How to Fix the Harveys

Another announcement of the Harvey Award nominees, another round of complaining about how poor the results are. I can’t say I disagree, but it’s terribly easy to say “it should have been better”. What is the award organizer supposed to do, give up his objectivity by making judgment calls and ruling out certain titles? Force people to fill out nominating ballots?

(Along those lines, accusations of “ballot stuffing” are misguided. It’s not about stuffing — which generally implies a surfeit of questionable votes — it’s about a lack of participation giving those few professionals who do bother to submit nomination lists disproportionate power to affect the results.)

In the spirit of setting a good example, herewith are my suggestions for possible improvements.

1. Create an awards committee. There’s too much work for any one person to do in running the awards. Careful selection could also result in more balanced representation. I would recommend picking members with different areas of comics knowledge, such as superheroes, art comics, manga, or webcomics.

With a committee, the awards would not be dependent on just one person and could ensure current and diverse knowledge of the field. With that awareness, it would be easier to make eligibility rulings on whether a comic has to be carried by Diamond in the previous year, or whether a limited release hand-selling to customers at conventions counts. Or how reprints should be considered. (This is different from the Eisners because the committee members would not be judges but administrators.)

Plus, having more than one person running things would mean splitting up the workload and having continuity if, heaven forbid, something happened to someone or other obligations arose.

2. Require publisher and/or artist submissions, similar to how the Emmys work. A submitter would send in her/his/their best work for evaluation. This would help winnow the field while still allowing a kind of “campaigning”, but only those from who were willing to spend some money instead of just sending email to all their friends. (Later, these works could then be donated to a library or university for an archive.)

3. Provide guidance in nominations. It’s understandable that nominators don’t want to face the blank page in determining the best of last year. A list of suggestions could be created from submissions above, and/or committee members could create a comprehensive list of options in their particular areas of awareness.

4. More outreach to publishers. (Although this has been done in the past few years, and it doesn’t seem to make much difference.) If every publisher could be counted on to distribute ballots to their list of working professionals, with or without suggestions, perhaps more would participate to build the nominating ballot.

5. Reward nomination participation. This is perhaps the goofiest part of my suggestions, but maybe something could be done to recognize those who submit valid nominating ballots. Not in public, of course, not with names, but some kind of bonus to be sent to those who submit? A discount offer at an online comic store?

6. Here’s an even worse idea, but I provide it for discussion: You have to be present to win. Very few nominees are present to receive the award, which again creates the perception that it’s not very important, leading to more people not taking it seriously. The awards deserve more respect than that.

Which sums up this catch-22 — until creators take the awards more seriously, they won’t participate, and if they don’t participate, skewed results will continue to occur, making people take them less seriously. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, when potential voters say “I won’t nominate manga because the awards are all about superheros” or “they’re indy focused, no point in me recommending a great webcomic”.

Update: Or, like Tom Spurgeon, you could just say “kill ‘em and be done with it.” He’s much nicer about it, but he says they don’t add anything special and people obviously don’t care. He also has this take on the award history:

… the Harveys have always been subject to the manipulation of one or two devoted individuals, it’s just that it used to be the very smart and genial Kim Thompson and his admirably, relatively catholic-comics reading circle of influence on behalf of a certain kind of comic instead of random and self-interested flashpoints popping up year to year on behalf of specific projects.

8 Responses to “How to Fix the Harveys”

  1. Chris Arrant Says:

    I’ve always had a big problem with awards committees requiring the creators/publishers of the work to submit it to be considered.

    While it makes the job easier for the judges, it also leaves open the possibility that greater works might be left out because they didn’t submit.

    If awards are about the best work out there, then judge them on the best books out there.. not the best books out there that were sent in to us.

  2. James Schee Says:

    So basically you kind of want to run it like the Squiddy Awards were run?:)

    The suggestions thing is a pretty good idea. I know it cane be hard to sit there with a blank page, wondering who or what to nominate even if you know what’s eligible or not. (which isn’t often easy, as I’ve talked to some creators who are just like readers, who have switched to collections)

    Of course the hard part is, and likely will long be, getting people to care. An Oscar win (hell a nomination) is a big deal that can be good for business. How can you make the Harvey Awards (or comic awards in general, given that I see little impact from even Eisners) mean anything?

  3. Johanna Says:

    Chris, I agree with you, but I’m also thinking about ways to encourage more participation and support. I don’t necessarily think all of these ideas are good ones, but I wanted to encourage discussion about what changes should be made.

  4. How Gemstone Got Their Harvey Nominations » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] a followup to the various Harvey Award discussions, former Gemstone employee Travis Seitler has posted a story of how the company provided pre-filled […]

  5. Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources - Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment » Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes Says:

    […] looks at the positive — webcomics and works that began online are well-represented — as Johanna Draper Carlson considers how to fix a nomination process that many agree is broken. She also labels accusations of […]

  6. Chris Schweizer Says:

    The present to win thing is problematic for a few reasons. Should “Three Shadows” be excluded from best graphic album (which it was, which again brings the question of validity to the table) if Pedrosa is not able to travel to the states for a medium-sized con? Also, folks early in their career may only have the budget for one or two shows per year.

    The “present to win” thing is what’s done at SPACE, and for me that award feels as though it loses legitimacy for it. It’s as if you’re being considered for the award simply for paying to exhibit. As notoriously troublesome as the Harvey nominations have become, there’s still (in my mind) a prestige to them, and if it felt like an award-for-exhibitors rather than an industry award, it would lose all of that.

    I agree with most every other point, though.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Oh, I wouldn’t require the creator to be there, necessarily — but if Grant Morrison, say, won for writing All-Star Superman, I would expect his DC editor or at the least, a marketing rep, to attend.

  8. Strip News 7-10-9 | Strip News | | Says:

    […] The Comics Reporter, Broken Frontier, The Beat and Seitler, along with Robot Six and their links to Comics Worth Reading and ComixTalk. There are probably other places, too but the point is that some adjustment is […]




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