News is circulating about how the Xeric Foundation will cease providing grants to comic book creators. It's hardly surprising that they're changing focus, as the web has allowed creators to post their work for next-to-nothing, print-on-demand has allowed creators to get their work in print for next-to-nothing, and Kickstarter has allowed creators to raise funds for more traditional printing models. The barriers to entry into the comic industry are exponentially lower than when Peter Laird first created the Xerics.
So, functionally, I don't expect there'll be too huge an impact on the industry as a whole. The people who would have submitted something for a Xeric will simply find other avenues to pursue. As those who submitted entries and didn't win already do. As readers, then, we won't miss out on some cool independent project because it can't get funding. (After all, the Xerics are awarded to people who have completed or nearly completed their comic anyway; the prize money is just for printing.)
But here's why I'll miss the Xerics: they have been an incredibly powerful shorthand for identifying great comics. Oh, there's other comic awards out there, of course, but those always come across as hit or miss for me. Just because a comic won a Harvey or an Eisner or whatever doesn't mean I'll really enjoy or appreciate it. But the Xerics, I've found, are consistently high quality and enjoyable. I have yet to read a Xeric-winning book that I didn't enjoy, a claim I can't make regarding the Eisners.
Clay Shirkey has noted that, culturally, we tend to bemoan the over-abundance of information when, in fact, the problem is more that we simply don't have the proper filters in place to remove what's irrelevant to us as individuals. The Xerics have been, for me at least, one of those filters. If I was looking for good books, I knew that simply choosing something off a list of Xeric-winners was a sure bet.
I've got other filters in place -- Twitter and Google+ and whatever -- and those certainly catch a lot of the garbage that I wouldn't want to read. But there were other books that slipped through and, despite good reviews and/or hype, I didn't enjoy.
So here's to the memory of the Xerics. I haven't read each and every one, so I can still go back to trying to hunt some of those down, but I've long-appreciated what the award represented. I'll just have to see if I can sort out some new filters now to help take the place of this one that I'm losing.