Robot 6

There’s no blacklist in the Eisner judging room

eisner nomineeA heated Twitter conversation that began Wednesday with Jimmy Palmiotti saying it was “a crime” Amanda Conner didn’t receive an Eisner Award nomination for her work on Silk Spectre took an unexpected turn when Landry Walker pointed to a blog post by Eisner judge Frank Santoro in which he lists all the creators who contributed to Before Watchmen and says, “I refuse to buy or read anything by these folks.”

“HOLY SHIT… how could he be a judge then??” Palmiotti replied.

The easy answer is that if everyone who expressed an opinion was eliminated from consideration, there would be no one left to be an Eisner judge. However, Josh Flanagan of iFanboy went straight to Santoro for a response:

I definitely had strong feelings about Before Watchmen when it was announced. However, once I became an Eisner judge, I took my responsibility seriously, set my feelings aside, and considered the books that were submitted—as did all the other judges. (And I don’t believe any of the other judges had actually seen that particular blog post.) These titles and creators were up against strong competition in all the categories for which they qualified, and ultimately none of them made the final nominations list. I actually went to bat for Steve Rude and Darwyn Cooke specifically. Some of the creators I listed in the posting are indeed nominated for Eisners for other work they did. So no, it did not affect the judging decisions.

I don’t know Santoro, and I wasn’t in the judging room, but as a former Eisner judge, this rings true. There’s a world of difference between putting something on your personal blog in the heat of the moment and making a considered decision in a roomful of your peers, and I find it hard to believe that any Eisner judge would take the responsibility so lightly as to allow personal prejudice to interfere with the process.

There are a couple of reasons for this: Being a judge is an honor, and, as Santoro says, we take the responsibility seriously. But you’re also one of six, and the other judges are taking it seriously, too. So even if I were to walk into the room with an agenda, it wouldn’t last. Eisner judging is a collaborative effort; the judges have extensive, sometimes heated, discussions before voting. It is possible for one person to sink one book, maybe two, but maintaining a blacklist that long, and with that much talent, would be impossible, simply because the others wouldn’t stand for it. I’m no apologist for Before Watchmen — haven’t read it, don’t care to — but I couldn’t take seriously any process that eliminated the likes of Darwyn Cooke and Jill Thompson from the get-go. Nobody would.

What Santoro reads on his personal time is his business, but once he became an Eisner judge, his status changed. Trust me, there is no way in hell you could have gotten me to read The Art of Doug Sneyd, or even Daredevil, if it wasn’t for a higher calling, but I ended up liking both of those a great deal and advocating for their nomination. Ultimately, as my fellow judge Larry Marder put it,

All the hoopdee-doo, the hype, the heat, the raving complimentary blurbs on the back cover, the placements on year’s end top 10 lists, previous award-winning reputation of publisher and creative teams went out the window. It came down to the story I was reading at that moment and how that story filtered through my brain.

One final point: Flanagan raises the possibility of a conflict of interest because Santoro writes for The Comics Journal. Santoro refrained from voting in the comics journalism category, as I did when I was a judge. Eisner administrator Jackie Estrada states the general case: “In fact, if a conflict of interest occurs, whenever a judge has some kind of involvement in a potential nominee, that person is recused.” Eisner judges come from a variety of areas: Creators, librarians, commentators, academics, retailers and administrators, and all are involved deeply in comics in some way. Conflicts of interest are inevitable. What’s important is how they are handled, and I think Estrada and the Eisner panel have done a good job of that. It’s not just requiring judges to abstain from a single vote, it’s having a balanced panel of perceptive judges with different areas of expertise and setting up a collaborative process for them to make their choices.

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9 Comments

We’re all still wondering how Jackie Estrada’s deeply untalented husband got an Eisner. No conflict there, I’m sure.

That “deeply untalented husband” made Archie Meets The Punisher work as a crossover.

Anyway, I doubt any of the judges would hold personal grudges like that.

Any award, for anything, unless it is for something measurable, like a race time, will always be subject to whims, personal taste, politics, bias, and pre-conceived notions. No award actually makes anything the best. It just means at one time one group called it the best.

I have to wonder what the story was with the humor category only having four nominations. There weren’t five funny comics that were worthy all year? Heck, some categories had six entries.

“So even if I were to walk into the room with an agenda, it wouldn’t last.”

Depends on the agenda.

The year I judged, I walked into the room with the agenda of getting “Best Publication Design” as a category. That one worked OK.

