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March 3, 2010

Feature Story: Graphic Novels Shine in L.A.


It’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Times began hosting their own set of awards, and 14 since the advent of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. This year, both take an important step forward in terms of comics and graphic-novel coverage.

The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes just recently announced that it would add a graphic-novel category to its list of awards. (The prizes will be distributed April 23, 2010, the night before the Festival of Books at the Times’ headquarters. The Festival takes place April 24 and 25.)
The Times now hands out nine awards annually, in the following categories: Biography, Current Interest, Fiction, History, Mystery-Thriller, Poetry, Science and Technology, Young Adult Literature, and, now, Graphic Novels. In addition, awards are given for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Robert Kirsch Award, and the Innovator’s Award (for a complete list of all nominees for each and explanations of how all are awarded, go here).
“It’s in the interest of our readers and the community for the awards to cast as wide a net as possible—which is why we initiated this award,” says David Ulin, books editor for the Los Angeles Times.
 “Graphic novels are one of the most aesthetically interesting areas of writing and publishing,” says Ulin. “We cover a lot of them, and find the territory remarkably fertile and diverse. It seemed to be calling out for an award.”
For the award’s debut, the Times tapped reporter Geoff Boucher—the paper’s self-proclaimed “go-to geek”—to hand out the prize. This year’s finalists include Gilbert Hernandez (Luba), Taiyo Matsumoto (GoGo Monster), David Mazzucchelli (Asterios Polyp), Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe), and Joe Sacco (Footnotes in Gaza).
Ulin says there was no debate or controversy over adding a graphic-novel category to the awards—the first time a major award has done so. “We’re not just giving the award to any graphic novel,” he says. “We’re bringing in a panel of judges of the same high critical discernment as we do with any other award. This seemed like it should be a part of the mix.”
Currently, there are no plans to expand the graphic-novel portion of the awards to differentiate its young-adult, nonfiction, manga, and various other categories. But comics and graphic novels are making an increasingly bigger presence at the Festival of Books in many ways. “About three years ago,” Ulin says, “we created a ‘neighborhood’ of exhibitors at the Festival that were specifically related to comics, graphic novels, and manga and began creating some specific panels with programming relevant to those areas. That area, now called The Hero Complex, has been growing each year, as has the programming related to it.”
So will we see graphic novels developing an even bigger presence at the Festival in future years?
“As long as the work continues to be strong and diverse, I don’t see why not,” Ulin says.