the eventual winners.
After priming the pump and turning over the engine by handcrank, the infernal machine at the heart of the Webcomic Overlook churned out the chances of the various candidates. Here are the results:
Shannon Wheeler’s I Thought You Would Be Funnier (which I mentioned here back when it was called Nihilarity) was totally nominated for the Eisner’s Best Humor Publication Category, but it must’ve fallen behind the desk at Eisner central or something because it wasn’t on the ballot when the Eisner nominees went live. Anyway, the problem has since been rectified, and Mr. Wheeler’s been a pretty good sport about it.
Anyway, the I Thought You Would Be Funnier collection is being published through BOOM! Studios, an excellent publisher that has given the world some critically acclaimed comics like The Muppet Show, Darkwing Duck, and Invincible. To help drum up votes, they’ve provided the entirety of the book online … for free! (Sure, some of it reprints strips stuff on the Act-I-Vate site, though the book contains much more.)
If you wish the New Yorker strips were more funny and less snotty/indecipherable, you owe yourself a browse. I Thought You Would Be Funnier is up against Afrodisiac, by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca; Comic Book Guy: The Comic Book, by Ian Boothby, John Delaney, and Dan Davis; Drinking at the Movies, by Julia Wertz; Literature: Unsuccessfully Competing Against TV Since 1953, by Dave Kellett (a Sheldon collection); and Prime Baby, by Gene Luen Yang.
Now that I’ve done reviews for all the Eisner candidates, it’s time for the guessing game everyone loves to play: who’s going home with the Award? This year’s crop proves to be one of the strongest categories by far.
But let’s never forget that the Eisner voting body has a different thought process than you or I. After all, if you looked at the nominees in 2007, you might have predicted that the award would have gone to the immensely popular Girl Genius (reviewed here) or the delightful black humor of Minus (reviewed here). There’s probably even good cause to root for Bee or Phables. Who could have foreseen that a 12-page Sam & Max: The Big Sleep comic (reviewed here) written for Telltale Games would emerge the winner? Truly the ways of the Eisner voting body are strange and mysterious.
Thus, along with my pros and cons, I am including a Sugarshock-o-meter, named after Joss Whedon’s 2008 Eisner winning effort (which I reviewed here). It’s perhaps the most reliable gauge in determining the true winner. Who will joing an illustrious pantheon that includes Finder, Sugarshock!, Sam & Max, PvP, and Mom’s Cancer? Let’s find out.
The webcomic in brief: No video games and no computer makes boy get really, really horny.
Pros: With the unflinching scenes of self-centerness and loneliness, Nathan Schreiber’s comic feels the most awkwardly personal out of all the nominees.
Cons: There is a scene with a naked granny, which is one naked granny scene too many. Also, that main character … Justin? Kind of a chump.
Sugarshock-o-meter: 57/100. The very first Best Digital Comic winner was the sunnily titled Mom’s Cancer. Power Out has a chance if the Eisner voting body wants to return to its more introspective roots. However, Act-i-vate is always the bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to these things.
Full review can be found here.
The webcomic in brief: Superpowered cowboys, assemble!
Pros: I mentioned the superpowered cowboys, right? Plus, I appreciate the nod given to the Chinese people who helped build the railroad. It’s got some wonderfully detailed Wild West illustrations, which would not look out of place hanging on the living room walls of some Wild West aficionados I know.
Cons: But who really likes cowboys anyway? I mean, I frikkin’ adore old Westerns, but I also understand that’s not necessarily a popular pursuit anymore. Attempts to jazz ‘em up have met with mixed success: for every Shanghai Noon, there’s a Wild, Wild West. Also, John Henry — the most famous African American Tall Tale character — is Chinese now? Shenanigans! Better keep your hands offa Annie Christmas, is all I’m sayin’.
