Established 18 years ago, the Arts Foundation (www.artsfoundation.co.uk) has awarded over £1.5 million pounds in fellowships to artists who work in the areas of craft, fine art, performing arts, film, design and new media. Worth £10,000, their award is the biggest of its kind in the UK for graphic novels and is awarded to emerging talent for their past work and future potential.
The Foundation says the shortlist exemplifies the diversity of graphic novelists producing outstanding work in Britain today, with techniques varying from pencil and charcoal hand drawings to pen and acrylics to mixed-media.
During her time at secondary school and then on into University, Oxford-based comicker and illustrator Kate Brown became fascinated by European comic art. She was captivated by the variety of ways of portraying art and the story, so far removed from franchise comics and their restrictive styles. Kate has always found her emotions easier to express in the form of pictures and finds looking back on short fables or stories that she’s written give her a better insight into her feelings and how she relates generally to the world.
Hans Christian Andersen and J.M Barry hail as two of Kate’s major influences, an artist inspired by the idea that children’s books can work on a variety of levels for both children and adults. This dual audience is evident in The Spider Moon, a work she created for the children’s comic weekly, The DFC, which wil be released as a collection next year (see news story) and has also been adapted into a stageplay. As she began putting her work in the public arena, she was constantly surprised and fascinated by how others interpreted her work, that the role of the ‘audience’ has become key to the development of her work.
Brown takes inspiration from a variety of artforms including physical theatre, film, song writing and prose to develop work with a universal edge. "Almost 100% of my drawings are 'purpose-driven', she says. "I can’t draw randomly, I always feel way out of my depth, because everything I want to do needs to be for a comic. Same with writing. I find it near-impossible to think any other way. I realise that these things supplement work for a comic in an invaluable way, but for me... I need to have that end-goal or drive or specific vision in order for me to feel good about something I’ve done, and for it to feel like a stepping stone to something."
Kate has been published in magazines and books including Accent UK’s Western Anthology, The Girly Comic as well as The Best New Manga book. Her characters range from mystifying girls to bonnet wearing monsters. Kate’s goal is always to create work that can be appreciated by a wide range of people, that each person can take away something individual from reading the comics.
Bill Bragg has been working as a freelance illustrator since 1998 and this, combined with a long-time love of reading graphic novels, led him to apply to the RCA in 2003 where he spent two years experimenting with the form and developing stories of his own. Whilst there he also founded Le Gun magazine with a group of friends, initially as a place to publish all the exciting work they saw happening around them. The magazine is now an established art annual.
An important piece of work for Bragg was a wordless novel he drew during his MA, Journey of a Stranger, inspired following a trip to East Berlin in 2004 when he had the idea of someone not being about to turn left out of their front door for 30 years. The resulting story is about a man who leaves his flat and takes a train journey out of the city for the first time in 30 years and the thoughts and memories this unearths as a consequence.
In December 2008, Bragg, who has worked for a variety of publications including The Guardian and The New York Times, started Marcel’s Appendix, a comic strip for Icon magazine which follows the surreal urban wanderings of an overly earnest architect called Marcel Salami. He's also wotrking on further graphic novels and a much longer book since 2007 with writer and fellow Le Gun contributor James Caddick.
Karrie Fransman, who works as a creative advertiser in Soho, writing and art-directing press, poster and TV advertisements, creates imaginative and insightful stories, describing them as ‘creative autobiography,’ a phrase she coined to describe true tales that all to often spiral into fantasy.
Ranging from psychopaths in ballet slippers to intimate relationships with duvets, her graphic novels use magical realism to explore ways in which inner turmoil is displayed outwardly. She explains her style is influenced by people who sit on the boundary between art and storytelling.
Fransman studied Psychology and Sociology at University, where she began writing her first graphic stories after reading Daniel Clowe’s Ghost World and realising that comics don’t need to be about superheroes. She has always drawn by hand and enjoys the imperfect, handcrafted feel.
Her work regularly reaches a national audience, with her fictional story, The Night I Lost My Love appearing every Monday in Times2 section. Her autobiographical comic strip, My Peculiar World was published in The Guardian’s G2. Karrie just finished building a comic sculpture entitled Death Do Us Part about a lady who, unable to let go, turns her dead husband into a hat stand.
James McKay began producing graphic novels at the age of 15, with a fantasy epic, Stormcrow. He graduated with 1st class honours in illustration and graphic design from Middlesex University in 1998 and has since then worked as a freelance comic artist and illustrator and has published books and graphic novels in collaboration with writers including Gary Spencer Millidge (Strangehaven) and Ben Dickson (Falling Sky).
"To me, any story can be a graphic novel," he told the University of Leeds Reporter paper in 2007. "I don’t feel constrained by any genre when I’m working. You can do psychological thrillers, sci fi, horror, whatever you like. I love to tell stories but I like to tell them through pictures, such as weird dream sequences and strange landscapes. To me, the text gets in the way.
McKay’s most ambitious work to date, La Cité des Secrets (City of Secrets), was presented at the Angouleme festival in France in 2006 following 18 intensive months of work. The series is now published in France by Mosquito Editions, and James attends several of the biggest French graphic novel festivals each year promoting it, and he hopes it will be published in English as well as French.
James’ theme as an artist and storyteller is the age-old conflict between civilisation and the natural world. City of Secrets is the natural culmination of his work to date; it presents a vision of the distant future, where humans have destroyed all life, along with the history of humanity’s desecration of the ancient paradise and a possible redemption. He is currently at work on the third City of Secrets book in the series, Le Chant de la Vie (The Song of Life).
James’ interests lie in European-style graphic novels - especially those in the areas of science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction. He is interested in creating worlds and characters that are unbounded.
As well as his comics work, James teaches the Indonesian martial art ‘Pencak Silat’, and is a keen explorer, amateur paleontologist and underwater photographer.
The finalists have already been through two selection processes. In line with the fellowship procedure the applicants must have been originally nominated by experienced professionals who deemed their work outstanding.
A panel of advisors made up of 2000AD co-creator Pat Mills, Posy Simmonds and Paul Gravett then selected the shortlist.
The public will have a chance to meet the advisors and the four finalists at a prestigious event at the ICA on Sunday 15th November 2009 from 7.30pm, part of the month-long ComICA Festival, when the increasing popularity of the graphic novel and the individual techniques and styles of the finalists will be discussed by looking at their work. This is a free event, but as places are limited you need to book your place by phoning 020 7930 3647.
The winner of the Fellowship will decided on by the Trustees of the Foundation and will be announced along with the other four awards in Textile Art, Cinematography, Jewellery Design and Puppetry on the 28th January 2010 at the Arts Foundation Awards 2010.
• The Arts Foundation: www.artsfoundation.co.uk