Award Watch: the 2020 Eisners



The list of nominations for this year’s edition of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards was announced just yesterday. Most people’s concern is how the award ceremony will take place (since the Eisners are traditionally presented at SDCC, and that’s not likely to take place this time, what with all the problems in the world). But I have something else on my mind. And that something else is: this is the best year yet as far as manga is concerned.


I’m excited to dive in, but if you’re unfamiliar with the Eisners, I wrote up on them as part of my piece on manga awards last month, which you can check out here. In summary: the Eisners are primarily meant to honour accomplishments in the American comics industry. So, for a manga or manga-related work to get nominated (outside of the specific Asian comics category) is a bit of an achievement in itself.


Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at this year’s nominees from the manga world, and try to make some predictions!



Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia


We’ll kick things off with the dedicated Asian comics category. I’ve complained earlier that this award essentially boiled down to “Best Gritty Seinen Manga”, but the triumph of sassy josei manga Tokyo Tarareba Girls last year seems to have hinted at changes. And this year’s list of nominees has a surprising amount of variety. Most surprisingly, only one out of six nominated creators is male. Are the winds of change blowing? Let’s take a look:



Beastars

Art & story by: Paru Itagaki

Translation by: Tomo Kimura

Publisher: VIZ Media


This was kind of a no brainer. Beastars has been making waves thanks to the critical and commercial success of Studio Orange’s anime adaptation. The ‘Zootopia gone dark’ premise is one that holds wide appeal, and translates well.



Cats of the Louvre

Art & story by: Taiyo Matsumoto

Translation by: Michael Arias

Publisher: VIZ Media


Taiyo Matsumoto is no stranger to the Eisners, having won in this very same category in 2008. However, the magical realism of Cats of the Louvre is quite different from the brash and gritty Tekkonkinkreet that won it for him that year. This is an interesting nominee that flies the flag for art manga.



Grass

Art & story by: Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

Translation by: Janet Hong

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly


Probably the least-known among this list of nominees (being the only non-Japanese one), it is nonetheless easy to see why the biographical manhwa Grass earned its nod. With its stark, nightmarish account of a Korean “comfort woman” told in the format of an interview with the author, it reminds one strongly of Art Spiegelmann’s Maus, another wartime story of one person told through conversations with another.



Magic Knight Rayearth (25th Anniversary Edition)

Art & story by: CLAMP

Translation by: Melissa Tanaka

Publisher: Kodansha USA


And now for a blast from the past! It is hard enough to create an influential work in one genre, and yet CLAMP managed to make one that was influential in three completely unrelated genres: magical girl, isekai, and mecha. This classic was released back in 1993, when the international category of the Eisners didn’t exist, meaning it was never nominated. Kodansha’s 25th Anniversary reprint provides the perfect opportunity to correct that wrong.



The Poe Clan

Art & story by: Moto Hagio

Translation by: Rachel Thorn

Publisher: Fantagraphics


And if you thought 1993 was old, here comes 1972’s The Poe Clan! Modern-day shojo and BL manga simply would not exist without Moto Hagio, perhaps the most influential woman in manga alongside Rumiko Takahashi. After many, many years, her works are finally being translated into English. And it’s great to see The Poe Clan, her gothic vampire manga, receive that treatment, as well as the recognition it deserves.



Witch Hat Atelier

Art & story by: Kamome Shirahama

Translation by: Stephen Kohler

Publisher: Kodansha USA


You have no idea how happy I am that this got nominated. It is easily my personal favourite of this list, and I had feared that it would be considered too ‘sweet’ to be nominated alongside more ‘serious’ works. Witch Hat Atelier deserves more recognition. Without spoiling anything, it is the exact opposite of Harry Potter, and I mean that in the best way. And with stunning art that is equal parts Ghibli and Berserk, what’s not to love?



Predicted winner: Grass. I am quite certain of this. The fact that Gendry-Kim and her work have been nominated in two other categories only deepens my conviction on this. Plus the other works have other things working against them. Beastars and Witch Hat Atelier are still ongoing, putting them at a disadvantage with the other works, which are all complete. Cats of the Louvre is a bit too “out there”, I feel. And with Rayearth and Poe Clan, their age shows. I’m putting my money on Grass.




