Best Graphic Story

There’s a new Hugo category this year, Best Graphic Story, which means I can stop nominating graphic novels in Best Related Book. I can’t claim a huge knowledge of the field, but I have read some stories released in 2008 which I think are award-worthy. (As to whether they are eligible, that’s a bit trickier – I am counting it as a 2008 work if a story arc or miniseries was concluded, or released as a collected graphic novel.)

Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares
Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca

Writing the first big Iron Man series to come out after the film isn’t an easy task: how do you ease the film fans into the character’s extensive continuity without either overwhelming them with backstory or ignoring the past storylines? Matt Fraction’s first arc on Invincible Iron Man does a pretty good job. The five nightmares of the title refer to Tony’s greatest fears, that the Iron Man armour becomes cheap, disposable, and available to someone else, a thoroughly modern threat to deal with, although at the end the big showdown with the villain is another “two guys in power armour have a big punchup”. My main issue is with the artwork, which looks great when it’s a metal suit, and not so great when it’s real people – everyone is strangely shiny, and I’m not sure what’s going on with Pepper’s face on this page. Still, this is a fun action-filled comic with a high level of things exploding, and Larroca’s art is definitely suited to that.

All-Star Superman
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

I’m not a big Superman fan – he just never seemed that interesting compared to Batman, or most other superheroes. He’s too powerful, too upstanding, a bit too dull. Which makes it even more impressive that I like All-Star Superman as much as I do. Maybe because it barrels through the origin story in a single page, and gets down to business, which in this case is Supes flying next to the sun and saving astronauts from a mutant creature which is going to explode. The ideas get bigger and madder from there on, and since this is not bound by the main DC continuity anything really can happen. The art is good but the colours are even better – it’s bright and primary-coloured and fits a character who wears a blue suit and is powered by the sun.

Abe Sapien: The Drowning
Mike Mignola and Jason Shawn Alexander

A solo outing for Abe Sapien, his first mission alone, to find a mysterious dagger last seen embedded in the chest of a mysterious warlock off the coast of a small strange island. Yes, it is another Hellboy-universe story where some weird supernatural shit happens, and there’s not so much that we haven’t seen before, but it’s a well-done story about weird supernatural shit. Alexander’s style is very different to what you get from Mignola, plus it has a zeppelin and creppy little monks, and watching the younger Abe feel his way through his uncertainty on the way to becoming the confident character of later years gives it a twist on your standard Hellboy smack-it-in-the-face approach.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls
Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo

Back to the story arc for Hellboy after a few standalones, and this is pretty continuity-heavy if you haven’t read the previous volumes. The Baba-Yaga is still upset that Hellboy shot out her eye in 1964, so she drags him into her world based on Russian folklore and traditions of the past. Then he fights a guy who can’t die and makes a lot of wisecracks, and this is volume 8 so you know the drill. Mignola wrote this but didn’t draw it, and while Duncan Fegredo’s art is pretty good when he’s drawing a simpler scene, the fight scenes are a bit busy (and there’s a lot of fighting in this one).

Penny Arcade
Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulic

So technically this is a webcomic about video games, but it’s quite surreal and fantastic at times, especially with strips like The Fangspire (man fights giant bird) and fantasy stories within the story like the Songs of Sorcelation, and it is the comic which has most consistently made me laugh this year so I think it’s worthy of a nomination. The question of what to nominate is trickier – my favourite storyline is Paint the Line, which is alternate history if you squint a bit, but the collection released this year was The Case of the Mummy’s Gold, and that’s what I’ll go for.

If you want more ideas, the Comic Book Resources Best of 2008 list recaps their favourites of the year.

9 thoughts on “Best Graphic Story

  1. Hmm. It’s really hard to comment on any of this without know the eligibility criteria. Single issues or collected volume? American/British comics only or is manga allowed too? I mean, if there’s any about original release dates in the eligibility criteria then that’ll probably rule out all manga straight away, now I think of it. And just how science-fictional do works have to be? Must there be spaceships? Or is the mere fact it’s a superhero story enough?

    In any case, All-Star Superman is clearly the only one worth voting for. Oh, and the Umbrella Academy; I know it’s written by Gerard Way, but it’s actually very good.

  2. The ballot says “A science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form appearing for the first time in 2008”, which as you say would appear to exclude all manga (which is a bummer, since I was planning to nominate some Mu Shi Shi) and all collected volumes.

  3. It also says “Works published in 2008 for the first time anywhere or for the first time in English are eligible for the Hugo Awards being awarded in 2009″, so presumably any manga published in translation for the first time would count.

    As for collected volumes, I had the idea that a collected volume would count even if the individual strips/issues finished the year before, but I don’t where I got that from – it doesn’t affect anything but Penny Arcade on my list, where I think the strips were all published online in 2007.

    Nick: have heard from enough different sources The Umbrella Academy is actually good despite being by Gerard Way that I might have to pick it up. I wonder if this will be true of the one written by Milo Ventimiglia.

  4. “A science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form appearing for the first time in 2008″

    Ouch. That sounds horribly, horribly restrictive to me. Certainly it’s going to make it difficult to nominate anything that isn’t a pamphlet without very carefully checking all the publication dates. Madness.

  5. Liz: thanks for the further clarification. I hope you’re right, though it wouldn’t surprise me if it takes a little while for the award to bed down properly.

    I suspect that it’s not at all true of the one written by Milo Ventimiglia. Not least because Way actually wrote his himself, while Milo no doubt let someone else write it for him. Also, I like to think that if it was good I would’ve heard more about it, but I’ve heard *nothing*.

  6. Liz: good point, I didn’t think to check the general rubric.


    though it wouldn’t surprise me if it takes a little while for the award to bed down properly.

    The ballot says this is a “single, extra, one-time” category, so unfortunately it won’t get that chance (unless someone is willing to go to the business meeting with a proposal to make it permanent, I guess).

  7. Aha, this is where I got my idea about the multi-part works being eligible in the year they end. It does look like the Penny Arcade collection is out, because a collected volume doesn’t get you a second bite at the cherry – this strikes me as being more of an issue for graphic novel than for most other categories, given that few prose novels are serialized any more but there are a lot of fans who wait for the trade instead of buying the individual comics.

  8. Liz, isn’t the appropriate analogy these days the DVD release of a television series? Which similarly doesn’t get you a second bite for nomination purposes.

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