Paul McCaffrey talked about working in comics and illustration, and that elusive work-life balance: ‘The work-life thing is an interesting concept,’ he mused wistfully, as if it was something that totally eluded him. And so this presentation was rich in detail and variety: robots and zombies, comics set in different times and places…. One fascinating project he was involved in was the illustration of a book about a boy with Tourettes syndrome. It can’t be sold as a children’s book, because of the swearing, and it can’t be shelved as a graphic novel, because it looks like a children’s book! I was particularly intrigued about Paul’s commission from a company working in wearable technology, to create a comic strip about their product. The product may not have taken off, but the idea of using comic art to promote ways of working with new technology is exciting.
Some of Paul’s recommendations for those starting out in comics included Birmingham’s ‘Comics Launchpad’, something definitely worth checking out. But this review can’t do justice to the wealth of drawings that the unjustly modest Mr McCaffrey showed us. Work for Macmillan, Heinemann, NME, IDW, Marvel, DC, Aces Weekly, Omnivistascope… and on.
Brick filled us in on sound effects or ‘audio visual language’ as it is known to some academics. These are best used sparingly, like the punchline of a joke. Silent sound effects: symbols and illusions, can be more effective. But here are some of Brick’s salient points:
– There is a list of sound effects at comicbookfx.com though many are dated and are parodies of themselves. Many are violent, reflecting their source in decades mainstream comics, but there’s no sound effect for starting a car engine.
– Take a look at Robert Petersen’s ‘The Acoustics of Manga’.
– In creating your own sound effects, they need to be…
Easy to read
Dissimilar to any other word
– Make sure that the sound effect fit into the region, environment and period that is being shown. For example, a 1920’s phone does not go ‘Ring, Ring…..Ring, Ring’.
– Comics would benefit from people who specialise in sound effects.
Brick wrapped up his fascinating and thorough talk by explaining how he’d found a way to represent music (perhaps the most difficult of all SFX for comics creator to grapple with) in his work on classical composers. Flowing patterns give a feel of the sounds being represented without off-putting, complex musical notation.
Long time NDC stalwarts Nat Titman and Gareth Howell banged the drum for Nottingham Hackspace and bodily dragged the NDC crowd through an interactive session that had the room wielding marker pens with furious abandon!
We started with a lucid explanation of the Hackspace manifesto. If you didn’t know (I didn’t), Hackspace is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of cool tools and deadly devices available on the cheap for collaborative or personal projects. If you like the idea of getting your hands on a laser cutter or an angle grinder whilst simultaneously giving the finger to B&Q – get down there (click here). As an aside, if you had ever speculated about the origin of Nottingham’s very own tiny perplexed rabbit plague, speculate no more. It was those damn meddling Hackspacers!
Nat and Gareth are the local heroes behind the Hackspace Comics Making Group who meet on the first Thursday of every month to talk comics, make comics and eat comics (probably). Anyone with an interest in sequential art gubbins should check them out. They welcome artists, writers and fans of any calibre, inexperienced or otherwise. They emphasise an open, friendly environment for those wishing to experiment with making their own graphic narratives, and insist on an appropriate “comics/life” balance (‘comics ain’t the be-all and end-all of life, man’ – sage advice). They showed us examples of a few funny exercises they use for getting the ol’ grey matter warmed up. Daniel Zadik’s panel giving “Q” from Star Trek the cold shoulder and the exercise messing with the proportions of Leonardo Di Caprio’s face (turns out he always looks basically the same) spring to mind as providing much mirth. (To see more, N&G’s presentation to NDC can be found here.)
So, on to the meat and potatoes, the world famous – NINE-PANEL COMIC MAKING CHALLENGE!!!! First the audience was reshuffled to tables of not less than four people. N&G had come up with a list of genius pitches for a number of short comics stories. (The concept of “the pet translation device” deserves a trade paperback in its own right!) Then each table member was invited to pick a pitch to develop, no two of the same allowed on the same table. On pre-panelled A3 sheets, with the instruction not to use pencils and all use the same type of pen (provided), a room full of aspiring comics creators set to with hammer and tongs, turning their neat pitches into the messy realities of Panel No.1. This was then passed to their left for the next budding Dave Gibbons or Hannah Berry to continue the story… and so on to Panel No. 9 and the totally unplanned but wonderfully bizarre climax of the piece.
What a great experience! At a table with three actual artists and two talented amateurs, I learned a lot about the difficulties of perspective, keeping a story moving and the narrative cul-de-sac of referencing obscure 70’s sitcoms with collaborators who weren’t born ’til this millennium! Surprisingly the group managed to knock out a few pages that actually hung together. Honourable mention must go to the “sick puppy’s” table, though. Every story they came up with inevitably descended into a degenerate nightmare of some kind – kudos to you!
