There have been better times in which to launch a new comics publishing venture, but so often the worst of times can prove the best of times, if you can hang in there until an upturn. With so many small publishers struggling to survive, it is heartening to hear that those enterprising people at Five Leaves Bookshop (opposite the Council House Tourist Information Centre) are dipping a toe into graphic narrative. Five Leaves Graphic is an imprint of Five Leaves Publishing, which spawned the independent bookshop, and while the publishing side has streamlined its lists since establishing the shop, the recent growth in adult interest in comics makes a modest venture into graphic novels an intelligent move for a niche publisher. Their ambitious brief is to publish translations of extraordinary work from overseas that are overlooked by English speakers because they don’t have the language, and a casual stroll round any bookshop next time you are on the continent will tell you just how rich and varied the possibilities are. For example, you can count on one hand how many bande dessinee have made it into English, despite the extraordinary quality of so many French titles.
But Five Leaves Graphic will also be giving consideration to home grown work that sits at the margins but fits comfortably with the Mothership’s radical and literary concerns. Their first publication is a very modest 36 pages long and retails at just a fiver. Titled East of Aleppo: Bread, Bombs and Video Clips, it is a true story Nottingham cartoonist, Brick, stumbled upon regarding the R.A.F.’s rather hush-hush bombing campaign in Syria. In the autumn, look forward to What D’you Mean, There’s No Women in Comics!?, a potted history of women in the UK who work/ed in the comics medium. Written by Selina Lock, the driving force behind the seminal Girly Comic, this heavily illustrated study hints that Five Leaves Graphic will also be making a notable contribution to the culture of comics.
I admit it, I’ve been way too slack about keeping our blog up to date, mostly because at both these meetings I was too enthralled with our speakers to remember to take notes. You promise yourself you’ll set to while the memory is still fresh, but then some client notices one of your characters only has three fingers or the Photoshop file you saved with, you believed, 25 layers has somehow become flat as a pancake when you open it! Fear not for the future, though. NDC has finally found somebody enthusiastic and literate to take loving care of this side of our operations. Many thanks, Chaz.
It’s disrespectful to the generosity of the five speakers at these two meetings to gloss over their stimulating presentations this glibly but…
Carol Adlam talked us through a number of projects she’s recently been involved with that might broadly be called educational, including an up-date of The Wipers Times for our own Sherwood Foresters, a challenging commission for the Ministry of Women, and her current work as artist in residence at Djanogly Art Gallery. Working in this genre (what has recently been labelled ‘applied comics’) embroils her in that thorny problem of how to pack in the information while at the same time producing something accessible, engaging and exciting. It is a fine balance that stimulated much discussion among our audience. Nicola Streeten needed no introduction after the runaway success of her Billy, Me and You memoir of the traumas her family went through during and after the loss of their little boy, but it was her work as an academic, researcher and co-founder of Laydeez-Do-Comics that was her focus for the evening. The women’s decision to invade the testosterone-dripping sanctum of the Angoulême International Comics Festival and take it by storm are well chronicled elsewhere (not least in INK!, see below), but she imbued the telling with a spin that raised more than a few belly laughs. It also made this correspondent acutely aware that NDC needed to revisit our gender balance (now almost level pegging, but where are the ‘toonists from the ethnic minorities, I ask?).
The second meeting cranked up the humour as MoT civil servant and keen comics consumer, Chaz Wright, delivered a sort of ‘what I most like about comics’ tirade that made you wonder if, in the light of the lunacies of Brexit, comics were the only thing keeping him sane. The audience was keen to corner him on politics, but no, “I’m sorry, I can’t discuss politics,” which I guess has something to do with his signing some strip of official secrets paper. No such restrain was shown by Steff Humm, creator and caretaker of the new comics website and newsletter, INK! I can’t for the life of me remember what Steff talked about but a slide titled, ‘Can we isolate the books we read from their social context?’ has stuck in my mind, along with a terrifying image of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. Either way, the discussion afterwards made me look at anxiously my watch in anticipation of leaving enough time for the great Matt Booker (D’Israeli to the uninitiated) to spread his wings and crash. In a highly amusing presentation (mostly thanks to his wonderful comic timing) he presented his catalogue of breakthrough commissions, almost every one of which was wrapped up with, “I wasn’t invited back.” But after all these crash landings Matt has risen time and again to find himself in his present position of being very much in demand and a mainstay of the British mainstream. His was a heartening, encouraging and tenacious presentation that included the wonderful observation that he still considers the indie world of self publishing and zines, where he started, as akin to the R&D Department of the comics world.
