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Bring Your Short Stories to Life

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The Observer has once again announced their annual Graphic Short Story Prize.

Aspiring graphic novelists are given the opportunity to present their own original stories as a short 4 page comic strip. The winning entry will be published in the Observer New Review in addition to a £1000 cash prize. While the runner up will have their work published on the Guardians website in addition to a £250 cash prize.

This year’s judges include Paul Gravett, resident comic’s expert and Co-Curator of the British Library’s Comics Unmasked Exhibition. The UK’s most in-depth look in to the history and core elements of British comics and how they changed the medium worldwide. The exhibition is still running until the 19th of August, so make sure you buy you’re tickets now. And look out for special guest talks happening throughout the last couple of months.

“The graphic short story when it works is a miraculous mechanism and its ideas and themes and feelings resonate long after you’ve finished reading it.” – Paul Gravett.

Another of this year’s judges is the 2011 winning entrant, London based Illustrator Isabel Greenberg. Her winning entry was a precursor to her completed graphic novel, The Encylopedia of Early Earth. Greenberg’s graphic novel was essentially a collection of fictional fables about the lives of gods and men in the earliest days of human history. Both written and illustrated by Greenberg, utilising her own unique and very stylized illustration style.

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Here is what Paul Gravett had to say about the competition and what is expected of entrants.

“Originality, personality, individuality, accessibility, and strong, clear, memorable, compelling storytelling.”

Entrants needs to have eye-catching artwork to stand out, but the story and the words need to resonate with you too.

“…we’re still looking as well for a story that stays with you, haunts you, moves you. You have four pages to make an unforgettable impression.”

Gravett suggests to any perspective entrants should look at the winners and finalists of previous years if looking for guidance on how to approach their comic. As well as suggesting the Dane Cook Shorties Compilation, and any of the range of graphic novels published by Jonathan Cape.

In addition, the obvious staple of any budding comic creators homework should include Scott McCloud’s three books on comics, told in comics form.

“And I’d cheekily suggest entrants take a read of my new book from Tate, Comics Art, for some pointers and inspiration!

Ultimately he points out that “there’s no house style or formula. Be inspired but be yourself.”

I asked if entrants should enter regardless whether they fear they cannot win. “Absolutely” he says. He goes on to explain why perspective entrants shouldn’t be afraid of entering. The experience gained from entering is valuable enough: “the demands of completing a story that works in just four pages is a demanding challenge and really tests your abilities.”

He mentioned that several runners-up from previous years since been spotted by publishers such as Cape. Entrants such as Fumio Obata, author of Just So Happens.

“…if the Cape publishers and editors spot the seed of a great graphic novel, they can help you develop it and get it published.”

As this competition is specifically to create only a four page comic, I wanted to know how the approached would differ from a full length graphic novel, or long running comic series. The main point was: “You have only a limited amount of panels to get across characterisation, plot, graphics, and come up with a satisfying and hopefully surprising ending.” There can be no wasted space in such and so every element must count. Whereas in long running comic series, the characters and story are expected to develop over time. He likens them to soap operas that do not always need to end or resolve definitely.

“Explore the medium and explore beyond the medium, step outside your comfort zones. It’s well worth deepening your experience of the great comics masterpieces from the past and learning from them.”

Make sure you take on there words of wisdom, and get creating your own comics.

And feel free to share you’re progress with us on twitter, facebook, or tumblr.

For an entry form and terms and conditions click here.

For a plan of how your story will appear in The Observer and for layout dimensions, click here.

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