Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

A Hugo Award for Best Art Book: the 2019 experiment

Plenty more to write about Worldcon, but I want to start with a note on this year's Special Category Hugo, the award for Best Art Book. Please note that below I express my personal views, not those of any other member of the Dublin 2019 Hugo team.

We decided to run this category because it is one that has been discussed as a potential permanent Hugo category from time to time, and it has been a Locus Award category since 1979. It also seemed historically appropriate, given that 2019 is the 80th anniversary of the first Worldcon in 1939, whose sole guest of honour was the artist Frank R. Paul.

It's not really my corner of fandom, but I was also aware from the problems we had differentiating between Professional and Fan Artist in 2017 that there is work to be done on the Hugo art categories in general. I was prepared to be convinced either way about its desirability as a permanent category. Up until 2009 (when participation in the Hugos began to surge to and beyond the current level) it was usual for one or two art books to make the final ballot for Best Related Work, and one or two more to make the top 15. They have won five times, including three times this century. (2001, 2002 and 2004.) From 2009 on, the record is as follows:
  1. Spectrum 15 was the last art book to make the final ballot in Best Related Work, with 32 votes. The cutoff that year was 21. There were two other art books in the top 15, a total of 3.
  2. The top art book in Best Related Work was Spectrum 16, with only 16 votes. The cutoff was 29. There were two other art books in the top 15, a total of 3.
  3. The top art book in Best Related Work was Outermost: The Art Life of Jack Gaughan by Luis Ortiz, with 18 votes. The cutoff was 35. Spectrum 17 was also in the top 15, a total of 2 art books.
  4. The top art book in Best Related Work was Spectrum 18, with 23 votes. The cutoff was 34. No other art book made the top 15.
  5. The top art book in Best Related Work was the John Picacio 2013 Calendar, with 24 votes. The cutoff was 39. No other art book made the top 15.
  6. No art book made the top 15 in Best Related Work, ie none got more than 21 nominations. (Some of the top 15 were beautifully illustrated, but the thrust of the content was not the art.) The cutoff was 52.
  7. (the first slated year) No art book made the top 15 in Best Related Work, ie none got more than 38 nominations. The cutoff was 206.
  8. (the second slated year) No art book made the top 15 in Best Related Work, ie none got more than 68 nominations. The cutoff was 384.
  9. Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie (which benefited from slate support) was the last nominee eliminated under EPH. It had 78 nominating votes and the cutoff was effectively 88. No other art book made the top 16, where the threshold was effectively 41 votes.
    As it happens, I hold the full records of the 2017 nomination figures because I was the Hugo administrator that year as well. The next highest placed unslated art book I could find was in 37th place, with 16 nominating votes. The only other art nominee in the top 50 was a downloadable set of posters, in 48th place, with 9 nominating votes.
  10. The closest thing to an art book in the top 15 was the Worldcon 75 Restaurant Guide, and that is not very close. So no art book got more than 31 or 32 votes (the cutoff for the top 15).
It's clear that while the number of Hugo voters had dramatically increased over the last ten years  (and so has the cutoff to get on the final ballot), support for art books in this category had barely remained where it was ten years ago. Apart from the one slated nominee, we do not know of any art book in the 2009-18 period that had more than 32 votes.

But it was worth testing the proposition that if non-fiction books now "own" Best Related Work (this of course was before AO3 was a finalist, let alone a winner), there might therefore be an untapped reservoir of support for art books out there. It took a while to settle on a definition of the category that we felt robust enough to go with, but eventually we came up with:
An eligible work for this special Hugo award is any art book in the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year or which has been substantially modified during the previous calendar year, and which is not eligible in Best Graphic Story.
So, we unleashed it along with the other Hugo and Retro Hugo categories in January, and tallied the results after nominations closed in May. Participation at nominations stage was frankly disappointing.
  • Best Art Book had the lowest participation at nominations stage of any 2019 category (248 voters compared to the next lowest two: 290 for Best Fan Artist and 297 for Best Fanzine).
  • It had the lowest number of nominees (78, compared to the next lowest two: 91 for Best Semiprozine and 102 for Best Fanzine).
  • The top finalist in the category had the lowest number of votes for a top finalist in any category (51, compared to the next lowest two: 70 for the top finalist in Best Fan Writer and 72 for the top finalist in Best Fancast).
  • The lowest-placed finalist had the second lowest number of votes for the lowest-placed finalist in any category (28, ahead of 25 for the lowest-placed finalist in Best Fan Artist but behind 33 for the lowest-placed finalist in Best Graphic Story).
  • The sixteenth-ranked nominee had the second lowest number of votes for any category (6, compared to 5 for Best Fan Artist and 8 for Best Fanzine).
  • The count for Best Fan Artist had the second lowest number of rounds of any category (36, ahead of 31 for Best Fanzine, behind 43 for Best Semiprozine).
  • The votes cast for the top 16 nominees were 51, 47, 47, 39, 30, 28, 25, 24, 24, 19, 15, 12, 12, 10, 8 and 6.
That's still a somewhat higher level of support than we had seen for art books nominated in the Best Related Work category since 2009 - but not a lot higher. The level of interest is similar to that for Best Fanzine, whose vulnerability I have previously written about.

