A graphic novel about ice-cream turf wars in an English seaside town has won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comedic fiction.
Flake by Matthew Dooley is the first graphic novel ever to win the award, which goes to a work “in the spirit” of the Jeeves and Wooster creator PG Wodehouse. It has been won in the past by “true comic gems” including Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little.
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.
With his debut, Dooley, who also works in the House of Commons in its education department, beat shortlisted novels including Jenny Offill’s Weather and Oisin Fagan’s Nobber. Having won the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize in 2016 for a comic about a man who longs to win Lancashire’s Tallest Milkman competition, Dooley has been described by the Observer as a meld of Alan Bennett and graphic novelist Chris Ware.
“We had none of us, I think, expected a graphic novel to win, but we were all captivated by Flake,” said judge and publisher David Campbell, while judge Sindhu Vee called the book “a rare joy: a laugh out loud story with characters you want to meet again and again”.
Dooley, the 21st winner of the Wodehouse prize, said he was “surprised, overwhelmed and elated” to take this year’s award. His winnings include a jeroboam of Bollinger and a set of Wodehouse books.
“Flake was published on 2 April, amidst a huge, bewildering global crisis. It’s been a very strange experience. Winning the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize means it’s just got stranger in the best possible way,” Dooley said. “Now, how on earth do you chill a bottle of champagne that big…?”
Usually, the winner of the Wodehouse is also presented at the Hay festival with a pig named after their winning title, but organisers said that “with the current situation not allowing for a physical pig”, Dooley has drawn his own interpretation of what might have been.