Comic Boom - Comics in Education

Comic Boom - Excelsior Award BONUS EPISODE with Paul Register

March 23, 2023 Lucy Starbuck Braidley Season 1 Episode 0
Comic Boom - Excelsior Award BONUS EPISODE with Paul Register
Comic Boom - Comics in Education
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Comic Boom - Comics in Education
Comic Boom - Excelsior Award BONUS EPISODE with Paul Register
Mar 23, 2023 Season 1 Episode 0
Lucy Starbuck Braidley

In this special BONUS EPISODE Lucy chats to Paul Register, founder of the Excelsior Award, the biggest book  award for graphic novels and manga in the UK!

What makes the awards so special is that from the expertly curated shotlists, children and young people vote for the winning book in each category themselves - a great tool for reading engagement.

In this episode Paul talks about the origin of the awrds, how they work and how schools can get involved, and then takes us though the KS3 and KS4 shortlists for this year.

You can access all the shortlists (including the KS2 and sixth form lists) and further information on how to get involved in future years on their website http://www.excelsioraward.co.uk/

For links to everythign else Paul discusses in this episode head over to the Comic Boom Padlet

Follow the Excelsior Award on Twitter at @ExcelsiorAward
Producer and Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com
Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Show Notes Transcript

In this special BONUS EPISODE Lucy chats to Paul Register, founder of the Excelsior Award, the biggest book  award for graphic novels and manga in the UK!

What makes the awards so special is that from the expertly curated shotlists, children and young people vote for the winning book in each category themselves - a great tool for reading engagement.

In this episode Paul talks about the origin of the awrds, how they work and how schools can get involved, and then takes us though the KS3 and KS4 shortlists for this year.

You can access all the shortlists (including the KS2 and sixth form lists) and further information on how to get involved in future years on their website http://www.excelsioraward.co.uk/

For links to everythign else Paul discusses in this episode head over to the Comic Boom Padlet

Follow the Excelsior Award on Twitter at @ExcelsiorAward
Producer and Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com
Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Lucy:

Hello Paul. Welcome to Comic Boom.

Paul:

Hello. Thanks for having me.

Lucy:

You are very welcome. Can you give us a little bit of a rundown of your journey as a comics fan? You're obviously a, a big fan of comics. When did that all start for you? Was it early on or was it quite late in life? What's the story?

Paul:

When I was at primary school, I was a very keen reader and my mother as a way of fostering this love of reading, would buy me any comics from the news agent that she could find. and so you got a lot of the Beano and the Dandy stuff, but what really sort of grasped my imagination, was reprints of Hulk and Spider-Man, these sort of marvel things. It's not the, the market back then wasn't the way it is today. There's, there's just lots and lots of American comics imported into the country. It wasn't like that in the 1970s. It wasn't particular like that in the eighties, to be honest. but what would happen is, British publishers would buy the rights to sort of reproduce American superhero stories and they would reproduce them in a sort of cheaper black and white format. And you would buy a magazine like just called Marvel and it would've like, you know, spider-Man in it, and Hulk and Thor and Ironman and Captain American Daredevil, all these wonderful, wonderful characters. So that was, that was kind of like how I first, got into reading really and got into reading comics. Really got into loving reading, I suppose. And it is something I've reminded my mother about on several occasions.

Lucy:

And that she must be very proud. That's a great thing for a mom to do, to get someone into comics.

Paul:

I actually, when I had the first, Excelsior Award ceremony, I invited my mother along. and when I actually like, tried to thank her publicly for what she'd, uh, for this love of reading she'd fostered in me, I actually choked up a little bit. I, and, uh, I had to have two seconds and just sort of compose myself before going on again. You know? So, uh, so yeah, she's very much aware that she was the driving force beyond my early love of, of comics and reading. Yeah,

Lucy:

That's really cool. But I think as a parent you don't, you never know which things you try and encourage your children to do so many different things. You never know which things are gonna be the things that stick, the things that are gonna sort of change their life. I.

Paul:

Yeah.

Lucy:

Same as a teacher as well,

Paul:

I guess so.

Lucy:

yeah. You don't know what, in what ways you're inspiring people when you are, so what about you as a reader now? Are you still, is it still very much Marvel focused or have you branched out a bit?

Paul:

I do read a wide variety of different genres these days. I'm kind of dictated to by the work I do with the Excelsior Award, because we do compile a long list all through the year, so I kind of have to just keep constantly abreast of what's, popular, at any given any given year really. So it kind of dictates me a little bit what I, what I, I read, but that's not a bad thing, it does sometimes force me to read something I wouldn't normally pick up myself. It's, it's a strange thing with school librarians. We, um, we don't get a lot of time to read, but we have to, we do have to kind of read professionally as well. so I can keep on top of what kids might think is, is cool today. You know, we can't just forever rely on Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson Potter, stuff like

Lucy:

We've gotta move with the times and it's, is there anything that's really sort of stuck out to you recently that you've read that you've, that's sort of stayed with you and you thought, well, that's gonna be one and definitely gonna recommend to people?

Paul:

well, to be honest, we're in, we're in the very early stages of long listing for, for next year now. So, yeah, we've only had one month's worth of long listing because we do it across the calendar year. but, I did treat myself to a, a black hammer omnibus with, some money I got for Christmas, because I'd only ever read it digitally before. I loved it. He's absolutely wonderful stuff. By Jeff Lamire an artist called Dean Ormston, who lives in Barnsley actually. which is very close to where I am. But it's a, it's a wonderful, wonderful series. If you ever loved superhero comics growing up, it sort of speaks to you as a, not as a teenager, but as a sort of middle-aged guy or middle-aged woman who loved superhero comics growing up. So that was a little treat. I've also been reading, uh, an awful lot of Daredevil and The Punisher, that's mostly been inspired by watching the TV shows that were originally on Netflix. They're now, they're now on Disney Plus. So, yeah, that's, that's two mediums that are sort of linking together there.