However, rather childishly, my personal highlight of February’s NDC has to be Brick sticking his size 13 boot straight into the “gender-specific” toilet issue during his introduction! Brilliant!! Come on man, get with the programme….
Nobody tells me nuffin’! It’s what ‘appens when y’beard’s white… Brick
The idea for NDC came from reading about talking shops in Italy and France that forensically took apart comics in a quest to find new, more challenging ways forward for a medium considered to be treading water. In the jargon, they were deconstructing comics, much like Soviet filmmakers deprived of film stock did in the early 1920s, from which emerged so many seminal classics of the cinema.
Even as graphic narratives were becoming the new rock’n’roll in the UK, there was no escaping that barely a handful of publications were bringing something innovative and exhilarating to the creaking table. On their backs, a raft of really quite average mags and books were providing the illusion of a new Golden Age. The Guardian got excited and the literarti felt safe to venture into Gosh, but there were murmurings at the fringes of the business. We had to be capable of better, if only there was a handy sandbar somewhere where creators, readers and academics could get off surfing the wave and reflect for a moment.
The format was lifted hook, line and Speaker’s Guidelines from Laydeez-Do-Comics, and with their blessing. We had and have a different remit, broadly all things comics, sequential narrative, graphic literature etc etc in all its multiplicity of forms and contents. But our debt to Laydeez made us doubly conscious that the comics industry, the mainstream, is overwhelmingly peopled by men… white men. Fortunately for NDC, the great ideas, new approaches, exciting experiments and deep thinking are mostly found in the twilight zones of the medium, issuing from the indies, the DIYers, the web maesters, the critical readers and the academics with a streak of geek. And that world is heavily populated with women poised to shatter the glass ceiling.
To date, NDC has provided a platform for 26 female and 23 male presenters or speakers. So far so good. But where are the people of colour who read, create or have something to say about comics? It is not for the want of searching that we have so far provided a forum for none of the above. In a city as ethnically diverse as ours, with so many coming from countries where comics are more popular than prose… not good. The mind reels at the treasure trove of imaginative, inspiring, disturbing and culturally unique stories our BME community must have crying out to be written and illustrated, if they aren’t already.
It’s always fascinating to listen to somebody from an associated craft, such as film or theatre, enlightening us on the quirks of their profession as much as the particular skills set demanded of their art. As a ‘boarder’ churning out storyboards ten to the dozen, Robin French sounded continually prey to the whims of directors and writers, and in a trade where speed (up to 100 panels a day!) and a total lack of ego are of the essence, not to mention being fluent in everything from draftsmanship to storytelling, through cinematography, staging, animation, and acting. Robin highlighted a handful of areas where ‘boarding’ techniques overlapped with those required of comics, specifically staging, cinematography (particularly the infamous 180˚ rule), shading and backgrounds and/or grids. Usefully she rounded up with some core information about rates for the job (interestingly the first guest to talk money) and a selection of useful reference books, most notably Framed Ink by Marcos Mateu-Mestre.
As always after one of our guest presentations, there was a lot of back and forth with the audience, with questions and discussion, which warmed us for the remainder of the evening in the company of our slightly depleted brains trust from Nottingham University (Carl Buckland was sadly indisposed). Harriet Lander asked us to consider representations of Sapho, the archaic Greek poet from Lesbos (not the bone condition!). She presented three images depicting the writer, two by Victorians Simeon Solomon and Charles Mengin, and one from a 1970s Playboy cover, inviting us to compare and contrast. Given that we know almost nothing about Sapho, she would seem wide open to interpretation and use by comics creators, and Harriet flipped through examples found in on-line comics and, of course, Wonder Woman. Perhaps most curious was the example from My Little Pony, but what surprised NDC members most was that academia had buried so deeply into an analysis and consideration of fan art. “Is nothing sacred!?”
Lynn Fotheringham‘s highly animated focus was exclusively on Three, the repost to Frank Miller’s pumped up and grotesquely if brilliantly distended 300. More specifically she honed it down to just two pages of Three in which Terpander relates the story of the 300 Spartans to Arimnestos, a narrative comic creators Kelly, Gillen and Bellaire pithily reduce to just eight panels! If this sounds somewhat limited as the basis for a 15 minute presentation and discussion, be aware that the NDC audience has never been more animated or forensic. Undoubtably folk relished the deep analysis of content, style and colour of those two pages, and you could see Lynn making mental note of points they raised she maybe hadn’t considered before. We could have gone on into the night, and that made us think we need to do more of this deep focus stuff at future NDC meetings.