Best Reality-Based Work


Two manga — one biographical, the other autobiographical — have been nominated to this category. Let’s look at them:



Grass

Art & story by: Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

Translation by: Janet Hong

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly


To no one’s surprise, Grass picks up a second nomination here.



My Solo Exchange Diary (vol. 2)

Art & story by: Nagata Kabi

Translation by: Jocelyne Allen

Publisher: Seven Seas


I’ve not read My Solo Exchange Diary. But if it’s anything like its prequel, 2016’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, it’s going to be great. Nagata Kabi has an extremely honest way of writing, laying bare every detail of her everyday life, her mental illness struggles, and her sexual exploration.



Other nominees:

  • Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations, by Mira Jacob (One World/Random House)

  • Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos, by Lucy Knisley (First Second/Macmillan)

  • Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight, by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (Hill & Wang)

  • They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (Top Shelf)



Predicted winner: I’m not too familiar with the rest of the field, outside of Good Talk (which I liked, being Indian). However, I could easily see Grass winning this category as well. It is just that powerful a work.




Best Humour Publication


This was the last category I’d expected to see a manga get nominated in. Humour is such a culturally subjective thing, after all, and Japanese humour has received a notorious reputation in the West for being hard to get. So it’s a huge achievement that a manga managed to get nominated here. And that manga is:




The Way of the Househusband

Art & story by: Kousuke Oono

Translation by: Sheldon Dzrka

Publisher: VIZ Media


What a way to mark your manga debut, Oono Kousuke-san. The moment I saw the premise — of a former yakuza hero trying to be a normal stay-at-home husband — I decided that I absolutely must read it. And what a fun read it turned out to be! On a visit to meet me, my parents wondered why on earth I was constantly chuckling at a dude who stays at home and cooks and operates Roombas. But I didn’t care. I was having a great time.


Other nominees:

  • Anatomy of Authors, by Dave Kellett (SheldonComics.com)

  • Death Wins a Goldfish, by Brian Rea (Chronicle Books)

  • Minotäar, by Lissa Treiman (Shortbox)

  • Sobek, by James Stokoe (Shortbox)

  • Wondermark: Friends You Can Ride On, by David Malki (Wondermark)



Predicted winner: Sobek. As much as I love Househusband, I just can’t see it winning over this year’s most nominated creator and his incredibly well-drawn short. I’m just content that it even got the nod.




Best Adaptation from Another Medium


Last year, Junji Ito took home this prize for his manga adaptation of Frankenstein. Can a manga win it again? We shall see. This year’s manga nominee is:



HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (vols. 1–2)

Original story by: HP Lovecraft

Adapted by: Gou Tanabe

Translation by: Zack Davisson

Publisher: Dark Horse Manga


There has been a long tradition of adapting Lovecraft’s stories to manga, as well as manga stories set in the Cthulhu-verse. Junji Ito cites Lovecraft as a major inspiration, and is even considered by many to be a kind of spiritual successor to Lovecraft himself. This tradition continues with Gou Tanabe’s adaptation of one of the most popular Lovecraft tales.



Other nominees:

  • Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dali, the Marx Brothers, and the Strangest Movie Never Made, by Josh Frank, Tim Hedecker, and Manuela Pertega (Quirk Books)

  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry and P. Craig Russell, (HMH Books for Young Readers)

  • The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel, by Margaret Atwood, adapted by Renee Nault (Nan A. Talese)

  • The Seventh Voyage, by Stanislaw Lem, adapted by Jon Muth, translation by Michael Kandel (Scholastic Graphix)

  • Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran (Dark Horse Books)



Predicted winner: Snow, Glass, Apples. The more unsavoury details of HP Lovecraft (his vehement racism, sexism, and antisemitism, to be exact) make it unlikely that an adaptation of his work will be honoured, in my opinion. Neil Gaiman has been enjoying a resurgence of popularity of late, and this graphic novel adaptation of his darkly erotic 1994 retelling of Snow White might just take the prize, backed by Colleen Doran’s excellent art.




Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books


This award recognises anthologies or collections of individual comic short stories by a single author. There is one nominee from the manga world, and that is:




That Miyoko Asagaya Feeling

Art & story by: Shinichi Abe

Edited by: Mitsuhiro Asakawa

Translation by: Ryan Holmberg

Publisher: Black Hook Press


Shinichi Abe was one of the defining artists of Garo, the legendary alt manga magazine of the 60s and 70s where many influential gekiga artists made their name. This collection of deeply personal stories based on his bohemian life in Tokyo, has finally made its way to English markets through Black Hook Press.



Other nominees:

  • Alay-Oop, by William Gropper (New York Review Comics)

  • The Complete Crepax, vol. 5: American Stories, edited by Kristy Valenti (Fantagraphics)

  • Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love, edited by John Morrow (TwoMorrows)

  • Moonshadow: The Definitive Edition, by J. M. DeMatteis, Jon J Muth, George Pratt, Kent Williams, and others (Dark Horse Books)

  • Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo: The Complete Grasscutter Artist Select, by Stan Sakai, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)


Predicted winner: not familiar enough with the rest (outside of Usagi Yojimbo) to make this call.




Best Academic/Scholarly Work


One manga-related work was nominated here, and that was:



Women’s Manga in Asia and Beyond: Uniting Different Cultures and Identities

Edited by: Fusami Ogi, Kazumi Nagaike, Rebecca Suter, John A. Lent

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan


A collection of pieces by both artists and researchers, divided into three sections, discussing various non-masculine manga topics. Includes an interview with Theresa Lee, the creator of bestselling Hong Kong manhua Miss 13 Dots.



Other nominees:

  • The Art of Pere Joan: Space, Landscape, and Comics Form, by Benjamin Fraser (University of Texas Press)

  • The Comics of Rutu Modan: War, Love, and Secrets, by Kevin Haworth (University Press of Mississippi)

  • EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest, by Qiana Whitted (Rutgers University Press)

  • The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life, edited by Andrew Blauner (Library of America)

  • Producing Mass Entertainment: The Serial Life of the Yellow Kid, by Christina Meyer (Ohio State University Press)



Predicted winner: definitely not qualified enough to make a call.




Best Writer/Artist


The person nominated for this category, honouring people who both write and illustrate their comics, should come as no surprise to those who’ve read through this article:



Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

Work(s): Grass

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly


The third nomination for this excellent manhwa and its author. What an achievement.



Other nominees:

  • Nina Bunjevac, Bezimena (Fantagraphics)

  • Mira Jacob, Good Talk (Random House); “The Menopause” in The Believer (June 1, 2019)

  • James Stokoe, Sobek (Shortbox)

  • Raina Telgemeier, Guts (Scholastic Graphix)

  • Tillie Walden, Are You Listening? (First Second/Macmillan)



Predicted winner: probably Stokoe or Tegelmeier, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Gendry-Kim were to make it three out of three.




Hall of Fame


Every year, the Eisners select some influential comic industry figures to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. And this has included some manga legends like Osamu Tezuka and Rumiko Takahashi. This year, two manga artists can potentially be voted in. They are:



Keiji Nakazawa

Notable works: Barefoot Gen, I Saw It


Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, based on his own childhood experience of the bomb in Hiroshima, ran in Weekly Shonen Jump in the 70s and is to this day considered one of the most accurate and haunting accounts of the bombing, and of Japanese militarism. It became the first manga to ever be translated into English in 1976.



Moto Hagio

Notable works: A Cruel God Reigns, Heart of Thomas, The Poe Clan


No one deserves this honour more than Moto Hagio. Part of the influential "Year 24" group of female mangaka, she has made contributions to several genres: sci-fi, BL, and more. Shojo manga of today owe a lot to Moto Hagio.



Predictions: I would be surprised (and quite disappointed) if Moto Hagio does not make it in. Then again, this year’s batch features such icons as Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo), so competition is intense.



And that’s that. This was an excellent year for manga and manhwa at the Eisners in terms of nominations alone. And with Grass poised to sweep the prizes, it looks like it could be a fruitful year as well. I’m pleased with the variety of works and creators nominated both this year and last. Hopefully this positive trend shall continue.


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