Lucy:

I do think there's a lot of crossover between TV and books. And it's not just comics it is, it's other books as well. But I think it's really interesting because it's, it does go both ways. Some people are coming from it, from the book first and then going into the TV and, and other people are coming from the other way around. But it's, it's great to have that constant sort of push and pull between the two, I think it makes come across things that you wouldn't normally read, or watch things that you wouldn't normally watch. I think.

Paul:

yeah, yeah, definitely. Um, We were only talking at my school. We were only talking recently about some teachers talking to me about how they don't like the new book cover to Noughts and crosses by Mallory Blackman because it. directly ties into the TV show, which, I mean, you can understand why, why a publisher would want to do that, but there is a sort of school of thought that you think, well, I did quite like the sort of those, those lovely black and white covers that the series used to have the sort of the, the, the nice geometric shapes and everything.

Lucy:

Yeah, from an artistic perspective or from a design perspective, often the TV related covers aren't as good, aren't they? They're just, they're not as, as interesting. You've mentioned the Excelsior Award, and that was one of the main things I wanted to talk to you about today. Can you introduce people listening, what are the Excelsior Awards and how did they start? You are brains behind them. What was the aim of the award? I'd really like to hear about the journey from, its from its beginnings to where it is.

Paul:

well, it's very, it's very earliest roots actually. Started with the Sheffield Children's Book Awards. I'd been working in Rotherham as a school librarian for several years, and I'd just moved back to Sheffield and the awards organizers, they, they generally just do, novels. Basically, it's a book award for novels and, and picture books, like many of the book awards in this country are. But every year they have a sort of guest award. And in 2010, they wanted to do, a guest award featuring graphic novel. The downside of that was that nobody works for them, knew anything about graphic novels. So they contacted me and said, would you be interested in helping us compile a short list? so I said, yeah, okay, let's, let's, let's do that. and it was a bit hurried. It was a bit last minute. It was a bit sort of throwing a few ideas together. But we got, we got it together and it went really, it went down really, really well with the, the school kids in Sheffield. and so when we had the award ceremony, and to be honest, honest with you, I genuinely can't remember who won it

Lucy:

That was what I was gonna ask you, I'm sure records exist. We can go back and

Paul:

they must, I honestly, my memory's just gone on this one. Um, genuinely can't remember what was on it. But, the year after I went back to him and I said, I've got some really good ideas of how we could make it better this year, 2011, this was, and the organizers said, well, we're not doing it in 2011. We're going to do a different guest award with no interest in doing that. And I thought, oh, well that's a real shame because you've built up some momentum there. There's definitely a, a desire for, for more stuff like this, for more awards like this from the school kids in Sheffield. so I decided to just do it myself and, and do a sort of breakaway. And I think that first year we had 17 schools apply for it. well take part really. we had all the secondary schools in Sheffield and somehow word of it spread to other schools in other cities. And so I had about maybe four or five who said, can we join in as well? And I thought, yeah, yeah, fine. Kush can is no problem, really. so that first year, was, was really excited and we had a, a short list of eight books. And, um, I can tell you who won. I remember that one. It was Black Butler, which is a manga title. It's Marvel. It's still popular today, which is Fab. and the year after is when I opened it up nationally. I thought, there's no reason why this has to be just a Sheffields thing, just even just a South Yorkshire thing, or even just north of England. So I just put feelers out there via social media and, and librarians groups and said, you know, this is what I'm doing. If you want to take part, let me know. You're more than welcome. And the second year in 2012, we got 77 schools doing it,

Lucy:

Wow.

Paul:

is this massive increase. and so that's just been kind of the way it's gone since. I mean, going back to your earlier question about why we do it, I suppose, we do it because we want kids to be able to. Read these wonderful books. to be honest, we, we are fully aware that not all kids want to do the Carnegie or the Sheffield Children's Book Award or anything that's an equivalent. Some kids like reading things that are different. So is the, that is the primary reason for everything we do. It's, it's to get kids reading.

Lucy:

And is it run in schools by a school librarian or by a teacher and in a primary school what's the process? You do the long list or, or you'd come up with a short list then from the long list with a, with a panel of judges.

Paul:

that's right.

Lucy:

And then it, then it's handed over to the children to vote.

Paul:

yes, that's right. We, we compile the short list that come out, but we let the kids choose the winner basically. and we do that by, which is, I, I think this is. Quite unique really. But we, we do it by getting them to fill in a rating form after each book they've read. When we first started doing this, I was very much aware that if you ask kids to read eight books on a short list, by the time they've read eight, they will probably not be able to remember which one they loved the most at the time of reading. And what they will probably do is gravitate more towards the character that they know best.

Lucy:

Yep.

Paul:

So if you were to have, eight books on a short list and one of those books was a Batman book, what you might find is not all the kids, but some kids, by the time you've read all late, we'll go, oh God, I can't quite remember which ones I enjoyed the most. So we'll just pick Batman. Cuz I love Batman. That's what we didn't want. We didn't want any kind of unconscious bias, I guess to use a modern phrase. We didn't want that seeping in. So what we do is we get kids when they've read a book straight away, they fill in a rating form in which they give it marks outta five for the story, for the artwork, for the characters, and for the dialogue so that they can engage properly with how they feel about what they've just read. And they don't go away and think about it. They just sort of, you get a really kind of like a raw emotional reaction to what they've just read, which is what we want. We want to know genuinely what they've enjoyed.

