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Reflections on the 2022 Eisner Awards Nominations Process

This year’s judges for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards describe the judging experience, and administrator Jackie Estrada comments on the judges’ selections.

Barbara Randall Kesel

(comics writer/editor)

When the deluge of nominations for the Eisner awards comes in, there's a certain amount of early sifting that happens. From personal recommendations to Top Ten lists, the creative year has already started to separate the standouts from the fun-but-unmemorable offerings. This year though, the good layer in several of the categories was way too many nominations deep: judges were tasked with choosing five titles per category (but we could have six), and it's a fantastically hard process to leave some of your favorites below the cutoff. Sighs all around. 

 The Venn diagram of this year's judges had a lot of interesting areas of nonoverlap, but we made a good team. "Good cooperation skills" was one of the overlap zones. And months of reading. We could all read anything on the list; we all had smaller categories we had to cover. We read So Many Books from boxes mailed to us, traded at conventions, delivered between us, or from our local libraries (Thank you, LACOPL!). We all shared Strong Opinions. It was awesome.

As graphic novels shove single-issue comics out of the way, the amount of reading involved in judging expands along with the bigger spines. Comparing any two graphic novels gets harder, especially when they have different audiences in mind. It's not comparing apples to oranges, it's comparing apples to Bigfoot statues. They don't fit the same "good" ruler. In my case, I scored each as much against the scale it created for itself as against very different titles.

I looked for the universal—as comics into a fully realized medium, which titles show excellence of the form while still "inviting" new readers? Which ones brought a fresh eye, a specialized skill, or an intriguing POV to their work? Which ones, if we pointed the list to someone outside of comics, would say "Look what we can do!"

Of course, that also means that we're idiots for not including [your favorite title here] on the final list. Sorry about that.

Kim Munson

(comics historian/curator)

Last year, when my book was nominated in the Best Academic/Scholarly Book category, I was both shocked and thrilled. This kind of recognition is like water to a thirsty plant for creative people. When Jackie approached me to be a judge, I was surprised and nervous. Still, I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to give this same recognition to other creative people.

I was happy to participate in the Hall of Fame process and see pioneering women cartoonists Rose O’Neill and Marie Duval finally get the recognition they deserve. And during the judging I read so many great books in my field and books I would never select myself that really opened my eyes to the vast range of excellent comics-related material produced in a year.

Thanks go to Jackie Estrada for shepherding us through this bewildering process, to Ron McFee for helping us keep track of all the books, and to my fellow judges, who inspired me with their thoughtful enthusiasm. I would also like to thank the comics studies community, which built a vital new field of study and is constantly pushing the envelope with new research and theories.

Rik Offenberger

(comics journalist, publisher, writer/editor)

It was an exciting experience, to say the least. I love comics. I have worked in every aspect of the comic book business, and thought I would know what to expect. I also read a lot of comics, both mainstream and indie comics. Reading 2 or 3 comics a day clocks me in at about 60–90 comics a month. I thought this would be easy. It was nothing like I had imagined. 

I had no idea how many comics were produced in 2021. The number of submissions was staggering. It was a lot of reading. Unexpectedly, many of my favorite comics did not get submitted by their publishers. The experience was a lot more intense than I expected, and I loved it. Not everything I voted for made the final cut, but one thing I am sure of is that we made a fair and honest assessment based on what was published and submitted in 2021. 

I want to thank Jackie for inviting me to be part of the judging panel, and thank my fellow judges for their insights and general good nature as we argued over which comics we liked best and why.

I am also sure that our nominations will never please everyone, but we did give every comic a fair chance and an honest appraisal. Now it’s out of our hands and up to the voters to choose the 20021 Eisner winners. Good luck to all the nominees.

Jameson Rohrer

(graphic novel librarian)

I was surprised when Jackie sent me the invitation to join the team for judging the Eisners, yet I was honored to have been chosen and excited about the prospect of reading comics in all its forms intensely for several months. I’d been following the Eisner Awards for years as a librarian, so I was somewhat familiar with many of the categories, but some of the categories I was least familiar with ended up being some of my favorites. The sheer amount of quality publishing at all levels of the comics industry is incredible to see, and the judging team did an excellent job of showcasing that quality and variety out there. The process of narrowing down the best five or six titles in a particular category was challenging at times, but a worthwhile endeavor that allowed us to discuss our differences of opinion, a process I thoroughly enjoyed since we come from different professional and personal reading backgrounds.

The experience allowed me to dive into the world of comics and visual storytelling at a level that I have always wanted to but never found the time for, and for that I am eternally grateful to Jackie and Comic-Con for the opportunity. I was able read an incredible spectrum of stories and I will always be able to look back at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with sheer joy and admiration.

Congratulations to the nominees and all of the people involved in the comics community. The work and sheer dedication poured into the stories we got to read made it unbelievably challenging to narrow down the categories to five or six titles, and for that I am grateful. Please continue to push the boundaries of what comics and storytelling can look and feel like!

