I really didn’t expect to win.
I don’t even remember hearing them announce my name. But I saw it on the screen, and I remember looking around at people for some sort of visual confirmation that I was indeed the winner and should go up on stage. Impostor syndrome is a hell of a thing. In defense of my own neuroses, that room was PACKED with people who are out there doing really big things for their communities. I felt so humbled to be even considered among everybody nominated for an award—even within my own category.
Maybe I’m projecting, but I think its easy for people to see the comics category and not think too much about it. Based on the bios on the awards website, it’s not readily apparent the amazing work that Jamar and Emily are doing out there. I remember looking them up before the awards and being both floored and honored to be considered among them. Out of all the things I forgot to say up on that podium, I regret missing the chance to call attention to the great things that they’re doing the most.
I often describe what I do as “fan art for science” and sometimes it really feels that way. It’s difficult for me to see the importance of my work. In my head, it’s still the project I started in 2010 to get myself to draw more by making comics about a subject I enjoyed. I don’t often think about the years in between when I realized that there was so much more that needed to be done—that science needed more than just superfans. Like with any fandom, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the good and lose sight about the problematic aspects of it. As geeks, we pride ourselves in the things we love and the things we create, but we have to try hard to look inward and work to make our communities better for everybody.
I’ll always consider my strongest comics to be the ones where I turned around and asked science to be accountable for its problems. My best “explainers” are the ones where I went beyond just explaining what something was, and instead talked about what it meant for the people most vulnerable. My most nuanced works the ones where I could both say, “Wow, this is so cool” and “Look at the harm we’ve done” in the same comic.
I owe so much of this to my girlfriend Nikki, who always believed in me, and walked around our apartment in the days leading up to the event saying “You’re a winner, Maki!” like Hagrid to a young, doubtful Harry Potter. I want to thank the all the folks at Geekadelphia, Technica.ly, Generocity, and Awards themselves for seeing something in my work that often don’t easily see on my own. I want to thank them for bestowing me an honor I don’t always think I deserve. Standing there with the award in hand, all I could think (though not necessarily form into words) was that this wasn’t so much a “Good job” to me, but rather:
“Keep going. Work harder. Do more”