Judges’ Reflections on the 2021 Eisner Awards Nominations Process
(Owner, Alakazam Comics, Irvine, CA)
I am grateful and honored to have been picked to be a judge for this year’s Eisners. I had talked to a couple of past judges, so I knew what the experience would be like. I also knew that because of the COVID pandemic judging would be a little different than other years. There was lot of driving! Mostly from my home in Orange County to San Diego to pick up boxes of books to read. Some of the comics and graphic novels, I had read when they came out in 2020. Others, it was my privilege to read for the first time during the past several months.
The judges communicated with each other online via Zoom and a Facebook group, as well as email. And then we met for two days in San Diego to read more books and to vote on our choices. One of my fondest memories is when I first stepped into the San Diego conference room and saw many hundreds of books and graphic novels at our fingertips to be able to read, point to, discuss, etc. Awards administrator Jackie Estrada and her assistant had made sure that all the publisher submitted materials were there for us to peruse. I also enjoyed talking with my fellow enthusiastic judges about their picks and trying to build a consensus. It was a highlight of my comics career, for sure.
I’d like to congratulate all the nominees! I think that this crop of nominees is one of the best ever. Thank you to the other judges, and thank you, thank you, thank you to Jackie Estrada and Comic-Con for inviting me to be a judge and for organizing everything.
(Member, CCI Board of Directors)
Being asked to be a judge for the Eisner Awards was an honor that was filled with equal parts excitement and anxiety. I had a general idea of what lay in store for me regarding the process, but I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for the sheer volume of submissions that came flooding in for us to review from all of the various publishers. With the restrictions from COVID still lingering, all of our reading was done in the comfort of our own spaces and involved trips to "swap out" large supplies of material so that we could continue the grand task at hand. Thankfully, we were able to gather in person for the final judging event (socially distanced of course) and spent two days together finalizing the nominees in each category.
I am grateful for the experience. I honestly wasn't sure how I would ever make it through so many submissions, but each time I uncovered a work that spoke to me, made me smile or laugh, or left me marveling at the beauty of the creation before me, it motivated me to KEEP READING! I hope that as you read through the works that have been nominated, you will find that same inspiration.
To all of the 2021 nominees, congratulations! To my fellow judges, thank you for sharing your knowledge, humor, and love for comics throughout the journey. We did it! To Ron McFee, thank you for all of the time spent transporting, organizing, and arranging so much material so that we could make the most of our final judging days. And lastly, a big thank you to Jackie Estrada for all that you do to manage these awards every year!
(Popular Culture Librarian, San Diego State University)
When Jackie invited me to join the judging panel for the Eisners, I was equally honored and terrified. I had heard playful stories from past judges about what I would be getting into—many long, hard months of reading comics all day every day, culminating in a six-person showdown to determine the five (or six) best in categories overflowing with talent and deserving of attention. I was not prepared for how agonizing it would be to narrow down submissions from publishers and creators to the final nominees.
The experience gave me permission to sit still and enjoy a good book (and then another good book and another). Reading comics was a relief and escape during a time of such extreme isolation and uncertainty due to the COVID pandemic. Comics in 2020 were a jazzy mix of diverse themes that explore the human condition. During this eight-month journey through real and imagined lands, I read heartbreaking stories that made me cry and uplifting stories about the strength of the human spirit and building compassion.
Congratulations to the nominees and the entire comics community. Your talent, hard work, and perseverance made a difficult year more enjoyable and thought-provoking. It’s been an honor to spend time with your creativity. To my fellow judges and Jackie, thank you for your dedication, thoughtful analysis of the titles, willingness to create a community during a tough time ,and your unwavering senses of humor. We needed those!
(Publisher/Artist, KID Comics)
For many years the Eisner Awards were something I knew of only through articles and photos. It became a sort of mythological experience in my mind growing up. All of my favorite artists and writers would congregate in one physical space every year? Wow. I would have visions of Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, George Pérez, Marv Wolfman, Frank Frazetta and others hobnobbing as they traded war stories about the comics industry. Suffice it to say, attending the Eisner Awards was never truly a possibility in my mind. I mean, those guys were gods to me.
Well here I am, on the verge of turning 50 years old and making strides in the independent comic book market, along with a good 25 years of professional graphic design experience, when I get an email from San Diego Comic-Con's Jackie Estrada. "How would you like to be a judge for the 2021 Eisner Awards?" I reread the email again because I must have interpreted wrong, right? Nope—that's what she asked. I responded with a very enthusiastic, "Yes!"
Jackie put the rest of the judges and me through a bit of a meticulous grind, reading and evaluating hundreds of comic books over a truncated amount of time. I read so many comics in such a short time, while still maintaining my "real life," I started questioning the sanity of the whole process. Could we really pull this off within six or seven months? Thanks to Odin's child, Jackie, she kept everything organized and fluent. Without her leadership, it would have been a nightmare of a mess. Judging the Eisner Awards was a dream job for me. But by no means was it a walk in the park. I am truly grateful for the experience and the feather in my comics career hat. Thank you, San Diego Comic-Con!
(Co-Founder/Executive Director/Lead Instructor, Little Fish Comic Book Studio, San Diego)
I can remember standing in line for badge registration at San Diego Comic-Con as a teenager—back when you could get a badge the day of!—and with a budding understanding of the great work being produced by comic artists and writers, I devoured the list of Eisner nominees. How surreal, then, to be on the other side of that memory, helping to craft the nominees for the 2021 Eisner Awards. No amount of prior reading or talking with past judges prepares you for the work and responsibility you take on. The time sequestered alone with books, the puzzled faces of friends and family who don't quite understand the undertaking—what a year! What an eight-month window of intense reading! What a lifetime experience!
I will never forget the wonder and awe of reading and coming across new talents, astoundingly original works, and books and stories that once again connected me with that teenager in line at Comic-Con all those years ago. I am proud of the work we did spotlighting the best and brightest this diverse and varied year had to offer. A special thank you to my fellow judges (and occasional debate opponents!), to Eisner Administrator Jackie Estrada (who tirelessly steers this ship to harbor, successfully, year after year) and the Comic-Con staff. It has been an absolute joy, pleasure and career highlight to be a 2021 Eisner Awards judge! I'm sad that it’s wrapped up now, but I am happy to sleep again!
(Comics Historian, Co-Founder of the Comics Historian Group on Facebook)
The sheer volume of early reader to young adult comics in 2020 was intimidating, and those categories contributed many of my favorite nominated books. So many of them this year were explorations of the immigrant or refugee experience. Others were about what it means to be prejudged, unnoticed, invisible. It became hard for me to seriously call the "mainstream" comics the adult books and ghettoize these as the children's books when they were often the most topical and emotionally honest books I read.
I was also grateful that we were able to add a graphic memoir category separate and apart from the broader reality-based one—it was desperately needed this year because of the volume and quality of those works. I think because of COVID isolation, we really related to introspection and first-person narrative more than in most years.
Finally, I'd say that many great books and writers and artists may not have gotten the recognition one might assume they would, but that's because many of those books went on major hiatuses because of distribution stoppages. Thus, serialized books were at more of a disadvantage because of those disruptions, as compared to longer one-volume graphic novels.
I am proud of the list we arrived at—I put my very best into it. And I forged friendships that came from the same level of commitment from the other judges.