It was around this time last year that artist John ‘Brick’ Clark was helping us kickstart Dawn of the Unread with his very long walk with Slavomir Rawicz in Issue 2. He’s now turned his attention to Shakespeare…
In the year we celebrate Shakespeare through the 400th anniversary of his death, the call went out for short graphic pieces to accompany a conference on Graphic Shakespeare to be held at Elsinore (né Kronborg) Castle, Denmark. The brief was simple enough. Either choose one of four short scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet or Twelfth Night and illustrate them in four A5 pages, or choose a scene from whichever of Shakespeare’s plays you so desire, with no limitations on page count. With roots in Broughty Ferry, I naturally went for the Scottish play, Act 1 Scene 1.
Not having to worry about consistency through the whole play, I decided to update and transpose the scene to a desert in the present-day Middle East (in the play, the background conflict is, after all, a civil war) and changed the Weird Sisters into army medics since witches were most commonly village medicine women and midwives. Rather than have them huddled round a fire, I shifted them into a bombed out armoured personnel carrier, and left it unclear whether they were attempting to save or simply finish off a wounded soldier. More radically, I decided to focus on the familiars two of them call upon, since these are the witches’ evil accomplices and most endowed with vile powers. I further made the bold decision to modernise and edit down Bill’s script in keeping with the 21st Century. (Mind, I wouldn’t want to read his whole play butchered like this!!)
The challenge for someone like me, more at ease with cartooning than dramatic illustration, was to warp my comfort zone and depict the scene as realistically as time, imagination and skills set allowed. Knowing the familiars would steal the show, it was also important I depict the Weird Sisters as rounded characters instantly recognizable as medics from different armies, possibly all working for the UN Peacekeeping Force.
To achieve the four A5s, eleven A4 pages of original art were scanned in. The piece was then essentially ‘built’ in the computer with some pages requiring over 20 layers (excluding text). As to the finished result (and as usual), I got close to what I had in mind but not quite the big cigar.
Interestingly enough, the project is co-ordinated by Yukari Yoshihara from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, an associate professor with a string of papers to her name exploring Graphic Shakespeares, particularly of the pop and tacky Manga variety. Though I admit to using a Manga font, hopefully I won’t be reading about my offering anytime soon!
Dawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.
- Brick’s website (brickbats.co.uk)
- Graphic Shakespeare (graphicshakespeare.tumblr.com)
- Elsinore Conference: Shakespeare – the next 400 years (tees.ac.uk)
- Interview with Brick (leftlion.co.uk)
- My Long Walk with Slav (dawnoftheunread.com)