Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Graphic Story

Thursday, May 28, 2015
Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate by Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation)
Saga, Volume 3 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
Time will bear this out, or not, but I think I will have had a much more difficult time ranking the nominees for Graphic Story than I will for any other Hugo category this year. There is just so much excellence here and the comics are all great in very different ways.  I will, however, hold to this ranking and this vote and live with it. But ask me tomorrow and I could reorder the whole thing and be equally comfortable with that order. I choose to draw the line today.

Sex Criminals: Sometimes I read a comic at home and my wife looks over at me with a slightly confused and bemused shake of her head. Add in the title of the book and she asked me, curious, what exactly I was reading. I told her I was reading a friggin awesome and exciting and completely batshit insane comic where two characters figured out that they have the ability to stop time when they orgasm. There's a chance she'd like the book. At the very least, she'd demonstrably see that comics are far more than just super heroes wearing costumes (which will also be addressed when I talk about Ms Marvel). But, besides the massive "what the hell am I reading" level of shock and admiration, Sex Criminals is, thus far, a fascinating and excellent comic telling what initially feels like a heist tale with an interesting quirk. That itself, with the quality level of the writing and the art, is enough to move Sex Criminals to the top of my ballot.  I'm very curious where Fraction is going to take this story and if he can keep it together long enough to tell a complete story, but we'll see. This first collection was exciting.

Saga: I'm glad it was the third volume of Saga which was nominated and not the fourth, because as much as I enjoy Saga and think that it is one of the better comics running today, Volume 3 was a significantly stronger collection. I have perhaps less to say about Saga because I read it much longer ago than the rest of the nominees, but Saga sets a very high bar and Volume 3 is the best of the collected editions.

Rat Queens: I am so glad Rat Queens was nominated for a Hugo Award. It had been on my radar for a while, but it was the nomination which pushed me to read it. Holy crap. It is awesome. On a different day I could shuffle my ranking and Rat Queens could be my top pick, the lines between these nominees are so narrow. This is Sword and Sorcery with foul mouthed and ass kicking semi-anti-heroines - a small four woman mercenary company.  I love it. I want more. More!

And, if I might make a very rare digression because I have mostly elected to not talk about any of the controversies surrounding this year's Hugo Awards when I am talking about the nominees: Rat Queens feels like it should be the exact sort of ass kicking heavy on story light on message comic the Sad and / or Rabid Puppies have said they are agitating in support of. It is this exact sort of work. That being the case, I hope this is something many of them who enjoy comics are able to hold up as being truly excellent regardless of who created it. Because it is.

Ms. Marvel: I made a crack in my brief commentary on Sex Criminals about comics being more than superheroes wearing costumes, and despite my love of comics I sometimes fall into that very simply and reductive trap. Hell, as much as I love very non-superhero works such as Queen and Country or Y: The Last Man or DMZ or a much longer list than I want to make right here, I am also a reader of some Batman and a range of more "traditional" Marvel comics as I work my way through various series and the overall Marvel 616 Universe. Some are much better than others. Matt Fraction's run on Invincible Iron Man and Ed Brubaker's Captain America are two standout works.  I have mostly been reading in order, so I wasn't going to get to Ms Marvel for several years most likely.

That would have been a damn shame. Ms Marvel is a fresh new take on the character, with Carol Danvers having taken on the Captain Marvel mantle, Ms Marvel was left vacant. It has now been taken up by Kamala Khan, a 16 year old from Jersey City. Also notable is that she is Pakistani-American, and while I don't think it is necessary to continually talk about Khan's race, her family's religion, or similar issues when discussing Ms Marvel, it is worth pointing out at least once because it is a significant step for Marvel comics to take in having a potentially major character not be white. But that is the window dressing which also serves as the underlying character of Kamala Khan because it is who she is and it is her background. But it allows G Willow Wilson (the writer, and also creator of the excellent series Air) to tell different stories in the Marvel universe as the new Ms Marvel works through her own origin story and eventually interact with the greater Marvel universe. While I am only through the first collection so far, a character taking the Ms Marvel mantle does not stay in Jersey City and only deal with the local issues. Ms Marvel has to become more than that, otherwise why tell the story?

The important thing here is that the story itself of a young woman, a teenager, acquiring power but not knowing how to best use it or how to navigate her family life with the new great power / great responsibility that she has, that story is a well told, well written, and an excellent piece of comics writing and storytelling. Somewhere in there I was redundant, but Ms Marvel demands to be read.

No Award: I could not figure out which particular strip from The Zombie Nation began the Reduce, Reuse, Reanimate collection, and when I asked Carter Reid he didn't seem too sure himself. So, I did what any other absolutely insane person would do: I read them all. I started with the very first comic Reid posted and I continued on through the end of 2014 because I figured that had the collection been published in 2015, it wouldn't have been eligible. I just didn't know where the line was. I put stronger weight on the late 2013 and all of the 2014 work, as that is where the collection would have most likely been pulled from. It's...fine.  The Zombie Nation is mildly amusing, occasionally funny, but ultimately nothing special. Nothing I would hold up and say is one of the best comics of the year. Excuse me, nothing I would hold up as one of the best "graphic stories" of the year.  The Zombie Nation simply does not compare with any of the other nominated comics.

My vote:
1. Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick
2. Saga, Volume 3
3. Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery
4. Ms Marvel: No Normal
5. No Award


Standard 2015 Hugo Disclaimer:
In a typical year, I just jump right into whichever category I'm writing about and let my thoughts sort out the whole mess. This is not a typical year, so I'd like to start by talking a little bit about how I'm going to work through the various Hugo Award categories and how I am going to vote. Simply put, I am going to read everything. If I feel the work is strong enough to merit a ranked vote, I will vote for it in whatever order feels most appropriate. If I feel the work is not strong enough to merit ranking it above No Award, I will not do so.  But at no point am I making a blanket statement about Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies or that I've heard Thomas Heuvelt may have been campaigning for a nomination or anything else that I am not aware of.  The ballot is what the ballot is and I will treat it as such.

I am also working with the same methodology as I have in the past, which is to say that there are frequently works and writers on the ballot that I simply and strongly disagree with. In most cases, I have still ranked those works above No Award. I don't believe I have always done this, and I know if I had participated last year, one novel would have been below No Award because I bounced so hard off of the first book in that series that I really can't understand how the second also managed a nomination - and that writer is a Hugo favorite. Most stories compare to works that have previously been on the ballot, so those works that meet my low-bar criteria will secure my vote. 

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