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Eisner Award Judges Talk About the 2013 Nominations Process

This week saw the release of the 2013 nominations for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Oscars of comics. You can see a complete list of the nominations by clicking here, and a breakdown of them by clicking here. The Eisner Award nominations are decided each year by a blue-ribbon panel of judges and here this year’s group reflect on what they read, what they enjoyed, and what they nominated with these comments on the process of judging.

2013 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Judges

ABOVE: The 2013 Eisner Judges at work. Left to right: (back) Frank Santoro, Adam Healy, Michael Cavna, Charles Hatfield; (front) John Smith, Katie Monnin

Michael S. Cavna
Michael S. Cavna

Award-winning writer, editor, and artist with The Washington Post

Some things, when they finally happen, exceed all expectation. Like talking storytelling with Neil Gaiman, or seeing Steve Ditko’s original Amazing Fantasy #15 art in person. To that “Luck-Into-It List,” I’m grateful that I can now add the experience of being an Eisner Awards judge. It was an honor to get the call; it was a downright privilege to serve. The “Eisner” name is still sprinkled with a certain magic, and I returned to the pages of his A Contract With God for inspiration when rising to the responsibility of helping judge the Eisner Awards. Everything about the judging exceeded expectation: the many informed e-chats that went into the culling of Hall of Fame candidates; the wealth of good and great comics that we got to “live with” for days and weeks; the deep knowledge and passion of all the participating judges; and the sense of commitment and camaraderie as we talked out our differing opinions, mutual respect and friendship strengthening through each stage.

Once I got to San Diego, the four-day stay was like combing a beach that kept yielding surprise treasures with each pass. (This, even after reading comics all year for a living.) After Day 1, I was struck by just how much quality work was created the previous year. By Day 2, I wondered how we’d ever cull all this quality by the long weekend’s end. By Day 3, I realized Jackie Estrada’s steady veteran navigation would get us into port just fine. All the while, what I most vividly gleaned was this:

  1. Creator-owned comics in all genres had a banner year in 2012—even against the sad, stark backdrop of the Kirby and Siegel/Shuster estates continuing  to wage rights-and-royalties battles. We’ve come a long way, Kirby.
  2. High-level webcomics are now so prevalent that the Eisners might consider splitting the category next year into longer and shorter form.
  3. The explosion of great non-Spandexed comics is being rightly recognized—and isn’t necessarily a pointed indictment of superhero comics. More, I think, it represents a profound creative growth in the industry beneath the sales figures.
  4. Adventure Time has become one superior “job creator.”
  5. Building Stories is the sort of landmark that perhaps only comes along once a decade. (All hail Ware.)
  6. An entirely new generation of women creators has answered the call in recent years—and the results enrich the entire industry.
  7. The comics retail industry needs better mechanisms for getting all this great work in front of more eyeballs.

Thank you for the pleasure and the privilege. I hope these Eisner Award picks lead many readers on a path to cool new discoveries. Because isn’t that, ultimately, what this is all about?


Charles Hatfield
Charles Hatfield

Professor of English at California State University, Northridge

Judging the Eisners was like going to Comics Heaven—if Heaven is a place where you work really hard, fence with a table full of smart, demanding, and dedicated people, and learn something about your own biases in the process! It was an all-out delight: a reading marathon, nonstop debate, and learning experience. I know it will influence from here on out what I think about the comics community and how I make and communicate my judgments of comics, literature, and art.

I had the benefit of working with as splendid a group of judges as imaginable. Our conversations taught me something about comics, about judgment and suspension of judgment, and about the importance of voting past my prejudices. Sure I had some disappointments along the way (there were certain comics whose cosmic awesomeness my fellow judges just somehow couldn’t see!), but I also got to read and reread a range of comics and books about comics that I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, on my own.

My sense is that, at some point, every one of us judges, as we voted around the table, voted against type—that is, against what people who know only a bit about us would expect us to vote. I know I did. Our four-day summit in San Diego required me to read past midnight each night and catch up on a lot of comics that I had not read before, whether out of stubbornness, neglect, or want of time and money. It was work! It was also the best kind of intellectual fun.

And boy did I learn: from Katie Monnin, about children’s reading needs and preferences; from John Smith, about Comic-Con and early comics shops; from Adam Healy, about the challenges of comic book retailing today; from Frank Santoro, about the impact of David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil and about vintage comic strips and Frank’s own teaching; and from Michael Cavna, about political cartooning and the world of journalism. From everyone! Wouldn’t have missed it!


