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News: Ignatz Awards 2000
posted September 30, 2000

The Ignatz Awards continued their long march towards wider respectablity and comics awards-show prominence with a virtually controversy-free year 2000 awards program, held on September 16 at the conclusion of Bethesda Maryland's Small Press Expo. Attendees of the convention returning to the exposition space following dinner were treated to the Ignatz's unusual blend of arts-first fervor and laid-back, anti-competitive camaraderie. A shirt-sleeved emcee introduced stylishly-dressed presenters; broad pronouncements from veteran cartoonists' well-known stump speeches fought with personal-directed diatribes by fresh new faces for lingering attention.

Excecutive Director Mike Zarlenga began the evening of curiously mixed signals with his opening address. Making note that 2000 was the last year in the executive director position caused Zarlenga to well up with emotion, which many seated near the podium initially took as humor. The sincere Zarlenga -- whom the crowd rewarded with genuinely-felt applause, took time to thank the members of his steering committee save Highwater's Tom Devlin and Fantagraphics Eric Reynolds, who shared a quick look and smile at their absence. Zarlenga was later cited by speakers Chris Oarr of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and Top Shelf Publisher Chris Staros. Zarlenga would later close the show.

In between came one of the more jaunty and enjoyable awards presentations in recent memory. Top Shelf's Staros served as formal keynote speaker and the evening's host, and his self-deprecating jibes were well-received by the audience. In his keynote address, Staros made a case for several new comics such as From Hell and ACME Novelty Library as exemplars of a new breed of comic, works of merit and appeal that would shatter any public misconceptions about the medium's on their way to deserved success. Less popular with the crowd than his image of a new wave of excellent work were some of Staros' prescriptions for maintaining an atmosphere for those and future quality books, including the statement, "We all like a hero in a story."

Impromptu keynote speaker Will Eisner endorsed Staros' view, seeing it not for its particular but for its emphasis on content. Comparing the SPX professionals to the wave of underground cartoonists who helped rekindle his interest in the form, Eisner declared 'I have seen the future, and it looks good." The crowd, many of whom had packed a give-and-take session between Eisner and cartoonist Jeff Smith earlier in the day, hung on the authoritative industry pioneer's every word, breaking into applause at his final advice. "Don't let the bastards grind you down."

The Ignatz awards, named for George Herriman's mouse and noted critic and coming in the form of the brick the character was kow for throwing, sort into eight categories with the addition of this year's "Outstanding Debut Comic" category. The year 2000 awards program distinguished itself from the typical comics-related shows by moving fairly quickly and providing several genuinely humorous and memorable moments from presenters and recipients: Brian Ralph negotiated through the names of Promising New Talent nominees with heroic aplomb. Stan Sakai performed straight-faced shtick by reading a speech "written by Sergio Aragones" all in Spanish. Jessica Abel good-naturedly lectured those in attendance about the importance of saying "the awards goes to..." because "there are no losers here." Outstanding artist and series winner Dave Cooper's plaintive tribute to his supportive wife, and her tearful reaction, hushed a cynical audience.

Two podium speeches stepped into more controversial territory. Kurt Wolfgang, who edited the winner for Outstanding Mini-Comic Low Jinx #2, took the stage with the mini's participating cartoonists in what looked like an invasion by the world's seediest boy band. In a long, humorous acceptance speech, Wolfgang turned his attention last year's controversial award winner, cartoonist Frank Cho. Cho had won two 1999 awards after his own votes on the nominating committee placed the creator of the newspaper strip and reprint comic book Liberty Meadows on the juried ballot. In describing ways others "less fortunate" could win a Ignatz, Wolfgang offered up nominating oneself as a possibility before dismissing it as "tacky." Several audience members laughed out loud while others grew silent, and the target seated not ten feet from the podium put on a smile that only broke for a few seconds following the t-word.

