Graphic Short Story Prize 2011 Winner!
Posted: November 6, 2011
The Observer’s graphic short-story prize, in association with Comica and Jonathan Cape, is now in its fifth year. This year’s winner, chosen from more than 200 entries, is Isabel Greenberg.
For Isabel Greenberg, the winner of this year’s Observer / Jonathan Cape / Comica graphic short story prize, it is a case of third time lucky. “I’d entered twice before,” she says. “And once, I’d been a runner-up. But to win is such a nice thing. I’m so happy about it. Everyone tells you when you leave art school that it is going to be hard, but you never really know quite how hard until you’re out there. It can be a bit depressing.” How will she spend her £1,000 prize money? “I’m not sure. I should do something really sensible, like buy myself a copy of Photoshop.” She laughs. “Or maybe 500 bottles of Winsor & Newton ink.”
Greenberg, who is 23, graduated from the University of Brighton, where she studied illustration, last year. She is now working as a freelance illustrator, and trying to finish her first graphic novel. Her winning entry, Love In A Very Cold Climate, tells the story of a marriage - only this couple, a south pole dweller and a north pole dweller, will never be able to touch one another, surrounded as they are by a magnetic force field. It’s beautifully drawn, of course, from first to last frame, but it’s also exquisitely written. In particular, the judges admired the way Greenberg handles time, somehow capturing a shared lifetime in just four pages.
How did she get the idea? “I’ve got a bit of a thing for the north pole, for nature programmes, and living in yurts, and open fires. I live in London, so it’s probably rather a romantic perspective. And then I started thinking about how magnetic poles repel, but opposite kinds of human being attract.”
Our prize is now in its fifth year, and the judges (David Nicholls, the best-selling author of One Day; Bryan Talbot, graphic novelist extraordinaire; Paul Gravett, director of the Comica Festival; Dan Franklin, of Jonathan Cape; Suzanne Dean, Random House’s creative director, and the woman whom Julian Barnes, in his Booker prize acceptance speech last month, thanked for being the best book designer in town; plus yours truly) felt the standard was higher than ever.
Spread out on the Random House boardroom table, our final shortlist of eight, selected from 200 entries, looked quite dazzling. Nevertheless, Love In A Very Cold Climate was our unanimous choice: we loved its poetry, we loved the way it was touching without ever, quite, veering into sentimentality, and most of all we loved Greenberg’s wonderfully evocative drawings, all ice and light. (She counts among her influences the Canadian cartoonist Seth; the French cartoonist David B, best known as the author of Epileptic; and Kathleen Hale, creator of Orlando the Marmalade Cat). Past winners of our prize have gone on to win book deals (Julian Hanshaw) and to bag jobs as cartoonists on national newspapers (Stephen Collins). What does Greenberg hope her victory will lead to? “I would like to find a publisher for my graphic novel,” she says. “But the best thing about winning is to know that I’m right: that my work is coming on, and that people have noticed it.”
The runner-up is Ding! by Olu Oke (pictures) and Michael O’Kelly (words), which tells the story of a somewhat eventful bus journey and is, according to Oke, the result of their shared addiction to eavesdropping (“a glorious habit”). Oke, who works as a freelance illustrator and as a film projectionist, and O’Kelly, a filmmaker, met on their first working day at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, south London, and are now firm collaborators. “We’re a team, there’s no doubt about that,” says Oke. “For Ding!, Michael came up with our storylines (there are seven) and then I came up with the characterisations.”
Her drawings, like O’Kelly’s dialogue, are waspish and very funny. So what are her influences? “Oh, I’m a massive graphic novel fan. I’ve been collecting them since I was about 15. It started with X-Men, but now I’d say that I’m most influenced by David Lapham [the American author of the Stray Bullets series] and Terry Moore [another American, and author of Strangers in Paradise]. The way Moore uses the panels, in particular, is something that has had a big impact on me.”
So what next? “The dream is to work full-time as a comic artist, and I’m grateful for anything at all that helps me on the way. The fact that a group of people looked at our work and liked it is important. It means that we can tell ourselves that we are good, after all.”
Love In A Very Cold Climate and Ding!, together with a number of other commended entries from this year’s prize, can be seen at an exhibition in the cafe at Foyles bookshop, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2, until 4 December. Shorties: The Best Of The Graphic Short Story Prize 2007-2011, is available to read online as an e-comic, with a cover by Adam Cadwell.