As part of the Stripped strand at the Edinburgh Book Festival Graphic Scotland held an awards ceremony for the inaugural 9th Art Awards last night, as some of you may know the 9th Art is a French term that describes comics as being the ninth type of art.
Graphic Scotland is an independent organisation aiming to bring together Scottish-based writers, artists and publishers in national and international collaborations to create diverse and innovative new graphic fiction, and they've been heavily involved in making the wonderful Stripped strand happen this weekend.
The shortlist was:
- Building Stories – Chris Ware
- Days of the Bagnold Summer – Joff Winterhart
- The Gigantic Beard that was Evil – Stephen Collins
- Naming Monsters – Hannah Eaton
- The Nao of Brown – Glyn Dillon
And the winner was a much deserved Stephen Collins for The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.
The Gigantic Beard is a sublime work with deep, thoughtful, dark, yet funny themes about society being tidied up and the effects of allowing chaos in. All rather resonant with the dark times we are experiencing with governmental botched attempted control of media such as the seizing of the guardian's press material.
But the book grew out of a simple surreal idea of his wife's suggestion to write a book about a man with a big beard as he was struggling with a graphic novel that wasn't working, the suggestion of the beard just made it all click together and resonate.
Unfortunately I missed the ceremony itself due to their being so many events on (wonderful!), but managed to catch the post awards drinks bash where many comics people from small press to industry legends such as David Bishop (former editor of 2000ad), Colin Macneil (America) and Paul Gravett attended (and many others). And the general feeling was that it was wonderful that Collins won, as ALL the discussion beforehand was that Chris Ware was a shoe in. So big props to the judges Paul Gravett, Hannah McGill, Adrian Searle, and Mary Talbot for sticking their neck out on a black and white book ostensibly about a beard! At the awards ceremony the panel of judges led a discussion on why graphic literature is a unique and important art form, as well as talking about the merits of the nominees before they award the prize to the best graphic novel of 2013.
Collins told Bleeding Cool "I'm properly surprised about this – I was honoured just to be on a shortlist with such amazing books. I think it's very encouraging that there's a new comics prize at a big literary festival. People talk a lot at the moment about how comics are going through a really good period with so many great books (and boxes) coming out. I think a new award for comics is a symptom of that – its a very healthy global scene right now and I'm honoured and excited be a part of that. "
Much discussion pre awards was on the fact that three out of the five books on the shortlist were published by Jonathan Cape and that there was an element of bias. Well I'm glad to report that this was entirely NOT the case. For those that maybe do not know book awards require books to be submitted by the publisher to be included. And much work was done by Graphic Scotland in attempting to get ALL major publishers to submit, but a large number of publishers did not submit their books.
And what a missed opportunity by the publishers who didn't submit. I won't name names, but this was a golden opportunity for their books to be feted at not just a comics event, but a literary event where thousands of people attend on a daily basis that has a massive reach into non comic reading people, and also massive mainstream media coverage. So actually fair play for Cape to have the vision to submit, not their fault others didn't. I hope this is actually a wake up call for publishers that comics are being utterly loved and appreciated by EVERYONE and aren't just solely superhero comics anymore.
As noted earlier this was the inaugural year for the awards and the hope is that it can grow from here. Graphic Scotland got a lot of goodwill from people for running this awards, and although funding for the Stripped strand is up in the air at the moment, here's hoping the Awards will return next year with multiple awards, including for small press, international award, best comic (serial work is just as important!), and even more.