What You Didn’t Read

Posted by on March 17th, 2010 at 12:42 PM

Lately there’s been a slow but steady ingress of comics–sorry, graphic novels–into the literary world in the form of industry awards and recognition, including various genre awards.  You’d think this would’ve happened decades ago with comics and science fiction, given the overlap between sci-fi nerdom and comic-book nerdom, but the serious, quasi-literary ends of the two communities seldom pass in the night.  The Hugo Awards only added a Graphic Story category last year; other major industry awards, like the Nebulas and the World Fantasy Awards, have no category for comics, although they do sometimes give out special awards to graphic novels.

Now a Tiptree Award has just been given to Fumi Yoshinaga’s manga Ooku, the first time a Tiptree has been awarded to a comic.  The Tiptree, you may not have heard of.  Named after groundbreaking New Wave science-fiction writer James Tiptree, Jr., who rocked the literary sci-fi community in the 1970s when he was discovered to be a woman named Alice Sheldon, it’s given out each year at the feminist sci-fi convention WisCon to “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.”  The winner gets $1,000 and a tiara.  The Tiptree organizers raise money each year with femininity-reclaiming bake sales.

Frankly, it blows my mind that the comics industry is producing work even worth consideration for this award.  My expectations for the comics industry in the field of expanding or exploring our understanding of gender are not high.  But, on reflection, there are a lot of interesting comics that explore gender and sexuality–maybe fewer specifically in the genre of science fiction, but the stuff is out there.  It just doesn’t always get much attention.  Ooku has a small following among the comics intelligentsia, but greater TCJ bloggers than myself have lamented the generally mild praise greeting the most imaginative and challenging work to date from Fumi Yoshinaga, one of the top talents in manga.

Which is one of the interesting things about these non-comics awards: the comics they notice.  The Tiptree website notes, “We chose Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku, Volumes 1 and 2 as our Tiptree winner with some trepidation.  No one on the jury has read much manga; no one is an expert in Japanese history. ”  They just knew what they liked.  The first comic to win the Graphic Story Hugo was Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius, which has a large and loyal following online but, like a lot of webcomics, tends to get overlooked in comics industry rolls.  Another webcomic, Howard Taylor’s Schlock Mercenary, was also nominated.  Some of the other Hugo nominees were debatable (note to the nerd community at large: I liked “Buffy” too, and it was cool when Angel got turned into a Muppet, but at this point the Joss Whedon worship has just gotten weird), but overall the list was a lot stronger, and a lot more reflective of the diversity of work produced by the comics industry, than the Harvey nomination list that came out around the same time.  No NASCAR comics: that was the key.

Then again, sometimes the outside world gets everything horribly wrong. You kind of have to roll with the punches.

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6 Responses to “What You Didn’t Read”

  1. […] the winners are… Over at The Comics Journal, Shaenon K. Garrity notes that Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers (Viz) is the first comic to win the Tiptree […]

  2. […] Moving to a higher level, Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku has won the Tiptree Award, and Shaenon Garrity explains why that’s awesome. […]

  3. Caro says:

    Hi Shannon — thanks for the alert! I hadn’t caught that these had been announced.

    Tiptree did Honor List Y the Last Man in 2007, so it was probably only a matter of time before a graphic novel won: I think these literary organizations are considering it a point of credibility to at least consider graphic novels. Interestingly, Ôoku is sharing the award with one of the “artiest” books to ever win: Greer Gilman’s Cloud and Ashes. Definitely an adventurous group of judges this year.

    If anybody’s interested, a few of the long-listed stories are available to read online. You can get to them through the long-list tab at the Tiptree site: http://www.tiptree.org/

  4. Caro says:

    (Ugh, correct the spelling of your name for me, will ya? Sorry. :( )

  5. […] Moving to a higher level, Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku has won the Tiptree Award, and Shaenon Garrity explains why that’s awesome. […]

  6. […] at The Comics Journal, Shaenon Garrity comments eloquently on what I agree makes this award important: namely that comics and graphic novels as a whole are […]