Adam Healy
Adam Healy

Co-owner of Cosmic Monkey Comics in Portland, Oregon

It goes without saying that being chosen as an Eisner judge is an honor and a privilege. As a lifelong comics fan, it is gratifying to be recognized as someone who knows something about the field and to be allowed to participate in one of comics' greatest traditions. Being an Eisner judge is not just an honor, it is a responsibility that I took seriously. I was heartened to find that all the members of my group were thoughtful and articulate when it came to eliminating or including a book from consideration. It was a rare treat to take part in conversations with fellows I respect and admire about the past, present, and future of comics.

We were all forced to confront personal bias and rise above it. We don't have to like something, but we have a responsibility to appreciate what makes other people like it. This year, judging exposed me to an incredible amount of quality material. The limitations of the market were highlighted by the amount of high-level creative work that does not have a stable or reliable point of distribution. As a retailer, I have the advantage of utilizing multiple sources for books, but if I had to rely on Diamond exclusively, I and my customers would miss out on a lot of books that are not only artistically interesting but a great joy to consume. The quality and quantity of reprint material that came out in 2012 is humbling, and that was one of the hardest categories to whittle down.

It is only my opinion, but I felt superhero books were not heavily favored this year because the genre has grown stagnant. Superhero publishers are overly reliant on gimmicks, stunts, and events to drive sales, with mixed results. I felt that in the cases where creators with a proven track record were allowed to tell the stories they wanted to tell without editorial interference, we witnessed magic happening: Saga, Prophet, Fatale, Manhattan Projects, etc. I have also found the majority of superhero comics lately to have a dark and depressing tone, which is ill-suited to provide the fun escapism most of us expect from superhero books. This was the year of Building Stories, easily one of the most ambitious and amazing comic works of all time, so no matter how good a superhero story is, it comes off as quaint when compared to what may be the highwater mark of all comics to date.


Dr. Katie Monnin
Dr. Katie Monnin

Associate professor of literacy, University of North Florida, author of four books about teaching comics and graphic novels 

Being an Eisner judge is one of the most rewarding experiences of my career so far. It was also very challenging, for contemporary comics are working on an entirely new and highly respected literary platform in the 21st century. So many artists and writers are putting out such high-quality work that I often felt like I had to differentiate between something that would earn a 99% A+ and something that would earn a 98.5% A+. And we all know what happens when you round up. Fortunately, my fellow judges were superheroes of justice and expertise in our field. Together, we worked collaboratively to make some very close calls in order to nominate work that is indeed "Eisner worthy." My advice for anyone who feels overlooked is that you probably were not overlooked. This group did our research and worked extremely well together, spending hours and hours of time thinking through our selections and rationales. At the end of the day, this is good news for the comic book industry as a whole. We are currently putting out the best comic books and graphic novels that have ever been published. I don't know how history will refer to our generation of comic book work, but if I had my say it would be “the golden literary age."


Frank Santoro
Frank Santoro

Author of the graphic novel Storeyville, reviewer, educator

It was a great honor to be part of the Eisner Awards. The quality of the work published last year was incredible, and the committee had some very tough decisions to make. Fellow judges Michael Cavna, Charles Hatfield, Adam Healy, Katie Moonin, and John Smith and organizer Jackie Estrada were fantastic to work with. A big part of considering the material submitted is organizing it in a way so that we can all have access to it. That meant mailing boxes back and forth to each other during the months leading up to the final judging. Then there is the actual organizing of all the material in one place when making short lists for the final ballot. In the end it was like a good comics convention or a good comic book store where one can "talk comics" among trusted peers. It was an exciting atmosphere.

I feel as though we really are witnessing a sea change in the comics industry. It was a fascinating process and one that takes a tremendous amount of time and effort for everyone involved. I'm proud to have been a part of it.


John Smith
John Smith

Co-coordinator of the Attendee Registration Department, Comic-Con International: San Diego

When I was asked to be a judge for the Eisners, I was honored to be selected for such a prestigious group. To be involved in reading all the work submitted for judging, and there were a lot of submissions, to review all of the excellent artwork—what a daunting task! It started last fall with all of the judges signing in to a discussion group and getting to know each other and work on the Hall of Fame nominations. Jackie Estrada then began the process of mailing out submissions as they came in to the Comic-Con office. It was like getting a present in the mail. I would open the box excited to get at the books and start reading and reading and reading—lots of reading.

As the time came closer to meet in San Diego, I had read a large number of books. Then came the day to join the other judges in San Diego. I got there early and helped Jackie in the task of unpacking the books and placing them in the category groups on tables around the room. The other judges began arriving, and we could now put a face to the person we had been talking to on line. Then it was down to business, going over the lists for each category and trying to come up with five or six top picks for the ballots.

In the end we were really happy with our selections. As others have stated, some of the voting was very close. I made five new friends during our five days in the "war room,” and I would not have missed this experience for the world.