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Manga Bookshelf 2011 Eisner Roundtable

KATE: The 2011 Eisner nominees were announced last week, and the results were genuinely surprising. Not only did Eisner mainstays like Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka get nods, but the judges also recognized an unusual number of female artists, including pioneering shoujo manga-ka Moto Hagio. The diversity of styles and subject-matters was noteworthy as well; this is the first time in several years that the judges have nominated shojo and josei titles, which often get less critical respect than seinen manga.

So my question to everyone participating in the roundtable is this: which titles are you most excited about seeing on the list? And do you think they have a shot at winning? Why or why not?

DAVID: In terms of being genuinely surprised, I’d have to pick Yumi Unita’s Bunny Drop (Yen Press) as the most pleasantly eye-opening inclusion. It’s a wonderful, wonderful series that doesn’t have any of those particular gravitas selling points, like a legendary creator or an out-there concept. Unita just tells a warm story about recognizable characters, and she tells it very, very well. It’s like the crowd-pleasing indie film that nobody expects to get a best picture nomination.

MELINDA: I’ll have to agree with David on the candidate for “most surprising,” for exactly the reasons he stated. In terms of pure excitement, though, I have to mention Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves. This thoughtful, languorous manga is one of my current favorites. And though its period setting and unique art style probably contribute to its Eisner-likeliness, I was still surprised to see it nominated.

KATE: Though I’d agree that Bunny Drop was the most surprising nomination, I’m most excited about A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. I’ve been a big Moto Hagio fan since I first read “They Were Eleven” four years ago, and have been frustrated by American publishers’ reluctance to license her work. (I know, I know: old-school shojo doesn’t sell very well, as Swan and From Eroica With Love‘s poor sales records attest.) Hagio’s Eisner nomination fills me with hope that Fantagraphics will take a chance on one of her longer stories — say, The Poe Family or Otherworld Barbara — allowing American readers to really get to know her work.

There’s another reason I want Drunken Dream to win: stories written by and for female audiences don’t often win major awards. Looking over the complete list of Eisner nominees, for example, I see only a sprinkling of female artists and writers singled out for recognition. The titles that did make the cut — Julia Wertz’s Drinking at the Movies, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile — are excellent, but I can’t help but wonder why female creators weren’t nominated in more categories, given how many smart, talented, and imaginative women are working in the field today. A win in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material–Asia category is a small but important step towards correcting that kind of oversight.

So what about you: which titles are you hoping will win? Which title would you bet on, if you were the gambling sort?

DAVID: Before I start odds-making, I definitely wanted to concur with your enthusiasm for the inclusion of women creators in the manga category. It’s been a while since they’ve been represented, I think since the 2007 and 2008 slates. And these women creators — Unita, Ono, Hagio — are extraordinary. I’m delighted to see all of them recognized.

Of course, I’m cynic enough to doubt that any of them will win. I think Eisner voters have an understandable fondness and admiration for Osamu Tezuka, so I would probably put my money on Ayako, even though I don’t think it’s his best work by any means. In fact, I’d rather have seen just about any of Vertical’s other books fill that fifth slot — Twin Spica or Peepo Choo in particular. But Ayako is a big, serious drama by a (male) legend, and that’s some serious voter bait right there.

MELINDA: I’m thrilled about the nomination of Drunken Dream, and out of the female-created manga on the list, I think it has the best chance to win. It’s “classic” and comes to us from a publisher that is better-respected in the western comics world than most of those that primarily (or exclusively) publish manga. I’ll join David in his cynicism, however, and agree that I think a classic from a beloved male creator (and Tezuka in particular) is much more likely to win. And while I’m not especially keen on an Ayako win (I, too, would have preferred to see nearly any of Vertical’s other recent releases nominated instead), in my heart of hearts, I admit I’d most like to see a longer series take the prize, above Ayako *or* Drunken Dream.

This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but long-form storytelling is one of the things I most highly value in comics from Japan, and though I’d like to see Hagio get the attention she deserves, I’d rather see her get it for one of her longer series. Like Kate, I hope the nomination inspires Fantagraphics to consider publishing some of those here. I’d be very excited to see one of them on the Eisner list in a couple of years.

All that said, I’d quite possibly die of joy if any of this year’s nominated female mangaka actually did win, Hagio included.

KATE: That’s a great point, Melinda: multi-volume series have certainly won Eisners — Buddha and Old Boy are past winners — but it’s very difficult to compare a complete story such as Ayako with an ongoing one such as Bunny Drop or House of Five Leaves. Sustaining a complicated narrative over many volumes is a very different skill than telling a story in a single volume; it seems patently unfair to compare something which is still in an early stage of development with something where one can actually judge the effectiveness of the ending.

