Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Books - Comic Creation Is a Loser by Name, Amuser by Nature

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Books - Comic Creation Is a Loser by Name, Amuser by Nature

Article excerpt

Author wins Funny Prize for inventive exploits of schoolboy.

Barry Loser is no loser. In fact, Barry Loser has just won his creator, Jim Smith, one of the most prestigious prizes for children's literature.

The 2013 Roald Dahl Funny Prize was awarded to Smith (pictured right) for I Am Still Not a Loser, the second instalment in his series about Barry, who, despite his unfortunate surname, is convinced that he is the "keelest person that has ever lived" - "keel" being a cooler way of saying "cool".

The book, which was recognised in the 7-14 age category, includes enough poo, fart and bogey jokes to keep any child happy, and lots of paragraphs ending with "Amen". Amen.

In recent years, the Funny Prize has recognised the talents of, among others, Jamie Thomson for Dark Lord: The Teenage Years, Liz Pichon for The Brilliant World of Tom Gates and Louise Rennison for Withering Tights.

Smith, an illustrator credited only by the big-nosed Barry Loser for putting the commas in the book, has long enjoyed writing for children but did not believe he could earn a living that way. "I had always written little stories but they were unsellable and weird," he tells TES.

But after losing his job as a designer for a chain of coffee shops, he decided to take his weird stories a bit more seriously. "I was going around publishers and someone told me: 'Your sense of humour works really well for eight-year-old boys.' I thought, OK, I will now write a proper kids' book."

So, at the age of 38 and with his first child on the way, Smith created schoolboy Barry Nothing, whose surname was swiftly changed when his agent suggested Loser.

After the first book, I Am Not a Loser, came I Am Still Not a Loser and I Am So Over Being a Loser. Part four in the series, I Am Sort of a Loser, is due out later this month.

A special short edition, I Am Nit a Loser, which features creepy-crawlies, will be released for World Book Day on 6 March and two free e-books, My Mum is a Loser and My Dad is a Loser, are also available.

Smith was brought up in Twickenham, south-west London, the second of three children. "When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to sit at a desk and make things," he says.

"In primary school I drew Christmas posters and leaflets. I just really enjoyed school. I was always in a kind of competition with my best friend about who was the best drawer. He was more realistic, I was more cartoony."

It wasn't fine art but design that obsessed Smith as he grew up in the 1980s, an era when advertising - the industry in which his father worked - was epitomised by shiny creative, big business and big budgets.

"I loved American stuff," Smith says. "I read Mad magazine. I collected Coke cans - this was when I was 12. People would bring them back from holidays for me; I'd write to Coca-Cola and they'd send me things like stickers."

Barry, the champion of the world

A lot of the stories in the Barry Loser books are based on his days at secondary school, Smith says: "All that stuff about those feelings of falling out with your friends and then going off with other friends, then trying to be cool to fit in with the new gang."

After leaving school, he completed an art foundation course at Wimbledon School of Art and went on to study for a degree in advertising, graphic design and illustration at Buckingham College (now Buckinghamshire New University). …

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