Otherwise, you’re entirely right — biases disappear quickly over the Judging Weekend.

-B

“The easy answer is that if everyone who expressed an opinion was eliminated from consideration, there would be no one left to be an Eisner judge.”

That’s not an opinion. It’s a perfect example of a fanboy’s kneejerk reaction and the corresponding narrow-mindedness behind it.

“However, once I became an Eisner judge, I took my responsibility seriously, set my feelings aside, and considered the books that were submitted—as did all the other judges.”

BS. If a judge or a juror enters a courtroom thinking the defendant is guilty they’re predisposed to thinking the worst of the defendant no matter what evidence is presented. That’s basic common sense. This is a guy that let his emotions rule him to the point of blacklisting 50 talented creators (most of which can be called A-List, imho) because they worked on a project he didn’t approve of (and which he probably didn’t read, based on my impression) and posted it for everyone to see his oh so righteous indignation. That tells me a great deal about him and his ability to judge a comic based only on its artistic merits.

It does change once you become a judge. I watch shows I’d never watch normally when I’m a judge for television awards and I have a much different criteria then when I’m watching just for myself. What someone says at the dinner table or on their facebook page can be very different than when they’re given the responsibility of a judge.

No one enters a jury a totally blank slate even in a criminal trial, but you have to put the past aside as much as you can.

Also it’s an award for art. When was the last time the actual best picture won the Oscar for best picture? Arts awards by their nature have to be taken with a large grain of salt.

And when you bash Batton Lash you just hold a mirror up to yourself and show a reflection of a boob.

First his boycott of Marvel, then his boycott of anyone working on Before Watchmen. Yea – no bias there.

Knut Robert Knutsen

April 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm

I’ve worked on a comics jury, and to me the issue is not just about what happened in the jury room.

Everyone may have been completely unbiased, open minded and diligent there. The problem is, WE don’t know that and no awards jury is going to admit to a juror maintaining a bias. The only way you’d know about that was if someone walked out of a juryroom in disgust and spilled the beans.

And we’re not talking about someone saying (beforer beiung selected for the jury) : “I’m not going to read the BW books, I think it’s a bad idea”. This is a guy advocating blacklisting everything done by any creators involved.

From our outside perspective, what are we supposed to think? That Santoro is a man of his word, a man of principle who will stick to his ethical positions even when tested? Or that he’s just a hypocritical poser who will forget any “principled stand” within minutes of making them?

I can understand even a man of principle saying “I will set aside my personal feelings and judge these books purely on their merits”., But I would then also think that he would feel the need to explain that decision BEFORE going into the juryroom. And make it as public as his blog about blacklisting.

A jury’s integrity is not just about the absence of improper behaviour but about avoiding even the appearance of impropriety, Surely both Santoro and whoever invited him on the jury, knowing about that public blacklist post, would have to have known that this could be an issue. The question is really why the concerns,which they were bound to know would be raised eventually, were not adressed before the jury started deliberations.

Assurances that there were no improprieties, offered after the results are out, carry absolutely no weight. And they shouldn’t. Because we have no way of being sure that the jury is not just covering its own ass.

If the issue of any potential bias by Santoro had been raised before deliberations started, so that questions could be asked, misgivings uttered and the air cleared, Santoro would have had the opportunity to put forth a reasonable argument that he would approach his duty as a juror completely without bias. A clearer decision could have been made whether Santoro was still a good choice for the jury or a less controversial choice would be better. But at least then the discussion could have ended with a jury that people would still have confidence in.

After the fact, no jury is going to admit to having a biased member. They’re stuck with defending whatever happened in the room..

Look at this from the other side: Imagine if the Eisners had picked a juror who was a prominent Big Two creator who had publicly declared before being selected that only books from the top six publishers (in terms of volume) should be eligible for the Eisners, because if creators weren’t working for those companies, they were just bush league anyway.

If the jury handed out nominations that were completely in line with his stated bias, would any amount of assurances from either him or other jurors after the fact be enough to alleviate concerns? Of course not.

Which is why these issues are best dealt with BEFORE the jurors go into that room to deliberate.

We already see the result. People who like the way the nominations went are eager to believe the jury’s assurances of objectivity, whereas a lot of people who disagree strongly with the way the nominations went are left with a gnawing uncertainty about the objectivity of the jury. Based not just on a vague belief but on a publicly stated (and not timely addressed) bias by a juror.

The Eisners are too important an award to allow it to be undermined by sloppy vetting of the jurors.

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