IT IS A SLEEPY SUNDAY NIGHT over San Diego Bay, and I’ve just finished an intense contest-judging session in a hotel conference room that, just an hour earlier, held enough graphical books to look like TV’s “Comic Book Men” before an intervention by “Hoarders.” At last, my work here is done.

Several days earlier, I flew into this palm-treed paradise from the East Coast on this business trip to read comics by the ton. I am now too bleary and spent to interpret even one more graphic novel, so I flip on my room’s flat-screen to catch the season debut of “Mad Men.” There, having just flown back to the East Coast from a palm-treed paradise on his hotel business trip, the tanned and Dante-reading Don Draper is selling his wisdom back at the office. “We want that electric jolt to the body, we want eros,” Draper tells his ad team about consumers. “It’s like a drug; it’s not domestic. What’s the difference between a husband knocking on the door and a sailor getting off a ship? About 10,000 volts.”

Yes, that. That’s it precisely. That is what a contest judge sought while spending about 48 hours in about four glorious days reading book after book (hopped up all the while on an endless supply of coffee and Diet Coke). I looked for creative Whiplash. I scoured for an aesthetic Mjolnir. I lit up whenever I found 10,000 volts of engagement and innovation.

This electric several days of jurying came courtesy of San Diego Comic-Con, as gracious Con administrator Jackie Estrada assembled five smart judges from various comic-industry walks of life — academics Charles Hatfield and Katie Monnin, critic/creative Frank Santoro, shopowner Adam Healy, Con official John Smith — and yours truly. As with “60 Minutes,” I’d heard Comic-Con doesn’t invite twice, so I especially welcomed the call last fall to be a 2013 Eisners judge — to begin bandying about Hall of Fame candidates, and devoting months to advance reading, all leading up to this current long weekend.

In early April, I first set foot in our Bayfront bunker (at the same hotel in which I’d interviewed Tim Burton at the Con four years earlier). In this modest-sized conference room were thousands and thousands of graphical books, from the tiniest minicomic to a massive Mazzucchelli that could double as a toboggan. The room was like a library wing in comic-fan heaven.


But there was a reason that Draper reading his Dante registered with me. Culling good and great works down to a handful of candidates in more than two-dozen categories is engrossing; cutting those last few worthy on-the-bubble titles in loaded categories is momentarily its own cruel Ninth Circle.

Thanks to the rigorous and impassioned debate by my fellow judges, however, I loved the rough-and-tumble -- even as the names of some of my very favorite creatives in comics ended up, through the group system of point-scoring, on the cutting-room floor. (If you’re going to make Grade-A sausage, it is still sausage making — procedurally, there will be blood.)

It’s said that the Eisners are “the Oscars of comics.” That is due to their prestige as the comic industry’s top North American award.

“BACK OF THE NAPKIN” SKETCH: Eisners judge Frank Santoro. (MICHAEL “CANVAS” CAVNA 2013)

Some skeptics, though, say that as a way to insinuate that the Eisners are overtly political. I can’t speak for past years, but my jury room was decidedly not about or into politics; there was so little horse-trading — which is to say: ZERO — that an Oscars-derby wheeler-dealer like Harvey Weinstein would, in an Eisners room, pass out from political deprivation.

If you really want to draw an Oscars corollary for Eisners judging, I would render it like this: Pretend you’re voting on the 1994 Best Picture race. You have the tremendous “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” plus the magical warmth of “Forrest Gump.” Now, for fun, fill out the field with the still-underappreciated “Quiz Show,” as well as “The Lion King” and “Red,” plus a quirky-good film like “Ed Wood.”

Now, whittle your picks down to just two — a ratio that reflects the job at hand.

(Did you do it easily? Well, then: “Check out the big brain on Braaad!!”)

Time and again, my fellow judges made these bittersweet or brutal calls with a clear-eyed conviction. They set the standard high.

The resulting ballot, I believe, is a fittingly diverse representation of the amazing year in comics that was 2012. So many great titles, so much great talent. Comics is enjoying an embarrassment of creative riches.

