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Several hundred people entered the 2010 competition, from which the judges picked a longlist of 20. After this, a shortlist of six was chosen and one entry stood out as the judges clear favourite: Stephen Collins' strikingly weird In Room 208.



Graphic Short Story Prize Winner:
Stephen Collins: In Room 208

Anna Mill & Luke Jones: Square Eyes

Anthony Blades: Picus Viridis
Scott Dessert: Catsitter
Fumio Obata: Going Back
Andrew ‘Stilly’ Stilborn: The Dust Enclosed
Jason Synnott: Ordinary Job

The four-page stories of all seven finalists will be on display at Orbital Comics Gallery in London throughout November.

If you entered the 2010 competition and have posted your strip online, please send in the link to us so that it can be listed below:

Takayo Akiyama: The Last Day Of Rossi
Jacob Andrews: And Lo
Tom Em Ar: Life On Enceladus
Emma Louise Barltrop: A Matter of Tide
Tim Bradford: Snuggly, The Blanket Bear
Matthew Broadhurst: Onion Breath
Fiona Buck: Learning To Fly
Fiona Byrne: To Anastasiya & Sergey
Nathan Carr: Mime
Kathryn Corlett: Beach Day
Matteo Farinella: A Small World Theory
Thom Ferrier: Edward & Beatrice
Paul Francis: Household Gods
Christopher Grenville: A Matter of Tide
Alex Hahn: A Graphic Interlude…
Brian Helmers: Torchy Heart Mandoh
Will Htay: Henry Cowell
Gus Hughes: Strange Lights
Roy Huteson-Stewart: Tobias
Robyn Kimberley: And Lo
Alfred Leslie: Attacked By The Heart
Jon Lock: Tobias
Kaylene Lockwood: Def by Samba
Chiu Kwong Man: Hemorrhoids
Ben Manley: Life & Death
John Mcloughlin: Short Of Camden
Mike Medaglia: A Moment Of The Here & Now
Phil Merchant: Robot
Marcia Mihotich: June
Rafi Nizam: Learning To Fly
Tom Pearce: Nightwatching
Jay Rainford-Nash: Chelsea
Paul Reeve: A Thousand Smiling Faces
Edward Ross: A Simple Knot
Katrin Salyers: Goodbye Mary Lou
Lorna Scobie: Stanley
Jake Wallis Simons: Dadness
Hannah Simpson: Unloading
Kathryn Siveyer: The Alchemist’s Tale
Richard Swan: Pap Tootz Weee
Kylea Charisse Thomas: Reflections
Thomas Tuke: Rock Diggler
Yevgeny Vasilyev: Peter’s Wolf
Victoria Wainwright: The Ludic
Duncan Wellaway: Henry Cowell
Martin Williams: Dear Me…
Will Van Wyngaarden: Eye Of The Dodo



Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Adventuress)
David Hughes (Walking the Dog)
Rachel Cooke (The Observer)
Suzanne Dean (Creative Director, Random House)
Dan Franklin (Publisher, Jonathan Cape)
Paul Gravett (Comica Festival Director)



Rachel Cooke
The Observer, 7 November 2010
It’s hard to believe that the Cape/Observer Graphic Short Story prize is now in its fourth year; it seems like only yesterday that Nick Hornby and Posy Simmonds were judging the very first competition. Time flies. Yet the award goes from strength to strength, not least in the quality of the guest judges, who continue to be second to none. This year, in addition to the usual suspects (Paul Gravett, director of the Comica festival; Dan Franklin, the publisher of Jonathan Cape; Suzanne Dean, creative director of Random House; and yours truly), we bagged the award-winning David Hughes, whose superb illustrations have graced the pages of the New Yorker and whose graphic book Walking the Dog came out to some acclaim earlier this year; and Audrey Niffenegger, author of the The Time Traveler’s Wife (although Niffenegger is best known for this multimillion bestseller, she has also written a number of wonderful graphic stories; her illustrations are often compared with those of Edward Gorey). David brought along his wire-haired terrier, Dexter; Audrey brought along only her exquisite taste.

Several hundred people entered the 2010 competition, from which we picked a longlist of 20. After this, we marshalled a shortlist of six and set about choosing our winner. If I’m honest, this wasn’t difficult. Stephen Collins‘s strikingly weird Room 208 stood out. It was exactly what we were looking for: fantastic illustration, used to tell a real story, by which I mean one with a beginning, a middle and an end (lots of people sent in beautifully drawn pictures, but these too often illustrated an anecdote, even a mere thought, rather than a proper tale).

Room 208 is about a couple whose honeymoon is cut short by bad weather. Retreating to a hotel, a strange inertia falls over them and they find themselves unable to leave. What I loved about it is the way that Collins’s individual frames don’t just work on their own terms; they also - somewhat stealthily - work as a group.

Collins, 30, lives in Hertford, where he makes a living as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator. Why did he decide to enter?

