2008 Isotope Award Contenders

Isotope Award

This year’s winner of the Isotope Award For Excellence in Mini-Comics was Jonas Madden-Conner’s Ochre Ellipse. As I did last year, I thought I’d draw some attention to other worthwhile nominees. But first, some thoughts on …

The Process

How do you judge, from 88 minicomic submissions, just one to be recognized for excellence?

I had no idea how to begin, with only two days to make a decision, so I dove in. On first reading, I made a simple decision: was this a potential, or should it be discarded immediately? Rather like interviewing job applicants, I was looking for reasons to rule out something instead of a reason to keep it, just to help myself out.

That got me down to 15. They came in all shapes and sizes, from something the size of a sheet of copy paper, stapled, to quarter-pages held together with a rubber band to beautiful mini art objects or near-postage-stamp-sized. Most had color covers over black-and-white interiors. A couple were 24-hour comics, which I find interesting more as exercises than art pieces.

There were superhero origin stories, obscenity done with funny animals, and the usual slice-of-life and wannabe genre work (often with influences obvious as neon). One was nothing but a fart joke. Some I can’t describe because as soon as I opened them I knew they weren’t up to the level I was looking for. Competition is tough, and expectations are high. I didn’t have time for ugly art.

Some looked like they were drawn by children. Some were drawn well but had a pedestrian or lacking story. Some had an intriguing idea but looked like crap. Some lacked creator or price information. Some were overpriced. ($5 or 8? For photocopied with no color? In my mind, anything over $3 for a minicomic that doesn’t have some kind of special printing or features is too much.)

So what was top of the heap? In addition to the winner, I picked

My Top Five

Brazilianoir by Emily Stackhouse and Nicholas Shahan. You may have already heard something about this noir blend of Germans and gypsies. After the War, a woman is given a baby and a camera, which leads her to Rio, strange warnings, and a place in history. An odd story that’s more accomplished than the sometimes stiff art and very hard to forget. Shame that it ends before the pages run out.

Solzhenitsyn by Tom Daly. An art object. Under bronze-striped brown hard covers, this hand-sized book doesn’t have a spine. Instead, it unfolds like an accordion, one image per fold. It introduces key facts of the life of the Russian writer and activist. The reverse has his quotes in stark type. It’s thought-provoking, due to its comparison of Solzhenitsyn’s time in the gulag to Muslim prisoners abused by U.S. soldiers, if a little ham-handed in its message.

Arachnofiles by Christine Shea. Even though this was a 24-hour comic, I found it interesting enough to recommend. The art was such that, if I hadn’t been told it was 24H, I wouldn’t have guessed. The subject was well-chosen: profiles of spiders and what it’s like to have a tarantula as a pet. With a good proportion of text explaining the subject, the content is balanced, with a chance to be completed within the restricted time period. The artist’s passion about the subject is evident, and I learned things. Non-fiction comics have an uphill battle when it comes to awards, though. They seem easier to do, although keeping the reader involved takes skill.

Howl Before Sunset by Mariya Pantyukhina. I may have a slight bias here, since her work is part of the Team 8 Press Creator Showcase, curated by friend Patrick Godfrey here in the Richmond area. But I found her art evocative, the text poetic, and the assembly, in its collage appearance, unusual. It had something to say about human interaction and observation, and the comforting nature of drinking, and it could only have been done this way, as a comic.

Dog-Eared Mind by Eric Wilder and Tim Hall. This appealed to me for similar reasons as the above. Well-drawn, and with dream-like imagery of anxiety as a haunting black dog chasing a cubicle worker.

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