Sugarshock-o-meter: 68/100. The comic is nice visually, and it packs plenty of action, but it doesn’t quite match the depth of the other four entries. While heavily action-oriented comics can win Eisners — Astonishing X-Men (2006), The Umbrella Academy (2008) — it just doesn’t happen very often.
Full review can be found here.
Comics Beat reports that the 2010 Eisner Nominations have been released. Here are your candidates for Best Digital Comic:
- Abominable Charles Christopher, by Karl Kerschl, www.abominable.cc (reviewed here)
- Bayou, by Jeremy Love, http://zudacomics.com/bayou
- The Guns of Shadow Valley, by David Wachter and James Andrew Clark, www.gunsofshadowvalley.com
- Power Out, by Nathan Schreiber, www.act-i-vate.com/67.comic
- Sin Titulo, by Cameron Stewart, www.sintitulocomic.com (reviewed here)
Based on the strength of the two nominees I’m familiar with (plus the positive word-of-mouth I’ve heard about Bayou), I’d say that this is a fairly strong list this time around. Last year, I wrote a two-part overview of the 2009 Eisner nominees. I plan on doing the same thing next month. So watch this space for my take on the nominees, plus my predictions on the winners.
Also representing webcomics: Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (reviewed here) — which began its life as a webcomic and went on to garner critical acclaim from Wired, Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, among others — gets a nomination for “Best Graphic Album – Reprint.”
EDIT: Lauren Davis also has her own take on the Eisner nominees up at her site. Her blog, Storming the Tower, has always been great webcomics-related reading, so check it out when you can. She’s much happier about the 2010 nominees than the 2009 version (like I am). She does wonder, though, whether a long relationship in print comics impacts chances of winning.
… Carla Speed MacNeil for Finder.
This is the first year I haven’t correctly called the Eisner winner. (I predicted Vs. would win back in May.) In my defense, I wasn’t overly familiar with any of the webcomics or creators beforehand, so I plead ignorance!
Finder was especially tricky, since there’s a large body of work that’s not online but which I imagine the Eisner judges were already familiar with. I mentioned that the available material looked kinda tacky. Finder fans set me straight and told me that this was but a small subset of the world that Ms. MacNeil crafted.
So, anyway, congratulations to Ms. MacNeil!
Meanwhile, I will drown my sorrows and lose my self in this tasteful picture of Aishwarya Rai in a clingly sweater.
It’s time to look at the hopefuls for this year’s Eisner Awards. The nominees this year are a motley crew. They’re an interesting group that raises many questions … mainly, “Who in the world has even heard of these comics?” Let’s just say when most people start doing webcomic blogs or podcasts, most won’t check out the comic about the plight of migrant workers. We are far, far more likely to check out that Sonic the Hedgehog pixel comic.
Which, to me, is fine. Hollywood hardly selects box office winners for the Best Motion Picture nominee list, either. Is using awards to boost the profile (or, to put it more crudely, advertise) of little-known creations the correct reason to determine who deserves to get an award? That’s probably another discussion altogether.
And then there’s the delightful content of the webcomics themselves. It looks like the Eisner committee has gone emo this year. Let’s see: one’s about rampant drug abuse, another is about hermaphrodites, a third is about a murdered strumpet, a fourth is about a mutilated migrant worker, and the the fifth switches it up a bit and stars a grouchy shut-in. Wow, webcomics… they’re not for kids anymore! (Or, more accurately, “not for gamers anymore!”) Tip for you aspiring webcomic creators: if you really want to game the Eisners, you gotta create a murder-mystery starring a shut-in hermaphrodite migrant worker who’s high on something other than life.
Remember back in the day when all we had to worry was if the winner was going to be the one about the cuddly sasquatch or the short story about rock stars who do battle in outer space?
The most positive thing I can say is that this year, I feel confident that the award won’t be presented as a second-class “also-ran” prize. Still, my faith in the laziness of the Eisner judges has not been shaken. I have a notion on who’s going to win, and once again it’s not going to boil down to overall quality.
