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FLAKE is as smart as it is delicious, as it is very, very British. Raymond Briggs and Alan Bennett are both reflected in the cast, their environment and their quotidian observations about their parochial environment: pride in local history, the surprising complexities buried within family history, and the absurdities which can come to dominate any life; the traps therein. AO: Let’s return to warring ice cream men and your Eisner-nominated graphic novel Flake. For those yet to read it how would you pitch the premise to them?

Everyman’s Library and Champagne Bollinger today, 1 July, announce Flake by Matthew Dooley (Vintage, Jonathan Cape) as the winner of the 2020 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. AO: One of the things I loved about Flake were a couple of throwaway moments that nevertheless implied a kind of wider Dooleyverse. Do you see your stories all fitting together in the same shared universe? DOOLEY: It is very straightforward. I pencil and ink on paper, then scan and add colour, word balloons and letters on Photoshop. DOOLEY: I have a few ideas that are gently percolating. Hopefully one or more of those will end up as another graphic novel. I’m working on something shorter, but hopefully no less interesting, for my first time tabling at Thought Bubble… thank god for a deadline! Much of the humor is found in how people are clearly trying to find a way to break the boredom in this small town: Howard’s sole friend, Jasper, has loads of obscure interests, and as head of the Dobbiston Mountain Rescue Service, is doing his utmost to undo the local peak getting recategorized as a hill. There’s elaborate digressions on the accidental founding of Dobbiston, and a man who fooled the townsfolk into believing he’d been to the South Pole: Dooley seems to be having his ice cream cake and eating it too, simultaneously sending up the region, while crafting this elaborate love letter to it.They are the first two parts of the dairy trilogy,” says Dooley, before clarifying that he’s joking and he has no immediate plans to return to milk or its by-products as a subject any time soon. This was such a human story that I devoured in one sitting. I really enjoyed the premise of an underdog fighting to make ends meet and preserve his dad's legacy, as well as how everyone in the community rallied together to help one other achieve their dreams. A sweet (pun intended) and uplifting read that I would totally recommend! Dooley’s break in comics came in 2016 when he won the Observer/Jonathan Cape/Comica graphic short story prize. His entry was titled Colin Turnbull: A Tall Story, and told the tale of a man whose main ambition in life was to win Lancashire’s Tallest Milkman competition. There are some clear parallels between the two works: both Colin and Howard are doing jobs that their fathers did before them (and perhaps even their grandfathers before that). They are warm, affectionate, even nostalgic stories of professions and values that are no longer so common. Matthew Dooley’s debut graphic novel Flake is a joy ... If it was a film, you could see Bill Forsyth directing it. If it was on TV, you’d file it next to your Detectorists box set. But as it’s a graphic novel, think of Joff Winterhart with a cone and a squirt of strawberry sauce.' Herald Scotland Victoria Carfantan, director of Champagne Bollinger - UK, says: ‘We are very proud of our long-standing relationship supporting the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. It is such an important award celebrating some of the most talented names in the genre and I am delighted to extend my congratulations to Matthew Dooley and his novel, Flake, as this year’s winner.’

Like this father before him, Howard is an ice-cream van man – a master of his craft, with all the local knowledge and subtle skills:“Identifying the best places to stop. Sensing the optimum moment to switch on his signature tune. His ears were acutely attuned to the sound of children laughing. And, more importantly, the sound of children crying.” Matthew Dooley won the Observer Graphic Short Story Prize and his debut FLAKE, published by Cape in 2020, went on to win the Wodehouse Bollinger Prize, the first time for a graphic novel. It was also a Guardian Book of the Year.Matthew Dooley will be awarded a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année, and a complete set of the Everyman’s Library P.G. Wodehouse collection. With the current situation not allowing for a physical pig at Hay Festival this year, Dooley has drawn his own humorous interpretation, with himself sat on the pig, bottle of Bollinger in hand. He’ll be joining a long line of witty winners from the past two decades, including Helen Fielding, Ian McEwan, Terry Pratchett and Nina Stibbe. Jasper’s overriding priorities, however, are his pet peeves, each as irrelevant to any sane human being as they are uncompromisingly and passionately pursued. For example, he spent six months in a French prison for trying to convert continental road signs from metric to imperial then painting his results on their signposts. So he’s averse neither to direct confrontation nor overt vandalism, which may well come in handy during the imminent North-West English Ice Cream Wars.(It doesn’t.)

David Campbell, judge and publisher of Everyman’s Library, commented: "This year’s shortlist was especially strong with a number of very credible potential winners. We had none of us, I think, expected a graphic novel to win, but we were all captivated by Flake." AO: Despite all its more eccentric trappings there’s a very human story at the heart of Flake. Do you think that in its own strange way that juxtaposition of the absurd and the pedestrian in your work can draw out the inherent humanity of your stories all the more for its contrast?David Campbell, judge and publisher of Everyman’s Library, comments: ‘This year’s shortlist was especially strong with a number of very credible potential winners. We had none of us, I think, expected a graphic novel to win, but we were all captivated by Flake.’

AO: I really felt for you last year when the pandemic hit just before Flake was published and you missed all the customary book launches and events. How have you had to adapt to promoting Flake over the 16 months? Matthew Dooley has an off-centre, idiosyncratic, and often bleakly humorous view of the world; something that has been a constant on the UK indie scene since his work first started appearing in such influential anthologies as Dirty Rotten Comics and Off Life. His short strips have been seen in collections like Meanderings. The Practical Implications of Immortality and Catastrophising, and in 2016 he won the 2016 Cape/Observer/Comica Short Story Prize for ‘Colin Turnbull: A Tall Story’. In the small seaside town of Dobbiston, Howard sells ice creams from his van, just like his father before him. But when he notices a downturn in trade, he soon realises its cause: Tony Augustus, Howard’s half-brother, whose ice-cream empire is expanding all over the North-West… Set in the fictional small seaside town of Dobbiston, Flake follows the life of ice-cream man Howard, who realises that the downturn in his business is a consequence of his half-brothers’s efforts to build his own ice-cream empire across the north-west.There’s overt optimism at work in the narrative – in Howard’s quietly contented marriage, in his small kindnesses, and his friendships, and in the series of events that lead to the happy ending. From the group of friends gathering together to support him after Tony’s machinations turn nasty – prompting scenes of collective endeavour so recognisable from romcoms – to the growing success of his new ice cream (‘It didn’t take long for word to spread..’), these are unabashedly ‘feelgood’ tropes. Flake, Matthew Dooley’s debut graphic novel, tells of how this epic battle turns out, and how Howard – helped by the Dobbiston Mountain Rescue team – overcomes every obstacle and triumphs in the end. AO: I first discovered your work in anthologies like Off Life and the much missed Dirty Rotten Comics. How vital were group efforts like that in not just raising your profile and building an audience but in forging links with the wider comics community? Howard’s life as an ice cream van owner is a quietly unambitious one. The highlight of his day is doing the crosswords for a couple of hours before work begins or chatting with local museum worker Jasper, a failed TV quiz show contestant and ardent campaigner to have the local downgraded hill reclassified as a mountain. This sedentary lifestyle is about to be disrupted however when rogue ice cream vendor Tony Augustus re-enters his life. The mercenary Augustus has swept through the North West of England, dispatching such industry legends as Professor Scrumptious and Dr. Frisbee’s Ice Creams of Distinction in his wake, and subsuming then into his icy empire.

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