Open letter calls for more transparency from the Eisner Awards

The request comes after Thomas Woodruff’s multiple, controversial nominations.

In the wake of this year’s Eisner Award nomination controversy, a group that includes comics professionals, journalists and readers has asked for more transparency from Comic-Con International on the Eisner Award process.

Editor/journalist Jennifer de Guzman, who has worked for SLG and Image Comics in the past, and Mariah McCourt, a comics writer and former editor at Vertigo, wrote the open letter following the controversial nomination of Francis Rothbart! The Tale of a Fastidious Feral by Thomas Woodruff in several categories this year. It’s been co-signed now by more than 30 individuals.

“This troubling disparity between who is judging the work to be nominated and the makeup of the industry itself has created an environment of systemic inequality,” the letter reads “There is a distinct need for more diverse and inclusive backgrounds in the people responsible for these nominations, every year. We need the active participation of creators of color, LGBTQIA+ creators, artists, writers, letterers, colorists, cover artists, editors, and those with more direct and every day experience with the medium itself. Right now the panel appears to be made up mostly of journalists, librarians, and academics which, intentionally or not, skews the point of view of the nominations.”

Woodruff was the head of the illustration and cartooning departments at the School of Visual Arts in New York for roughly 20 years, and his nominations spurred many of his former students to speak out against his alleged treatment of them when they attended. The other issue people raised was with the work itself, as the “graphic opera,” as the marketing materials called it, was “so blatantly making pageantry out of indigenous visual markers and culture,” as one creator noted.

Woodruff eventually withdrew his work and himself from consideration in this year’s Eisner Awards, but while Woodruff and Fantagraphics both issued statements on the criticism and allegations against the creator and the book, Comic-Con International, which runs the Eisner Awards, has not said much about the controversy. Their only statement was around Woodruff no longer being considered, saying that his nominations would remain on the ballot but any votes cast for them would not be counted.

CCI has an FAQ about the Eisners up on their website, which offers vague, high-level information on the process of selecting judges:

The judging panel, which changes each year, consists of five or six people representing various aspects of the comics industry. Usually included are a comics creator, a critic/reviewer, a graphic novel librarian, a comics retailer, a scholar, and a member of the Comic-Con organizing committee. The judges are selected by a special awards committee within Comic-Con International. This committee is open to input from a variety of sources.

But the letter is asking for more transparency, as well as changes to the process:

  • A form for people in the industry to fill out and submit to be considered as nominating judges.
  • Clear and public criteria for being considered as a judge.
  • The comics community should then have the opportunity to vet a list of candidates.
  • More than one person needs to be a point of contact for this process to mitigate bias.
  • The panel of judges must reflect the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the industry.
  • The panel of judges must reflect the fields of expertise within the industry and includes creators — writers, artists, colorists, cover artists, letterers and editors as well as academics, critics, librarians, and retailers.

“We are asking the Eisner Awards to address these issues so that this long-standing award can continue to nominate and award incredible voices, from every background,” the letter concludes. “We believe that changes such as we’ve outlined above are necessary for the Eisners to remain relevant and representative of the comics medium and industry.”

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