“Everybody has ideas in their bottom drawer, this is to bring those ideas out and for people to say this could work!” Corinne Pearlman on why you should enter the Myriad First Graphic Novel Prize
There’s less than a month to go now to enter the Myriad First Graphic Novel prize. With that in mind we had an in-depth chat with Myriad’s Creative Director Corinne Pearlman, to find out more about the prize and offer up some handy hints for anyone looking to enter!
Tell us a bit about how people can enter the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition 2020? Is it open for existing work or does it have to be a new piece of work started from scratch?
Corinne Pearlman: The submission window is over 4 months, so people can start from scratch, but they don’t have to. Everybody has ideas and things they are working on in their bottom drawer and so the aim is to bring these out, and for people to say this [idea] could work. For others this might be an opportunity to see if they have a book in them, and whether they could sustain it. Putting together an application can really galvanise the mind if nothing else.
I think some people feel they aren’t eligible, because they’ve been floating around for years and that’s absolutely not true at all. It’s for people who have worked on things but haven’t allowed themselves to take it seriously. Or to actually think this could be publishable. It really is a broad church that we’re looking for.
Can you tell us a bit about the prize and what Myriad are offering in terms of creative consultancy?
CP: That’s a good way of describing it. Myriad started out with the aim of publishing first time authors. We felt there were all these creative writing courses, but there were very few publishers who would accept debut novelists, without an agent or personal recommendation. We were originally aiming at fiction authors and then it was my interest as a designer and cartoonist that made us look at the graphics side of things. With the Graphic Novel prize it’s the same idea. It’s almost like a charitable purpose, we want to nurture first time authors to publication. To a certain extent our editorial involvement is quite heavy, not every one needs it or wants it. The idea of the competition is that we will work the author to make it the very best it can be and that is very much part of the prize.
How do you pick the long list?
CP: The first thing is that it is me and four other judges, five in some cases, so it is a collective decision. We start by going through the submissions and saying yes, no or maybe. We don’t have judging criteria other than if someone hasn’t fulfilled the rules, then obviously we can’t go on with them.
I think it is very open to the judges and that’s why we’re careful to have a cartoonist, a curator, a fine art person, as well as a keen graphic novel reader, a writer and also a representative from Lakes International Comic Fest. We do expect people to have an interest in, an experience of, and love for comics, but it is quite a wide jury – deliberately so.
The long list is naturally formed and I think there were 16 last time and we probably had a list of 25 which were all a ‘yes;’ or a ‘yes/maybe’. Those we all agreed on we didn’t need to discuss and then there were quite a few ‘yes/maybes’ which we had to talk about in order to make the list manageable. I think it’s important that all the judges are involved from the start so they see the complete entry. It gives an idea of standard and where people are at.
Does personal taste impact on what you choose?
CP: I’m very aware that the first GN competition gave me a chance to look wider than I might if people submit just to me. It’s important to get other people’s input and reaction. We’re not rigid and so there’s a lot of possibility there. Even if people are unsuccessful, there’s an awful lot to be gained form the discipline of recognising you are a comics authors (or a team) and actually an idea has legs and its worth putting in some kind of shape so that it can be shared. It’s one of the things to do that helps with your comics career.
We have even gone on to publish books that were on previous shortlists. When artists are presenting their work, it’s not always immediate and sometimes after the fact you say ‘now I get it’ and you find yourself thinking maybe we should be publishing this as well. A great example of this is Carol Isaac’s The Wolf of Baghdad.It was supplied to the first Graphic novel prize in 2017 as a wordless comic and had this synopsis but none of the judges could quite work it out. It didn’t quite work [or there wasn’t enough to the application]. But then I saw her perform it with a narration, and eye witness statements from members of her family. That was a real revelation about what she intended. Looking back it didn’t pass muster as a wordless comic without all the infrastructure she had planned for it. There’s now a whole DVD coming out and goodness knows what else. Music is integral to it. None of us really got her ambition from her submission and it was only when I saw her performance that I said OK lets talk about it. All the other stuff wasn’t included in the submissions, just the wordless pictures – which were fabulous. It just needed to be developed along with all the other material which she had. Thats the exciting part of working with an author on a project, is adding in the extras.
So what do you look for in a submission? Quality? Subject Matter? Content?
CP: It has to be all those things really. When we’re judging we’ve got all the entires out on a table and we’re going through submissions, so obviously good drawing helps. You’re being asked to produce 15 pages but not all of it has to be drawn beautifully. We do need to see what the artist intends and what they expect it to look like though.
