2017 Best Professional Artist Hugo Thoughts

Right now is the 2017 Hugo Awards nomination period and the window to turn in nomination ballots is March 18th. I’ve posted a list of my awards-eligible work, but I want to shine spotlight on five pro artists who all deserve serious Hugo Award consideration. Every year, I hear art fans, authors, and readers asking whether such-and-such art is eligible, or wondering which artists have stood out as cover illustrators.

2016 suggests a different landscape for pro artists than previous Hugo years because I think we’re witnessing the rise of pro illustrators creating major published works where THEY are the storytellers, the brand makers and the IP owners. I find that some of the most invigorating sf/f art is happening within published projects where the illustrators are not answering to someone else’s text or narrative, but their own. These aren’t side projects, but highly-visible releases, capturing large fan followings and critical acclaim. This sea change has not happened overnight, but it’s definitely a wave that’s building as more pro artists push some — or all — of their career efforts in this creator-owned direction.

BROM: LOST GODS, his most recent novel as an author/illustrator, debuted in October to rave reviews. New York Times-bestselling author Richard Kadrey says, “LOST GODS is an adventure tale and a mythic odyssey. It’s like Dante played out in muggy rural graveyards and the depths of Purgatory on the eve of a demonic war.” Sure, Brom’s won the Spectrum Grand Master Award. He’s been revered for three decades for his role-playing game art for TSR and Wizards of the Coast, as well as legendary covers for authors such as Anne McCaffrey, Terry Brooks and Michael Moorcock, but in 2016, LOST GODS proved once again that he’s one of science fiction/fantasy’s leading lights as an author/illustrator.


PETER MOHRBACHER: Pete has built an art empire all his own with his ANGELARIUM books and limited-edition prints. In 2016, he released a stunning body of new ANGELARIUM work that continues to build a unique character universe, born of his mad imagination. He’s also one of the leading professional artists in his handling of social media and crowd funding platforms, sustaining himself as a pro fantasy artist, exclusively via his creator-owned IP. He’s doing all of this while inspiring creators of all stripes via the weekly webcast “One Fantastic Week”.


WYLIE BECKERT: When you look at the landscape of Kickstarter, it’s littered with playing card decks to such an extent that almost none of them stand out anymore. And then along came Wylie’s WICKED KINGDOM which became a viral sensation in the sf/f art world, mushrooming into a storybook, postcard sets, and more, along with the core playing deck itself. The art is lush and narrative-driven and I think the real star of her output was the storybook, which showed her as a storyteller birthing a personal mythos all her own.


TODD LOCKWOOD: THE SUMMER DRAGON debuted in June and has finished 2016 as one of Amazon.com’s ‘Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Books of 2016.’ Not bad for a debut effort by an author/illustrator. Todd is beloved worldwide by Dungeons and Dragons fans, and he’s done decades worth of amazing cover work, but when his book went into multiple printings in one year, he showed that the career path of best-selling author and best-selling artist are not mutually exclusive. I think that was one of the most significant developments within fantasy art in 2016.


JEFFREY ALAN LOVE: Jeff has definitely done his fair share of terrific work for venues such as Tor.com, Gollancz, HarperCollins and more, but in 2016, the release of his NOTES FROM THE SHADOWED CITY solidified him as one of the most fascinating graphic storytellers anywhere. Praised by artists such as John Harris, Dave Mckean, Mike Mignola and more — the texts are short, the art is austere, and yet the two together pack a provocative punch, forming one of the coolest and most signature graphic novel debuts of recent years.


Selected 2016 Works

2017 is already flying by so fast. Here are a few of my selected artworks from 2016. For those seeking one-stop summaries of eligible work for the 2017 awards season, I hope this short list is helpful.


‘La Botella’
Product illustration for Loteria
Client: Lone Boy
October 2016
(Art © 2016 John Picacio.)


‘La Corona’
Product illustration for Loteria
Client: Lone Boy
October 2016
(Art © 2016 John Picacio.)


‘La Pera’
Product illustration for Loteria
Client: Lone Boy
October 2016
(Art © 2016 John Picacio.)


Cover illustration for A. Lee Martinez’s THE LAST ADVENTURE OF CONSTANCE VERITY
Client: Saga Press
July 2016
(Art © 2016 John Picacio.)


Interior illustration for Carrie Vaughn’s WILD CARDS story, “The Thing About Growing Up In Jokertown”
Client: Tor.com
December 2016
(Art © 2016 John Picacio.)


Cover illustration for George R. R. Martin’s IN THE HOUSE OF THE WORM
Client: Baltimore Science Fiction Society
May 2016
(Art © 2016 John Picacio.)

The 2016 Best Professional Artist Hugo Award

book-complete-elmore-2Need help making sense of the Hugo Finalist list in the Best Professional Artist category? Grab yourself an adult beverage. Easy on the ice.

