This is one of the newest categories in the Hugo armamentarium; it was instituted three years ago, and has had a rocky road since. (There are lots of great comics/graphic novels/manga out there, and even plenty that have clearly SFF content in them, but the people who nominate for the Hugos have had trouble finding those works, and there's a general feeling that this category is either still finding its feet or not long for this world.)
Even its name is a bit ungainly -- "comics" completely covers any of the things that could possibly be nominated here, but that, one presumes, was too down-market for we connoisseurs of the graphic story. (Pauses to look down his nose, over the pince-nez.)
And these are the very varied nominees for 2011:
Best Graphic Story
- Fables: Witches, written by Bill Willingham; illustrated by Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)
- Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
- Grandville Mon Amour, by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
- Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler; colors by Howard Tayler and Travis Walton (Hypernode)
- The Unwritten, Volume 2: Inside Man, written by Mike Carey; illustrated by Peter Gross (Vertigo)
On Girl Genius, I have only one thing to say to Hugo voters: if you'd like to see this category continue, it's not in your best interests to vote for Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse. The last two Girl Genius collections have won Best Graphic Story, and, if that happens for a third time, it's quite likely that the category for "Best Phil Foglio Steampunk Comic" will be quietly shelved. A Hugo category has to go to different projects to remain viable. If it turns out that the only comic that Hugo voters read is this one, this category shouldn't continue to exist -- and probably won't. (That point is entirely orthogonal to its quality, and to my personal tastes, by the way -- though I did review this in a round-up last week.)
Grandville Mon Amour is the second book in a frankly entertaining -- rather than aiming any higher, I mean -- alternate history high adventure series full of derring-do, steampunk gadgetry, and dashing anthropomorphic badger detectives. I reviewed it earlier this year, and quite liked it -- but everything that is good and exciting in Mon Amour was equally good, just as exciting, and substantially newer in the first book, Grandville (which I also reviewed). On the positive side, this is one of the nominees that isn't coming back for a third go-round, implying that Hugo nominators may be widening their horizons. If this were prose, though, I wouldn't think it would be considered Hugo-worthy. (But I think that's the case for most, if not all, of the nominees in this category for its three-year history.)
Shlock Mercenary is an on-line comic, which is free to read right here; it's been nominated in this category for the last two years as well. Interestingly, the "book" nominated this year hasn't been published as an actual volume yet, though the storyline is all available starting here. (I reviewed this piece of Schlock Mercenary in that round-up last week.) The story is sturdy space adventure, seriocomic division, mercenary sub-division, of the kind most lovingly published by Baen these days -- again, not the kind of thing that typically gets nominated for the Hugo in prose categories.
The Unwritten is a smart, thoughtful piece of fantasy meta-fiction -- aside from a certain coyness about its premise that's an artifact of its serialized nature, it is the kind of thing that I could easily see being nominated for the Hugo in prose categories. (It, too, turned up in last week's round-up.) I don't love this comic, but I respect it, and I can see it being Hugo-worthy, which is good enough for me.
Graphic Story, if it's to last, really has to expand its nomination pool beyond the same things every year, but there are signs that this is already happening. I'd particularly like to see printed-comics nominees that don't come from the biggest publishers -- and I have a post in process about the things I would have nominated for this category this year, if I'd been more organized -- but, if it manages to go to something other than Girl Genius this year, it could well continue and blossom and even, if I'm being ridiculously and uncharacteristically optimistic, introduce prose SFF readers to more and more comics that they'll really like.
For those of you voting for the Hugos, you now have Six Days as I type this -- voting closes at midnight (Pacific time) on July 31st. So grab the Hugo Packet if you don't already have it and start frantically reading.