The nominees for this year’s Ignatz Awards were announced last week. The Ignatz is “the festival prize of the Small Press Expo, that since 1997 has recognized outstanding achievement in comics and cartooning.” They instituted a category for online comics in 2001 and winners have included James Kochalka, Chris Onstad, Kate Beaton, and Jillian Tamaki. This year’s nominees are:

As is often the case with webcomic awards, the styles and themes of these comics vary widely. Two discuss issues surrounding pregnancy and birth, one is a reflection on memory, one is science fiction, and one is fantasy. Two remain ongoing serials, while the other three are decidedly shorter and have been completed. One also utilizes animation. They are all excellent works, and all deserving of praise, but it always strikes me as curious that such varied works are lumped into the same category simply because of how they’re delivered. You might recall I brought this issue up a few months back with regard to the Eisners.

One interesting thing to note this year, however, is that all of the nominees are women. That’s not the first time a group of women were all up for the same Ignatz Award, but it is the first time in the “Outstanding Online Comic” category. They were chosen by a panel of five judges, themselves all comic creators, and the winner will be selected by SPX attendees.

What this highlights is the diversity that is possible with the accessibility of webcomic creation. While none of the nominees this year are people of color, they are represented well in O Human Star and Witchy. Additionally, O Human Star’s two protagonists are both gay. Other awards don’t often feature this kind of representation because many editors and publishers are still of the opinion that it “wouldn’t sell.”  Of course, the claim is backed up by nothing except their own bias, whether they consciously acknowledge that or not.

SPX is indeed known for catering to independent creators, so they generally have fewer issues of diversity than other conventions. But that these webcomics are available online for anyone to read does more to extent the reach of these creators than their self-published print works. While not every SPX attendee may have the resources to check out the other works in other categories, everything nominated in the online category is freely available. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable assumption to think that these five creators’ web traffic has spiked significantly in the past week as people began checking out their work.

And it’s this exposure that I think helps to raise comics inclusiveness overall. There are readers who might not normally think to support this type of work, preferring perhaps more “traditional” comics fare, but might be willing to try one of these stories since they’re free anyway. As they bring up issues and concerns that might not otherwise be seen by these readers, these webcomics could prove to be eye-opening and enlightening. Not every reader, obviously, is going to walk away with a broader perspective and greater appreciation and tolerance for those unlike him/herself, but touching just a few is a worthwhile endeavor. Perhaps eventually, the publishing gatekeepers will be the ones learning a thing or two.