Do Awards Mean Anything?

Some rambling inspired by receiving a press release earlier this week announcing that Title had won a Best Award from an unfamiliar source that I suspect tends to recognize those that buy ads from them.

Are there too many awards? There’s an awful lot — Eisners, Harveys, Ignatzes, Lulus, various websites and magazines name their favorites, or their readers’ choices… Plus, outstanding graphic novels are now being recognized in traditional book award competitions. Sure, it’s wonderful for creators and publishers to be able to banner their work “best of”, but does it help customers in any way?

Oscars drive up movie box office. Does being named a Harvey or Eisner Award winner do the same for comics? Are you more likely to check out or buy something that’s won an award? Or does it depend on the award?

Does anyone even pay attention? I recently reviewed an upcoming book that prominently mentions “Eisner-winning” in the author biography and press materials. However, if you actually check the archives, the author was only nominated that year, not a winner. It was a decade ago, though, so should we care?

(Disclaimer: I’ve seen some of this from the inside. I assist in a small way with the Harvey Awards, and I helped run the now-defunct Squiddies for five years. Nothing will drown you in minutiae faster than trying to decide just what’s eligible for which category, by the way.)


18 Responses to “Do Awards Mean Anything?”

  1. Nat Gertler Says:

    I’ve certainly talked to retailers who have found that labeling books as Eisner/Harvey winners or even nominees help move those titles, particularly at shows around the announcement of the nominations or the awards. Heck, I’ve picked up things I’ve not heard of, egged on by a nomination of making it at least worth of consideration.

    However, the biggest targets for these may be individuals, but at reaching organizations. Bookstores who are trying to figure out which twenty of this week’s two hundred titles should get their shelf space are believed to take this into account. Libraries are presumed to be similar.

  2. Darren Witt Says:

    they matter a bit to me – if i see that a book has a good nomination (or two) it may get me looking for some reviews elsewhere online.

    got me buying American Born Chinese, and that was a good thing.

    but on their own? nominations mean little to nothing. just like (most) single reviews mean nothing. i need more corroboration. (hopefully thats a word – i’m pretty hopped up on narcotics – the prescribed kind – for a back injury and dont always think straight…)

    cheers,

    darren

  3. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for the reminder of another audience, Nat. Some kind of perceived outside validation makes sense as an influence on those kinds of buyers.

    Darren, great point. I’m the same way, it’s the summary of several viewpoints that influences me, not just one.

  4. Joe Williams Says:

    I think the problem is, as you say, that there are just too many awards. In the 80s or even early 90s wasn’t there even an extra one named the Kirbys or something? Then again, children’s books have both the Caldecott AND the Newberry (then again, they are mostly ordered by librarians who need help sifting through the thousands of books published every year so maybe this will help comics more as library purchasing becomes a larger part of sales).

    I always felt like at least the Harveys skewed slightly more to the alternatives while the Eisners seemed more mainstream. I’m not sure that’s true as much anymore, but I admit not paying much attention to comic awards, mostly because I never cared for the people who won which is why I don’t pay much attention to the Oscars as awards too often become either pay back for a long career and awards not given or to some political friendship payback.

    In fact, one of the more prominent comics awards used to consistently nominate someone associated with one of the award organizers and yet the artist was not well known and their books didn’t sell particularly well and I could not help but always feeling like this was an example of someone being personally known by a lot of people and thus garnering more votes that their talent alone would produce. And no, I’m not talking about Frank Cho nominating himself for an Ignatz.

    I should point out that the most flagrant example of this is the Reuben which almost always goes to a very mediocre cartoonist who is pals with a large number of NCS members.

  5. Nat Gertler Says:

    While there was a Kirby Award, it wasn’t an “extra” one. There were few awards in those days. The Kirby Awards ended with a dispute that basically served to form the Harveys and the Eisners.

    There are far more film awards than the Oscars, far more kid books awards than the two you list. There are more prestigious awards and less prestigious ones in all these things. Folks recognize the ones they want to recognize. I don’t see the problem here.

  6. Johanna Says:

    If I have my history correct, there was some kind of conflict and the Kirbys split into the Eisners and the Harveys.

    Unfortunately, people do vote based on familiarity or favors or personalities instead of quality. But that’s human nature.

  7. Steve Lieber Says:

    The Caldecotts and Newberrys, on the other hand, are more like a license to print money. Our awards aren’t like that, alas. My impression from the experiences I’ve had with the Eisners (and the numbers I’ve had the chance to see) is that the nomination is good for moving maybe 500 or a thousand copies, and the win is good for another thousand. It’s been a few years though, and the library market has grown. For library-friendly books those numbers should be somewhat higher.

    On several of the Eisner-nominated books I’ve worked on, I’ve also been, in my capacity as that guy in artists alley, the top retailer in the country. (Sad, isn’t it?) And I have found that it’s a whole lot easier to sell a book that’s been nominated for an award. Comics readers have an unfortunate but understandable habit of assuming that any given comic is going to be terrible. Those awards tell them that the thing has got to be at least sort of okay.

