Jamila Rowser, Robyn Smith, Alex Segura win L.A. Times Book Prizes

Rowser and Smith’s ‘Wash Day Diaries’ wins in the graphic novel category, while Segura’s novel about the 1970s comics industry wins in the mystery category.

Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith’s Wash Day Diaries has won this year’s L.A. Times Book Prize in the Graphic Novels/Comics category.

Published by Chronicle Books, their story actually began as a comic Kickstarter in 2018, but was later expanded into a graphic novel containing five interconnected stories.

Wash Day was going to be just the one shot, and that’s how I created it in my mind. When I was thinking, ‘How can I make this a graphic novel?’ it was difficult for me to easily come up with a story that fit within what already existed,” Rowser told Smash Pages last year. “They wanted us to include Wash Day so I was going to have to build upon that. So I went back to the original idea of multiple wash day stories. So we added more friends and made them interconnected short stories of their sisterhood, keeping most of the focus of their hair being done. We learn about their lives, go through different types of subjects, and were also able to show different types of hair styles being done. Showing different types of hair styles was really important to me because I wear my hair natural, however, I want Black women to wear their hair in whatever way they feel most comfortable in. I wanted to be able to show wigs and box braids and not make natural hair seem like the superiority style.”

The Los Angeles Times has given an award in the graphic novel category since 2009, when Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli won the award. Other previous winners include The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez, Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines, Beverly by Nick Drnaso, Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam and The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis. R. Kikuo Johnson’s No One Else won the prize last year.

Meanwhile, in the Mystery/Thriller category, novelist and comic writer Alex Segura’s Secret Identity took home the prize.

A murder mystery set in 1970s New York, the novel centers around Carmen Valdez, an assistant at Triumph Comics who aspires to be a writer. After a co-worker is murdered, Valdez tries to understand what happened. Chapters of the novel are also interspersed with pages from the fictional The Lynx comic book, which Valdez co-wrote in the novel, but are drawn by real-life artist Sandy Jarrell.

“I love the P.I. novel and I love that I was able to invert and flip some tropes and push it forward in my own little way, but there was some liberation in being able to tell a story that is a crime novel, but isn’t necessarily a crime novel first,” Segura told Smash Pages last year. “It’s really a study of the industry and the character and New York at the time and music and Carmen’s journey. There’s a murder and she has to solve a murder, but I hope that people get the texture of the comic book world and are intrigued enough if they’re not comics readers to dig into it a little bit more. I also didn’t want it to feel like at every mention of a name, I was rattling off their wikipedia pages. I wanted it to be something where if you know, you know, and if you’re not in the know, and are intrigued enough to do the research and dig into these people, but I didn’t want to slow the pace of the story with the wikipedia-ing of it all.”

Congratulations to Rowser, Smith and Segura on their big wins.

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