Eisner Awards Judges' Comments
This year’s judges for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards reflect on the judging experience and on the challenges of the task in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
(librarian, comics reviewer)
Knowing several past Eisner judges and having read their “confessions” afterward, I did have an idea of what I was in for. But I didn’t expect 8 months of it! Since COVID-19 made group meetings impossible, boxes of books went flying cross-continent among the judges, and Zoom became the jury-rigged conference room of necessity. Gone was any time for dishwashing, cooking, media bingeing, (most) socializing—and of course other projects. It was comics for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nightcap from October into June. I also I didn’t realize how hard it would be to explain to comics-illiterate “muggles” what I was doing.
It was overwhelming and surprising. Yet some of the “greats” in the field underwhelmed me, while creators I’d never heard of knocked me out. The volume and enthusiasm surrounding submissions was incredible, from even tiny and self-publishers. We judges all had different backgrounds, which introduced each of us to new appreciations and cemented our camaraderie.
We all have heartfelt appreciation for Jackie Estrada and her helpers for improvising on the fly a completely revamped judging process that might not have been as enjoyable as a 4-day San Diego conclave but which did the job well. Actually, I felt lucky to be picked to be a judge while the virus raged, since piles of comics and graphic novels seemed like the best distraction in the world. And while it was challenging to work long distance, we judges did gain more “face time” for the books themselves. I renewed my appreciation for the format, seeing approaches I’d not encountered before. I came to understand more deeply how great art or a novel twist in design or plot can enhance and transform even the simplest story. Certainly, splendid art can make you almost believe (to borrow the White Queen’s phrase) in six impossible things before breakfast.
(comics journalist, TheComicBooks.com)
I was absolutely stunned when I was asked to be a judge for the Will Eisner Awards. Me? Really? Did I “rank” high enough in the comics community to be considered a judge for the Eisners? I still don't know the answer to that, but this was an honor and a privilege that I could not pass up. I did know there would be a humongous amount of reading with voting and debates over what books were worthy of being nominations.
Unique about this experience was doing the judging during a pandemic. In early March we were shut down, so not being able to go out and do anything meant I had time to read more books. Also, not being able to get together for a weekend also meant we were given more time than normal as we mailed books we still needed to read back and forth to each other. We had Zoom meetings to discuss things, but it would have been nice to get together for the weekend like other Eisner judges have experienced.
Congratulations to all the nominees. Thank you to the entire comics community for all the great work you do to make this a delightfully difficult task of picking which books to nominate. Thank you to my fellow judges for going on this crazy experience with me. Last but not least, extra special thanks to Jackie Estrada for inviting me to be a judge and all her (still continuing) hard work in putting together the awards.
(academic/author, L.A. Art Center College of Design, Print magazine)
"This is the first year I can remember where the Eisner Awards nominations came out and people didn't immediately pick up pitchforks to complain that their favorite book was snubbed and how that proved the judges were idiots." This recent tweet is from Augie De Blieck at Pipeline Comics. It would've been funny enough purely on its own, but I was privileged enough to get a very special kick out of it as one of this year’s six unusual gang of "idiots" who'd just devoted eight months—that’s as in "months"—of our lives selecting those nominees.
We diligently scrutinized well over 1800 entries, in 31 different categories. And with the utmost conscientiousness and loving care, we meticulously refined that list down to around 180. And now, thanks to Augie’s tweet, I'll always chuckle a bit louder than usual whenever I hear accounts of those folks with their pitchforks. And to be kind and charitable, I’ll try to think of them by simply using two other "i" words: "ill-informed.”
(comics writer/novelist, Proof, Rasputin, The Yard)
When I agreed to serve as an Eisner judge I had no real understanding of what I was signing on to do. (And I had never heard of Zoom.) I’ve voted in the Eisner’s every year since I became eligible to do so, and I kind of assumed the judges just threw their suggestions in a hat and everybody winnowed down the list that came out of that hat until there was a handful of nominees in each category. Eight months later, I’ve read more comics than I imagined was possible in a single year, discovered new artists and writers to follow, and made some new friends.
I am incredibly impressed by my fellow judges (and I will miss discussing comics with them on a regular basis), and I am incredibly proud of the list of nominees we put together. This was an intense and exhaustive period of reading and evaluating (and arguing about) everything that came out last year. Tossing names in a hat would have been much easier. (Maybe I can use that hat to cover my quarantine hair.)
(journalist/blogger/podcaster, Comic-Con volunteer)
If I would have told my ten-year-old self I was going to be a judge for the Eisner Awards later in life, he would have laughed and said "I don't believe you," and as of writing this I still couldn't believe that I was a judge for Awards.
From start to finish I read so many books that I think a lot of people, both fans and professionals, would have never picked up, never heard of before or would have judged based on the cover alone, and that is sad because they are missing out on really great books and new series.
As many of the previous judges would agree on, this was not an easy task, and this year was no exception—and then came the Coronavirus. We all spent more time reading the books and material, sending them out to one another, online video meetings, and lots of emails and we all bonded together in one way or another. I not only learned a lot from my peers but I also learned a lot about what it means to be a judge for this prestigious award and how much time and effort it takes to do this every year.
To Jackie Estrada, thank you so much for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity and living out a childhood dream of being a part of the Eisner Awards one way or another. To my fellow judges, it was an honor and privilege to meet you, work with you, and learn from you all. My only regret is that I didn't get to meet all of you in person and I hope we can sometime down the road.
To the judges for next year Eisners and many years to come, I have this to say to you: Enjoy the moment and make every moment count.
(retailer, Casablanca Comics, Portland, ME)
Upon being invited to be a judge for the 2020 Eisner awards, I was honored but mostly excited about attending San Diego Comic-Con. I began my goal of reading Eisner-worthy comics for an hour a day. This, in itself, was engrossing and rewarding. Then, our world turned upside down. I acknowledged at the beginning of March that I should rethink the trip to California as I am immuno-compromised. Reading comics became a more earnest and intense process since I would not be present for the judging weekend. Shortly thereafter, virtually everything shut down, and the in-person weekend was rescheduled and then cancelled.
Through our Zoom meetings, I enjoyed meeting and beginning friendships with the other judges. Jackie was remarkably patient with all of us, as we were alternately confused and frustrated by our adjusted judging process. All told, the process comprised eight months and hundreds of hours of reading everything from individual comics to graphic novels to digital comics. What a wealth of diverse and high-quality material!
I will always remember and cherish the opportunity to discuss our thoughts and appreciate everyone's amazing points of view. I look forward to meeting Jackie, Martha, Michael, Simon, Alex, and Jamie in person and further discussing their favorite comics.