Chip Zdarsky vs The Harvey Awards – A Different Kind of Battle for Inclusion in Comics Continues

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I’ve never been a fan of awards shows, as to me they’ve always seemed like a popularity contest. I have a love/hate relationship with comics awards shows; I like seeing creators I love being recognized for their work, but a lot of the time these even feel like popularity contests. This year there have been some minor scandals/controversy/social complications surrounding awards shows. The Hugo Awards this year were controversial, but I won’t elaborate further because so many others already have. This was a battle for inclusion, and now we have warning shot in a different battle for inclusion facing the Harvey Awards.

It seems that Chip Zdarsky (Howard the Duck, some other stuff… probably) won the Special Award for Humor for his work on Sex Criminals. And he isn’t happy. He wrote about his displeasure in July when his nomination was first announced, and explained why he was displeased. And now he’s writing about it again. Sure Chip’s work on Sex Crimz is bloody brilliant, but here’s the thing: Sex Criminals is a collaboration between Chip and Matt Fraction. It has been since the very beginning. Yet Chip’s was the only name on the ballot for some reason.

sex-criminalsHe explained in July that unless this was changed he would not be accepting the award should he win. He contacted the organizers and asked that the nomination should be changed to “Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraption, SEX CRIMINALS, Image Comics”, and barring that he asked for his name to be withheld from the ballot entirely. He stated in a blog entry posted today:

The fact that I was nominated for a humor award for SEX CRIMINALS without the writer of said series, my beloved chum, Matt Fraction, is wrong. On every level. I pointed this out to the Harvey Awards and told them I wished to have Matt on the ballot with me, or to remove me completely, and they declined to do either.

They said, and I quote; “We believe any collaborative process which the creators believe is equally divided makes this difficult.  It’s unfortunate this is not a judgment call for us to make – but it’s not.”

Except for the fact that it is. They created a category designed to highlight individuals, sometimes out of a team, with no recognition of what has been contributed and by whom. The writer of our comic supplies 90% of the humor! This is the Harvey Awards’s category, so the ultimate judgement call is theirs.

As the book’s writer, Matt Fraction supplies much of the humor, with Chip being Chip and making the funny pictures. Some may view this as a whiny creator blah blah blah, but he has a very valid point. Comics are a collaborative medium at their core, with writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists, and letterers, not to mention editors, all adding something to the finished product. Would Sex Criminals still be a funny book with just Chip on board? Probably, as he’s a hilarious writer as well as artist. Would it be AS funny? Almost certainly not. There are few comics out there that benefit from collaboration the way Sex Criminals does, from the story to the marketing.

And it isn’t even really about the collaboration itself, but the credit. Every person who contributes something to a comic, or a movie or television show, deserves to have their work credited. It’s only been a number of years since inkers and colorists were given cover credits, and some publishers don’t even do that. In very few instances I’ve even seen a letterer’s name on a cover, which is good, but doesn’t happen nearly enough. It’s long been the norm to only provide the names of the writer and artist on a comic cover or hardcover spine, but many other times one or the other is eliminated for whatever reason.

Chip Zdarsky’s protest will hopefully bring attention to this issue, not that others haven’t tried before. But what he proposes, while small in the grand scheme of things, is eminently doable:

I put forth the idea to the Harveys that the category simply be changed in the future to “Best Humor Publication,” in order to recognize the end result, instead of imagining who contributed what in a team effort. They could do that or just keep the nominations to creators who do all the work on their books, like Ryan Browne or Kate Beaton. They never responded to me, so I’m putting this idea out to you, the people who vote and are voted on. In an industry that daily has to contend with lopsided credits in the media, how can we allow ourselves to contribute to it with this award? Let’s make this category reflect the teams who deserve it.

So those of you who CAN vote, use your voice to change things, even in this small way. Wars are only won battle by battle, and this skirmish can have far-reaching repercussions. In fact, why not hit publisher, the media, conventions, and awards shows on multiple fronts? Use email and social media to let them know that it’s okay to recognize all of the creators involved in a project, and in fact is a welcome and refreshing idea. The comic industry is evolving, slowly yet surely; let’s give it a gentle nudge to help it along. Chip finishes his post with this classy gem:

Until then, I can’t accept the award. I love the people who voted for me, but I can’t abide by the rules set in place to allow such a thing. If, for some reason, it’s already en route to me, I’ll just carve Matt’s name into it and raffle it off for the HERO INITIATIVE.

Brimp on, Chip. Brimp on.

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