Monday, 18 October 2010

Audrey Niffenegger meets Dexter Fox-Terrier

So Dexter gets an invite to attend the judging of The Jonathan Cape/Observer Graphic Novel competition, official mascot? Ice breaker? Substitute for a personality.....................what a laid back calm dog you have says  a fellow passenger on the London train, while the announcer announces for the third time 'we'd like to apologise for the delay, a foreign body is being scraped up off the track and we will be on our way as soon as possible.........' my fellow passenger is a tall attractive mature woman cloaked in black, reading a battered, brown, brittled-paged classic Penguin paperback edition of Brideshead Revisited. An omen? 
Dexter and I are the last to arrive. The judging is in progress, it feels like an examination room, we are introduced to our fellow judges Dexter lapping up the adulation flowing in his direction. After the brief introductions and offer of tea and biscuits (where's the wine? It's a Friday afternoon) I was expecting a leisurely, possibly lengthy, maybe controversial but serious debate, eyes on storks, provocative discussion on the exciting possibilities in the comic book genre. Oh well -  eyes down looking it's serious stuff.  
 This competition proves how difficult this art-form is to carry off, a short graphic story is a tough brief to answer. Nothing shook me, nothing really excited me, most of it mediocre. I am a sucker for good draughtsmanship, the quirky, the personal, some humour, not much evidence here - wit is a vital ingredient in my book.........
So it came down to four or five contenders and then that short list was short lived and it came down to two finalists. I confess that I am not a great authority in the world of the graphic novel, but the winner with it's dark menacing humour beautifully executed was (the more I think about it)probably derivative not particularly unique and maybe even it's storyline influenced from another source. It looked like a graphic novel, it will reproduce well too, 2 reasons why it was the winner: What do we know-another committee on a diet of tea and biscuits. With hindsight it was all a bit rushed and disappointing. I can't help thinking that two or three of the Cambridge students I saw the day before have missed a trick here by not entering some of their work from the Childrens Picture Book MA Course, for one, their short story ideas are more sophisticated than the majority of entrants on display today. 
A pretty feeble response to a difficult competition maybe the art schools of Britain weren't aware ? Still Dexter met Audrey Niffenegger, and rode the underground for the first time.