Got it? Good.

After looking over the nominees announced today, I’m seeing an absence of many talents that represent the best of the contemporary sf/f art world. Off the top of my head, names like David Palumbo, Greg Ruth, Rebecca Guay, Gerald Brom, Peter Mohrbacher, Jeffrey Alan Love, Wylie Beckert, Sam Weber, Greg Manchess, Dan Dos Santos, and more. They all had Hugo-eligible bodies of work this year.

It’s rare that I share my personal views on any award publicly. Exceptions include speaking up on behalf of working 3D artists and their professional value regarding the new World Fantasy Award design. Earlier this year, George R. R. Martin asked me to contribute a few Hugo recommendations on his blog, and since he’s a friend, I gave it a go. I’m making another exception here. The reason I’m writing this post is there will be a group of people awarding a Hugo to a pro artist this year, and some of those voters might look at the finalist list and think all of the Pro Artist finalists share equal value. In this case, that would be a poor assumption. 

First, when reviewing the finalists’ work, check eligibility. Don’t cast a vote for a Pro Artist Hugo nominee unless you’re certain they have eligible work published in 2015. Check it yourself. Don’t assume.

And here’s an assist:

Larry Elmore is a legendary and deeply influential fantasy illustration icon, who has had a huge impact on generations of Dungeons & Dragons fans — game players, writers, artists, editors, publishers, designers, filmmakers, convention organizers — and beyond. More to the point, he has a major body of published eligible work in 2015 and that work doesn’t take extensive sleuthing to discern whether it’s eligible. His book The Complete Elmore Volume II contains over 700 drawings from a career dating back to 1981, and was produced and first published in the fall of 2015.

Was Larry Elmore amongst my nomination selections? No. He wasn’t.

Do I believe that ‘No Award’ is an option this year? It’s the Hugos. It’s always an option.

No disrespect to the other finalists, but Larry Elmore winning a Hugo would not be a lifetime achievement award but it would recognize a lifetime of professional art achievement by someone who is legitimately eligible this year.

The history of that winners list would be shinier with his name on it.

If you’re feeling disoriented as a voter — don’t get twisted. This is an easy one.

Given this year’s five choices, it’s Larry Elmore.

Good luck, Larry.

**********

BONUS HUGO THOUGHTS:

Posts like this one should not need to exist, but if you’re waiting for me to publicly say negative things about this year’s Hugo art finalists, it’s not happening. I do think this last two years of Hugo nomination results in the Pro Artist category represents a tidal shift in who is nominating the Hugos. I think it’s a missed opportunity for pro artists to let this moment slip past. Many sf/f artists deservedly care about the Spectrum Awards, the Chesleys, or Infected By Art because they promote artists and celebrate what we do. I think the only thing that stops the Hugos from being more included in that conversation is ourselves as pro artists. I often hear artists say that only writers and literary fans vote on the Hugo, and that’s why they don’t vote. I always felt like that was self-fulfilling prophecy. Why shouldn’t we as pro artists expect the best from the Hugos as much as we do any other art award, if it has a Pro Artist category? I would encourage us as pro artists to better shape the Hugo discussion as we see fit next year. Be vocal about it. I’m not saying to campaign for yourself, but I am saying to make your 2016 body of published work accessible where people can see that it’s eligible for consideration. Promote your favorite works by others for Hugo voter consideration. Nominate and vote in the Hugos, even if the Pro Artist category is the only one you vote on. Pro Tip: Your single category ballot is counted as equally valid alongside ballots filled out across their entirety.

Weirdly, because of this recent flux, it feels to me like there’s a real opportunity for more of the names listed at the top to be recognized. The writers and literary tribes aren’t going to do this for us. We have to do it. I’ve often heard artists say they have no nomination chance unless they attend Worldcon. Stephan Martiniere has won without attending a Worldcon. Julie Dillon was nominated before attending her first Worldcon. Dan Dos Santos has been nominated multiple times with 2009 being his lone Worldcon appearance (if memory serves). The point is — these people were Hugo finalists and/or winners because of enormous professional art talent and visibility, not because of convention campaign skills. That Worldcon-or-bust myth doesn’t fly.

My advice: If artists feel that the award’s voting control is a monopoly beyond reach, the current chaos has proven that view is obsolete at best. Part of the joy of being an artist is being a change agent. There’s a window of opportunity right now where major contemporary pro sf/f artists can shape Hugo nominations toward a view more reflective of the sf/f field’s rich professional excellence. 2017 will be here before we know it. I don’t know how long that window stays open, but I hope the best sf/f artists notice. It’s not about campaigning. It’s about visibility.

