Marcella Terrusi takes us on a journey through the 2020 BolognaRagazzi Awards as we await the 2021 edition.
In 2020, a new permanent category was added to the four traditional awards: Comics. The three winners – one for each reader category – were chosen by a special jury. The entries provided many great surprises, which we are sure will be repeated in the future as the numbers of quality comics gain ever more shelf-room with children’s publishing worldwide.
The Comics Middle Grade prize went to Imbattable. Justice et légumes frais by Pascal Jousselin - a hilarious volume, part of a series first developed as a single page comic strip for a weekly magazine, published by Dupuis. An apparently ordinary run-of-the-mill individual, someone who could well be your neighbour, Imbattable is an unlikely superhero, who is also perfectly aware he is part of a comic. The result is a screwball story that stretches the limits of image, time and space. The breadth of graphic invention is both intellectually interesting and visually exciting. Imbattable can travel through the panels and tiers at will, leaning out of a drawing into the one below to rescue a kitten stuck in a tree rather than having to enter the page and climb the tree! In the manner of the great early 20th-century school of American comics, these and other meta-textual inventions are refreshing new takes on the language and form of the genre.
The Early Reader Comics section was won by Written and Drawn by Henrietta, a notebook inspired by the visual style of a child (the author’s daughter). Created by acclaimed cartoonist Ricardo Liniers for Toon Books, this story of a monster at bedtime combines fun with images that authentically capture the way children represent their world. As the publisher says in our video interview, this work can also be considered a “metabook” of the child’s imagination.
The winner of the Comics Young Adult section was The Short Elegy by writer, illustrator and painter Animo Chen. This dramatic, disturbing, yet sublime, wordless narrative on loss is published by the acclaimed Taiwanese Locus Publishing, founded by Rex How, winner of the BOP - Best Publisher of the Year in 2019.
The collection of books receiving special mentions in the Comics category confirms how extremely rich and varied the language of comics can be, and how intricately it is linked to the language of children’s books. The titles show a wide spectrum of graphic and narrative registers and styles, ranging from elegy to humour: going from the turbulent emotions and sentiments of young adolescents to the enchanting, much-appreciated Simon et Louise by Max de Radiguès for Sarbacane, and the irresistible dynamic of very young children in the Early Reader Ariol. Touche pas à mon veau written by Guibert and illustrated by Boutavant for Bayard Éditions.
At times cruel, children are always capable of unexpected, unpredictable behaviour and attitudes, as shown by the Middle Grade Mention, Akissi aller-retour by Abouet and Sapin, published by Gallimard Jeunesse. The reader is not sure whether to laugh or cry before the adventures of the infant terrible of this story. The classical references in Camille Jourdy’s Les Vermeilles are sublimated by the compelling fairytale world she creates full of magical happenings and transformations. Already the winner of numerous prizes, Jourdy’s “beyond the looking glass” fantasy comic book has splendid illustrations whose hypnotic aquatic-like quality conjure up an engrossing fantasy world. A similar unworldly atmosphere but with an environmentalist message also pervades Diana sottosopra by Kalina Muhova, released by the Italian publisher Canicola, and winner of a Mention in the very young reader category.
There were three Mentions in the Comics Young Adults section. The subjects dealt with by each are both complex and topical. Ninna nanna a Teheran, published by Rizzoli Lizard, is the admirable debut work of Nassim Honaryar, an author who lives between Iran and Italy. It tells the story of a group of street children, their trials and tribulations and the compromises they are forced into but also their hopes and infinite resourcefulness in a cruel, realistically portrayed world that exploits and ignores all those who live on the edges of society. The impressive Estonian book Kahe Heli Vahel, published by Arvo Pärdi Keskus, is a fascinating biography from his childhood onwards of Arvo Pärt, composer, theologian and creative genius. The elegant, tightly controlled graphic mastery of Koonas Sildre, the Estonia graphic artist, author of many children’s books, is again unmistakable. Mariko Tamaki is the author of the American Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me published by First Second Books, the other Mention in this category. Right from the cover, the book promises to delve into the torments and joys of all-pervading adolescent crushes, told with a delightful mix of serious considerations on love and laughter as a group of teenage schoolkids learn how to handle feelings and relations within their little community.
The BRAW Comics bookshelf contains an exciting medley of works capable of portraying the many nuances, uncertainties and exhilarating experiences of growing up. Constantly evolving thanks to the ceaseless research of authors and children’s publishers, the language and medium of comics continues to show an unexpected inventive ability to succinctly sum up, portray, critique and especially resonate with young readers of all ages.
The journey continues with other winners in other categories in the next episode!
Marcella Terrusi, Ph.D, is researcher and professor of History and cultures of Childhood at the Department of Quality Life Studies of the University of Bologna. Author of monographs about picture and wordless books, she is a consultant for Bologna Children's Book Fair in more than 15 years