A Guide to the 2016 Eisner Awards

There are a lot of great comics and creators on this year's list of Eisner Award nominees. Here's a guide to the biggest event in comics!

Every year, the best and brightest in American comics gather together in San Diego to honor the greatest accomplishments in the medium. The Eisners, comics’ Oscars, are often a reflection of the shifts in the industry itself: last year’s big winner, Lumberjanes, came after a dramatic increase in smaller press, all-ages, inclusive comics, and this year, the awards ceremony proudly touted the fact that a record number of women were nominated for awards.

They’re also usually pretty tough to predict, but that’s not stopping us from trying! We took a look at a handful of headline categories, and gave you a rundown of who we think will (or would like to see) win.

Best Continuing Series

  • Bandette, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover (Monkeybrain)

  • Giant Days, by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, and Max Sarin (BOOM! Studios/BOOM! Box)

  • Invincible, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Cliff Rathburn (Image/Skybound)

  • Silver Surfer, by Dan Slott and Michael Allred (Marvel)

  • Southern Bastards, by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour (Image)

Like in end of year lists, I have a natural instinct to slightly penalize continued greatness. I take books like Southern Bastards and Bandette for granted. I know that, and I will totally cop to it. But in judging this, I’m a little bit giving into my own prejudices, and a little bit guessing at how the votes will land. Considering how Lumberjanes cleaned up last year, I’d be willing to bet Giant Days does almost as well, and I’d be radically okay with that.

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Allison, Treiman, and Sarin’s book is immediately relatable to everyone. Literally immediately: look at the first page of the first issue and tell me you A. don’t immediately know what’s going on, even without reading a line of dialogue; B. don’t recognize at least one of the characters there as someone from your own life just by the staging of the page; and C. don’t immediately want to read more. The Eisners have been rewarding this kind of expressiveness for a few years now, so I think Giant Days is in line for a deservedly good night.

Best Limited Series

  • Chrononauts, by Mark Millar and Sean Murphy (Image)

  • The Fade Out, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)

  • Lady Killer, by Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich (Dark Horse)

  • Minimum Wage: So Many Bad Decisions, by Bob Fingerman (Image)

  • The Spire, by Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely (BOOM! Studios)

You know what the best thing about Jeff Stokely’s art is? I feel like I’m 8 and seeing Voltron for the first time. His faces and compositions have an almost retro manga vibe to them that you don’t see a ton of in modern comics. But they’re expressive and gritty at the same time, without being sludgy or overdone like can happen frequently with heavier inks. And he thrives in creating weird, hostile worlds for his characters to live in – it’s why, I think, he and Spurrier go so well together.

Si Spurrier is one of the most inventive, creative writers in comics right now, a guy who packs a ton of heart into an action comic filled with fart jokes (my friends and I jokingly describe him as “What if Warren Ellis was a nice person?”). The Spire is such a deep, intriguing world built around a very sweet love story, and that’s why it’s my pick.

I don’t necessarily think The Spire is GOING to win – were I a gambling man, and :scoffs: I most certainly am not, I would put $10 on The Fade Out and $5 on Lady Killer and feel really good about walking out with money – but I know if I were voting on it, I’d probably give mine to Spurrier and Stokely.

Best New Series

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  • Bitch Planet, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro (Image)

  • Harrow County, by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook (Dark Horse)

  • Kaijumax, by Zander Cannon (Oni)

  • Monstress, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Image)

  • Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (Image)

  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (Marvel)

This category is killer. Reading Bitch Planet was an epiphany for me – I finally got why people like exploitation movies. Harrow County is one of the creepiest comics that came out last year. Paper Girls is exactly as good as you’d expect from BKV and Chiang. Squirrel Girl is maybe the best comic Marvel’s publishing. And Kaijumax is actually funnier.

But I’ll be damned if Monstress wasn’t one of my most pleasant surprises from last year. It shouldn’t have been: it was so good that I went back on Marvel Unlimited and read Liu and Takeda’s X-23 run, and that was incredible. So it’s not like this came out of nowhere. Monstress is dense and beautiful and badass, in many ways an extension of Liu’s work with Laura, but with a world Takeda gets to create from the ground up, and it’s much better because of it.

Best Humor Publication

  • Cyanide & Happiness: Stab Factory, by Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, and Dave McElfatrick (BOOM! Studios/BOOM! Box)

  • Deep Dark Fears, by Fran Krause (Ten Speed Press)

  • Sexcastle, by Kyle Starks (Image)

  • Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection, by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)

  • UR, by Eric Haven (AdHouse)

Another killer category, though less because the entire category is so strong and more because it’s really hard to pick which one is the best. Kyle Starks’ Sexcastle came out of nowhere for me, and my love for it is really still a little inexplicable and unexamined. I don’t normally go for on-the-nose parody like this, but Starks made Sexcastle so absurd, but logically absurd, that I couldn’t help but giggle every second I was reading it.