Are there titles or people I’d add? Of course — most every passionate comics fan would. But I’m proud of what this overall ballot stands for -- an affirming list that says: Look at how a wide range of gifted creatives made 2012 an unforgettable year for comic achievement. Let’s hope this ballot sparks not only sales, but also discovery.

“BACK OF THE NAPKIN” SKETCH: Eisners judge Charles Hatfield. (MICHAEL “CANVAS” CAVNA 2013/.)

Asked for comment about our ballot, which reflected especially strong years for Image Comics and Fantagraphics Santoro told Comic Riffs: “Comics ain’t just Marvel and DC anymore.” (The previous year, the Big-2 dominated the Eisner noms.)

And here is what Hatfield blogged about his experience:

“Every one of us judges surely had his or her disappointments; our points of view were distinct, and our aesthetic interests sometimes very different if not downright divergent. Some judges surprised me by voting against expectations (hell, I surprised myself at times). Yet our shared seriousness, mutual respect, and genuine enjoyment of each other’s company really shone through.”

And of course, that shine is even brighter when powered by the creative equivalent of 10,000 volts.

Here, for fun, is my response to some great #Eisner Twitter comments, as well as the full list of 2013 nominees:

Congratulations to all the honorees, and my sincere thanks to all who nominated comics. It was a privilege and a pleasure to live with so much worthy work.



— Ty Dugan (@SniktBamfThwip) April 16, 2013

COMMENT: Right? #HowGreatWasThat?

Wait, since when is there a book about Lynda Barry?!… #Eisners

— Ben Towle (@ben_towle) April 16, 2013

COMMENT: Fortunately, it fell within the eligibility for these Eisners, because I definitely recommend it. Check out all the nominees, in fact, in this category.


How do you nominate a comic book for best anything and then only nominate its writer under the creatives categories? #eisners

— The One True b!X (@theonetruebix) April 16, 2013

COMMENT: Do you know who won the Best Actor Oscar for 1993? Tom Hanks for “Philadelphia.” Do you know who was not even nominated for an acting Oscar for 1993? Denzel Washington for “Philadelphia.” Nutty, right? (Now, of course, he — like Hanks — is the rare two-time winner.) So the answer: The inevitable vagaries of the awards process in any given year.


Dude what happened to @fionastaples as best artist? #eisners

— Kiran Yendamuri (@KiranYendamuri) April 16, 2013

COMMENT: Fiona is in the top tier of comic artists working today. On Day 2, I might have even promised to get the SAGA #4 cover tattooed on my temple, Mike Tyson-style, if such an act would get her on the ballot; (I can’t quite remember in my momentary Diet Coke- and coffee-induced stupor.) She surely has many Eisners noms in her future – and a couple in her present, since those SAGA nods would not have happened without her stellar art.

.[Related: comiXology blocks sale of SAGA]

@jpalmiotti @tylerjirik @rob_guillory @themightylayman aw thanks dude. I can’t imagine being a judge- there’s way too much talent in comics!

— Becky Cloonan (@beckycloonan) April 17, 2013

COMMENT: I’m a big-time CHEW fan, and would kill to be a journalistic Saboscrivner. On Day 3, I might have even promised to get an Amelia Mintz tatt on my sternum if such an act would get CHEW on the ballot. Which is meant to underscore the tweet’s exact point: There is so much talent in comics right now!


Agreed! RT @beckycloonan: “-- and it only goes to prove what an amazing, diverse and dynamic time this is for comics.” #Eisners

— Out of Step Arts (@OutofStepArts) April 17, 2013

COMMENT: For a second time, I second the motion about the talent level right now.

(Two words: Scott Snyder.

Two more words: Joe Sacco.)


Congrats to the Eisner nominees. I admit to being pretty disappointed Friends With Boys wasn’t nominated ... I was kinda hoping. :/

— Faith Erin Hicks (@faitherinhicks) April 16, 2013

COMMENT: Faith Erin Hicks is crazy talented. She is also very cool. How cool? Recently, via Tumblr, she blindly offered creative encouragement to a tween female relative of mine who is aspiring to be an artist. So a tip: After you’ve checked out “Friends With Boys,” also check out her excellent webcomic with Prudence Shen: “Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong.”


