Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Ridiculous Wondrous Diversity of Online Comics

I've been waiting for this: today's announcement of the 2014 Harvey Award nominees for Best Online Comics Work.

No, I'm not one of them, and didn't submit for it, and I'll explain why below. Just let me list the webcomic titles nominated for major U.S. comics awards--the Harveys, Eisners, and National Cartoonist Society (NCS) Division Awards--then I'll make my point:

Harvey for Best Online Comics Work:
The Dreamer
Gunnerkrigg Court
Table Titans

Eisner for Best Digital/Webcomic
As the Crow Flies
Failing Sky
High Crimes
The Oatmeal
The Last Mechanical Monster

NCS for Online Comics-Long Form
Family Man
Red's Planet
Tuki (the winner)

NCS for Online Comics-Short Form
Buni (the winner)
New Yorker Online

See a pattern? Because I sure don't. There isn't one comic title that appears more than once! Unlike any medium I can think of (TV, movies, books), there seems to be no public or critical consensus on what constitutes the best work. Even in print comics and graphic novels, there are typically a few 800-pound gorillas that everyone agrees are good and which win all the awards. Not so in webcomics.

That's kind of astonishing, yet I also kind of expected it. What's it mean?

Primarily, I think it means there are a lot of webcomics, and a lot of good webcomics, out there. There's a wealth to choose from.

I think the webcomic audience is more specialized and fragmented. Whatever you're into, there's a webcomic for it, and you may think it's the best webcomic in the world. And it may be, even if nobody else knows about it. Webcomics are like cable TV with 300,000 channels. Even a well-read webcomics lover would probably look at that list and say, "I've never heard of half of those."

I think different awards have different tones and philosophies. Different judges have different tastes. Similarly, judges can only consider what's in front of them, and different cartoonists may only focus on certain opportunities (for example, I think many webcartoonists overlook the NCS Awards).

My story:

I submitted my webcomic for Eisner Award consideration. Nominees were chosen by a panel of judges with a broad comics, academic and critical background, and mine was selected.

I also submitted my webcomic for NCS Division Award consideration. Nominees were chosen by a panel of NCS working cartoonists (who in contrast to the Eisner judges only focus on their one award, not ALL of them), and mine was not selected. I've got no beef with that, especially looking at the very strong ones that were.

I did not submit my webcomic for Harvey Award consideration, because the nominees are chosen by popular vote rather than judges. Whichever five comics get the most votes go on the list. Nominations favor those able to rally their troops. I've seen my visitor stats (who knew they could register negative numbers?) and knew my obscure little webcomic had no chance.

I don't spend a lot of time thinking about this, and don't want to make too much of it. As long-time Friend O' The Blog Mike Peterson says, "plaques are for hacks," and I almost believe him.

I just think it's an interesting insight into the webcomics field at this early time in its development. I was waiting for today's announcement of Harvey nominations almost giddily hoping they'd be totally different from the others.

They did not disappoint.

The nice thing about a lack of 800-pound gorillas is that it gives a few macaques a chance to bask in the sun. Congratulations to the nominees, best of luck to you all.

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