Lucy:

Do they have to meet all of them on the short list?

Paul:

No is the simple answer. No, we don't ever want it to feel as though it's, a really kind of strict approach. I always tell librarians that ultimately they are the ones delivering it in their school. So if it can be as flexible as they want it to be, if they want their kids not reading a specific book for whatever reason, they might feel it's not appropriate for their particular setting, they're, they're more than welcome to take that book out. They can replace it with another one from another short list if they wish. Like I said, what we want to do is get the kids reading. And not worry too much about, about, whether it's suitable or whether it's age rated I work in a school that's probably very different to what other librarians work in. We all work in very different places with very different cohorts, with very different, expectations. Very different parents in some respects. so yeah, as far as I'm concern, it has, it has to be flexible. You can't be dictating to school librarians what they should deliver in their particular setting, because I'm not in that setting.

Lucy:

Yeah, I think it takes, must take the pressure off as well. And it certainly, I've been a judge on the book awards before and I love reading and I'm happy to spend large amounts of time reading, but still when I get a massive pile of books through for book awards, it's very stressful, ah, there's so much to get through. Um, uh, so it must, that does take that pressure element off as well. You don't have to read all of it. You can still be involved. You don't have to be able to kind of consume large amounts of, of books in a short amount of time. You can, you can just sort of access it at your own pace. do, are you sometimes surprised by the, the book that's chosen. I guess when you're, you are giving out the short list, you've got an idea of which one is your favorite, how often does that coincide? Which, which is the favorite of the, the young

Paul:

uh,,uh, rarely

Lucy:

What do you think the

Paul:

I'm, I'm frequently surprised to be honest. I, I, there has been occasions, I'll be honest, there has been occasions when I've put a book on a short list thinking this is gonna be fab, and it's just not been at all. it's just completely crashed and burnt. I won't reveal which books, because I do, I do try to keep myself out of the shortlist as much as possible, so I don't actually reveal, I always reveal winners, but I don't reveal losers, for example. I recently wrote an article in the school Library Association's Journal, about using graphic novels in schools. And one of the points I put was, don't buy Mr. Miracle, which I dunno if you're aware, but Mr. Miracle is, a book that was brought out a f two or three years ago and it won all sorts of awards. It was massively popular, and I read it and it was extremely good. The artwork was just phenomenal. The story was, was something new and interesting and fresh and a complete mystery throughout it. And I put it on a one of our shortlists and it really didn't do very well. So there is this, I mean, I know what I've just said about not revealing losers. That's the only exception.

Lucy:

but it is, it is a winner in so many other ways that it is, it's not gonna be worried about that.

Paul:

the, the guys who created that don't care because they've got their own awards from something else, you know? But it just shows you that we do obviously try to choose books that we think school children in the UK will love. And I think by and large we get it right. But there are examples of books that are critically well considered, shall we say, that just don't work in UK school libraries. And I guess that's fine because I think something like Mr. Miracle, which is just an example, I just, I, I, I like to use because I know how well received it was, and I know how many awards in the US it won. but it's just an example of, you just can't get it right every time. And, and also you can't just rely on other awards. Giving you a clue, you've got to use your own savvy, you know

Lucy:

And you've got spinoff awards as well. I'm calling them spinoff awards. They're probably not the right word for them. That's why you've got kind of small sub awards. Can you tell us a little bit about those? Cause I think they're quite, interested and fun.

Paul:

Yes. Yes. The second part, I mean, I've been talking about getting kids reading. The, the other part of why we run the Excelsior Award was to raise the profile of graphic novels and of manga, which is Japanese comics within school librarians, in the uk. And the reason I introduced these spinoff awards, the JABBICA, which is the judge a book, its cover award,

Lucy:

I love that one.

Paul:

and the True Believers Award, which is an award for the school that returns me the most rating forms every year. The reason we introduce these things is because we want to get school librarians involved as well in a way that doesn't require them to read every book on the short list, but they can still feel as though they're, they are involved in some way. Um, the jica, for example, all the librarian has to do, to take part in that, is just download the, the, the voting sheet that I send them. Just pick which cover they like the best and then send it back. cuz I, I kind of think it's just, I, it's, it's kind of important that there's some fun element in it for librarians as well.

Lucy:

And there's one around displays in the library as well.

Paul:

yes, yes, that's the enough said award. nuff said is one of Stan Lee's, uh, used to be almost Stan Lee's primary catchphrases, which he use when he was editing Marvel comics. he actually said in one of the Spider-Man movies as well, when he had a cameo in one of those, which is just a, a wonderful moment. So yeah, we give an award out for the school that has the best school display as well that award came about because I had, I did have librarians who would send me pictures of their, displays that they'd put up, and I thought, what, these are marvelous, you know, and I can't just like, let'em sit and rot in my inbox. I should put'em on the website. And then I thought, well, we should have an award for this as well. You know, these, these librarians out there who was, were really getting into this and really put in time and effort into it. So yeah, so we come up with the, the Enough said award,

Lucy:

I talk to a lot of, librarians in my day job and can people they love to get inspiration for displays and things like that. Are those photos still available on your website or are they up when the awards are running? is there some way of accessing those?

Paul:

What I do is I keep on, all this year's entries and then I think I boil it down to the winner. And again, it, it's those judges that, that just choose the winner every year. So previous years the top display on the website.

Lucy:

What is the time scale of the award? So you've got the, so the short lists have been announced. We're gonna go and talk about those in a little while. When's the winner announced?

