Introducing the winners of the Comic Creators’ Prize

Meet the winning creators from the Comic Creators' Prize, a collaboration between Thought Bubble, Black Lives Matter Leeds and Cape Graphic Novels.

The winners of the Comic Creators' Prize, a collaboration between Thought Bubble, Black Lives Matter Leeds and Cape Graphic Novels
The winners of the Comic Creators' Prize, a collaboration between Thought Bubble, Black Lives Matter Leeds and Cape Graphic Novels

Launched in late 2020, the Comic Creators' Prize presented an opportunity for Black comic creators to submit work for a chance to receive editorial feedback. Hosted alongside Thought Bubble's digital festival, the winners of the inaugural prize were announced earlier this year. Here, we are delighted to introduce the five winning creators/creative teams, including samples of their incredible work. 

Bimpé Alliu & Folarin Akinmade

Bimpé Alliu and Folarin Akinmade's captivating submission was influenced by Afrofuturism and cites Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Star Wars as inspirations. From their expressive figures to the illustration of light, shadow and motion, it was a vivid, visual treat. With the exciting fantasy premise, the finished comic is bound to be wholly original and visually and emotionally impactful.

Alliu is a concept artist and illustrator working in visual effects for film and TV, while Akinmade is a writer, writing speculative fiction that "explores our relationships with the social systems that we create, and centres Black characters." Alliu aims to do the same via portraiture and science fiction, while driven by a passion for storytelling and music.

Excited by the endless possibilities and myriad stories to be told, Alliu hails the potential of the comic form to convey so much about a character, environment or story in a single frame: "There aren’t really any rules", she says, as one can experiment and play with pacing, expression and rhythm. In her own artwork, Alliu is inspired by Olivier Coipel and Sarah Pichelli, saying their "linework and inking are absolutely stunning… their style is instantly recognisable." She loves to read fantasy and sci-fi, particularly the works of Octavia Butler and the world-building in the stories of Janet Edwards. Akinmade cites Kieron Gillen as a "huge influence... incredibly generous with his knowledge and time – between his Tumblr, podcast and masterclasses, I feel like I’ve received a formal comics education from him". N.K. Jemisin is another major influence, Akinmade recommends the Broken Earth series as a "masterclass in rich, complex world-building, emotionally arresting character arcs and powerful, well-considered metaphor".

When asked about the comics and stories they’d love to see in the future, Akinmade answers that "the amazing thing about comics is no matter how niche your tastes, the exact story that you need is being updated on someone’s webcomic, or coming out of the indie presses… the work and talent is out there, it just needs to be found and supported". Alliu calls for stories of the many and not just the few, with the rise of sharing platforms like Instagram meaning an increased opportunity to stumble upon different gazes.  

Both are currently mostly reading digitally, due to space, but Alliu recalls regularly taking weekly trips to Orbital Comics ("We spent A LOT of money there and discovered a lot of new publications – worth every penny. Thank you, Orbital!"). Akinmade also hails A Place in Space in Croydon, for their friendliness and quality recommendations.

Bimpé Alliu: Website | Instagram

Folarin Akinmade: Website | Instagram | Twitter


Artwork from 'Starfall' by Bimpé Alliu and Folarin Akinmade
Artwork from 'Starfall' by Bimpé Alliu and Folarin Akinmade

Rumbidzai Savanhu

Like the artists she admires, Rumbidzai’s bold and vibrant use of colour immediately caught our eyes and her portfolio exhibited a strong range of styles. The ‘Carbon Cycle’ comic, pictured below, has an intricate and interesting depth of colour palette, incredibly expressive figures (both realist and abstract) and creative use of movement and scale.

Born in Zimbabwe and based in Birmingham, Rumbidzai Savanhu is an illustrator with an interest in film, fashion and storytelling. She "loves playing around with bold, bright colours and is often found reading or scouring the internet for new layout inspirations". As well as art, she likes learning new things – from music to languages to skating.

Savanhu attributes her love of writing to a love of reading while growing up, recalling how she "would be found in the library most days". Her first comic was based on an alien character she’d sewn together with scrap fabric from old clothes and she was motivated by the joy found in sharing her stories with friends and seeing their reactions.

Molly Mendoza, Diigii Daguna, Sam Bosma, Olivia Fields, Tiffany Ford and Eyvind Earle are among the artists that have inspired her, with admiration in particular for those who "use colour in an interesting way". In the future, she wants to see more stories of "black people on adventures and quests, exploring new worlds" and "slice of life stories" of love, friendship and community. "Too often", she says, "when stories of black people are made, they are of struggle and pain, when that is not the only part of our existence".

As for a favourite local comic shop, it "would have to be Travelling Man in Leeds", as she visited the first time that she went to Thought Bubble by herself. Overall, she enjoys the experience of buying comics at conventions, and the opportunity to meet and talk to the artists.

Part of Rumbidzai Savanhu's Comic Creators' Prize entry
Part of Rumbidzai Savanhu's Comic Creators' Prize entry

Manon Ada Shu-Jun Wright

Manon’s portfolio demonstrated that she is a truly versatile and exciting talent with a clear ability to tell stories of many scopes in different ways and through different artistic means, whether she has one panel or fifty pages. 

