A Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition: Justine Shaw of 'Nowhere Girl'

Mon, July 7th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Beau Yarbrough, Columnist

It's 2003, and we don't have colonies on the moon, or have killer computers

sabotaging missions to Jupiter. But if futurist Arthur C. Clarke's vision

of the 21st century hasn't yet come true, Scott McCloud's has

-- the 2003 Eisner Awards include a nomination for a Web comic: Justine

Shaw's "Nowhere

Girl" has been nominated for Best New Series and Shaw herself has been

nominated for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition.

"I hadn't really thought about it after submitting," Shaw told CBR News

last week. "I did not think I had a chance at it, so it was very much out

of left-field when I heard."

The awards are to be given out Friday, July 18 at Comic-Con

International in San Diego.

So what is the first-ever Web comic nominated for a Best New Series

Eisner award about?

"'Nowhere Girl' is supposed to be the story of a young person living in

the western world, taught to hate herself to the brink of self destruction,

who upon growing up becomes all-too happily complicit in the system/society

which originally abused her. So, she in essence becomes the abuser herself:

a selfish, manipulative, bigoted materialistic shell, a cog in the machine.

The overall story is supposed to follow her becoming aware of that, aware

of the system itself and her role in it, and what to do next. Is there a

next step? Is self-destruction the only way out? Is it possible to change

the system, or live within it without losing your own soul, and if so, how?

How do you get past your own prejudices and fears? And how will she respond

to those who she meets who have already found their answer of how to deal

with the system which abused them, and how to respond in kind?"

"Nowhere Girl" may be the first Web comic nominated for an Eisner award,

but in many ways, it's a fairly standard comic for all that.

"I wanted it to read like a traditional paper comic as much as possible,

while still making it feel 'native' on the Web. A paper comic has a pretty

simple and effective user interface: You can flip through the pages, go

back and find a page earlier or leap ahead to the end; it has a cover

image, it has a linear flow, panels are read top to bottom (left to right

or right to left depending on language). It's easy to navigate and serves

to tell the story.

"I wanted to capture as much of that as I could. Why re-invent the wheel

for something like 'Nowhere Girl?' It doesn't need it and would be muddled

by anything fancy. The original user interface for 'Nowhere Girl' left a

lot to be desired, but then, I had crapped it out in like 2 days. The

current version I'm pretty pleased with, in terms of people being able to

navigate fairly freely from any page in the story. It's slower than a paper

comic of course (though faster than the original version), but I think it

uses most of the navigational features to their best advantage.

"I originally of course wanted NG to be a paper comic, but when I

decided to make it Web-only (cheaper by far, and I could do the whole thing

myself without having to rely on anyone else except for Web-hosting), I set

about drawing and formatting each page as 'wide-screen' to best match the

shape of most computer monitors. I assumed this was locking myself into the

Web-comic format and would preclude any paper version down the road and I

decided to accept that, particularly seeing how the comic market had sunk

during the 1990s. However, I'm told it is not necessarily a barrier (having

a comic in 'wide-screen') when printing anyway, so, I will hopefully do a

printed version some day, if only a limited run."

If you're looking for "Nowhere Girl" #3, there's unfortunately going to

be a bit of a wait.

"And, it could be a long, long time," Shaw said. "Since December 2002 I

have had some significant problems in the areas of finance, housing and

employment. Nothing everyone else isn't also dealing with, just a sign of

the times. However, it has prevented me from working on my cartooning, and

Story continues below

likely will continue to prevent that for the foreseeable future. I am lucky

I was able to finish 'Nowhere Girl' #2 right before the bottom dropped out

of my life, heh."

The Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition Award served as something of a

springboard for previous winners -- or at least signified the sea change

towards a much larger and commercial career -- including Evan Dorkin, Tony

Millionaire, Linda Medley and most especially Brian Michael Bendis. Shaw's

not gunning to be in their same tier of the industry.

"Each time I read something like that it dawns on me fresh, the caliber

of people who are also nominated for this award, and who have been in the

past. Dude, I am so not worthy. I feel like a fraud! I am just an amateur

who does this in her spare time, which is sparcer and sparcer ... I work

mostly in the tech industry and am very happy with that career path, if not

the stability right now.

"To answer your question, I do not currently have any ambitions for a

career in the comics field, though I would never say never. I love comics,

but am chiefly interested in finishing the story I set out to tell in

'Nowhere Girl' part 1. NG might be the only comic I ever do, I don't know

yet, I'll figure that out once I'm close to done with it."

Shaw is somewhat familiar with the other nominees in her category.

"I have read some of their work, yes. I am not as 'plugged in' to the

comics scene and what everyone is doing as I used to be, so I can't claim

to have read every comic on the list of Eisner nominees. I used to read

tons of comics, but not so many anymore. But then, how many people have

read 'Nowhere Girl?' I imagine this awards nomination being the first most

have heard of NG, or me, and they're like, '... who? What? Next, please.'

There's just so much content out there now.

"As for predicting who will win .... *ahem* (puts on best Yoda voice):

'always in motion, is the future, yeeess: difficult to predict.'

"Seriously, I can't even guess. Whoever wins, I offer my humble

premature congratulations and wish them all the best with their work. I

hope the award brings them much happiness and continued and greater


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