And speaking of long-form stories, do you think 2011 will be the year that Naoki Urasawa finally wins an award, or is he doomed to be the Susan Lucci of the Eisners?

DAVID: I think the best way I can answer this is to suggest that Urasawa is an excellent Eisner nominee but not necessarily an ideal Eisner winner. And, speaking as someone who watched All My Children for many of the years that Lucci was nominated for her performance and lost, I think the comparison is apt beyond the nominations-to-losses ratio.

The thing about Lucci, and I say this as an admirer of her work, is that she rarely had those moments of transcendence that could be found in the performances of the actresses who actually won. She’s adept at both comedy and drama, and she certainly has charisma in the role, but I think her great failing was that she made her work look effortless. She was reliably entertaining rather than transporting, and I think you can say something similar about Urasawa.

He makes terrific genre comics that are among the most reliably entertaining you’re likely to find on the shelf. But when I compare his work to that of Tezuka, Hagio, or even Ono to a lesser extent, I see Urasawa possessing great skill as an entertainer rather than singular vision as an artist, and I think that puts him at a disadvantage in the best manga category.

When you compare him to the competition in the best writer/artist category, I think he could theoretically enjoy better odds, but then you have to factor in the tastes of the general population of voters. What percentage of that pool reads comics from Japan? And what percentage of that percentage reads Urasawa’s work?

MELINDA: David, thank you for clarifying your point so beautifully. That makes a lot of sense to me, and I think it’s helped me understand my own feelings about Urasawa as well. I like 20th Century Boys and all the other work of his I’ve read, and I’d describe them as wonderful comics and great reads. Yet when someone asks me for a list of my favorite mangaka, his name never even comes to mind. Because even though I thoroughly enjoy his work, my “favorites” will be writers who really speak to me in some specific way that is unique to them, and aside from traumatizing me forever with the death of a robotic dog, that’s never been Urasawa.

KATE: Your comments about Urasawa, David, make me wonder if Nabuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles has a chance at winning its category (Best Adaptation from Another Work). Tadano’s work is solid but not showy; unless the judges have read Hal Clement’s original novel, it would be hard for them to appreciate what Tadano did to make the storyline more appropriate for a sequential art treatment. (Clement’s book, for readers unfamiliar with it, takes place largely inside the human host’s body, and consists of many lengthy conversations between host and alien. It’s a good read, but not something that would translate directly into a graphic novel.)

DAVID: That’s hard for me to answer, since I haven’t read Clement’s book. I do think the outcome of that category will depend on whether or not voters are considering how the source material was adapted or the stand-alone quality of the work. I’ve really enjoyed the first three volumes of 7 Billion Needles, so I was just happy to see it get a nomination and, hopefully, more readers from that.

MELINDA: I was actually surprised to see it nominated there, not because it isn’t a great series (it is), but because from what I understood, it wasn’t a direct adaptation they way we tend to think of them. I do think 7 Billion Needles is the kind of manga that appeals easily to non-manga readers, so at least that might work in its favor. I’m always pleased to see manga nominated outside of the Asian-specific category, so this nomination was one of my special favorites this year.

KATE: I’m hoping that the judges understand that Needle would have been difficult to adapt as is; Tadano did a great job of taking Clement’s ideas and making them work in a visual format, which required some pretty fundamental changes to the script.

And since we’re on the subject of Asian comics nominated for categories besides Best U.S. Edition of International Material–Asia, what did you think of Korea As Viewed By 12 Creators: did it deserve a nomination?

DAVID: I think it did, yes. It’s not the stunner that Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators was, but it does what an anthology is supposed to do: present a variety of styles and introduce the reader to some talented creators while featuring a very respectable percentage of good stories and some great contributions.

I have to say that I was kind of surprised not to see Top Shelf’s Ax anthology nominated. I’m not saying I liked it better than Korea, but when you consider the ambition and breadth of the project, it seemed like such obvious Eisner bait.

MELINDA: I was a little disappointed in Korea As Viewed By 12 Creators, but I’ll admit that my expectations may have been inappropriately high. I am certainly happy to see it nominated, if only for the visibility it might bring to its Korean creators. Anything that might help to bring a greater variety of Korean comics our way is a win in my book.

I would have liked to see something like Twin Spica break into the non-Asian-specific categories, but I can’t be surprised that it didn’t.

