Tuesday, July 14, 2015

2015 Hugo Voting - Best Graphic Story

I am a supporting member of Sasquan, which is the location of this year's World Science Fiction Convention. Because of this, I am eligible to vote in this year's Hugo Awards. The Best Graphic Story was one of the hardest to vote on, with four really excellent nominees accompanied by one very obviously terrible nominee that clearly deserved to be entirely left off the ballot in favor of "No Award". My ballot in this category was as follows:

1. Sex Criminals, Volume One: One Weird Trick (read full review) by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky (actual finish 4th): Choosing this as the top spot on my ballot was the most difficult decision, because it is only a hair's breadth better than Ms. Marvel, and only beats out Saga and Rat Queens by a very marginal amount more than that. The distance in quality between Sex Criminals and Rat Queens is so small that it is almost imperceptible. However, the nature of the Hugo Awards is that only one nominee can be ranked first on the ballot. One would normally expect a story about a couple who can stop time when they orgasm and decide to rob banks to be crude, or even vulgar. Instead, the story is a poignant tale about how adolescents deal with the travails of growing up and the anxieties of their sexual awakening. What sets Sex Criminals above the other nominees is how it uses the graphic novel medium in interesting ways to tell a story that manages to be simultaneously touching and very quirky at the same time.

2. Ms. Marvel Volume One: No Normal (read full review) by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jake Wyatt (actual finish 1st): Putting this graphic novel in the second place on my ballot was gut-wrenching, because it is simply so very good. The only problem is that Sex Criminals is just very slightly better. The story contained in Ms. Marvel is a super-hero origin story, but with the twist that Khamala Khan is both a Muslim-American, and a perfectly ordinary high school girl, a combination that sets this graphic novel above the norm. The beautiful writing and excellent artwork combine to tell this story quite effectively. The only problem is that in the end, this is just a unique super-hero origin story told in the standard method used by graphic novels to tell stories, and even though it is a brilliantly conceived and well-executed origin story, that just doesn't put it in first place.

3. Saga, Volume Three (read full review) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (actual finish 2nd): As a whole, Saga is one of the most brilliant series of graphic novels ever created. Unfortunately, the whole series isn't nominated for a Hugo, and Saga, Volume Three is the weakest installment to come out thus far. This isn't as serious a criticism as one might think, given the extremely high quality of the other three volumes that have been published, but it is enough to knock this nominee down to third place in the rankings. Essentially, Sex Criminals and Ms. Marvel both brought their A game to the Hugo Awards this year, and Saga brought an entry that was only an A- in quality.

4. Rat Queens, Volume One: Sass and Sorcery (read full review) by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch (actual finish 3rd): Like Saga, Rat Queens only falls this low on the ballot because the other entries are just that good, not because this is anything less than an excellent graphic novel. As a long-time role-playing gamer, this story about a quartet of irreverent and bawdy female adventurers who live in a world in which most of the classic gaming tropes are simple facts of life for the inhabitants really spoke to me. On the other hand, the book's strength was also its weakness: A reader is unlikely to get a lot of the humor in the book unless they also have at least some role-playing game experience. Even so, this is an excellent graphic novel with well-defined characters set in a fun and interesting story that is only ranked fourth due to the extraordinary quality of the nominees ranked above it.

5. No Award (actual finish 5th): For reasons that will become apparent below, if none of the four stories listed above wins the Best Graphic Story award, then I don't think remaining nominee should. In fact, I think the remaining nominee should have never been nominated due to its extremely low quality. Although I am listing the remaining nominee here, I left it off my ballot entirely.

6. Zombie Nation, Book 2: Reduce, Reuse, Reanimate by Carter Reid (actual finish 6th): While the first four nominees on the ballot are bunched quite close together in quality, the gulf between Rat Queens and Zombie Nation is so great that the Pacific Ocean seems small in comparison. While all of the other nominees are professional productions with excellent artwork, well-written stories, and interesting ideas, Zombie Nation is a slapdash, almost amateurish effort with mediocre art that looks like it was written by a particularly immature junior high-school student. Some of the "features" include pictures of celebrities as zombies, proposed new zombie video game bosses, and tired and stale humor that mostly amounts to "zombie women have boobs!", "your zombie mother-in-law is evil!", and "your zombie ex-wife is evil!". Even if one were to ignore the fact that Zombie Nation is competing against some of the best speculative fiction oriented graphic novels produced in 2015 and instead "merely" compare it to other web comics such as d20 Monkey, Ctl-Alt-Del, Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, Order of the Stick, Necropolis, and Weregeek, just how weak Reid's work is becomes readily apparent. With bad writing, bad art, and dull, boring "humor" that a twelve year old would find embarrassingly juvenile, Zombie Nation is simply not good enough to be on the Hugo ballot, and those who promoted it for the honor should be ashamed of themselves.

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  1. At this point I think it is anybody's guess which of those four will win. Anyone of them makes sense (although I agree Rat Queens is the weakest). The only certainty here - short of a massive influx of puppy voters - is that No Award will easily beat Zombie Nation.

    1. @camestrosfelapton: To be honest, I will be perfectly happy no matter which one of my top four picks wins. They are all excellent graphic stories, and the only real crime is that only one can win.

      Zombie Nation, on the other hand, what a godawful pile of crap that is.