Aly Stoneman is the Poetry Editor of LeftLion magazine and author of Lost Lands. Here she talks about her collaboration with Amanda Tribble for issue 10: Ms.Hood
This is your first comic. How did you find it?
It’s been a really interesting process. I’ve collaborated with artists before – Steve Larder provided the illustrations for my pamphlet Lost Lands, for example – but creating Ms Hood posed different challenges. Amanda Tribble (the artist) is studying in Lincoln, so we only met up once in person, towards the end. The rest of the time we collaborated through email, ‘phone and Skype. I sent the initial poem text over to Amanda and then she created the first ‘roughs’ with text boxes and shared them with me on Google Drive so I could see the suggested layout. I had a look and sent back comments and suggested tweaks (both to the layout and my text) and she responded to those. We worked like that the whole way through. It was exciting waiting for the next draft to be uploaded, especially as we progressed through the pencil and ink versions to the final piece. It’s interesting as a writer to see how an artist responds to your words, how they envisage a character or a scene and also how the two forms weave together to create a new version or piece.
Where did the idea come from to have a modern day Maid Marian?
I loved the 1980’s series Robin of Sherwood when I was a kid; Marian was played by Judi Trott – she was a proper member of the gang and a deadly shot with the bow. So I always imagined Marian as an independent spirit, a fighter. My contemporary re-telling of the Robin Hood legend was initially penned for LeftLion Magazine and illustrated by Rikki Marr. One of the inspirations for telling the story from Ms Hood’s point of view, and for the title, was Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection The World’s Wife, a series of monologues from historical and mythological women who are usually defined by their male partners. Apart from justice and an affinity for the poor, Robin Hood’s special regard for women is a feature of the earliest stories from the 14th Century. 2014 was declared the ‘Year of Reading Women’ so it felt right that Ms Hood should be the December publication for Dawn of the Unread. Although her real name is never mentioned in the story, I hope it’s clear that at the end she becomes Ms Hood, the idea being that anyone who stands up for social justice is ‘Hood’.
How have you updated the Hood legend?
It struck me that some things never seem to change: Foreign wars; corruption, greed, abuse, social inequality and an elite who tell the poor to tighten their belts and pay their taxes while their ‘overlords’ feast (or in the 21st Century, spend £275,221 on Champagne in the House of Commons over four years – that’s approx. £69,000 per year!). I would argue that stories about the fight for social justice in this country are as relevant in the present day as they were in Medieval times. Back when I first wrote the poem, the war in Iraq was at the forefront of my concerns, along with reports about police infiltration and framing of environmental protest groups, heavy-handed policing of protests, and the erosion of the right to protest. For some people, a police caution would be comparable to being ‘outlawed’, as it would make it hard for anyone requiring a DBS for their work to find employment. As a storyteller, I wanted to explore how contemporary social, political and economic situations – especially events covering the last 30 years – might create 21st Century Robin Hoods.
Poetry is all about shape and rhythm. How do you get that balance in a comic split up into panels?
Well poetry is an adaptable form; the oldest written poem (the Epic of Gilgamesh) dates back about 4000 years and was written in ancient Iraq, and poems have been transmitted through the oral traditions of songs and stories as well as being written down. Technically Graphic Novels started in the 1960’s and comics in the 19th Century, although if you count murals, tapestries and cave paintings, again the idea of telling stories through pictures is pretty ancient. Basically, I edited the text down so that it wasn’t too wordy, while trying to preserve the internal rhymes and rhythms of the piece. Amanda included some of the text in her illustrations so that it became dialogue between the characters, newspaper headlines or words on a gravestone. The poem naturally shifts from scene to scene every couple of lines, and is quite specifically located, so perhaps that made it easier to split into sections.
The Labour politician Emily Thornberry had to resign after posting a picture on Twitter of a house draped in the St. George’s Flag. This was seen as snobby. One of your panels has a girl pushing a pram with the flag. Are you a snob?
I’m a writer and my purpose is to ask questions and hopefully encourage other people to ask questions too, because if people are too intimidated to ask questions then – seriously now – we are all dead in the water. So why do you suppose I’m being a snob by showing a scene featuring the St. George’s flag? What has displaying the St George’s flag come to represent and why is it that displaying the flag is automatically connected with working class areas and nationalism? If you look at the original Robin Hood stories, you could pull out the ‘Saxons versus the Normans’ themes and say, ok this is a story about nationalism and Englishness, but for me and for most people through the ages, the story is about the fight for social justice. The whole English class-system is nonsense; there are only two real classes in society – the minority who ‘have’ and wield all the influence and power and the majority who ‘have-not’ and are powerless – and in essence that hasn’t changed since 1066.
These issues are also important to you because of your job…
I work in the ex-coalfields areas of Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire and I see boarded up houses, joblessness and deprivation. There are many, many people in this country living bleak and hard lives of absolute drudgery and misery, but there are also people campaigning and fighting for social justice from all walks of life, and also people living within deprived communities doing amazing work to improve and re-energise their areas. That provocative panel in the comic begs this question: isn’t it poignant that people living the hardest lives in the economically hardest-hit areas are supposedly waving the flag for an England that sends their kids off to foreign wars, cuts their benefits and education, closes down their workplaces and demonises their communities?
It’s usually working class boys who die in foreign wars, something you elude to in the poem….
In the comic, I was drawing a parallel between the war in the Middle East in Medieval times (led by King Richard The Lionheart) and the combat there now. I do understand that joining the army can seem a good option. As there are no jobs down the pits, on the railways or in industry, the army can seem to be the best prospect, particularly for young lads from poor communities leaving school with few qualifications. The statistics from the BBC and the Guardian (among others) speak for themselves: 30% of British army recruits in 2010 were under 18, probably due to spiralling youth unemployment. Young people are attracted by the ideas of comradeship, training and travel. However, although no one under 18 can go into foreign combat, 12 soldiers aged 18 and 23 aged 19 have died in Afghanistan since 2001. 453 soldiers died in total. The way I see it is, there should be other options for young people and better support for returning soldiers, but I’m not criticizing the soldiers or their families at all. Again, it feels like some things never change – but that shouldn’t stop us from hoping that they will.
- Blidworth, and Maid Marian (robinhoodwashere.blogspot.co.uk)
- Robin Hood Month: Living the Legend (claireyross.wordpress.com)
- The World’s Wife (thescallopshell.wordpress.com)
- Comic Book Poems (comicbookpoems.com)
- Ink Brick: A Journal of Comics Poetry (inkbrick.com)
- Poetry Comics (thethepoetry.com)
- Think Up Amanda Tribble (downthetubes.net)
- Ms Hood (alysonstoneman.wordpress.com)