Making 2011 Eisner book

There’s just under a month left for eligible voters to cast their ballots for the 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, so I thought I’d take another stab at evaluating the odds of this year’s nominees in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia. First, here’s a list of winners in this category from the last few years:

  • 2010: A Drifting Life, written and illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Drawn & Quarterly
  • 2009: Dororo, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical
  • 2008: Tekkonkinkreet, written and illustrated by Taiyo Matsumoto, Viz
  • 2007: Old Boy, written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi, Dark Horse

And here are some manga titles that have won the Best U.S. of International Material before it split into two categories:

  • 2005: Buddha, written and illustrated by Tezuka, Vertical
  • 2004: Buddha
  • 2002: Akira, written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo, Dark Horse
  • 2001: Lone Wolf and Cub, written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima, Dark Horse
  • 2000: Blade of the Immortal, written and illustrated by Hiroaki Samura, Dark Horse
  • 1998: Gon Swimmin’, written and illustrated by Masashi Tanaka, Paradox Press

The last three years indicate a leaning towards stand-alone or shorter series, but looking at the history of the category shows that lengthy, sprawling series aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage. Voters have a perfectly understandable appreciation of the work of Tezuka. Given that all of the honored comics are by men and were originally published in magazines that targeted a male demographic, one might also indicate a certain leaning in that direction. One can also detect a leaning toward series that have loyal readerships in comic shops. It seems less true in recent years, perhaps partly because of a seeming contraction of manga sales in those venues.

Now, on to this year’s contenders:

Ayako, written and illustrated by Tezuka, Vertical: If we add the fondness for Tezuka with the recent leaning toward done-in-one titles, we would be very foolish indeed to discount the odds on Ayako. That said I don’t consider it one of Tezuka’s best works. I found it too bleak and too literal, but bleakness and literalism has never discouraged Eisner voters in the past, and the automatic (and deserved) prestige of a Tezuka title is considerable. Even voters who don’t read any comics from Asia likely know who Tezuka is, and name recognition is sometimes the voter’s best friend. Odds: 2 to 1.

Bunny Drop, written and illustrated by Yumi Unita, Yen Press: Marvelous as it is to see a josei title garner a nomination, I think the outcome here will be that it’s an honor just to be nominated. That’s in no way a qualitative evaluation of Bunny Drop, which is easily one of my favorite ongoing series currently in release. I just doubt that it has much of a crossover audience between readers who primarily enjoy comics from Japan or Asia and the Eisner voting pool at large. If the nomination has encouraged more people to read the series, then that’s as good as a win, in my opinion. Odds: 25 to 1.

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, written and illustrated by Moto Hagio, Fantagraphics: Ask a pool of manga pundits which mangaka suffers most from a shortage of work in translation, and I would wager that Hagio would be very close to the top of the list that emerges from that discussion. Like Tezuka, I think there’s a general level of awareness of and reverence for Hagio, even among people who may not have read her work. She’s a quality brand, in other words, and that standing has a certain force. Fantagraphics is also a quality brand, even among people who don’t read much that they produce, so an endorsement of Hagio in the form of publishing a handsome collection of her work, combined with Hagio’s own qualities as a creator and her well-received 2010 visit to the home convention of the Eisners may well work in her favor. Odds: 5 to 1.

House of Five Leaves, written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, Viz: I’m never quite sure how much my assessment of Ono as an emerging presence among the comic cognoscenti is accurate and how much is an experiment in the power of positive thinking, but I’m very pleased to see her nominated in this category, even if I don’t think she’ll win. House of Five Leaves is one of those titles that are intriguing at their beginnings but really gain in strength and force as they go along. If a voter was basing his or her choice on the first volume, I don’t know how that sampling would hold up against the other nominees. It’s not a flashy or immediately arresting series, lovely as it is. As noted above, ongoing series shouldn’t be discounted, but ongoing series that rely on cumulative artistic effect may not fare as well. Odds: 20 to 1.

20th Century Boys, written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa, Viz: Urasawa has three nominations this year (the others being in the Writer/Artist category and Best Ongoing Series for this title), which is about standard for him since Viz started releasing his work through its Signature imprint. He has yet to win. Perhaps the multiple nominations split the sentiment in his favor. Perhaps voters don’t like his work as much as nominating committees do. Given the sheer volume of nominations he’s received over the last five years or so, he should clearly have cemented standing as a quality brand by now, and his smart thrillers are as comic-shop friendly as anything in this year’s slate. I personally like 20th Century Boys best of any of Urasawa’s licensed works, so I would have no objection whatsoever to its winning. History suggests to me that it probably won’t. Odds: 10 to 1.

What do you think? If you could vote, which title would you choose? (In my perfect world, A Drunken Dream and Other Stories and Bunny Drop would tie.)