Paul:

okay. Right. Well, what we do is we open registration in November, and then we, we finalize all the short lists in December. We try and do it mid-December if we can. And the idea behind that is that once we've announced the short list, librarians can put their book orders in before they break up for Christmas, and the bookstores and the book suppliers can spend those two weeks getting those books in. Cause they don't have a two week break for Christmas like we do. so they can do all that work whilst the librarian is enjoying Christmas. And then when the librarian comes back in January, hopefully their books should start arriving, trickling in. However it might be. and then that's when I send them all their resources that they need, their rating forms and their posters and stuff. and then basically they've got until roughly Easter, to work with it. we give it quite a long, quite a long time really because, some librarians might not get the, li the books in quick enough. they might find the kids are reading at a slightly slower rate

Lucy:

Hmm.

Paul:

than other schools. so it just gives people a lot of time to play with. and then we get to Easter and then people can send all their rating forms to me at Easter and I've can start the process of marking them all as

Lucy:

So then you have to do like a big data inputting job

Paul:

Yeah,

Lucy:

that sounds hellish

Paul:

it's, it is, it is. I'm, I'm a very anti-d to an anti statistics kind of guy. I like the creative process. So looking at, yeah. Look at all these different things and sorting out what, what can be thousands of sheets of a four paper, and then going through'em and marking them all. Uh, it can be quite a bit of a nightmare, but it's a labor of love, isn't

Lucy:

Yep. Yeah, absolutely.

Paul:

um, and also, I, I always think, I do get people every year who says to me, well, why don't you do it online? Why don't you let the kids vote online? And I, I'll go back to what I said about the rating form. I, I don't want kids to finish a book and then try and find a computer and then log on and then find the website and then input their data. I want the immediate reaction for it. Yeah,

Lucy:

Yeah, I can see that, that, although convenient for you, it's more of a barrier than for the children to take part,

Paul:

yeah, yeah, exactly. I want an authentic, I want an authentic winner. Every year is what I want, so we announced the winners, mid-July. Really, we, we do it before the kids have all broke up for the summer holidays.

Lucy:

That's

Paul:

Uh, that seems to be the best way. Yeah, that's the best way to do it. If, if you don't, then it drags onto September and then you've lost a little bit of impetus, I guess, with it as well. So, it gives individual school librarians, again, the opportunity, to do their own mini award ceremony in their school with their kids and their, their comics clubs and their readers and their award official artists.

Lucy:

I suppose that potentially schools can have their own winner as well as the main winner. Just thinking about what their actual pupils have voted for, it'd be quite interesting to know. that's why I'd be interested to know

Paul:

that's, yeah. I, to be honest, I used to do, that's at one of the schools I worked at. I met with the kids from my readers group after the award ceremony, just for some sort of feedback and just see what they thought of, of, of the

Lucy:

Mm-hmm.

Paul:

And, and they were all like, I didn't like that book. And I said, well, funnily enough, I said the book, you all choses, there's your best book finish fourth.

Lucy:

Yeah. That's interesting.

Paul:

And I don't, I have no explanation fear as to why I said you liked that one, but lots of other schools liked this one.

Lucy:

I wonder if you could take us through some of the books on the short list,

Paul:

Well, actually, do you want to look at blue and red? Because those, I'll, I'll be honest, those are the two pop most popular awards, which is kind of what I would expect anyway. most of the schools that sign up are secondary schools. I think it's important. We still keep primary schools and sixth form colleges involved, but they're not at the same numbers as the other schools. You know,

Lucy:

Come on. Primary schools get involved. I I'm a primary school teacher right by training, so I'll champion the

Paul:

I'd love more primary schools. to join up. It's, maybe It's just more difficult to get the word out,

Lucy:

Yeah.

Paul:

I guess primary schools don't have their own librarians, do they?

Lucy:

No, it would've to be like an English lead. Some do, but mostly it's, it's like the, the subject leader for English,

Paul:

yeah. And I, and I would think it'd be quite easy to run it in a primary school.

Lucy:

Okay, so the blue short list, so it's for key stage three children, aged 11 plus. This is in the, I've got a nearly 13 year old daughter, so this is in her, age range. interesting titles. What can you tell me about them?

Paul:

I'm gonna really try hard to do this without showing any kinds of favoritism or bias

Lucy:

we'll be scrutinizing your every word

Paul:

thank you. Um, I will also say as well, this is where having a team of judges comes in really handy because we're able to read through a lot more books than, than I could on my own. Which again, I guess limits the amount of bias I can put on any short list.

Lucy:

Yeah,

Paul:

Um, so there's, there's a couple of books on here that, I must admit I have not read as intently. I have more speed read than I have the, some of the others. but that's fine because I know other judges have read it and they've said to me, it's really good this Paul, you need to get on the short list. And that's good enough for me. You know, if someone like Lucy Forrester, who you are obviously gonna speak to soon, if someone like Lucy Forrester is telling me a man is good, I take notice. Cause she knows, she really knows her stuff, you know. so on the blue list I'll start with the two manga titles actually. We've got Cat and Game. Which, is one of those books that clearly isn't aimed at somebody like me. But, uh, one of the judges absolutely loved it. She said it was incredibly sweet. It's about a, a sort of a gamer in Japan. It's a manga title, so it's set in Japan. who kind of struggles with social relationships because she's so into gaming, basically. That's, that's kind of what she's really into. and she sort of accidentally adopts a, a, a runaway cat, and she slowly discovers more about engaging with real physical beings through this, through looking after a cat. Then she has prior to that, because she, everything, all her relationships have been kind of, um, digital and online and. In that regard. So we'll see how popular that one's going to be.

