Despite apocalyptic conditions outside, the fifth NDC was well-attended and ventured into vaguely cerebral territory with an lively presentation from the team behind the upcoming Open Day comics project. Prof Philip Moriarty (Bwa-Ha-Ha), winner of the inaugural “boring title-funny discourse” award for delivering his Introduction to Productive Nano Systems – an engaging and hilarious overview of the scientific principles involved in building structures with atoms! Philip took time to debunk a few myths promulgated by published “experts” on the subject, explained the idea of flipping atomic dominoes and confirmed Douglas Adams was right about the meaning of the universe, whilst weaving in points around Math-metal, his favourite Judge Dredd and the scientific merits of Doctor Who.
Next up, writer Shey Hargreaves candidly explained the decision making process when deciding to adapt such challenging subject matter, and the teeth-grinding process for getting funding. None of this seemed to have dented her infectious enthusiasm for the project. Shey was joined by collaborator Charli Vince (seemingly a well-honed double act) who talked about the dilemma of artists meddling with the science in the interest of good story-telling and the inherent challenges of converting the life and work of particle physicists into graphic form – how to draw several hundred pages of a graphic novel without boring your reader when your story revolves around two people, a very complex piece of machinery and… a cat. The audience had to conclude that these two presenters were definitely masochists but previews of Shey’s deft storytelling and Charli’s beautiful line-work has surely nailed a few sales already.
The final member of Philip’s team, social scientist Brigitte Nerlich, finished off this splendid presentation with thoughts on the ethics of emerging technology, focusing on the use of nanobots to fight climate change. Once again managing to find humour in a potentially arid subject matter, Brigitte’s segued perfectly into questions from the audience around the colour of atoms (not as advertised) and how the audience could ultimately get their sweaty hands on a copy of Open Day.
Following our “heavy metal” scientists, James Walker’s solo performance, covered an equally wide range of subjects, flitting from Nottingham’s pedigree as a significant literary city to the logistical challenges of delivering his mammoth Dawn of the Unread project. This was a massive undertaking with the aspirational aim of improving literacy and a love of reading amongst “d’yoof”, incorporating many different promotional platforms, from digital campaigns to a Saturday Night Sunday Morning video game, events featuring classic authors in shambling zombie persona and, reassuringly, some traditionally published comics.
James provided a fascinating insight into the creative process whilst not shying away from the truly Herculean aspects of taking on such a big piece of work – for example, trying to navigate the administrative mire of the local council! We were heartened to hear about his positive experiences working with students on work-placements and the depths of hidden talent he discovered. James’ presentation featured cameos from Blakey (from TV’s On the Buses), Nottingham stalwart “the cockle man” and a nice Big Kebab (AKA elephant’s leg). All in all, something for everyone! The audience reacted strongly to James’ point about reduced enthusiasm for reading among young people, and discussion ensued around technology’s role in causing this decline and the ways emerging technologies might be used to bolster an enthusiasm for literature.
A big thanks to all the participants. See y’all next time at February’s meeting.