Humour is important, especially when judging. It can be refreshing when someone has a sense of humour. A comic can be as serious as anything in terms of subject matter, but just having that bit of wit really does raise a book. Wit is a very good word as it suggests a spark and a humour and knowledge and it’s that really which is a guiding force. You can have something which would be considered a bad drawing, but if it has wit in it then it’s going to work. I then ask myself, does this have legs? Is this what we’re looking for? We’re not thinking about potential readers at this point, just something that works.
We also need to see that someone is serious about working on a long form comic. To show a commitment to quite a lot of work, which might have taken ages in the past,.
Does the content that Myriad releases inform the books creator submit?
CP: Yes, it’s a bit annoying really. If you’re looking for fantasy or fantastic violence then that’s unlikely to get past me, because I find that difficult to read or look at. But some of the things which have been long listed have been fantastical and have fantasy elements that worked in their own right. I think it is important nobody feels excluded by this. When we’re talking about genre its got to raise above its genre. In the same way that a graphic memoir doesn’t have to be miserable, because awful things happen. There is so much wishy stuff in fantasy that I think people expect Myriad won’t look at that, and that’s realistic if someone making a submission and they look at our website and they assume we won’t like their stuff.
However, I was really impressed by some of the gothic fantasy horror that we got last year and 2 or 3 made it on to the long list and that was great. I know part of my fault is that I am not reading wide enough. There are so many comics for someone in my comfort zone that I actually hope the competition will take me outside it and ready something different. Theres quite a few things shamefully on my reading list even though I’ve been in comic for years.
Is social commentary or politics, gender or sexuality important to include?
CP: Social commentary and politics fit very well into our publishing of course, and the non-fiction books as well. We definitely publish more graphic non-fiction than fiction and originally the idea was only to publish graphic non-fiction. But then the first graphic novel competition came along and Gareth Brooks changed that. His fiction work is so amazing. But we do concentrate on that side of things. I don’t want to be prescriptive and quality can be anything. Even the most ridiculous and absurd humour can have quality. If it makes you laugh and it has that wit then that’s it. I can’t imagine something which has that wit and is funny and not being political.
What makes graphic novels such a strong medium for those stories.
CP: Theres so much interesting stuff being tackled in comics, which is great and we’re getting a really great selection to read right now. There are so many ways one can get involved in a story both in terms of the words and the pictures. But its not that the pics make it easier, there are some great novels which are great about any of those subjects. But having those two things working together provides a particular condensed form to convey these ideas. And the fact they are in the most part with have this human element as well. Even something like Woodrow Phoenix’s Rumble Strip, about how we all love cars , it has this very human voice even though it has no people shown in the book. If he had illustrated it with humans being any of those incidents that he was talking about it, might have sold more copies, but because you can identify with the narrator is amazing and it works.
Are you looking for something which informs as well as entertains?
CP: Yes very much so. It has to be about something. There are exceptions, but I don’t think that I could publish a book which didn’t have some really strong contributions to make in a field that is beyond a good story. We can pinpoint in books we’ve done what resonates. There’s a tendency to feel this is important so we ought we ought to do. But we see so many good things we have to be ruthless about what we take forward. Sometimes the decision is ‘do I love this book’ or ‘is this something which we ought to do>’. And that is usually a reason not to do it. It shouldn’t be duty it should be something I really want to share and not do it out of guilt or feel sorry for the author.
And finally, any tips or advice for submitting to the prize?
CP: Read the rules properly. If they are not clear then do email because some people can really fall foul of not reading the rules properly.
As far as artwork is concerned it doesn’t have to be 15 fully finished pages as you would ultimately like to see them to be seen in full colour glory. We need to see a few to give an idea of what you want things to look like. And that’s really important. Otherwise we need to be able to see enough. Having the length gives an idea of whether you can sustain it. They don’t have to be consecutive pages, but they could be a couple of excerpts from different sections. Say in the covering synopsis what the structure is, especially if you have three or four stories interwoven. If we know that we are looking from excerpts of a couple of them then that’s fine.
We’re down south and would love to see people from the north and Scotland entering. And also people from different backgrounds like people of colour. Also, don’t censor yourself. Chuck it all in!
You can find out more about the rules for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Prize here and can download an application form here. The Long-listed entrants will be notified by end of March 2020. Shortlisted entrants will be announced by end of April 2020. The winner will be announced in late May / early June 2020.