Our thanks to our guests for providing one of our most stimulating and interactive sessions. – JSC
Despite some determined humbuggery from curmudgeonly participants, myself included, December’s NDC had a real festive air. Guest artists and friends of the group, Cryoclaire, Adam Willis, D’Israeli, Sally-Jane Thompson and (briefly) Brick put on a live drawing show that was less seedy than it sounds and did not feature any jolly old men with bellies like bowls full of jelly (thankfully). Astonishingly all the projection tech worked perfectly and we got to see cool and disparate artistic styles appear like magic before our eyes – from tiny stylus to huge fat marker the artistic tricks on display were numerous. You could literally hear the wheels turning in the heads of aspiring artists in the crowd, assuming you weren’t chewing a mince pie too loudly. There was also an opportunity to explain monosyllabically exactly how our pen-smiths wrestle with Photoshop to achieve at least some of the wonderous effects modern comic books display. Thanks to all who contributed to the fuddle and the excellent doodle wall, which exhibited some strikingly good drawings from audience members who had clearly been hiding their light, along with several nasty caricatures of members of the group.
In the end – Futuristic 90’s slacker vied with ferocious “extreme close up” Zeus and Victorian mummy Panya for the rooms affections. The real winner was Christmas…..ho ho ho. As an aside I think D’Israeli coquettishly teased the group with news he is now drawing enjoyable Hellboy spin-off Withchfinfder – seems like a match made in heaven, with all those Victorian monsters to play with! Exciting stuff for the old school geeks in the room.
NDC’s meeting on the 14th November was introduced by the affable Josh Franks and opened with a personal, insightful presentation by Jade Sarson, who’s central themes of “food, friendship and sex“ are vividly showcased via her Manga influenced style, making a big impression on members of the audience who had not encountered her work before. I was particularly struck by the raw emotion of her “feels like noodles” splash page which evoked dark moods I think most of us can relate to. Jade explored how pivotal events in her life had shaped and influenced her artistic style and the whimsical worlds of Café Suada and For the Love of God Marie – tea tinged comic books which deal with subject matter relatively unusual for the medium whilst retaining the sense of fun – catharsis through comic art!
Jade was followed by long-term friend of the group Sally-Jane Thompson who provided a demonstration of building atmosphere and mood through the use of locations and backgrounds in comic art. This was a fascinating insight into the process behind the pictures. Sally’s minimalist images create maximum effect with sparing amounts of ink; members of the group took great inspiration from this approach. Food for thought for those of us not familiar with building “sets” for our paper avatars to interact with. Sally won points from the group for setting work in Nottingham – not just obvious locations, like Sherwood Forest, but in satisfyingly mundane ones, like Vicky centre bus station. For some reason seeing this obscure location pop up in sequential art provided a real jolt of recognition! Questions around mood, genre vs location and layouts provided grist to the mill – the group obviously learned a few tricks from SJT.
Last up, Corrine Pearlman provided a dry and funny talk, walking us through her entertaining life-story, fully immersed in sequential art gubbins. From her early days producing disturbing health pamphlets (a reoccurring theme for NDC speakers – a gateway drug perhaps) to an unusual incident involving a Jewish alter ego. I am sure Corrine’s talk proved motivating for members of the audience not in the biz as she laid out how she escaped the clutches of Pizza express to build the now well renowned Myriad Editions publishers, purveyors of diverse and unusual comics who, in a pleasingly cyclical fashion, gave our first speaker Jade a leg up in the biz after she won their well renowned Graphic Novel competition. Corrine came across as a bit of a legend in the biz who continues to contribute in a big way. She is also owed a debt of thanks for her work setting up Laydees Do Comics, which provided “inspiration” for our very own group (i.e. we nicked the concept).
Complements of organisers with a smile, Kev and Kel Brett, NDC were given a complementary table at this year’s con, which we shared with new local indie comics hub, Magoria Studios, and the more established comics web magazine, INK. Both INK and ourselves were essentially collecting email addresses to expand our mailing lists and spread the good news, but I made a point of trolling round the tables before the floodgates opened to the public to see if there were any local comics creatives present we weren’t aware of. Remarkably, I returned to assume the position with cards from no less that 11 (note 11!!) creators working within striking distance of Nottingham, if not in the city itself. Hopefully we’ll be seeing and even hearing from them at future meetings, but we were also snared by those canny podcasters, Awesome Comics. With a brief firmly locked into the orbit of the small press and indie publishing world, they are a service that is rapidly gaining a reputation for airing fantastic interviews with movers and shakers who aren’t reluctant to offer up advice and warnings about getting into DIY comics. You’ll find our snippet in Podcast 120 (which tells you how long they’ve been going), somewhere around 44:50 in. (Note to self: must do something about my droning voice!!)
