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Roundtable: Eisner Nominations Discussion

This year’s list of nominations for the Eisner award in the children’s and YA categories was a lot different from our list of the top ten graphic novels of 2014. We decided to throw the discussion open to the GC4K bloggers to get a sense of why this particular slate was chosen—and list our favorites that didn’t make the list.

Here’s the list of nominations:

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7)
BirdCatDog, by Lee Nordling & Meritxell Bosch (Lerner/Graphic Universe)
A Cat Named Tim And Other Stories, by John Martz (Koyama Press)
Hello Kitty, Hello 40: A Celebration in 40 Stories, edited by Traci N. Todd & Elizabeth Kawasaki (VIZ)
Mermin, Book 3: Deep Dives, by Joey Weiser (Oni)
The Zoo Box, by Ariel Cohn & Aron Nels Steinke (First Second)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)
Batman Li’l Gotham, vol. 2, by Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen (DC)
El Deafo, by Cece Bell (Amulet/Abrams)
I Was the Cat, by Paul Tobin & Benjamin Dewey (Oni)
Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, by Eric Shanower & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse, by Art Baltazar & Franco (DC)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)
Doomboy, by Tony Sandoval (Magnetic Press)
The Dumbest Idea Ever, by Jimmy Gownley (Graphix/Scholastic)
Lumberjanes, by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, & Brooke A. Allen (BOOM! Box)
Meteor Men, by Jeff Parker & Sandy Jarrell (Oni)
The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew (First Second)
The Wrenchies, by Farel Dalrymple (First Second)

Which of these books took you by surprise? Were there titles you hadn’t heard of before, and if so, have you had the chance to check them out?

Robin: Eisner judge here, from 2007. There are definitely titles I hadn’t yet heard buzz about—Meteor Men hadn’t made it on to my radar for teens, nor Doomboy, but I may be able to blame some of that on being swamped with Printz Committee obligations for the last year. I must admit to finding The Wrenchies a bit of a puzzle—I can see the quality in the craft of its art, but I would find it a very tough sell to actual teens. Parts of it would work, but as a whole, it never struck me as actually being FOR teens. About teens, sure. But not for them. That’s the librarian talking. Ms. Marvel, now that’s a title for teens. But superhero comics tend to not be segregated out that way, and it’s definitively great, so I don’t mind it being in Best New Series.

Scott: There are definitely titles that I am unfamiliar with on this list, pretty much the same ones Robin mentioned above. I was very happy to see John Martz’s A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories on this list, considering it’s a Canadian creator, published by a small Canadian press. Martz is a tremendous talent, and this recognition is definitely deserving. I was also happy to see Jimmy Gownley’s memoir on here because I think it deserves more attention. I’m a little disheartened to see two DC Comics books nominated for the 8-12 list. It feels like they’re always shoo-ins for being nominated for Eisners, but I think there are so many other books out there deserving of a place on that particular list.

Lori: There weren’t too many titles I was unfamiliar with. Meteor Men, Doomboy, and Zoo Box flew under my radar. I was surprised to see I Was the Cat not only nominated, but also in the ages 8-12 category. I thought it was more appropriate to teens and older tweens. It really just skids by. Switching it with Lumberjanes would have made more sense to me. I was glad to see some wordless titles get recognized with A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories and Hello Kitty, Hello at 40.

Brigid: Also a former Eisner judge, from 2012. I recommended Meteor Men in my fall roundup for SLJTeen, so I wasn’t too surprised—it’s a great read. I think maybe BirdCatDog slipped under the radar because it’s a Lerner book, and they cater to schools and libraries so they might not have the same publicity machine as some o the other publishers.

What books do you think should have been on the list?

Robin: One thing I don’t see that I really enjoyed this past year is Liz Prince’s Tomboy. She did a really fine job with that memoir, and it felt particularly appealing to teens, though I could see it in Best Reality-Based Work too.

Scott: I loved Hilda and the Black Hound by Luke Pearson, but I know the previous Hilda book was nominated last year. I also thought Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space was a beautifully illustrated book that deserves some higher recognition.

Brigid: I really liked Nick Bertozzi’s Shackleton as a teen book—it’s a great example of graphic storytelling. Eric Orchard’s Maddy Kettle and the Adventure of the Thimblewitch was a really beautiful middle-grade story that I wish had gotten more attention. Hidden, a child’s story of the Holocaust, is powerful and well done, and going from the sublime to the ridiculous, I thought James Kochalka’s The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza was really a great book.

Some books for young readers were nominated in other categories—for instance, Sisters wasn’t nominated in any of the kids’ categories, but Raina Telgemeier was nominated for Best Writer and Artist. What do you think this says about the way the graphic novel scene is evolving? Is this a new thing?