Wolfgang was forthright about his reasons for taking on Cho's now year-old controversy. "First off, I realize that what I said was tacky and immature, no question about that at all," the cartoonist told the Journal. "I do regret that the tone it seemed to have set, if only temporarily, put some people in an awkward position, and probably injected a 'bad vibe', and 'harshed the buzz'. That being said, I don't agree with some folks who say that it was totally inappropriate, or uncalled for, or that it's time we 'got over' this. Cho may have apologized to the Ignatz committee, and that's all fine and well, but to say that the members of the Ignatz committee were the only people 'wronged' by Cho's actions last year is insane. The other judges were wronged, other creators were wronged, anyone who would like for that award to mean something was wronged. The only time I heard or read Cho comment on the whole thing was in the Journal, which left me with the idea that he was an even bigger ass and only seemed to regret it, if at all, because of the flack he caught for it, rather than the moral deficiency it represented. I never got an apology from Cho, nobody I know got an apology."

For his part, Cho kept himself away from any further controversy. Presenting an award following Wolfgang's speech, the area artist disappointed breath-holding attendees by sticking to already-planned comments. Contacted by the Journal immediately following the program for his reaction to Wolfgang's criticism, Cho said, "Oh, that? It was no biggie. That's my own fault for what I did last year. I deserved it." Whether Cho's statement satisfies other critics, it did wonders for Wolfgang. "I'm actually really glad he feels that way, it really changes things, for me anyway. I'd half expected him to get defensive and in turn offensive, which seems to be his policy, but the fact that he realizes that he deserved it really goes a long way with me, and actually makes me have a bit of respect for him. I think I'm officially done with my Frank bashing after hearing that."

In accepting the Outstanding Debut Comic Ignatz for Dork #8, Evan Dorkin graciously thanked voters but also described in plain, forthright speech criticisms expressed by himself and others about the new award in particular and the Ignatzes in general.

Contacted by the Journal, Dorkin reiterated his support for the festival and the Ignatzes before unpacking those concerns. "In regards to the festival award, I felt that the debut award was too inclusive and that the initial information on what qualified was vague -- it turned out that books could be nominated that had shipped up to either two or three weeks previously to the show (different SPX reps told me different things), which doesn't quite sound like a 'debut' to me -- this is why I went to the show with every expectation of having Dork #8 yanked, because the book shipped early and reached stoores before the show.

"I thought it was weird to have such a wide window of opportunity, because it meant that Dork #8 had several days advantage to be read by fans and pros who would vote over, say, Dean Haspiel's book, or anyone else's which actually debuted at the show -- and that someone who had a book out a week before mine would then have seven days advantage to be read, etc etc. ... And basically, even if everything debuted at the show equally, who there would actually have time, opportunity and the money to buy, read, and judge everything fairly? As I said when I accepted the award, I took my win as a vote for Dork #7, because how many folks there actually read Dork # 8 and genuinely judged it as the better debut book, and how many voted based on what had come before by the nominated creators and who they just liked most or best or felt bad for or whatever? A lot of people I spoke to seemed to think the festival prize was a nice idea, but seemed to think it wasn't really well thought out."

Another specific concerned reported to the Journal by Dorkin and other cartoonists from the floor was some confusion as to how the awards are tallied, as many thought that only professionals were eligble to vote. (Dorkin believed this to be the case in part because in past years he and other cartoonists had ballots brought to them at their tables.) The Ignatzes have been juried in the nomination proces since their inception, but are voted on by all Expo attendees. Other concerns were about voting security and a suggestion that creators actually be on hand to be elegible for the Debut Comic award. Ignatz organizers told the Journal all ideas would be considered for next year's awards. In the case of this year's festival award they pointed to positive side-benefit of Expo attendees using the huge nominee sheet as a shopping list. A more restrictive window announced for the 2001 show has since been announced.

