Awards for comics have been running in America for many years, but the UK is now getting in on the act, with comics for children and teenagers receiving their fair share of the prizes. The BCA (British Comic Awards) include a Young People’s Comics Award, while the Stan Lee Excelsior Award has prizes for comics and graphic novels for 7-11 and 11-16 year olds.
Hannah Sackett looks at these British awards and highlights some of the recent winners.
The British Comic Awards first ran in 2011-2012. These Awards are specifically aimed at UK-based comics creators. The BCA committee creates a shortlist of comics from the nominated works, and the adult comics and books are then judged by a panel of professionals. The Young People’s Comic Award, however, is judged by selected reading groups in schools and public libraries (mostly in the Leeds area). This process is coordinated by Leeds Library, and the award is presented in a special ceremony, as part of the Thought Bubble Comic Art Festival.
Last year’s winner of the Young People’s Comic Award was Hilda and the Black Hound by Luke Pearson. The Hilda comics are set in a Moomin-like world, where people rub shoulders with giants and spirit-beings. In this story, Hilda meets a house spirit and investigates the sightings of a large black dog in and around the city of Trolberg. Pearson also won in 2012 award for Hilda and the Midnight Giant, while Garen Ewing’s The Complete Rainbow Orchid won in 2013. The Rainbow Orchid (whose main character Julius Chancer has also featured in The Phoenix) is a perfect read for fans of Tintin and lovers of a great adventure story.
This year’s shortlist is as follows:
Cindy and Biscuit Vol 1: We Love Trouble by Dan White
Gary’s Garden Book 1 by Gary Northfield
Ghost Cat’s Pedigree Chums by Craig Conlan
Maleficium by EdieOP
Star Cat Book 01 by James Turner
The winner will be announced at a ceremony in Leeds on Friday 13th November.
The Stan Lee Excelsior Award, given to graphic novels and manga aimed at 11-16 year olds, started in 2011. Set up by Paul Register, while he was working as librarian at Ecclesfield School, it was originally designed to run in Sheffield secondary schools alongside the Sheffield Children’s Book Award. After its first year running with 17 local schools, the Award went national in 2012. In 2015, over 200 schools registered on the site and the Award also expanded, with the introduction of the Stan Lee Excelsior Award Junior, featuring comics for 8-11 year olds.
The Excelsior Awards are run by presenting school and public library reading groups with a shortlist of comics, graphic novels and manga suitable for their age-range. There are five books on the Junior Award list and eight on the list for 11-16 year olds. Reading groups are given 10 weeks to read all the shortlisted books, and to rate and review them using the award’s rating forms. The ratings forms are used to calculate the winners of the awards. Librarians and teachers get to vote for the best cover artwork and there is also a prize for the group that returns the most ratings forms. Registration for the 2016 Awards starts in November. Visit the Excelsior Award and Excelsior Award Junior websites to find out more.
As well as having the endorsement of comics legend Stan Lee (creator of X-Men, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and many other iconic characters), the Excelsior Award is now associated with CLAw, a recently formed literacy
charity, that seeks to ‘dramatically improve the literacy levels of UK children through the medium of comics and graphic novels’. Both The Excelsior Award and CLAw aim to raise the profile of comics and graphic novels in schools and libraries in the UK, and make more people aware of the artistic and literary worth of the form, as well as its potential for encouraging a love of reading. Talking about his reasons for starting the award, Paul Register told me:
‘Graphic novels are a brilliant way of encouraging and promoting reading for pleasure amongst students but are unfortunately an underused resource in schools. I am very proud of the Stan Lee Excelsior Award (and its spin-off for younger children, the Stan Lee Excelsior Award Junior!) and of its versatility and its ability to engage thousands of school children all over the UK, irrespective of their reading ability, their age, their gender and their cultural background. I am really excited about finalising the next shortlist over the next few weeks!’
Quotes from librarians and teachers on the Excelsior Award website, show that the reading groups have been met with huge enthusiasm by children and young people, and that they have been successful in drawing new readers into the school library.
So what are the prize winning comics that have attracted these new readers?
The first Excelsior Winner was Black Butler by Yana Toboso. This is the first volume in a manga series about a teenager who is working in league with a demon (in disguise as his butler) in order to avenge his parents’ murder.
The 2012 winner was Star Wars: Blood Ties by Tom Taylor and Chris Scalf, a story from the Star Wars galaxy, focusing on bounty hunters Jango and Boba Fett.
From 2013 up until 2015 superheroes have won the day. In 2013 the prize fell to Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton by Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Mahmud Asrar, which tells the tale of Superman’s cousin – Kara Zor-El – and her struggle to cope with life after her crash-landing on Earth decades after the destruction of her home planet.
Last year’s winner was Earth 2: The Gathering by James Robinson and Nicola Scott. Part of DC’s THE NEW 52 series, this comic sees new heroes step in to take the place of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman, in this story from an alternate universe.
This year’s winner was Superman/Wonder Woman: Power Couple by Charles Soule and Tony S. Daniel which explores the trials and perils of romance between two all-powerful superheroes.
Meanwhile, the winner of the first Excelsior Junior Award was Bunny vs Monkey: Book One by Jamie Smart. First published as a weekly comic in The Phoenix, Bunny vs Monkey tells the tale of Monkey, Skunky, Le Fox and their battles with the well-meaning (if sometimes less-than-intelligent) inhabitants of the woods – Bunny, Pig and Weenie.
While this article has highlighted the winning titles, it is well worth checking out the award websites, as there are many other excellent titles with varied themes and art-styles on the British Comic Awards and Excelsior Award shortlists.
Hannah Sackett works part-time as school librarian at Widcombe Junior School, Bath, where she runs an after-school comic club. She also works as a freelance educator.
Many thanks to Paul Register for responding to my queries.
Young People’s Comic Award Winners and 2015 Shortlist
Hilda and the Black Hound, by Luke Pearson, Flying Eye Books, 978-1-9092-6318-5, £12.95
Hilda and the Midnight Giant, by Luke Pearson, Flying Eye Books, 978-1-9077-0425-3, £12.95
The Complete Rainbow Orchid, by Garen Ewing, Egmont, 978-1-4052-6385-6, £14.99
Cindy and Biscuit Vol 1: We Love Trouble, by Dan White, Milk the Cat Comics, Self-published, £10.00,
Gary’s Garden Book 1, by Gary Northfield, David Fickling Books, 978-1-9102-0009-4, £6.99
Ghost Cat’s Pedigree Chums, by Craig Conlan, Self-published, £6.50,
Maleficium, by EdieOP, Avery Hill Publishing, 978-1-9103-9507-3, £11.99
Star Cat Book 01, by James Turner,David Fickling Books, 978-1-9102-0006-3, £7.99
Excelsior Award and Excelsior Junior Award Junior Winners
Black Butler, by Yana Toboso, Yen Pres, 978-0-3160-8084-2, £6.99
Star Wars: Blood Ties, by Tom Taylor and Chris Scalf,Titan Books, 978-0-8576-8129-4, £10.99
Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton, by Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Mahmud Asrar, DC Comics, 978-1-4012-3680-9, £10.99
Earth 2: The Gathering, by James Robinson and Nicola Scott, DC Comics, 978-1-4012-4281-7, £10.99
Superman/Wonder Woman: Power Couple, by Charles Soule and Tony S. Daniel, DC Comics, 978-1-4012-5346-2, 12.99
Bunny vs Monkey: Book One, by Jamie Smart, David Fickling Books, £6.99