2010 Eisner Award Countdown – Week 4

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At long last, Comics Bulletin’s month-long coverage of all things Eisner draws to a close in this final edition of our weekly countdown. In just one day, all of our speculation and argumentation will be rendered moot as the winners are announced in San Diego and a new set of comics is immortalized.

As with all good countdowns, however, we’ve saved the best for last. This week, our panel takes a look at the most revered Eisner categories of them all—Best Continuing Series and Best Graphic Album-New. And, of course, the bigger the honor, the crueler the snub.

Best Continuing Series

The nominees are…

  • Fables, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy et al. (Vertigo/DC)

  • Irredeemable, by Mark Waid and Peter Krause (BOOM!)

  • Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa (VIZ Media)

  • The Unwritten, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (Vertigo/DC)

  • The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman and Charles Adlard (Image)

Chris Kiser:

Deserves to Win:

With four previous nominations to its name but no wins to show for it, The Walking Dead is certainly due for an Eisner victory. In all honesty, you could probably argue its case for deserving Best Continuing Series recognition throughout each year of its existence, and it would be a real shame if Robert Kirkman and company continue to go home empty-handed.

However, that’s not to suggest that the 2010 prize be treated as some kind of award for the series’ achievement to date. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment of the consistently high levels of quality that this “continuing series of survival horror” has brought to the comics industry year after year. Despite a strong slate of fellow nominees (including Best New Series frontrunners Irredeemable and The Unwritten), The Walking Dead once again delivered the best 12 issues to hit store shelves during our last trip around the sun.

Approaching its six-year anniversary, The Walking Dead could have easily drifted into jump the shark territory. With much of its cast having been killed off and the status quo of the book’s prior three years obliterated, the direction of the plot in 2009 was anyone’s guess. Lesser writers may have crumbled under the pressure, tipping their hand to reveal a lack of master strategy for the series’ big picture.

Kirkman, though, merely seized the moment as an opportunity. The dwindled cast was rebuilt to develop a set of new characters, complete with new dynamics of mistrust and squabbles over leadership. An ever-shifting setting reignited the book’s sense of unpredictable danger around every corner. You might be tempted to call it a Walking Dead renaissance, save for the fact that this series never dropped off in quality far enough to need one.

Biggest Snub:
While Wednesday Comics’ absence from the Best Anthology category may have been the committee’s most egregious omission, the exclusion of Batman and Robin from this list is a clear number two. Damian Wayne’s Robin was the comics character of the year, and Professor Pyg was its most frightfully disturbing villain. Even the incomprehensible art of Philip Tan could only slow down this stylishly smart series but so much.

Some sinister cabal of voters thought to rob this series of a chance at its rightful glory? Allow me to join the Red Hood and Scarlet in saying, “Let the punishment fit the crime!”

Charles Webb:

Deserves to Win:
It was a split decision between The Unwritten and The Walking Dead. Mike Carey and Peter Gross's metafiction about a "real" man discovering he might be a fictional character is stuffed with more ideas than any of the other contenders. On the other hand, Kirkman and Adlard continue to bring to life one of the most visceral recent serial works that consistently targets the emotions and annihilates them. The continued survival and depredation of hero Rick Grimes is one of the modern comic tragedies and it's no surprise that Hollywood came calling with a TV series coming from AMC next year.

But the decision has to go to Carey and Gross. While The Walking Dead rarely fails to shock, it's to Carey's credit that The Unwritten consistently surprises. Each notion the book introduces generates the flower of another and on and on, until (please excuse the florid metaphor) Carey has successfully created a garden of ideas--something largely absent in most serial fiction. Whereas other titles on the list are driven by action and plot, Carey's book is propelled by thought and awareness. That's the genius of the work and it's a testament to the continued evolution of the form.

Best Graphic Album - New

The nominees are…

  • Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon)

  • A Distant Neighborhood (2 vols.), by Jiro Taniguchi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

  • The Book of Genesis Illustrated, by R. Crumb (Norton)

  • My mommy is in America and she met Buffalo Bill, by Jean Regnaud and émile Bravo (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

  • The Photographer, by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre, and Frédéric Lemerier (First Second)

  • Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter, adapted by Darwyn Cooke (IDW)

Chris Kiser:

Deserves to Win:

First things first, I shan’t be casting my vote for an X-rated cartoonist’s mockery of the Old Testament, even if I don’t quite understand the joke he’s making. Secondly, it’s pretty easy for me to eliminate this category’s token Manga, as much of the narrative technique used in that genre still looks to me like what we’d call lazy writing in the English-speaking world.

Those aside, the rest of these nominated graphic novels are all viable contenders. My Mommy… carries a strong sentimental undercurrent, though it never quite goes for the emotional jugular. Parker: The Hunter is another very solid entry in the Darwyn Cooke catalog. It works great as a crime story, but it’s hard to tag as the winner when it’s up against more weighty fare.

