More than just another Brick in the wall

In the above video artist and writer John Stuart Clark (aka Brick) discusses the process of creating his chapter for Dawn of the Unread. Below he explains why Slavomir Rawicz’s story is important to him.

The book I chose to write and draw about I discovered in my boarding school library a couple of weeks after being grounded for attempting to escape. I was nine years old and sick of being bullied because my parents were neither posh nor wealthy, like almost every other oik’s in the school. That book was The Long Walk and chronicles Slavomir Rawicz’s escape from a Soviet gulag camp in Siberia during WWII. It rang a lot of bells!

My approach was to tell the very personal story of how influential the book was on my efforts to escape the corrupt and brutalizing world in which I found, and have continued to find, myself living in. Whether in my choice of a precarious profession or my continual need to lose myself in the wilds, Slavomir Radwicz’s story filled me with the belief that anybody can overcome the insurmountable and triumph against overwhelming odds NOT to conform and become one of the herd.

My style is what it is, honed over many decades working as a political cartoonist, a job in which I am required to point out that the Emperor’s new clothes are an illusion, but with a touch of humour to soften the blow for the delusional. Since I have also written prose books and articles about my adventure travel experiences, it seemed only fitting to create a parody outdoor magazine, Mountain, Forest, Desert Monthly, that would feature snippets of interest to young readers that spring from the main comic as embeds. After all, libraries don’t just make public books and CDs and DVDs and maps – they also have racks of magazines and newspapers.

Brick shows how he found inspiration for drawing particular scenes

Brick shows how he found inspiration for drawing particular scenes

The library used in my chapter…

While there are excellent new and refurbished local repositories (particularly West Bridgford and Worksop Libraries), I preferred to flog over to Wales to photograph the stunningly beautiful Llandudno Library. Financed by Conwy Borough Council and the Welsh Assembly’s Libraries for Life scheme, the make-over was done in consultation with Opening the Book, a design service whose modus operandi is very much about fitting the library to the needs of the reader-explorer rather than the staff or local authority’s obligations.

First visited in the course of presenting a workshop and talk, Llandudno’s is a library that blows the stereotypical fusty old image of dark corners, dark shelving and dark regiments of catalogued spines out of the water. No doubt a bugger to keep clean, the neutrality of the white and the wonderful innovation of tilted shelving (which can also be seen at Worksop) entice the explorer into the rows and layers of alluring spines much as the glass jars of coloured candy used to in sweet shops (yep, I’m that old). And gone is the rigid Dewey Decimal Classification system, replaced by a reader-centred stacking system that demands more user interaction of the staff and makes the whole experience of visiting the library more like an adventure.

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During April visit Central Library, Nottingham for Our Story: Polish Heritage in the East Midlands an exhibition celebrating the lives of migrants settling in Nottingham and the East Midlands after the Second World War

 

Slavomir Rawicz chapter released…

Slavomir Rawicz who died on 5 April 2004

Slavomir Rawicz who died on 5 April 2004

Our first chapter is released today to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Slavomir Rawicz who passed away on 5 April 2004 at the age of 88. Rawicz was a Polish Army lieutenant who was imprisoned by the Russian NKVD after the German-Soviet invasion of Poland. He was sentenced to 25 years hard labour for ‘spying’, despite having a mother who was Russian, and consequently the ‘great stone fortress prison of Kharkov opened its grim gates to me in April 1940.’ It was here that Rawicz encountered chief interrogator The Bull, who ‘ran his interrogation sessions like an eminent surgeon, always showing off his skill before a changing crowd of junior officers.’ The Bull revelled in sadism, forcing prisoners to excrete while chained up and whose interrogations were so frequent it soon became impossible for prisoners to distinguish between day and night. The Bull was particularly proud of showing off his Cossack knife which he used with ‘dexterity and ingenuity’ in an attempt to force a false confession from his victims.

Things got slightly better when Rawicz was transferred to the notorious Lubyanka prison in Moscow but the torture continued. At one point he was strapped to the now familiar ‘operation table’ where tar was poured on his body. Rawicz commented that it was a variation on torture that would have made even the Bull envious.

Rawicz incredible journey across the Himalayas is drawn by artist John Stuart Clark

Rawicz incredible journey across the Himalayas is drawn by artist John Stuart Clark

From here Rawicz was transported, in cramped cattle trucks, to the sub-zero temperatures of Siberia. Many ‘died without a whisper in the long nights’ when their turn came to stand out of the warmth of the truck on a scheduled stop. ‘They had no graves, the ground was iron-hard and impossible to dig. They were taken away and snow heaped on them’.

