Pardon my dwelling

June 19, 2008

So today I woke up in a world where Tove Jansson’s timeless gem Moomin (Drawn & Quarterly) can be nominated in the same award category as the Witchblade Manga (Top Cow). I’m not comfortable with this, obviously, and I’m even less comfortable with the possibility that I live in a world where the Witchblade Manga could possibly beat Moomin for that award. Because the pool of people eligible to nominate works for the awards is identical to the pool of people who decide which of those nominees will receive Harveys:

“Nominations for the Harvey Awards are selected exclusively by creators – those who write, draw, ink, letter, color, design, edit or are otherwise involved in a creative capacity in the comics field. The Harvey Awards are the only industry awards both nominated and selected by the full body of comic book professionals.”

Greg McElhatton notes that the Harvey nominations are “SO easy to stack,” and if anyone was on the fence about that, well… Witchblade Manga. The prosecution rests.

This is a problem. It’s not a huge problem in the grand scheme of things, obviously, but it’s a problem for the Harvey Awards, because the possibility of shoving a piece of crap into the field of nominees unfairly casts the worthiness of everything on the slate into question. If I can conclude, not unreasonably, that a bunch of people who work for Company A sat around the break room and decided to force a piece of crap onto the ballot, then I can conclude just as reasonably that a bunch of people who work for Company B sat around the break room and decided to force something brilliant onto the ballot. A desirable outcome doesn’t make a leaky process any more ethical.

Of course, it’s a universal problem for awards programs of any sort. All of them have to decide where they want to land on the continuum between potentially out-of-touch gatekeepers and a democratic process that leaves itself open to abuse. I think the simplest solution would be to use precisely the same pool of potential nominators but to prohibit them from nominating any work published by the company that employs them. (That’s how nominations work in the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens program.) That would still leave open the possibility of collusion among publishers, obviously, but that seems less likely than self-promoting ballot-box stuffing.

There is the remote possibility that what one might consider counter-intuitive nominees (some listed here by Dirk Deppey) wound up there as the result of an entirely democratic groundswell of support, heretofore unexpected by the casual observer. I’m cynical, so unless I get a bunch of e-mails or comments that support that optimistic possibility, I’m going to suggest that the Harvey Awards nomination process is broken and needs to be fixed if the sponsors want to cultivate a reputation for promoting meritorious work. Because there’s plenty of meritorious work nominated, and it’s not fair that it stands a real chance of losing to something awful because the system can be massaged.

For further reading, please see Brigid Alverson’s noble attempt to list more award-worthy works. I thought about doing that, but then I decided that the bar was set so low that I’d never stop.