The Eisner Awards committee is seeking nominations for a possible digital comics award, so who are the likely contenders, and who'll be left out of the race? Plus, remembering the pioneering work of the late Dale Messick.
11 April 2005


It was recently announced that the Eisner Awards for 2005 will accept nominees for a web comics category for the first time. Although this news has yet to be formally confirmed, the awards committee has released submission guidelines for a possible 'Best Digital Comic' award. This is good news, and a sign that the enormously popular and thriving sector of online comics is finally receiving the recognition that it merits.

However, the judges will face a bewildering number of titles to choose from, and their styles, subject matter and formats are far more diverse than what's available in print comics. The guidelines will impose some restrictions on what can be nominated; the comics will have to be professional and long-form, with minimal audio or animation elements, and hosted either on their own unique domains, or as part of a comics community sites.

Yet these provisional restrictions could mean that the only web comics that appear on the shortlist will be the most familiar and the most commercial titles, and many of the obscure gems - and even the sites with enormous followings but no official revenue stream - could be overlooked. The exclusion of titles in an attempt to produce a workable shortlist is to be expected, and it's utterly necessary given how much is out there, but it guarantees that the awards won't please everybody. Of course, web comics are now so widely read, and have proliferated so much, there there's always going to be someone missing out.

Of course, like any awards ceremony worth its salt, the Eisners are not a popularity contest. As the traditional method of assessing the worth of online content is by number of hits, it will be a nice change from this norm if the Digital Comics submissions are assessed on the sole grounds of artistic merit.

'Online comics are finally receiving the recognition they merit.' Now, I must confess, dear readers, that I am not exhaustively au fait with web comics, being the sort of terrible Byrne-esque Luddite dinosaur who still prefers his comics to be on bits of paper, so I don't dare guess what the Eisner shortlist might look like. Casting my beady eye about the blogs and news sites, I gather that I'm not the only one, as various commentators have posted 'nominate your favourite web comic' polls and pieces, which I presume is an attempt to gauge reaction to this new category and sound out who the likely nominees might be.

My girlfriend, who is a big fan of the format, and is much better informed on the subject than myself when it comes to probable nominees, reckons that the likes of Mac Hall and MegaTokyo are definite contenders, and I'd add that Ctrl-Alt-Del and Penny Arcade seem likely to be considered as well. Perhaps it's indicative of the typical audience - and typical creators - that all these comics appear to be about geeks, gamers and, well, geeky gamers.

I'd also presume that rather more highbrow comics might be included, with conceptual pieces such as Scott McCloud's I Can't Stop Thinking being in the running - assuming that they'd be eligible under the guidelines. And this is just scratching the surface.

It's easy to see why the awards committee hasn't yet guaranteed that the award will be included in this year's ceremony, as it looks likely to prove a real headache for the judges. Whereas the awards for print comics are inclusive, and submissions are invited with clear and comprehensible guidelines for each category, the guidelines for the Digital Comic category appear to place an emphasis on excluding titles and narrowing the formula for eligibility, and that risks offending people and marginalising the sector.

It seems that the first shortlist of nominees will be absolutely crucial in setting the right tone for this new award, in order to show what sort of material the judges consider award-worthy, and to demonstrate that the award will be a credible reflection of what are genuinely the best Digital Comics out there.

DALE MESSICK, 1906-2005

Some sad recent news was the passing earlier this month of BRENDA STARR, REPORTER creator Dale Messick, at the age of 98.

Just as Tintin was for Hergé, so BRENDA STARR provided Messick with an outlet for her dreams of glamorous adventures around the world. It may not have seemed a particularly emancipated vision, but given that Messick was a pioneer of the craft in a generation of cartoonists that - even more so than today - was almost completely male dominated, her work represented a great stride forwards for women in comics. Like George Eliot in the field of novels, the artist was forced to take a male nom de plume in order to get published - her real name was Dalia Messick.

Messick's great creation, based on the debutantes of the era and film stars such as Rita Hayworth, struck such a chord with readers that Brenda became a fashion icon, with a number of magazine covers to her credit. She even had a film made of her exploits in 1989, with Brooke Shields as the eponymous heroine.

The character's adventures as a jet-setting reporter working for The Flash were rather transparent wish-fulfilment, with globe-trotting and romance being more important than anything approaching realism, but this was wish-fulfilment that appealed to a female audience, unlike Starr's square-jawed Nazi-thumping male equivalents. Yet by catering to female interests, Messick was able to capture an entirely new circle of readers, and this was perhaps her greatest achievement.

Messick won the National Cartoonist Society's Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, and was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 2001.

This article is Ideological Freeware. The author grants permission for its reproduction and redistribution by private individuals on condition that the author and source of the article are clearly shown, no charge is made, and the whole article is reproduced intact, including this notice.

All contents