Interview with BCA founder, Adam Cadwell

Post 1:Comics, positionality and responsibility

Post 2: Transparency and the British Comic Awards

This post is an interview I carried out with BCA founder, Adam Cadwell.  I had initially contacted Adam only to ask him a few questions as research for my previous two posts. Adam has since indicated that he thought I intended to publish the conversation – and that he had answered accordingly – so that’s what we’ve decided to do.

So without further ado, and with the caveat that this conversation was conducted before my two previous pieces were written, here is my email exchange with Adam. It has been edited only for errors in spelling and grammar.

SM: How were the committee and the panel chosen?

AC: After speaking with [Thought Bubble directors] Lisa [Wood] and Clark [Burscough] about setting up the awards in May 2011, I started to ask people I thought were well qualified and up for the task. Both Lisa and Clark wanted to be involved and we all suggested numerous people. When Matt [Sheret] and Dan [Berry] joined they suggested people too. Back when it was all just an idea in my head it was hard to convince people to spend a lot of their free time on it. I would have liked an equal gender split on the Committee but it didn’t work out that way. Hopefully next year we can achieve that.

SM: How many nominations did you have and can you give me a sense of their diversity in terms of format, theme, approach, style etc?

AC: We had 245 emails from the public via the form on the BCA website with anywhere between 1 and a dozen suggestions. We made a long-list of 178 eligible titles and creators. The diversity in styles and formats was really, really varied, something which I believe is well represented in the shortlists. We have a good mix of genres, styles, formats and publishers. The reading groups of young people who judged the Young People’s Comic Award said that they were excited by the variety in formats (web-comic, serialised comic, a volume 1, and 2 self contained stories) as well as encountering great stories they’d never seen before.

SM: What are your thoughts on how you represent a small scene?

AC: In regards to how we represent the work of a small scene, I’ve think we’ve done a good job in displaying the diverse talent producing great stories which could be enjoyed by a much wider audience. In regards to how we represent the scene as a whole, well there’s only so much we can include with 20 nominations, so some are guaranteed to feel left out. ‘Nelson’ helped in that regard as it included 54 British artists but it was a tough decision to include it, which I’ll get to in a moment. Next year we’ll try not to have as many double nominations so we can include more creators.

There were so many great books which almost made the shortlist but missed out by one vote. It’s unfair to the nominees and winners if we reveal how many votes each book got as it’s the same as saying “You were nominated, or you won, but only just.” This was just our first year, with a rotating committee and new judges each year, they’ll be lots of new names nominated next year, and the year after, and over time we will paint a fuller picture of the whole scene.

Regarding Nelson, it was a tricky one to choose. Both myself and fellow committee member Dan Berry both had chapters in the book. None of our own work was eligible for nomination of course but we all agreed that because we each only contributed 1/54th of the book, it was unfair to the other 52 artists and the impressive work they did on it to disallow the whole book. There has been some finger pointing about this which we perhaps should have expected but I believe it would have won regardless of our involvement because it’s such a unique project and an engrossing story.

SM: How did all the committee ensure they got hold of all comics that were nominated by people so they could assess them?

AC: This was perhaps the most difficult part of the whole process. We asked for a lot of pdfs from creators whose work was suggested. A lot of work was on-line which made it easier. We took a long time to familiarise ourselves with creators we hadn’t heard of and were wary of not judging their work by first impressions. I even visited my local comic shop and just sat there for hours reading books. There are things we can do to improve this stage of the process, again it was out first time doing this and figuring it out as we went, but more contact from publishers during this stage would help.

SM: How are the Thought Bubble Artists in Residence chosen?

AC: You would have to ask Lisa Wood to comment on this as I don’t know. I can tell you that the place on the Committee isn’t a necessary part of the Residency, it is completely optional.

SM: Do you have any thoughts on having artists on the panel?

AC: Yes. While I can see that some people may think being an artist involved in the close and not huge British comics scene could make them biased to their friends who are also artists or towards publishers they’ve worked for, but at the same time I think it is very insulting to assume that all creators can’t be impartial. I think it is important to have people who understand the craft and the art form, who think about these things everyday, to be included in the selection of the shortlists. Pretty much every Awards for an industry includes people directly involved in that industry.

SM: Do you have plans to add categories?

AC: No, not at the moment. We designed a very simple, streamlined awards and we intend to keep it that way. If there was a huge amount of quality archive reprints and anthologies next year we may consider having a separate category for those, rather than pitting them against original graphic novels, but unless that happens, then no, no plans. But who knows, the next Awards are a full year away.

SM: Do you have any specific plans around getting publishers involved in submitting work for the long list?

AC: Nothing specific at the moment, no. Publishers were very keen and kind with supplying us with books for the judges and for the many schools and libraries involved in the Young People’s Comic Awards. With our first Awards done, we hope more publishers will be involved earlier on in the process.

SM: Are you concerned that smaller, self-published works might slip through the net with an emphasis on publishers/distributed comics?

AC: No, I don’t think we did have an emphasis on comics from publishers. 4 of the 5 comics in the Best Comic category were self published. I self publish and am very interested in whoever else is doing the same. I attend numerous comic shows every year (I’ll attend my 9th of the year next weekend) and try my best to keep up with new creators. The Committee as a whole was very aware of almost everyone who is putting out their own, new work. That’s a huge part of why we chose who we did for the Committee, there were 3 con organisers, a University tutor on a graphic arts course, a reviewer with an interest in self published work and a publisher of an anthology. Together I feel we pretty much had it covered.

SM: I’m concerned that non-standard narratives or comics forms are implicitly being excluded here by questions of accessibility, and not, let’s say, considered in terms of experimentation in the form. Do you have any thoughts on that?

AC: Yes. The Doug Wright Awards on which the BCAs are mostly based, have 3 categories excluding their Hall of Fame and one of them is for experimental comics. I chose not to have a category like this because while there are great avant-garde comics being made in this country I think one would agree it’s a particular niche. I think it’s hard to get even the most accessible stories to a wider audience so our main aim was to promote books that anyone outside of the comics world could enjoy. That’s not to say that a really weird, non-traditional narrative comic couldn’t get nominated, but it would have to be accessible to a wider audience too. That may sound like a contradiction but I believe it’s a possible thing to achieve.

That was all Adam and I had time to talk about. Had I conceived of the conversation as more of an interview, I think I would’ve pushed a bit harder on some issues, but nonetheless, I’d like to extend Adam my thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll offer some closing thoughts.

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