Robin: Speaking of Printz Committee obligations, I did notice This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki isn’t in the teen category, but instead in Best Graphic Album – New. I’m glad to see it recognized, and there’s certainly been a lot of debate around the audience for that title in terms of age range, but I was a bit surprised it wasn’t in the teen category. As for what it means, I presume that some of the different places on the list are partly from wanting to recognize the variety of excellent work this year, so you get books in where you can. I do feel like there’s a bit more diversity in these categories this year, especially in the sense of people who have been published by book publishers making it on the nominations when a few years ago they might not have simply because the Eisners were still more focused on comics publishers rather than the book trade.

Scott: This past January, there were many graphic novels recognized in ALA’s Youth Media awards, more so than ever before and in non-graphic novel specific categories. So this might be some kind of ripple effect over with the Eisners. I think it’s also great that new books and new creators are being recognized but at the same time, the growing number of “core” kids graphic novel creators are still being recognized as well, just in other categories. Nothing wrong with that!

Lori: I think it says something when titles geared for tweens and teen make it into broader categories such as Best New Series or Best Humor, and creators are recognized. Getting them beyond the early readers/kids/teens categories may get more people reading them and show that writing for a younger audience doesn’t make the titles inferior in any way. Titles like Lumberjanes, Ms. Marvel, or Rocket Raccoon can be reachable to younger readers and still be well written and entertaining.

Why do you think the Eisners are important? How would you change them?

Robin: I think they’re about as important as their equivalent, the Oscars, in the sense of how they are voted on—it’s an industry vote, so it’s internal, and it’s fairly invisible to the wider world outside of comics. The Eisners don’t seem to influence books making it on to people’s bookshelves: They don’t cause a spike in people reading those titles in the same way that an Oscar nomination will. That being said, I’ve told many a librarian looking to add depth to their collection to go and look at the past nominations lists (not just the winners) to get a sense of the breadth of works out there in the format. I don’t think libraries should feel compelled to get them all, but they can bring notice to titles that they may have missed if they’re concentrating on library publications for reviews and recommended lists.

Scott: I think the Eisners are very important in terms of their longevity and sense of tradition. I think in the past they have tended to be a bit more insular, focusing more on the direct market, but that has changed for the better in the past 5 to 10 years. This is because there has been an effort to bring in judges from across the spectrum—librarians, booksellers, educators, publishing professionals, comic book experts, retailers—this has allowed for different kinds of books to be recognized on these nomination lists. How would I change them? I think there needs to be a focus on getting the word out about the Eisners so it’s not just the comic book industry that knows about them but also the greater general public. The creation of the fabulous ‘E’ seals in the past few years is a step in the right direction.

Brigid: I think that the Eisners and other awards help bring more attention to deserving works and also give us something to talk about—just as we are doing now!

What was your personal list of the top children’s and YA graphic novels of 2014?

Robin: Many of my favorites are somewhere on the list: Ms. Marvel, This One Summer, El Deafo, Lumberjanes, The Shadow Hero, Nimona, and Master Keaton. In terms of writers and artists, I’ve really loved what Kelly Sue Deconnick is doing with both Captain Marvel and Pretty Deadly. I know a lot of Stephen King/western/horror loving teens who will really dive in to Pretty Deadly, though it certainly is an older teen/adult tale. I was also really happy to see Adrian Alphona, Fiona Staples, and Babs Tarr being recognized for their art in Ms. Marvel, Saga, and Batgirl respectively. Phil Noto’s work on Black Widow has been absolutely gorgeous (as always), so I’m always happy to see him get much deserved kudos. I thoroughly enjoyed Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods, so I’m happy it made it in the mix, and I was equally happy to see her short story “When the Darkness Presses” getting the nod as a digital work. I also thought Above the Dreamless Dead, edited by Chris Duffy, was a substantial work contemplating World War I. We also just got Winsor McCay’s Complete Little Nemo for our Reference collection at my library, and it is gorgeous.

Scott: Many of my favourites were on the list as well: I already mentioned earlier books by John Martz and Jimmy Gownley but I also loved El Deafo, Through the Woods, Ms. Marvel, The Shadow Hero, and Sisters. I loved Return of Zita the Space Girl by Ben Hatke, which completed the trilogy. As well, I love Frank Cammuso’s Salem Hyde series—it has an old school Harvey Comics feel laced with a cheeky modern sense of humour.

Lori: Most of my favorites were already on the list; Lumberjanes, Ms. Marvel, Rocket Raccoon, Sisters, and El Deafo. Shadow Hero was both a fun superhero book with some interesting historical context. Like Scott, I would have likes to have seen Hilda and the Black Dog get a nod, as well as Cleopatra in Space.

Brigid: Hilda and the Black Hound, Sisters, El Deafo, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood, Brass Sun, and Maddy Kettle all made my shortlist.

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Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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