2019 Eisner Awards Judges' Comments
This year’s judges for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards reflect on the judging experience and on the quality of the submissions they judged.
(comics journalist; editor, Newsarama)
When I accepted the honor of becoming an Eisner judge, I came in with preconceived notions and a shortlist of who and what I thought deserving. Six months and hundreds of books later, I realized how many great comics are being produced today—and how many even “informed” people such as myself are missing out on.
After months of reading, the four-day meeting with the other judges helped me come to terms at the difference between good, great, and Eisner-worthy. Yes, some of my favorites didn't make it to the final ballot—but I'm sure that's the case for every one of my fellow judges.
I don't know if its factually accurate or not, but I believe this year's finalists had the most number of nominations for works that weren't officially submitted to the Eisners. I'm proud of that, in that not only were we able to bring in projects off the radar, but the other judges agreed that these surprise entrants were worthy enough to make it to the final ballot.
Thank you, comics creators, for reinvigorating me with the medium of comics. And thank you to Jackie, Jenn, Jared, Traci, Steven, and Jimmie for making the experience memorable.
(author/educator/scholar, Ohio State University)
To say I had no idea what I was getting myself into would be vastly to overestimate my powers of foreknowledge. I spent the weeks leading up to the judging reading all I could get my hands on, fondly imagining that by the time I got to San Diego I would be mostly done. That illusion was dashed the minute I walked into the Comic-Con conference room and saw how much remained to be digested. For four days my fellow judges and I read and deliberated and read some more, from morning until late into the night. At the end of it all, I can say with all honestly that we read at least part of everything that was submitted. And I can also say without hesitation that comics have never been stronger.
Our job would have been very different, I imagine, were the overall quality of the work not so high. There were several categories—teen, international, and nonfiction come immediately to mind—where we could have easily nominated 10 or more without feeling we were diminishing the pool in any way.
Some fellow older-timers in comics have mused that comics have become a diminished thing—that the age of giants is no more. There have been times in the past where I have been tempted into similar jeremiads. But no more. Serving as an Eisner judge convinced me that there are more giants than ever—they simply no longer tower above the field because the field has elevated itself to such heights that we take for “normal” what once we found dizzying. This is a good problem to have, and this is a wonderful time to be a comics reader. Thank you to all those who submitted comics to us for your amazing work, and congratulations to all the nominees!
(owner, The Dragon, Guelph, Ontario, Canada)
Being a judge for the Eisner Awards is a huge honor, and a huge amount of work! Before going into the judging weekend, I believed I had read a lot of comics; it is, after all, my full-time job. But I was amazed at just how many phenomenal books that were out there that I hadn't read. The Eisners put me in a position to uncover and discover works and voices that had slipped under my radar; Carolyn Nowak, Summer Pierre, and Aminder Dhaliwal are all new discoveries for me, whose work I will be following closely from now on. I have to say, there were so many amazing books, such a wealth of creativity in storytelling, so many impressive voices, that it was really difficult to narrow down the ballot. Even beyond what made it onto the ballot, there were a whole lot of books that just missed. 2018 really was an amazing year for comics!
One of my favorite parts of the process was collaborating with my fellow judges. I can see how this process could lead to some fiery disputes, but while we didn't always see eye to eye on everything (how could we, in a subjective medium?), we all recognized our shared love of comics and respected each others' expertise in our respective fields. It truly was a collaboration borne out of all of us being able to view works through each others' eyes.
This process really changed how I view the Eisner Awards. In the past, I definitely voted based on what I had read (which, as I learned this year, really isn't that much!), skipping some categories in which I didn't feel I had enough expertise to judge. But, from here on out, I will be using the Eisner ballot as a way to discover things I didn't know about and voting only on categories for which I have read all the entries. This year, it felt really good to complete my voting, knowing that I would be able to stand by my choices in comparison with the other nominees.
Thank you to Jackie and to my fellow judges for giving me a truly wonderful and memorable experience as an Eisner judge!
How do you begin to describe one of the most exhilarating and overwhelming things to be asked to do? There is no way to encapsulate in being an Eisner judge. From the moment that I got the email from Jackie asking me, it was a bucket list item that I never dreamed was on my bucket list. I thought that reading and reviewing comics for my website would help me get a leg up with reading, but I was sadly mistaken. I was lucky that I was able to get a good number of the books from Jackie ahead of time and that really did help at first, but as more and more books arrived I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. A few weeks before the judges were to meet in San Diego I ask the other judges if they were as overwhelmed as I was. To my relief I was not alone in that sentiment.
The weekend of judging was a four-day blur of reading as many comics possible and very little sleep but loving every minute of it all. All of the judged help point out books that we might have missed, and each one brought their own set of skill and knowledge that helped immensely.
The support that we all had for each and the true love of comics that filled the room as we tried to narrow down the 31 categories is what I remember the most. We always had each other’s backs, and there were never any huge disagreements, and that was truly impressive and inspiring.
I have two big takeaways from this experience. First, I am proud of the books that we nominated, and while there are always some personal favorites that didn’t make it to the final ballot, there were none of the nominations that didn’t deserve to be on the ballot. We always let the work speak for itself, and there was never any agenda beyond the quality of the submitted work. Second, I now have five great new friends who share this experience and our love of comics, and they helped me discover some of the best that the industry has to offer in 2018 and that is what I will cherish forever.
I want to first and foremost thank Jackie Estrada for not only asking me but persevering with all of the things that were going on in her personal life and was able to shepherd us though this truly thankless job. Also her two assistants Natalie and Ron who helped keep everything on track over the long weekend. And last but certainly not least: Jenn, Jimmie, Chris, Traci, and Jared for their knowledge and friendship and I couldn’t have done it without you all.
(comics creator, Amanda and Gunn, Bomb Queen)
My first thought when asked to judge the Eisner Awards was positive: after decades in the industry, I would contribute on a scale I could never imagine. My second thought was fear: I would be the only published comic creator and artist on the panel.
The judging process takes half a year, not a mere weekend as some might think. Selecting the Hall of Fame was our first trial, and it cemented the judging panel as a whole. Months later, at the San Diego Comic-Con offices, my remaining fear drifted away in a tide of friendship and respect for my fellow judges. The final trial of reading dozens of books within four solid days (once, until the office lights went out near midnight), solidified us like a well-oiled machine.
The process was refined through the infinity gauntlet of library, retail, journalism, history, and art. My fear of being the artist oddball was erased because we were all oddballs from every corner of the industry. We laughed when our secret ballots proved a near consensus, and we lamented when well-deserved titles had to run off in multiple tie decisions. The quantity and quality of comics in 2018 speaks volumes against the perception that comics are a dying, generic, boys’ club of cis white males. Being privy to such a wide berth of work was illuminating not only as a judge, but also as a creator of the comic medium, to which I am truly humbled.