That said, Kate Beaton was the best thing Canada’s given the world for a few years there, until they decided to make Bill Nye But A Sexy Guy their Prime Minister. If the competition were judged on how many times I sent around a comic strip to make other people laugh, Beaton would win in a walk, and I think that’s a solid criteria to judge a humor category on.

Best Digital/Webcomic

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  • Bandette, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover (Monkeybrain/comiXology)

  • Fresh Romance, edited by Janelle Asselin (Rosy Press/comiXology)

  • The Legend of Wonder Woman, by Renae De Liz (DC Digital)

  • Lighten Up, by Ronald Wimberly (The Nib)

  • These Memories Won’t Last, by Stu Campbell

At least four of the nominees in this category should win, and in a weaker field would walk away with it. Bandette once again gets punished for continued excellence, but I’m happy to pick it when it gets nominated again next year. The Legend of Wonder Woman is probably the best thing with the character in it that came out in the last 18 months, and lest you think I’m damning with faint praise, I would remind you that there was also a quite good OGN from Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette in addition to the crap live action movie, the mediocre animated movie, and the crap ongoing comic.

Ron Wimberly is a uniquely gifted cartoonist, and I would be really happy to see Lighten Up win because not only is it a smart and informative example of how to watch out for one’s own blind spots, but it also seemed like an artistic stretch for him. To make his point, he strongly emphasized coloring, to the point that it looked more like a digital painting than a traditional piece of pencils/inks comic art, and the effect was terrific. I don’t think it will win, though, because it’s a one-off.

And that’s okay to me, because Fresh Romance is really good. It’s good enough to deserve an Eisner simply on the quality of the comics that have been put out. And it’s the revival of a genre integral to the history of the industry, but that had fallen by the wayside until recently. But the other reason why I’d be happy to see Fresh Romance win is because Asselin as publisher goes the extra mile in promoting the creators in the books, to the point where I’ve seen several of them start to show up in high profile promotions from other companies. Fresh Romance has had an impressive mix of established and new talent since issue 1, but the fact that Rosy Press is working not just to promote its own products, but to help its creators is really important, and should be recognized.

Best Reality-Based Work

  • The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978–1984, by Riad Sattouf (Metropolitan Books)

  • Displacement: A Travelogue, by Lucy Knisley (Fantagraphics)

  • Hip Hop Family Tree, Book 3: 1983–1984, by Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)

  • Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist, by Bill Griffith (Fantagraphics)

  • March: Book Two, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Top Shelf/IDW)

  • The Story of My Tits, by Jennifer Hayden (Top Shelf/IDW)

When I first read this category, my instinct was “March. March for all the awards, just give it to them.” But a closer look made this a tougher category to pick. Hip Hop Family Tree won last year, and it’s a perennial favorite comic, a love letter to both hip hop and old ‘70s and ‘80s comics at the same time. And Invisible Ink is touching and sweet, a surprisingly open story about Griffith’s mother’s infidelity, his home life and his own history. It was probably really uncomfortable to create, but it was far more entertaining to read because of it.

But March is amazing. Not just because of how important it is as a historical document (it is an exceptional entree into the stories of the civil rights movement, especially for younger readers). It’s also just an incredibly well-made comic: drawn beautifully, lettered beautifully (Powell should be up for an Eisner in that category, too), paced perfectly. It’s true and real, but the combination of words and art on the page make the story connect in a way that prose or a film wouldn’t be able to do. March is a great example of why and how comics are an amazing medium for nonfiction stories.

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Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia

  • Assassination Classroom, vols. 2–7, by Yusei Matsui (VIZ)

  • A Bride’s Story, vol. 7, by Kaoru Mori (Yen Press)

  • Master Keaton, vols. 2–4, by Naoki Urasawa, Hokusei Katsushika, and Takashi Nagasaki (VIZ)

  • Showa, 1953–1989: A History of Japan, by Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)

  • A Silent Voice, by Yoshitoki Oima (Kodansha)

  • Sunny, vol. 5, by Taiyo Matsumoto (VIZ)

Assassination Classroom is great in a way that only manga can be – a smiley-faced tentacle monster blows up half the moon and threatens the rest of the planet if he can’t turn around the fortunes of the misfit class in a Japanese middle school – but it’s a little on the weird side. Showa is beautiful and important, but it won last year. But even if it hadn’t, I’d probably give this to Master Keaton.

Naoki Urasawa and Hokusei Katsushika have, in Keaton, created one of my favorite characters in fiction. He’s Indiana Jones with a dash of Vash the Stampede, intentionally bumbling his way through archaeology adventures and mysteries that are interesting and smart. I’m not sure how much of this is in the original material and how much is talented translators at work, but the story seems subtly intellectual, like it hasn’t been dumbed down or over explained in any way. And, as someone easily swayed by packaging, the physical editions of Master Keaton Viz is putting out just look fantastic.