Lucy:

The, this one appeals to me. I'm just looking at the cover as well. It's got a very big cat on it. I don't actually, I don't actually like cats. I'm just gonna say that now.

Paul:

no, I don't either.

Lucy:

but the cover makes me feel like this. This is something a bit different. You know? I'm intrigued by it and it makes me want to read it.

Paul:

the thing is with the cover as well, if you look at the cover, if you really, I kind of look at it, I don't, you might have to look at it digitally, but you can see the, um, you can see the, the, the cover is, is a painted canvas.

Lucy:

Yeah. It's got texture.

Paul:

don't mean literally, but it's clearly copied from, from that. You've got the, uh, the, the sort of crossing over of the threads of a canvas on it, which you don't realize until you really sort of zoom in on it.

Lucy:

yeah. That's interesting. Okay. That's

Paul:

So that's nice that it just shows you the, the level of attention that the creator has put into their creation.

Lucy:

Okay. And there's another manger as well on the short.

Paul:

Yes, there is, it's called Run on Your New Legs, it's about a young lad who loses a leg basically and has to give up a career, as a football player. but through the story discovers, a prosthesis that allows him to still run. so he decides to switch from football to, athletics, which, he learns how to run with the aid of this prosthetic. so like with Cat and Gamer, like with many Mangas, it's an ongoing series, so we'll see. we'll see. what happens with that. But, um, yeah, it's, um, it's, it's interesting to have a, a character with a, a, a clear disability

Lucy:

Yeah. And is that diversity of representation something that you think about when you are shortlisting as well?

Paul:

definitely we've, that's always been one of the key, guiding tenants since day one. We've always wanted to produce shortlists that had at least one book that would appeal to every student, you know, even if they hated all the other books on the shortlist, they should always be one that appeals to them in some way. and like you said, it can, it can be things that, cross, gender or race, religion.

Lucy:

Yeah.

Paul:

This might be the first time we've had something that so overtly looks at a, a disabled character actually.

Lucy:

Yeah. There's not been much focus on, I don't think from my perspective in publishing, but it's just starting to happen where there's more of a sort of proactive look at actually our i'll disabled people's lives being represented in, in books. I think it's really important.

Paul:

Yeah. And not just a sort of a day-to-day life struggling with a disability. Um, it's a, it's a, how you can still be a sports

Lucy:

yeah, the, I mean the cover looks very, active and um, Yeah. sort of That's, yeah. Yeah, that's a good word. Dynamic. Well, thanks for that word,

Paul:

Write that one down. Yeah.

Lucy:

Over Um, so what else have you got on this short list then?

Paul:

I've got a book called Acad, which is, which represents Europe, and when I say European, I'm tend to mean the kind of, France, Benelux kind of areas That's for some strange reason we've never quite tapped into in this country. But it's a real thriving and, and market over in Europe. Uh, there's a, an awful lot of stuff that's produced over there. So acad comes from, I, I think it's French. It's published by Cine book, C I N E B O O K. I think they're based in Canterbury, and they buy the rights to all these European comics that are, are published over there. Uh, and they translate them into English and they translate'em extremely well into English. They take that part of it very seriously, it's very much a dystopia. It's about, an alien invasion. It's about, how these aliens, exist in a kind of different time space moment to the, to humans so that when they come through into our dimension, they kind of lock that part of earth that they enter. And humans then can't live in that part of the world. And it's about how the humans sort of fight back. There's a lot going off into it and, and I, I, I, really like books with an international flavor I don't just mean in terms of creators, but the story itself is a proper world spanning story as it should be if it's about an alien invasion of earth.

Lucy:

You've got some, titles with, with characters that people probably maybe a bit more familiar with on here as well.

Paul:

yes, definitely. I've got some, the death of Dr. Strange. And the thing who is a, a character from Fantastic Four Comics, if you're not familiar. Both are Marvel characters. Dr. Strange has obviously been made very, been made very popular by Benedict's Cumberbatch over the last few years. but what we don't want to do is be putting books in there that are just, that are only in there because there's a film coming out or there's a film recently been out. they have to be, they still have to be good. they still have to be readable. They still have to have really nice artwork and they still have to, you know, draw kids in. And at the end of it, the kid has to feel as though they've been on some sort of reading journey with a, a somewhat of a, a sense of, uh, completeness as well, rather than just part of an ongoing series and it's been running for decades. so yeah, the death of Dr. Strange is. Is not your traditional killing of a superhero and then watch him get resurrected again a few weeks later kind of thing. the premise is, well, it's a murder mystery basically. Dr. Strange answers the door and is murdered, by an unknown assailant. Uh, as readers, we don't know who it is. You find that out later on in the book. but the interesting part is that Dr. Strange has, if you're not familiar with Dr. Strange, he's the, he's the master of the Mystic Arts. He knows magic and sorcery. He's, he's prepared for his own murder for a long time. So what he's done is he's portioned off like a section of his soul when he was younger and like put it in, in a separate dimension of its own

Lucy:

As you do

Paul:

We all do it. Yeah. on, its very least on the time of his untimely death. So as he's murdered this younger version, this younger temporary version of Dr. Strange comes to solve the crime and has only so many days to do it before he, he disappears into nothingness and he doesn't have any of the relationships with the other supporting cast characters that today's Dr. Strange has. that make sense?

Lucy:

It does. I actually think so. Um,, the cover is quite seventies. I dunno, what would you, it's kind of got neons and snakes and skulls, was not appealing to me. But now that you've just talked about it, I think sounds quite good. I probably

Paul:

well, the ver the version of Dr. Strange, the, the sort of the, that comes into the future to solve the murder is kind of the seventies version of Dr.