The six finalists were, in EPH order:
  1. Daydreamer’s Journey: The Art of Julie Dillon, by Julie Dillon (51 votes)
  2. Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History, by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer (47)
  3. The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin (47)
  4. Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, ed. Catherine McIlwaine (28)
  5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – The Art of the Movie, by Ramin Zahed (30)
  6. [qualified due to a disqualification] Spectrum 25: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, ed. John Fleskes (25)
The other ten in the top sixteen nominees were, in EPH order:
  1. [Ruled ineligible due to 2017 publication] Terry Pratchett's Discworld Imaginarium, by Paul Kidby (39)
  2. Beyond Science Fiction: The Alternative Realism of Michael Whelan (24)
  3. A Middle-earth Traveler: Sketches from Bag End to Mordor, by John Howe (24)
  4. Marvel's Black Panther: The Art of the Movie, by Eleni Roussos (19)
  5. The Chronicles of Exandria, Vol II: The Legend of Vox Machina, curated by Liam O’Brien and Taliesin Jaffe (12)
  6. Marvelocity: The Marvel Comics Art of Alex Ross, with Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear (15)
  7. The Electric State, by Simon Stålenhag (12)
  8. Monster Portraits, by Sofia Samatar and Del Samatar (10)
  9. Cicada, by Shaun Tan (8)
  10. Yoshitaka Amano: The Illustrated Biography – Beyond the Fantasy, by Florent Georges (6)
Several of these are problematic.
  • We scratched our heads a bit about The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, given that most of the text had been published long before 2018, but on reflection we felt that the art (all of which is copyrighted 2018) was clearly a crucial element of the book, important enough to qualify it as an "art book", and it's clearly not a graphic story.
  • As noted above, Terry Pratchett's Discworld Imaginarium, by Paul Kidby, received enough votes to reach the final ballot but was clearly published in 2017. (I went to the lengths of phoning Kidby in person to confirm, regretfully, that this was the case.) This was the only disqualification in any category for the 2019 Hugos. (Two nominations were declined in Best Novella and one in Best Fanzine, and we had a lot more disqualifications for the 1944 Retro Hugos.)
  • Beyond Science Fiction: The Alternative Realism of Michael Whelan, which was the runner-up, also has a 2017 copyright date, though some people tell me that it was not actually made available in hard copy until 2018, which would have made it an interesting edge case. If it had done well enough to potentially qualify for the ballot, I would probably have ended up in a conversation with Whelan's team directly about it, as I did with Kidby.
  • There is however no doubt about The Electric State, by Simon Stålenhag, which is not only a clear case of 2017 publication but also clearly fits much better into the Best Graphic Story category (and to remind you, the definition we were using disqualifies any work that is eligible for Best Graphic Story).
  • We'd have needed to reflect on Monster Portraits as well, though I think in the end it's not really a graphic story in the way that The Electric State is, so there would have been a stronger case for ruling in favour of its eligibility.
  • Cicada, by Shaun Tan, though published in the correct year (2018), is eligible for Best Graphic Story by any reasonable interpretation, and it would have been much more difficult to make a case for it as Best Art Book.
So one of the top six nominees, and three to five of the top sixteen, were not correctly nominated by voters.

I have one other concern, which is that for the diligent voter, this is a particularly expensive category to read. The cost of the finalists (today's hardcopy prices) is $15.40pb / $26.59hc (Spectrum 25), $22.68 (Spider-Man), $27.14 (Earthsea), $27.40 (D&D), $30 (Dillon) and $42 (Tolkien). Also, it was more difficult to persuade creators to provide samples of their work for the Hugo packet here than in any other category bar the dramatic presentations - we ended up with only one work in full, and two cases where nothing at all was provided, for entirely understandable reasons.

Combined with the rather low level of overall interest shown, I felt that after the nominations stage that I would actively recommend against Best Art Book as a future permanent Hugo category based on what I had seen so far.

The numbers from the final ballot are more encouraging, I must admit. Total participation, at 1419, was 10th out of 20 categories, which is pretty respectable (again, see my comments on Best Fanzine). The performance of No Award was also remarkably poor - No Award got the fewest first preferences here of any category, the second fewest final preferences in the runoff against the winner, and the third lowest percentage in the runoff. (Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form saw the fewest final preferences for No Award in the runoff against the winner, and the second lowest percentage in the runoff; the lowest percentage for No Award in the runoff was in Best Novelette.) That suggests that the wider Hugo electorate were relatively satisfied with the choices made by the selectorate at nominations stage.

And I also must concede that The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition was a really worthy winner. Voters thought so anyway - it had a higher share of first preferences than all but two other winners (Spider-Man and Archive of Our Own), and as noted above performed very well against No Award (and despite our own anxious internal discussion, nobody else questioned its eligibility as far as I know). Charles Vess commented to me that after 45 years of working in the genre, this was his first time on the Hugo final ballot. It is probably Ursula Le Guin's last time on the Hugo final ballot (she lost in two other categories this year). So the result of the experiment in that regard was very satisfactory. Here's my favourite piece from the book, an illustration from The Farthest Shore, with a close-up on the boat:

(I'm very sad to report that Charles Vess's Hugo trophy for Best Art Book was damaged in transit, the base broken into several pieces - the only case we know of where this happened in 2019, though we have heard of one other that was simply lost by USPS. That is awfully bad luck and we will replace it. Vess also won a Hugo for Best Professional Artist, and that one did reach the Great Appalachian Valley safely. Unfortunately, it's a known risk with ceramics.)

I think I would still recommend against making Best Art Book a permanent Hugo category, partly because of the reservations I felt about the data from the nominations stage, but mainly for a different reason. We already have 17 Hugo categories on the books, plus the Lodestar Award and the Astounding Award (formerly the Campbell), plus a special category if the Worldcon of the day decides to run it. Ten years ago it was only 15 categories; twenty years ago it was 12. Adding any new category means significant extra costs to Worldcon in terms of volunteer time and convention money that are frankly not appreciated by those who advocate for those changes. But perhaps that's for a different conversation.
Tags: hugos 2019

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