Monday, April 27, 2009

Webcomic Awards

I sometimes wonder if my stance against awards will have people thinking I am no fun.

It's entirely possible I am no fun, but that's not a good reason for believing so. My opposition to awards makes sense, and if someone can talk me out of it, I will be impressed.

I've been skeptical of awards long before webcomics, but I'm not sure at what point I solidified my beliefs. Since we talk about webcomics here, we'll stick to webcomics awards.

Famous awards with categories that sometimes go to webcomics include the Eisners, Harveys and Schusters. The Eisners in particular carry a shine, and some people are openly proud of being nominated, or winning.

Pug and I softly note that we do not participate in awards. It's hard to opt out without sounding like sourpusses. But it beats waking up and finding our comic on a list we don't want to be on. Award committees get insulted when they feel they are doing a nice thing, and you won't play. Better to prevent misunderstandings. People who wait too long then turn down Nobels and Oscars always end up looking like royal chumps.

There is also a "ya just can't win" aspect. Saying you don't want an award sounds to some people like you very much want an award but don't think you'll get one. All I can say in response is that we've had a long time to think it over, and we think we are doing what's right for us.

One thing we don't like about awards is that they pretend to be objective, but are always subjective. This means they contain an element of unfairness. Some people write it off, but it bothers us. It's just how we are.

Major awards focus attention on a comic. It might experience a boost in readership, a print offer and almost always a run of coverage in blogs. Though many creators deserve much more, escalating the value of the prize only worsens the unintended outcomes.

One is the windfall problem. The factors that make the comic notable are suddenly in the hands of people and institutions other than the artist. The comic is debased, as is the creator.

During my life, I have experienced various types of windfalls, usually involving money for whatever company I was building at the time. I feel those windfalls were universally destructive to the firms' growth and development. I learned to turn away venture investors, government loans and grants. No longer distracted, we could focus on fundamentals.

Today, I prefer to build creative endeavors, whether a business or a webcomic, brick by brick, by my own sweat.  Growth fueled by outside forces robs me of my birthright: the ability to claim credit for what I accomplished.

For those who prefer to measure their accomplishments in dollars, it may not matter, because whatever is being produced probably has no soul anyway. These people are hacks -- no insult intended, that's the term -- and their methods and goals are simply different from ours.

Talking to such people, I do notice one thing: it seems like we are happier and more satisfied with life.

Think about where awards fit in your own code of ethics, and conduct, and fairness, and consider whether it's worth the risk. The upside is hype and a Lucite plaque, the downside is freedom from the manipulations of external institutions, however well-intended they think they are.

Webcomic Overlook has an article on the Eisners, including the current nominees, and a lively comment thread following it. Have a look. How many of the nominees have you heard of? How many are comics on the web, versus webcomics (not that that's a requirement)? How many have posted raw pencils instead of finished pages for extensive sections? How many are hosted on a company's web site, freeing the artist from all the site tasks that go with making a webcomic? The answers are all there, or in the comments.