33-year-old Emily Haworth-Booth has been announced as the winner of this year’s Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize, for her story ‘Colonic’ – and Michael Parkin as runner up, for his story ‘Lines’.
On of this year’s judges, Stephen Collins, author of The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, notes there were “Lots of great entries but [Emily was] a brilliantly written, well drawn, deserving winner.”
In an interview with Emily, The Observer notes Emily has had a more tortuous journey to the finish line than most. At school, she always had problems with art, the teacher’s exercises – “Now draw this pile of crumpled fabric!” – regularly reducing her to tears. “She didn’t study the subject at GCSE or A-level, and her degree at Cambridge was in English literature,” notes interviewer and Awards judge Rachel Cooke, “after which she worked, among other things, as a receptionist in a cosmetic surgery hospital, tried her hand as a standup comedian, and collaborated with her sister on a line of underwear printed with funny slogans.”
Since graduating she has also worked in a bar and a racecourse in London, a fine art print studio in New Jersey, a textile workshop in Philadelphia, graphic design studios in New York and London, and accidentally did two years national service in the NHS along the way.
Emily, the Communications Editor at The Prince’s Drawing School in Shoreditch, lives in Catford with her husband and her greyhound, and notes herself that she has flukily won a bizarre array of awards including the Young National Poetry Competition in 1998 and was runner-up in the Jonathan Cape/Observer Graphic Short Story Prize in 2008. In 2007 she was also a winner of a Warner Comedy Box Competition and a finalist in the Funny Women Competition which meant she got to talk about her bum in front of 400 people at the Comedy Store in London. “That was pretty great,” she notes on her web site.
Emily teaches a ten week course called Drawing the Graphic Novel there, and a continuing course, Drawing the Graphic Novel 2, in the summer term, along with the odd summer school. She has also taught workshops at the Hay Festival, B&NES Youth Climate Summit, and for The Prince’s Drawing Clubs tutor training programme.
It was the School’s artistic director, Catherine Goodman, who asked her to develop and teach the course. “I was pretty unqualified on paper,” she says, “but she has an amazing instinct about what will work, and she took a chance on me. I love teaching, and I’ve learned so much from my students.”
In her story, “Colonic”, the protagonist spends most of her time on her back with a large tube stuck up her backside, a winning story selected from 180 entries that delighted this year’s judges who included novelist Joe Dunthorne and Stephen Collins, who liked it mainly because it made us laugh out loud.
“During 2011 and 2012, I suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME,” says Emily of the story’s origins. “My GP wasn’t any help, so I underwent all sorts of alternative healing practices, from the completely gross – colonic irrigation – to the sublime – silent retreats. As part of my recovery process, trying to understand what was happening and why, and to channel my frustration into something constructive – I started keeping a graphic diary of these encounters.
“The experience wasn’t quite as awful as I’ve made out,” she admits, “and I’ve edited, exaggerated and added to it, but I hope I’ve got to the emotional truth of the experience: how powerless you can feel during medical procedures and how surreal it is to be in such intimate contact with a complete stranger.”
Michael Parkin’s runner up story “Lines” begins simply, with a man on a boat, fishing, which the judges liked for its beautiful use of colour, for its visual harmony, and for the clever twist at its end.
“It was beautiful and elegant and basically just great too,” enthuses artist and judge Stephen Collins on Twitter.
Michael is a third-year illustration student at Kingston University. “I was a little nervous about entering the competition,” he says. “I’ve seen the quality of some past winners. But this year, all my tutors and a few friends recommended I try.”
More often than not Michael claims can be found in a tepid room working on various visual projects. Although he is a friendly chump he can be easily spooked. It is recommended that one approach cautiously with offerings of breaded meat.
Congratulations to both Emily and Michael on their win
• You can read more about Emily’s§ course at The Prince’s Drawing School at www.princesdrawingschool.org/programmes/public/shoreditcheve.asp?dweek=4&courseid=325