Those nominated well deserved it, but how did @fionastaples & @rosscampbelll NOT get nominated for best penciler/inker #Eisners?!?!?!?!?!?!?

— John Lewis, Jr. (@JGLJR89) April 17, 2013

COMMENT: “Math.” And I mean that in a non-ironic, non-Ron Burgundy sort-of way. Each judge assigns a score to each shortlisted comic over dozens of pages. Not sure I can think of a better scoring system than the one Comic-Con has in place.


Hij moet Chris Ware laten voorgaan, maar hé, andersom zou onrechtvaardig geweest zijn. #BuildingStories #Eisners #Evens

— Gert Meesters (@GertMeesters) April 16, 2013

COMMENT: Dude, I don’t know what you just said, but I’m pretty sure I agree with the “Chris Ware” part.


Lots of extremely talented people getting recognized for their work. Great day to be in comics. #eisners

— Jeremy Holt (@Jeremy_Holt) April 16, 2013

COMMENT: And lots of talented people who were recognized not this year but in years past — or will be in years ahead. Talentwise, it’s a great TIME to be in comics.




(The awards will be given out in July 19 at a ceremony during San Diego Comic-Con):

Best Short Story

“A Birdsong Shatters the Still,” by Jeff Wilson and Ted May, in Injury #4 (Ted May/Alternative)

“Elmview” by Jon McNaught, in Dockwood (Nobrow)

“Moon 1969: The True Story of the 1969 Moon Launch,” by Michael Kupperman, in Tales Designed to Thrizzle #8 (Fantagraphics)

“Moving Forward,” by drewscape, in Monsters, Miracles, & Mayonnaise (Epigram Books)

“Rainbow Moment,” by Lilli Carré, in Heads or Tails (Fantagraphics)

Best Single Issue (or One-Shot)

Lose #4: “The Fashion Issue,” by Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)

The Mire, by Becky Cloonan (self-published)

Pope Hats #3, by Ethan Rilly (AdHouse Books)

Post York #1, by James Romberger and Crosby (Uncivilized Books)

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #8, by Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics)

Best Continuing Series

Fatale, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)

Hawkeye, by Matt Fraction and David Aja (Marvel)

The Manhattan Projects, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra (Image)

Prophet, by Brandon Graham and Simon Roy (Image)

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)

Best New Series

Adventure Time, by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb (kaboom!)

Bandette, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover (Monkeybrain)

Fatale, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)

Hawkeye, by Matt Fraction and David Aja (Marvel)

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7)

Babymouse for President, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House)

Benny and Penny in Lights Out, by Geoffrey Hayes (Toon Books/Candlewick)

Kitty & Dino, by Sara Richard (Yen Press/Hachette)

Maya Makes a Mess, by Rutu Modan (Toon Books/Candlewick)

Zig and Wikki in The Cow, by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler (Toon Books/Candlewick)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)

Adventure Time, by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb (kaboom!)

Amulet Book 5: Prince of the Elves, by Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic)

Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse, by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos (Archaia)

Crogan’s Loyalty, by Chris Schweizer (Oni)

Hilda and the Midnight Giant, by Luke Pearson (Nobrow)

Road to Oz, by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (Marvel)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)

Adventure Time: Marceline and the Scream Queens, by Meredith Gran (kaboom!)

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, by Joseph Lambert (Center for Cartoon Studies/Disney Hyperion)

Ichiro, by Ryan Inzana (Houghton Mifflin)

Spera, vol. 1, by Josh Tierney et al. (Archaia)

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, adapted by Hope Larson (FSG)

Best Humor Publication

Adventure Time, by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (kaboom!)

