You know, a part of me wondered whether I should write this. Then a couple things occurred to me:
– Nobody gives two shits what I think.
– Dante already went ballistic on the whole dang convention.
Compared to that, I think I can safely give my opinion on my first ever attendance of the Will Eisner awards ceremony for the comics industry. Yes, I followed through with the kinda-sorta vow I made last November, even though none of my friends or family (even my wife) decided to join me and instead opted to go out drinking and partying.
Halfway through the running time, I found myself fervently wishing I’d joined them. At least during those moments I wasn’t catching myself nodding off in my chair. I don’t know if it’s been better in previous years, but this was a rough show to get through as an audience member.
I love Will Eisner’s work. I love comics. I love the idea of comics as its own unique art form to be celebrated. What I forgot was that despite its subject matter, the Eisners are at their core an awards ceremony… which means there’s long lists of nominees being read, winners being announced, winners giving speeches and rattling off thank-you lists, and then we do it all over again and again, for 31 different awards, plus several Hall of Fame inductions, “in memoriams”, etc. etc.
This is why shows like the Oscars work so hard to break things up with staged productions and other tricks, but I completely excuse the Eisners for not having the budget for that. Two of the early presenters of presenters (I’ll get to that in a moment) were Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon of The State/Reno 911, and they actually tried to make light of that by acting out a skit of what they *would* have done had they had the money. It was weird seeing two guys I’ve always considered very adept at improvisational comedy talking over each other constantly and falling flat on several of their jokes. Other presenters who don’t make careers out of it fared even worse with their delivery… lots of awkward silences abounded throughout the evening.
But let’s get back to the whole “presenters of presenters” thing. Apparently the way the Eisners are structured (or at least were structured this year) is that there’s one or two people who are given a segment of the show to MC. There’s no overall MC like at the Academy Awards, it keeps changing shifts after every handful of awards. In addition to this, the MC of the moment then acts as a “presenter of presenters”, introducing other people who will actually be reading the nominations. Then the winners of the award would come up and give their speech, then the presenter would speak, and then the presenter of the presenter would speak, and…
As you can imagine, this format is not only confusing, it eats up a lot of time. In the program guide the Eisners were expected to last until 11pm (from an 8:30pm start time), in actuality they went more than a half an hour past that.
I figure it’s a much more engaging show if you’re part of the VIP section. If you’re a presenter or nominee or other sort of special guest, you get to be up in the front of the room, where there’s a buffet, private bar, and fancily decorated round tables for all the folks there to sit around and talk at.
If you’re a non-VIP professional like I was, you get to be seated a half hour earlier in your own section in between the VIP area and the attendee area, but aside from the ropes separating pro from attendee and the fact they lay out your free graphic novel on the chairs, I didn’t see much difference. By the time they let the attendees start filing in the pro area was less than half full and the staff just removed the ropes and let attendees mingle in forwards. They didn’t remove the ropes between us and the VIP area, though, and the VIP area was packed.
There’s a tiny bar out in the lobby area where you can buy drinks, but after paying $7 for a 12 ounce bottled Stella Artois in a situation where the guy also expects a tip just for popping the cap off for you, I decided to limit myself to just one. This led to a very sober evening, and perhaps that was part of the problem.
Or maybe I just don’t “gala” well. I’ll freely admit that, I’ve never been great at social gatherings, especially ones that were formally structured and had lots of speechifying. I will say that the Eisners have a satisfyingly lenient dress code even for the VIPs, as evidenced by the Hawaiian shirts and plain t-shirts in attendance. Joe Hill (winner of Best Writer) was one of the latter, and I must admit with his beard shaved he looks very much like a young, skinny version of his dad. I’m such an insider I didn’t know who his dad was until I looked him up later, at the time I just thought “Wow, this dude’s a real fanboy of that guy.” Gimme a break, I had a drama teacher in college who tried to dress and look as much like Sam Shephard as possible.
Maybe you have to be a real insider to appreciate this stuff, but on the other hand I don’t really get the sense there’s much press presence at the Eisners. Or even much studio presence beyond those immediately nominated. Lots of other shindigs going on Friday night, after all. BOOM! had their PR guy collecting awards. Many other no-shows left me scratching my head at just how many comics people ended up having babies or moving their houses during Comic-Con week. I know my wife and I have already vowed that, should we ever do the child-generating thing, we will not be starting the process within 8-10 months of SDCC.
I remember having trouble finding reviews of the show last year when I became curious about it. This year I’m having the same trouble… even CBR which won for best news site this year (with an acceptance speech from a boisterous Jonah Weiland) seemed to have not much more than a list of recipients… the kind of report that could easily have been written up by just grabbing the daily CCI newsletter on Saturday morning, rather than being there. Mind you I’m not saying that’s what occurred, but there’s next to no details on the show itself.
Now, again, this is all one man’s perspective. It wasn’t that there was no audience besides the invitees, just that we seemed sparse in comparison to the remainder of the ballroom seating. You could have wandered in a half hour after go time and found yourself a great seat, and try saying that about any other SDCC event on a Friday. What audience there was did seem enthusiastic, clapping and cheering their favorites (I don’t know if it was good or bad that I could usually tell where the award was going by the volume of noise when a nominee was read). I’m not going to assume all those people were friends and family who couldn’t get VIP seating, just to make myself feel better… I just have to be honest and admit that, except for a few bright spots, I was bored, and at the end of the night I slogged back to my hotel in a sad combo of exhaustion and sobriety.
Does that make me a bad comics fan/comics maker? Maybe. But it really seems like the best experiences of the Eisners are reserved for those directly involved, while any onlookers might be better off just reading the results the next morning. I don’t know what would make the show better, or even if they should try to make it better since in the end, it really is all supposed to be about the people getting the awards, not how entertaining the ceremony is to the public. Even though they’ve had more movie tie-ins in previous years, it’s a corner of Comic-Con that’s seemed to remain largely untouched by the hype and spectacle Hollywood brought, and despite my personal dissatisfaction with the evening that could well be something to celebrate, not deride.
Also, I did mention the free Will Eisner graphic novel. They’re not kidding about that, and I picked up a copy of “Life on Another Planet”, one of the works he kept referencing in some of the more instructional books of his I own. So even if it’s a bribe to get people in the doors as I speculated last year (and to go by the number of them still on empty seats at night’s end, a not entirely successful one), it’s a complete Will Eisner graphic novel. For free.
That’s a pretty damn good bribe, so I’ll call it even. I probably won’t be attending next year’s Eisners, but I wish them well… and who knows? Maybe one year Dawn or I could be up in that VIP section, having an entirely different perspective. And a buffet.