    My experiences are only with the Eisners. I’ve heard a story from a publisher who was nominated for one of the other industry awards. I’m told that sales on their book actually dropped when they mentioned the award in their diamond solicitations, and didn’t go back up until they took mention of the award out. Make of that horrible anecdote what you will.

  8. Steve Lieber Says:

    Whoever has the best justification for starting a post out with an “on the other hand” sentence gets a no-prize.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Your last story, about an award mention dropping sales, is horribly fascinating and sends me wildly speculating.

    Thank you for adding some figures from experience.

  10. Tim O'Shea Says:

    I’ll be shocked if Spurgeon or Deppey don’t link to this (interesting) post tomorrow (or today, depending on your time zone)

  11. Marvin Mann Says:

    I don’t read an obsessive ton of comics, so those that get a lot of positive mention and award nominations get to at least consider them for purchase. Evidently there are a bunch of people who like them, and that should count for something… if only to satisfy my curiosity as to “why?”

  12. Rivkah Says:

    I think where awards, nominations, and reviews most matter are with distributors. When I was still in book publishing, running my own business, book stores and distributors seemed to buy books that had reviews and nominations from what they considered reputible sources in greater quantities. Like a review on Bookslist (which really helped our library orders) or Publisher’s Weekly or nominations and awards our author’s recieved which were easy to put in a press release to give more notability to a title.

    This really ties in to the question you brought up though as to whether or not there are too many awards. A review on a blog or local paper never changed the amount of orders we recieved unless it were from a local book store. The key is reputible. Awards like the Eisner’s are easily recognizeable in the comics community with both purchasers and resellers. I think that really does make a difference.

    But a minor award from a small website?

    The majority of distributors are savvy enough to recognize a scam like that when they see it. How many books have “Number 1 bestseller!” on their front when they mean “number 1 bestseller on obscurebooks.com”? It isn’t really a scam, really . . . but a partial truth. And most people can see them a mile away. Putting “Award Nominee for Small Unknown Comics Awards of America” won’t make much difference at all.

    Except to make its creator feel better.

    Which many could argue still makes a difference. :)

    So there will probably never be too many awards, as long as the industry sticks to recognizing what we consider the most viable and non-biased ones out there. Like Eisners. And Harveys. And Lulus. ;)

    Though honestly . . . sometimes I even question the viability of those, as well. Things like “best artist” or “best writer” are hardly criteria to go by when the pool is so vast and the judging so influenced by preferences in genre and style. Why not “Best sci-fi writer” or “Best Teen Series” etc? They’ve become slightly more specific lately . . . but genres in comics awards as they have in many book awards would be appreciated.

  13. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for your perspective, Rivkah. The idea of subdividing the awards further is an intriguing one … but it’s sometimes hard to get people to participate in the process now. Quadrupling, or more, the number of categories? That would be a hard sell, I fear.

  14. Nat Gertler Says:

    As someone who is eligible to vote in a number of these awards, I face a problem where I rarely have read all of the works in a category, and often I’ve read none of them. Dividing categories further would just increase that problem.
    Besides, far better than create genre-specific divisions in comics awards would be to encourage comics/GN categories in genre awards. An Edgar Award for Best Mystery Comic would do more for the field than an Eisner would; a Hugo for best SF GN would be better than a Harvey.

  15. Lyle Masaki Says:

    I think if an award is visible enough, the best reward for the publisher is that it helps add awareness. For someone who pays partial attention to this sort of thing, it gets in your head as a title that someone said something good about… if that happens enough times, you’ll see the title and won’t know anything about it except you recognize the name with a general feeling that there’s something good about it.

  16. Rivkah Says:

    Johanna,

    I agree that too many different awards can get exhausting, but I don’t think that there are all that terribly many to add: a young adult and a children’s section seem what are most needed (as the majority of what seems to win are those targeted at 30-something men), a “best historical/biographical” and a “best self-published work” (in print) to promote growth in two very needed areas. Possibly one for adaptations as well (as that’s been growing tremendously). And that would be really it.

    Sure you could throw in a romance, a sci-fi, a mystery, and a horror section (etc), but I don’t think the industry is large enough to support such award genres as of yet. But hopefully someday it will. :) Awards can act not only in the area of increasing general sales, but also in promoting growth in a specific area.

    That’s my theory, anyway. No one’s really tested it yet, but I think awards can help to give substance, recognition, and validation to a genre that was previously ignored or discredited before.

  17. Fanboy@50 » Do Awards Mean Anything? Says:

    […] Johanna Draper Carlson’s ” Comics Worth Reading ” had a post that asked the question Do Awards Mean Anything? […]

  18. Jackie Estrada Says:

    Rivkah:
    The Eisners already have categories for two of the items you want to add: “Best Title for a Younger Audience” draws attention to material suitable for children/young adult readers, while “Best Reality-Based Work” encompasses autobiographical, historical, science, etc. graphic novels and comics.

    As far as “self-published work” there isn’t a separate category, but self-published books have always been considered in every Eisner category and have had many Eisner nominations and wins. Unfortunately, there are a lot fewer self-published works these days than there were, say, 10 years ago.

    Jackie Estrada
    Eisner Awarda Administrator




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