Based in London, Manon Ada Shu-Jun Wright is an illustrator specialising in comics and publishing design. Her work incorporates surreal elements with themes of empathy and understanding, between people and across cultures, classes and lived experiences. She is inspired by an eclectic mix of folklore, film, books, philosophy and the people she’s met from around the world.

As someone with dyslexia, she credits the comics medium as one of the first that gave her access to the world of reading and literature. During her adolescence and parents’ divorce, she "devoured every comic or manga" she could get her hands on. By the time she finished her A-Levels, she knew she wanted to be a comics creator.

Tillie Walden, Rosamary Valero-O’Connell and Jillian Tamaki are all among Wright's current inspirations – creators who can tell compelling stories that especially explore the struggles of adolescence and finding a way in the world.

In the future, Wright would like to see more epic adventures stories told by, and from the perspective of, LGBTQ+ characters and people of colour, comics similar to On A Sunbeam (Tillie Walden) or Monstress (Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda). While Manon acknowledges that it is "terrific to see the popularity of issue-based stories and biographies of marginalised people", she would "still like to see more representation" in the kind of epic fantasy stories that she loved growing up. Her current project, As Above, So Below, is her own answer to this.

Her favourite "place to spend an afternoon browsing books" is Gosh! Comics in London, with its impressive selection of comics from all genres and across the globe.

Extracted artwork by Manon Ada Shu-Jun Wright
Extracted artwork by Manon Ada Shu-Jun Wright

Sarah Ushurhe

Sarah Ushurhe’s work caught our eye for its wonderfully emotive illustrative style, blushes of colour and shadow and the sensitivity with which she portrays her subjects. Her pencilwork is subtle but intricate, tactile, beautiful and life-like, reaping the rewards of her intense attention to detail.

Sarah Ushurhe is an artist, illustrator and writer, whose art history short Fanny Eaton: The Forgotten Pre-Raphaelite Model aired recently as part of BBC Arts’ New Creatives series. Her illustrations have also featured in The Black Anthology, Language, edited by Sofia Amina and published by ૧૦:૧૦ Press.

Ushurhe has always loved telling stories and the various ways they can be told, and this is how she first turned to comics. She takes artistic inspiration from life experiences, emotions, her surroundings and daily interactions with others. As well as various writers and art movements, she derives inspiration from observation, exploring textures and close-up details.

In the comics world, she wants to see more "stories that push the boundaries" visually in their storytelling, and more stories, too, showcasing "those overlooked within history". She advocates for inclusion and coverage of the subject matters, perhaps stigmatised, that affect people every day but are not necessarily discussed or incorporated in the mainstream.

Gosh! Comics Is a favourite haunt, for their huge variety and support of indie presses and creators, especially those stories not currently being published by major publishing houses. Ushurhe also purchases directly from creators and small presses that she encounters online or at book or comic fairs.

Beautiful and delicate artwork by Sarah Ushurhe
Beautiful and delicate artwork by Sarah Ushurhe

Daniel Lucas & Frankie McIntosh

We were drawn to Daniel and Frankie’s portfolio for the originality and complexity of its concept, as well as the ambition for accessible multi-sensory delivery and distinctive and consistent artistic style. The project aims to explore a wide range of issues surrounding mental and the experience of being on the autism spectrum.

Daniel Lucas and Frankie McIntosh grew up in Chapeltown, Leeds and went to college together. McIntosh, a lover of anime, creates art that has a raw and dynamic hand-drawn appearance, while Lucas has a sharp and polished digital style. Both "grew up in a very diverse community that was a melting pot of culture, music, food and people" and Lucas says, "I am very much a product of my environment and the smells, sights, sounds and feelings of those surroundings are embedded in me for life". 

Life experiences are a key source of inspiration both as entertainment and for their moral value as stories. Lucas' work as a graphic designer led him to start telling stories through his art. These stories aim to connect people and bring light to difficult situations, alleviating pain with entertainment and imparting useful information. McIntosh and Lucas together work to contrast urban street British culture and modern issues with sci-fi and futuristic elements.

Lucas admires the stories typically told in comics around morality and merit, citing Dragon Ball Z as his early introduction to these. This is an energy he would love to see in more comic books in the future - stories with the traditional moral backbone found in comics and anime - but with a modern cultural and referential update. McIntosh recommends his favourite comic, The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore, drawn by Ian Gibson. Although categorised as sci-fi, it cannot be confined to one genre and this is something that McIntosh aspires to in his work - to have multi-genre elements and to create something new in its own right.

Forbidden Planet in Leeds was where Lucas first encountered comics, saying "I used to love the WWF comic book series Undertaker from Chaos Comics", which brought a "modern edge to comic books for me" and giving a moral context and backstory to the WWF superstars.

Character design from Daniel Lucas & Frankie McIntosh
Character design from Daniel Lucas & Frankie McIntosh's multi-layered project

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