Lucy:

Well, let me go.

Paul:

Um, so I mean, things like, he doesn't, he doesn't, he doesn't get 20, 23 or 2022 at all, but his only purpose is to find out who murdered who murdered himself, his future self, you know? yeah. So it's very interesting. the thing on the other hand, is written by someone who's not known for writing comics. a novelist called Walter Mosley, who, I haven't read any Walter Mosley, if I'm honest, but I know who he is. he writes kind of like hard boiled noir detective fiction, set in the us. and Marvel got him into write, a story for them and he asked if he could write a thing, story. Um, the thing is, is also known as Ben Grim. and he writes this, this story that I just thought was absolutely wonderful. it's kind of crazy. It's kind of all over the place. it really focuses on a man who is a monster and how he overcomes feelings of loneliness. And how he has to, and the sort of crazy stuff he has to deal with on a daily basis when kind of all he wants to do is be left alone and, and to just sort of sit down and have a beer and watch football. so yeah, I found that very interesting. Shall we say?

Lucy:

Cool. so I know you mentioned earlier about librarians getting the books in and so do, are there sort of book sellers doing kind of packages of all of the titles on the short list, so it's quite easy to sort of get them in in bulk? Or

Paul:

well, yes. One of the things that's, if we, that we recommend, and it is only a recommendation, it's not an order. on the website we give a direct link to, an independent bookstore in Sheffield called the Sheffield Space. Who definitely when I first set up, they would be very, very helpful in helping me form shortlists and things. the guy who runs it is still one of our judges, but we do recommend that you contact the Sheffield Space Center and get them to take care of it, because they are real specialists in this field. obviously some schools have very specific rules about where librarians can buy their books from. We just met that recommendation,

Lucy:

So, the Excelsior Red Award then is for 14 plus or key stage four in schools, and there's another five titles. Oh, I've just seen the first one on the website. Says Neil Gaiman next to it, which is cool. What can you tell us about those?

Paul:

Right. Okay. Cause I'm going through quick. We've got Chivelery, which is by Neil Gaiman. it's an old short story that Neil Gaiman wrote a long time ago. And I think it's been made into a radio play as well at some point. But, um, this is the first time it's been made into a graphic novel. And the artist is a, a wonderful artist called Colleen Doran. And it, that's about an old woman who goes to the charity shop, local charity shop, And she buys an nice looking cup and it turns out to be the Holy Grail. And she gets one of Arthur's nights knocking on the door and saying, I think you've got the Holy grail. And she's, no, no, I haven't. and it's this wonderful kind of, meshing between this retire single old lady and the Oman that she has in her house. And, and the knight who, who could quite easily just pick it up and walk out with it, but doesn't because he's noble. so wants to give her something in return for getting the hold of Grail from her. And he brings her all these different magical gifts, and they sit down and have cups of tea together and jam sandwiches and things like this.

Lucy:

I like that. Sound like that sounds a bit whimsical.

Paul:

yeah, it's, it's, and it's, the artwork's absolutely beautiful as well. right. Moving on to the hell, boy. Have you got that one?

Lucy:

Yeah. Hellboy

Paul:

The bones of Giants?

Lucy:

Familiar with the name Hellboy? I've never read any Hellboy though.

Paul:

Hellboy is a, is a character who's been written by Mike Magnolia for many, many years, decades, really. and really all you need to know about Hellboy is a supernatural detective, really. He's a demonn, but he works on earth and yeah, he, he solds supernatural things. Um, so the premise for this one is that, Thor's dead bodies found in Sweden, and so hell boy and is,, his colleague Abe Sapien are asked to come and investigate. Um, and this dead body is, is still holding Thor's hammer. And it leads into a whole kind of story about, another guy who wants to resurrect a, one of the old frost giants from Norse mythology. So that one's, yeah. Very much steeped in north mythology. And it's, kind of dark demo. Um, but with that, it's not violence in, in a serious way or anything. It's just, Hellboy is always very dark, it's a bit like Batman in, in some respects. Batman is, is very rarely portrayed in Daylights. If, if you have a look at any books, you know, because it would look ridiculous. They don't have him with the sunshine behind him.

Lucy:

yeah. He's lurking in the

Paul:

of the Knights.

Lucy:

he does.

Paul:

Yes. moving on, we've got Deadpool Samurai.

Lucy:

Again, I know Deadpool from the movies, but not from comics. I've not

Paul:

Yeah. He's nowhere near as Sweary and Violent. And then, 18 rated as the movies

Lucy:

Okay. Good to know.

Paul:

it's a, yes, uh, it's a manga title, using Marvel's Deadpool character. so it's a comedy, the violence that's in it is a little bit, Tom and Jerry itchy and scratchy kind of level. he does a lot of talking outside of the page to breaking the fourth wall, talking to the reader. Deadpool is a character. He's obviously very, very popular. I don't think we've ever had him on any short list before. So Deadpool plus Manga just seemed a real kind of like, easy choice for this year, to be honest. Eve, again, another dystopian kind of title. It's all about Af Earth is there's not many humans left. And how do you save the few humans that are there? It's a typical kind of sci-fi dystopia. there's a girl who comes out of stasis where a, I think her father's put her into stasis to survive this whatever's wiped out, a lot of the rest of humanity. And she's greeted by, a robot's protector. but the robot protector is, is wearing her teddy bear from when she was a kid as a way of immediately bonding with her when she comes out of stasis.

Lucy:

Let's see.

