Lulu nods put Ottawa graphic artist in hot seat

An Ottawa-based graphic artist has found himself at the centre of a dispute after being nominated for three Lulu Awards for his book The Road to God Knows.

An Ottawa-based graphic artist has found himself at the centre of a dispute after being nominated for three Lulu Awards for his book The Road to God Knows.

Von Allan has a nod for best newcomer, best female character and book of the year at the U.S. awards, which are for comics by and about women.

But Von Allan is a man — and that has some women in the industry wondering how he could be named, especially in the best newcomer category.

"I was looking at Twitter and some other sources and then I started to realize some people aren't happy about this," he told CBC News.

The Road to God Knows is Allan's first publication, and its heroine, Marie, is a teen who tries to handle her mother's mental illness and life's everyday challenges with the help of a best friend and by escaping into the world of TV wrestling. The graphic novel has drawn praise for its realistic images of a teen girl.

Allan is delighted to see his book getting attention, but he said the question of whether he should be eligible is a "challenging debate."

"It's tough. The problem is, most writers, most artists in the comic industry are men, and it's traditionally been that way. It's not right and I wish it was way more 50/50, but you could also argue the same thing about genres," Allan said.

Some commenters in the graphic novel world have suggested juried panels, instead of fans, submit nominations for the Lulu Awards to ensure more women are on the ballot.

Valerie d'Orazio, president of the Friends of Lulu, the group that created the awards, has gone to bat for Allan's nomination, saying there do not appear to be any rules that would disqualify him.

"The official rules, as far as I knew, didn't specify a female-only award recipient, and even if it did that might be illegal because non-profits can't discriminate according to gender," she said in an email to CBC.

"And further ... I had no big personal preference whether Von was on the ballot or not. He did a comic about strong female characters" and that should qualify him, she added.

D'Orazio said members of Friends of Lulu appeared to want her to make an executive decision to take him off the ballot, something she refused to do.

She tendered her resignation as president on Wednesday and will leave the organization at the end of the year. She plans to set up a new group called Comics For Everyone.

Allan said he is not sure whether it would be right to have segregated awards and believes the issue should have been resolved at the board of directors level before it got to the nomination stage.

"The argument has become about who can apply and who can't and that detracts from the comics themselves," he said.

His wife, Samantha Boswell, has been nominated for a Women of Distinction Lulu for her role in editing and helping publish The Road to God Knows.

The winners of the Lulu Awards will be announced at the Long Beach Comic Con in California on Oct. 29. Allan said he plans to be there.

With files from CBC's All in a Day