I BELIEVE IN HARVEY KURTZMAN
An Open Letter on the 2009 Harvey Award Nominations
Executive Editor of PopGun
As I write this, it’s barely been a day since the 2009 Harvey Awards nominations have been announced and the reaction is, well, you know…Not good. While a large number of well-respected comics and their creators received the accolades they deserve, there are quite a few others that the comics industry feel are the results of ballot stuffing and yet another reflection of the joke they feel this award has become. Yet what people don't understand is that there’s but one problem here. It’s not ballot stuffing… It’s not politics… It’s us. Unlike the Eisner’s, the Harvey Awards nominations are not decided by a small, yet qualified committee. The nomination is process is, as stated on the award’s official website, “done solely through the votes cast by the comics professionals who choose to participate in the process.” That is to say, every single woman and man involved in the comic book industry, from artist to writer, from letterer to editor can come together and honor our fellow peers in the namesake of one of its greatest forefathers. Some say the Eisner’s do a “good enough job.” I say settling for a “good enough job” is just plain wrong. While I do believe the Eisner’s fulfill their purpose by bringing to light some of our greatest works during one of the biggest pop culture events in the world, I also believe there’s something unparalleled in the comics’ community joining together during one of the smaller, yet perhaps more passionate conventions we have. It’s our own apathy preventing this award from achieving the respect it deserves. Last year the anthology I co-edited with Mark Andrew Smith, PopGun Vol. 1, was nominated and my century was made. Some might consider it a young man’s naiveté, but at the time, the Harvey was the award I always respected above any other. While Eisner will forever be been prominent in my personal temple of cartoon gods, Harvey Kurtzman has his own wing. Kurtzman’s relentless fight against a nation intent on censoring his medium of choice was one of the very reasons I developed such a fire in my belly for comics. In a time when other comics sold a whitewashed vision of war, he chose to show the horrors others feared to tread near through his work in the pages of Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales. He brought the undergrounds to light through Help!, kick-starting the careers of R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Terry Gilliam. Perhaps his greatest triumph was creating what Alan Moore considers (and I agree) is “the best comic ever,” Mad.
In Mad, he and other cartoonists such as Wally Wood, Will Elder, Basil Wolverton and a pantheon of others criticized and mocked a society intent on sanitizing pop culture as we know it. All this during a time when others were accepting that this medium’s time was over, when it would be too hard to rebel.And we’re saying an award in his honor is too hard to maintain? That’s ridiculous. We’re capable of so much more. We’re capable of a solution. Some have suggested calling it a day, to just give up and end the award. Some have suggested establishing a committee and relying solely on company nominations, making it a clone of the Eisner process. Some have suggested the creation of a voting guide, telling people what to think and suggest. To those people I say, no, damn it! We can do better. Let’s take this wasted opportunity and give it life anew. I say instead of reserving your energy for your annual post-nomination announcement complaint, fill in the ballot that will take you all of five minutes. Educate yourself on the medium you’re supposedly so passionate for. Don’t give in to the rampant apathy and sloth that destroy so much in this industry. If everyone who wrote a scathing review of the nominations put in nominations themselves, this ballot stuffing myth would be rendered obsolete. When PopGun was nominated, we rallied but a relatively small number of contributors and supporters to get us on the ballot. That’s far from this supposed ballot stuffing. We were passionate; others were not. We should all be ashamed. Many of you complained that well-deserving books were overlooked by the Eisner committee this year – well, here’s your chance to make sure they’re noticed. Here’s your chance to show your brethren what’s truly most deserving. This is an award that should be honored. It’s an award we should all vie for. It’s the award that should show just how much we care. I believe we can do better. I believe in honoring the freedom Kurtzman and other cartoonists’ rebellion and sacrifice in the face of our industry’s darkest times gave us. I believe in this industry coming together as a collective whole to pay respect to our peers in honor of one our greatest forefathers, without the reliance of committee. More than anything else, I believe in Harvey Kurtzman. Shouldn’t we all?
Executive Editor of PopGun