It's Hugo recommendation season! This is going to be a lot easier than the posts announcing my own eligibility, mostly because I love showing people neat things they may not have heard of and have a difficult time speaking about my own work.
I'm going to limit myself to the categories that I know well, namely Graphic Story and the Fan categories. For details on the individual categories and what qualifies for each, please see the Hugo website here.
- Best Related Work: Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet's Ace Reporter, by Tim Hanley. You can see my full review at The A.V. Club, but this was honestly some of the best non-fiction I read all year.
- Best Graphic Story: (In order of preference/endorsement.)
- Weirdworld, written by Sam Humphries with art by Mike Del Mundo. One of the best books of 2016, hands down. Weirdworld the place has been featured in other Marvel stories, but Humphries and Del Mundo make it the star of it's own tale this time. Following a young woman who is on a quest to take her mother's ashes to Mexico but accidentally ends up in Weirdworld instead, the comic finds that perfect mix of emotional weight, action, and humor that makes a book really stand out. Del Mundo's psychedelic watercolor style is textured and rich and overwhelming, and it means Weirdworld isn't just a great book, it's a visual joy to behold.
- Clean Room, written by Gail Simone with art by Jon Davis-Hunt/Sanya Anwar, colors by Quinton Winter/Sanya Anwar. Women in horror often get the short end of the stick, but Gail Simone is a name you can trust when it comes to writing casts of characters that are diverse and complex. There's no real good or evil in this world where demons (aliens?) are possessing people and might be at the root of all sorts of evil, from politics to capitalism. Clean Room is psychological horror at it's finest, and it puts nuanced women first.
- Southern Cross (Season 2), written by Becky Cloonan, art by Andy Belanger and colors by Lee Loughridge. I've often described Southern Cross as Alien meets Twin Peaks with a dash of Coal Miner's Daughter, a mixture of horror, mystery, and social commentary with sharp dialog and nuanced, complicated characters. Season 2, starting with Issue #7, shifts the focus of the series to Hazel and thus makes Southern Cross one of the only comics out there to revolve around a middle-aged woman.
- Mirror, written by Emma Rios with art by Hwei Lim. Another watercolor book, like Weirdworld and Descender, Mirror is really set apart by the openness of each page. Though there is some dialog, Rios and Lim tell most of the story through the art, no surprise given Rios is an artist in her own right, most famously working with Kelly Sue DeConnick on Pretty Deadly. In the tradition of a whole sub-genre of SF/F, Mirror explores the way that human arrogance changes the world and endangers everyone. Told in part through flashbacks, Mirror is the story of people abandoning the new home they'd fought through space to find, magic and technology so inexorably entwined it's hard to see where one starts and the other stops. It's evocative and sad, in the vein of Princess Mononoke, but beautifully written and absolutely stunning.
- Black Monday Murders, written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Tomm Coker. The world economy is run by eldritch horrors and none of us know it. That's the premise of Hickman's newest SF/F friendly comic, and it's a doozy. The protagonist is a detective attempting to solve a murder that's one part occult and one part hostile business takeover. The worldbuilding is methodical and almost brutal, a not unlike Hickman's East of West, but Coker's art for Black Monday Murders is what really sells it. Broad swaths of thick black ink leave everything with the sense that characters are drowning and don't even realize it. It's Lovecraft meets Wolf of Wall Street, but without the worst parts of both.
- Bitch Planet*, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Valentine De Landro. I sell people on Bitch Planet by calling it "Orange is the New Riddick", a world where women are forced into hyper femininity by law and imprisoned on a distant planet prison when they are noncompliant, used for entertainment of men back home in a football-meets-roller derby sport. This book actively confronts sexual abuse, trans- and homophobia, violence against women, domestic abuse, and more. What makes the book truly incredible is that it sits right on the edge of plausibility, just distant enough from our own reality to be both frightening and motivating. The essays in the backmatter from all sorts of women scholars and writers are incredible, and De Connick was kind enough to write one of the most explicitly violent issues in such a way that you don't have to read it in order to understand the series as a whole, providing a content warning for readers to prepare themselves.
- Jonesy, written by Sam Humphries with art by Caitlin Rose Boyle and colors by Brittany Peer. This is one of only three books on this list that's truly all-ages. Jonesy revolves around a young girl who has the magical power to make people fall in love--with each other, with things, with ideas. She's a girl of color with crazy hair and a pet ferret and an unrepentant love for herself, a charming departure from the near constant self-deprecation that most young women in comics display. Jonesy deals with all sorts of normal teenage things like crushes, working part time (in her dad's donut shop), friends, disappointment, her parents' divorce, and school dances...but it's all through the lens of her power. She struggles with the responsibility of her power and the fallout every time she uses it, but the pop art sensibility and the over the top humor make it one of the most fun books out there right now.