Talking to people and from what I overheard, this year’s con was another great success, largely because Kev and Kel put such an emphasis on making it a family event, rather than a hard-nosed selling gig like so many of the other cons in this country that increasingly aspire to San Diego’s commercial standards. As a token of our appreciation, NDC donated £20 to the Poppy Appeal, one of the charities Nottingham Comicon sponsors from its profits. – JSC
Cornered at Nottingham Comicon, NDC blathered into a mic about (guess what) NDC, who and what we are, and some of the stuff that has spun off from our meetings. Awesome Comics provide an entertaining and useful service to small press and indie comics publishers. It’s a bit laddie, but if you can get past the giggling (not difficult) there’s a wealth of excellent information laced through any one podcast. Find them here, and for the NDC bit, you’re after No. 120, 44:50 in.
NDC member, Carol Adlam has been the Djanogly Artist-in-Residence at their Museum of Archaeology since May 2016. The results of her tenure can be seen from 25th November, 2017 – 25th February, 2018 at Lakeside’s Angear Visitor Centre.
The Thinking Room is a multi-layered graphic narrative project that incorporates visitor responses to the museum and its artefacts in a series of reportage illustrations, as well as in a short graphic story called Buried (In the Thinking Room). Both Buried and the overarching Thinking Room project draw on layered narratives, palimpsests, and the real historical narratives that have shaped the Museum and its environs today, from Roman Margidunum to medieval Keighton. Large-scale reportage illustrations and pages from her comic are on display in this exhibition.
Carol is a graduate of the Cambridge School of Art (2014). Her work was shortlisted in the World Illustration Awards 2015 and was nominated in the ‘New Talent’ (Research and Knowledge Communication) category in 2016. She has held residencies at Nottingham Castle Museums and Galleries (2014, 2015), the University of Derby, and the National Army Museum, London. She is the illustrator of the graphic anthologies Ministry of Women (2016), The New Wipers Times (2015), the short graphic novels Amy in Love (2016) and Suzanne’s Story (2014), and several children’s books. More of her work can be seen here.
September’s NDC meeting took a seriously technological bent, characterised by much chin-stroking by the initiated and much head scratching by the less experienced, appropriately introduced by Nottingham Hackspace advocate and web comic aficionado, Nat Titman. It also featured multiple shameless plugs for Nottingham’s excellent Comicon (October 14th)
Our first speakers were Will Starling and Adam Willis, the creative entrepreneurs behind the recently published Filigree comic and fledgling Magoria studios, a newly formed but potentially exquisite beast hoping to plug a gap in the UK’s indie publishing market. They have an ingrained rapport that translated into an amusing presentation, provided interesting feedback on the decision making process they followed when establishing their imprint and the choices a young business of this kind has to make, such as relate to printing and branding.
Thankfully we also got to see lots of Adam’s ethereal artwork. The room responded warmly to their ongoing quest to publish cool stuff, and most were left both juiced up and dangling at the prospect of finally reading What Makes a God, clearly the Moby Dick of the Magoria world. Their presentation perfectly encapsulating the sometimes fractious but obviously fruitful relationship between artist and writer. Was this the 2017 equivalent of catching Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early days of Marvel? Let’s hope so? Will Magoria be at Nottingham Comicon (by the way – 14th October!)
Next, word from the wonderfully frank Cryoclare about her anarchic Gibson-tinged retro-tech web comic, Drugs and Wires, recommended for fans of downbeat science fiction and 90’s design aesthetic. Her presentation posed the question, ”Is making a web comic a good idea?” My personal response was “definitely not” as the level of technical acumen required is certainly considerable, but many of the group clearly took inspiration from Cryoclare’s practical knowledge of Mastodon, Gravilix, Patreon and other techy things. Her passion for the medium was obvious and matched by her deep level of knowledge, it is clear there is much to learn here.
The relentless mechanics of drip-feeding a web comic to online hordes of quivering, jonesing net-heads seemed like a daunting task, but one that Cryoclare was definitely up for. In more familiar territory the group discussed the practicalities of doing the conventions circuit (if you didn’t know, Nottingham Comicon is 14th October at Trent University Newton Building). The old black and white .v. colour debate came round again, as did the joys of having fans tattoo your artwork on their skin (on this occasion, on their head…their head!)