Our thanks and my deepest apologies to all our guests, but I leave you with some of Matt’s stunning artwork by way of compensation…
In February, Nottingham lost possibly its most famous scientist, the physicist and Nobel Prize winner, Sir Peter Mansfield, aged 83 years. Best known for his revolutionary work developing the MRI scanner, Sir Peter recently disclosed that when he told his school careers master that he wanted to become a scientist the reaction was akin to, ‘Okay, laddy, but let’s be serious.’ It transpired that, as a child, he had built his own printing press, so he was steered towards a career in printing, starting as a print assistant. At age 18, he moved sideways into rocketry (!) before being scooped up for National Service, after which he studied for his A-levels at night school and gained a place at Queen Mary’s College, London, where his scientific aspirations found a fertile seedbed.
What has all this to do with comics? Well, in the same interview Sir Peter revealed that the reason he built his own printing press was so he could publish his own comics!!!
Those enterprising young zine fans at Nottingham Trent University have started a Comics, Cartoons and Creatives Society, about which they say…
“(It’s a) place where comic geeks, cartoon super fans and the creative types inspired regularly by both can meet up, talk comics, discuss team-ups, swap ideas and get the creative info on their fave characters and creative powers that be from people who are happy to spread the knowledge, the history and the inspiration.
“We have comic fans and artists alike, and try our damnedest to create enjoyable opportunities for both to meet and share there geekdom. We put on digital art workshops at Confetti and organise member ‘drink and draws’ alongside mini sequential story doodling. We aim to have more lendable comics soon through new help and founders, and thus to hold more shareable comic book club meetings. We are young and still very new, but passionate about helping new creatives, cartoon-lovers, comic geeks and of course all that share the same of each be more aware of their nerdy communities and new friendships that are on offer.
“New/war hardened students fresh and fearless..come on and get involved!”
Sounds good to us townies (if a tad grammatically stumbling) and definitely worth supporting!
Recently relocated to our parish, comics journalist Steff Humm brings with her the HQ for a new on-line comics mag called Ink. Developed during her MA years, Ink will be devoted to exploring our incredible but crazy medium in articles that are accessible to non-academics, by which I mean you won’t need a Dictionary of Esoteric Terms by your side. According to our own Stephen Holland from Page 45…
“Steff Humm’s insight, eloquence and sense of perspective – of those graphic novels, comics and comic book creators deserving her coverage in depth – are each one of them impeccable. In addition to a contagious enthusiasm and broad knowledge of her chosen medium at its most contemporary, Humm is well versed in other media, giving her invaluable comparison points, and she’s not afraid to question sacred cows. Also, in an industry which remains male-centric in spite of the medium’s wealth of female creators, you will find Ink’s coverage refreshingly Equal Opportunities and unblinkered.”
Steff will be telling us all about it at our February 2017 meeting but, meantime, check out Inkhere.
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 Unreadproject. 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.
Part of NDC‘s brief is to encourage novices to have a go at making comics and to draw on the years of experience among our members to assist anybody working in the field who hits a bump in the road. An early example of this aspiration bearing fruit came the other evening when three creators from Nottingham’s Hackspace met Nottingham ‘toonist, Brick, to chew over qualms about a major educational project they’re undertaking to produce a young person’s comic that explores different concepts around the huge topic of Evolution. They’d done their homework – apparently Evolution is now a key element of the school curriculum.
The team of Daniel Zanek, Gareth Howell, Leigh Woosey and others not present had got to the point of producing a couple of double-spreads and an opening page, mostly to see if the thing had legs. In Brick’s eyes, it most definitely did, and you can judge for yourselves from the sample spread, itself one the lads felt needed extra work on the caricature of Darwin. There were other similarly small issues which came across as big in the team’s eyes, ones that a working comics creator would correct with little fuss rather than letting them get in the way of progress. There were notable problems with the realising of their opening page, though nothing that a clearer reading of the script wouldn’t solve, but the big stumbling block seemed to Brick to be that they didn’t have a finished script to work from.
Like so many new to the comics form, the team had been eager to crack on with drawing up what passed for a script thus far. It is something we’ve all done, particularly writer/artists who possibly find sitting at a keyboard typing text less than engrossing. But the Hackspace story features two children who are being led through the different concepts by Charles Darwin, and that means a relationship between the three is going to (nay, has to) develop, otherwise why bother with the kids? Equally, the opening panels are set in a zoo, but who knows what might be important to be seen in that collection of caged beasts that might emerge later in the unwritten script?
