Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Reading the Hugos: Graphic Story

We continue our Reading the Hugos series with a look at the Graphic Story category. Most Readers of a Feather are likely familiar with the work of Neil Gaiman and those who follow the Hugo Awards definitely are. If my math is correct, Gaiman is a 5 time Hugo Award winner across multiple categories, has been nominated three additional times, and has twice declined his nomination. Neil Gaiman and Sandman are the elephant in the room here, though in this case, everyone talks about him. Readers may be less familiar with the other nominees, so this is a perfect time to take a look at Gaiman's work as well as the other four finalists.

The Divine, written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka
Erin Dies Alone, written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell
Full Frontal Nerdity, by Aaron Williams
Invisible Republic: Volume 1, written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman
The Sandman: Overture, written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H, Williams III

Full Frontal Nerdity: Full Frontal Nerdity stretches back to 2001, but for the Hugo we need to consider the work published in 2015, which starts here. Now, if there is a distinct story arc which also began in 2014 (or earlier) and concluded in 2015, we can also consider that work. Otherwise, we will be looking specifically at the 2015 work. Full Frontal Nerdity is a webcomic focused on geek / nerd culture, often around a role playing game table. The humor here falls flat for me, despite my otherwise self identification as a nerd and my love of a good pun (or a bad one).  After reading three months worth of strips, I was done. There's only so much of something you don't enjoy that one should read. I suspect that one of the main reasons is that I never played Dungeons and Dragons (or any other pen & paper rpg), so this isn't something I engage with. I'm not the audience.

No Award: As a general rule, I use No Award in a very surgical manner. I understand that not every work is to my personal taste and that simply because I do not like something does not mean that it is inherently bad or unworthy of a Hugo Award. I may prefer that something else would win and that a particular work was not on the ballot, but again, that does make the work bad. Unfortunately, there are also instances where my subjective view is that the work is so bad that it is also objectively bad and unworthy of receiving (or being considered for) an award. There may also be examples of a work being so bad it comes out the other side and is somehow entertaining.  In both of these instances No Award will be used. In yet other occasions there will be a work that I dislike enough that even though it isn't inherently bad, it still falls under my personal category of Not Worthy of Award.


The Sandman: Overture: This is likely to be a touch controversial because I'm aware of just how influential and respected and important Sandman is in the world of graphic novels and how loved Neil Gaiman is (see the introduction to this article). As a general rule, I am a fan of Gaiman's fiction. I think he is an excellent writer, whether he is writing short stories or novels for adults, children, and all ages in between. Some of those novels and stories don't quite hit for me in the same way they do with others, but that's okay, right? Sandman, along with Watchmen, is generally the elephant in the room when discussions of the best comic books ever are taking place. They always have to be in the conversation, but it becomes boring if they're always overwhelming the conversation. But, here's the thing: I don't really like Sandman. I finished the full run out of some sense of obligation so I would have a better idea of what it is all about, but except for the occasional mini story arc, I didn't much enjoy or appreciate the book.

This is a long introduction to talking about Sandman: Overture, which is a prequel to the Sandman series, running up to the point where he was captured by a human - which we know from the first issue of Sandman. I appreciated the six issues of Overture just about as much as I did the original run of Sandman, which is to say that I recognize that fans of Sandman will probably love it, but I am not the audience for the book. I can't say that simply because I did not appreciate the book that it is something I would place below No Award on my ballot because I don't think it is inherently bad and it might actually be good, I just know that it is inherently not for me.

The Divine: I had to do a little bit of research for this. I know what I thought of the book, but I needed a reminder or two of some of the events and context of it. Had I read the Afterword in the book, I would have known this bit of context: The Divine has its genesis in a photograph of two child soldiers who led a rebellion against the Burmese military in Myanmar. There's some loose inspiration here, though I'm not sure exactly how knowing this before hand would have impacted my reading of The Divine. Likely it would not have. The Divine, written by Boaz Lavie and with art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka is not the story of those children, but rather of a white man named Mark. Mark is a munitions tech back in the United States (he blows stuff up real good). Mark is former military, but seems to be getting by on a number of government contracts and he accepts one to help blow up a mountain in the fictional land of Quanlom. It is in Quanlom that we get the intersections of military interventions with the same sort of child soldier rebellion as occured in Myanmar.

The Divine isn't the story of Myanmar, but there are echoes now that I'm aware of the inspiration. I hadn't heard of The Divine prior the nomination, but how Lavie and the Hanukas weave the a straight forward story with the idea of "what if the kids actually had magic on their side?" really works and it's an overall strong (if somewhat unsurprising) story that is uplifted by the truly effective art that conveys the real meaning of the story. I don't know that The Divine is great, but it's definitely good.


Erin Dies Alone: The fact of the matter is that I'd rather read Erin Dies Alone than either Sandman or The Divine. Erin Dies Alone mostly takes place within the video games Erin is playing, but the center is always Erin and her depression. That's a major aspect to the comic, Erin is a young woman dealing (or not really dealing) with depression and I'm not sure how much of this comic is straight up Erin fantasizing in the sense of Joe Kelly's marvelous I Kill Giants or if what is on the page is reality. This may not truly matter at the superficial level, but it would help answer what sort of story Grey Carter and Cory Rydell are telling. Has a raccoon from one of Erin's childhood favorite video games somehow come to life and begun helping her become healthy again or is she imaging this? If she is imagining this, is it a healthy way that she is (theoretically) starting to take care of herself?

At this point, Erin Dies Alone is very incomplete, but I'd would rather read Erin Dies Alone than most of the others comics on this list. And that friggin raccoon, man. So much hope.

Invisible Republic: Volume 1: Alternating between the present day of a reporter uncovering the truth behind the rise to power of a brutal dictator and flashbacks showing those early days, Invisible Republic is by far the best of the finalists for the Graphic Story Hugo Award. Invisible Republic is a quality thriller dealing with the rise to power and it's aftermath, told through the lens of an occupied moon several hundred years in the future. It's gritty and it's smart and it's something that I just have to keep reading. This is a top notch story, even if I don't have much to say about it beyond the fact that based on the strength of this opening volume I will be following this series with great interest.

My Vote:
1. Invisible Republic: Volume 1
2. Erin Dies Alone
3. The Divine
4. The Sandman: Overture
5. No Award

Also, feel free to look at the rest of our Hugo Awards coverage:
Short Story
Dramatic Presentation: Long Form 

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004. Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015, editor since 2016. Minnesotan.