This year was supposed to be my first year attending San Diego Comic Con as a bonafide member of the press. I was over the moon with the opportunity but above all, I was going to the Eisners– a longtime dream realized. Then came the pandemic. The comics distribution shut down. Then the distro wars. Then victims coming forward. The firings. More victims coming forward. More vitriol. More time. In short, the entire industry was 2020’d, so by the time we arrived at the virtual Eisners during Comic Con @ Home 2020, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect.
I certainly didn’t expect what happened next.
Best Writer (Mariko Tamaki), Best Penciller/Inker (Rosemary Valero-O’Connell), and Best Writer/Artist (Raina Telgemeier) were all women for the first time in history. Best Continuing Series (Bitter Root from Image), Best Limited Series (Little Bird from Image), and Best New Series (Invisible Kingdom from Berger Book/Dark Horse) were a noticeable shut out for both DC and Marvel Comics.
The nominee list for the 2020 Eisners, released on June 4th, 2020, didn’t look drastically different from previous years. There were perhaps a few less nominations for some of the bigger selling mainstream books and a few more women nominated in the major categories but all in all, you could shuffle the lists from the past several years and not really see much of a difference in overall demographics. Where you can’t help but notice change, however, is in the makeup of the winners from 2020. An unprecedented number of women and POC creators won awards, while Marvel and DC books were missing from the winner’s circle year.***
And if you look at the roadmap through 2020, it makes total sense.
As 2020 entered full swing, we stayed at home. The comics well slowed to a trickle. With the stand-dominating forces of DC and Marvel curtailed and the doors of the LCS locked, we looked in new places for our comics fix. And we found it. Small publishers, true indies, online books, and the books we keep saying that “I’ll get around to it one day” about. And there we found different voices.
There we were as a fandom at large, many of us not consciously seeking these voices out when the United States erupted into mass protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, simply the latest in a long pattern of abuse and racism. Right when we were starting to find these new voices, they emerged in force on social media. That “obscure” writer from an anthology you read from DC or Marvel all of a sudden was a voice of strength and reason. “I read that 8-page story the big company let you do but now I see you have a dozen other works that you self-published or pushed through small press. Geez, shouldn’t you have an ongoing, bestselling series by now?”
Then came the stories of abuse, corruption, and corporate protection anew. Old abusers were brought back into the discourse while new ones arose. The “Good Ole Boys Club” mentality in the industry was never more visible to all than over the past couple of months. If you’re still in denial about its existence, you might want to go back and reread some of the stories. You won’t have to look very far; more stories about beloved creators are surfacing every day. All of a sudden, you can’t help but wonder if maybe these stories are the answer to why so-and-so doesn’t have a permanent job writing a Batman book or an Avengers book. And then maybe you start to wonder why they would even want to write Superman if the experience was so bad for so long for so many?
That perfect storm of being forced to search away from the mainstream, the amplification of different voices, and the exposure of hostile practices within the mainstream created a moment in which change that was already clearly slowly moving throughout the industry exploded. The 2020 Eisner Awards are the direct result of the collision between the future and the past. DC and Marvel have dominated sales for so long that they seem to have adopted a “Too Big to Fail” mentality. The trials and tribulations we have faced– as a fandom, as an artform, as a species– have led to this moment, where the Eisner awards showed us a potential future within our grasp. It is a future where art thrives not because it is corporately funded but in spite of it. It is a future where all artists have a voice and the power of a few to make and break careers is dispelled. It is a future where we can all feel safe to create as we see fit without being assaulted by “big names”. Fundamental change is within reach and if the Eisners taught us anything, it’s that the future is now.
***[Note: Tamaki penned Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass for DC, along with Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me and Archie; Dave Stewart colored Silver Surfer: Black and Spider-Man for Marvel along with Black Hammer, B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know, Hellboy and the BPRD (Dark Horse); these individual award winners’ limited work at the Big 2 is the only evidence of DC or Marvel in the list of winners]
COMMENTARY: What Can We Learn From the 2020 Eisner Awards?
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