Yesterday, the nominees for the 2016 Eisner Awards were announced. As with pretty much every batch, there are some fantastic works listed and all very worthy of praise. Now I could take this column to look at the five titles nominated in the Best Digital/Webcomic category—Bandette by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, Fresh Romance edited by Janelle Asselin, The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Li, Lighten Up by Ronald Wimberly, and These Memories Won’t Last by Stu Campbell—but Melanie Gillman tweeted some thoughts that I think bear some consideration…
Look: the best comics being made today are webcomics, and the best webcomics being made today are by women/POC/LGBTQ people.
— Melanie Gillman (@melgillman) April 19, 2016
She expanded on that through a series of Tweets, but I think the Eisner list itself actually helps to prove her point. Take a look at the books and creators in the other categories this year. Best Short Story nominee: Matthew Inman. Best Continuing Series nominee: John Allison. Best New Series nominee: Ryan North. Best Publication for Teens nominee: Ben Towle. Best Humor Publication nominee: Kris Wilson. Best Graphic Album—New nominee: Sydney Padua. Best Graphic Album—Reprint nominee: Noelle Stevenson. Best U.S. Edition of International Material nominee: Asaf Hanuka. What these folks all have in common is that they’ve all done more than their fair share of webcomics. And, in fact, many of their books that are being nominated in these other categories started as webcomics! The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, The Realist, Oyster War, and many others were created as webcomics and then later picked up by book publishers.
Why? Because of exactly Gillman’s point above: the best comics being made today are webcomics. A publisher can look and see precisely what fantastic work is being done. They might see the piece as essentially done and just correct for minor typos, or they might see it as a very solid work that they might provide a few suggestions for improving, but they’re seeing a completed work that can be judged in essentially a complete form.
Publishers are taking advantage of the creativity online to make great books because the traditional publishing system that exist does not really allow for diverse voices. Not only are they not encouraged, but the way the system is set up actively discourages them. So smaller publishers who work at least partially outside that system are able to pick up on these great works with minimal risk, since the creators have already demonstrated there’s an audience for it via the webcomic itself.
My point, and the one Gillman makes in other Tweets, is that webcomics aren’t just important as a venue in and of themselves (although they are) but they’re important as an outlet for comics as a whole. The Eisner Awards are supposed to represent the pinnacle of comics every year, and more and more, we’re seeing the people making those stories come from webcomics.