Pennsylvania Center for the Book


Sponsored by Penn State University Libraries and administered by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize is presented annually to the best graphic novel, fiction or non-fiction, published in the previous calendar year by a living U.S. or Canadian citizen or resident. A prize of $2,500, the two volume set of Ward's six novels published by the Library of America, and a suitable commemorative was presented to 2012 winner, Anders Nilsen for his book, Big Questions, on November 9th at 2 pm in Foster Auditorium on the Penn State University main campus at University Park, PA.  Submissions for the 2013 award are being accepted

2012 Winner:

2012 Honorees:

Winners: 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize Criteria

Selection Jury

Advisory Committee

History of the Award

2012 Press Release (html)

2012 Press Release (pdf)

questions coverAnders Nilsen for Big Questions
(Drawn and Quarterly)

Judges' Comments:

This exquisite comic is simultaneously very big (in ambition, in sheer size, in the evocative white space opened up for imaginative expansion) and very small (in its modest drawings of birds, snakes, and stripped down nearly iconic human figures, its designedly minimalist lines and pointillist compositions, and its spare black and white palette). In its poetic, even elemental grasp of the workings of life at a range of scales, from the molecular to the universal, this comic opens up a potent space for meditation on the human/animal continuum, the origins and meanings of violence, and the inexorable, consoling cycle of life.  –S. Squier

 It is incredibly difficult to be successful in comics using a minimalist approach to art. Maybe as comic readers we have an expectation of the grand- whether it is line work, inking, page layout, etc.  The great achievement of Big Questions is its unwavering examination of “big questions” while being both simple and grand. At times surreal, dark, laugh out loud funny and sad, Big Questions in many instances uses the most basic of technique and construction. But part of what makes the simplicity of many pages of bird conversation so effective is the juxtaposition of these panels and pages with the beautiful, detailed line work of the humans, machines and other animals.
–J. Secreto

When I first read it, I was amazed how this story could only be told in a graphic narrative format. I could not see how any other medium would do the themes justice, and I cannot see how this story could be told so imaginatively in any other format.  Big Questions shows what an artist can do with a relatively new medium. –G. Masuchika

An unusual achievement.  Nilsen’s gentle and quiet drawings of birds and other helpless creatures (all the characters seem helpless in some sense) do, indeed, slowly insinuate big questions.  Do life’s conditions and events have meaning?  Is communication with The Other ever really possible? Do answers come with patience?  Is that little speck edible?  If Waiting for Godot was for the birds, this might be it.  It is difficult to imagine this world of articulate finches and inarticulate humans being created in any other medium.  Shadowless lines keep the 3rd dimension in our heads.  White space lets our imaginations run.  After reading I cock my head sharply to consider life with my left eye, then tilt again to try with my right.  What a big little book! 
–H. Pisciotta

Additionally, judges gave honor awards to:

freeway coverMark Kalesniko for Freeway
(Fantagraphics Books)

Judges comments:

Even as we are trapped on the freeway with the protagonist of this wonderful comic, seemingly—even fearfully--going nowhere, we enjoy Kalesniko's vivid critique of the increasing commercialization of visual art.  As the animator in the classical studio experiences the demise of his dream, we are led to wonder about the comics industry too. Kalesniko's vivid existentialist drama of the dog and his artistic dream reassuringly demonstrates that in comics, at least, creativity and originality continue to flourish and (with this honor award) receive their rightful recognition.  –S. Squier

Some of the most highly regarded graphic novels (Watchmen, Maus, Blankets) use the comic form to comment on the medium or the struggles of the artist. Constructing a story that takes place at two different times, portraying the main character as two different species (at once a man, then a dog) Mark Kalesniko creates two comic worlds that could only takes place in a comic book. With allusions to the history of the classic studio animation, the use of anthropomorphism and a great relationship story, Freeway is a fantastic graphic novel.-–J. Secreto

How do we get to where we want to be - in the workplace, in love, in life, on LA's tangle of freeways?  Kalesniko's dog-faced protagonist lives and imagines dozens of possibilities for us in this melange, which offers both a staccato pace and a gentle lyricism.  How ironic that the pursuit of happiness turns out to be something of a demolition derby. –H. Pisciotta

Every nomination list needs one book that pays homage to the 1960s Existentialist movement.  The metaphor is the freeways of Los Angeles and our protagonist is stuck on them.  Through his thought and flashbacks we see an ambitious artist slowly and inexorably destroyed by the “Mechanism.”  He thinks he can escape, but his desperate attempts lead him only into “other boxes.”  The art work is perfect for this tale of hopeless desperation and despair.  It's great to see this theme again. –G. Masuchika

habibi coverCraig Thompson for Habibi
(Pantheon, an imprint of Random House)

Judges' Comments:

In drawings of a sculptural beauty that resembles woodcuts, this mammoth comic offers a visual meld of the East and West, the ancient and the contemporary, that entertains and engages.  It is sure to provoke many rereadings and many conversations: the essence of an important book. –S. Squier