The cramped conditions meant prisoners quickly got to know each other, not through name but by character. ‘There were leaders, those determined not to die, others whom the spark of hope had already been crushed’. But for Rawicz it was the jokers that helped people pull through, offering humour and temporary relief from the horrifying inhumane conditions. When the train eventually arrived at Irkutsk the men were chained together and marched hundreds of miles to Camp 303 – where, on arrival, the survivors had to build their own accommodation from scratch.

Rawicz worked for a short while at Nottingham Trent Polytechnic as a technician.

Rawicz worked for a short while at Nottingham Trent Polytechnic as a technician.

Rawicz eventually managed to escape the Gulag in 1941 where he fought through the blizzards of Siberia and the blistering heat of the Gobi desert on his long walk home to freedom. So incredible is Rawicz’s story that some critics have suggested he embellished certain events, issues which are addressed by political cartoonist John ‘Brick’ Clark in his chapter published today.

My Long Walk with Slav is released on 8 April 2014 and can be downloaded from our official website.

We are tweeting The Long Walk until 8 April 2015. Please follow @SlavomirRawicz

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Dellamorte Dellamore (Michel Soavi, 1994)

In the second of 12 posts, film critic Neil Fulwood flies us across the globe to Italy in search of the ultimate zombie movie.

Welcome to Italy. According to Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man, “for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance”. Bringing things up to date, a contemporary Harry Lime might remark that in Italy in the twentieth century they had Mussolini and twenty-five years of fascism, but they produced Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. The hardcore fan would probably add Sergio Martino, Massimo Dallamano, Umberto Lenzi and a couple of dozen others.

Italian cinema is so steeped in horror movies that surely the only impediment to picking an exemplar of the zombie genre is that one is spoiled for choice? Actually, no. Most of the great Italian horror directors never made a zombie film. Of those who did, the results were either embarrassingly shambolic (Bruno Mattei’s Zombie Creeping Flesh) or geographically so far removed – Fulci’s zombie opuses, including bona fide classic The Beyond, were all set in America – as to be divorced from their cultural heritage. Perhaps the one true Italian zombie movie, keyed into the country’s landscape, culture and customs, is Dellamorte Dellamore.

The title is a play on words that doesn’t translate: it was released outside Italy as Cemetery Man. The action takes place in a sprawling necropolis near a rural town. For no reason that’s ever explained, the dead rise within five days of burial and it’s the job of caretaker Francisco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) to shoot them in the head and re-inter them. In this he’s aided by drooling simpleton Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro). They live a simple life, left alone by the town’s administrative and political tyros as long as they take care of the undead. That is, until Francisco falls for a young widow and starts making mistakes. Arguably the biggest is his continuation of the romance after she’s zombified. Gnaghi, meanwhile, carries a torch for the mayor’s daughter but has resigned himself to his passion being unrequited. When the young lady is decapitated in a motor accident, however, Gnaghi seizes upon the old cliché that love is stronger than death.

Soavi plays out the first act as broad comedy-horror (think early Peter Jackson with subtitles) then gradually reshapes the material into parallel and equally twisted love stories fraught with the horror of impotence. As events spiral out of control, Francisco goes into the kind of meltdown that puts your average Hollywood child star to shame. Self-immolation, murder and arson ensue – or maybe not: Dellamorte Dellamore plays the “is it real or is it fantasy” card to head-spinning effect. Gore gives way to surrealism. The finale reveals the entire film as a set-up to an almost unpalatable existential punchline.

The “X is like Y meets Z” school of film criticism is generally a lazy option, but here it’s virtually mandatory: Dellamorte Dellamore is like Lucio Fulci meets Luis Buñuel by way of a key image from Citizen Kane. It’s like no other zombie flick you’ve ever seen.

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An Apple a Day Keeps DH Lawrence Away

 

DOTU on Ipad

Since having this absurd idea of creating a graphic novel I’ve had the flu twice, suspected shingles, a panic attack and a nasty facial virus that left me looking like I’d gone a few rounds with Bendigo. This is inevitable with the start-up of any project but now that the main framework is in place things are starting to calm down and I’m making it to bed before 1am.

One reason for my stress is the delay of the App and iPad versions of Dawn of the Unread. This has now been put back to 8 May. Paul Fillingham, who deals with the digital side of any project I run, has had to make quite a lot of coding revisions after working with actual content. Consequently we’ve been unable to re-use web-content and instead had to programme everything into Apple’s Native iOS code for things such as gestures to control page-turns (left/right swipes). This is time consuming.

