It was fitting that NDC’s first ever speaker was from out of town and had just taken the plunge into becoming a full-time comics writer. Cardiff denizen Jonathan Clode is no rookie, however, having already racked up several excellent features for the on-line comic, Outré, ventured into prehistoric monsters with the on-going Fire-Beast series and received two Eisner nominations in 2014 for co-editing the WW1 anthology, To End All Wars.
Acknowledging that keeping a toe in his previous profession as a care worker helps pay the bills, Jonathan talked about the joy of feeling released from some monstrous machine, liberated to indulge his craving to create challenging work such as his deeply moving script, Shut Away. Through the sorrowful life of a patient called Sandra, who he’s know for several years, Jonathan tells the story of all those with challenging behaviour or deemed ‘feeble minded’ who had spent decades lost and forgotten in the soul-destroying environment of Cardiff’s Ely Hospital. He already has Croatian illustrator Stjepan Mihaljevic on board, an artist who did wonders for Ian Douglas’s submariners script in TEAW, and from what we saw of Stjepan’s early sketches for Shut Away, this will definitely be one to look out for.
Our second speaker was from the opposite extreme, an old hand at particularly agiprop comics, and suitably jaundiced about both his profession and own abilities. Brick presented us with just four pages of a challenge he took up to interpret the opening scene of Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’ for Elsinore Castle in Denmark. This is the weird sisters’ opening gambit, clustered round the cauldron while Scotland descends into tribal warfare off-stage, which Brick totally deconstructed and rebuilt almost unrecognizably. His witches were NATO or UN paramedics and the place they’d gathered was inside a bombed-out armoured personnel carrier, ostensibly trying to save the occupants. In his background the fires of burning oil wells blackened the sky. See it all here.
With screen shots of Photoshop workspaces, Brick illustrated the multiple layers – up to 25 – needed to create any one page of his nightmare vision. This from an old school ‘toonist who still uses quills! Asked if he was pleased with the result, some in the audience were maybe surprised by how self-deprecating and scathing he was about his inability to infuse his panels with tangible atmosphere. Self-taught and sparingly efficient, he explained how his style better suited the tight deadlines magazines and newspapers demanded for agitprop or educational work. Seems it is a continual frustration to an excellent draughtsman that he isn’t Bill Sienkiewicz!
Lynn Fotheringham, a classicist from the University of Nottingham, shone an even tighter beam, focusing on just a single spread from Frank Miller’s retelling of Sparta’s Battle of Thermopylae, 300. While accepting that Miller’s interpretation of prehistory leaves much to be desired and that, by the time the film of the same was released, he’d lost it, Lynn exuded tangible pleasure that the world of comics had finally caught onto the potential offered by the classical world, that is, beyond the very literary efforts of the Classics Illustrated series.
Abstracting greatly from her contribution to fellow NDC-er and university classicist Stephen Hodgkinson’s book, Sparta in Modern Thought, Lynn focused mainly on the dynamics of Miller’s layout (see image). Turning the page to it, the reader’s eye is immediately drawn to the arrangement of the characters in the large image, maybe even the penis at the centre of the oval proscribed by the speech balloons, something that alludes to the gay relationships apparently encouraged within the Spartan forces for greater internal bonding. But then the eye is drawn to the rack of small images to the left to pick up the text from the previous page, bouncing across the footer of the main image to the strong, isolated image page right.
Oddly enough, what most perplexed our audience was Miller’s poor depiction of the five warriors doing single-arm push-ups – nobody (even those who had read 300) realized that they weren’t simply crawling along the ground in formation! But though small, our first audience was extremely discerning and liberally fired insightful questions at each of our speakers, bringing some of their own knowledge to discussions. Comprising creators, readers, academics and a couple who were just getting into comics, there seemed general agreement that NDC had hit the ground running providing a suitably eclectic range of speakers and stimulation. To them, our speakers and Matt Green who introduced our first session must go our wholehearted thanks.