I had a look at the history of the Hugo for Best Graphic Novel today. It’s a young category; last night was only the fourth one handed out. It’s been surrounded by some controversy, what with the Foglios walking away with it for all of the first three years it’s been available.
Winners are in bold, works available for free on the web are in italics.
2012: Digger, Fables: Rose Red, Locke & Key v.4, Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication, The Unwritten v.4
2011: Girl Genius v.10, Fables: Witches, Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, Grandville Mon Amour, The Unwritten v.2
2010: Girl Genius v.9, Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, Fables: The Dark Ages, Captain Britain and M13 v3, Schlock Mercenary: TheLongshoremen of the Apocalypse
2009: Girl Genius v.8, Serenity: Better Days, Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle, Fables: War and Pieces, Y The Last Man, v.10, Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic
Now, four years is not much to be going on. But this is interesting. Stuff available for free on the web (that is not Schlock Mercenary) is dominating these awards. In 2010, Girl Genius beat out a Batman book written by Neil frickin’ Gaiman, for crying out loud. And 90% of fandom seems to have serious squeegasms over everything that man’s involved in. Tiny little self-publishers are beating out stuff from major publishers.
One can also call into question the validity of the Hugos in general – they’re only voted on by people who hit up that year’s Worldcon; this year there were all of 1101 ballots, only 339 of which voted on graphic novels.
But the question that immediately comes to mind is: do these books win because they happen to have an intersection of their fan-base with people who can afford to do Worldcon? Or do they win because the whole damn thing is available online, for free, so voters who might not have ever walked into a comic shop over the year can read them and form an opinion?
Hugo voters, these days, can get a digital copy of SOME of the stuff up for awards – this article about the 2012 package said it included “all of the [textual] fiction categories, plus Best Professional Artist, with the rest to be added over the next few days”. I’ll have to ask a friend who did vote if they eventually added copes of all the GNs – I’m suspecting that the webcomic model of “put the whole thing online for free” versus the traditional model of “fight digital copies tooth and nail” may be a serious advantage when it comes to an award given based on popular vote.
(That advantage doesn’t exist when it comes to juried awards like the Eisners or the Rubes, since they operate around being sent a couple dozen copies for the whole jury to read. And put web publishers off in a little digital ghetto anyway.)
It will be very interesting to see what the 2013 Hugo GNs look like. If the field is 3-4 traditional books, the latest Schlock, and some other webcomic, I would be EXTREMELY hard-pressed with this kind of history to bet on anything but “the webcomic that is not Schlock”.
EDIT. Hmmm, I just received word that no, the Hugo juror digital packet DOES contain copies of all the GNs. So I guess that the Foglios and Ursula are JUST THAT AWESOME. So much for that narrative about the new world kicking the ass of the old.
* omgomgomg one of MY PEERS has a FRICKING HUGO ASDFGHJASDFGHASDFG. Ahem.
** Looking at Schlock’s site and trying to figure out where each collection begins and ends makes me want to add handy “Book 1″ “Book 2″ links to Rita.