This week, the Ignatz Awards made the news because all nine winners at the 2015 ceremony were women. That sounds great but — you might be wondering — what’s an Ignatz anyway?
There is a tendency to talk about independent comics (about “indie” anything, really) as though they’re only for people “in the know.” Indie = hipster = if you hadn’t already heard about it years before it got big, you should never, ever admit it. Well. We at Panels want to be a gateway for our readers into all kinds of comics. Instead of posing as an expert and pretending that I already knew all about the Ignatz victors before they were announced, I took the winners’ list as an opportunity to investigate.
So what’s an Ignatz, anyway? Small Press Expo (“SPX”), the Bethesda, Maryland-based comics convention that hosts the awards provides a succinct explanation at its website. Named for a character created by George Herriman in the early-20th Century comic strip “Krazy Kat,” the Ignatz process combines a juried selection of finalists, followed by a popular vote.
Anyone who attends SPX on Saturday (the first day of a two-day con) has an opportunity to vote for the Ignatz. I went to SPX this year, and there were paper Ignatz ballots available at the entrance to the exhibition room. Several exhibitors also displayed sample ballots at their tables, and the loudspeaker system reminded attendees to get their votes in. This is the opposite of elitist — SPX wants your votes! The awards are then given out at a Saturday evening ceremony, which is even followed by a party playfully known as a “PROM.” It’s that kind of convention, and I mean this in a very good way.
I wasn’t able to stay around for the evening festivities, and I chose not to vote for the Ignatz Award either. Even though I write about comics, I’m not a small press expert. I’d forgotten to check out the ballot in advance, and I knew that if I filled it out, I would just be choosing the big names I happened to have heard of. I loved Jillian Tamaki’s SuperMutant Magic Academy (see a rave review from Panelteer Kris here), but I wasn’t ready to declare it the best when it was the only book in its category that I had read.
Fortunately, awards ballots aren’t just scorecards for the well-read to rank their favorites. They can also provide a great recommendation list for those of us who lag behind in our reading, or just want to expand our horizons.
The full slate of nominees is available here. (Note that while a lot of nominated content can be found online, it may be adult-oriented or straight up not safe for work. So if you’re going to pull up images in your cubicle or in front of your grade-schooler, keep that in mind.)
Now what about those winners?
I’ll start with the Outstanding Online Comic, because you can click right through and read all of the candidates. This year’s nominees included a variety of approaches to the medium, from ongoing sci-fi and fantasy web comics, to autobiographical accounts of family illness, and pregnancy. The winner in this category was Lilli Carré, an artist and filmmaker who created The Bloody Footprint. This haunting piece about the tenuous nature of memory uses light and shade and motion to create a story that could only exist as a web comic.
Sophie Goldstein’s The Oven brought home both the Best Comic and Best Graphic Novel awards. (Eligibility rules seem to have let the 80 page release from AdHouse Books qualify in both categories). You can find downloadable preview pages here. This is a post-apocalyptic quest story, and the combination of clean, spare cartooning with grim subject matter creates a striking and memorable visual style. Goldstein had a busy con, also premiering House of Women: Part II, which features a preview (NSFW) here. The black and white dream images in these pages are spellbinding, and I will definitely be exploring more of Goldstein’s work.
Another multiple winner was Sophia Foster-Dimino, who won Outstanding Series for her “Sex Fantasy” comics (available here), Outstanding Minicomic for “Sex Fantasy #4,” and Promising New Talent, for “Sex Fantasy” and “Sphincter”. As you may gather from the titles, these comics contain images that are not entirely safe for work. In fact, though, “Sex Fantasy” is a collection of small observational comics, which aren’t particularly focused on sexual fantasies. (Though you can definitely find those kinds of comics at SPX, and in fact it was Smut Peddler‘s C. Spike Trotman who emceed the awards.)
Then we get to the winners who are the big names I already knew before reading and researching this ballot. Emily Carroll won the Best Artist award on the strength of the mind-blowing Through the Woods, which blends fairy tales with horror, the other-worldly with the mundane, and picture book layouts with more familiar comics panels. Read some pieces from Through the Woods back to back with Carré’s “Bloody Footprint,” and you’ll appreciate the uncanny thread that runs through them both. And you might be scared of the color red for a while.
Jillian Tamaki took home the Outstanding Story award (best single issue or one shot, essentially) for “Sex Coven,” which was featured in Frontier #7. (See a description and some excerpt pages here, where you can also buy a copy of your own!) This story “revolves around IRL and online relationships, the seductive and secret world of early internet file-sharing, and life inside a commune (cult?),” the title seems to be a little bit ironic, and I want this in my life pretty much right now.
Finally, if you’ve been anywhere near the comics section of a book store lately, you’ve probably seen the beautiful cover of Eleanor Davis’s How To Be Happy.
Davis is best known for shorter comics that she has contributed to anthologies. With Happy, Davis created a collection of her short works, and won the Best Anthology Award for this combination. You can see some of its images on Davis’s website, and admire her astounding use of color. (If you’re going to purchase the book, Davis recommends ordering from Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia.)
Of course, I’m barely scratching the surface of the award-worthy comics featured at SPX. These titles and creators are just a starting point. With a list of honorees like this year’s Ignatz slate, every reader wins.
Corrections: In an earlier version of the article, the Ignatz image by Darryl Ayo Brathwaite was erroneously credited to George Herriman. Herriman created Ignatz, but the official Ignatz Award image each year is created by a past Promising New Talent winner. In addition, Sophie Foster-Dimino’s award total was corrected. She won three awards this year — the award for “Best Minicomic” was unintentionally omitted from the initial post.