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February 28, 2012

2012 Graphic Story Hugos
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:14 PM * 36 comments

(Sorry. I should’ve finished this up weeks ago. I’m sure lots of people have already submitted their nominations.)

Each year that the Best Graphic Story Hugo award category has existed, I’ve complained about all the great work that doesn’t even get nominated. I won’t be able to afford a Worldcon membership this year, so I can’t cast a vote or submit a nomination myself, but I figure I can yell “Hey, Worldcon members! Comics!” in the vicinity of some deserving stuff.

The one I’d vote for

Finder: Voice
Written and drawn by Carla Speed McNeil
Latest volume of the amazing science-fiction series Finder. This is also the first volume to be published by Dark Horse Press, instead of McNeil’s own Lightspeed Press. You can find it in comic stores, or get it from, Barnes & Noble, or Powell’s. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the earlier books — this one was written to be new-reader friendly.

The story? Rachel Grosvenor is competing to join the social aristocracy of the arcology-state of Anvard, which in her case (as one of the Llaverac clan) means passing a sort of combination beauty pageant and dog show. But then the centuries-old heirloom ring she needs to qualify is stolen. Fortunately Jaeger Ayers, a professional “finder” with an aptitude for locating lost things, is a family friend. Unfortunately, Jaeger’s nowhere to be found. Trying to find the finder takes Rachel into the (both figuratively and literally) dark parts of Anvard, the crime-ridden levels where poor people live, the parts of the city that she’s never really even had to think about before.

McNeil has not just the science fiction writer’s knack for thinking about how cultures work, but also a strong sense for how people work, how they interact and think. And she’s got the artistic chops to convey thought and emotion through facial expression and body language. I cannot think of a comic published in 2011 that is more deserving of the attention of science fiction fans.

Also worth your attention

Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life
Written and drawn by Kit Roebuck
I can’t summarize this better than the author did: “A philosophical road comic about two unemployed robots on an improvised interplanetary voyage of self discovery.” One hundred strips, forming a continuous story. Started several years back, but finished in August 2011. There’s also a book planned.

Written and drawn by Christopher Baldwin
Comedic space opera. A group of contemporary Earth people are scooped up by an alien and drawn into the politics surrounding an attempt to free an enslaved alien species. Full of space battles, inter-species sex, and parliamentary maneuvering.

The Abominable Charles Christopher
Written and drawn by Karl Kerschl
A beautifully-drawn story about a forest full of talking animals, and a childlike yeti who I think might turn out to be Enkidu.

Written and drawn by Trudy Cooper
Hilarious fantasy porn webcomic (don’t click that link at work unless your boss is relaxed about that kind of thing) that just published its first collection in book form in November 2011. Well-drawn, and one of the funniest humor comics on the net. OK, here are some clean ones: one, two, three. While many of the strips stand on their own, there are also some recurring characters and multi-strip plots, so you’re best off scrolling to the bottom of the Archive page and starting from the beginning.

Still more

Dicebox (written and drawn by Jenn Manley Lee) would also be a strong contender, but I think it’s ineligible. Even though the print collection just came out last year, it collects material that appeared online up through 2010, I think. A similar problem keeps me from suggesting Starstruck (written by Elaine Lee, art by Micharl Kaluta and Lee Moyer), which just had a great big deluxe print edition come out last year, collecting comics printed over the previous couple of years, themselves reprinting material going all the way back to the ’80s. If not for the wording of the Hugo rules, I’d have a really hard time figuring out which of these two or Finder to recommend for the award.

I’ve also heard really good things about The Meek (by Der-shing Helmer) and Gunnerkrigg Court (by Tom Siddell), but haven’t gotten around to reading either of ‘em yet. (I’m actually way behind on Dicebox as well. And only got around to Starstruck last week.)

Comments on 2012 Graphic Story Hugos:
#1 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 10:30 PM:

Y'all will not believe how tempted I was to pull from Borges's Celestial Emporium Taxonomy for those heading titles. I mean, "drawn with a very fine camel hair brush", fer gosh sake!

#2 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 10:54 PM:

I love Oglaf. During the "holiday" shopping season their "buy the book" link said "Ruin Christmas with this thoughtless gift."

#3 ::: Sarah Frost ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 10:55 PM:

Regarding Finder: Oh heck yes. Hands down the best graphic anything I've read in years.

