Remember when this used to be a comics blog?
Those of you who thought my other Hugo blog posts were a little grumpy might want to look away, because not only am I in a bad mood for unrelated reasons, but I’d question the whole point of this category.
Quite simply, science fiction fans and comics fans are two non-identical groups (though there is overlap of course), and having a comics award in the Hugos, like some of the other minority awards, seems like it’s more likely to reward things that have names recognisable to SF fans than things that are actually good.
2013 wasn’t a particularly exciting year for comics (in fact it was the least excited I’ve been about comics since I was old enough to read, and I rather fell out of touch with the comics scene, though I’m getting back into it), but there was good work being put out. Sadly, that’s not represented in the Hugo nominations for the most part.
As always, from best to worst:
Time by Randall Munroe — I’m not even sure whether this is a comic, or a cartoon, or what, but it’s formally inventive and interesting. Munroe had one page of his webcomic XKCD which updated with a new panel every hour for many months, each panel replacing the previous one. When run together, the panels become a short animated science fiction film (with Munroe’s usual stick figure characters) , but that’s not how the work was intended to be viewed — it’s essentially impossible for anyone to experience now, because part of the point was the real-time nature of it. It’s a genuinely interesting experiment, and the only thing on the ballot that could possibly be said to deserve the award.
Girl Genius Vol 13 by Phil and Kaja Foglio — Girl Genius is a steampunk webcomic. The Hugo “best graphic story” award started in 2009, and that year’s collected edition of Girl Genius won it. And it won in 2010. And 2011. At which point the Foglios announced they were letting someone else have a go and withdrawing it from nomination for a little while. It’s very well done if you like that sort of thing, but steampunk is definitely not my sort of thing, and volume thirteen of an ongoing storyline is not a great place to start.
The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who by Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton. This is passable enough, but it’s not deserving of an award — it’s been nominated because it’s about Doctor Who , because it makes SF fandom feel good about themselves, and because Paul Cornell is (deservedly) very popular. Cornell is a good writer, but this is not him at his best, and the story is yet another Doctor Who story about how special Doctor Who is and how much the show means and how much being a Doctor Who fan can change your life and… can we please have some Doctor Who stories that aren’t navel-gazing at some point?
The Meathouse Man “adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden” is a comic adaptation of a short story Martin wrote in the 1970s (it was originally intended for The Last Dangerous Visions which shows how old it is) and has all the flaws of comics adapted from short stories — for the most part the illustrations are just that, illustrations, not an integral part of the work. I’ve not read the original story, but from the way this is presented I’d guess little or none of Martin’s prose was removed, so it’s only a “graphic story” in the most technical sense. And unlike in, say, P. Craig Russell’s adaptations of Neil Gaiman’s prose, or Eddie Campbell’s adaptations of Alan Moore’s monologues, which do something similar, there’s nothing special added by the art.
And the story itself I found very, very unpleasant, “boundary-pushing” in that 70s way which just wants to see how unpleasant a story can be and still be a story. Which makes it just about average for a mainstream comic of 2013. This is clearly nominated purely on Martin’s name.
Not in the Hugo Packet, so not ranked, is Saga, vol 2 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples. I’ve not read this, but have heard very good things about it. If I get round to getting a copy before the close of voting, I suspect I’ll be ranking it above No Award, at least, but don’t know if I’ll have a chance to get round to it.
The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who is a new one on me. You can probably imagine the face I’m pulling. I’m trying to imagine how much sense it would make were someone to produce The Girl Who Loved Quantum Leap, or The Girl Who Loved Moonbase 3, or The Girl Who Loved Abigail’s Party all with the twinkly magical magic of wonder and magic similarly notched up to a million.
The Girl Who Loved The Singing Detective…
The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who, that’s an HM Bateman cartoon isn’t it?
Dang. You are not gonna be pleased with next year’s Hugo category for “Monkees or Beach Boys Cover” . . .
I enjoy Saga but it’s wildly uneven, and honestly I’m not sure if it’s your kind of thing at all, Andrew. It’s very, very geeky–the world it’s set in feels like a video game, or a kid’s book where people can do swears and there’s lots of violence. The tone is very, very strange and the “humour”–if that’s what it is, sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s meant to be funny and what’s just weird for weirdness’s sake–is pitched at a level that doesn’t usually resonate with me. It definitely feels like the kind of thing that gets produced by a “fanboy” who’s been fed a steady diet of SF and fantasy and not much else…which is funny because nothing else Vaughan has done is like that. And the major theme, which is about rejecting war and attempting to find a way to live in an unjust universe, is weirdly mature given the often juvenile goings-on. That tension is one of the things that redeems it, for me.
Even in his best work, like the generally quite good “Y: The Last Man”, Vaughan’s a little too in love with cool-guy posturing and melodrama, snappy one-liners and plot twists that sometimes involve narrative cheating, and Saga has those problems in spades. I feel like a lot of the criticisms that get leveled at Joss Whedon apply properly to Vaughan.
That’s a shame. I’d heard it was very good, but never heard anything in much detail. Rather disappointing if it’s just geekfodder…
Huh, reading this comment a day later I may have been a little hard on it. I will say that it’s very imaginative (particularly in terms of world-building), has strong characters, and some reasonably inventive graphic storytelling. And as I say the ideas about war and violence and justice are quite interesting, though they feel like Vaughan’s just getting warmed up. Right now I’d qualify it as fun junk food, with the *potential* to be something more, but it’s still just potential.
Since that post, I’ve actually heard from a couple of other people who weren’t too impressed, either, so it doesn’t seem like you were too hard…
On a complete tangent, but if there’s one of the current crop of Image books you would probably find interesting (and there’s some very strong work coming out of Image right now), it’s The Manhattan Projects. It’s funny because I often find it infuriating, simply because I have an ingrained reverence for science and secular humanism, and that’s exactly the mindset writer Johnathan Hickman is trolling with this book, but it’s done in a way where I feel like I’m being challenged in a healthy way. It’s a very snotty, punk-rock kind of comic, and there’s not a single truly likeable character, but it’s outrageously entertaining and the ideas being thrown around are really potent.