 Books Rachel Cooke

Edith Pritch­ett’s An Artis­tic Odyssey, a waspishly amus­ing and art­fully ren­dered tale of mod­ern mores and flawed fem­i­nism, claimed top hon­ours at our an­nual award for emerg­ing car­toon­ists, writes Rachel Cooke

The Observer - The New Review - - Agenda -

an­nounces the win­ner of this year’s Ob­server/Cape graphic short story prize

My ex­pe­ri­ence of judg­ing prizes is that the panel’s de­ci­sion is rarely unan­i­mous, what­ever smooth things peo­ple like to tell the world later. But after the judges of this year’s Ob­server/Cape graphic short story prize had read care­fully through the en­tries, we were all agreed that one had stood out right from the very start: An Artis­tic Odyssey by Edith Pritch­ett.

Not only did it look great, it also had a be­gin­ning, a mid­dle and an end – a harder trick to pull off than you may think over the course of only four pages. Best of all, it was funny. Posy Sim­monds thought it was re­ally funny, and she’s one of the most wickedly hi­lar­i­ous peo­ple it’s pos­si­ble to imag­ine, in per­son as on the page. (The other judges were, as ever, Dan Franklin, pub­lisher of Jonathan Cape’s graphic novel list, Suzanne Dean, cre­ative di­rec­tor of Vin­tage Books, Paul Gravett, who runs the Com­ica fes­ti­val, and yours truly; join­ing Sim­monds as our other spe­cial guest was Michel Faber, whose nov­els in­clude The Crim­son Petal and the White and Un­der the Skin.)

But per­haps this shouldn’t have been sur­pris­ing. As it turns out, the very first graphic novel that Pritch­ett, a 24-year-old il­lus­tra­tor, ever read was Sim­monds’s Gemma Bovery, and it re­mains a firm favourite (she also loves the New Yorker car­toon­ists Roz Chast and Ed­ward Steed); no won­der her story comes with a cer­tain Posy­ish waspish­ness in the mat­ter of mod­ern mores. In­spired by her time at Ed­in­burgh Col­lege of Art when she, like most art stu­dents, leaned to­wards the edgy and fan­ta­sised about Tracey Emin-style global fame and wealth (her de­gree show fea­tured a doll she had stitched of her­self in the nude), Pritch­ett’s comic is all bathos. Our hero­ine dreams, for in­stance, not of own­ing some flashy pent­house flat in Man­hat­tan, but of a deckchair for her iPhone. Nor can she bear to take down the poster of Harry Styles from the wall of her stu­dio – not even after she has de­cided, fol­low­ing a con­ver­sion to mil­i­tant fem­i­nism, to de­vote the space only to hero­ines such as Frida Kahlo and Gwen John.

“I think the cy­cles she goes through were true of my­self and a lot of my peers,” Pritch­ett says. “A com­bi­na­tion of in­tel­lec­tual in­fe­ri­or­ity and a very keen de­sire to be im­por­tant and do some­thing im­pres­sive. But I wanted also to try to be hon­est about my love for pop cul­ture and in­ter­net quizzes, as well as my end­less yearn­ing for ma­te­rial goods. Per­haps it’s re­ally a con­fes­sional piece.” She is “ec­static” to have won, hop­ing the prize might help her achieve her longterm dream of mak­ing car­toons her liv­ing in the fu­ture (she’d love to write a weekly strip). In the mean­time, she in­tends to spend (some of) her win­nings on “fancy peanut but­ter”.

This year’s run­ner-up is Jac Clinch, 26, who works as a di­rec­tor and 2D an­i­ma­tor at Blinkink an­i­ma­tion stu­dios in Lon­don. Clinch is recog­nised for his (also very funny) story Cus­tomer Com­plaint 40569, in which the mixed load set­ting on a new wash­ing ma­chine causes a tear in the fab­ric of time and space; as a re­sult its owner, Elaine Thrupp, finds her­self in the pre­his­toric sa­van­nah ap­prox­i­mately 40,000 years ago. Clinch de­scribes it, bril­liantly, as a palae­olithic Eat, Pray, Love jour­ney writ­ten in the form of a cus­tomer com­plaint let­ter. “Mod­ern life can leave some of our pri­mal needs un­ful­filled,” he says. “But we can’t go back. Thrupp dis­cov­ers her pri­mal self, but she still can’t let go of that re­fund she’s owed.”

Clinch, whose grad­u­a­tion film from the Na­tional Film and Tele­vi­sion School, The Alan Di­men­sion, was nom­i­nated for a Bafta last year, has been eye­ing the Ob­server/Cape prize for a long time (our prize is now 11 years old). “I’ve fol­lowed the com­pe­ti­tion ever since I was a teenager draw­ing comics in my bed­room,” he says. “I’ve been so in­spired by pre­vi­ous win­ners – and now, as an adult draw­ing comics in my bed­room, I’m un­be­liev­ably chuffed to be run­ner-up.” His story, which comes with a fan­tas­tic punch­line, can be read on­line.

Edith Pritch­ett has vowed to spend part of her £1,000 prize on ‘fancy peanut but­ter’. Por­trait by Katherine Anne Rose for the Ob­server

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