Aaron Trites

(comics retailer)

Participating in the Eisners made me a better comic shop owner. I went into the judging thinking that I had read a lot and that I would be more than prepared. Reader, I was not prepared. It was a lot of reading. A truly staggering amount of reading. But in the course of all that reading, I discovered so many incredible comics and creators. Titles like Wolvendaughter, The Parakeet, Love: The Mastiff, In., and The Columbus Scribbler hadn't been on my radar, but they were some of the absolute best things I read this year. I've already recommended a ton of these books to customers, and started stocking even more of them in the shop. 

Running a relatively new comic shop in the middle of a pandemic has been challenging, to say the least, but being invited to participate in the Eisner Awards and contribute to the greater comic community in this way has been so unbelievably rewarding, validating, and uplifting. I'm thankful to have been included in the company of such knowledgeable and passionate judges—the personal stories shared over dinners are just as memorable to me as the best books we read. And extra special thanks are due to Jackie Estrada for her guidance, her time, her wealth of incredible Comic-Con memories, and her ability to keep our ship on course in a sea of comics. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

Jessica Tseang

(international comics historian, pop culture speaker) 

It is an incredible honor to be chosen as a judge for this year's Eisner Awards, as it is often referred to as the comics industry's equivalent of the Academy Awards. Several past judges warned me of the near-insurmountable workload that awaited me, but I was undeterred. I love a good challenge and committed myself to pursuing this task with the same passion and dedication I have always had for comics. I knew it would be a lot, but I looked forward to every moment.

Every creative work submitted had beauty and excellence in it. Many told stories allowing readers of all demographics to feel seen, and others reminded us of how the human imagination is limitless. I could tell a great number of comics had a team that poured their heart and soul into it, and narrowing down submissions felt like choosing your favorite child. This same feeling carried over to the Hall of Fame Judges’ Choices and nominees. 

I am blessed to have been placed in this prestigious group with other judges who are as knowledgeable as they are amiable. Having smooth teamwork was a key to success for us to arrive at our final list of nominees. A huge congratulations to all of the nominees! And to those who preferred recognition, please know to never give up, as you may not have been as far off as you thought. 

Huge thank you to Jackie Estrada. She always kept us on point during our main weekend together, answered any question we had happily, and was open to listening to all of our discussions. It is a reflection of the temperament needed for this type of work. Not to mention, I am in awe of the incredible memory she has of information from all past submissions, nominees, and winners.  Ron McFee, you are irreplaceable, for you helped us organize and locate books with ease. Natalie Powell, you made sure that we were fed and hydrated (on the weekend no less), knowing that we would be working up an appetite! 

This was an amazing journey, and I feel incredibly blessed to have met Jackie, and her team, along with the new friendships that were created. 

Jackie Estrada

(Eisner Awards Administrator)

Each year, the Eisner Awards judges are chosen in the fall so that they can start reading comics and graphic novels with the various categories in mind. At first, their reading is guided by “Best of the Year” lists, and then submissions from publishers start arriving in January. All submissions must be received by March 31, and the judges are kept up to date on what has arrived, via copies of the submission letters and emails. To lighten the reading burden a bit, judges volunteer to become “screeners” for some of the categories, narrowing down the reading lists for the other judges to a bit less daunting number of works.

This year the in-person judging was held at the end of April. A conference room in the Comic-Con offices was set up with areas devoted to each of the Eisner categories, so that the six judges could easily find works in each category. They spent three days discussing the categories, narrowing down the lists for each one, reading, and then voting to choose the nominees. The started with a list of over 2500 entries in 32 categories, which they narrowed down to a total of 168 nominations.

What the judges arrived at is a remarkable slate of works and creators, providing a snapshot of the state of comics and graphic novels in 2021. In looking over the nominee list, I found an incredibly wide range of subject matters, storytelling techniques, and media used—something that would have delighted Will Eisner. For instance, the subject matters include such diverse topics as allergies, animals in combat, surfing, the Chinese one-child policy, partying mermaids, bipolar mothers, summer factory work, the Black Panther Party, exercise regimens, and the life of Bela Lugosi, to mention just a few.

And in doing some research, I discovered how truly international the nominations are, with more than 85 nominations for creators from 26 countries. European nations boasting multiple nominees include France, Spain, Italy, and Belgium (plus one each from Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands, Croatia, and Romania). Japan leads Asian countries with 12 nominees, but Korea, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia are also represented. Brazil leads in South America with 7 nominees, along with creators from Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela. When it comes to English-speaking countries, Canada has 11 nominees, the UK has 8, and both Australia and New Zealand are represented. Interestingly, all of the nominees in the Best Painter/Multimedia category are from outside the U.S., with artists from Italy, England, Argentina, Belgium, Romania, and Japan.

I’d like to thank the judges for all their hard work, and I encourage readers to use the nominations list as guide to their comics, graphic novel, and webcomics reading.