KATE: I’d have been more inclined to nominate Herve Tanquerelle’s “A Rat in the Country of Yong” for Best Short Story than to nominate the entire Korea anthology. “Rat” is a perfect example of how to do wordless comics: it’s got a clear, simple narrative that anyone can follow, but all of the fine details — the character’s mode of transport, the view from his hotel window — add nuance to the “stranger in a strange land” concept. Furthermore, by using animals as stand-ins for people, Tanquerelle avoided one of the problems that plagued other stories in the collection: cultural condescension. I know I’m in the minority for disliking Catel’s contribution, but I found a lot of her observations patronizing and superficial; it’s as if someone based their entire impression of New York City on one trip to Barney’s, you know?

As for titles that I feel were neglected, I have to agree with both of you: Twin Spica would have been a natural choice for the Best Publication for Teens, as would Cross Game. Both series have the rhythm and feeling of a good YA novel — more so, I’d argue, than some of the nominated titles in the teen category, which seem a little young for real adolescents.

Are there any other titles that you feel were unjustly neglected?

DAVID: I do generally find myself wondering why there’s no room for manga in the Best Publication for Teens category, especially for the titles you mentioned, but that might be more of a function of me not having read enough of the nominees that are there. And given that he has three excellent series currently in publication, I would love to see Takehiko Inoue nominated in the Best Writer/Artist category at some point.

MELINDA: I could definitely get behind that. I’d also love to see Real in the Best Continuing Series category.


See The Manga Critic for a full rundown of 2011’s nominated manga and manhwa titles. A complete listing of this year’s nominees in all categories can be found at Comic-Con.org.

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Comments

  1. It’s not just you, Kate; Catel’s contribution to Korea was my least favorite in the book, and I’ll go so far as to say the only one I didn’t like. (There were two others that I thought were good but didn’t fit in the anthology, but Catel’s… each re-reading makes me like it less.)

  2. I’m deeply saddened that Urasawa is viewed simply as an entertainer and not as an artist, which furthermore seems to be backed by the prejudice that ‘genre’ work is artistically inferior. I don’t see how anyone could read Pluto or Monster and NOT see Urasawa working with deep political and especially psychological themes in a substantive manner. He’s not a stylistic innovator like Tezuka, but I think he has valid artistic contributions to make.

    I also disagree with the notion that there are good nominees for awards which nevertheless are not good winners (except relative to the competition in any given year). Maybe it’s just me but I find that incredibly patronizing.

    Perhaps I’m simply reacting out of frustration as someone who DOES have Urasawa leap to mind when asked about their favorite mangaka of seeing him nominated over and over and not winning.

    • David Welsh says:

      I think the key phrase in my discussion of Urasawa was the suggestion that he makes what he does appear effortless, which is not to say that his work doesn’t require tremendous effort or creativity. I love genre work, as any glance at my blog will affirm, and I’ve always expressed my enthusiasm for Urasawa’s work, but there has to be a reason that he’s been nominated so many times and not won. I stand by my theory. I’m not saying it’s a fair reason for him not to have won, and I’d be deeply annoyed if 20th Century Boys came in second to Ayako, but I think it’s a legitimate theory.

      • I took it more as an opinion you were expressing, but it seems I misunderstood. Sorry about that.

        I think it’s definitely a good explanation of the his nominations but lack of actual awards, as it vibes with the way Urasawa seems to be received. Especially considering the double-whammy of being both manga and genre fiction. I would have said that a contributing factor might be the length of the works making it difficult to determine a point in the series at which the award is appropriate, but Pluto failing to win last year blows that out of the water.

        • David Welsh says:

          It’s very weird to me that Pluto didn’t win, since that’s his most concise work by far. It’s not my favorite of his works that are available in English; that honor goes to 20th Century Boys. But it was the perfect opportunity to recognize an ambitious, entertaining, artistically successful work that had a lot of qualities the Eisner community usually celebrates — a cerebral reexamination of beloved genre tropes, not unlike, say, Fables.

          I do think the category confusion causes problems, though. It’s weird to me to see long-form, ongoing series, anthologies, and stand-alone works in the same category. It doesn’t seem fair to any of them.

    • Since I’m the one who said that I don’t think of Urasawa when I think of my favorite mangaka, I thought I should speak up here to say that I do think of genre work when I think about my favorite comics (or books, movies, tv shows, whatever). I think if you actually look at all the blogs on this network, you’re going to have difficulty finding any bias against genre comics.