If I may, I'd also recommend Ooku: The Inner Chamber vol. 6. It's an alternate history where a plague killed most of Japan's men. The Tokugawa shogunate had to adapt or die -- as did the society as a whole. If you can get past the wonky translation, this is a beautiful graphic novel.

Do you think Kate Beaton's Hark, a Vagrant would qualify?

#4 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 10:56 PM:

I'd add Nonplayer to that list, even if it is stuck in limbo between issues 1 & 2.

#5 ::: BKA ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 11:07 PM:

I'm very fond of Gunnerkrigg Court. I'd urge anyone starting it not to be put off by the early artwork; the weird-shaped heads are eventually replaced by a more realistic style, which I at least like a lot better.

And The Abominable Charles Christopher is a delight.

#6 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 11:23 PM:

I'd also highly recommend Digger, by Ursula Vernon, which wrapped up in 2011. A wombat engineer, a dead god, feral squashes. It was wonderful.

#7 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 11:32 PM:

Sarah Frost @3, maybe? I actually don't have a copy of Hark, a Vagrant! (though I did buy one as a holiday gift for someone else, and lucked out that Beaton had a signing in my neighborhood that same week). Is it a story told in graphic form, or is it a collection of individual strips?

#8 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 11:55 PM:

siriosa, #6: Ah, you beat me to Digger. I still have it up on a tab in my browser, and periodically just leaf thru a few pages. I really need to put the dead-tree collections on my wishlist. Best comics arc I've ever seen, bar none -- it reminds me of Babylon 5 in quality.

While we're on the topic of Hugo nominations, this is what I'm pushing for short-form media this year. Someone put a lot of effort into that video!

#9 ::: Alice Bentley ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 11:59 PM:

Make me recommendation Number Three for Digger - a just amazing compilation of characters, concepts and beautiful art. There is a lot of wonderful work out there, but as 2011 is the year Digger concluded, it's the one chance this marvelous story has for the award.

#10 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 12:19 AM:

I also recommend Digger, and I can confirm that Hark, A Vagrant is, at least in book form, a collection of individual strips with occasional continuity.

I also like Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, but it sadly does not have a print version unless you speak French. Polly and the Pirates vol 2 won't be eligible until next year. The second to last Freakangels book is eligible, and there's a new Atomic Robo in the running. SVK was pretty cool - the hook is that you can read people's thoughts by using the included UV flashlight.

Disregarding Atomic Robo which I love in theory but haven't read, I think Digger would get my vote.

#11 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 12:41 AM:

shadowsong @10: Polly and the Pirates vol 2

OMG!!!!! I didn't even know that was out! (Looks like I might not be up to date on Courtney Crumrin either.)

#12 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 12:56 AM:

Add my voice to the chorus on Finder. Read the two big knock-you-out-if-they-fell-from-your-bookshelf collections from Dark Horse just out, just finished Voice, and caught up on the pencils for Torch posted online last week (cliffhanger! aaugh). I'm madly in love with the work and the characters and the world, to say nothing of the intricate and evocative line-art. Absolutely works both as comics and as SF. They're the kind of books that I read once through slowly to savor, again with my thumb at the endnotes to catch the things the author calls out there, and then again poring over every panel to pull out all the subtleties and learn as much as I can about the world and how she's put it together and shown it to us. It's really worth it. Voice has my vote this year. (After Voice, I think people here would especially like Talisman, which is about the power of books and storytelling.)

I'll second the recommendation of The Meek -- detailed worldbuilding, the whole of which we haven't nearly seen, characters slowly revealing their personalities, and colorful and vivid art. Only nonsexual nudity, but still not really worksafe, though.

I would add, in a historical-fantasy vein and with gorgeous sepia-toned art, the webcomic Family Man by Dylan Meconis, but I see that its first collection was released in 2010 and I'm a year late. Damn! I can't adequately describe it, although "Germany, 1768, philosophy, theology, romance, wolves" comes close. Really really good.

#13 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 02:28 AM:

I'll add another voice for Digger. Yes, the story arc is wonderful, the characters are fabulous (in several senses of the word), and I fell in love with the wombat engineer who doesn't want to be involved with magic or gods, but doesn't get much of a choice, within a few episodes. Also, Vernon understands tragedy very well, and creates myth for telling effect.

