Paul Register is the founder and organiser of the Stan Lee Excelsior Awards, an annual comic book award voted for by school pupils. After this year’s ceremony we spoke to Paul to find out more about them.
STARBURST: How did the Stan Lee Excelsior Awards first begin?
Paul Register: They began in 2011, as an offshoot of the long-running Sheffield Children’s Book Awards. Initially designed as a Sheffield-only award, we attracted 17 schools that year. That number included half a dozen schools from outside Sheffield who had heard rumours of a graphic novels award for teens and asked if they could take part.
How have the awards grown from there?
The year after, I realised that there was a lot of hunger for something graphic novels-related in school libraries. I started a proper website and invited all schools in the UK to register, and 77 schools signed up. The award has grown every year since then, culminating in over 250 schools participating in 2016.
How did you get Stan the Man’s permission to use his name for the award?
I emailed him! Simple as that! I explained what I was planning and one of his staff got back to me and said that Stan would be fine with that. We even sent him one of our t-shirts a couple of years ago!
Have you altered or refined the ceremony over the years?
The awards ceremony developed a good, solid format when it was held at Ecclesfield School in Sheffield every year. Now the ceremony is a touring event and being held in different parts of the country, it will be adapted to suit the environment it’s in. The basic style and format will always be the same though. It’s all about celebrating the shortlisted books, having a lot of fun and trying to inspire kids and empower them to pick up a graphic novel.
How do you go about selecting each year’s shortlist?
I compile a longlist of interesting-looking graphic novels throughout the year (usually consisting of 70-80 titles) and then that list is sent out to the award’s team of judges. They then highlight the titles they have really loved and “black ball” the ones they feel aren’t suitable or good enough. At the start of December, we narrow that list further still and choose eight books for our new shortlist. The shortlist itself has to be broad enough so that there’s something there for all readers in the 11-16 age bracket, irrespective of gender, race, social class or reading ability. We always choose not only what we think are good books but which will actually appeal to teenagers. We also want a good balance of genres across the eight books, which is why you’ll never see eight superhero graphic novels on there. We want to open kids’ eyes to new stuff.
With popular film adaptations bringing comics to a wider audience, do you feel that reading them is gaining greater social acceptability?
I suppose it’s got to, to a certain degree, but I’m not convinced there’s a massive link between the current Hollywood superhero craze and a marked increase in reading graphic novels. I’m sure there was a boost in sales of Captain America graphic novels when Civil War was in the cinemas, but I think it should be a lot more than it is. And that’s where school libraries (and awards like this) come in. I think there’s a hunger out there and it’s our job to cater to that and help the kids who’ve seen those movies make that step into reading more.
How much of an impact do you feel the award has had on helping comics become an acceptable part of school libraries?
It’s now the biggest book award for graphic novels in the country and has gained a certain respect for the numbers it attracts and the impact it clearly has on student reading.
What comics and graphic novels would you recommend to librarians to begin a school’s collection and how would you expand it from there?
I get contacted by school librarians all the time who ask for advice on what to buy. I initially guide them to previous shortlists on the website. The top three of every year is a guarantee of popularity. I also have a page on my personal website dedicated to graphic novel recommendations. Librarians can always email for a more bespoke list as well, because no two schools are the same.
Do you have any plans for how the awards will develop in future years?
The award will be changing quite dramatically this autumn, although the basic format of an eight book shortlist and students filling in a Rating Form will remain the same. I can’t say too much at this stage but there will be a redesigned website coming over the next couple of months.SHARE YOUR COMMENTS BELOW OR ON TWITTER @STARBURST_MAG
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