Being an Eisner Judge: Part 2

I’ve had time to look over some website reviews of the Eisner picks. One of the things that happens when you’re a judge is you have your picks second guessed by people, many of whom are looking for something to bitch about because, let’s face it, you just can’t please everyone.

On one site the fans were angry because James Robinson was nominated for writer of “Justice League: Cry for Justice” mini. “How can the judges sleep at night after nominating Robinson?!” Robinson took it in stride in response to some of this criticism.

Another site claimed that independents were “shut out” this year, which is odd, because most of the publishers with noms were not Marvel or DC. I don’t know what they mean by indies, but none of the judges were necessarily fans of any publishers in particular. Not that I was aware of. I know I consider myself an independent creator and always have. Most of my work has not been for Marvel and DC, though I have worked for them. But honestly, does it matter who publishes what? The question is, were the books any good? DC has been publishing a lot of excellent titles and they certainly deserve some credit for that. Marvel has some tremendous artists in their employ. Should they be ignored because of who they work for?

I can tell you that my fellow judges (Craig Fischer, Francisca Goldsmith, John Hogan, Wayne Winsett) and I were all of the same view that we wanted to do a great job and give people who deserved it the attention they earned, whether the industry made them stars that year or not. I brought my own experience as a creator of 25 years in the biz, and how it feels to be one of those people hoping to get a nom. I brought my experience as a writer, editor, publisher and letterer when it was appropriate. And they, of course, brought their own experience and perspectives from their own sectors of the industry.

Judging is not as easy as you might think. We didn’t enjoy cutting people from consideration as described in part one. It was painful for some to eliminate top names from the final lists, but we knew we couldn’t show favoritism for someone because of past work. It was all about the books and talent of 2009. We wanted to be fair. At least one or two judges kept using the phrase “spread the wealth around” as in, let’s try to give more people a shot rather than let a few sweep the categories.

Obviously, some superb books showed up in multiple categories. Like Asterios Polyp and Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter. They were outstanding and deserved the attention. But we actually chose to take some books out of consideration if they had more than two noms already, so others could get a nom. As a judge, you have that power. You only get to be an Eisner judge once, if you’re lucky, so you might as well use it.

Personally, it annoyed me in the past when some creators would get nominated in five or six categories when there were so many who deserved at least one nom somewhere, but were shut out. I felt that the judges in those years must have been fan boys and didn’t take their job as seriously as they should have. I was glad that our group didn’t do that. And, yes, I did point this out in the beginning. But they all got it anyway.

I’m sure some pro reading this will be angry at me now because they feel they deserved to be in ten categories. But, I’d rather give people the attention they deserved than service someone ego.

The Eisners benefit from fresh judges each year. You may not always get the results you want, but there are fresh points of view each time.

So, we spent the final days eliminating and tightening the lists for consideration until it was down to around 8 or 10 names in each category. Then we would vote, 1 to 5. And since we were dealing with good books at this stage, few if any, got an average score lower than a three. One or two books may have, if a judge didn’t like something everyone else liked, but we were fairly close in taste. We just had different things we liked more than the others.

That made it both easier and harder, because we did end up with a lot of ties and we had to do vote offs to eliminate the ties.

In some cases there were books some of us really wanted to see nominated that didn’t get through, so we went back to look at where we could fit them in somewhere else. A couple of judges wanted Charles Darwin: Origin of the Species and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to get nominations, but they didn’t quite make the cut in several categories, so we ended up creating the “Best Adaptation from Another Work.” That was a needed category anyway, as there are more and more adaptation graphic novels coming out.

It’s always interesting to read the consternation and anger on the message boards when some book fails to get a nomination, but the fact is there were a lot strong books and many that you like may have come within one vote of being nominated.

On the last day we considered the creator noms. These are different than the other decisions because the judges have to consider creator’s work from many sources in some cases, not just one book. So we piled the finalists works on the big conference table and poured over their books and take notes. For example: letterers. We’d put books by the people on the short list on the table and we’d examine them. Iwould point out some things I felt made a good or bad letterer based on my experience (having lettered my own books and a couple Viz titles for years). The same process was done with pencillers, colorists, etc. Writers, of course, were judged based on what we read before and during this week of judging. We usually talked about our impressions before we took our votes. Creator noms tend to favor the big publishers for the simple reason that there are more titles coming out from them and they do have some good people working for them.

It’s an odd thing to see, but almost all those tables around the room were stacked with books and trades on them. Only one table had traditional floppy comics. And those were in short boxes by publisher. Perhaps someday in the near future judges will also have to look at digital comics on tablet PCs.

We finished up around 6PM and I never imagined reading comics could be so exhausting. The mental energy we all put into this really did leave us tired.

I’m sure there are some people who feel we did a lousy job, but we felt we had done the best we could and frankly, we were pretty satisfied in the end that we were as fair and conscientious as we could be. It won’t be us who decides the winners. It’s the voters who pick their favorites. It’s no surprise that fan favorites often win these things. So being nominated should be good enough. It gives your book some attention that it may have not gotten before and that can help.

After our weekend there were still some tidying up to do. Some nominees were disqualified because they were found to be outside 2009. Some ties had to be revoted on. That is why it took an additional week before the nominations were announced.

Is the process of picking nominations perfect? Is anything?

I came away with a better idea of how the Eisners work, and I’ll admit I was one of those people who complained when their book didn’t get on a list. But now I have a better and I know I won’t complain again. Let me give you creators a few important things to remember.

Do not expect your editors to send in your book. Do it yourself and don’t wait until the last minute. Be sure you make every work you do the best it can be and make it fresh. Try to get on a “best of list.” The only real way to do that is to make something worthwhile and get it reviewed in as many places as you can. Do not rely on some friend to put you on a list because even if you have a friend who’s a judge, the others will have to like your book as well.

In the end, it’s really up to five strangers to decide on whether or not your book is worthy of a nomination. You can’t predict how they will vote. You can’t take it personally. It’s just their opinion.

Don’t rely on awards to do your work for you. In the end, it’s not the award that makes your work good. It’s you.

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  1. Considering that you post on Big Hollywood, I’d say you left out something very important.

    How many books were picked, or left out or voted down because someone liked/didn’t like the politics or POV? If you follow Rotten Tomatos, you know that there’s nothing like having the correct slant in a movie for getting higher ratings from the critics there. How about the Eisner nominations?

  2. I can’t speak for the others, I don’t even know what their politics are. We never discussed it. I seriously doubt they have my views, but everyone kept politics off the table. I don’t judge books or actors by their politics. I like stuff like Rage Against the Machine which is a far left rock band. I have a lot of friends who are far left. We get along because we leave politics out of things. I wish people would do that more, because I really hate all the partisan crap out there.

    No one really talked about the politics of any book, but the only one I would say it had an effect on from me was Joe Sacco’s book, which seemed too one sided. So I only gave it a 4. It got a nomination anyway. I can’t deny it’s an excellently done piece. I just feel it is too polemical for my taste.

    As a para-realist, my politics are non-ideological. So as far as I’m concerned it had no impact. You’d have to ask the others about their decisions.

    But yeah, look at things like the Pulitzer which went to that Mark Fiore “How to Speak Tea Bag” cartoon which was a polemical POS. They called it “well researched”. It had nothing to do with the Tea Party that it was attempting to mock. Partisan politics pollutes too many things if you ask me. Gore and Moore should never have won awards for their lame films.

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