A link to a Tumblr blog by Eisner judge and The Comics Journal contributor Frank Santoro has started making the rounds on Twitter, indicating that Santoro has a “Before Watchmen blacklist.”
Santoro acknowledged the blacklist as part of his personal reading practices, but assured ComicBook.com that it did not impact his performance as an Eisner judge, saying that he in fact supported some of the creators involved for unrelated Eisner nominations.
The entry, made the last week of February, features a list of all of the Before Watchmen contributors, along with the message “Here’s a handy list of all the comics makers who participated in Before Watchmen. I refuse to buy or read anything by these folks.”
Before Watchmen, DC’s biggest publishing event this year, was the years-in-the-making prequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen. The project was wildly controversial, primarily due to Moore’s objection to its taking place. Moore has long maintained that DC schemed to keep the Watchmen rights from he and Gibbons, despite a contract that was lauded at the time as a huge step forward for comics creators.
The deal has never formally been made public but the pertinent detail offered by Moore, which nobody has publicly disputed, is that the rights would revert to the creators after Watchmen had been out of print for a period of time. Since the trade paperback market for comics was virtually non-existent back when Watchmen was published, the writer maintains it was impossible for him to know that the book would never go out of print. Similar arrangements are still in place with the “creator-owned” books at DC’s Vertigo imprint, although they’ve now been modified to account for the trade paperback market, with the rights reverting a set period of time after new, original content stops being printed rather than after the book goes out of print altogether.
A number of fans and comics professionals, most notably former Superman writer Chris Roberson, objected vocally to DC’s decision to publish Before Watchmen, and boycott campaigns were launched by some who were particularly passionate that the publisher was in the wrong.
Neither DC Comics nor Jackie Estrada, who oversees the Eisner Awards, would comment on the record for this story, although Estrada clarified that Eisner judges are generally selected in the fall, meaning that Santoro was likely named months after the blog post had already gone out and his feelings were known.
“I’m glad this subject has come up,” Santoro told ComicBook.com. “I definitely had strong feelings about Before Watchmen when it was announced. However, once I became an Eisner judge, I took my responsibility seriously, set my feelings aside, and considered the books that were submitted—as did all the other judges. (And I don’t believe any of the other judges had actually seen that particular blog post.) These titles and creators were up against strong competition in all the categories for which they qualified, and ultimately none of them made the final nominations list. I actually went to bat for Steve Rude and Darwyn Cooke specifically. Some of the creators I listed in the posting, like Cooke, are indeed nominated for Eisners for other work they did. So no, it did not affect the judging decisions.”
When Comics Alliance‘s Andy Khouri pointed out that DC, with only three total Eisner nominations, had received none for the high-profile Before Watchmen project, Santoro’s fellow TCJ contributor Sean T. Collins tweeted back, “Frank Santoro would have been Gandalf on that s–t. YOU…SHALL NOT…PASS!”
The Comics Journal was nominated for Best Comics Journalism at this year’s Eisners. They have four previous nominations and three wins; their most recent nomination was in 2009.
This isn’t the first time in recent memory that the impartiality of Eisner Award judges has been publicly questioned. In 2010, comics writer and political blogger James Hudnall wrote in the comments thread of another blog, “It seemed to me, as a judge, we favored indy comics. In fact, I made a point of doing so.” This was seen as a kind of “affirmative action” for smaller creators, with some critics and fans seeing it as a positive thing but many questioning whether intentionally steering toward or away from any comic was appropriate behavior for a judge.