- Nameless City, written and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks, with colors by Jordie Bellaire. Faith Erin Hicks has already earned a reputation for kid-friendly books that are just as fun for adults, and Nameless City is no different. Similar in both tone and scope to Avatar: The Last Airbender, this first book in the trilogy introduces both the main characters and the titular city, caught between multiple political and social pressures and belonging to noone and everyone at once. Hicks gracefully tackles issues like socio-economic injustice without making them the center of the reader's focus, simply by making her characters as complicated and different as real people are. Her art style is clean and dynamic, but she's clearly pushing herself hard to include detailed, beautiful backgrounds that give her city a sense of place and personality.
- Kingsway West, written by Greg Pak with art by Mirko Colak. Imagine True Grit in a world where the West was won by China and Mexico. Kingsway West certainly isn't the first comic to posit how a post-Civil War US would be different had other countries asserted control and brought a halt to manifest destiny. What sets Pak's comic apart is the characters that populate this magic-tinged alternate history. The titular character, Kingsway, is that mix of sympathetic and gruff that makes for a perfect Western, hounded by his past and a younger companion forcing him to travel and revisit his mistakes and responsibilities. Unlike most Westerns, Kingsway West doesn't shy away from the racial politics of the time and place, integrating them so fully into the story that it's simply part of the story itself.
- Descender*, written by Jeff Lemire with art by Dustin Nguyen. Like Southern Cross, I suggested Descender as a nominee last year, as well. When Lemire is writing something than middle-aged white dudes agonizing over their pasts, he's one of the best in the business, and Descender shows why. The most recent arc of the comic has focused on emotional and sometimes violent confrontations between characters that have a lot of history and baggage, framing them against the backdrop of an intergalactic conflict over resources and the destruction of robots and AIs. The book deftly sifts through dense and fraught topics, including how one defines 'humanity' in a time when androids and aliens are both just as common as humans themselves.
- Black Panther: World of Wakanda, written by Roxanne Gay and Ta-Nihisi Coates, art by Alitha Martinez. People might question why this book deserves a nomination more than Coates's Black Panther, and it's a fair question. Both feature compelling stories with a distinctly Afrofuturist bent; I described the first issue of Black Panther as an Octavia Butler book produced for the stage by a Shakespeare enthusiast, broad and sweeping with moments of deep emotional intimacy. World of Wakanda has all of these same strengths, but with the additional draw of being far more driven by the people and history of Wakanda, rather than a single man. Widening the lens through which readers see Wakanda makes it that much more compelling, a story that slides between the deep romantic love between two women to the weight of the duty and responsibility they feel for their people. It not only humanizes them, but frames conflict in the context and history of a fake country in a real world.
- Jem*, written by Kelly Thompson with art by Sophie Campbell/Jen Bartel/Meredith McClaren. What's more sci-fi than using a computer-generated persona to become a pop star? Kelly Thompson and a roster of really incredible artists have brought Jem into the 21st century, modernizing the characters and their struggles and relationships. The team gives real depth and emotional weight to each one of them, fleshing out even side characters with skill and nuance. The cast of Jem is one of the most diverse in comics, with nearly every conceivable body type, race, and sexual orientation represented. They're all treated with a kindness and honesty that makes Jem a really powerful all-ages book, thoughtful without being preachy, welcoming and inclusive without demanding attention.
- Best Professional Artist: Mike Del Mundo. For his work on Weirdworld and his covers for Vision. Check out his Twitter for more.
- Best Semiprozine:
- Uncanny Magazine^ To be perfectly frank, Uncanny is the only literary magazine that I read regularly and subscribe to. Their commitment to finding new voices from groups often underrepresented in the traditional publishing world means that I'm getting the cream of the crop with this subscription. I'm getting voices and stories I'd never otherwise be exposed to, and the quality is top notch.
- The Learned Fangirl^ I'm tempted to just write "Keidra and Raizel are the shit, go read everything on this site" and leave it at that. But if you do go over to TLF, you're going to find some of the best intersectional analysis and commentary out there. They have curated some really incredible pieces, academic-level work, and made sure that it's easy to read and access. There are a lot of sites out there that claim to offer a feminist or womanist perspective on comics, music, video games, pop culture in general. But TLF delivers quality that you won't find anywhere else, and it consistently takes into account perspectives that aren't usually covered. My favorite piece may be the last one they published in 2016: Being a Fandom "Mom"/Mentor.
- Best Fanzine: Ladies' Night Anthology, an organization I have been involved in for the last four years, is eligible for this category.
- Best Fan Writer: I am eligible for this category, but here's who I would recommend. Both of these folks are some of the smartest, most talented people who write about comics and pop culture. They are passionate and knowledgeable, and both exhibit a true understanding of what it takes to make the industry better.
- Best Fan Artist:
* Previous eligibility did push my preference on these down a bit.
^ Indicates that I know these candidates personally or have contributed to the publication.