The news that the Eisner Awards have done away with the 'Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism; category for its 2024 awards broke last week, prompting no small amount of discussion about the category and the awards as a whole. To many, the omission of the category was seen as shocking, but it may simply be the end result of one simple, sad fact: the Eisners has long not known what to do with journalism.
I’ll put my cards on the table at the start: I was an Eisners judge in 2018, and it was an experience I deeply appreciated and enjoyed; I’ve said elsewhere that it was something that re-energized my love for comics as a medium and a business, as well as something that introduced me to a number of creators and comics that quickly became new favorites. It was, on multiple levels, something I feel honored to have had a chance to be part of — and it was also an eye-opening, and at times frustrating, experience, especially with regards to the journalism category.
My problems with the Eisners’ journalism category as-was — which is all we have now, it seems — is that it was so ill-defined as to be practically useless. The clue was in the category’s name, as much as anything: while periodicals can include journalism, “periodical” and “journalism” are not actually the same thing, leading to things like last year’s nominees in the category, which included two magazines featuring essays and interviews based around material published decades earlier competing with one individual journalist’s combined reporting across multiple outlets. It had become a category with competing apples and oranges, and specific rules to ensure that they held together, however unlikely that was.
All of these problems will be exacerbated by the consolidation of the Periodical/Journalism category with the Comics-Related Book category; now judges will have to weigh websites, magazines, and books against each other as if they’re the same thing, diluting the unique properties of each to create a dull sludge that seems to be defined as vaguely as 'well, it’s all writing about comics, I guess, so it’s all the same probably.' Imagine the outcry if the Eisners folded comics, graphic novels, and webcomics into one category and let them slug it out.
The obvious solution to all of this would have been to go in the opposite direction, of course; to split 'Comics-Related Journalism' and 'Comics-Related Periodicals' into their individual categories, and clarify and hone the criteria for both, in order to find more work to champion and promote -- in the process, raising both expectations and 'the bar' for both in the wider world; for all those who snarkily joke that there’s 'no such thing as comics journalism,'”' imagine if there was an actual award to refute that and offer up the best there is, every year? Imagine if there was an award that took into account the work that goes into creating a well-rounded publication beyond simply having good writing, and looked at the collective output over the year as a whole?
It’s not to be, alas — or, at least, not this year. Instead of fixing the problems with the category, the Eisners have just chosen to… double down, it seems. Perhaps next year’s judging committee will take steps to right the ship... or perhaps someone else should just take matters into their own hands and create a new Comics Journalism award, separate from the Eisners altogether. Does anyone want to create the Tom Spurgeon Memorial Award for Just Doing Comics Journalism Right, Dammit?
It's worth remembering that this isn't the first time that the Eisners has killed the Comics Journalism category, of course.