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Unpacking the 2014 Eisners - Part 1

Eisner awardsThe nominations for this year’s Eisner awards have been announced, and as they sometimes manage they’ve done an excellent job of highlighting exactly how vibrant and diverse the market is.  Note, by the way that when I use ‘diverse’, I just mean ‘varied’, not ‘reflecting diversity’, because, comics. Progress is happening on that front, but that’s a different discussion.

There are one hundred and sixty nominations across thirty categories covering traditional print comics, web comics, comic journalism, academic works and US versions of international material (the Eisners are nothing if not US-centric). The big names in comic publishing are well represented, though DC’s Vertigo-based glory days seem increasingly remote, but there’s also a decent showing from far less well-known names such as British publisher SelfMadeHero, whose output I suspect I’ll discuss on a future occasion.

With this many nominees I’m not going to pretend to have read them all, but of the things I have read, here are a few that I thought were worthy of comment.

Hawkeye_Vol_4_11Hawkeye #11; Pizza Is My Business (Marvel Comics) - Best Single Issue or One-Shot.  Marvel’s launch of the current Hawkeye series took a lot of people by surprise.  That it went on to be their most critically-applauded book in years took everyone by surprise. Writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja have taken a perennially second-string character and made him, well okay, they’ve kept him pretty much second-string, but they’ve done it with wit, charm, quirkiness and style while actually telling a great story along the way.

In fact, for all the differences in execution, you can draw a line directly from Hawkeye to more recent Marvel launches of solo character books such as Black Widow and She-Hulk (and I have high hopes for Elektra too). These are all books where the stories are about the characters, not about stick figures pressed into the service of yet another uninspiring plot. Anyway, you may have heard of this issue - it’s the one told entirely from the point of view of a dog. There are two collections of the series available to date - #11 is in volume two.  Volume three is published next month. (Edited to fix volume info.)

Sex Criminals (Image) - Best New Series, Best Ongoing Series, plus it’s part of Matt Fraction’s Best Writer body of work. The first collection of this series is just out and I’m going to review it shortly, so I won’t dwell on it too much here except to note that it has one of the most distinctive premises you’re ever likely to find, very well executed - I’m not surprised to see it here.

W&hWatson and Holmes - Best New Series, Best Single Issue or One-Shot (#6). Let’s just get this conversation out of the way, shall we?

“What?  Another modern-day re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes?  Seriously?”.

“Yes, I’m afraid that’s exactly what it is.”

“So what’s the thing about this one, then?”

“Watson and Holmes are black and it’s set in contemporary Harlem.”

New publisher New Paradigm Studios only distributes its books digitally, and Watson and Holmes was its first offering. Industry veterans Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi (Ah, Rick, I’ve loved you since the Cloak and Dagger days…) delivered what was initially planned as a four part series that ended up as an ongoing.  After issue four the creative team changed, and I confess I haven’t read the Single Issue-nominated #6 yet, but I’ve read a lot of Sherlock stuff over the years, much of which I’d happily use to mop up cat sick. This isn’t in that category.

We appear to be in a bit of a golden age for Sherlockian ‘re-imaginings’, and Watson and Holmes’ initial run maintains that trend.  Presented as more a pairing of equals than the classic relationship, and grounded in a world of failed internet start-ups and inner city gangs, it feels fresh and different, where Sherlock and Elementary play up a little too strongly to the caricature of Holmes (as distinct from the Doyle original). I’m worried that the change of creative team suggests uncertainty in its future, though it is #6 that’s got the Best Single Issue nod, so maybe I worry unduly.

The Wake  (DC/Vertigo) - Best Limited Series, plus individual nods for all its creative team. I’m just going to put this out there - any award The Wake is up for, The Wake should get. Yes, Saga is amazing. Yes, Sex Criminals makes you remember why you ever thought of comics as fun, despite decades of DC trying to suck every last trace of enjoyment out of your comic-reading career. Yes, all of the other nominees are very worthy. But The Wake is outstanding.

On the surface, the story of scientists investigating a newly-discovered marine life form, underneath, The Wake is so much more. Scott Snyder has created a tale that’s by turns thrilling, eerie, cryptic and suspenseful, with an epic scope which Sean Murphy illustrates almost cinematically.  This is like Vertigo back in its glory days. I’m not usually a gushy critic. In fact I’m about as far as you can get from a gushy human being, but The Wake makes that a hard position to hold to.

LegacyMike Del Mundo - Best Cover Artist. Truthfully, this year of all years, all the Cover Artist nominees deserve to win - they all produce striking, beautiful art month in and month out and in a world where too many covers actually look pretty much like that Teen Titans cover, we need to cherish them all. But I’m going to single out Mike Del Mundo’s work on X-Men: Legacy for a couple of reasons:

One, its sheer variety - every cover looks unique and at the same time completely arresting, which surely is what has to be the success criteria for a comicbook cover, and; two, their synergy with the story that Simon Spurrier was telling. For an artist who isn’t also responsible for the interior art, even less for defining the actual look of the featured characters, that’s remarkable. Del Mundo’s covers feel like an organic part of the issue, rather than just a wrapper.

One that got away: There’s a glaring omission in the Comic-Related Periodical/Journalism category - the absence of Comics Alliance is baffling.

Having been closed and sold off by AOL in the middle of 2013, the site then came back stronger than ever. Comics Alliance is resolute in pursuing a journalistic, analytical and critical approach to comics, and is a standard-bearer for a more diverse industry. For Comic Book Resources to be nominated, and The Comics Journal essentially to be nominated twice while Comics Alliance goes unrecognised in the award for Best Journalism beggars belief. 

I may yet come back to dig around in the less mainstream categories, but if you’re looking for some starting needles in the haystack of nominees, you could do worse than these.

Jon Morgan has spent far too much of the last four decades reading comics, which he seems to think means he can now tell other people what he thought of them. He also occasionally mentions them on Twitter (@Morganised).