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The Eisner Awards

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The 2009 Eisner Award nominees were announced last week.  For those who don’t spend their earnings on Spider-Man and American Splendor each week, The Eisners, named after trailblazing comic creator Will Eisner, are kind of the Oscars of comics.  Yes, The Oscars parallel sounds right; The Eisners are the unquestioned award of prestige for their medium, but their empirical relevance is the subject of endless debate.  The real fun of nominees being announced is armchairing the awards, deciding who you think should win, who you think will win, who you think was robbed, etc.  With the Oscars, the critical refrain remains pretty much the same year to year: “Some surprisingly good picks, mostly garbage- its just too political.”

Coming up with a similar tagline for The Eisners is not so simple.  Winners have ranged from the prominent mainstream (Batman, JLA, etc.) to the oddly obscure (the 1988 Best Single Issue/Single Story winner was Gumby Summer Fun Special #1, By Bob Burden and Art Adams), and so predicting nominations is difficult.  Timothy Callahan points out that the unpredictable nature of the awards can at least partly be ascribed to the rotating cast of judges- panel members are changed every year, making it impossible to say what the awards “favor.”  But plenty of annual honors (All Tomorrow’s Parties festival comes to mind) transfer curatory responsibilities each year and still retain a certain definite identity.  The problem with The Eisners, the reason why it’s nominations can lead to such head scratching, is that the awards seem unsure about what they are.

Roger Ebert wrote a great column about what it means to be a real critic, and in doing so cited a great speech from the movie Ratatouille:

But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends… Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

This is one approach to being a critic- fighting for the cause of underrepresented great art.  The Eisners have done that before, but don’t really do it as a rule.  Another approach is to celebrate the absolute best of the form, regardless of notoriety or the lack thereof.  But if this is the point of The Eisners, the awards have somehow managed to contradict themselves, as seen in the omission of Matt Fraction for best writer placed next to his multiple nominations for writing in other categories.  It is as if each category is put together independently, in a sealed off room, by a group that is barred all contact from any other judges.  And this is perfectly fine, except that it makes the “point” of the Eisner’s obscure, or perhaps non-existent.  People may decry The Oscars for being predictable, but this is precisely where its power comes from; People know what the Academy looks for, and cater to it.  Being the most prominent award in a medium puts one in the unique position of actually being able to shape the face of that medium.  Why squander that power by sending mixed signals?  The Oscars long ago realized their power; they have unfortunately decided to use it for evil.  But The Eisners could be a positive force in comics, using their influence to direct eyes to new, bold talent, but it would take a certain unity of extolling.


Written by Peter Kelly

April 19, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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