Ruminations on the 2011 Hugo for Best Graphic Story

The nominees for this year’s Hugo for Best Graphic Story were announced recently, and the voter packet has also just come out—so it seems to be the right time to give some thought to each of the nominees and what they have to offer.

The five nominees are as follows: Fables: Witches, written by Bill Willingham, illustrated by Mark Buckingham (Vertigo); Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment); Grandville Mon Amour, by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse); Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Howard Tayler and Travis Walton (Hypernode); and The Unwritten, Volume 2: Inside Man, written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross (Vertigo)

Three out of the five nominees have already been discussed here on Tor.com (you can check out the discussions at the above links). What follows here are my thoughts on each nominee as follows, and how I voted—entirely personal and entirely subjective, in the way that any and all reviews have to be, when it comes down to it:

 

The Unwritten: Inside Man: It should come as no deep surprise that I think the far-and-above winner of this Hugo should be Mike Carey & Peter Gross’s The Unwritten: Inside Man—not just for its intense and gripping plot, but also for its play with speculative fiction on a metafictional level, its commentary on our desires as readers, our rights (or lack thereof) as readers, the power of stories and the potential reality behind them all. It’s a depthy, difficult, twisty comic with extremely polished, crisp writing. The quality of the craft alone is enough to get my vote; the sheer creative beauty of the world-building and the metafictional constructions win it two and three times over. As much as I enjoy some of the other nominees, if you were to ask me the best comic currently being published, this would be my answer—and not just for the Hugos. For this particular award, though, I can see no better fit. After all, it’s for “best graphic story,” and that moniker more than perfectly describes the work at hand in The Unwritten.

It also doesn’t hurt that this is only the second volume of the series, and it will be easy (for once) for a person who doesn’t generally read comics to pick it up and enjoy. Unlike the next nominee on my list….

 

Fables: Witches: The 14th volume of Fables is a return to form for the long-running series; as I’ve said in the reread post, it’s full of fell sorcery and politicking and high drama, with several discreet stories as well as a continuing narrative arc. The problem it will face with voters, inevitably, is that it’s the fourteenth volume of a long-running series—not easy to pick up without knowing the background of all the characters and the world. It’s my #2 spot vote. Despite the trouble a new reader would have catching up, I’m not a new reader to Fables, and this volume is a great addition to the series that deftly manages to balance comedy and horrific tragedy, the consequences of war, and the personal relationships that survive—some flourishing, others not—despite great travails.

It’s just a damn good story, often complex and emotional, and Witches is a great volume.

 

Grandville Mon Amour: A strange, steampunk-ish noir comic that delivers exactly what it advertises—high adventure, noir sentiment, mystery-solving and political thrills—Grandville Mon Amour was an absolute page-turner. It’s my #3 spot. There’s more going on than just the surface, though, since artistically speaking it owes a lot to French caricature art of the 19th century, and in fact the name “Grandville” was the pseudonym of an artist who drew anthropomorphized caricatures. Hence, the characters in Grandville being anthropomorphized, with the occasional human running around. The world-building, too, is ridiculously fun—the anarchist Brits and the French domination of the political world; the technology, the wars, all of that. There’s a lot of background woven into what at first glance seemed like a simple adventure tale.

It was a good comic, and certainly deserved its nomination this year, but it didn’t quite blow me away like the Carey or the Willingham.

 

Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse: The winner for the past two years has been Girl Genius—that’s not the reason it’s all the way on my #4 (though I am all for spreading the attention around instead of reading the same comics, year by year, and never branching out to see what new authors and stories are being told). In this case, I genuinely feel that the other three nominees I’ve placed above it told better, more intricate and more interesting stories this year. This volume was rip-roaring fun but ultimately somewhat shallow. Lovely, yes, but simply not the best or second-best this year. Fun isn’t going to cut it for the Hugo for Best Graphic Story; at least not for me. (This makes it sound like I’m not a fan, but I promise I am; I love what the Foglios have done with this comic, and the regularity of their posting deeply impresses me. But when it comes down to the line, it’s not in my top three for this particular award.)

 

Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel: I am clearly missing something with the Schlock Mercenary comics, because I question—much like I did last year—why this is on the ballot. It’s often funny, yes. It has a story to move the humor, yes. It is functionally well-written, yes. That’s all. There’s simply no comparison in quality between it and, say, The Unwritten, even leaving room for differing narrative preferences (SF versus speculative/meta-fiction). I suspect its earning a spot on the ballot for Best Graphic Story has more to do with the sheer popularity of the comic as a daily serial that makes people laugh—and if this were an award for Best Humor, I would put my vote for this comic above the others. (Well, probably not above Girl Genius, but the point stands.) But that is not this award. It is for story, for craft in the telling of stories, and I simply don’t see that in this volume, especially standing next to the other four nominees. I’m not saying it’s a bad comic; far from it, but out of the five nominees being discussed, it’s the one I don’t think fits the category. I just can’t in good conscience say I’m willing to vote for it for this award.

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So, there’s that. Disagree rampantly amongst yourselves and with me; argue what you think should be #1 and why—that’s what the comment box is for, yes? Have at it.


Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and Livejournal.

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