Paul:

So, whilst it looks like a teddy bear, it's actually this, um, Robot that will do anything to protect her and look after her.

Lucy:

Cool.

Paul:

so it's a quite nice visual straightaway.

Lucy:

this is Eve on the cover. and yeah, with the teddy bear quite looks already quite action packed. That one on the cover.

Paul:

Yeah. And the last one is Lost Lad London. which I've enjoyed some, which that I've bought volumes two and three for myself as well afterwards. but again, it's another, it's another murder mystery. It's set in London. The premise is that, the mayor of London who isn't Sadiq Kahn, and I should point out, the Mayor of London is found dead on a tube stabbed, and there's a lad who discovers a bloody knife in his pocket. He's no idea how it got there, though. and he's clearly been framed for this murder, and it's, there's another detective who is trying to protect him at the same time is trying to solve the murder. It's created by a Japanese person, but it's details of London are so spot on. I can only, I can only think that the person must have lived in London for a while there's so much of it that's just you, you can't quite believe it's come from someone who's never visited London.

Lucy:

I think that the, the artwork staff is the, is the artwork inside the same as the artwork that's on the cover here, which is quite bold, quite sort of minimalist.

Paul:

Yeah, it is. The

Lucy:

that's really, yeah. I feel like this conversation's opened my eyes to like murder mystery comics. I never read any, why haven't I read them? That's exactly up my street. So I'm quite excited about that. A whole new world has opened up to me after this conversation. Yeah, that sounds really cool. And that sounds on, looks, looks really fresh and different actually.

Paul:

yeah, definitely. it's good to get a manga that kind of doesn't look manga-y, if you know what I mean.

Lucy:

Yeah. Very different style. Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for that. That's given me, certainly lots of, lots of inspiration of things, that I could buy next in my ever increasing comic budget, which is not good. this podcast is so expensive,

Paul:

It's, so, it's in, it's interesting that you were talk, you're talking about genre like murder, mystery, genre. I think there was this misconception that a lot from teachers and, and from librarians as well, that, manga is itself a genre and it's, it's not, it's just a medium, you know, and it's the Cinemagraphic novels because they're so dominated by the superhero genre. People think that's all there is and it's not, you know, there's this, you can have romance comics, you can have, um, war comics, you can have horror comics, fantasy, uh, you can, you can do anything with it. It is just a medium, it's a storytelling medium.

Lucy:

It's knowing where to start, isn't it? I suppose if I'd thought about it hard enough, I would've known that there must be murder mystery comics out there, but which, which ones are good and which that's why you need, you know, these kind of like, like awards and people like yourself who've got the knowledge to kind of help you get an inroad, doesn't it? Into finding the thing that's right for you, I guess.

Paul:

Yeah, and I do get people who contact me and, and say, I'm starting up a new graphic novel selection at the, at the library, and I don't know what they get, and I just refer'em to the past short list on my website. I just, just go through that, just have a look at that, see what it brings up, see what, what knock ons it has as well. You know, what, your web search also suggests as well. I say it's just a good starting point and also, you know, the, which one's age appropriate as well.

Lucy:

Yeah, exactly. That's really, really helpful. So we normally, I always say we, lemme just stop that and say that again. I normally, like this podcast is like a great regroup of three points. It's not just me. Um, aye, Aye. Just, there's only one of me.

Paul:

I I do the same thing. I

Lucy:

Yeah.

Paul:

you know, oh, we, we, are going to mark all these rating forms this summer. No, it's just me.

Lucy:

Maybe it's, maybe we're just comforting ourselves to make it seem like we got great loads of people for us. Um, uh, so I'd like to end the podcast with of couple of key points that you'd like people to think about or places that you'd like to direct people to? Just, uh, anyone looking to explore this a little bit more.

Paul:

I think in terms of getting people to have a look at something else, not just my website, in, in Britain, if, if you want to look at the Cinebook book website again, I would recommend that that will give you a very different. Array of stories to what you might expect from, from America and from Japan and, and even from Britain, really. So Cinebook book, definitely. I'd recommend Gwen have a look at, classical comics website. classical comics.co uk.

Lucy:

Brilliant. I'll put links in the, uh, in the

Paul:

thank you. They're a company who do graphic novel adaptations of classics and of Shakespeare.

Lucy:

Oh, brilliant.

Paul:

In my, in my library, in my school, I've got, I think the, the full range. Um, and they do, uh, they take each Shakespeare and they each Shakespeare, not each, they don't do every play to be fair, but all the Shakespeares they do, they produce in three different styles where the artwork is exactly the same, but it's what's included in the speech bubbles changes. Um, so they have Shakespeare, they have like an original text, which is in Shakespearean language. They have, oh, I dunno what they call it, I can't remember, but they have another version where it's, I think it's called Plain Text, where it's this, it's Shakespeare, but modernized, you know, uh, it's English in, in a 21st century capacitor. And they have a, an easy text as well, I think, which is the same, not Shakespearean language and shrunk down. So what you're doing is you've got three different ways of accessing the story, but you can tailor it to each student.

Lucy:

That's such a good idea. That's really, really

Paul:

Yeah. Yeah. They do, Rome and Juliet Macbeth, Tempest, They also do Dracula and Frankenstein. Jane Air and Inspector calls. Christmas Carol.

Lucy:

All of those curriculum texts.

Paul:

Yeah, exactly. And they're really good and they do teacher resources for each one of these things as well.

Lucy:

Fantastic. Anything else that you'd like to add?

Paul:

I just think it's really important to consider it as, consider graphic novels and manga as just storytelling mediums.