In a collective, there are ways and means of making the scriptwriting process as lively and interactive as the Hackspace boys have evidently found drawing up sample pages. Brick’s message to the team was find them and bang on with writing the darn thing, itself a major undertaking when they so readily acknowledge they have no ending and don’t quite know where the chapter episodes of the story are heading. Our man from NDC sent them a sample script, just to help with how they might lay it out for ease of readiing, and metaphorically gave them a boot up the behind. This is a fantastic project, one NDC would love to see come to fruition a couple of years down the line and one we will continue to provide roadside assistance to, if asked.
Jonathan Clode, editor of double Eisner nominee, To End All Wars, spoke at our first ever NDC meeting. In fact he was the first of our first (see below), and he is now involved with another first – a digital platform for comics about the parlous state of care provision in this country, a subject neatly ignore by Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement, along with the NHS, which is struggling under the weight of patients clogging up beds because there is no care provision for them on the outside. Jonathan gives a succinct breakdown of the whys and wherefores of the project and his relationship with both the sector and backers Cardiff University on the Graphic Medicine site.
This is an important issue. At some point we will all either have need of care provision or will become carers, and many of us are already disgusted by the Dickensian horror stories that have seeped out from the privatisation of the sector over the last decade or so.
Jonathan is calling for short story contributions of between six and eight pages, so get your thinking caps on and make a small but significant difference. Contact him at email@example.com.
This was more a university gig NDC were invited to jump on board with, featuring an hour and a half’s presentation by Simon Grennan, the writer and artist behind the Guardian acclaimed adaptation of Antony Trollope’s 1879 novel John Caldigate, retitled by Simon, DISPOSSESSION.
Beginning with a rapid gallop through the comics industry’s standard approaches to the adaptation of ‘classics’, typified by ‘Classics Illustrated’, Simon highlighted the slavish reliance on simply regurgitating plot and how this impoverished the interpretation and ghettoised the genre as strictly for the kids. More recent adaptations by the likes of our own INJ Culbard, Jacques Tardi in France and Kenyan/Swedish artist, Catherine Anyango, took an identifiably personal approach, Simon felt, somewhat unreflective of the source materials’ literary style – if you like, ignoring the ‘voice’ of the prose author in favour of the comics author’s. Simon therefore set himself the task of deconstructing not only the Trollope plot, his characters, settings and their journey, but also Trollope’s writing style, searching for a visual language that would echo the prose language.
Trollope churned out what are now called ‘Arga Sagas’ that focus on the constrained, seemingly catholic and pretty boring machinations of the 19th Century’s bourgeoisie, and his is frankly not the source material any comics creative would choose to take on. But this was a commission, an academic exercise Simon grasped with both hands. After a lot of research and consultation, he nailed to his mast four rules he considered would best convey and be truthful to Trollope’s narrative and text. He set himself a fixed six panels per page format, thus undermining any concession to graphic pace or emotional engagement. Secondly he decided to keep a distance from his/Trollope’s characters, never taking his readers closer than a full-figure medium shot of either the action or interactions. Realising that Trollope largely ignores the world through which his characters travel, Simon decided to expand on the text, researching, adapting and instilling interesting and maybe important cultural details about, for example, the Australian emigrant ships or the lives of Wiradjuri aborigines. This embued his comic with a verisimilitude he considered strengthened the original text. Lastly, he decided to rotate his POV during the course of any one sequential situation (see sample page), providing the reader with a full understanding of their location if not the cut of their apparel. (If that’s difficult to picture, watch the extraordinary films of Ozu or Miklos Jansco, two cinematic masters who employ their camera as a roving eye.)
Whether you are into adaptations or not, Simon’s was a fascinating presentation, and it is a pity time didn’t allow for deeper questioning. He acknowledges DISPOSSESSION is an uncomfortable read, largely because it ignores conventions and embeds its own picture language, but these experiments have happened before in our medium, with varying degrees of success. Whether Simon’s battle plan for Trollope’s matrimonial yarn actually nails what he set out to achieve would have been good to discuss more fully.
Our thanks to Kevin Brett, co-organiser of our local comicon, for giving NDC exposure for free in the event’s catalogue. The one-day comic and zine binge is clearly expanding exponentially, not least in the number of bizarre coz-play participants, and it was a delight to bump into a few NDC stalwarts feverishly searching for obscure back issues, sitting on panels or selling their wares. No doubt at some point in the near future we will be in a position to take a table and promote both ourselves and the work of local creatives.