The New World Fantasy Award: What’s Next?


The World Fantasy Convention’s board of trustees has decided to evolve their award from a bust of H.P. Lovecraft (crafted by Gahan Wilson) to a brand-new, yet-undecided design. There’s been a ton of debate and reaction to this topic.

Bottom line: I applaud the WF board on their decision and I’m looking forward to what’s next for this award. So yeah — what IS next? Decisions, decisions…..

Here’s the thing — often, the key to making a good decision is first asking the right question.

We can all watch random people lobbing ideas and concepts, seeking answers for the award’s new design that best endorse their pet interests. You’ve probably already seen some. Not surprisingly, many of these ideas spring from a very Eurocentric view of fantasy that seems a bit tone-deaf to a shifting ethnic and cultural spectrum amongst audience and creators alike. Some advocate for a favorite fantasy form that makes them feel nostalgic — a dragon, an elf, a green man, for instance. Others advocate that the award should resemble a person that perhaps makes them feel comfortable, or reflects themselves.

These responses seem myopic and panicked, borne of an unspoken open question: “What should the award look like?”

If I were a decision maker in this process (and THANK GHOD, I’m not), I would offer that’s NOT the right question to ask right now, and thus, it’s no surprise that the answers so far are less than optimal. In fact, unless you’re a professional sculptor, you’re probably not the most qualified to find the ‘answer’. I’m not either. I’m a working professional illustrator and a storyteller who keeps trying to be a better artist every day, but I’m not a professional sculptor. And thus, I’m probably not as qualified to conceive and create this sculpture as an artist who does sculpt for a living. However, my job as an illustrator does require me to be a strong problem-solver, and that means knowing how to ask good questions.

Thus, here’s some brief advice I can offer the decision makers, and to all who share my interest in the future of this award:

1. THE FIRST QUESTION NEEDS TO BE THE RIGHT ONE. In this case, I would offer that the first question should not be, “Hey, World: what do you think this award should look like?” The first question should be, “Who are the best sculptors and who is the sculptor that can best elevate this award toward a new timeless icon? Who can carry this responsibility? Who can take us to a place we could not have imagined on our own?” The same respect that is given to a great novelist should be given to a great sculptor here.

The sculptor of this award needs to be an artist, first and foremost — someone who solves problems, conceives original thoughts, has unique insights, and visually communicates those thoughts, insights, emotions and intangibles into tangible form. If the plan is to take a straw poll of the most popular and familiar symbols and word pictures, or to concoct a preordained vision and then hire some poor sap to carefully sculpt to that prescription, then please hire a pharmacist, not a professional artist. However, the World Fantasy Award can do better than that, and I’m hoping it will. If I were a decision maker in this process, I would be sky-high excited about the amazing creative (and branding) opportunity ahead, and I would be vigorously searching for the right sculptor to cast a new icon, rather than casting a fishing line praying to hook an idea.

The making of this icon is the kind of job that visual artists are uniquely qualified to do. I most trust an artist to do this job of researching, idea-making, conceiving and creating a new visual icon — just as I most trust a surgeon to operate on me, or an architect to design a house, rather than the other way around.  This is a job for a visual artist who professionally sculpts, not a committee, not a straw poll of writers, readers, and historians. In short — the sculptor making the award should decide what the best idea is, what it looks like, and then present that form to the decision makers for them to decide if it’s ‘the one’.

The single most important question facing this award right now: “Who is that sculptor?”

In my opinion — asking this question, and doing the requisite selection work, is the key mission for the award’s decision makers.

2) CHOOSING THE SCULPTOR. Creating this award is a job –and wow, THAT’S an understatement! 😉 It should be a paid gig — probably a well-paid one considering the stakes, the importance of the result, and the rights involved. In contrast, an ‘open call for ideas’ that preys upon artists to generate work for free, even if they’re just sketches, would be ill-advised and bad PR, and I would advocate that no professional artist should answer that call and undercut their own livelihood. The ideas are the job, just as much as the final sculpt. I would caution against giving those ideas away publicly, even if it’s to drum up popular momentum. This isn’t a popular election, after all. It’s a job, and most of us are not official components of the job’s process.  Instead, I think the best thing that we can all do (decision makers, creators, and readers alike) is educate ourselves on the pool of working sculptors that are out there — and promote them.

a) If I was a decision maker, I would scour the last few years of SPECTRUM: THE BEST IN CONTEMPORARY FANTASTIC ART and the INFECTED BY ART annuals. I would research the last six or seven years of Chesley Award nominees in the Three-Dimensional category.

