The Eisner Awards have been passed out at Comicon, and the result... is epic. A foundational shift!
Marvel and DC and superhero corporate product in general were virtually shut out of the Eisners! Has this ever happened before? Awards instead went to an impressive array of brilliant work outside of the tiresome, long-underwear sock-em-ups.
The only Eisners for the superhero publishers? IDW won "Best Archival Collection" for the Steranko Artist's Edition. Rightly so. Those things are gorgeous. Wouldn't mind owning that one myself. And Darwyn Cooke won "Best Cover Artist" for his month of variant covers on the DC line. That category was a given. Where else but mainstream comics do you have such a thing as a cover artist.... or variant covers? The rest of us just draw our own covers! That's not a dig at Cooke, whose art is brilliant. But c'mon.... variant covers? Jesus, still flogging that dead horse, DC? Vertigo's Sandman picked up a prize for best artist, but that's not a superhero book. Disney-Marvel didn't win squat!
Every other Eisner went to indy creators, or books outside the superhero genre.
This, friends, is a total repudiation of the the hyper-marketed, corporate product that Marvel and DC are foisting off on their shrinking readership, and a long-overdue smackdown of the mainstream schlock that has dominated comix in this country, not in sales, at least not in recent years, but dominated the conversation and the definition of what comix "is." This is a sweeping victory for comix! And that it comes at Comicon, the epicenter of blaring, mass-market, Hollywood tie-ins, particularly those of Warner Bros. and Disney, is extra sweet.
Hey, I grew up with superhero comics. From age 10 to 18, I cleared the rack every week. Kirby and Ditko and Adams and Steranko were my inspiration. I loved superhero comics. I was consumed by them. I still have several thousand of my favorite books, neatly tucked on a shelf a few feet from where I'm typing. From time to time, when I'm in need of inspiration, I read some of them. But by the time I got to college, I was done. The Bronze Age was groaning to a disappointing end and the superhero genre was devouring itself with a tiresome cycle of repetition and duplication and declining quality. When I started making my own comix, right around that time, I became a creator and stopped being a reader. But I was one once, so these aren't just the ravings of a snooty indy dork. OK, OK, maybe they are, but a snooty dork who has devoted his life to comix, and has spent much of that life trying to convince the American public that this is a legitimate artform, as worthy as the printed word or film or any other storytelling art form, and one that is SO much more than a musclebound idiot prancing around rooftops in a ridiculous leotard.
Are there good superhero comics? Sure. Not many, frankly. It's been a steep, bumpy road down from Kirby and Lee. That genre was completely spent with Watchmen in 1986. That should have been the wrap up, the great post-modern epic that turned the genre inside out. Instead, the Big Two have been stuck in three decades of pathetic Watchmen imitations, with superheroes growing darker and darker, ever more cynical and ultra-violent, and, of course, rampantly misogynist. Look, if you're a total superhero devotee– well, you're probably not reading my blog– but, in any case, more power to you. Really. The more people reading comix, ANY comix, the better, as far as I'm concerned, even if, I freely admit, and I was once one of you, I don't get it. My beef is the delusion that superhero comics keep the industry afloat. They keep the comic book shops afloat, but those shops were built to cater to that fanbase. Judging by how many are closing, that business model ain't working anymore. People who seldom set foot in the shops are reading comix in big numbers. The kind of comix that just cleaned up at the Eisners.
Now, when I periodically bring this up in social media discussions, someone always responds defensively, "But if you don't read superhero comics, how do you know they suck?" Well, I've never seen an episode of The Khardasians or Duck Dynasty either, but I can GUARANTEE those shows are total shit! Besides, I don't read many indy comics either. I love comix, but I'm not a fan anymore. That's a sacrifice I had to make to become a creator. I know, I know, it's weird, but it works for me, and so far it's worked pretty well. I do, however, periodically flip through books, both indy and mainstream, and I hear the buzz. I know what's out there and what's good and what's not.
This slate of Eisner winners is how it should be moving forward. Disney and Warner Bros. can have their billion-dollar movie franchises, their tv shows and video game spinoffs, but they shouldn't get awards for their comic book tie-ins (and who are we kidding here, that's all the comic book line is to these corporate giants), any more than the superhero films themselves should win Oscars or awards at Cannes or Sundance. Those are reserved for daring, innovative work of high quality (the occasional Oscar fuck up aside). So it should be with the Eisners.
I hope this year's result doesn't conjure up one of those moronic organized backlash campaigns, like the Sad Puppies debacle that has all but ruined the Hugo Awards. If the Eisner folks aren't making plans to head that off, they damn well should be.
I'd also love to see the award ceremony moved from Comicon, which has little to do with comix anymore. But that probably isn't happening. Here's a wrap-up from CNET, which barely mentions comix at all, except in relation to the movie franchises, and offers nary a word about the Eisners.
But for now, let's celebrate. It's a victory for the art form! Congrats to all the winners!