But the thing that takes my breath away every time I see the strip is the artwork. A large part of the story takes place in some literally dark places: caves, old ruins, night times around the tribal fire, and a lot of the art has the inverted look of scratchboard (but AIUI it's all digital work). Just lovely.

#14 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 02:42 AM:

shadowsong @ 10

I had totally given up on a sequel to Polly and the Pirates! Thanks for mentioning it!

#15 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 07:56 AM:

My top nominee is Clevinger & Wegener's "Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science", in which Nikola Tesla's robotic son discovers the real reason why his father invented alternating current, and in which Thomas Edison gets his comeuppance.

"Given the results of last night's experiment..."
"Y'mean the failure."
"There is no failure in Science, Robo. Only missteps on the path to greater understanding... Let's see what we can do to physics today, hm?"
"Should it be doing that?"
"I have no idea."

#16 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 08:33 AM:

Jaeger Ayers, a professional “finder” with an aptitude for locating lost things

So it has the same basic idea as the Emma Bull novel of the same name, but not directly connected and in a different universe?

#17 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 09:19 AM:

chris @15, I haven't read very far in Finder (not for lack of desire, either), but as I recall, the aptitude for finding lost things is not like the one in Emma Bull's novel. Here's an old review of part of the graphic story Finder from Strange Horizons that explains a bit of that part.

#18 ::: Matt Freedman ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 09:51 AM:

The Abaddon was one of my favorite reads last year. Fantastic, absurdist, mysterious, strangely moving.

#19 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 12:57 PM:

Homestuck, without question. Starts out slow and baffling, grows into some of the most science-fictional stuff around. The aliens are notably *alien*, and (like all the best aliens) make you think about human beings and our relationships in a different way. More intro here.

#20 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 02:28 PM:

Also, a vote for Dresden Codak, especially the current "Dark Science" story arc, which is chock-full of chewy, sfnal goodness (I'm tempted to coin a new term, "GödelPunk" to denote its mix of Mad Science, nanotech, and metamathematical tropes). And the artwork and layout are clean, crisp, and occasionally mind-bending.

For a real giggle, check out the Dungeons & Discourse strip, and its successor, Advanced Dungeons & Discourse.

#21 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 02:46 PM:

I'll strike the harp and join the chorus for Digger too. I, of course, am especially fond of the statue of Ganesha, but Digger is a wonderful character, and I love the story, and the art is beautiful.

#22 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2012, 03:17 PM:

All this talk about Finder: Voice (which I haven't read) is making me think of Finder's Keepers. I wouldn't put it at the top of my Top N list, but it's worth a read.

Through chance, accident, and some poor choice of wording, Cailyn became the wayward companion and unexpected keeper of ... Cardinal, Lord and Aspect of the Primary Directions, second son of the Lord Navigator, great-grandson of The Seeker. He can find anything. At least that's what he tells everyone. Being an Aspect tends to make one a smug, cocky son-of-a-bitch.

Also contains some not-entirely-unamusing playing with metaphors, besides the usual sort of mythical personifications.

#23 ::: GuruJ ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2012, 08:37 AM:

@5: Gunnerkrigg Court is awesome because it manages to be episodic without being repetitive, while still having a strong idea of where it's going. Every episode brings in something new and deepens the older ones, it's my fave webcomic at the moment.

@20: My only objection to Dresden Codak is that it updates far too infrequently :)

#24 ::: vee ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2012, 12:53 PM:

Yay for Oglaf!

And even though this is nowhere near a 2011 work--anyone here read Unicorn Jelly?? IIRC it's a bit uneven, but I sort of missed it when it ended.

#25 ::: John Fiala ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2012, 03:05 PM:

Gunnerkrigg Court is totally something people should be reading. I've been slowly picking up the collections as they come out, and happily look forward to sharing them with my daughter.

One wonders if xkcd has a chance, or was that last year that it was published?

#26 ::: BKA ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2012, 03:56 PM:

Vee @ 24: I've long had Unicorn Jelly in my to-read list; thanks for reminding me of it. I haven't actually done more than skim the first handful of strips, but that may be my next project once I've caught up on Homestuck (on which I'm in full agreement with Doctor Science @19).

