By unanimous decision, Anna Readman’s comic Dancing Queen has been named as the 2023 winner of Comica, Faber and The Observer newspaper’s annual Graphic Short Story Prize. A first-time entrant to the competition, Readman received £1,000 and her four-page short printed in Britain’s Observer newspaper and on the Guardian website. Runner-up Candy Gourlay’s Safe Passage received a prize of £250 and the comic featured on the Guardian website.

Dancing Queen excerpt, Graphic Short Story Prize 2023 winner
‘Dancing Queen’ excerpt, by Graphic Short Story Prize 2023 winner Anna Readman

Readman’s Dancing Queen, a fictional rumination on a departed friend based on real life loss, was picked as the outstanding candidate for this year’s Graphic Short Story Prize. All judges unanimously selecting it in a year of entrants that were largely on the lighter side. According to Observer judge, journalist and critic Rachel Cooke,

“We all agreed that Readman’s story deserved to be our winner, even if we were slightly surprised by our decision (its edgy gloom stood in stark contrast to the sweetness of a lot of this year’s entries, so many of which were about beloved pets, and even beloved cuddly toys).”

Cooke also described the appeal of Dancing Queen,

“Readman’s story…has a dark, Charles Burns-style mood. Its characters’ eyes cannot always be seen; an old VW camper van morphs into a hearse; a fairytale castle looms improbably over a small town.”

The judges for this year’s competition – which has been an annual event since 2007 – included Rachel Cooke; Faber publishing director Angus Cargill; Comica director and comics connoisseur Paul Gravett, London’s GOSH! Comics shop manager and Breakdown Press editor in chief Tom Oldham; author Max Porter; and illustrator/graphic novelist Lizzy Stewart (Alison, It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be, Walking Distance).

Anna Readman in home studio — Photo credit: Gary Calton/The Observer

Anna Readman is a 2020 graduate in Illustration from Leeds Arts University. Originally from Sussex, she works as a full time illustrator and cartoonist from her home studio in Leeds, UK. She has produced a number of self-published comics and worked for British weekly anthology 2000 AD and contributed to the Graham Coxon: Superstate anthology published by Z2 in 2021. In 2019 she was named by Broken Frontier – a publication with its finger on the pulse of British small press – as one of its Six to Watch and the “future of British comics”. Readman describes her influences as including Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, and Seth and only entered the Graphic Short Story Prize for the first time this year at the behest of her mother, a subscriber of the Observer newspaper.

In interview with Cooke, Readman said about the inspiration behind the melancholy of Dancing Queen:

“Eight years ago, my friend Annie died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition. It was the month before she turned 18. Dancing Queen had been in my head for a while because people around me are beginning to settle down now, and this has made me reflect on where she’d be, and what she’d be doing, and on how the fact she isn’t around contrasts with my own life, and what I’m doing.”

Graphic Short Story prize runner up, Safe Passage by Candy Gourlay
2023 Graphic Short Story prize runner up, ‘Safe Passage’ by Candy Gourlay

London-based Filipino author Candy Gourlay’s short comic Safe Passage was runner up for the Graphic Short Story Prize 2023. The established children’s book author, 61, had already experienced success in her field by winning the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Book Prize but used the competition as a vehicle to expand her skill set to comics. Telling Rachel Cooke,

“When I finished my latest passion project last year [Wild Song], I suddenly felt aware of a clock ticking. I’m 61. Time is running out. I decided that this year would be all about comics, and so I drew Safe Passage, which is based on a story about ant hills and magic and superstition that my father told us – he was eight when the war broke out, and his mother fled the Japanese with all of her children – but which is really about fear of the unknown.”

She said about the experience of crafting comics compared to being a novelist and making it as a runner up:

“I feel very lucky to be… a usurper. When I am writing novels, I start the day with dread. Will I find the right words? It’s so much responsibility. But when I’m drawing comics… Every morning now, I feel this joy!”