In fact, to all who are commenting via social media and campaigning for ideas — the best thing we can do to further this process is advocate for sculptor(s) that we think are best suited for the job — and try to articulate why. Shift your energy from firing shots in the dark about pet concepts, and instead boost the visibility of worthy sculptors. Link to their websites and their social media. Share some of your favorite images of their work.

b) Again, putting myself in a decision maker’s shoes — I would ask myself, “What are the questions that best lead me to the right sculptor for this job?” Here are a few questions that might help along the way:

• Does the sculptor’s work largely represent their own imagination or does it represent someone else’s?

• Does the sculptor’s work surprise? Does it invent? Does the sculptor’s work have a history of making forms and icons that haven’t quite been seen like that before?

• Does the sculptor’s work have the ability to be universal, or does it seem to reflect a limited cultural and ethnic viewpoint? Can this sculptor create an icon with a large enough ideological umbrella to not just include the world, but embrace it and elevate it?

• Does the sculptor’s work show the ability to problem-solve a variety of contexts? Is their work all literal? Is it all abstract? Is that artist capable of expressing within both realms? Does the sculptor’s approach to the job propagate his or her own brand more than it creates a unique brand for the award?

• Does the sculptor design their own work and then have someone ELSE cast it? Or does the sculptor design AND cast their own work from start to finish? This may be a very important production question for the board as they narrow down their sculptor choices.

3) BUILDING THE BEAST. I think once the decision makers have chosen their sculptor, I suggest that the next most important mission is shaping an environment where the artist is free to propose original ideas, problem-solve, and sculpt the final award, shielded from preordained ideas and agendas. This isn’t just what’s good for the sculptor. It’s about getting the most value from the artist during the course of the process. What comes out of the sculptor’s head is as important as what comes out of his or her hands. The sculptor will probably want to dialogue with the board as the process evolves, and that will likely be one of the most crucial parts of the whole endeavor.

This is brave new frontier. This is what artists live for. My sincere best wishes to the sculptor selected for this job and to the decision makers involved, and in closing, I’ll offer a few sculptor suggestions for consideration for this job. What are yours?



If this decision were in my hands, this would be the sculptor I would choose. His work consistently innovates. It invents. It can be literal. It can be abstract. It can be both. He has the restless imagination that searches for new ideas and forms that elevate. He has experience dealing with the pressure of awards-making, having designed one of the most celebrated trophy bases in Hugo Awards history. He creates his own work from start to finish — from birthing the idea to final bronze, casting everything himself.


VIRGINIEHer ethereal and haunting work seems to own the Spectrum annual’s 3D category every year.


SHIFLETTSThese guys do stunning work. Master creature makers.


The Barter Green in Abingdon, VA

He’s a four-time World Fantasy Award winner. He’s designed small sculptures and big ones. If he’s selected to sculpt the new one, and wins a fifth World Fantasy Award, would he get to award himself with his own sculpture? 🙂

Those are a few thoughts. Please share your own. Brainstorm. Explore. Discover. Share. Who would you like to see sculpt the new World Fantasy Award?

15 thoughts on “The New World Fantasy Award: What’s Next?

  1. There is something missing here, John. I think the need is to examine the term ‘World Fantasy’, because Fantasy has come to mean something over time. Define Fantasy as exactly that, and we are in a world of goblins, etc. But World Fantasy has been more than that, and that is what needs to be explored.

    I see a globe, with a Gandalf-type figure and a shrouded figured.

    Personally, I would prefer no change at all, but there are my thoughts for what they’re worth.

  2. Thanks, Chris. I think exploring the term “World Fantasy” in some sort of three-dimensional form is a noble path. Again, my point in posting this is to help steer the overall conversation toward finding the right person for the job rather than debating icons. We can do that all day, right? I think it’s much more productive to share a new world of three-dimensional talent and then hope that the board members select the right talent to do the job rather than us try to do that artist’s job in advance. I see too many people thinking that hiring an artist is about hiring a pair of hands to execute a prescription, and for many situations, that’s not a productive way of working with great talents (and certainly the best artists I know steer clear of those situations as best they can).

  3. Hi John ,
    I like your suggested approach to producing a new design for the World Fantasy Award trophy. I wonder if it could be taken a bit further, borrowing from the approach used for the Hugo Award Base design, by having a new design each year? Each World Fantasy con committee would commission a new artist each year to do a design which has a new inspiration … Just like the works being honoured.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with the thought that the artist matters, but, as I mentioned a few other places that this was discussed, I think the two dovetail, that is, what should it be and who should do it. If a sculpter specializes in bronze full size statues, they may not be the best selection. My personal vote would be for Rebecca Rose.

