Why It Matters When a Publisher Stuffs a Ballot Box
Valiant announced at the New York Comic Con just passed that they were doing a six-episode digital video online series called Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe. I don’t really care because it sounds like the goal is to show off more characters to garner more movie/TV bids, and the premise of a character who was never that distinctive fighting a bunch of others isn’t aimed at me anyway.
But something in the overly puffy press release really struck me.
Consistently rated year over year as the most acclaimed comic book publisher in the industry today, Valiant has received hundreds of awards, nominations, and critical accolades, culminating in 2016 with a record-setting 50 Harvey Awards nominations — the most ever received by a single publisher in the history of one of the comic book industry’s most prestigious awards.
This is the kind of claim that, while perhaps technically true, makes me really suspicious of the company’s marketing department. Notice that they don’t bother to point out that, while they stuffed the ballot box to gather all those noms, they didn’t win any of them.
The Harveys are easy to game because creative comic pros vote in two rounds, first to determine who’s on the ballot and then the final winners. Few bother with the first round, which means organized companies that send out suggested response lists to anyone working for them can easily place their selected items on the ballot. Having to face a blank sheet is harder than checking off a few boxes when the nominees are listed for you.
“Most prestigious”, my eye. For several years, people have pointed out some of the more ridiculous award nominations and where obvious group voting has gone on, but it’s never been treated as more than a joke. It’s a shame that the award means so little that no one cares about fixing the issue, but there’s no paid staff involved to make necessary changes. And I guess it makes sense that a publisher will seize at any recognition they can, even if it’s tawdry and meaningless to anyone who pays attention to how these awards work.
The awards website references an Executive Committee without naming any of them. That makes it hard to know just how much comic knowledge any of them have, or whether any of the members are associated with particular publishers or nominees.
You get 50 nominations on a ballot with only 22 awards, by the way, by putting 3 people in categories such as Letterer or Colorist or Inker, and somehow getting 5 of the 6 options for the “Special Award for Humor in Comics” (I didn’t realize Unity #25 was such a thigh-slapper) and “Best Graphic Album Previously Published” and “Excellence in Publication”. Amazingly, the winners of those three categories were the sole non-Valiant entries in every case.
I’ve enjoyed the Valiant books I’ve read, especially the buddy comedies, Archer and Armstrong and Quantum and Woody. But you’re right that ballot stuffing just seems sleazy, and possibly even counterproductive — when I saw the Harvey noms my reaction wasn’t “Wow, Valiant must really be doing something special,” it was “OK, obviously there’s something going on here.”
On the other hand, if Fantagraphics got 50 nominations in one year, I might believe that.