Looking at the Eisners: Nominees for Best Short Story

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year last Friday. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and I’ll also give you a link to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.

Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for the Best Short Story category, kind of the equivalent of the Oscar for Best Short Film.

Best Short Story

Take a closer look with the click through:

"Bart on the Fourth of July" from Bart Simpson #54 (click for more)

“Bart on the Fourth of July,” by Peter Kuper, in Bart Simpson #54 (Bongo)
From Bongo Comics:

Indie artist Peter Kuper sends Bart on an incredulous journey when a monster firecracker leaves Bart deaf and dumbfounded. Then, Carol Lay delves in Bart’s future with the help of a carnival and a crystal ball. Also, Evan Dorkin presents a tale of Bart and Milhouse and a new video game that somehow manages to stay just out of reach. Plus, “Maggie’s Crib” by Sergio Aragones.

The 15-page main story for last summer’s Bart Simpson #54 was not the first time Peter Kuper has handled The Simpsons. He’s also contributed to Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, an annual comic similar to the animated series’ tradition of twisted humor mixed with the sorta-macabre. But he’s probably best known for his paranoid style of art that has been seen on covers of Time, Newsweek and other magazines. He also the current writer/artist for Mad Magazine‘s “Spy vs. Spy” comic strip. He has created award-winning graphic novel adaptations of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Give It Up, as well as his own original graphic novels like Diario de Oaxaca and Stop Forgetting to Remember. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any samples of Peter’s story and haven’t read it myself, so I can’t really comment beyond saying that he’s a great artist.

"Batman in Trick for the Scarecrow" from DCU Halloween Special 2010 (click for more)

“Batman, in Trick for the Scarecrow,” by Billy Tucci, in DCU Halloween Special 2010 (DC)

I really like the look of this story, published last October in time for the appropriate holiday. DC Comics has been releasing a Halloween-themed special for the last 3 years or so. (DCU stands for DC Universe, meaning the universe of characters published by DC Comics.)

Billy Tucci is best known for his ninja comic Shi, which debuted in the “bad girl” days of comics in the 1990s. Here he takes on a style with which he is not usually associated and it’s a refreshing change. The story itself is a pretty fun use of kids in costumes and the Batman villain Scarecrow’s defeat by his own weapon, chemicals that induce nightmarish hallucinations based on the victim’s fears. There’s also a neat use of the color orange throughout.

"Cinderella" from Fractured Fables (click for more)

“Cinderella,” by Nick Spencer and Rodin Esquejo, in Fractured Fables (Silverline Books/Image)

There are two nominees in this category from the Fractured Fables anthology released last summer. This one is by Nick Spencer and Rodin Esquejo, both known for their collaboration on the Image Comics hit Morning Glories. (Both creators and Morning Glories are up for several other Eisners as well. Nick Spencer is obviously a writer to watch, having also recently signed an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics in addition to his creator-owned material with Image.) Rodin is that series’ cover artist, so it’s good to see him do sequential work here, and it’s just as lush and beautiful as I hoped. Like the title of the anthology suggests, each of these stories is a slightly off-kilter interpretation of classic fairy tales and fables, so Rodin’s artwork serves as the straight man to Nick’s silly take on Cinderella.

It’s also great to see so many humor stories getting acknowledged. Despite the fact we call them comic books, a lot of them are almost too serious. Unlike the two above nominees, Fractured Fables is still readily available (here’s the Amazon listing). Unfortunately the other two only appear in comic books that may be available at local comic book stores or on secondary markets like eBay.

"Hamburgers for One" from Popgun Vol. 4 (click for more)

“Hamburgers for One,” by Frank Stockton, in Popgun vol. 4 (Image)

Another Image Comics publication, Popgun is an award-winning comics anthology that has been running annually since 2007. Frank Stockton’s story in February 2010’s 4th volume is considered one of the centerpieces of the book. From an interview with Frank about the story:

Frank Stockton’s “Hamburgers for One” explores the topic of depression by way of an over-sized adolescent with a strong passion for — you guessed it — hamburgers. The protagonist is equally passionate about a beautiful fast food employee, leading the socially awkward hero to make a move towards embracing his crush. “The main theme is the internal struggle of one man to try and go for what he wants,” said Stockton. “There are also themes of self-esteem, social bonding, being yourself and coping with rejection, but they all kind of naturally flowed out of the psychology of who the main character is.”

It appears to be a beautifully told story. Popgun Vol. 4 (and all 3 previous volumes) is still available. Here’s the Amazon listing, already updated to reflect the Eisner nomination (they move fast!).

"Little Red Riding Hood" from Fractured Fables (click for more)

“Little Red Riding Hood,” by Bryan Talbot and Camilla d’Errico, in Fractured Fables (Silverline Books/Image)

The second nominated story from last summer’s Fractured Fables – sounds like a book worth getting! This story is illustrated by Sky Pirates of Neo Terra artist Camilla d’Errico, whose art inspired and was the basis for the video game of the same name. Writer Bryan Talbot is also a talented artist who has created challenging graphic novels, a narrative form he helped establish, like his most recent works, Alice in Sunderland and Grandville.

As with the other stories in this anthology, the focus is on a humorous take of a well-known fairy tale. Knowing Talbot, it’s probably quite clever and smart.

Here’s the Amazon listing again.

"Post Mortem" from I Am an Avenger #2 (click for more)

– “Post Mortem,” by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, in I Am an Avenger #2 (Marvel)

Writer Greg Rucka, better known for his non-superhero work like Whiteout and Queen & Country, took a rare turn writing Captain America in this story from the Marvel Comics anthology mini-series I Am an Avenger. As Marvel VP Tom Brevoort put it last summer:

“The specific anthology that Greg is writing a story for is “I Am An Avenger,” and on that project the remit is that in some way, shape or form the story needs to reflect on or relate to the notion of what being an Avenger is all about. What makes one an Avenger? What qualifies one to be an Avenger? In the case of Greg, he spoke to Steve Wacker as he often does, and there was a moment towards the end of “Siege” that Greg felt deserved a little more examination and a little more consequence, and so he’s going to tell that story in this particular issue of “I Am An Avenger.” I read the script just this morning, it’s great. He found a very specific moment and action to explore, and built it into a very personal story that’s about Steve Rogers. That’s a great place to bring in someone like Greg, who hasn’t played on this side of the aisle for a while, and put him in a position where he’s telling a story that means something to him. He can do what he does best and what he wants to do and get his feet wet in our waters again. Hopefully that leads to more work down the line.”

Artist Michael Lark on the other hand is well known for bringing his noir touch to city street superheroes like Captain America, as well as Daredevil and Batman. The art at left is the black & white art, which happens to be for sale through Michael’s art dealer. The final published work is in color and can be enjoyed in next month’s graphic novel We are Avengers, which collects the entire mini-series I Am an Avenger. (Amazon listing.)

So that’s it for the Best Short Story category. Some nice variety: comedy, superhero, all-ages, slice of life. Who do you think should win? Have you read any of these stories?

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