Critical darling Asterios Polyp is the odd-on favorite here, and from a technical standpoint it’s the most deserving. You can’t deny David Mazzucchelli’s adeptness at visual communication, both to undergird his characters and to convey philosophical concepts. Alongside all the overt theorization, there’s a genuinely moving story, one that ties into the book’s abstract ideas better than you’d expect. If it wins, voters will have made a fine choice.

Still, it’s impossible for me to ignore the intensely powerful experience I had reading The Photographer. The illustrated chronicle of a photojournalist’s trek through Cold War Afghanistan to cover a medical mission, it’s the most stirring story I’ve encountered in any medium in quite a while. Minimal in presentation, the book simply lets its narrator’s adventure unfold on its own. From page one, you’re right there with him, an outsider in a strange land, alone and afraid with the specter of war looming across every ridge.

Jason Sacks:

Deserves to Win:

One of the really awesome things about comics is that they're an almost infinitely malleable art form, where unbelievably interesting and exciting ideas seem to burst out of the head of some artists fully grown. Asterios Polyp is absolutely filled to bursting with ideas about doing comics that nobody else has really played with. It's a joyful expression of pure storytelling genius, created by a man who is hailed as the returning, conquering hero.

At its heart, David Mazzucchelli's work is a love story, a classic tale of love lost and regained and the terrible costs that the love exacts from those who have lost it. But that's only the tiniest surface explanation of this book and why it works.

Below the surface is a kind of symbolic level, where everything plays out in miniature. We see the characters' inner feelings externalized, with Mazzucchelli's use of recurring images, different art styles, and philosophic and emotional digressions amplifying and enriching his narrative.

Asterios Polyp is a real tour de force, an example of all the potential that comics can show. Beneath the drama of the characters, the symbolism in the storytelling, and the breathtaking art, this book is also a heartfelt celebration of the art form of comics. In his intelligent playfulness and fascinating use of color and imagery, David Mazzucchelli is also celebrating the vast and almost infinite potential of this fascinating and often befuddling medium.

I shed a tear when I reached the last page of this book. Yeah, I am a sucker for a sweet and romantic love story. But I also shed a tear because this book shows that you can do so damn much with comics art. Like his old collaborator Frank Miller did 30 years ago, Mazzucchelli opens our eyes to the kind of work that a really skilled artist can create.

This book was almost universally acclaimed and beloved, enshrouded in a halo of hype before it was even released. It certainly is the most talked-about graphic novel of the year. I would be absolutely shocked if it didn't win the Eisner in its category.

Biggest Snub:

But, great as Asterios Polyp is, my choice for best graphic novel of the year is Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco. Sometimes a reviewer encounters works that are just extremely complicated, as was the case with Joe Sacco's astonishing book.

Let's start with the easy part. This book is a gorgeously presented work of subjective graphical reporting that centers on a massacre committed by Israeli soldiers in 1956 in Rafah, a squalid town in the Gaza Strip. Sounds straightforward enough, right? However, the simplistic view is incomplete when reading this book, and straightforward explanations break down. Sacco creates a complex and heady work that continually jolts and surprises with its complex twists and turns.

The book is not just about the '56 massacre, as Sacco's narrative intertwines inexorably with life in Rafah today. It's the story of those who remember the massacre, of the life that they have lived in the 50 years subsequent to the event. This book is also the story of Sacco, an American graphic journalist traveling under a Maltese passport, who retraces his experiences in the area and searches for the truth of that horrific incident.

However, the search for truth in the events of 1956 is difficult and complicated. Little was written of this incident when it happened, so Sacco is depending on the memories of emotionally scarred men and women--many of whom were children at the time--to describe events that happened some 50 years earlier. Thus, this book is also about the fleeting chimera of memory, about the subjectivity of truth and, ultimately, about the incredible complexity of building a truthful chronicle of any event.

I found myself enthralled by the subjectivity of the story. Throughout the book, Sacco makes comments like, "This is the part of the story that wobbles and strains" (page 298). History "wobbles and strains”? Didn't we all learn in high school that history is fixed and comprehensible--that facts are facts and that the truth behind those facts is immutable?

Sacco's book achieves a sort of novelistic power from the use of subjective history. Much of the reader's mind can be devoted to trying to separate the important objective facts from the wobbly subjective assertions. I keep finding myself returning again and again to experience these insights and to revel in the simple, clean and insightful ways that Sacco explores them. Footnotes in Gaza is a hypnotic book, an intense book, a deeply moving book, and a deeply insightful book on an amazingly broad range of issues.

It's a crying shame that this book wasn't nominated for a Best Graphic Album Eisner this year. At least there's some redemption since it was nominated for a Harvey. Hmm, a book that's in part about the insane futility of war being nominated for an award named after a cartoonist who was brilliant at exploring the insane futility of war. There's something very fitting about that.

And that wraps it up. Thanks to everyone who followed us along the way! Hopefully you had as much fun as we did. Now, whether you’re going in person or will merely be there in spirit, enjoy Comic-Con!

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