Eisner Blues

A few days ago, the Eisner nominees were announced. Manga has its own category (kind of), which is “Best U.S. Edition of International Material — Asia.” Of course, in the past we’ve seen that this isn’t limited strictly to manga, but typically that’s where it all gets put. To be honest, I kind of hate that there’s a separate section for manga, in much the same way/for the same reasons I hate there’s a “Best Foreign Film” category at the Oscars; instead of being pitted against series in its own genre or of its own type, a manga gets pitted against other manga it may or may not have anything in common with. (Though to be fair, all of the categories in the Eisners are multi-genre.)

This year, as with most years, I would say the nominees are certainly of a type, and that type is “appealing to people who can’t figure out manga.” The books themselves are all very deserving, I won’t argue that point. But they are all, with the exception maybe of Golden Kamuy, pretty high-brow or else packaged as prestige books, many from publishers that don’t deal exclusively with manga.

The nominees are, by the way: Furari, by Jiro Taniguchi, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian; Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda, translated by Eiji Yasuda; My Brother’s Husband volume 1, by Gengoroh Tagame, translated by Anne Ishii; Otherworld Barbara volume 2, by Moto Hagio, translated by Matt Thorn; and Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories, by Junji Ito, translated by Jocelyne Allen. Kodansha’s Akira box set was also nominated a couple times, under “Best Archival Collection/Project — Comic Books” and “Best Publication Design;” and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories, adapted by Gou Tanabe and translated by Zack Davisson, was nominated for “Best Adaptation from Another Medium.” (I own the Akira boxset, by the way. It’s gorgeous, and it absolutely, 100% deserves an award.)

As I said, I have no words against any of the manga nominated. Shiver is actually one of my favorite books to come out in the last year, though I might question whether it’s the Ito book that is most deserving of an Eisner. No, my quarrel is that the Eisner committee continually ignores what the manga-reading community cares most about, and it tries to frame the more “worthy” manga as being literary, or by a creator who is so far removed from what the majority of readers are enjoying. Jiro Taniguchi is great, but he’s dead now, and his work is almost impossible for me to sell to the kids coming in for the latest volume of My Hero Academia. There is an implication here that manga is only worthwhile if it meets certain criteria; it’s much the same attitude that people who insist on a difference between “comics” and “graphic novels” have. It’s pretension.

Beyond that, there are never enough women nominated. And once again, Moto Hagio is great, but I’ve had the same volumes of Otherworld Barbara sitting on the shelf since they came out. I just had to put aside the store’s copy of The Heart of Thomas for myself, since we haven’t been able to sell it for over a year. No one is reading her material. That’s scandalous in and of itself, but it’s the truth. What I really, really don’t understand is how on earth Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (also translated by Jocelyne Allen) managed to not get nominated. Maybe it’s just in the social media circles I’m part of, but it got talked about a TON, and has had multiple printings. And it’s one manga that I’ve been able to sell to non-manga readers, often without prompting! To say nothing, of course, of the subject matter, which is deeply moving and needed now more than ever.

It’s not just the nominations committee that’s responsible for who wins, of course. Comics creators, journalists, shop owners and managers — all these people get to vote (yes, including me). I know lots and lots of wonderful retailers and comics journalists! I also know that the majority of them know very, very little about manga. This is not solely their fault, and part of my goals within the retail sphere has been to really push manga into other shops, to give retailers the tools to navigate a medium they didn’t grow up with and therefore have no frame of reference for. But that lack of knowledge has meant that many deserving series or titles don’t get recognition.

I know that awards shows/ceremonies are all the same, that it’s a huge popularity contest that doesn’t immediately devalue works that aren’t nominated or that don’t win. But it’s frustrating to see so much quality work go unnoticed because manga is still perceived as too foreign, or as immature, or as…whatever it is that people who refuse to read manga feel that it is. I wish there wasn’t a separate category for manga — but if there wasn’t, I wonder if any manga would get nominated?

One good thing that has come out of the Eisner nominee announcements is that I discovered an utterly beautiful web/digital comic called The Carpet Merchant of Konstaniniyya, by Reimena Yee, which can be found here. I highly, highly recommend it, especially if you like historical romances, vampires, gorgeous patterns and colors, and a story that is likely to make you cry. I’m still so very, very impressed with it, and I can’t believe it had slipped past my radar until now!

If it were up to me, by the way, I would nominate the following, based both on my personal judgments and on what I see selling well in my particular store:

  • My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Nagata Kabi (Seven Seas Entertainment)
  • My Hero Academia, by Kohei Horikoshi (VIZ Media)
  • I Hear the Sunspot, by Yuki Fumino (One Peace Books)
  • Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, by Haruko Kumota (Kodansha USA)
  • The Girl From the Other Side, by Nagabe (Seven Seas Entertainment)

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