Graphic novel-writing pair crowned Sunday Herald's best visual artists

Graphic novel-writing pair crowned Sunday Herald's best visual artists

Graphic novelists Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers, known jointly by their company name Metaphrog, have won The Sunday Herald Scottish Culture Awards 2016 for Best Visual Artist.

Marrs and Chalmers were presented with the accolade, part of a set of awards recognising “the very best of Scottish culture”, with runners-up in the category including sculptor David J Mitchell, animator Eleanor Stewart and artist and activist Ellie Harrison.

Chalmers, from Scotland, and Marrs, from France, were given the "breathing space" to focus working on their award-winning stories, most recently gothic fairytale The Red Shoes and Other Tales (Papercutz), after being awarded a grant of £35,000 last year from Creative Scotland. 

Chalmers, speaking on behalf of the Metaphrog team, who have been creating comics and graphic novels together since 1996, told The Bookseller: “In all honesty it hasn’t sunk in really. It’s an amazing thing, and it’s an amazing thing for graphic novels. Because we do comics, we didn’t think we had any chance of winning. I think the assumption was it’s going to be somebody else. We went to the awards ceremony and we were absolutely gobsmacked. We’re still surprised."

The year 2014 was the best for sales of graphic novels in the UK since BookScan records began in 1998, with the genre bringing in almost £20.5m worth of print sales.

The rise of the graphic novel could be attributed to increasing diversity within the medium and in part to changing attitudes towards comics, according to Chalmers. 

He said: “[Sandra andI] have both seen a growth in the anglophobic world. There are so many interesting genres being approached in the comic medium, different creators with their own singular vision, so it’s understandable there’s more interest in it.

"Also I think it's because we're living in an increasingly visual culture and a multicultural one at that. It’s not something that surprises us, but the amount of high quality work that is out there has increased consistently, and a lot of artists and writers are looking at the work of, say, Chris Ware or Daniel Clowes, and being influenced by their work, and that’s all kinds of artists and musicians. 

"As far as normal readers go I think there’s always going to be a reluctance with the older generation, the baby boom generation and older, because comics are still seen residually as something for children but that preconception is gradually being eroded. There’s a big change." 

Chlamers said graphic novels were moving from simply “anarchic” and “simplistic” stories, like comics about superheros, to stories “far beyond that”, from magical realism in detective stories, literary graphic novels, and even those "interrogating the human condition”. 

One example is Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir (St. Martin’s), published in January this year by Tom Hart, which is about the loss of a child. It has since become a New York Times bestseller.

Another is Daniel Clowes’ latest book, published in March, a “powerful” time-travel thriller called Patience (Fantagraphics), of which Chalmers said: “Although it’s a cynical book on the surface if you dig deep it’s got a heart of gold. The value system is really quite sweet."

“I think people are starting to take notice: that’s money. And people always notice where money is going,” said Chalmers, adding, “It’s still growing".

Metaphrog published The Red Shoes and Other Tales with New York publisher Papercutz in October 2015. The pair will next be making a second book for the publisher called The Little Mermaid, to be published in 2017. They are currently supported by Creative Scotland.