Judges’ Comments on the 2014 Eisner Award Nominations

The Eisner Awards judges met in early April in San Diego to pore through thousands of submissions in 30 categories and arrive at a handful of nominees for each. Here are their comments on the judging process and results.

Voting for the awards is held online, and the ballot is now available at www.eisnervote.com.

All professionals in the comic book industry are eligible to vote. The deadline for voting is June 13. The results of the voting will be announced in a gala awards ceremony on the evening of Friday, July 25 at Comic-Con International.


2014 Eisner Award Judges

Standing (l to r): James Romberger, Christian Lipski, Lee Oeth, and William Foster; seated: Kathy Bottarini and Jenny Robb.

Photo by Jackie Estrada

Kathy Bottarini (owner, Comic Book Box, Rhonert Park, CA)

I am always on the lookout for an array of product for my store, and I try to read an assortment of titles to get a handle on what the content is. I love being surprised by a story, and I love when a story makes me laugh, or cry, when it hits me on a human level. 2013 was a phenomenal year for those personal stories, and Jason Walz’s Homesick in particular was such a beautiful story for me, so I’m glad it made it on the ballot.

When I said yes to being an Eisner judge, Will Eisner was one of my heroes, and I wanted to do my best to honor what he and the awards mean to me. After having said yes to being a judge, I began writing notes to remind me of so much of the material. Even being aware that there would be a mountain to read, I was still completely overwhelmed. We were greeted in our hotel’s Tower Room with tables piled high with graphic novels, comics and other periodicals. The room was available to us 24 hours and we read like maniacs! Our tears bled four colors! I loved being with the other judges—we all had different backgrounds and artistic sensibilities, and we were all bonded by comics. We quickly learned each others strong suits, and we had specific categories that we each helmed, but we always took time to help each other. I love that I walked away from this experience with five new friends.

William Foster (author; professor of English at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Connecticut)

All my friends and colleagues were convinced that my trip to San Diego was going to be nothing but a pleasure cruise. I knew differently. It was my opportunity to meet with a group of distinguished colleagues, each with unique knowledge in a particular area of comic books. It's hard to explain, but I felt comfortable with them even before I met them. This was not to be a hostile geek fest, by a amiable meeting of minds, to determine which artists, writers, and publishers were to be nominated for the coveted Eisner.

Jackie Estrada explained the selection process and we went to work reading and discussing the impressive collection of entries right away.

While getting to know each other was key to our work, the key consideration was of an omnipresent completion deadline. The clock never stopped ticking. We worked hard and long, and talked about every comic subject under the sun. I loved it.

We used the breaks for meals to continue our assignments and to question each other about the award categories and various artists, and there was a surprising easy flow to the conversations.It was a terrific experience, we worked hard to be fair, and I feel good about the results we reached.

Christian Lipski (online comics journalist and reviewer)

This may have been the case for judges past, but it was a challenge to single out a mere handful of nominees per category. I'd like to think that the quality of the books and creators was at least partly responsible. It was encouraging to see so many candidates from smaller publishers and self-published works. That said, some books and creators may not have been considered simply because their publishers did not submit them. We suggested several on our own, and added others to different categories, but I'm sure many were not seen. I'd like to remind publishers to make sure they take the time to review their catalogues for outstanding examples.

From discussions that the judges had over the weekend, it seems to me that it is time for the "Webcomic/Digital Comic" category to be amended. Digital comics that are published on a regular schedule and available for download from a publisher have little in common with comics that are consumed on a web page and should be judged alongside their hard-copy siblings. There are doubtless a number of webcomic creators who were daunted by competing with digital publishers. If future judges agree, I hope to see "Best Webcomic" stand alone among next year's categories. 

The experience of selecting the Eisner nominees was in turns exhilarating and brutal. We put in 16-hour days at times, but we were reading the best comics of the year. My fellow judges were a pleasure to work with, and communication was easy, even when there was disagreement. The evaluation process made coming up with a list of potential nominees easier and helped us narrow down the mountain of worthy entrants. In all, it was the oppprtunity of a lifetime, and I'm proud of the decisions we made.

Lee Oeth (member of the Comic-Con International board of directors)

I was excited when I was asked to be an Eisner judge. I love comics, I've been reading them for my entire life. I judged for the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award so I had some idea what was involved. I knew this was going to be a daunting task.