For as long as I’ve had a career, pro artists have told me the Hugos are uncool. Eleven years ago, a respected and popular pro told me one of the worst things that could happen to my career would be a Hugo nomination. I thought he was joking. His reply, “Seriously, man. You don’t want that. I’m not kidding.” Maybe I’m a dork, but hearing that it was so uncool to him made it cooler to me. It didn’t hurt that Whelan, Frazetta, Di Fate, the Dillons, and more must have been even more ‘uncool’ for winning it. I wanted to be uncool like them. Awards are what we make of them, and I think the current disarray means this award’s voting base is being remade across all categories. Ignore all of the histrionics, and if it makes you feel better, you can even ignore the literary categories. What’s stopping the remaking in the Pro Artist category from belonging to the pro artists?

Hugo Nomination Time: Pro Tips For Artists

Artwork for Loteria Grande Cards by John Picacio. (Lone Boy / 2014)

Artwork for Loteria Grande Cards by John Picacio. (Lone Boy / 2014)

The Hugo nomination voting period ends this Tuesday, March 10th at 23:59 Pacific Time. So if you’re like me, and you haven’t voted yet — get those nomination ballots in!

For all of my fellow illustrators and artists out there, I want to offer a few suggestions for being considered in the Professional and Fan Artist Hugo categories.

1) DATES!

I’m not talking about hooking up. I’m talking about making it known when your artwork was published. For Hugo Award consideration, this is a tiny thing that’s really big. Why? Because only work that was first published or appeared in the calendar year of 2014 is eligible. So, for instance, right now, I’m trying to figure out my nominations in the Artist categories and if I don’t know when an artist’s work was published or first appeared, it makes it very hard to nominate them. The solution: Make these dates readily available on your websites and your blogs along with your posted works. For example, I solved that one by grouping the illustrations on my website by year published. Like this: Here are some of my selected eligible works for 2014 awards consideration. It keeps it simple, ya know?

If you have questions about dates, here’s the Hugo rules language pertaining to this:

“In general, works first published or appearing in calendar year 2014 are eligible for the Hugo Award. Works previously published in languages other than English but first published in English in 2014 are eligible. Works previously published outside of the USA but first published in the USA in 2014 are eligible. Medium of publication is irrelevant: works published or appearing online are considered the same as if published in hard-copy form or shown on television or in theaters, including film festivals. Works published in multiple parts, such as serialized stories including graphic works, are eligible if their final part appeared in 2014. Detailed rules for the Hugo Award are contained in Article 3 of the World Science Fiction Society’s constitution.”

You don’t need anything more than the publication year. If you include the publication month that’s even shinier, but not necessary unless you’re talking about a venue that appears in periodical form.

If your work is sitting out there right now with no publication data, and you don’t have time to overhaul your website, don’t panic. Do a Tumblr post, blog post or some sort of consolidated online summary somewhere (more on that in minute) where you can point and say, “Here’s all of my eligible stuff!”

2) VISIBILITY

Ah, yes. How do you get the word out about your work? I might as well be trying to answer the meaning of life. Simple question. Tough one to answer, or at the very least, a tough one to do well even when you know the answer.

In general, letting your audience know that your work is eligible at the beginning of the Hugo nomination voting period (sometime back in January) and at the end of it (which is right now!) is a very good idea. Maybe a sporadic reminder or two within the voting period but that’s about it. I think we all have varying channels of media that we operate upon (blogs, DeviantArt, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Ello, carrier pigeons) and my advice is to spread out your reminders over those channels across different time intervals, during the course of a voting period. I think it’s OK to hit all of them with reminders at the beginning and end, but in general, distribute the word evenly so that your people in one media pocket don’t get spammed and feel like you’re hammering them like a nail.

3) DON’T CAMPAIGN

I know. Considering what I said in #2, this is a toughie. You’ll see other industry figures saying “vote for me” but don’t take the bait. It’s not the way to do this.

Pro Tip: Don’t use the phrase “vote for me”. Wash that one out of your system. Flush it. Gone.

Try using a phrase like, “Here are some of my eligible works for your Hugo Awards consideration.” It’s a better way. You’re making your work visible but you’re not panhandling. Voters don’t look kindly on overt public campaigning, and even though I see some industry folks becoming more aggressive with overtures for votes, you win by letting your art do the talking. That’s the advantage that visual creators have over word creators when awards season arrives. Our art can do the talking in one soul-moving glance, whereas people have to read a writer’s work to vote for them, and that takes more time investment.

Remember — you’re a Jedi.

Use the Force.

In your pictures you must trust. <Insert your Yoda voice here.>

FINAL WORDS

Go forth. Let the world know your work is eligible. Let ME know your work is eligible! I want to know!

And speaking of that — I have a nomination ballot to fill out. Pronto. So do a lot of other voters too! Artists — please feel free to post links to your work in the comments section below. Don’t look around, waiting for someone else to do it first. JUST DO IT. And if you’re a fan of an artist who has eligible work for Hugo Awards consideration, then feel free to post links to that artist’s eligible work.

Good luck, everyone!