#MondayBlogs Peterloo: the graphic novel

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For many of us working on comics, crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter have become absolutely vital in ensuring that varied and innovative work reaches new audiences. One of the biggest Kickstarter success stories of all time was Roy Greenhilt’s The Order of the Stick Reprint Drive which aimed for pledges of $57,750 to publish out of print comics but ended up receiving a staggering £1,254,120. The reason it was so successful was due to a simple formula: People pledged money because they wanted to own a physical copy of a comic that was now out of print. Instead of paying a shop, they paid the artist directly. This is a formula which has enabled Kate Ashwin and Amanda Tribble, two of the artists in Dawn of the Unread, to put food on the plate and develop their respective careers.

One kickstarter campaign that we’re currently very excited about is Peterloo – a graphic novel. So we got in contact with Paul Fitzgerald, Eva Sclunke and Robert Poole who have kindly outlined the project in this guest blog.   

4. Peterloo Carlile (detail)

The authors have used original paintings and historical documents to help create an authentic and factually accurate narrative for the project.

The ‘Peterloo Massacre’ of 16 August 1819 was a landmark event in the development of British democracy. A peaceful rally of some 60,000 pro-democracy reformers on St Peter’s Field, Manchester, was attacked by armed cavalry, causing 15 deaths and over 650 injuries. ‘Peterloo’ (an ironic reference to Waterloo four years earlier) became a national cause célèbre, and features in every history of the period as well as many books novels, films and TV and radio programmes. It was the bloodiest English political event of the nineteenth century, and the best-documented crowd event of the age. It pioneered modern peaceful mass democratic protest, and opened the way for the extension of the vote over the next century.

The Peterloo bicentenary in 2019 will be a major public event. There will be a Mike Leigh feature film, a permanent memorial in Manchester, the Manchester Histories Festival, the Manchester International festival, and community-led commemorations of all kinds. And, if the right support gets in place, there will be a graphic novel – one with a difference. Every word, and every event, in the narrative will be taken directly from an original historical source. The artists, Paul Fitzgerald (‘Polyp’ is his signature) and Eva Schlunke, are working with a historian, Robert Poole, in an unusual collaboration.

Robert Poole. ‘There are hundreds of press reports and eye-witness accounts. The reason we can do this is because of the incredibly rich source material. The local magistrates and the Home Office were writing to each other nearly every day for months, exchanging information, spies reports, leaflets, posters, evidence for trials, the lot. You couldn’t make it up – and you don’t need to.’

Paul Fitzgerald. ‘I’m challenged as we’re only using the words of those who were there. Graphic novels should be about images, not clunky, expositional dialogue.  It also allows us to juxtapose the ‘fake news’ accounts of the establishment with the words of the victims who know what they saw that day. We want to create a richly, evocative kind of sound cloud that brings alive these voices from the past in a way that we don’t think has been done in the graphic novel format before.’

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Eva Sclunke. ‘Crowdfunding this project feels like we’re picking up the baton of the public subscription efforts people made in the decades after 1819, to expose the truth of what happened. Hundreds of people chipped in to let the victims have their day on court, and to create the Free Trade Hall at the site of the attack. We hope to do the same, and create a popular, authoritative and accessible resource for the future with the next generation in mind as well as the past.’

You can support their Kickstarter campaign here. Pledges vary from £1 – £400. The team need to raise just over £2,500 in the next 18 days to achieve their goal of £10,000. We’ve pledged £25 because this is a tragic story that everybody needs to know about and because we get a copy of the graphic novel when it’s produced.

DOTU Round logoDawn 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.

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#MondayBlogs The Literary Art of Cracking Comics at Lowdham Book Festival

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Matt Green, Jonathan Rigby, Sally Jane Thompson and James Walker (L-R)

John ‘Brick’ Clark was the artist in our Slavomir Rawicz comic. His passion for the medium is infectious and so I was delighted when he asked me to chair a panel discussion for Nottingham Does Comics. Here’s what he had to say.

Lowdham Book Festival recently hosted an extraordinary panel session of Nottingham Does Comics, extraordinary for featuring three guests plainly steeped in comics culture and a facilitator hungry to learn more about ‘The Literary Art of Cracking Comics’, the subject for discussion. James Walker of Dawn of the Unread was armed with all the right simple questions a public warming to the medium might ask of a creator (Sally Jane Thompson), a retailer (Jonathan Rigby from Page 45) and an academic (Dr. Matt Green from the University of Nottingham).

