The Doug Wright Awards 2011

Written by Dustin Harbin
Illustrated by Dustin Harbin

Dustin Harbin travels north of the border to observe the differences between American comics awards and their Canadian counterparts in this graphic essay which was originally presented on the Comics Journal website.

Presented in his own self-depreciating style, Harbin writes and draws his awe at the way in which Canadians go about honoring their best and brightest in the comics field.  He notes the links between the comics scene and the rest of the arts, which contrasts notably with the way comics are treated and presented in America.  Harbin has harsh words for how Americans devalue awards by having so many, compared to the four given out at the Doug Wright Awards.  He also talks about the tone of the ceremony and ultimately how this fresh outlook on comics quality inspires his own work.

This mini-comic brings up a lot of complex ideas in only a few pages, and Harbin obviously doesn't have enough time to expand on them at length.  He smartly concentrates on giving the details he feels are important for a reader who may never make it to Canada, let alone a special function while also providing several visual gags, mostly at his own expense.  (I am particularly sympathetic to the one where he falls asleep noticeably while being seated next to several indie comics luminaries.)  Harbin clearly intends this to be where the conversation starts, not where it ends.

That being said, I do think the comic has two logical flaws where I disagree with Harbin.  These are not problems with the craft or storytelling--far from it.  Harbin once again uses his finely detailed artwork and strong sense of voice that I've liked so much in his other works.  I just have a personal problem with worshiping at the shrine of Canada.  It's really easy to fall into this trap as an American who often feels out of touch with the pulse of the country you live in.  I've done it, my wife does it on a regular basis, and I know plenty of others who look northward for inspiration.  I think Harbin is idealizing things just a bit too much here, partly due to his own pro-Canada feelings and partly because of the space allotted to the work.  People tend to put their best foot forward when on the spotlight, and I don't think that's acknowledged sufficiently here.

My other disagreement is in the nature of giving out awards itself.  While I agree that some awards are mere popularity contests, I don't see anything wrong with that.  Harbin doesn't call any awards out, but it's clear he's unhappy with those in America.  I disagree.  Why can't we all get together in Bethesda once a year and cheer on our favorites?  Does that make it any less important to win an Ignatz?  It's not scientific at all, but it's a fun time and a recognition that yeah, people think you're doing good work.  Is the Eisner biased based on who the judges are each year?  Sure.  But that's going to happen no matter what.  When you have a contest, there's always going to be a bit of bias.  Awards by their nature are insular.  I don't really see anything wrong with that.

Regardless of your final opinion, Harbin once again has produced a thoughtful, well-drawn essay for your reading pleasure.  If you are all interested in the nature of comics culture, this is a great place to springboard discussion.  It's not a book for everyone, but those with ties to the comics community definitely should read Harbin's work.  Agree or disagree, you'll definitely be driven to think.  And that's the most important thing in a comic like this one--making the reader thing.  As usual, Harbin succeeds brilliantly.  (Even if he is wrong!) :)

You can get a copy of The Doug Wright Awards here.