Dave Shelton | “I think graphic novels have been a neglected field but that is changing, it’s on the turn”

Dave Shelton | “I think graphic novels have been a neglected field but that is changing, it’s on the turn”

Former Waterstones bookseller Dave Shelton was last night announced as the winner of the Branford Boase Award for his debut novel, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat.

Shelton, who is a trained illustrator, said that the novel - also shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the Costa Children's Book Award - could just as easily have been created as a comic strip but that its fate would have been very different had it been so.

Shelton’s first move into writing for children was the comic strip Good Dog, Bad Dog which was published in the DFC Comic as well as a graphic novel. But he decided that his story about two characters (a boy and a bear) isolated on a boat together would better suit an illustrated novel.

Had he created the story as a comic strip, Shelton believes his story would never have gained the recognition it has today. “Having had both a comic book published and an illustrated book published, the difference in the amount of attention you get for either one is extraordinary and I am not sure how much it has to do with subject matter or the quality of the writing and illustration,” he says. “There seems to be only so much space and thought and attention given to a comic or graphic novel, while the space given to more traditional prose fiction far exceeds this.”

The other problem for graphic novel and comic creators is how to make any kind of a living at it, says Shelton: “I would like to do more comic work in the future but it’s a very labour-intensive medium, especially if you are doing everything yourself – the writing, the drawing and the colouring.

“There isn’t really the market for it yet so most people who are successful in this field are doing better paid work elsewhere to subsidise the work they are doing in comics, which is a shame because it is what these people want to do and the more you do, the better you get, but they have to do the other stuff to pay the bills.”

However, Shelton remains optimistic about the outcome for graphic novels. “I think graphic novels have been a neglected field but that is changing, it’s on the turn. There is more interest in what’s out there and in most respects it’s a positive time for comics.

“There is more appreciation of comics and they are better branded for reluctant readers and there is more awareness of that and more opportunities to get good work published. In a sense it’s in a golden age for graphic novels, or comics, and there are some exciting new publishers doing more in this field.”

Shelton’s editor and publisher David Fickling, also honoured by the Branford Boase, was behind The DFC comic, which was launched by Random House before being abandoned. It has now resurfaced as The Phoenix.