Xeric Award Winding Down

BY JEN VAUGHN – Trolling the internet while on vacation, I was chilled down to the bone (impressive given the 100+ temperatures in Texas) to see on the announcement on the Center for Cartoon Studies website that the Xeric Award would be no more. Since 1992, Peter Laird of the amazeballs black and white comic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (self-published in 1984) has granted two awards a year to a cartoonist or project for its excellence.

This grant has been an important, even pivotal, part of the mini-comic and self-publishing movement. Try walking through the Small Press Expo, Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival or the Alternative Press Expo (our Sundances as Douglas Wolk puts it) without seeing a sign boasting “Xeric Award Winner 1998″ “Printed thanks to a Xeric Grant 2004!” So many projects have seen the light of day with the monetary help to publish them, some of your favorite indie cartoonists like Adrian Tomine, Jessica Abel, Lauren Weinstein and Farel Dalrymple have received the Xeric Award. I mentioned CCS because the school has averaged one award recipient a year since the school started in 2005 (like Alexis Frederick-Frost, Sam Gaskin and most recently, Melissa Mendes) and because Laird was so giving of his time when the school would visit the former Mirage Studios in Massachusetts.

Peter Laird signs my TMNT notebook while Mark Bilokur waits with his action figures.

Fear not, for there is ONE cycle left for the Xeric Grant, May 2012; the Fall 2011 award was canceled to give cartoonists extra prep time. Go to the Xeric Foundation website for details and I can guaran-damn-tee that this last round of comics will be the best the Xeric Committee has ever seen. I know I am applying! Good luck to you all.

We leave you with one final image: a Turkish Teenage Mutant Ninja Poster! For more photos from the former Mirage Studios, click here!

Jen Vaughn is a nib-friendly cartoonist and curses on Sundays. She is catching up on drawing unicorns in the woods of Texas.

Comments

  1. Steven Taylor says:

    Bravo to Mr. Laird, for all that he has done!!!!

  2. jacob goddard says:

    I am hoping and praying that another well to do professional or fan picks up this mantle and continues to provide this invaluable service to the artform.
    I can say without hesitation that I judge any self proclaimed comic fan based on how many Xeric award winning comics they own.

    This is a sad day for anyone who loves the craft.
    Has anyone from the organization hinted as to why It’s closing its doors?

  3. End of an era. Mr. Laird and the Xeric committee have quietly championed and encouraged a generation of important cartooning. It’s a vastly significant accomplishment they should be commended for.

    I have to wonder whether the emergence and ubiquity of Kickstarter as a mechanism for funding personal creative work was an influencing factor in the decision to close shop. Even if it was not, there’s certainly an intriguing torch passage to be noted in the transition from the merit grant oriented Xeric approach and the market driven Kickstarter one.

  4. Wouldn’t it be awesome if somebody in a position to do so were to take the reins with a similar program to benefit burgeoning cartoonists? Either way, the Xeric Award has been a boon to the industry.

  5. A damned shame this.

  6. Jen Vaughn says:

    Charles, I would undoubtedly say that Kickstarter has a influence on why the Xeric is shutting down. Laird mentions the internet as a reason the grants are no longer needed. But the prestige that comes with getting money to print your comic via committee approval (people you have never met who are judging your work merely on merit instead of video-based wittiness and kick-ass rewards) has a glow that Kickstarter will never have.

    That being said, I took my Kickstarter comic anthology project money without any hemming or hawing.

  7. As a retailer, I always carried each and every Xeric winner that was offered to me.

    I wold never even conceive of doing so for projects funded by Kickstarter.

    -B

  8. comicsatemybrain says:
  9. I applied this last time for my soon to be released graphic novel and disappointedly failed to pick one up…

  10. Brian Hibbs
    07/16/2011 AT 10:52 AM
    As a retailer, I always carried each and every Xeric winner that was offered to me.
    I wold never even conceive of doing so for projects funded by Kickstarter.
    -B

    Obviously it isn’t direct market chauvinism behind this statement because assuming that’d be silly for a champion of the medium such as yourself.

    If you wouldn’t mind explaining the business considerations that leads a comic shop owner to not want to stock a comic, I think it would be an illuminating thing to read. Maybe a good “Tilting at Windmills” essay?

  11. George Penmar says:

    Brian, did any of them actually sell?

  12. Tbe Xeric Grant was primarily a tool to help deserving self-publishers get their wares into the Direct Market, mostly by covering their start-up printing costs. That’s no longer how new creators find an audience; the DM is all but closed to them, and their potential audiences are not looking there regardless.

    There is a still a need for grants to nurture new talent, just as there are arts grants to do that in other artistic media. Crowdfunded grants can fill some of that need, but they are better suited to the sophomores of the medium – creators with fans and followers – than to the undiscovered.