      • I have read many of the blogs on the network, and I should note that just because someone enjoys genre work does not imply that they wouldn’t hold it to be inferior in artistic import compared to more ‘literary’ work. One can very well hold genre work among one’s favorites while still maintaining that genre work is not as artistically valid as other kinds of fiction.

        I don’t think my reading was that far out there considering the following sentences:
        “He makes terrific genre comics that are among the most reliably entertaining you’re likely to find on the shelf. But when I compare his work to that of Tezuka, Hagio, or even Ono to a lesser extent, I see Urasawa possessing great skill as an entertainer rather than singular vision as an artist”

        The two traits that are mentioned before the qualifying “but” are being genre and being entertaining. I don’t think it’s a big leap to presume the writer (in this case Mr. Welsh) was contrasting “genre” and “entertainment” with “non-genre” and “artist(ic).” Especially since the previous two, Tezuka (Ayako) and Hagio (Drunken Dream) fall pretty solidly on the ‘literary’ side, and Ono (House of Five Leaves) is a historical drama.

        • Katherine Dacey says:

          Krill:

          I’m not sure why you’re so intent on calling us out about this point — David and I are both big Urasawa fans, and have championed his work at our blogs. David gave a simple but thoughtful explanation of why he thought Eisner voters might pick a different manga-ka over Urasawa. There’s nothing “patronizing” about David’s opinion; craft and artistry go hand-in-hand, but are not necessarily the same thing. Urasawa is a terrific entertainer, someone who does an excellent job of transforming played-out genres into fresh, exciting narratives, but his work isn’t as distinctive as Hagio’s or Tezuka’s.

          Put another way: I adore Hitchcock’s movies, but if you asked me to compare him with other great 20th century filmmakers, I wouldn’t put him in the same league as David Lean — not because Lean made “art movies” and Hitchcock made “thrillers,” but because Lean’s artistic vision was more distinctive and original than Hitchcock’s. But if you asked me if there are any “genre” filmmakers who’d I put in the same category as Lean, I could compose a lengthy list: John Frankenheimer, Akira Kurosawa, Ridley Scott, Stephen Spielberg, and Billy Wilder are five who immediately spring to mind.

          So please — don’t hurl rocks at us because we don’t quite see eye-to-eye about Urasawa. It really just boils down to a simple difference of opinion about the quality of his work, not inherent snobbery on our part, or a secret desire to see “literary” comics carry the day.

          • I’m not intent on calling you out. If you’d read my responses to Mr Welsh you would’ve seen me realize that I had misunderstood at least him, and apologize in the process. In my response to your post I was only defending what I felt (and still feel) was a reasonable reading of the remarks that were made (he even used the first-person “I see Urasawa possessing great skill as an entertainer rather than singular vision as an artist,” I don’t think it’s wrong to have read that as an expressed opinion), but I am not maintaining that reading in the face of correction.

            What I considered patronizing was not the opinion that genre fiction is artistically less valid. What I considered patronizing was the view that there are nominees that are fit to be nominated but not to win (in absolute terms, not relative to the competition where not all nominees will be fit to win in a very different sense). I will stand by that. I don’t see what’s wrong with expressing distaste at the idea of nominating someone when you don’t really mean it.

            I think you are taking this far more personally than was intended, even in the original post. I responded to expressed opinions, I did not attack any people. At no point did I call anyone a snob or even mean to imply it, nor accuse anyone of any “secret desires.” I only said I thought some prejudices were present, and considering how we all have prejudices (I even admitted my own prejudice in favor of Urasawa at the end of my original post) I don’t think that should be taken as any kind of personal insult or attack.

        • Just to add to Kate’s comment here, I’d point out that in the case of both Hagio and Tezuka, it’s their “genre” work (They Were Eleven and Astro Boy) that first captured the attention of most western readers (me included, at least in Hagio’s case). So if any of us consider them to be more distinctive as artists than Urasawa, genre really isn’t the issue.

  3. I love this powowing of Eisnerds. :D And I think your concerns are quite great if not true on this one and I’m wondering myself if the people in the Eisner committee are in any way like those in Japan. I mean all the nominated titles are great and in that list, if it were a Japanese audience, they would snag Urasawa in a heartbeat. But you guys are right, he’s not quite mature yet as a writer and I’ve written my thoughts over twitter that while Urasawa is a genius he’s still wandering aimlessly rather than really giving himself purpose in his works.

    To me, the strongest contender in that lot is Hagio Moto. I may be 49er biased but that woman could tell a story.



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