New award for 2014: T.M. Maple Award

In 2014, with the arrival of the 10th Annual Joe Shuster Awards, we are introducing a new award into the current line-up, one that will replace the long defunct Outstanding Achievement Award and fill a gap in our existing coverage.

The new T.M. Maple Award will go to one person (living or deceased) selected from the Canadian comics community for achievements made outside of the creative and retail categories who had a positive impact on the community.

Since this is the inaugural year for the TM Maple Award, two recipients will be recognized:

T.M. Maple was the pseudonym of Jim Burke (1956-1994), a fan who wrote more than 3,000 letters to comic book letter columns between 1977 and 1994. Burke’s letters were quite popular among readers as well as editors, and he wrote prolifically to a diverse number of comic publishing companies and titles. Burke originally signed his letters as “The Mad Maple,” but Marvel Comics editor Tom DeFalco abbreviated it to “T.M. Maple” to make it sound like a real name (thus circumventing a new policy at the company to stop printing letters submitted under pseudonyms). Burke took a liking to the new name and began using it exclusively (including variations like “Theodore Maddox Maplehurst”) until 1988, when in Scott McCloud’s Zot! #21 he revealed his real name. Burke published a fanzine about comics in the late 1980s. With artist/publisher Allen Freeman, Burke co-created the superhero Captain Optimist. Jim Burke had a fatal heart attack in 1994.

Debra Jane Shelly (1974-2014) was a comics fan, supporter, and self-described (and celebrated) nerd. She was known for her years of behind-the-scenes support at Toronto comic cons and other events celebrating comics and pop culture.An active member of many online fan communities such as the Comics Cube and the International Comics Society. In 2013, she was a volunteer at many conventions such as Fan Expo Canada, she contributed biographies and counsel to the Joe Shuster Awards, she co-founded the Comic Book Lounge in Toronto’s Ladies Night, which met bi-monthly and became a gathering point for women comic book fans in a community still largely dominated by and catering to a male audience. It was a first for the Toronto comics community, and came at a time when the critical question of diversity in comics (readers as much as creators and characters) was gaining serious momentum internationally.  Debra was known for her positivity, and did less to criticize the comic community’s shortcomings than to nurture the people, spaces, and ideas that were inspiring. In early 2014 she passed away from a epileptic seizure in her sleep.

“To so many people she was the first person we told of our successes and failures & she always knew the best way to respond -how to congratulate and console us. That kind of contribution doesn’t fit on a resume but it was felt throughout the community.”

–Alice Quinn, Ladies’ Night co-founder

JSA Director Kevin Boyd:

I am deeply moved that members of the community would push the Joe Shuster Awards to create an award that honours those people in our community that don’t create or sell comics, that fall through the cracks, and I am proud to be able to announce that we will be debuting this new award in the fall of 2014, our tenth year. In February 2014, after Debra’s passing, there was an overwhelming push on the organization from people in the community to do something with the Joe Shuster Awards to honour Debra and people like her, the fans and members of our Canadian comics communities that make a positive impact on others. In our search for someone to name the award after, one name stood out from among the many possibilities, someone who has come up many times in discussions for the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame, and that was Jim Burke, aka T.M. Maple. Burke was more than just a letter writer, here was a person that loved comics and wanted better of them and became an important part of the comics community by voicing those opinions and influencing publishers, editors and creators.

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