Canadian literary awards still don’t like pictures

Tamaki 1 FullNew scandal: The SKIM snub.

The ruckus started last week when Chester Brown and Seth wrote an open letter to the Canadian Governor General Literary Awards committee. The letter, also signed by such luminaries as Lynda Barry, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and other heavy hitters, was to protest that the awards committee had nominated the graphic novel SKIM, for an award in children’s literature, but had seen fit to recognize only writer Mariko Tamaki; artist Jillian Tamaki isn’t mentioned, and she isn’t even invited to the awards ceremony.

The letter writers think this is an injustice:

We’re guessing that the jury who read SKIM saw it as an illustrated novel. It’s not; it’s a graphic novel. In illustrated novels, the words carry the burden of telling the story, and the illustrations serve as a form of visual reinforcement. But in graphic novels, the words and pictures BOTH tell the story, and there are often sequences (sometimes whole graphic novels) where the images alone convey the narrative. The text of a graphic novel cannot be separated from its illustrations because the words and the pictures together ARE the text. Try to imagine evaluating SKIM if you couldn’t see the drawings. Jillian’s contribution to the book goes beyond mere illustration: she was as responsible for telling the story as Mariko was.


However, despite the eloquent plea, the Canada Council for the Arts, won’t add Jillian to the list of nominations:

The Canada Council for the Arts won’t add Canadian illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s name to the official list of nominees in the text category for this year’s Governor-General’s Award for children’s literature. “We’re a little bit late in the game” to either discuss the issue or make the addition, Melanie Rutledge, head of writing and publishing for the Canada Council, said Wednesday evening. But “we’ll take it under consideration going forward. … We’re always wanting feedback like this.”


The story has been picked up by numerous news outlets, both Canadian and comics-related. Jillian Tamaki remains gracious under the circumstances:

“I’m not going to say much about it beyond that I appreciate their letter,” Tamaki said Friday, from her apartment in New York. Tamaki, who is in her mid-20s, grew up in Calgary and graduated from the Alberta College of Art & Design in 2003. “The people that co-signed and those two creators are my heroes,” she says. “It definitely was surprising. I knew the letter was going to be coming out, but I was floored that the comics community was so caring. I was flattered and touched.”


The awards will be presented tomorrow night. The insights of artistry of the Tamaki cousins’ collaboration have already received much attention and acclaim. SKIM’s nomination for the prestigious award speaks to its literary merit and depth; sadly, there are still a few people out there who think that pictures somehow make things less literary, and that’s a damned shame.

Comments

  1. dlevy says:

    Jillian can at least consider herself in good company. George Gershwin was denied the Pulitzer Prize for Drama when his collaborators won it for OF THEE I SING in 1932. (It wasn’t until 1950, when SOUTH PACIFIC won, that a composer was recognized as part of the creative team.)

  2. The essence of the cultural bureaucrazy… “We’re a little bit late in the game”.

    In so many ways, they don’t matter.

    We recognize your intrinsic contribution, Jillian.

    Well done!

  3. I picked up ‘Skim” at SPX and really enjoyed it. Beautiful work on the part of both ladies!

  4. Out of curiosity, do they have an equivalent illustration award?

    If so, for said award, when the illustrator gets nominated, should the writer get nominated as well? After all, the illustrator would not have had anything to draw if not for the text from the writer, correct?

    I think this can be a stickier issue than it seems. Some comic writers are so specific that they include very precise panel descriptions, detailing just how many panels on a page, their size, what angle the view of the contents of the panel are, if they’re inset, and so on. Some writers even do thumbnails. Does someone who writes their comics like that write MORE of the comic than a writer who just writes prose and dialog and lets the artist choose how to translate that into panels and angles and page compositions?

    In the original letter it states “there are often sequences (sometimes whole graphic novels) where the images alone convey the narrative.” This almost seems to imply that it is the artist who is solely responsible for those sequences. Does the writer only count as the writer of the parts that have balloons and captions?

    In a collaborative medium there’s never a clear cut line between who did X and who did Y. As I often work in writer/artist scenarios, I know there’s usually a dialog between each party. If I choose to draw something different than what they wrote, they might like it, or they might want it the way it was in their script, or it might give them an idea for something different. But for all the ideas they give me for what to draw, and all the ideas I might give them regarding the writing, they are still credited as writer and I’m credited as artist.

    I’m sort of playing Devil’s Advocate with myself here. But I’m left wondering what the jury for this award was thinking. If they’re only nominating the book for its text, does that mean they’d still have nominated it if the art was just drawings of stick figures?

    (and please no one think I’m dissing Matt Feazell’s work.)

  5. There are awards for illustrators too. Of all the nominees in both French or English, in for children’s writers and children’s book illustrators, none received double nomination for a single title. Feels more like a case of spreading the love around than not recognizing comic book artists’ contributions.

  6. Tyson D. says:

    @John

    I don’t think the letter meant to suggest that writers get a vacation whenever there’s a sequence of wordless narrative (no matter what the style is, the script should be describing what’s going on, wordless or not) although I could see how it might be interpreted that way. I think they were just trying to emphasize the image component in a situation where that component got ignored in terms of recognition.

    Neil Gaiman summed it up pretty well on his blog:

    “About seventeen years ago the phone rang. “You’re nominated for a World Fantasy Award for best short story,” I was told.

    “You should make sure that Charles Vess is nominated too,” I said. “He drew it. And as a comic, it’s not just the writer. It’s both of us.”

    There were a couple of phone calls, and when the nominations were announced, Charles had been added to the list.

    Which was something I found myself remembering when I read,

    The Canada Council for the Arts won’t add Canadian illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s name to the official list of nominees in the text category for this year’s Governor-General’s Award for children’s literature.

    “We’re a little bit late in the game” to either discuss the issue or make the addition, Melanie Rutledge, head of writing and publishing for the Canada Council, said Wednesday evening. But “we’ll take it under consideration going forward. … We’re always wanting feedback like this.”

    It’s for Skim, a graphic novel [Jillian] created with her cousin, author Mariko Tamaki. The book, published by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, is one of five titles short-listed for the $25,000 G-G prize in children’s literature (text), with Mariko Tamaki cited as the sole creator. If you give a writing award to a comic and ignore the art, you’re being foolish, short-sighted and fundamentally failing to understand what comics are or what comics writing means.

    And it’s never too late to fix things.

    Now, before I head off on some barking mad Jeremiad against short-sighted Canadians, I shall drink some chicken soup and go to sleep.”

    They should simply credit the artist as “co-author” (unless they don’t even have provisions to cover co-authored traditional prose novels) and then move to create an appropriate category next year for graphic novels/comics/sequential art/funnybooks/whatever with more specific guidelines governing collaborations as well as sole creators who have written and drawn their projects.

    It seems like a bit of a flu-like trend lately. James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer got snubbed out of consideration for their Dark Knight score because of similar bureaucratic silliness.

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