There’s been some aggrieved commentary online about my fellow judge Frank Santoro and a post he made on his Tumblr regarding creators who took part in DC Comics’s Before Watchmen project, published in 2012. (He made that post prior to being chosen as a judge.) Some have questioned whether Frank should have been barred from serving as a judge, and/or whether the absence of Before Watchmen on the Eisner ballot reflects a unfair bias against that project or against DC.
The answer to those questions is no.
For the record, the six of us judges did talk about Before Watchmen, of course, but only briefly. It didn’t stand out in our conversations. Round the table I heard no discussion of the controversy sparked by Before Watchmen—nor did I hear any severe criticism of the project from individual judges. We simply didn’t spend very much time discussing it, because none of us found the comics so magnetic that we felt we needed to make a serious case for them. Or against them, for that matter.
Naturally all of the Before Watchmen comics were submitted for Eisner consideration, but not one of them made it to the semifinal round. Of the hundreds and hundreds of comics we winnowed from our lists before that round, Before Watchmen did not stick out; it inspired no heated discussion, nor any animus, among the six of us.
In fact there were quite a few other comics that did not make our final ballot that we talked about for far longer—comics like Glyn Dillon’s The Nao of Brown, Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, and (a favorite of mine) Matthew Forsythe’s Jinchalo. In the end the majority of us did not deem these Eisner-worthy, but we did talk about them, because at least some of us found them interesting or deserving of special notice. Before Watchmen, by contrast, did not inspire any serious interest among us.
Though I hesitate to speak for all six judges, I believe it’s fair to say that we simply did not think that any of the comics in Before Watchmen (as diverse as they were) could fairly be said to represent the best that our field has to offer. I know that no one of us went to bat for them.
Regarding Frank and his much-criticized blog post, we judges heard not even a whisper about it during the judging summit. What Frank says is true: as a judge he took his work seriously. He cast strong, supportive votes for a great variety of comics, including comics by creators involved in Before Watchmen. He showed no bias toward or against particular creators, publishers, or genres. Nor did he vote some predictable small-press or “alternative” party line: in fact he surprised me several times with his criticism, and praise, of work from every part of the comics field. He was free-minded, reasonable, and fair.
In short, Frank did the Eisners proud. Nuff said.
(If you’re interested, check out what 2012 Eisner judge Brigid Alverson has to say about this topic over at Robot 6, and Josh Flanagan at iFanboy, and Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter, and Heidi MacDonald at The Beat. Brigid’s reflections on the whole Eisner process also make wonderful reading!)