Yes, Virginia, there are wombats in Wonderland, as you should know because Digger just won the Hugo for Best Graphic Novel. I loved Digger. But I didn’t expect it to win. Firstly, it was in black and white (unlike all other entries), secondly, it had no babes in it, let alone naked ones (alright, there was a young priestess, but she was veiled and mostly bald, so I didn’t count her) and thirdly, it was a complete story from beginning to end (unlike all other entries).
Why would a complete story line disqualify a nominee? Simple. People vote for their favorites. Some fans (like myself) see their Hugo ballots as a sacred responsibility. They pour over the nominees, weighing every word and agonizing over the choice when (as often happens) several candidates are worthy. Others approach their vote (and I’m not criticizing, just observing) with light-hearted cheer, partial to their favorite authors/artists/etc. even before they start reading, and dismissing other entries as casually as a junior editor burrowing through the slush pile of Sisyphus. Some fans even join WorldCon solely to nominate and promote a specific work. Again, I do not criticize. They are driven by love. But whatever the technique, however much thought does or does not go into it, it everyone votes for the one they like best.
Many graphic novels come out as multi-volume series, with the individual volumes taking on the character of chapters. Each is a continuing saga, not expected to come to a conclusion. So, most of the Hugo nominees presented stories without endings. (Even Digger ended with an invitation to join the main character in another adventure.)
Likewise, if a first volume doesn’t sell, the publisher drops it. (No, that’s not evil. That’s trying to stay in business.) Therefore, by the time a graphic novel reaches the Hugo ballot, it has already reached Volume 17 or so. Most of the Hugo nominees did not have beginnings. What they did have was established fan bases. And established fan bases can and occasionally do acquire Hugo’s for their favorites. Not Digger. It started with Volume 1.
“I have told you once, I have told you twice. What I tell you three times is true.” (Lewis Carroll, Hunting of the Snark). For the third time, I am not criticizing. I am only admitting that I find it difficult to evaluate a work with neither a beginning nor an end, no matter how good it may actually be. I can state with a clear conscience that I enjoyed Digger hugely, and genuinely believe it deserved recognition, regardless of the competition. But in the end, I probably liked it best because I saw the whole story.
I am not an experienced WorldCon attendee; I’ve only been to four, starting in 1978. Naif that I am, I came to Chicon 7 because all the pros I have the good fortune to know assured me that I MUST attend WorldCon now that I, too, am a pro. (God, how I love to say that!) It’s a business meeting, where you meet and bargain with editors and publishers, and build exposure among the fans. These same pros (some of them Hugo winners) also assure me that the Hugo’s are not about merit.
Some snarl, “it’s just a popularity contest.” Others sneer that the awards are virtually for sale. All agree that fans select their favorites for reasons other than literary merit. If an author dies, they get a Hugo. Determined fan blocks can and do swing the vote. And so on. At Anticipation, I listened to three professionals discussing the upcoming ceremony. They called every single Hugo correctly, and not a one said anything indicating they had read any of the books.
So there appears to be truth in the cynicism. And yet… And yet there must be some value in the awards. I always read the Hugo nominees, regardless of WorldCon membership, and I’ve read many truly splendid books as a result. However politicized the process, genuine merit does manage to work its way in. Sometimes it is side by side with popular dreck, but it is there. If you think about it, a fair and open election cannot, by its very nature, guarantee that anyone, however worthy, will win. It can only set up a debate, which at least gives the best candidate a voice, a chance to compete when they might otherwise have been overlooked completely.
Yes, there are people out there who vote for Volume 17, without even reading it first, let alone checking out the competition, because they loved Volume 11 so much, but I do not criticize. They are genuinely entitled to their opinion. If they weren’t allowed to vote, then I probably wouldn’t be either. Hey, Digger won a Hugo! Is that cool or what?