Hugo fan artist nominee Dave Howell

A remarkable thing happened this year in the Fan Artist category. Two remarkable things, actually. Both by the same guy: Dave Howell.

Dave broke the logjam of the same folks being nominated every year and simultaneously expanded the universe of artwork deemed Hugo-worthy.

As for the first, I have complete and utter respect and admiration for Brad Foster, Sue Mason, Teddy Harvia and Steve Stiles. They have done excellent work over the years (which I’ll discuss in later posts). They deserve the various nominations and awards they’ve received. But they—along with yours truly—had created a logjam. Over the last 9 years (45 total nominations), only 9 different fan artists have been nominated. (In contrast, in the Short Story category 27 writers have been nominated in the same period.) Indeed, for five straight years (2003 to 2007), the slate was exactly the same. Five straight years! This is one of the reasons I’ve permanently retired myself from this category (thank you very much, but you all have given me enough love!). I wanted to open up space for other deserving artists: Alan F. Beck, Taral Wayne, Marc Schirmeister, Dan Steffan, Spring Schoenhuth and my wife Brianna Spacekat Wu—none of whom have ever won.

Dave Howell wasn’t on my narrow list (sorry, Dave). But his nomination this year—his first—is a surprise and a delight. He re-defines the category. Traditionally, a “fan artist” is someone whose work appears in print: in fanzines and semi-prozines. We do it “for the love,” and don’t get paid what the “pro artists” make. However, the World Science Fiction Society Constitution has something to say about what a fan artist is. It’s defined as someone “whose work has appeared through publication in semiprozines or fanzines or through other public display.” The “through other public display” phrase means that, technically, anyone who displays a drawing in a convention art show is eligible, as is anyone who tacks up a poster in a stairway at Worldcon, or wears a hall costume. This has never been an issue.

Until now.

Dave’s work doesn’t appear in fanzines or semiprozines. But he did do a marvelous piece, two dozen of them, actually: the base for the 2009 Hugo Award trophy.

As you probably know, every year the Hugo Awards use the same rocket designs. The rockets themselves are manufactured by Pete Weston, but each year the base is different. Dave’s design is an asteroid, hand-sculpted from stone with a blowtorch (to create microfaults in the rock), a hammer and a chisel with an ultra-hard silicon carbide tip. For most of the trophies, the stone is “Blue Pearl granite” (actually a Norwegian larvikite, similar to labradorite). The rocket “floats” above the asteroid, above a pit formed by its own rocketblast. The pit was sandblasted into the stone and filled with alternating layers of polyurethane and precision-cut maple leaves. A gander into the pit fills the eye with shimmering, sparkling golds, silvers and pinks. It reminds me of the view into the maw of the giant planet-killer in “The Doomsday Machine” episode of old Star Trek.

The end result is not just the most technically complex Hugo base, but the most beautiful. (In contrast, the first award, in 1953, was a slab of wood decorated with a rocket based on a hood ornament from a Oldsmobile 88.)

Welcome to the category, Dave. You’ve earned it.

For more on Dave’s complex process of making these bases, click here.

Frank Wu is an award-winning artist, writer and ne’er-do-well living with his fabulous wife and fellow artist Brianna Spacekat Wu near Boston. His current project is Guidolon the Giant Space Chicken, with a graphic novel to be released next summer. For more information on Frank, visit his website and blog.


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