I've just picked up the two Finder collections from Dark Horse--I've wanted to read them for ages, but the cost of the individual volumes from Lightspeed was more than I could manage any time it came up.

#27 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2012, 04:19 PM:

John Fiala @25, the rules for the Hugos (which are a poor fit for how comics publishing works) say that a work is only eligible for the year it first appears. ("Any science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form appearing for the first time in the previous calendar year.") In the case of Finder, I think McNeil published penciled roughs on her website, and then finished art appears for the first time in the book, so I'm thinking the book can be considered the first appearance of the finished material.

That's why I can't recommend Starstruck or Dicebox for this year's awards --- the material had first appeared in finished form during 2010 (I think).

On the other hand, does anyone know how the Hugos historically handled novels that appeared first in serial form in a magazine, and were then later collected and sold as a novel?

Anyway, for xkcd, well, what story is it that you want to nominate, and when did that story appear? It's possible that, if you want the Hugos to recognize xkcd (or Hark, a Vagrant!), you'd be better off nominating Randall Munroe (or Kate Beaton) for either Best Professional Artist or best Fan Artist, in which case you'd be nominating them based on a body of work rather than a particular story.

#28 ::: Nina A ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2012, 12:46 PM:

@Avram Historically, it's the first publication that counts for the most part. So a novel that was serialized in 2010 say, and published in book form in 2011 would not be eligible. If the Dice storyline was complete in single issues published in 2010 it would not be eligible.
There is a caveat to that-if the material published in book form was sufficiently different than the serialized version, then it could be eligible-Charles Stross' Accelerando for example. I'm pretty sure Dice doesn't fall into this-comics trades are generally just the issues with perhaps some extra art.

#29 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2012, 03:27 PM:


I followed the link to Spacetrawler, and got sucked in completely. Wonderful so far!

#30 ::: Eli Bishop ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2012, 04:57 PM:

It's a shame that the rules don't allow collections of previously published work, because otherwise this upcoming Tom Kaczynski anthology would be a very worthy contender for next year's Hugo. His writing is just about the smartest I've seen in comics lately other than Finder, and very SF New Wave-inspired.

#31 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2012, 06:02 PM:

A heartfelt thanks to those of you who recommended Digger, which I hadn't ever even heard of. Wonderful.

#32 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2012, 11:05 PM:

Unicorn Jelly had at least one sequel, Pastel Defender Heliotrope (not exactly safe for work). Which near the end gave a colored spacetime diagram of what-all exactly was HAPPENING in both the strips.

I'm assuming everyone here knows about ErfWorld and Order of the Stick already; but what about sequentialart, Freefall, Scenes from a Multiverse, or Guilded Age? Darwin Carmichael Is Going To Hell? 2D Goggles? Namesake? Or of course Sinfest? (Note: several of these are probably not eligible for this year's award, but they're worth reading anyway.)


#33 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2012, 11:22 PM:

Avram @ 27... "Any science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form appearing for the first time in the previous calendar year."

I'll have to ask a friend who's involved with the Hugos. After all, "Girl Genius" won for the previous years and I don't think that all the material cpontained within each winning trade paperback had appeared during the nomination year. In 2013 I'm still planning to nominate "Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X", which begins with Robo having a phone conversation with Steve Jobs where he makes fun of the iPad, after which he looks into who stole a whole building from Bletchley Park, and the whole thing ends on a scale that'd make Stephen Baxter proud.

#34 ::: Nina A ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2012, 04:36 PM:

@ Serge no, but it was one long storyline, the end portion of which was published in the year for which it won.. Think of it like this: a novel is published in serial form in a magazine. Part1 appears in the October issue, part 2 in November, part 3 in December, and the final portion in the January issue of the next year. It's eligible on the novel ballot for the next year-when the final portion was published, despite the fact that the majority of the work was published.

#35 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2012, 05:29 PM:

Nina A... That's pretty much what writer Michael Burstein told me, based on what happens for serialized written works. It makes sense. A story's first chapter might not get much response, but things build up, thanks to the word of mouth, until, by the last chapter, people are at the writer's doorstep with pitchforks and torches... I mean... with Hugo ballots.

#36 ::: Nina A ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2012, 03:40 PM:

@Serge Broom Or pitchforks and Hugo ballots.

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