“Well, the brief was quite open-ended,” he says. “That made it a much nicer thing than most of my usual commissions. And the layout required by the Observer was quite useful for what I wanted to do in terms of double-page spreads. I like comics that use the possibilities of the old-fashioned, printed, double-page format. I’m not sure, for instance, that this would work on an iPad or one of the frame-by-frame comics viewers you get online, which is rather the way comics are going at the moment. I think they’ll lose something in that change, but maybe I’m just a luddite.”

His idea was inspired by the way couples have their own private world, one that nobody else really has access to. “I wanted to do a love story, but one that was ugly and a bit weird.”

Collins, who did not go to art school and insists that he is still a relative newcomer to the world of comics, lists among his influences “everyone from Gary Larson to Raymond Briggs to Ronald Searle to Jenny Saville” (though the judges felt we saw clear evidence in Room 208 of the brooding influence of the great American cartoonist, Charles Burns). Is he thrilled to have won? Oh, yes. “It means a great deal, partly because of who was judging it, but also because it’s such a laborious form; it’s nice to have your work appreciated.”

He has now embarked on a longer graphic story and hopes that winning the prize will help him eventually to find a home for it.

Our runner-up, whose entry you can see on the Observer website, is Anna Mill. Square Eyes is a mysterious story about… holograms (at least I think that’s what it’s about). Do look. Mill’s gorgeous illustrations are like an update of Arthur Rackham: her entry includes one frame - crammed full of birds on the wing - that is so beautiful, it is a work of art in its own right.

Rachel Cooke
The Observer, 13 June 2010
I’m not proud of this but, for years and years, I thought that graphic novels were only read by geeky guys with long hair, fetid bedrooms and a serious fondness for thrash. Yes, I had read Maus by Art Spiegelman (just in case you don’t know, it tells the story of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, a Polish Jew; Spiegelman draws the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats). And I thought it was amazing, of course. But still, it seemed to me to be one of a kind. After all, graphic novels are basically comics, aren’t they? And there’s only so much a writer can do with a comic, and only so much pleasure a reader (at least a grown-up reader) can take in one.

But then something changed. All of a sudden, a whole slew of books came my way that made me think graphic novels could be as satisfying, and even as literary, in their way, as a regular novel. First, I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a brilliant book about growing up in post-revolutionary Iran that has become an international hit and an Oscar-nominated movie. Then, even better, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. This book, too, tells the story of a childhood (an annoying thing about the term “graphic novel” is that it is so rarely accurate: many of the best ones are memoirs).

Bechdel grew up in an inward-looking Pennsylvanian town called Beech Creek (population: 800) in a vast Victorian house with which her father - a distant and pernickety funeral director - seemed to be madly in love. The house’s interior design was somewhat rococo, being full of “astral lamps and girandoles and Hepplewhite suite chairs”, and for a long while, his daughter couldn’t understand it: this kind of stuff was not exactly de rigueur in Beech Creek. Then, slowly, it came to her that decorating it provided her father with some kind of release. For he was not just a lover of fine furniture; he was also, secretly, a lover of boys.

I loved reading Fun Home. It seemed to me that Bechdel had made her words count as much as her pictures. As a critic remarked in the New York Times when the book was published in 2006: “Very few cartoonists can also write. But Fun Home quietly succeeds in telling a story… through words that are equally revealing and well chosen.”

After this, there was no stopping me. As it turns out, this critic was only half-right. There are tons of cartoonists who can write. If you are already a fan of comic books, you will think what I did next pretty old hat. But if you are not, I advise you to do the same, pronto. I read all the greats: Robert Crumb, of course, and then, in no particular order: Joe Matt, Seth, Daniel Clowes, Alan Moore, Adrian Tomine, Craig Thompson… oh yes, and Charles Burns (I absolutely adore Black Hole, a dystopian thriller set in 1970s Seattle, in which the city’s teenagers are stalked by a sexually transmitted plague). I was in heaven! On a blog somewhere, a comic fan attacked me for being a Johnny-come-lately. But what I say is: better late than never. It’s like Marjane Satrapi, who only came to comics herself at the age of 25, once said: “It’s like opera: you have to go a couple of times to appreciate it.”

Pretty much ever since, I’ve done everything I can to get graphic novels more attention: interviews with their authors, reviews of new books and, most especially, helping to organise the annual Jonathan Cape/ Observer Graphic Short Story prize, now entering its fourth great year. This has been a great success. A former winner, Julian Hanshaw, has already published his first book, The Art of Pho; another shortlisted author has since been commissioned to write his.

In 1969, John Updike, who had once thought of becoming a cartoonist himself, addressed a literary society on the so-called death of the novel. “I see no intrinsic reason why a doubly talented artist might not arise and create a comic strip novel masterpiece,” he told his audience. To my ears, this now sounds oddly prescient. But what do you think? And which are your favourites?



Rachel Cooke, The Observer, 7 November 2010
Rachel Cooke, The Observer, 13 June 2010


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