As I understand it the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) will be debating this year whether Best Graphic Story should survive as a category or be taken out and shot.

There’s actually a number of good reasons why you’d remove the category from the ballot ranging from graphic comics being well serviced by other awards (The Eisner Awards, for example) to the less well founded view that SF and F lit fans don’t generally read comics (or at least not since they were in their teens).

But what has really hurt Best Graphic Story since its inception in 2009 is that the ballot has looked liked a cut and paste job with the same titles appearing year after year and Girl Genius winning the category each year.  It became so embarrasing that Kaja and Phil Foglio (the creators of Girl Genius) decided to take themselves out of the running for this years ballot.*

As it is, the ballot for 2012 (which I’ll discuss in another post) isn’t that awe inspiring and still features 3 of the graphic stories that appeared on last years list.  In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if this lack of diversity sees the category removed for 2013.**

What you can bet, though, is that no-one will be talking about disbanding Best Fan Writer for exactly the same reasons.  This year, the ballot for Best Fan Writer, looks like this:

  • James Bacon
  • Claire Brialey
  • Christopher J Garcia
  • Jim C. Hines
  • Steven H Silver

Now, I should say at this point – before I go all constructive criticism on the category  – that although I’m only familiar with Jim Hines writing (and he’s wonderful and funny and insightful – go check out his blog here and this piece on “writing about rape” that he did for Apex) I understand from fanzine connoisseurs, like Bruce Gillespie, that the four other nominees are wonderful writers.

In 2011, Best Fan Writer looked liked this:

  • James Bacon
  • Claire Brialey
  • Christopher J Garcia
  • James Nicoll
  • Steven H Silver

And if you go back further not only do very few women appear (as noted by Rose Lemberg here) but it’s the same 17 names appearing over a thirteen year period.

But so what?  Doesn’t 17 names at least show some diversity – especially when compared to Best Graphic Story.  Well, let’s do the maths***:

In the13 years from 2000, Best Fan Writer had 65 slots available – if I divide that by 17 people that comes to 26%.  For the sake of my mathematical argument let’s call this % a diversity ratio.  The higher the percentage, the greater the diversity within in the category.  If I run the same whizz bang maths against Best Graphic Story, noting that the award has only gone for four years, I get the following – 12 distinct graphic novels for 21 available slots, which is a diversity ratio of 57%.

Now, I’m not willing to stake the claim that Best Graphic Story is a healthier category because the ballot over four years has featured a greater selection of nominees.  For one, my maths might be rubbish.  For two, I’m comparing four years against 13 years and against a category that’s been around since 1967.  And for three, if you look at the first four years of Best Fan Writer, you’ll see that there were 15 distinct nominees for the 20 slots available**** – a diversity ratio of 75%.  Maybe that’s the fairer comparison.

And yet… that final point does go to show how the rot has truly set in with Best Fan Writer, how over 45 years it’s gone from a category that featured a range of different voices to a category that’s features, for the most part, the same voices.

I can also hear the case being made that Best Graphic Story featured the same winner three years in a row – and in its first three years.  So while it might be a more “diverse category” than Best Fan Writer, at the least BFW had three different winners over that same three year period.

True.  Of course that’s discounting the 19 years in a row that Dave Langford – a wonderful and popular writer – won the Hugo.  OK, not the first three years of the category, but still a size-able chunk of its life.*****

But wait a moment, I hear someone saying, Best Fan Writer is no different to a bunch of other categories that also seem to feature the same people again and again and again.  For example, Best Professional Editor became so repetitive that it was decided to split it into Long Form and Short Form (not that that’s entirely solved the problem, but at least it’s allowed for greater diversity).  While Best Fan Artist has been far more insular than Best Fan Writer featuring only 14 distinct nominees over a 13 year period.******

I agree.  This is one of the main problems with the Hugos.  For a populist award that’s meant to be recognising all of fandom in all its different stripes, it’s extremely insular.  The Best Doctor Who Episode Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) has been taken over by one specific fan-base, while Best Fanzine feels like it’s been barricaded by the old farts of fandom.

The thing is, though, if we actually give a shit about any of these awards we should be doing our best to promote diversity.  Last year and this year a number of fans were making an effort to expose potential nominators to graphic stories they might not be aware of.  It didn’t necessarily pay-off in terms of this years ballot, but at least people were doing something.

And it’s high time that Best Fan Writer – the category I probably care about the most, which is why I’ve started with it – got the same treatment.  You see, I don’t want Best Fan Writer to be disbanded, or have its rules changed or have it slapped with a different title – Maybe Best Fan Writer on Paper Based Products and All Social Media/Blogger Platforms.  No, what I want is for the category to thrive and for it to highlight the startling and exciting array of voices out there in the fandom world.

So I say enough with the whinging and the moaning about how blogs and podcasts aren’t recognised properly by the Hugos and how certain bloggers never ever get nominated.  Rather, those of us who give a shit******* and who want to see that diversity ratio increase above 26% should be out there banging on about the fan writers we love (both e-zine / paper based and on blogs) and not two weeks before nominations close.********

At least that’s what I intend to do this year.

This isn’t an attack against this years nominees.  Aside from anything else they were chosen because they’re bloody good at what they do.  But the time has definitely come for this ballot to feature new names with new ideas.  And while I’ve done this before, here’s a list of bloggers (not exhaustive) that you should be reading, all of them worthy a spot on the Best Fan Writer ballot:

(I promise my other posts won’t be this long and tangential – or have maths).
*It’s not a practice I agree with. If the Hugo’s is genuinely an award that recognises those things that are most popular in a given category, then it should reflect that even if that popular person(s) or thing keeps winning each year.  That said, I understand why the Foglios pulled themselves from contention.

** I’ll talk about why this would be a shame in my post on Best Graphic Story

*** My maths is shit, so feel free to correct me and show me how horribly wrong I am

**** Yes, I’m counting those that withdrew

***** Out of curiosity, what fan debates erupted at the time Dave kept winning the award?  Was there talk of disbanding the award as WSFS meetings?

****** And often featuring the smallest amount of ballots of any category.

******* Yes, Macca I really do give a shit.

******** This isn’t just about getting more bloggers on the ballot.  Aren’t there paper based fan writers, like Bruce G, who deserve to feature on this ballot?