Best Writer

  • Jason Aaron, Southern Bastards (Image), Men of Wrath (Marvel Icon), Doctor Strange, Star Wars, Thor (Marvel)

  • John Allison, Giant Days (BOOM Studios!/BOOM! Box)

  • Ed Brubaker, The Fade Out, Velvet, Criminal Special Edition (Image)

  • Marjorie Liu, Monstress (Image)

  • G. Willow Wilson, Ms. Marvel (Marvel)

This category is actually easy. It’s not that the rest of the nominees aren’t deserving – Brubaker especially should be handed an Eisner every year something Criminal-related comes out. But none of these nominees has the range that Aaron does. Even within his Marvel work, he could not be writing three more different comics: Thor is high fantasy, Doctor Strange is weird action, and Star Wars is an adventure adaptation that forces him to write in five established voices at the same time. And that’s ignoring Southern Bastards and The Goddamned, which the nominating committee also ignored but is very, very gross and violent and entertaining.

I think they gave it away by naming all the books he wrote: other nominees have broader resumes, even just last year, but Aaron is the only one who has all eight billion books listed next to his name.

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Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team

  • Michael Allred, Silver Surfer (Marvel); Art Ops (Vertigo/DC)

  • Cliff Chiang, Paper Girls (Image)

  • Erica Henderson, Jughead (Archie), Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Marvel)

  • Joëlle Jones, Lady Killer (Dark Horse), Brides of Helheim (Oni)

  • Nate Powell, March, Book Two (Top Shelf/IDW)

It’s exciting to see Joelle Jones nominated, because Lady Killer and her issue of Superman: American Alien were FANTASTIC, to the point where when I sat down to read Brides of Helheim, I saw the art without seeing the name, and I thought “this is really fun. It looks like Joelle Jones. OH YEAH! It IS Joelle Jones!” But nobody had a better year than Erica Henderson.

At one point towards the end of 2015, I distinctly remember sitting down to read my third Henderson comic of the month and wondering where the hell her free time is. I didn’t know this until I just looked it up, but she penciled 14 issues of comics last year. That’s obscene. By comparison, I think Frank Quitely penciled 14 pages of comics last year (they were probably gorgeous, but still). Speed is worthless without consistency and quality, though, and Henderson’s comic timing in her art is, if not the best in mainstream comics today, certainly in the conversation. She works with two very funny writers who have been making hilarious comics of their own for years, and somehow both of them are funnier working with her.

Best Coloring
  • Laura Allred, Lady Killer (Dark Horse); Silver Surfer (Marvel); Art OPS (Vertigo/DC)

  • Jordie Bellaire, The Autumnlands, Injection, Plutona, Pretty Deadly, The Surface, They’re Not Like Us, Zero (Image); The X-Files (IDW); The Massive (Dark Horse); Magneto, Vision (Marvel)

  • Elizabeth Breitwiser, The Fade Out, Criminal Magazine, Outcast, Velvet (Image)

  • John Rauch, The Beauty (Image); Batman: Arkham Knight, Earth 2: Society (DC); Runaways (Marvel)

  • Dave Stewart, Abe Sapien, BPRD Hell on Earth, Fight Club 2, Frankenstein Underground, Hellboy in Hell, Hellboy and the BPRD, (Dark Horse); Sandman: Overture, Twilight Children (Vertigo/DC), Captain America: White (Marvel), Space Dumplins (Scholastic Graphix)

We’re in a comic coloring golden age, and for a couple of years now I’ve been beating a drum saying that this category should be expanded. Each of these five colorists deserves to be nominated, but there are at least four more I can think of (Matt Wilson for The Wicked + The Divine and Phonogram; FCO Plascencia for Batman; Matt Hollingsworth for Wytches; and Nathan Fairbairn for Multiversity) should be recognized. But as with Best Writer, even though there’s a long list of deserving nominees, there’s one clear standout.

Jordie Bellaire’s work ethic makes me feel awful about my life. I don’t think I could list all the books she colored last year in one breath, and I talk really fast – I curse every third word not because I’m naturally vulgar, but to slow myself down. Beyond her prodigious output, though, is, as with Best Writer, the diversity of her output: on The X-Files, she’s working with muted colors and heavy shadows, while she’s doing bright pink psychedelia over Emma Rios’s Pretty Deadly pencils, or muted reds on Vision, or changing her style with literally every issue on Zero. She’s an incredible talent who understands how color art can change the linework under it, and uses that knowledge to make every single book she’s on uniquely better.

A version of this story appeared in Den of Geek’s San Diego Comic-Con Special Edition magazine. To read the full digital edition, click below.

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