I knew it when I was asked to do it. I knew it when I saw the recommendation letters come in from the publishers. I knew it when I saw the boxes and boxes of books arrive at the Comic-Con offices. I knew it when I took home stacks of books to read on a weekly basis. I knew it when I helped move the many boxes of books to the judging room. I knew it when I unloaded those boxes on tables in the judging room and could see that we could use twice as many tables. I knew it when my back started hurting from unloading so many comics. (Comic books aren't heavy, right?) But I didn't really know it until all the comics were spread out throughout the room, and all the reading I had done so far barely made a dent in what I still had to read.

Judging isn’t casual reading; you're examining the art, the layout, the story, the writing, the design, the inking, the painting, the lettering . . . This was some of the hardest work I've ever done and it was "just reading." It was tough to read a great comic that I'd never even heard of before and then only be able to discuss it a little bit before having to move on to the next book.

It was a privilege to work with people whose knowledge of comics and comics history made me feel like a dilettante. All the judges brought an area of expertise to the table that helped us select our nominations. We frequently had differing opinions, but I was often surprised when our rankings matched.

I came away even more convinced that comics are an artform worthy of celebration. Worthy of much greater respect than they get. Worthy of scholarship, museums, and archives. Worthy of your time.

Jenny Robb (curator of the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum)

Serving as an Eisner judge was an intense and amazing experience. It was also exhausting, difficult, and at times frustrating.  Exhausting because of the sheer volume of work we needed to read and evaluate; difficult because of the tough decisions that we had to make; and frustrating because there was inevitably some excellent work that didn’t get recognized. It was also an incredibly rewarding experience to work with Jackie Estrada and the other judges, none of whom I had met before, to successfully complete such a herculean and meaningful task. 

When I saw the final list of entries in all 30 categories (38 pages! Single-spaced!) and again when I saw the mountains of books laid out on the tables in the “Tower Room,” I despaired of ever reaching the goal. How could we possibly whittle them down to only a handful for each category? After putting in long days reading and narrowing down the lists to the top 20 or so in each category, we spent a final marathon day of voting. In the end, I believe the finalists we selected in each category reflect the excellent and varied work being produced in the field of comics today.   

I came away from the judging with a great respect for Jackie and all the hard work she puts into the awards, and for my fellow judges, who taught me a great deal about comics in the four days we spent together. In the future, I hope further consideration is given to the issue of digital comics and how they should be categorized.  One suggestion that was discussed amongst the judges was to have a separate category for webcomics that doesn’t include digital comic books published and made available for download. The latter would be judged along with print comic books in the Best Continuing Series, New Series, and Limited Series, as appropriate.  

I’m incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to serve as a judge. One of the best parts of the experience, aside from making some wonderful new friends in the world of comics, was discovering so many amazing comics and comics-related works that I otherwise might never have picked up to read.   

James Romberger (comics artist; reviewer/critic)

On what was only my second trip to California ever, I was happy to finally meet our host Jackie Estrada, and then my fellow judges and I were thrust into a large conference room stacked with comics and graphic novels, many of which I had never seen before. There was no time for R&R; the four days were mostly taken up by the effort to read as much as possible of what was put before us. I would even awaken in the wee hours in my room and take up reading again! All six of us had widely diverging tastes, with the result that every vote we took provoked a different response from each individual—in fact, we laughed that a consensus vote was so rare that it happened only a few times. But, we were bound by our mutual love for the medium and found some common ground in our choices.

The two traditionally major comics publishers DC and Marvel unfortunately chose to represent themselves with largely redundant product, due to their reliance on well-worn, corporate-owned character/properties. However, I was impressed with Image, which produced a surprising variety of well-written, well-drawn, and well-colored creator-owned works in inexpensive collected editions, and with the high quality of the submissions from Fantagraphics, as well as with a slate of intriguing graphic novels from book-trade publishers. As the artform matures, it becomes clear that the diversity that defines progressive human society is also present in comics' creative and audience demographics, and our nominations reflect that fact.

There is no Eisner category currently for the very vital and innovative minicomics, small-press books, and zines from alternative publishers, many of which are now excluded from Diamond's distribution network, so they weren't submitted by their publishers. I had brought a few items with me, as had others of the judges, and if they could be shown to fit an existing category, they were considered. Several of these made it into the final selection. I hope that next year a minicomic category will be added.

Click here to read more about the 2014 nominations and click here for a complete list of the nominations.