BBXX: Baby Blues Decades 1 & 2, by Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman (Andrews McMeel)

Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown (Chronicle)

Naked Cartoonists, edited by Gary Groth (Fantagraphics)

Best Digital Comic

Ant Comic, by Michael DeForge

Bandette, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover

It Will All Hurt, by Farel Dalrymple

Our Bloodstained Roof, by Ryan Andrews

Oyster War, by Ben Towle

Best Anthology

Dark Horse Presents, edited by Mike Richardson (Dark Horse)

No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics, edited by Justin Hall (Fantagraphics)

Nobrow #7: Brave New World, edited by Alex Spiro and Sam Arthur (Nobrow)

2000 AD, edited by Matt Smith (Rebellion)

Where Is Dead Zero?, edited by Jeff Ranjo (Where Is Dead Zero?)

Best Reality-Based Work

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, by Joseph Lambert (Center for Cartoon Studies/Disney Hyperion)

The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, by Frank M. Young and David Lasky (Abrams ComicArts)

A Chinese Life, by Li Kunwu and P. Ôtié (Self Made Hero)

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories, by Julia Wertz (Koyama Press)

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me, by Ellen Forney (Gotham Books)

You’ll Never Know, Book 3: A Soldier’s Heart, by C. Tyler (Fantagraphics)

Best Graphic Album—New

Building Stories, by Chris Ware (Pantheon)

Goliath, by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)

The Hive, by Charles Burns (Pantheon)

Unterzakhn, by Leela Corman (Schocken)

You’ll Never Know, Book 3: A Soldier’s Heart, by C. Tyler (Fantagraphics)

Best Adaptation From Another Medium

Chico and Rita, by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal (Self Made Hero)

Homer’s Odyssey, adapted by Seymour Chwast (Bloomsbury)

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score, adapted by Darwyn Cooke (IDW)

Road to Oz, by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (Marvel)

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, adapted by Hope Larson (FSG)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint

Cruisin’ with the Hound, by Spain (Fantagraphics)

Ed the Happy Clown, by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)

Everything Together: Collected Stories, by Sammy Harkham (PictureBox)

Heads or Tails, by Lilli Carré (Fantagraphics)

King City, by Brandon Graham (TokyoPop/Image)

Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel (First Second)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips

Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim, vol. 2, edited by Dean Mullaney (IDW/Library of American Comics)

Mister Twee Deedle: Raggedy Ann’s Sprightly Cousin, by Johnny Gruelle, edited by Rick Marschall (Fantagraphics)

Percy Crosby’s Skippy, vol. 1, edited by Jared Gardner and Dean Mullaney (IDW/Library of American Comics)

Pogo, vol. 2: Bona Fide Balderdash, by Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly and Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics)

Roy Crane’s Captain Easy: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips, vol. 3, edited by Rick Norwood (Fantagraphics)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books

Crime Does Not Pay Archives, edited by Philip Simon and Kitchen, Lind & Associates (Dark Horse)

David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil Born Again: Artist’s Edition, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)

Wally Wood’s EC Stories: Artist’s Edition, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man, by Carl Barks, edited by Gary Groth (Fantagraphics)

Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics, edited by Michel Gagné (Fantagraphics)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material

Abelard, by Régis Hautiere and Renaud Dillies (NBM)

Athos in America, by Jason (Fantagraphics)

Blacksad: Silent Hell, by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse)

The Making of, by Brecht Evens (Drawn & Quarterly)

Monsieur Jean: The Singles Theory, by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian (Humanoids)

New York Mon Amour, by Benjamin LeGrand, Dominique Grange, and Jacques Tardi (Fantagraphics)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia

Barbara, by Osamu Tezuka (Digital Manga)

A Chinese Life, by Li Kunwu and P. Ôtié (Self Made Hero)

Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa (VIZ Media)

Nonnonba, by Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)

Thermae Romae, by Mari Yamazaki (Yen Press/Hachette)

Best Writer

Ed Brubaker, Fatale (Image)

Matt Fraction, Hawkeye (Marvel); Casanova: Avaritia (Marvel Icon)

Brandon Graham, Multiple Warheads, Prophet (Image)

Jonathan Hickman, The Manhattan Projects (Image)

Brian K. Vaughan, Saga (Image)

Frank M. Young, The Carter Family (Abrams ComicArts)

Best Writer/Artist

Charles Burns, The Hive (Pantheon)

