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NCS Online Comics Awards Process

National Cartoonists Society

Some people seem to be confused or just terribly misinformed as to how the process that results in the three nominations for the National Cartoonists Society’s two online comics divisions work. Much of this seems to stem from a few people jumping to conclusions because this year the three nominees for “Best Online Comic: Short Form” all ended up being from Universal Uclick’s GoComics website. Said assumptions ran the gamut from the NCS jury being lazy and not looking beyond a single source of online comics, to bias in voting for “syndicated” online work rather than independent work, to accusing members of the Online Comics Committee of nominating only their cronies. All of those assumptions are completely untrue, but since when has that ever stopped anyone on the Twitters or the Facebooks? Here is the process, in detail:

Part One: The Submissions- We start out by calling for submissions from any online comics creators who meet the criteria of the division. That criteria, by the way, is pretty much the same as all the other divisions. The submissions are received by the jury chairman. Some are (bizarrely) sent in as prints, which then need to be scanned and assembled into a PDF, others are sent via email as PDFs already. No checking on the eligibility is done at this stage, all submissions are welcome.

Part Two: The Online Comics Committee- When I first started to think about the best way to set this up, it was obvious to me the biggest challenge was finding the best work out there on the web and determining if it met the necessary eligibility criteria. I knew there would never be a time where the submissions we received would give us the kind of field we were looking for. People are busy, or don’t care about awards, or don’t even know about them. The internet is so vast and there are so many comics being produced online that finding the eligible gems would be like finding needles in haystacks… unless we could tap a group of people who are very plugged in to the webcomics world to help us out. To this end I put together the Online Comics Committee. I had to avoid asking webcomics creators as that would eliminate their comics from consideration, so I concentrated on finding people who were knowledgeable about the genre but had no horse in the race. This year our committee was the same as last year:

  • Bill Amend- Creator of Foxtrot
  • David Allan Duncan- Professor of Sequential Art Graduate Coordinator, Savannah College of Art and Design
  • Andrew Farago-  Curator, Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco
  • Michael Jantze- Professor of Sequential Art and Animation, Savannah College of Art and Design, Creator of The Norm
  • Rick Marshall- Freelance Writer, Editor, and Producer, Time Inc., MTV News, IFC, Movies.com, Digital Trends, CBR
  • Gary Tyrrell- Writer/Editor, Fleen.com

Basically the Online Comics Committee has three jobs:

  1. Look at the submissions we have received and make recommendations as to if they meet the eligibility requirements- This is difficult to do as it’s not like we ask for tax returns to check and see if someone is making a living with their cartooning (like that would work). It’s mostly about professionalism with the comic… does it update regularly, and on a committed schedule? Do they have a strong readership and following? What is the comic’s reputation in the online comics world? Recommendations are all we ask from the committee.
  2. Recommend comics that were not submitted by their creators for consideration- This is key. These folks know the webcomics world and can submit comics we’ve never heard of and may never have found on our own, but are representative of some of the great work being done online AND which they think meet the eligibility requirements.
  3. Recommendations on how to make this work better next time- Everyone on the committee is great about suggesting ways to both streamline the process, and obtain the best field for the jury.

Part Three: The Jury- The jury chairman takes the submissions and recommendations from the Online Committee and organizes them for presentation to the jury. This year’s jury was made up of chairman Ed Steckley (storyboard artist, freelancer), Hilary Price (Rhymes with Orange), Sean Parks (freelance illustrator), John Hambrock (The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee), Michael Jantze and towards the end, myself. Ed spends time assembling individual PDFs of the submitted comics that contain only the name of the comic, the name of the creator and the 12 comics for consideration. The jury then goes through all the submissions and conducts multiple elimination rounds to narrow the field, eventually reaching a final five. Then the final five are voted on in order of preference, using a weighted points system so a first place vote is worth more points than a second, a second more than a third. etc. In the end the top three point totals are the nominees, with one being the winner.

That’s how it works. Here are some of the comments/assumptions I’ve seen online debunked:

You didn’t bother to look past GoComics: Read above. Not only did we look far past GoComics, of 26 comics in the original field only 6 appeared on GoComics. The vast majority were independent comics. Many were recommended to the jury by a bunch of people that know the webcomics world well. i.e. the Online Comics Committee.

Your jury was biased toward syndicate online properties: Impossible, as none of the jury members were told where these comics appear. The PDF packets did not include that information. I did not know the three nominees were all from GoComics until I Googled their comic so I could provide a link on the NCS webpage. We try and create as level a playing field as we can with the submissions under consideration, and judge them on the work itself not who’s website it appears on. This year’s three nominees got the most jury votes, with no consideration other than the comic work itself.

The Nomination Committee has their own agenda and are nominating their friends: There is no “nomination committee”. The Online Comics Committee nominates no one. They make educated recommendations on if the work submitted is eligible under our criteria, and recommend other work for consideration. Do they recommend other work that they favor? OF COURSE THEY DO. That’s the point, they are supposed to think that any work they recommend is top notch, so that would be their favorites. That’s why we have six committee members. Each recommend largely different comics, and they only become one of the field of many juried by a different group of people.

This is going backwards, based on the results. Something is broken here: This mostly stems again from the idea that because all the nominees are from GoComics, the results are somehow not representational of web comics, or not “real” webcomics, or somehow the results are not valid. All three nominees met with the criteria of eligibility. They were juried on an even playing field among 23 other online comics , 20 of which were independents. These three got the most votes. I’d point out that last year this exact same process with essentially the same jury came up with these nominations:

  • Matthew Inman- The Oatmeal
  • Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins- Penny Arcade
  • Jon Rosenberg- Scenes from a Multiverse (won)

All three independents. Same process.

If anyone want to disagree or be disappointed in the nominees because you don’t like the work or like other work much better and think the jury was a bunch of idiots, that’s your right and opinion… welcome to the world of publicly recognizing some creative works over others. Nature of the beast. But it’s incredibly unfair to be dismissive of the results simply because these three nominees happen to be GoComics comics. One person who publicly disparaged the results of the nominations admitted to me he/she had never heard of the nominees or seen their comics. . . apparently it was only because they were from GoComics that he/she thought they were terrible choices since he/she had never seen one of the nominated comics. That is unfair and a disservice to the creators of these comics. Sorry, but the jury liked these three better than the other 23, independent or not. It’s supposed to be about the work, not who publishes them in either direction. Disagree with the results based on the work, not which server they sit on.

No process is perfect. We are always looking to improve things. I’d like to add several more people to the Online Comics Committee next year so we get a broader range of recommendations for submitted work. I’d like to enlist a jury that consists of cartoonists from other walks of the industry like animation, comic books, graphic novels, etc.

I’ll be turning the comments off on this post, as I’d rather avoid the usual bile and snark that too often masquerades as ‘constructive criticism’. My email link is here. I’d love constructive suggestions.

 

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