The Observer, Sunday cousin to the Guardian, announced the winner of the competition for a short comics tale they were running in conjunction with Comica and Jonathan Cape. The winner, chosen from some 300 entries by a jury, is Catherine Brighton, a children’s book illustrator from London, with ‘Away in a Manger’, of which the judges remarked:
“We all loved Catherine Brighton’s ‘Away in a Manger’. For one thing, it really was a short story rather than a comic strip masquerading as one; for another, it was beautifully drawn. The clincher, however, was its dark wit. We loved the way the two girl carol singers talk to one another. ‘It was blood – all over his sodding hands!’ says one of them of the sinister man whose house they’ve just visited; and yet, with her scarf and her bunches, she looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.”
This odd paragraph is indicative of the tone of both the main article and also a companion piece of commentary on the paper’s book blog – they seem to be enthusiastic about the medium (which they keep referring to as ‘graphic books’) but also seem to betray a lack of understanding of it and, to be honest, they also seem to be somewhat condescending about it too – I mean what the hell does “it really was a short story rather than a comic strip masquerading as one” mean? Are they inferring that most comics creators can’t do short stories? In my experience plenty of prose novelists can’t do short stories to save themselves, it really is a much tricker skill than it looks; by comparison I’ve found comics creators, used to working to a smaller, self-contained space (especially independent creators) tend, in general, to be better at the short form. Oh, and could someone explain to them that the terms manga and graphic novels are not always interchangeable? I’d also argue that when they say the medium has come a long way, what I think they mean is the perception of it by the non-comics reading public has come a long way – we’ve always known there were serious, quality works out there, that isn’t new in and of itself, rather that a broader readership is becoming aware of those works and realising there is more to the medium than capes and tights.
Still, we probably shouldn’t grouse since, as the article notes, the Observer (and the Guardian) have been pretty good at providing reviews of some graphic novels over the years as well as articles on the creators, while the Guardian First Book Award made waves a few years back when it went to Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, one of the first times I recall a mainstream literary award going to a graphic novel in the UK. And it is to their credit they did run this competition, even if they don’t quite seem to grasp what it is they are dealing with. Just a shame they haven’t actually put the work online so more people can read it. On which note, if anyone does know where we can point folks to in order to read Catherine Brighton’s winning entry then please let us know. Also in the competition it was announced that Stuart Kolakovic took second place for The Box, while the third prize went to Finn Dean and Sam Green for The Waitress.
Update: Stuart Kolakovic’s entry, a very charming little tale called The Box (see the panels below) which nicely illustrates the way a good story can sometimes be better than cold truth, can be seen here and he has his own site here (thanks to Oliver East for the link).