Gene Day Award Follow-Up

Since a few people have asked “wasn’t there already a Day Award”? The answer is yes, there was.

In 2002, Comic-book writer-artist-publisher Dave Sim and his collaborator, Gerhard, in memory of Sim’s late mentor and self-publishing pioneer Gene Day (née Howard Eugene Day) established the Howard E. Day Prize for outstanding achievement in self-publishing. The prize also consisted of a $500 cash award and a commemorative plaque awarded annually at SPACE (Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo) in Columbus, OH.

The recipient was chosen by Sim and Gerhard from a pool of works submitted at SPACE the previous year. Each year the duo alternated duties, with one reading all entries received and drafting the Short List of final nominees and the other judging those books to determine the ultimate winner.

The Howard E. Day Prize ceased being awarded as of 2008 with the withdrawal of Sim from participation and has been replaced by the SPACE Prize for outstanding achievement in self-publishing.

The CCBCAA Executive has been discussing the possibility of launching a Canadian self-publishing award for many years, but in December 2008, JSA Co-Executive Director Kevin Boyd actually approached Dave Sim about the possibility of re-establishing the Day Prize as part of the Joe Shuster Awards as a means to continue to honour Gene Day and offer similar encouragement to Canadian self-publishers.

Sim was encouraging of the initiative, but would not be able to participate. He suggested that we should first obtain permission from Day’s family for use of his name on the award, and asked that the name of the award not be the Howard E. Day Prize (suggesting Howard G. Day Award or Gene Day Award as alternatives).

In February 2009, an Executive Committee member obtained permission from Gene Day’s widow and brothers to name the new Canadian Self-Publishing Achievement Award the Gene Day Award for Outstanding Canadian Self-Pubishing.

This award obviously is not intended to supplant the SPACE Prize, but rather be a new award to honour the efforts of the many Canadian creators who do self-publish and promote their work, and deserve wider exposure and encouragement for their efforts.

We’ve also noticed since the announcement that a few people have chosen to focus in on Gene’s Marvel work. That was probably their only exposure to Gene’s comics work, and the work for which he is best remembered in the North American context. However, there’s a reason why Day was selected to represent self-publishing – he was at the forefront of a major shift in content and direction by a new breed of Canadian creators and fans who became self-publishers in the mid-1970’s. John Bell’s Beyond the Funnies: A History of Comics in English Canada and Quebec on the Collections Canada site gives some perspective:

From 1974 on, the focus of Canadian comic-book publishing would increasingly shift from the familiar underground concerns to more traditional genres, such as science fiction and fantasy. However, these new comics could be distinguished from mainstream comic books by their more adult approach and by the large amount of artistic freedom that they afforded creators. These two characteristics can be directly attributed to the influence of the underground.

At least four of these new comics appeared in 1974: Media Five’s Andromeda, Gene Day’s Out of the Depths, Orb, and Knockout (which actually began in 1973). A similar development was occurring in the US with the release of the inaugural issue of Mike Friedrich’s Star*Reach. Initially, the term “groundlevel” was used to describe these comic books; later, they came to be called independent, and then alternative, comics. Among the contributors to the early semi-professional Canadian alternative comics were Gene Day, Dave Sim, Augustine Funnell, Jim Craig, Ken Steacy, Dean Motter, and Vincent Marchesano. (During this period, Day, Sim and John Byrne also contributed to comics magazines issued by the US firm Skywald Publishing, which was managed by a Canadian, Alan Hewetson.) As the work of these artists clearly demonstrated, a critical mass had been achieved in the country’s comics industry.

This fundamental shift in direction would have a lot of impact on the Canadian comics scene into the 1980’s and beyond – many of it’s participants have since gone on to bigger and better things. Which is pretty much the goal of promoting and encouraging self-publishers, is it not? To enable them to do more.

Gene Day launched Out of the Depths and Dark Fantasy in the mid-70’s, which in turn led to Gene Day getting other jobs as a creator and exposure on projects with wider distribution for which he is remembered today. Dark Fantasy also served as a launching pad for other creators and self-publishers and inspired Dave Sim and Deni Loubert to launch Cerebus in 1977.