But we’ll save that for last.
I’d originally planned on reviewing all five nominees at once. However, once this piece started crossing the 2000 word mark, I decided that it might be easier for you — and, more specifically, ME — to have this broken up into two sections. The first piece will look at Dash Shaw’s Bodyworld and Carla Speed MacNeil’s Finder. The second will take a tour of The Lady’s Murder, Speak No Evil, and Vs. It actually works out pretty well. The latter three are stand-alone short stories, while the first two are either much longer or part of a continuing series.
Ready to get your Eisner on? Let’s get started.
Bodyworld, by Dash Shaw
So Bodyworld is all like, what if we’re all like part of one global consciousness, dude? And what if, like, you let go of your rigid conformity by mellowing out, man, you would be able to share your consciousness with every other human being who let their guard down? It would be like telepathy, only on a more mind-blowing scale.
Bodyworld stars Professor Panther, a hands-on faculty member who injects himself with so many drugs that he’s got bandages running up and down his arm. The guy’s also seen with a joint in his mouth pretty much 24/7. He blows into Boney Borough, a total squaresville, to check out the properties of some phallic-looking plants. In the process, he trashes the bathroom on a train, hooks some students on to drugs, seduces a girl many times his junior, nearly burns down a hotel room, actually burns down a field, and runs afoul of the police.
He’s also our hero.
Of course, you can’t totally blame the Prof. Smoking joints is part of the work requirements of his job. As a researcher, he chronicles the effects of different plants on the human body. There are, however, some plants that deliver unforeseen consequences.
Meanwhile, a bald, scarred dude in sunglasses hangs in the periphery, popping up from time to time to remind you that is comic is more than just a stoner’s fantasy. His name is Johnny Scarhead, and he gets his own classic-comic inspired origin story. About this time, the story — which contained hints of the typical bizarreness you find in a comic about smoking hallucinogenic drugs — shifts into bizarre overdrive. The science fiction element, which had been window dressing, moves to the forefront as metaphysical concepts become more important than a drug addict’s struggle to fit in with a conservative society.
Without spoiling much, the main theme of the comic is introduced early on in Chapter Two. It’s about “Superorganism.” Basically, it’s how a colony of ants behaves more like a creature than an individual. It’s the sort of theme that’s been covered many times, from the non-fiction The Lives of A Cell by Lewis Thomas to one of the lesser known works of P. K. Dick, Galactic Pot-Healer.
The art is the sort of thing that comes to mind when you think “indie comic”… which is to say it looks like it was drawn by fourth grader. It employs simple symbolic imagery — a tiny Venn Diagram and overlapping faces being two of the recurring styles — and gets downright experimental once the characters start getting bad trips. Images devolve into nearly undecipherable chaos. Now, it’s not the sort of style that I like, necessarily … however, it was probably the only appropriate aesthetic for Bodyfinder. Art and story fit each other like Thai take-out and MSG.
Courtesy of ComixTalk’s Xaviar Xerexes, we now know the winner of the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. Envelope, please! The award goes to…
Joss Whedon’s SugarShock!
Longtime readers of The Webcomic Overlook may remember that I totally called it on the review that I posted at the ComixTalk site. Not that it was any huge surprise. This is the second year in a row that the top award went to a creator that was already well established in the print comic realm. Unlike last year’s winner, the Sam & Max online comic*, SugarShock! is actually pretty good. And why not? Whedon is a decent enough comic writer. And the Dark Horse Presents format just may be the one to follow for flash-based comics.
I was personally rooting for The Abominable Charles Christopher, though.
* – After pooh-poohing the 2007 Eisner winner in my review, readers have told me that Steve Purcell deserved the award and how great Sam & Max Hit The Road was. Perhaps. However, the award went to the digital comic, which, seriously, was not that great. It was basically a throw-away bonus comic that was bundled with the episodic video game.