Gilbert Hernandez, Love and Rockets New Stories, vol. 5 (Fantagraphics)

Jaime Hernandez, Love and Rockets New Stories, vol. 5 (Fantagraphics)

Luke Pearson, Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Everything We Miss (Nobrow)

C. Tyler, You’ll Never Know, Book 3: A Soldier’s Heart (Fantagraphics)

Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon)

Best Penciller/Inker

David Aja, Hawkeye (Marvel)

Becky Cloonan, Conan the Barbarian (Dark Horse); The Mire (self-published)

Colleen Coover, Bandette (Monkeybrain)

Sean Phillips, Fatale (Image)

Joseph Remnant, Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland (Zip Comics/Top Shelf)

Chris Samnee, Daredevil (Marvel); Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom (IDW)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)

Brecht Evens, The Making Of (Drawn & Quarterly)

Juanjo Guarnido, Blacksad (Dark Horse)

Teddy Kristiansen, The Red Diary/The RE[a]D Diary (MAN OF ACTION/Image)

Lorenzo Mattotti, The Crackle of the Frost (Fantagraphics)

Katsuya Terada, The Monkey King vol. 2 (Dark Horse)

Best Cover Artist

David Aja, Hawkeye (Marvel)

Brandon Graham, King City, Multiple Warheads, Elephantmen #43 (Image)

Sean Phillips, Fatale (Image)

Yuko Shimizu, The Unwritten (Vertigo/DC)

J, H. Williams III, Batwoman (DC)

Best Coloring

Charles Burns, The Hive (Pantheon)

Colleen Coover, Bandette (Monkeybrain)

Brandon Graham, Multiple Warheads (Image)

Dave Stewart, Batwoman (DC); Fatale (Image); BPRD, Conan the Barbarian, Hellboy in Hell, Lobster Johnson, The Massive (Dark Horse)

Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon)

Best Lettering

Paul Grist, Mudman (Image)

Troy Little, Angora Napkin 2: Harvest of Revenge (IDW)

Joseph Remnant, Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland (Zip Comics/Top Shelf)

C. Tyler, You’ll Never Know, Book 3: A Soldier’s Heart (Fantagraphics)

Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon)

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism

Alter Ego, edited by Roy Thomas (TwoMorrows)

ComicsAlliance, edited by Joe Hughes, Caleb Goellner, and Andy Khouri

The Comics Reporter, edited by Tom Spurgeon

Robot Six, produced by Comic Book Resources, edited by Timothy Hodler and Dan Nadel (Fantagraphics)

Best Comics-Related Book

The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, edited by Alvin Buenaventura (Abrams ComicArts)

Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics, by Dewey Cassell (TwoMorrows)

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe (HarperCollins)

Mastering Comics, by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (First Second)

Team Cul De Sac: Cartoonists Draw the Line at Parkinson’s, edited by Chris Sparks (Andrews McMeel)

Woodwork: Wallace Wood 1927–1981, edited by Frédéric Manzano (CasalSolleric/IDW)

***(NOTE FROM COMIC RIFFS: Because I contributed main text to the ”Team Cul de Sac” charity book, I recused myself from voting in this category.)

Best Educational/Academic Work

Autobiographical Comics: Life Writing in Pictures, by Elisabeth El Refaie (University Press of Mississippi)

Comics Versus Art, by Bart Beaty (University of Toronto Press)

Crockett Johnson & Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature, by Philip Nel (University Press of Mississippi)

Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass, by Susan E. Kirtley (University Press of Mississippi)

The Poetics of Slumberland, by Scott Bukatman (University of California Press)

Best Publication Design

Building Stories, designed by Chris Ware (Pantheon)

Dal Tokyo, designed by Gary Panter and Family Sohn (Fantagraphics)

David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil Born Again: Artist’s Edition, designed by Randy Dahlk (IDW)

Mister Twee Deedle: Raggedy Ann’s Sprightly Cousin, designed by Tony Ong (Fantagraphics)

Wizzywig, designed by Ed Piskor and Chris Ross (Top Shelf)