High Five! Comics

…And Justice For All: Brendan Fixes The Eisner Awards

Posted on: April 8, 2010

The 2010 Eisner Award nominations have been released, and if you’re like me, you probably had a mixed reaction, something along the lines of: “Hooray, comics I like! Boo, comics I didn’t read!”

…which is why you and I shouldn’t be chosen to hand out the industry’s most prestigious and coveted award: we’re amateurs! We’ve got way too many things going on in our lives that prevent us from reading all the comics we wish we could. I mean, right now I’m finishing a masters thesis, sculpting the minds of impressionable college students, and preparing a move across a state that’s bigger than most European countries, and you’re… making some sort of contribution to society that doesn’t require an orange jumpsuit on the side of a road, I’m sure. The point is that comics readers like you and me possess neither the breadth of familiarity with the vast quantity of books that are printed every year, nor the time to read them. Any picks we’d make for the “best” comics of the year would be a woefully incomplete selection from the pool of whatever titles we’ve both read and liked in the last twelve months.

Luckily there’s a group of dedicated professionals behind the most important honors in the industry, right? Well, yes and no. The truth is that while the Eisners are a fine and meaningful flagship institution dedicated to a criminally under-publicized art form, they’re far from perfect. It’s no crime. Every awards system has to revamp every once in a while, and when they do and Sandra Bullock can still end up winning an Oscar for the fucking Blind Side, perhaps they can revamp again. It’s just the way of things. So here now is my three point plan to help make the Eisner Awards the prize they deserve to be.

Point #1: Enlarge the Nominations Committee

The Eisner nominees are currently selected by some of the finest experts available from all types of comics people, be they from the industry, academia, retail or general readership. Their pedigrees are unimpeachable, and they should be, since these are the folks who have to read every submission for potential nomination and then whittle the entries down to just five nominees. Unfortunately, there are only five judges selected every year to comprise the pool of judges.

This is just comically small, and can’t possibly represent the full spectrum of styles and sensibilities spoken to by the massively diverse number of potential nominees every year. I understand that these folks are the crème de la crème, but can’t we keep an acceptably excellent standard in a pool of, say, 25 judges? Not every judge can have 25 years of experience running a store, but there are plenty of folks who have ten years and the time to read the submissions. Widening the pool would also increase diversity, meaning that maybe we could see more than one woman, or hell, anybody that isn’t white.

Finally, this diversity would also translate to a broader spectrum of experience in readership, thus hopefully limited the effects of conventional wisdom that sometimes plagues the Eisner nominations. Too often the judging committee keeps the old guard of previously-nominated books in play for slightly too long, taking away valuable spots from other deserving potential selections. A bigger pool of judges would keep long-running, previously honored books honest, and give every opportunity to elevate younger titles a fighting chance.

Point #2: Reduce the Voters Pool

Here we have a problem that’s the opposite of the nominations process. Simply put, too damned many people get to vote for the Eisners. Of the literally thousands of people will cast their votes for the dozens of nominees, how many do you think were made having read each of the other nominees in a given category?

The current system is susceptible to the same problems as the Academy Awards: with so many voters, it’s inevitable that most folks make selections that are woefully under-informed. Worse still, the system is hopelessly biased toward the major publishers. The companies that have the money to advertise titles and move the most books are more likely to have been read by the voters, crowding out smaller comics in the pages of the trades and capturing the attention of comics people at large. It’s impossible for the little guy to compete. Cutting the pool down to, say, a few hundred voters would likely yield results that better reflect the quality of the nominees than simply what’s been popular lately. The system would benefit from being slightly more selective in whom it allows to vote for the Eisner’s winners.

Point #3: Split the Categories More Fairly

The big versus small dynamic also presents another major problem: No matter if you limit the pool to some respectable degree, the major publishers have an unfair advantage in sheer number of books sold. If more of those books have been read than any other, it stands to reason that inevitably that will translate to those books being voted for more than the others. It’s just unavoidable. So what can we do?

Easy: Split the categories by sales. Books that cross the threshold of X copies shipped/sold (a number that I’m sure can be fairly chosen based on some metrics of sales figures from both the major and independent publishers) qualify for one of two designations: “Major” (X or more sold) and “Select” (X or fewer sold.) A title/writer/artist/publisher should not be punished for the fact that not enough people bought an issue, and this adjustment allows for the books that fall through the cracks to earn the same honor as the best of the big boys.

If this idea proves favorable, you can create as many tiers as are fitting. The true “blockbusters” can duke it out amongst themselves in one category, while self-published books vie for the win in their own. Parity in awards can be restored for quality instead of quantity, and winning an Eisner can truly be called the birthright of the best of the best.

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