    To me, the most common symbol in fantasy, one that cross cultural boundaries, is the ring. The magic ring, the kings signet ring. The wedding ring. The poison pill ring. The idea of circles and cycles and the looping nature of stories and time. Rebecca does artistic wearable ring sculptures designed to also be displayed. Imagine if the winners could actually WEAR their award if they see fit. In addition, if you look at her work, she specializes in packing as much symbolism into each piece as possible.

  5. Alexander: If I were a decision-maker in this process, I would be suspicious and wary of any preordained idea or agenda that was being campaigned or championed at this time. A long time ago, when I was working as an intern architect, my boss at the time gave me one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever received. The firm specialized in high-end custom homes for a very wealthy clientele. My boss said, “Our clients will never be satisfied if we design the house they see in their dreams. What they want is for us to design the house that they could have never imagined.” That’s what the great artists do. They see things we haven’t yet imagined and they make them real. That’s what this award can be.

  6. I forgot to say — thank you for suggesting the work of Rebecca Rose! Terrific stuff, and I hope others take note of her work as well. That was a name I did not know previously. Appreciated. 🙂

  7. I see your point, and your boss’ statement is, well, boss, for any kind of artist, writers included. That said, by the nature of the beast, and award, we’re already limiting the scope a bit, right?

    And my pleasure. I love turning people on to different artists!

  8. John, thank you for this post. It’s sensible, pragmatic, and with a view to the artistic issues that matter most.

  9. Hey John – Interesting post. I disagree, but only very slightly. I don’t think the first question should be who should create this sculpture? There’s an assumption that a sculpture is even the desired outcome, something I don’t believe is a given.

    I think the first questions should be along the lines of what is the purpose of the World Fantasy Award, who and what is it intended for, what is the community it speaks to etc. While this may seem obvious, I don’t think it is. Once an answer has been to that has been decided, then the question would be how should we recognise this achievement? What general form should the award take? At this point I’m not talking elf vs talking head, but rather should it be a certificate, a sculpture or whatever. I believe at one point in the early days a certificate was strongly suggested.

    Once you’ve decided on what the community of the award is, what it is intended to recognise, and what sort of general media you’re looking at, you could then proceed towards the solution. I do strongly agree with an approach that would see a general brief developed and given to an artist who would be given considerable scope to suggest and develop solutions before moving on the final award. I also don’t think this process should be particularly public. It is my experience that design by committee – no matter the committee or the good intentions – ever works well.

    And yes: I’m quite delighted that I’m not involved with the decision making process too 🙂


  10. It’s a fair argument, but like others I am not sure it’s the whole picture. “Who is the best sculptor?” as a simple question might get very different answers if the proposal is for a figure or head to if some mythical creature/fantasy icon is proposed, or again if the idea is for an abstract piece. Do we want Rodin or Hepworth?
    Whilst accepting we shouldn’t predetermine the design before finding the artist, I think it is relevant to consider the type of design alongside finding artist(s).

  11. Kev: That’s why it’s vital that people on this committee know what they’re talking about when it comes to sculpture and art. If they want to be making this decision, then they should be poring over bodies of work from experienced craftspeople and doing due diligence. Asking questions. Contacting artists. Doing their homework. Otherwise, why be on the committee, right? You judge an artist’s work based on their existing body of work. It’s that simple. They should hand-select an artist or artists to provide them with sketches. Pay those artists for those sketches. Decide which direction they want to pursue. Hire the chosen artist and pay that artist for their time, their work, and the rights to the work. It’s not acceptable to expect artists to do speculative work for free for this job, under any circumstance. Expecting artists to do free work, masquerading as some sort of “open call” is shoddy, disreputable business practice, and if that’s what WFC wants, then I would encourage all professional artists to avoid this process, at all costs.

  12. Jonathan: If the award wants to devolve into a certificate, I think that would be a major missed opportunity. If the awards administrators don’t respect the object and the job, investing it with value, substance and consideration, then why should anyone else value it? They have an opportunity in front of them — a PR opportunity, a design opportunity, a branding opportunity, and more. These chances don’t come around very often. That said, if they want to turn the award into something that can get stashed into a file cabinet, then I guess that’s their prerogative. If I were in their shoes, that wouldn’t be my preference though.

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