There's no red carpet (yet) but every July during Comic-Con International: San Diego, "the Oscars" of comics, the Eisner Awards--named after cartoonist and tireless comics advocate Will Eisner--are handed out in more than two dozen categories, honoring the best material being published in comics.
This year's nominees illustrate that rumors of the death of the comics industry have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, according to recent Bookscan data, comics and graphic novels are outperforming the rest of the print market, up 7.5% in units from 2018 over 2017 (Brian Hibbs, Comics Beat, May 17, 2019). However, the industry is changing. Leading the charge are three trends to spotlight: kids' comics, graphic novels and new readership. With these three directions in mind, here are some Eisner categories and 10 nominated titles to watch. (For the full list of nominees, click here.) Voting is open until June 14, and industry professionals including booksellers, creators, librarians and educators are eligible and encouraged to vote.
Petals by Gustavo Borges and Cris Peter (KaBOOM!, $16.99, 9781684152346). One of five nominees in Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8), this wordless graphic novel will appeal to fans of Sidewalk Flowers or Shaun Tan's The Arrival. Set in the depths of winter, Borges's title reads like modern-day fable dealing with love and sacrifice.
The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (Knopf, $20.99, 9781524719388). One of five nominees for Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12), this title will appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier's Smile and Steven Universe. Heavy on wonder, the characters in Cardboard Kingdom transform through creative cardboard cosplay into a host of characters and situations. Rich visuals juxtapose their envisioned imaginative settings versus "reality," creating an inclusive, engaging title for a range of readers.
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (First Second, $12.99, 9781626724457). One of the five nominees for Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12). Brosgol is the author of the award-winning graphic novel for teens Anya's Ghost. This autobiographical title deals with a common coming-of-age trope--summer camp--with a twist (Russian summer camp) and with a deft humor that's sure to resonate with young and older readers alike, especially adult fans of Sarah Andersen.
Middlewest by Skottie Young and Jorge Corona (Image, $9.99, 9781534312173). One of six nominees for Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17), this dark fantasy is both whimsical and stirring, dealing with a runaway boy, toxic masculinity and intergenerational family trauma that sparks the narrative. Oh, and there's a talking fox, too. Well known for his recent comedic turns on Deadpool and I Hate Fairyland, Skottie Young strikes a sincere balance, weaving a coming-of-age story both wondrous and weighty. Richly supported by Jorge Corona's lush, sweeping illustrations, this title will appeal to fans of Stranger Things and The Graveyard Book.
Man-Eaters by Chelsea Cain, Lia Miternique and Kate Niemczyk (Image, $12.99, 9781534311435). One of six nominees for Best New Series, Man-Eaters introduces us to a world much like our own, in which teenage girls await their first menstruation with some anxiety and trepidation--except that in this world, they could turn into man-eating monsters when their periods come. This title has crossover potential for young adult interest and readership. Recommended for fans of The Handmaid's Tale, Bitch Planet and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Bitter Root Vol. 1: Family Business by David Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene (Image, $16.99, 9781534312128). Another nominee for Best New Series, this title takes place in a parallel 1920s Harlem Renaissance and focuses on members of the Sangerye family, who have a very unusual filial skill--monster hunting. Film rights have already been optioned for this title. Recommended for fans of Supernatural and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Bitter Root deals with identity, belonging, and racism and discrimination that can turn monstrous.
Come Again by Nate Powell (Top Shelf/IDW, $24.99, 9781603094283). One of six nominees for Best Graphic Album--New (which also includes Sabrina by Nick Drnaso, the first graphic novel nominated for the Man Booker Prize), Come Again marks Nate Powell's return to writing and drawing after the National Book Award-winning March. Set in 1970s Arkansas and inspired in part by Powell's time there, this mysterious family drama skirts the line between gritty realism and eerie otherworldliness. Powell is nominated for two Eisners this year, including Best Writer.
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $19.99, 9780374300289). One of five nominees in Best Adaptation from Another Medium reflects the significant growth in graphic adaptations especially for curriculum and attracting new readership. Speak: The Graphic Novel can be read in tandem with the original text to promote and encourage students to discuss further this award-winning realistic look at sexual assault, consent and trauma, as relevant today as it was when it debuted in 1999.
Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95, 9781770463356). One of five nominees in Best Humor Publication, Woman World started as an Instagram webcomic. Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which all men have died off and the few remaining visual remnants of masculine imagery include Paul Blart Mall Cop, this should appeal to New Yorker humor fans.
Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (DC, $24.99, 9781401283544). One of five nominees in Best Limited Series, this title has five Eisner nominations--the most of any single title this year. Written by former CIA agent Tom King and focusing on Scott Free and Big Barda, two reluctant former warriors brought back into battle and wrestling with issues of PTSD, this limited 12-issue run is an excellent read on its own and serves as a compelling entry point for new readers unsure where to start with the DC spectrum of superheroes.
The Eisners are Friday, July 19, and I would urge all readers to treat this like the Oscars--of comics. Stage a mock Eisner competition/display at your bookstore or library; make bets with your friends, colleagues and family--will Mister Miracle escape with all the Eisners...? --Barbara Gordon
Barbara Gordon (real name: Amie Wright) is a librarian with more than 15 years of experience in the U.S. and Canada, including five years at the New York Public Library managing school outreach and working in collection development. By day, she is currently a public history grad student examining how educators use comics to teach history; by night, she is the president of the American Library Association's Graphic Novels & Comics Round Table.