A wonderful, heavy book.  It really shows what a graphic novel can become in the hands of a master.  A story about two orphans in a fictional Arabian country, it is part an indictment on the spoils of modern industrial civilization mixed with the Tales of the Arabian Nights, and part a travel tale of lust dissolving into spiritual and universal love, a compendium of tales of jinns, biblical stories, Arab, and Christian stories. –G. Masuchika

Habibi is a work of such singular vision and scope that it warrants a nomination. The technical accomplishment of the art, layout and design of the book is extraordinary. At over 600 pages Habibi is a mammoth, ambitious story in both narrative and form. We have already spent time considering Thompson’s work in all its beauty and flaws and another nomination is necessary to further discuss it. –J. Secreto

This book is filled with beautiful surfaces:  rich pattern work, palpable textures (of sand or wood or cloth or flesh), two-dimensional caricatures of striking-body types -- and stories, too -- tales that have beautiful surfaces of longing, injustice, perseverance and hope.  Thompson explores the intoxicating properties of encountering culture through 2-dimensional scrims and veils.
–H. Pisciotta

dangerous coverPaul Hornschemeier for Life with Mr. Dangerous
(Villard, an imprint of Random House)

Judges comments:

Life with Mr. Dangerous is a moving, muted portrait of someone caught in isolation and rumination. The dialogue is pitch perfect, and the images capture the powerful psychodynamic processes by which Amy manages to pull herself out of a funk and start living again.  This comic demonstrates beautifully how words and images can work together to articulate the inarticulable and represent the symbolic processes preceding and undergirding narrative. –S. Squier

Life with Mr. Dangerous is a formal experiment can sometimes take the ordinary or mundane to great heights.  Paul Hornschemeier’s Life With Mr. Dangerous is fantastic proof. On the surface Life With Mr. Dangerous is an examination of a young woman at a rather unhappy point in her life.  She is unsatisfied with her work, her love life, and her relationships with family and friends.  This is certainly not a new topic for a comic (or any other narrative).  But Hornschemeier uses the comic form so expressively and uniquely as to unwrap Amy’s life using incredible comic technique, forcing the reader to not just glaze over the simplicity of Amy’s unhappiness.  This is a brilliant use of artistic comic form. –J. Secreto

In the tradition of the ennui-enveloped world of Tomine and Clowes, Paul Hornshemeier (PH) adds another to the long list.  PH’s drawings capture well the two dimensional “blankness” of her life, accepting the little that comes into it and the little she puts out.  Echoing her existence is a television show that serves as a minor Greek chorus that comments upon her life.  But the landscape is not as bleak as it could be.  PH does hint at happier times in the near future for our surviving heroine. 
–G. Masuchika

zahra coverAmir and Khalil for Zahra's Paradise
(First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press)

Judges' Comments:

The strength of journalism in the form of comics is its ability to convey the affective aspects of political events – sometimes in a very convincing manner.  More than documentary film, comics (such as those by Joe Sacco) can be thoroughly selective, presenting a subjective world view -- entirely foreign to ours -- in a way that can amplify the voices of marginalized people.  The two pseudonymous authors of this barely-fictional tale, convey not only the excitement of the Iranian uprising, but also the social conditions and traditions that shape life in today’s Iran. 
–H. Pisciotta

The anonymous writers have written a story of a mother’s hunt for her lost son – a story we already know the ending.  The 2009 protests in Iran serve as a vivid backdrop of a corrupt government that is consuming its own people.  The amateurish drawings are a hindrance to the storytelling and could have been more polished, but the thin-lined, doodling style does not dull any of the sharpness of the dialogue or the sadness of the tale.  I thought after reading Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis I knew about the despotism of the Iranian government.  This novel revealed a more perverse level of a government that wields supreme power. –G. Masuchika

The strength of journalism in the form of comics is its ability to convey the affective aspects of political events – sometimes in a very convincing manner.  More than documentary film, comics (such as those by Joe Sacco) can be thoroughly selective, presenting a subjective world view—entirely foreign to ours—in a way that can amplify the voices of marginalized people.  The two pseudonymous authors of this barely-fictional tale, convey not only the excitement of the Iranian uprising, but also the social conditions and traditions that shape life in today’s Iran.
–S. Squier

This was a gripping, profoundly moving portrayal of trauma, torture, political persecution, defiance, and the inner workings of a repressive state. I was astounded by the artist’s ability to render the full range of human emotion—despair, hope, anger, love, and particularly grief in the final chapter—without turning resorting to one-dimensional caricatures or emotional manipulation. That the authors had to keep their identities anonymous makes the story even more compelling. Their courage in creating this graphic novel parallels the courageous acts depicted in the novel. I finished the novel wanting to learn more about Iran's history & current situation.
–E. Prins

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