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The Importance of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards

The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, often referred to simply as “the Eisners,” are generally accepted as the most prestigious recognition one can receive in the comic book field. Named in honor of comic book pioneer Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit and the man who helped to popularize the term “graphic novel,” the Eisner Awards span over two dozen categories, including everything from Best Artist and Best Writer to Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. The awards are presented annually at the San Diego Comic-Con International convention during a ceremony that is open to not only comic book professionals, but all convention attendees.

While many comic fans may be familiar with the Eisner Awards, the awards themselves remain fairly unknown and mysterious to the general public. Even those who have been to Comic-Con repeatedly have rarely attended the awards ceremony. The Eisner Awards were created in 1988 as a response to the discontinuation of the Kirby Awards, the professional award for achievement in comics at the time, and, until his death in 2005, Will Eisner himself was a regular participant in the Eisner Award ceremony.

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The Eisner Awards are incredibly important within the comic book world, especially with regard to how they represent peer recognition. A five-member panel generates the nominations in each category, and once the nominees are announced, they are voted on by comic professionals, including creators, editors, publishers, distributors, and retailers. Much like the Oscars, the Grammys, and other industry award ceremonies, the winner in each Eisner Award category is invited on stage at the ceremony to accept their award and give a short speech in front of the audience of attendees. While, in some ways, that description might seem fairly pedestrian and standard for an awards ceremony, when I attended my first Eisner Awards ceremony in 2017, the feeling of community was palpable throughout the night, and being a comic creator, publisher, and fan, I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate setting in which to celebrate the achievements of the industry. Something that gets lost in the stories of contractual disputes, flawed distribution models, and other “go to” criticisms of the comic book industry is the fact that this is an art form where one’s heart must really be in the craft. Much like the world of theatre, where there’s little money to be made compared to other industries and an overabundance of incredibly talented and passionate individuals whose names the general public will most likely never know, the comic book industry is filled with dedicated souls who have a passion for the sequential art form and treasure the communal aspect that comics offer. Unlike the star-studded and televised award shows held for other popular art forms, money and award politics haven’t grabbed hold of the Eisner Awards yet. There is no secret document passed around by cynical representatives who scheme to get their comic or their creator an Eisner that wasn’t achieved, but rather, campaigned for. There is no dis-engaged audience tuning in because they want to see the wacky commercials or other bells and whistles that overshadow the purpose and message of the event. It is guaranteed that if you win an Eisner, it is because you love creating comic books.  It is also a given that if you attend the Eisners, it is because you love comics books and those who help to create them. At last year’s ceremony, when Jaime Hernandez of the prolific alternative comic, Love & Rockets, was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he stated, “I also want to thank comics itself. For being there, for being the best artistic medium in the world.” I doubt there was anyone in that ballroom that disagreed with these sentiments.

While it would be easy to assume that the Eisner Awards are just one more brick in the wall protecting the “status quo” of representation by way of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and physical abilities, the reality is actually quite the opposite. In many cases, the Eisners have highlighted and added legitimacy to titles and creators who share a mission of bringing more diversity and inclusion to the industry. In 2014, Dr. Sheena Howard became the first woman of color to win an Eisner, and she has used the recognition to help elevate other comic creators of color through projects like her book, Encyclopedia of Black Comics, which highlights black writers, artists, editors, and more who have had a significant impact on the industry. The 2016 Eisner nominees were recognized by mainstream news outlets like The Guardian for a record number of female creators on the ballot and, with most of the comics in the Best New Series category featuring female protagonists, the news organization decreed that the “Oscars of the comics world is no boys’ club.” And, given the success of Malaysia-born and Singapore-based comic artist/illustrator Sonny Liew (with his graphic novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, nominated for six awards and winning three) and progressive titles like Squirrel Girl, Love is Love, Saga, and more at last year’s Eisners, it is no wonder The Los Angeles Times described the event by stating, “The message from Eisner Awards voters and winners was simple enough: Comics are for everybody and can be made by anybody.” None of this is meant to ignore the fact that there are still miles to go when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and gender equality in every arena of American culture, comics included, nor is it meant to claim that the Eisners have not, in the past, ignored those under-served creators and audiences that they have championed in recent years. Still, with those facts stated, to ignore the impact and importance of the Eisner Awards when it comes to helping to guide and advance both comic book culture and the medium itself would surely be a mistake.

Given our belief in the positive impact of the Eisner Awards, their importance to the comic book industry, and our own mission to “Celebrate Fandoms,” Fanbase Press will expand its coverage of the awards during the upcoming year.  We will follow the Eisner Award nomination process, covering the announcement of the nominees in late April, as well as reviewing the nominated works and interviewing the creators involved.  As we did in 2017, Fanbase Press will be live-tweeting the 2018 Eisner Award Ceremony from the Hilton Bayfront Hotel at San Diego Comic-Con, and we will provide live updates through the Fanbase Press Twitter (@Fanbase_Press), Facebook, and Instagram (@fanbasepress) accounts.  

We hope that our readers will join us on this road to the Eisner Awards, and that you will follow along as the comics industry and Comic-Con International celebrate the medium of comic books and the talent and dedicated individuals who make it what it is.

You can learn more about the Eisner Awards at the following links:

Bryant Dillon, Fanbase Press President


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