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Judges’ Comments on the 2016 Eisner Awards Nomination Process

The nominations for the 2016 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced on April 19. (click here for more info). The nominees were chosen by a six-person panel of judges, who met for three days in San Diego earlier in the month. Here they share their thoughts on the judging experience and nomination process. The panel consists of journalist/reviewer Brian Doherty, comics writer/editor Danny Fingeroth, retailer Jason Grazulis (BSI Comics, Metairie, LA), librarian Jason M. Poole (Webster Public Library, Webster, NY), Comic-Con International board member Natalie Powell, and academic/scholar Carol Tilley (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

Comic-Con International Presents the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards

Left to right: Jason Poole, Natalie Powell, Jason Grazulis, Brian Doherty, Carol Tilly, and Danny Fingeroth. Photo: Jackie Estrada

Brian Doherty

The quantity of interesting, varied, high-quality comics coming out these days is more than anyone who doesn't treat reading them as a full-time job could get to experience. (And then he'd face the problem of needing another full time job or two to afford them.) It was inspiring to consider the condition of the comics creator in the context of judging for the Eisners—the variety of smart, savvy publishers, the ability to more or less self-publish and still find an audience, the sheer range of stories you can tell and find an audience for in graphic storytelling. While no creator is guaranteed finding the audience they deserve, the possibilities for it feel enormous from the perspective of this 47-year-old fan and critic. 

The nature of the voting process more or less requires that nominees hit a strong sweet spot in two-thirds of the judges, so there is no way for this process, or any process that must select five or six category nominees from the wide world of quality comics, to recognize everything of value. But by including judges from a variety of different sectors of the industry, the Eisner process hopefully ensures that an intelligent consensus arises for the honoring. But never for a moment think any such award process can encompass all the worthwhile graphic storytelling out there. The Eisner nominees should be seen as signposts in the world of quality comics, not a complete map.

Danny Fingeroth

Judging the Eisners was a unique experience, to say the least. I’m not sure when in my life I will ever again get flown to California in order to spend four days in a room with a bunch of smart people discussing and arguing comics, and reading lots and lots and lots of them. It was great having that time with the other judges—a shared, intense experience at its best, at least as far as I was concerned.

One simple yet ingenious aspect of the judging was that we didn’t just vote “yes” or “no” on whether a given comic or graphic novel should be a nominee. We used a 1-to-5 system, where 5 was for items we thought had to be nominated and 1 was for items we felt should never be nominated. Then the total points granted by all the judges were counted and submissions ranked that way. This enabled judges to give nuanced votes as opposed to just straight up or down, so we didn’t have to “love” or “hate” an entry (although there were plenty that we did), but could express generally positive or negative feelings about it. I think that gave the judging process important nuance.

Comic-Con International Presents the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards
Jason Grazulis

Being an Eisner judge was an incredible honor and experience. While the shear volume of submissions seemed overwhelming at times, it offered me the opportunity to read books that normally would have passed me by. I was especially fond of the International category books. There were so many talented creators in all the categories, and cutting them down to a few was both heartbreaking and thrilling. Aside from incredible books, I got to work beside some amazing people that poured their hearts into the process. A big thank you to Jackie Estrada for being our fearless leader and keeping us going on those late nights.

Jason Poole

Being an Eisner judge was one of the biggest honors—and biggest challenges—of my career so far. You learn a lot about yourself when you're under that kind of pressure, and the most important thing I learned was that I can trust my judgment even when I don't have as much time to make decisions as I'd like. Years of reading, writing, discussing, and promoting comics went into the selections I made, and that is a foundation that I now feel much more confident standing upon. 

I shared this amazing experience with five other judges who were intelligent, thoughtful, well-rounded, and well-informed, and who had excellent senses of humor. It feels incredible to be a part of a team that nominated a record-breaking number of women and works by and about women—and for that to be acknowledged and praised by the media. The Eisner Awards should reflect what's going on in every corner of the comics world, and I believe that we judges did an excellent job representing the best of it. It makes me sad to think that the distances between us will make it unlikely that we will all interact face-to-face in a similar manner, but I suppose it makes the judging weekend that much more special. I would like to extend an extra special set of thanks to Jackie Estrada, who facilitates these judging weekends year after year and hasn't gone insane, for her patience with my many questions and concerns and stresses throughout the experience. She is truly among the classiest of the class acts.

Comic-Con International Presents the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards
Natalie Powell

It's a pretty daunting task reading so much material, and reading beforehand was very helpful due to the sheer volume of submissions. There's a lot of talent out there, and you want to give everything a thorough read (as much as possible), but there are some titles that just stay with you. I think all of us were very conscientious about the choices we made.

For me, it was how someone would laugh or groan while reading something and wanting to know what was being read and whether we shared the same perspective. There were disagreements, of course, and some very passionate arguments. A case was made for revisiting some of the selections; however, we all seemed to be very sure in our choices. I was more surprised that we were able to agree on the final selections coming from very different perspectives.

Carol L. Tilley

I am extraordinarily proud to be part of the Eisner Awards jury that nominated a record number of women creators. In addition we recognized such diverse titles as a story by two First Nations creators, a provocative story about racism in the comics industry, a comic about child soldiers in Africa, and a collection of strips about Alzheimer's disease, as well as scholarly publications on topics ranging from graphic medicine to boys love manga to black cartoonists and comics.

My recommendations as a judge were based on months of reading many of the thousands of comics, books, and journalism about comics, and scouring lists of top comics from 2015: I read a lot. The intensive reading I did for the Eisner Awards followed on a near-lifetime of reading comics and more than a decade of studying and teaching about comics. My recommendations were also shaped by the nearly 50 hours of deliberation my fellow judges and I engaged in during a long weekend in San Diego. All told, it was exhausting, exhilarating, and immensely rewarding.

Although some folks in looking at the nominations list may feel we were something of an activist jury, we weren't. We simply wanted to recognize the best works among a vast and disparate pool of comics and related texts. Did we get it all right? No. I can't imagine any jury does or can. Still, I hope we can celebrate the growing diversity and vitality of this industry. I believe the comics medium and its creators are rich enough that everyone, anyone, can find the stories and characters and styles they value.