Posted by: PharaohKatt | 23-07-2011

On Hugos and Graphic Novels

I have spent the last month-and-a-bit going through the Hugo packet so as to make an informed vote next week. Yes, I’m waiting until the last minute to vote. And as I was reading, I began to get more and more frustrated at the category of graphic novel.

I’ve talking about this before in meat-space, at places like Swancon (hi @angriest!) and with my friends. At least, I try to talk about it with my friends but as none of them are huge graphic novel readers it ends up me just ranting while they nod and say “yes dear”.

Anyway. The thing I keep coming back to is: this category should not exist, at least not in its current state.

It’s not that I think graphic novels aren’t a worthy category, and a worthy media. Quite the contrary! I think that graphic novels are an involved and in-depth medium with many different facets, genres, styles… The problem is that this doesn’t translate to a Hugo category.

The first problem is the category itself, “Graphic Story”. What type of graphic story are we talking about here? Web comics, single issues, trades? Part of a series or a standalone? This is never actually defined. The problem is, “Graphic Story” doesn’t mean one specific thing the way a lot of the other categories do. “Novel” is clearly defined. “Shot Story” is clearly defined. “Novelette” is clearly defined. “Graphic Story” is just… There. How else would you get Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader along side Shlock Mercenary?

The other problem is that the people who nominate and vote for the Hugos don’t tend to be the type of people who regularly read graphic novels. Sure there are a few of us (like myself) who consider themselves Fans of the genre, who actively seek out the best in the field. People who know what they like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. But we are the minority.

The people who nominate and vote in the Hugos tend to be a more casual audience, who read web comics and the latest Neil Gaiman. They are not involved in the length and breadth that the field has to offer.
How else would Schlock Mercenary get a nomination in the first place?

If the Graphic Story category was truly representative of the field — or truly representative of what is popular in the field — then it would include works by writers like Grant Morrison, Kathryn Imonen, Greg Rucker, Gail Simone.

I can see three solutions to this problem. The first is to get more of the Hugo nominators and voters interested in graphic novels. This is probably the hardest solution because not only would it require a shit-tonne of promotion for graphic novels in areas one wouldn’t expect to find it, it also means dealing with fandom. If you’ve had any dealings with fandom you’ll know that fans tend to be pretty Set In Their Ways.

The second solution is to introduce comic readers to the Hugos, the idea being that more people who frequent that field will nominate and vote. There is a bit of a catch 22 though; how do you convince people that this award is prestigious if they are only fans of graphic novels, and can see how poorly that category is treated?

Both of these solutions require something: actually defining the category.

The third solution, by far the easiest, is just dropping the category completely. As I mentioned before I don’t think this should happen. I believe that graphic novels are fully deserving of Hugos. But the category as it stands does not recognise that, and I don’t think that it can.

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