Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander
It is that time of year again. On May 8, the nomination round for the Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards, or WCCA, began and on June 5 the nominees for awards were announced. The WCCA is probably the closest you can come to a webcomic industry award; only people who create a webcomic may participate in the nominations and voting. But another thing that returns with the WCCA is criticism from some members of the webcomics community. Just like with pretty much all other awards, the procedures and rules of the WCCA are under scrutiny by participants and pundits alike.
While previous years have come under fire for nonsensical award categories -- the award for "Outstanding Anthropomorphic Comic" can be compared to the Oscars having an award for best pirate movie -- this year has seen a lot of focus on the same comics being nominated every year.
Ping Teo commented on this in her blog, Webcomic Finds:
The problem here is that the WCCA was created to emulate the Grammys/music awards. But unlike the Grammys or movie/music awards, webcomics don't come in crops of a completed one a year. Some of them last forever (seemingly) because it's a constant work-in-progress. They may be good, but because of the extended time scope, they also end up being accoladed for the same thing multiple times over for no reason other than a stretched time frame to completion.
Alexander Danner also touched on this in his blog, TwentySevenLetters:
I would kind of like to see a rule that makes comics ineligible for nomination in any category that they've already won for in the previous two or maybe three years. It'd really help keep the comics and the awards themselves much fresher and more exciting.
The WCCA has faced this criticism before. The usual response is that the awards will police themselves to a certain extent. Or, as Mark Mekkes puts it in a thread on the WCCA forum:
As an example, I'd like to once again point to  years results. The top award went to Count Your Sheep, a BRAND NEW COMIC (at the time)! And it wasn't because any other comics were removed or disqualified, infact it stood toe-to-toe with Penny Arcade. In my opinion, this makes it a much bigger honor than if it was given the award because it was the only comic left after all the rest were disqualified.
While such criticism has been frequent every year, perhaps we should be discussing something even more fundamental regarding the WCCAs. Why does it exist at all?
The reason for this question can actually be found in the mission statement of the WCCA: "Internet comics are a relatively new form of entertainment, but theyâ€™re definitely built on the shoulders of the art forms that preceded it."
To label Internet comics, or webcomics, as a "new form of entertainment" is an odd thing to do. The vast majority of webcomics are very traditional in their design and even those which are not still belong within the framework of the comics form. Is it a good idea to have an award for webcomics, and only webcomics? Is it worthwhile to make a distinction based on what is a medium and not a form in itself. Do we really need to separate ourselves from the rest of comics? DJ Coffman in his blog, questioned why we should categorize into webcomics or print-comics, instead of just-making-comics. This is an admirable point of view, and perhaps it would be better if we all stopped making separations between comics on the web and comics in print.
It is pretty clear that comics awards are primarily are targeted towards print comics. But there have been some headway made in that area for comics published digitally and on the Internet. The latest, and perhaps most notable, award to eye digital comics is the Eisner award. The call for nominations to a Digital Comics category has been covered previously by this column, but since then the nominees have been announced. The nominees for the Best Digital Comics award are all excellent and interestingly, pretty much all of them have tailored their presentation to the Internet, to some degree. Athena Voltaire has opted for a layout that fits each installment to the dimensions a computer screen, Mom's Cancer and Jonny Crossbones both have extended "pages" that are longer than a print page would be. But the fact remains that all of the nominees could probably pretty easily make the transition to print. There is a genuine risk that the Best Digital Comics award may develop into a reservation for digital comics. Yet another way to separate comics based on the method of publishing instead of allowing competition based on the work itself. This feeling is enhanced by the criteria set for nominating a comic for the award: "Any professionally produced long-form comics work posted online or distributed via other digital media is eligible."
The Ignatz Awards, which is presented at the Small Press Expo, also has a category tailored to online comics. The 2004 winner was James Kochalka and his American Elf. Unfortunately this award suffers from the same condition as the Eisner's digital comics category.
This category is for web based comics. A nominee in this category can be an individual comic, continuing storyline comic, or series of strips. For a work to be eligible in this category, it must be published on the web prior to appearing in print format.
But the Ignatz award is also the source of some optimism. Among the nominees for the Promising New Talent category for 2004, we find Svetlana Chmakova. Chmakova's Chasing Rainbows may not have won the category, but the fact that she was nominated for an award other than Outstanding Online Comic is probably more important for comics published on the web than a category, or entire award, dedicated to them.
Erik Melander has read comics his whole life. Vir Bonus is his own attempt at creating one.