The Hugo for Best Graphic Story: A Short History

Next week, we will have a Hugo nominee comics-jam, one day for each candidate. I will tell you all about your potential voting choices and offer my own two cents. (It will be awesome.) But to lead into that, I’d like to talk a little about the actual category and its short history. I think this category signals good things for writers across the board, as well as fans.

The nominees this year are all strong, for various reasons and in various genres. There are webcomics. There are also stories from the Marvel and DC universes, as well as a creator-owned story. I’d say the nominees pretty much cover all of the basic comics fields, which is cool in and of itself—it doesn’t show a preference toward any one medium/genre. I was especially surprised and pleased by the fact that there are stories from the Universes, because I’ve encountered (and sometimes participated in, I’ll admit it) a certain antagonism toward them. While some of the company-owned stories are baffling, most of them aren’t, and it’s definitely worth a shot for anyone who is otherwise afraid to immerse themselves in such a tangled continuity—made easier by the fact that the writers of those two stories are, respectively, Paul Cornell and Neil Gaiman.

Comics have had some trouble when it comes to SFF awards, despite so many of them being eligible when it comes to the actual story content. One of those often-quoted Neil Gaiman stories is about the 19th issue of Sandman, “Midsummer Night’s Dream”—the only comic to every win the World Fantasy Award for the Short Story. In a way it’s a cool bragging right, because you can say it’s the only comic to ever win the award, but the reason is a little bit less cool. In 1991, there weren’t any rules against comics (or, the more fancy grown-up term, graphic stories) winning. That changed. While comics are still technically eligible, they are only part of the “Special Award: Professional” portion, which also includes anything else you might imagine. The fact that someone felt the need to restrict comics, yet not give them their own category, bugs me quite a bit. I’d like to think we’ve gotten to a point in the speculative fiction field that we can acknowledge the craftsmanship, writing and storytelling mastery some comics embody.

And that’s why I was so excited about the Hugo Awards adding the Graphic Story category. They, for one, are choosing to recognize the year-to-year excellence in the comics field: not just once in a blue moon as part of a lump category award, but regularly good enough to deserve a Hugo. That means that they’re pretty damned sure that every year, there will be five stories told in the comics medium that are good enough to be on the same list as the Best Novel category.

The award’s first year was last year, and there were six nominees—The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher and Adrian Syaf; Girl Genius 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones by Kaja & Phil Foglio; Fables: War and Pieces by Bill Willingham and a host of artists; Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic by Howard Tayler; Serenity: Better Days by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, art by Will Conrad; and Y: The Last Man 10: Whys and Wherefores by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. Note that there are two tie-in comics, while there are none this year, which is interesting—are the fans who did the nominating branching off into more avenues in comics and therefore are reading fewer tie-ins? (Maybe. I might be reading too far into it, especially since the nominees this year are all more in the SFF field than the speculative comics field. I think there’s still a great deal of branching out that needs to be done, honestly; authors who aren’t already famous for their written fiction, for example. But we can take things one step at a time—recognizing comics at all is nice. I’ll give it a few years to grow some more variety.)

Anyway: the winner last year was Girl Genius, which was remarkably cool for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s a web-published comic that happens to have print editions. That’s a stretch for many people when nominating for awards, but it seems more and more common to recognize web-publishing. I hope that this openness continues in the coming years, because I would sure love to see Warren Ellis’s Freakangels nominated for a Hugo. (Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m actually confused beyond belief that it isn’t a nominee—if I had to pick an online-based comic with print volumes to nominate for a Hugo award, it would be Freakangels.)

So, now we come to the second year of the Best Graphic Story Award. Our nominees are as follows:

#Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Neil Gaiman, art by Andy Kubert

#Captain Britain and the MI13 v. 3: Vampire State by Paul Cornell, art by Leonard Kirk, Mike Collins and Adrian Syaf

#Fables v. 12: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham, art by Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross, Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred and David Hahn (plus letterers and colorists)

#Girl Genius v. 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm by Kaja and Phil Foglio

#Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse by Howard Tayler

If you’re not sure about your own pick, tune in next week for the run-downs. I also recommend purchasing these fine books (or, as is the case with the last two, checking them out online).

Can you guess who my favorite is before I tell you? It’s a dare.


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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