Cartoonist Jamie Smart left the 2024 British Book Awards a major winner last night – having landed the top spot for Children’s Illustrated Book of the Year for Bunny vs Monkey: Multiverse Mix-Up!, capping it off with the trophy for Illustrator of the Year, and having helped his publisher David Fickling Books also achieve a regional industry award for Small Press of the Year for a second consecutive time. Three wins for British comics.

Already a landmark year for British comics in the industry-focused British Book Awards, Bunny vs Monkey: Multiverse Mix-Up! was one of three kids graphic novels to fill the Children’s Illustrated Book of the Year category – sitting alongside Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper vol. 5 (Hodder Children’s Books, UK), and the UK edition of Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man: Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea (Scholastic UK).

According to the British Book Awards – also called the Nibbies – on the Children’s Illustrated category win:

“Jamie Smart’s “phenomenal” graphic novel Bunny vs Monkey: Multiverse Mix-Up! claimed top spot in this category. Smart enjoyed a personal best in 2023, ending the year as one of the UK’s top­-selling graphic novelists with his best annual sales ever. One judge called the anarchic Bunny vs Monkey series a “game changer”. It is “undiluted reading for pleasure”, added another.

“David Fickling Books’ investment in Smart impressed our judges, with the supermarket support for Mix-Up! declared a “major coup”. “This is what happens when you nurture an author to the point where they go ‘boom’,” our panel agreed. DFB’s “bold” and “admirable” campaign utilised its resources effectively to make Multiverse Mix-Up! the breakout title of the Bunny vs Monkey series and push Smart to a new level of sales.”

On Smart’s pick as Illustrator of the Year, the British Book Awards said:

“By any measure, Jamie Smart had a remarkable 12 months. Sales of his books grew 84% in 2023, making Smart one of the biggest-selling graphic novelists, outpacing (in growth terms) even last year’s Illustrator of the Year, Alice Oseman. Sales of his breakthrough series, Bunny vs Monkey – first published a decade ago – rose 81% year on year.”

In his award speech Smart said: 

“I’ve been drawing comics full time for about 25 years so obviously there have been an awful lot of people that I’d need to thank along the way – but especially DFB and the Phoenix, and Jodie Hodges [Smart’s agent] who have been instrumental in my career to date and who have been so, so supportive to getting me here.

“Stephanie, my sister and Sarah, my wife who have been infinitely supportive to me but most importantly I’d like to dedicate this to my parents. I wish they could see this. We lost Dad fourteen years ago and we lost Mum about a year ago. You could not have wished for more encouraging parents. They wanted me and my sister to both be artists – and we both are. They would be absolutely losing their minds if they could see this now. So Mum and Dad, this is for you.”

Jamie Smart has been on the comic scene since the early 2000s starting out on the London Sunday Times’ children’s supplement Funday Times and spending a decade working at the long-running children’s title The Dandy. One of his early acclaimed series was mature humour title Bear, published by Slave Labor Graphics between 2003 and 2005; and his webcomic Corporate Skull between 2011 and 2015. His meteoric rise in British comics has been largely the result of one series: Bunny vs Monkey, an anarchic, slapstick comic about the antics of animals (mainly the mischievous Monkey and pals) in the woods. One of the headlining series of the Phoenix weekly anthology since its inception – as early as the promotional #0 in December 2011 – Bunny vs Monkey has been collected and rereleased by publisher David Fickling Books since 2014, with a re-edition from 2020 and wider distribution access seeing the series explode in sales. Now at seven collected volumes, Bunny vs Monkey has often outsold Dav Pilkey’s titanic Dog Man in Britain. Other popular kids comics by Smart include Looshkin and the younger readers Max & Chaffy series – both up to their third volumes.

Jamie Smart’s other series include ‘Looshkin’ and ‘Max & Chaffy’, also published by David Fickling Books

Smart’s publisher David Fickling Books was one of ten recipients of UK regional industry awards of Small Press of the Year, for a second consecutive year (for South-East England). The children’s book publisher has a mixed portfolio of children’s novels and comics – not least the pantheon of acclaimed series first published in the weekly Phoenix comic. While regional winners had been announced in March, the overall UK winner of Small Press of the Year 2024 was decided last night – with the prize going to London-based children’s illustrated specialist Magic Cat Publishing. David Fickling had also been nominated in the Children’s Publisher of the Year category, likewise ultimately being pipped to the post by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The British Book Awards said about David Fickling Books:

“David Fickling’s eponymous children’s publisher is the South East England winner for a second successive year. Its TCM [Total Consumer Market] sales rocketed 73% last year—powered largely by Jamie Smart’s Bunny vs Monkey comic book series, but also by SF Said and Gill Lewis.”

The British Book Awards is an annual industry event focused around the book trade. This year comics had a minor coup with three UK-published comics titles being shortlisted in the Children’s Illustrated Book of the Year category (seemingly the only one in which they have been eligible). While audiobooks have two separate categories, British-published graphic novels beyond the children’s realm have yet to make headway. Last year, no comics received a prize in the Children’s Illustrated category (despite nominations) but Alice Oseman scored the coveted Illustrator of the Year award and David Fickling Books received their first regional Small Press of the Year gong.

Leave a Reply