The Eisner Award finalists for best comics/graphic novels have been announced, in a dizzying array of categories. So many categories, in fact, that I'm just going to let Amazon readers peruse it all themselves, and say I'm happy to see such imaginative fare as Shaun Tan's The Arrival, Jeff Lemire's Essex County, Jason Shiga's Bookhunter, and Matt Kindt's Super Spy making the list. The 2008 Eisner Awards judging panel consisted of John Davis (director of pop culture markets, Bookazine), Paul DiFilippo (SF and comics author), Atom! Freeman (owner of Brave New World Comics in Santa Clarita, CA), Jeff Jensen (senior writer, Entertainment Weekly), and Eva Volin (supervising children's librarian for the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, CA).
Having been a judge last year, knowing how much effort goes into the process, it's mind-blowing that they survive the experience. In addition to their regular reading, the judges are flown to San Diego and basically locked in a room for an entire weekend to read anything they've missed and to thrash out the finalists.
I asked judge Paul Di Filippo what the toughest categories were in his opinion: "Speaking personally, my lack of manga experience made it hard for me to judge in that category. But so far as consensus among the judges went, this year seemed surprisingly equitable, with very little dissension. There were very few individual items which some ranked highest and other lowest. And if you're talking about difficulty of finding enough worthwhile candidates--just didn't happen! Too much good stuff got eliminated, in favor of even better items.
Judge Jeff Jensen typified the experience as "intense, exhausting, grueling, and really, really fun. It's both exciting and terrifying the first time you vote on a category; you realize the significance of what you're doing and you feel this overwhelming sense of 'You gotta get it perfect!' Then you realize that's impossible, that there is no 'getting it perfect' in any awards process in any medium. So you just ground yourself in your own passion and good sense and have fun with it and commit to being as thorough as possible given the limitations of time and available comics."
Di Filippo was astonished by the wealth of material: "I thought I had a good handle through my own reading, but this judging process opened up my eyes. It's starting to seem to me as if comics is entering its true maturity as a medium, with as wide a variety of material as one would find in prose novels."
Jensen agrees: "I was confronted by the reality that the comics fields is so much bigger and more varied than I really knew. I realized I need to be making a whole lot money if I want to be a true comics aficionado--too much good stuff, not enough cash!"
Jackie Estrada, awards administrator since 1990, says of her role, "I try to read as much of the material as possible ahead of time so that I know what the judges will be talking about, and I discover lots of wonderful books that way. I always enjoy the judging weekend, even though it's grueling. As former judge Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly remarked, what more could one want than to spend an entire weekend just sitting around reading and talking about comics? The most fulfilling part is being able to promote the best that the comics medium has to offer and help these works find new readers and a wider audience. It's always gratifying to me when I hear that someone uses the nominees as a shopping list, because the person knows that whatever is on the list is going to be high quality."
As indicated in the award's official press release, ballots will be going out in late April to comics creators, editors, publishers, and retailers. The results in all categories will be announced in a gala awards ceremony on the evening of Friday, July 25 at Comic-Con International.