Lucy:

Hmm.

Paul:

Um, in, in, in the same way that a cinema is, the same way that TV is. Radio plays, prose, novels, even poetry. I've done talks to teachers before when I was working freelance, and sometimes you'll get teachers who who'll give you that sort of, that look, you know, that sort of, I don't wanna be here. Look, this is a waste of my time. You know? Um, I know it's an inset day, but,

Lucy:

it.

Paul:

Yeah. I've, I've, I've no interest in this. I've been told I've gotta come, but I'm not bothered. and so you just because their preconceptions are narrow, you know, they think I've no bloody interest in Batman. I have no interest in Superman. Why am I sat here? And you have to just sort of explain to'em. Well, actually there is, there is more to it than that, you know, If you look on my black shortlist, for example, now the, the five books that are on my black shortlist, any adult could read those and I think any adult would probably quite enjoy them. so yeah, it is just a case of crossing that bridge sometimes and, and getting people to understand that, you know, manga is not a genre. Manga is a medium. Comics are not a genre. Comics are a medium. I mean, like I said, I've got graphic novels of Macbeth at my school, for example. And Shakespeare is a great example of, of that as well. It's, um, any, any English teacher worth their salt. I think if they were teaching, Macbeth would, they would do a deep dive into the text. they would show you one of the movies, the movie versions. they would take you to see it on stage if they had the opportunity as well. So you've got, you've got three different ways of telling the same story. Just there. And, and that's what it's all about.

Lucy:

someone who's been on the podcast before at Meher, she did, her ma and Shakespeare studies and then is doing a PhD looking at comics. And she was saying, and I had never thought of it before, as the link between the kind of, of a play and comics because of the dialogue. And then, you know, and because comics often start as a script as well, depending on, the creator and their process. But often there's a script at the start of a, of a comics writing process. And yeah, that actually plays lend themselves really well to being turned into comics,

Paul:

Yeah, definitely. Uh, yeah, so some, some graphic novels will give you pages of the script at the back,

Lucy:

Yeah, I love that. I can't get enough of the, of the process, bit of the back when I've got

Paul:

Yeah. Yeah. And I, and I like when I see interviews like, like, uh, like a podcast like this with, um, like a writer and an artist who've created something together. And they said, we've never met,

Lucy:

Yeah.

Paul:

we've never met because we're in different countries. You know, I just write the script. I send it to the artist. The artist sends me the pages back and I said, I, I met comments and then send them back to him. And so the, the, they have this relationship that just sort of travels across the internet.

Lucy:

Yeah.

Paul:

And that's, that's 2023 for you. I once talked to a, a, an artist called Dave Gibbons, who was most famous for doing a, a very famous graphic novel called Watchman.

Lucy:

Yep.

Paul:

And he said when he was write, when he was doing the art for that, and Alan Moore was writing it, Alan Moore would send him the script pages via taxi because it was just quicker than post, you know? Um, he didn't have a fax machine. They would, so they would just get him and just chuck him in the back of his taxi and say, set those to Dave's house. And that, that was like the 1980s. So how far we've come

Lucy:

Yeah. Yeah. Things are a bit easier now. Uh,, so for the final thing, if you can, if we could add one, this is gonna be tricky, especially with someone who's read as widely as you have. But if we add one comic, or graphic novel to our to be read piles tomorrow, what would you recommend? Could be an for an adult, could be child, just if you just let us know which age you think it's suitable for. What would you leave us with? Yeah, listeners.

Paul:

Oh yeah. Right. I think, um, Watchman for an adult, definitely, if you wanted to see something that was mind blowing and so clever and that really dissected what superheroes are and, and took them off their pedestal a little bit as well and made them realistic, which sounds ridiculous, and really pulled apart relationships as well. Yeah, yeah, Watchman is just an absolute work of genius. I'll tell you what, there's another one as well I would like to recommend,

Lucy:

go on. I'll let you have

Paul:

teenagers. Thank you. Um, there was one I read last year when I was on holiday in Scotland. ooh, I can't remember the full title of it, but it was about Kang, the Conquer. Who is gonna be the main villain, in Marvel movies from now on. He's gonna make an appearance in the next Antman film opens in a couple of weeks, so if you wanted

Lucy:

I love antman

Paul:

Yeah, yeah. Who doesn't?

Lucy:

excited. about antman,

Paul:

yeah, so if any kids wanted to any back reading on, on Kanga the Conqueror. look for the most recent Kang book that came out,

Lucy:

Oh, I will, I'll also, I'll dig around and I'll find that and, and put it in the

Paul:

I think it might be called Only Myself, left to Conquer. I think that's what it's called.

Lucy:

Hmm. Good title.

Paul:

Proper Bizarre Time Travel story of like his future self kind of teaching his younger self, how to become his future self and how the younger self rebels against that initially. Very weird. Blows your mind a bit,

Lucy:

Sounds brilliant. Excellent. Thank you very much for those recommendations, and thank you for spending so much time going through the books and having a chat with me today. I've really enjoyed it. I've got lots of things to add to my to be read pile now. Got my, uh, uh, ever growing list, but it's good. It's all good. It's enjoyable. It's not stressful at all.

Paul:

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Um, I, I've read something recently, a guy who's, I can't remember it was, but a, just a quote from someone who said, you should buy books like you buy wine. Not to supp it all at once, but to just sort of save it for specific occasions and for when you're ready to drink it.

Lucy:

Oh, I love that. That's not how I buy

Paul:

way. No

Lucy:

But maybe I should also maybe I should move towards that for both wine and books in the future. Thank you, I feel like I've come out as a better person.