April 25, 2014

Hugo Nominations: Best Graphic Story

This is the fourth and final Hugo category I wanted to talk about, and it's the one I want to talk about the most. Hugo Awards, we need to have a talk. I think you know what it's going to be about, because we've had this exact conversation before. First, let's just quickly recap the five nominees for Best Graphic Story.

- Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
- “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who”, written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
- The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
- Saga, Volume 2, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
- “Time”, Randall Munroe (XKCD)

The Best Graphic Novel intervention takes place under the cut.

I've been arguing for some years that the Best Graphic Novel category probably needs retiring from the Hugo Awards. I applauded its introduction, as it suggested that prose readers were finally embracing the graphic novel medium. Unfortunately Hugo nominators have repeatedly proven themselves to be remarkably poorly read when it comes to comic books and graphic novels, something that's evident at almost every year's shortlist. Last year gave me hope: aside from the repeatedly bloc-nominated Schlock Mercenary there was Saucer Country, Locke and Key, Grandville Bete Noir and the well-deserved winner Saga.

This year Saga is a shoe-in to win the category, because its competition is yet another volume of Girl Genius (never warmed to it), a single issue of a Doctor Who tie-in comic book, a single instalment of a webcomic and an ultra-indie one-shot based on a George R. R. Marin short story.

Let's have a quick look at what these nominees managed to beat:
  • The Massive, an inventive and intelligent post-apocalyptic drama by Brian Wood and Garry Brown about environmental activists searching for a vanished sister ship on a flooded Earth.
  • Storm Dogs, a tense and atmospheric science fiction thriller about a murder investigation on an alien planet; it boasted exceptional world-building, science fiction concepts and characterisation.
  • Lazarus, a stunning near-future comic by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark about rival families ruling over America with the assistance of genetically modified soldiers and bodyguards.
  • Mara, by Brian Wood and Ming Doyle, about a future sports star who begins to develop superhuman powers.
  • Planetoid, a great miniseries collected in 2013 about a rogue soldier defending a small community from the interplanetary commercial forces who want them out of the way.
  • East of West, a sci-fi western dystopia by Jonathan Hickman.
  • Multiple Warheads, a fantastic Moebius-esque road trip created by Brandon Graham that's brimming with ideas and weird concepts.
  • Prophet, another Graham work - this time with Simon Roy - that has brilliantly transformed an old Rob Liefeld character into a stunning far future epic drawing on classic Metal Hurlant aesthetics and themes.
  • Manhattan Projects, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra, a parallel universe story of German, Russian and American scientists secretly teaming up to stretch the boundaries of human knowledge during the Cold War.
  • Thor: God of Thunder, "Godbomb", an absolutely amazing Marvel comic book published and collected in 2013 that boasts brilliant artwork and writing.
  • Revival, a 'rural noir' by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton about a town in Wisconsin where the dead have started returning to life.
  • Conan the Barbarian: The Nightmare of the Shallows, the latest volume of Brian Wood's masterful adaptation of the original Robert E. Howard stories. I'm not sure Conan has had this good a comic book in 20 years.
  • The Unwritten, a previously nominated postmodern fantasy series by Mike Carey.
  • Fables, the perennially popular folkloric adaptation by Bill Willingham.
There are probably a lot of other graphic novels that I didn't read last year that deserve a look-in. For one thing, there must have been one or two decent manga published. The thing is, they don't get a look-in because Hugo nominators simply aren't very well read.

And this is the thing: if the nominating base aren't properly invested in the medium, then any award they nominate isn't going to represent the best that the medium has to offer. Hugo nominators know prose SF very well. This isn't the case with graphic stories. There's no shame in not being well read in all mediums, either. There's no problem with quietly retiring this category. After all, there's no category for best SF videogame.

This isn't intended as a slight against those writers and artists who did get nominated this year. I just really, really don't think the shortlist is representative of the medium at its best - and that's what awards are supposed to be about.

1 comment:

  1. I take your general point, but I think you're being unfairly dismissive of "Time", which is considerably more ambitious in its size and its ideas than you probably realise if you haven't looked into it. Three panels with a joke at the end, it ain't.

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