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FIRST GRAPHIC NOVEL: Meet the Winner! (And a Q&A)

12 December 2023

A coming-of-age queer thriller, following Ash, a young transmasculine queer person, starting his first job in a ramen shop. As he begins to learn the process of making bone broth ramen, he suddenly finds himself caught up in how to cover up the death of his boss after a staff party.

Yesterday in Waterstones Piccadilly, from 170 total entries, a longlist of 30, and a final shortlist of 7 creators, the winner of the 2023 First Graphic Novel Award was announced: Alexander Taylor with Bone Broth!
As the winner, Taylor has secured a publication contract from SelfMadeHero and a £500 cash prize (sponsored by The bks Agency).

Over the last month, we presented the shortlisted creators with a few questions. Here are Alexander's answers.

SelfMadeHero: What's a key experience with the comics medium that led you to where you are now?

Alexander Taylor: When I was around eleven years old, for my mum’s birthday I wrote her a comic called Bill. I remember working really hard on it, staying up late, wracking my brain for good ideas with no real experience or understanding of how to write a comic. I remember just the tidal wave of pride I felt wash over me when I finished it and could hold this thing I’d made in my hands, it wasn’t something I was used to experiencing much. I remember how happy my mum was to receive and read it, and how happy that made me, and it solidified in my mind a theory that had been building for a while up to that point – comics are the coolest things ever.

SMH: How did you learn about the First Graphic Novel Award? Were you aware of it before submissions opened this year?

I learned about the First Graphic Novel Award while tabling at South London Comic and Zine Fair earlier this year. I got to meet so many talented and creative artists, who all had a profound impact on how I view the breadth and diversity of the comic scene in the UK, and discovered the work of Ed Firth a Myriad competition 2020 finalist, and in looking for more of his work online I stumbled upon the First Graphic Novel Award.

SMH: Has entering this competition helped you learn anything about the comics world that you didn’t know before? Could be something about the scene, the behind-the-scenes, or even your own creative process.

Alexander: I grew up in France for the first half of my childhood, where the accessibility of Franco-Belgian comics was truly a blessing. Bandes dessinées are completely mainstream, and being a cartoonist seemed like a legit career. When we moved back to England, I completely lost sight of the possibility of creating comics for a long time. But through this competition, seeing the skill in the shortlisted and longlisted entries, the overwhelming energy at Thought Bubble Festival, seeing the generously positive response people have shown my work, I feel like my eyes have been properly opened to the comics scene we have here and it is dazzling. The calibre and range of the work that exists is enough to feed the ever-hungry fire in the belly of any storyteller.

SMH: In a nutshell, what aspect of your work are you most excited for people to experience? This could be anything – visual, narrative, thematic?

Alexander: I hope people can just have fun reading Bone Broth. Of course, I want people to enjoy the ingredients like the whimsical storytelling and style, or all of my characters with their ridiculous names, or the spookier moments in the story and the framing around them. But more than anything the story was born from many tedious hours spent daydreaming at the restaurant I chef in, counting down the minutes till I could run home and weave some fun and friendship into it all. I hope people can feel the same way reading Bone Broth as they would enjoying a delicious balmy bowl of it, and put it down feeling warmer and full, at least for a little while.
SMH: The comics scene is always evolving, but are there any current changes or developments that you find interesting or encouraging? If so, what are they, and what do they mean to you?

Alexander: Transgender Comics!

SMH: Winner or not, where would you like your experience with the First Graphic Novel Award to take you in the future?

Alexander: I think the First Graphic Novel Award has just built up so much momentum in me. Before, I felt very unsure about whether there was any room for my comics out there, and about my own abilities. I didn’t know how to even begin navigating the world of comics. Plus, comics are a real labour of love. I wasn't sure I could invest all the time I knew this story needed to be great with no promise of return. And all of these arguments are still to a smaller extent true.
But here’s the thing, I learned to draw in the first place because my two older sisters were awesome at it. That injustice filled me with a glorious rage, propelling me into drawing in every second of free time I had for years. In my experience with the First Graphic Novel Award, seeing the quality of the work of both longlisted and the other shortlisted applicants, I am once again filled with a rage that will push me to create comics for the rest of my life. This is a gift greater than any award, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone involved, artists and organisers alike, for this whole experience.