An apple a day may keep the doctor away but working with Apple is not good for your health. Paul has found it increasingly difficult to get content through their gatekeepers with recent projects and is cautious to the point of paranoia in complying with the Apple Human Interface Guidelines. And he has good reason to feel like this. One App he recently put together for a WWII project took two months to get approval due to references to the Holocaust. It is frightening how fearful organisations have become about broaching complex sensitive subjects. This is no doubt a fear of being sued and as a result, certain words must get flagged up on their database.

Nottingham's favourite Potty Mouth, DH Lawrence

Nottingham’s favourite Potty Mouth, DH Lawrence

I mention this because our front cover has a picture of DH Lawrence stumbling about muttering ‘f*ck’. This is of course a reference to the acquittal of Penguin Books in the Lady Chatterley trial. Writing in the Guardian, Geoffrey Robertson QC said: “The Old Bailey has, for centuries, provided the ultimate arena for challenging the state. But of all its trials – for murder and mayhem, for treason and sedition – none has had such profound social and political consequences as the trial.” So basically, a Nottingham man made it possible for everyone to swear more freely.

Fast forward 54 years and Paul Fillingham is advising me that we cut the ‘F*ck’ from the front cover for our iPad and iPhone versions because this will be the main landing page for the App and consequently the first thing Apple will focus on. The DH Lawrence trial may have ‘provided the ultimate arena for challenging the state’ but it’s a very different arena when submitting work to Apple as if they don’t like something it simply won’t happen. ComiXology recently decided to bar a SAGA issue from the App Store to second-guess approval policy.

All of which raises the issue of censorship, because this is what we’re really talking about. And should Apple be dictating content to creators? Surely their only concern should be that the technical aspects of production and industry standards are met. I appreciate there will always be some form of regulation, and rightly so, but not to the detriment of legitimate educational content.

I love words. They are the most important thing in the world to me and when someone steals one it is like sending your dog to be castrated. But in a project of this size and scale you have to concentrate on the battles you can win. The main issue is to get it through Apple’s stringent vetting process so that schools can start downloading it. If that means losing a f*ck’ then fuck it. We can always resubmit the cover at a later date. And I have an obligation to reclaim my ‘f*ck’ for DH Lawrence. For as he once wrote: “Do not allow to slip away from you freedoms the people who came before you won with such hard knocks.”

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A Second Class Return to Dottingham, Please

Nottingham’s had a fair few labels over the years. In 1811 we were a rebel city thanks to the exploits of the mythological Ned Ludd and the Frame Breakers which led to an impassioned maiden speech in the House of Lords by Lord Byron. In 1984 we were known as Scab City on account of some our miners refusing to come out on strike. If you want to learn more about the truth of this particular event then read Look Back In Anger by Harry Paterson. In 2006 we were voted Worst City in Britain by some random media poll and gained some imaginative punnage as Nottingun and Shottingham. This led to my all-time favourite LeftLion front cover when we went for the headline ‘Another Shooting in Nottingham’. We were referring to our thriving film industry rather than sporadic urban shootings.

But for those of us who actually live in the Queen of the Midlands, we lovingly refer to ourselves as Dottingham after a 1980s television advert for the cough sweet Tunes. In this, the actor Peter Cleall attempts to buy a train ticket with a blocked up nose and delivers the immortal line ‘I’d like a second class return to Dottingham, please.’

The new advert celebrates the 70th birthday of actor Peter Cleall

The new advert celebrates the 70th birthday of actor Peter Cleall

To celebrate Peter Cleall’s 70th birthday (he was born on 16 March 1944) I’ve brought this advert back to life and given it a books related twist. This has been uploaded to our YouTube channel and will feature as embedded content in our opening chapter when Dawn of the Unread will be made available as an iPad, iPhone or Android download on 8 April.

The video was edited together by Loops who are a student company based at Confetti Institute of Technology. I’d recommend them for anyone who needs any video editing or similar work as they charge roughly 1/10th of commercial prices. This is a massive saving for anyone working on a tight budget while also supporting a new start-up trying to bridge the gap between study and work.
I did contact the Wrigley Company who own Tunes to make them aware of what I was doing but never heard back from them. I’ve taken the view that as our project is educational and the comic is available as a free download then the adaptation falls under ‘fair use’ and so shouldn’t invoke copyright issues. If they do get the hump then we’ll just have to take it down.

William Booth buys his ticket out of the after life

William Booth buys his ticket out of the after life

The ‘Dottingham’ reference also features in our opening chapter which is written by myself and drawn by Mike White. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, is buying a ticket out of the afterlife to come and see what we’re doing and, as you’d expect from a workaholic evangelical, isn’t best impressed by our intentions. You’ll just have to download the chapter to find out why.

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