If the Small Press Expo can truly be explained by Scott McCloud's description of a gathering tribe, then the legacy of the 2000 Ignatzes can be discovered in how that tribe struggles to present itself to its dedicated adherents and the world at large. The relentlessly insider-driven, casual-to-the-max Ignatzes present a facade of nonchalance that may border on self-indulgence in terms of public outreach. But for audience members like Glenn V. Morrison, the laid-back atmosphere is a plus. "I certainly would be less likely to attend the ceremonies if I were expected to wear a suit and tie." For Morrison and others contacted by the Journal, the awards driven by audience votes interested in comics' artistic merit made them of interest no matter the presentation, and if that were only possible in an atmosphere perhaps more disconcerting to the man on the street than media-saturated science fiction characters and professional wrestlers, so be it. Like the Expo for which it provides a voice, the Ignatzes begin the millennium finding new ways to present an art form through one of the industry's most staid traditions.

The 2000 Ignatz Awards (Recipients in Bold)

Outstanding Artist
Dave Cooper; Weasel, Fantagraphics Books, accepted by the artist
Rod Espinoza; The Courageous Princess, Antarctic Press
Francesca Ghermandi; Pastil, Phoenix Enterprise Publishing Co.
Bill Presing; Rex Steele-Nazi Smasher, Monkeysuit Press
Craig Thompson; Good-Bye, Chunky Rice, Top Shelf Productions

Outstanding Graphic Novel or Collection
From Hell; Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, Eddie Campbell Comics, accepted by Chris Staros of ECC's American distributor Top Shelf Productions
Banks/Eubanks; Tom Hart, Top Shelf Productions
Clan Apis; Jay Hosler, Active Synapse
Comix 2000; various, L'Association
Drawn & Quarterly, Volume 3; various, Drawn & Quarterly

Outstanding Story
Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid On Earth (From The Acme Novelty Library); Chris Ware, Fantagraphics Books, accepted by Kim Thompson
The Bridge (Mjau Mjau No. 6); Jason, Jippi Forlag
Cave-In; Brian Ralph, Highwater Books
From Hell; Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, Eddie Campbell Comics
Jug; Androo Robinson, self-published

Promising New Talent
Nick Bertozzi; Boswash, Luxurious Comics, accepted by the artist
Ben Catmull; Paper Theater, self-published
Rod Espinosa; The Courageous Princess, Antarctic Press
Kevin Huizenga; Supermonster, self-published
Stephen Notley; Bob the Angry Flower, self-published

Outstanding Series
Weasel; Dave Cooper, Fantagraphics Books, accepted by the artist
Clan Apis; Jay Hosler, Active Synapse
Cuckoo; Madison Clell, Green Door Studios
Heart of Empire; Bryan Talbot, Dark Horse Comics
Mjau Mjau; Jason, Jippi Forlag

Outstanding Comic
The Acme Novelty Library No. 13; Chris Ware, Fantagraphics Books, accepted by Thompson
Boys; Ron Rege and Joan Reidy, Highwater Books
Cuckoo No. 10, Madison Clell, Green Door Studios
Hey Mister, The Trouble With Jesus; Pete Sickman-Garner, Top Shelf
The Last Lonely Saturday; Jordan Crane, Red Ink

Outstanding Minicomic
LowJinx # 2: Understanding the Horrible Truth About Reinventing Mini Comics (The Bastard Format); various, edited by Kurt Wolfgang, Noe-Fie Mono-Media, accepted by Wolfgang and various participants
Angry Youth Comics No. 11; Johnny Ryan, self-published
Jug; Androo Robinson, self-published
Timberdoodle, Jon Kerschbaum, self-published
True Stories, Swear to God; Tom Beland, self-published

Outstanding Debut Comic
Dork No. 8; Evan Dorkin, Slave Labor Graphics, accepted by Dorkin.

The jurors for the Expo 2000 Ignatz Awards were: Donna Barr, Sean Bieri, Phil Foglio. Dean Haspiel, and Jason Little. Ballots were available to Small Press Expo Attendees.