For the 25th anniversary of the Oregon Book Awards, the accolade is breaking new ground. Next week, one Oregonian will win the first-ever prize for graphic literature.
According to Susan Denning, director of programs and events for Literary Arts, the decision to name the category "graphic literature" instead of the colloquial term "graphic novel" represents not only a changing landscape in the medium, but the diversity in entries as well. "Literature incorporates memoir and all different kinds of writing," explains Denning.
Honoring graphic literature in the Oregon Book Awards has been a long time coming. After a few years of searching, Literary Arts found a sponsor with PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art) and was able to move forward.
Any Oregonian who has published graphic literature within a three-year time period with an ISBN was eligible to enter. Matt Madden, an editor at Best American Comics, was given the task of choosing five finalists based on one criterion: "literary merit."
Madden has picked five unique works that contrast in genre and craft, from a Portland detective narrative to a meditation on loss. Below is an introduction to the works and authors behind them.
The Oregon Book Award for graphic literature will be announced on Monday, April 23.
Graphic Literature Slideshow
View a slideshow of the nominated works in the right-hand sidebar.
The Book of Grickle, Graham Annable
The Book of Grickle sprawls through the humorous, dark and tender moments of everyday life. "The stories in this collection were written over the past decade," explains author Graham Annable."I just wrote about situations I can see myself in, but usually throw in a twist to make it more interesting."
The art is sparse and minimal, but all the characters burn bright with deep expressions. Working on this piece over the decade, Annable revisited different stories from his past. "It's always been my life, doodling on back pages of notebooks or anything in front of me. I guess I always approached my existence on this planet by finding the ways to work it into a comic story or a quick doodle."
Footnotes in Gaza, Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco's work in Footnotes of Gaza stands apart for being journalistic in approach, seeking to uncover truth through memories of the past. "Aside from putting together what happened, the large-scale killings of Palestinians, I wanted to explore how memory works, how memory can be lost and how it's retrieved," says Sacco.
The whole project took Sacco seven years. For Sacco, "It's a culmination of all I learned in 20 years of understanding comics journalism."
Now he's ready to move forward. "After finishing the book, it keeps running on fumes for months," says Sacco. "Finishing is very important, but you just want to put it behind you."
Ivy, Sarah Oleksyk
Poring through her old journals, Sarah Oleksyk went through the half-cathartic, half-painful experience of revisiting what she was like 10 years prior. "A lot of Ivy came straight out of my high school journal, looking at passages to remind myself of how I spoke back then," she says.
Ivy tackles the daily life of a young artist discovering the world around her. "I wanted to address themes that I wasn't seeing," explains Oleksyk. She explores the challenges of adolescent life, issues of unexplained anger, desperately seeking the approval of peers, and being selfish. "That was the whole point. I wanted to come up with the character not too many people try to portray, to touch on some aspects I wasn't reading in comics."
Stumptown, Greg Rucka
"It's a two part love-letter. It's a record to my love for private eye shows and books in my youth, and on the other hand it's my love letter to Portland," says Greg Rucka. Rucka, a multiple Eisner award winner, is a heavy hitter in the world of comics, having penned for almost every big name in the industry, from Batman and Superman to Wolverine and Punisher. As a "work for hire" comic writer, Rucka truly values the time he spends writing for Stumptown with illustrator Matthew Southworth. "When you work for Oni Press it's all creator-owned." There are no rules he needs to follow or previous back story; it's just Rucka and the page.
"There are pieces of Portland life all throughout Stumptown," from coffee culture to a scene that takes place at Ringside Steakhouse. When writing about the city, says Rucka, it's important to use it in the story: "The location is as much a character as the characters."
Imagining Portland, Rucka sought to include all the aspects he loved, one of them coming out in a character in the novel. "Dex's [the main character of the series] little brother has Downs [Syndrome] and he works at a New Seasons-inspired store. My sister has Downs. One of the things I love is whenever I go out, I see the developmentally disabled employed at different stores throughout the city."
One of the things he hates? "People complaining about the rain. If you don't like it, move to Arizona."
The Whale, Aidan Koch
"Finding the right words to describe this book has never gotten easier. It's a short graphic novel following a woman through the aftermath of a recent loss. That's the simple version," says Adian Koch.
The youngest nominee in this category, 23-year-old Koch created The Whale in nine months. Her work is crafted with contemplative, shape-shifting imagery and little text. "Rather than explaining the story, this works to create a mood in which to interpret events."
Koch sees her nomination as an incredible opportunity in a rapidly changing field. "In most respects it is a brand-new art form and especially right now, I think, people are really discovering how varied and open and malleable it can be. It is very exciting to think of how we will see this medium shift in the next 20 years."
Learn more from OPBNews.org: Oregon Book Awards Winners Announced