    The WWW and POD have removed the barriers of start-up printing costs; let’s pop open a six of PBR to celebrate that. But they have not made it easy – or inexpensive – to actually find an audience, and the demise of the Xeric grant, the lost support of Diamond, and the (understandable) lack of faith from ye olde indie comics retailer, add up to a bigger and more expensive challenge to

  13. jacob goddard says:

    I guess I do understand why it isnt really needed any more. If I’m looking for something that is really and truly “new” a direct market/diamond centric comic book shop is the last place I’d look.

  14. Synsidar says:

    Obviously it isn’t direct market chauvinism behind this statement because assuming that’d be silly for a champion of the medium such as yourself.

    I’d think the reasoning would be that publications from commercial publishers are put out with specific markets in mind, and will be publicized to some extent, so sales of some copies will be certain. Going through Kickstarter is just a form of self-publishing. The fact that the artist receives donations for his project doesn’t mean that his work deserves to be published, or that there is a significant commercial market for it. Consumers aren’t editors, nor are they publishers.

    SRS

  15. The fact that the artist receives donations for his project doesn’t mean that his work deserves to be published…

    Are you citing poor quality as a reason to not carry a comic book? Hibbs’ shelves would have a huge amount of space for selling Hulk hands and Rei Ayanami dolls if he did that.

  16. I don’t think people are reading Brian Hibbs’ statement literally enough:

    “As a retailer, I always carried each and every Xeric winner that was offered to me.

    I wold never even conceive of doing so for projects funded by Kickstarter.

    -B”

    He says “each and every Xeric winner offered.” When he says he’d never conceive of doing that for Kickstarter, I think he means he wouldn’t carry “each and every” Kickstarted comic “offered.”

  17. Synsidar says:

    Are you citing poor quality as a reason to not carry a comic book?

    To a store owner, the marketability of a publication is more important than the perceived quality of it. I’m old enough to remember the ads in Writer’s Digest placed by Vantage Press and other vanity presses. Some would-be novelists and other writers would pay thousands of dollars to have books printed and be unable to sell them. Bookstores wouldn’t carry them.

    Unless I’m very familiar with an author, I’d be skeptical about the quality of a self-published work. If it’s commercial fiction, he’ll save himself lots of aggravation by selling it to a commercial publisher. If it’s not commercial fiction, he could have trouble finding an audience, even if it is high-quality work.

    I won’t argue that DC and Marvel don’t sell a lot of junk, but with every low-quality issue published, a critic should be able to identify specific, fixable problems with the material. If the problems with multiple stories begin with the premises and extend through the stories to the endings, then the editors should be fired.

    SRS

  18. I think Laird is suffering from burnout – he did sell the Turtles not too long ago and seems to be pulling back from things comics-related.

    My Kickstarter project was successful and is being printed at the end of the month, which is incredibly exciting for me, and serves as a validation – even if it didn’t come from some committee someplace, or if Brian Hibbs would never consider carrying my comic.

  19. I’m a little concerned about the demise of the Xeric program, but for an odd reason: When I sat down to do my monthly order, I learned years ago that if the solicitation said “Xeric” on it, whatever the book might be, it was unlikely to ever sell a single copy in my store, so I learned to automatically pass on those offerings. Soon I’ll no longer have my Xeric “protection”, and I’ll probably revert to my nasty old habits of thinking that virtually everything that comes along looks good. So many boxes of alt/indy comics that looked worth a chance that ended up mouldering away in our basements…
    Please understand that this is is no knock against the Xeric folks, it’s simply that our customer demographics never matched up with Xeric judges’ tastes. It’s much like those movie reviewers who always loved films you hated, and panned those you loved. You could at least trust the consistency. It only took me a couple of years (and thousands of dollars) to learn that what the Xeric people loved, my customers disdained.
    And now the Xeric program will become a thing of the past.
    Well, whether the Xeric Foundation helped me at all or not, I can only applaud and thank them for their efforts in supporting the embryonic and “neonatal” efforts of so many creators who went on to become mainstays of this field.

    Paul Stock
    Librairie Astro
    Montreal

  20. People seem to be having a hard time with reading comprehension:

    I have, to date, ordered EACH AND EVERY Xeric book that was offered to me.

    I would never even consider ordering EACH AND EVERY Kickstarter-funded book.

    That is not saying that I would order NO Kickstarter book, just that it isn’t a 100% guaranteed no-questions-asked “you get rack space” like the Xerics were — but CLEARLY I have ordered things like the Zulli book, and will continue to do so.

    What I am saying is that “Funded by Kickstarter!” in the solicitation is not a “Well, I must obviously stock that, then” IN AND OF ITSELF.

    I hope that is clearer for everyone.

    -B

  21. “People seem to be having a hard time with reading comprehension”.

    Of course we do, we read comic books.

  22. This is a huge blow to hopeful young cartoonists looking to get started in the comics industry—through my grant, I learned the ins and outs of self publishing, distribution, liaising with retailers and hands on marketing.

    In spite of some the harsh realities (anyone need 5-6 boxes of unsold books sitting in my attic?) I could not have received a better crash course in comics. Another avenue closed; another era ended.

    My huge thanks to the Xeric Foundation for everything they’ve done and for really kickstarting any career I can claim to have had.

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