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The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips had Page 45 oozing with compliments.

Too often comics buffs gloss over basic questions like, ‘Which should I read first, the words or pictures?’ and yet therein lie the keys to a full appreciation of a literary form that, despite producing works of manifest sophistication tackling adult themes, is invariably and wrongly dismissed as strictly for the kids. Steeped in prose literature, James readily admitted he is immediately drawn to the linear form of the text before retreating back up the page to give the images due consideration. And why not, the panel suggested, if it works for you. There are no hard and fast rules. The medium has the power to control the eye and prioritise, and if any one page or panel doesn’t, that also is intentional in the best of works.

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Is it a comic? Is it a graphic novel? Artwork taken from Chasemagnett.wordpress.com

Prompted by James, the panel went further back to basics and clarified the terms – ‘comics’ is the art form, ‘comic’ or ‘comic book’ is the frequently serialized floppy magazine format, while ‘graphic novel’ is the uncomfortable term applied by the media to the spine-backed book format, encompassing autobiography, investigative journalism, historical works and everything factual, from academic treatises to comics cook books. Finally, ‘comix’ is the underground’s way of saying ‘Children Keep Out’. It’s good to know, but I would add ‘comics strip’ (a single line sequence) and ‘comics block’ (several tiers of the same, most frequently seen as a half page in an otherwise prose magazine or newspaper).

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Jens Harder: Alpha

Peppered with references to modern masterpieces like From Hell (scripted by Alan Moore, illustrated by Eddie Campbell), the discussion explored how writers and illustrators co-operate together. Sally made the point that writers tend to be protective of their words while illustrators are ever looking to bin as many as possible, aware that images can often speak the same louder or more sensitively. In the case of skilled writer-illustrators like Jens Harder (Alpha), it is evident the creative process leans towards the visual, paring down the prose to poetry, making every word count. For an auteur like the maestro Shaun Tan, words just get in the way of his mastery of visual poetry, exemplified in his wonderful The Arrival, about the great American immigration bubble.

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Ghost World

While everybody acknowledged similarities between comics and film (or maybe storyboarding is a closer comparison), the panel believed cross-fertilisation rarely worked in either’s favour. If Hollywood is presently filling off-shore accounts on the back of Marvel and DC, their industry is not doing our industry a great service. Jonathan considered Ghost World (based on Daniel Clowes’ sensitive account of adolescent angst) the best of the bunch, though Matt mentioned the excellent American Splendour, acknowledging the movie is more about its curmudgeon author, Harvey Pekar, than an adaption of Pekar’s actual memoire.

brides storyAway from the silver screen, Sally enthused about A Bride’s Story, a sumptuous historical romance by Japanese manga artist, Kaoru Mori. (Manga just means comics, only from Japan, just as bande dessinee are Franco-Belgian comics and manhua are Chinese comics. Manga and manhua are properly read right to left from back of the book, but many have now been flipped for the English-reading public, not always successfully.) Of Mori’s work, Sally said, “It is masterfully drawn and an absolute pleasure to read, but also beautifully composed, with an eye for smooth reading and clarity, despite her lavish attention to everyday details. She is willing to take time out of a larger story to dwell on a moment, so we experience it fully rather than hurrying from plot point to plot point. It’s soothing and uplifting, and an absolute comics masterclass.’ Plus, of course, Mori’s work gives the lie to suggestions that comics are a man-and-boy-thing.

makingFor some in the audience, the creative potential of specialist colourists and letterers to enhance a work maybe came as some surprise. Letters might just be code, but the look of the words can go way beyond standard fonts to imbue the text with significance and meaning. Jonathan referenced Brecht Evens’ hand lettering in his blindingly colourful The Making Of, and I would single out the mastery of the anarchic font employed in Wilfrid Lupano and Jeremie Moreau’s stinging anti-racist take on The Hartlepool Monkey. As to colourists and what they can achieve, our man from Page 45 positively oozed over the work of Elizabeth Breitweiser, specifically in the L.A. movie satire The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Sumptuous, flowing and precise for a 1940’s homage, there are pages where Elizabeth suddenly throws us a curve ball and renders a sequence in the block colours of a demented Mondrian.

Right now comics are such a rapidly evolving medium that an hour’s slot was never going to do justice to all the questions the audience needed answering. Though the turnout was small, it was evident the audience was excited and stimulated by what they heard. One couple cornered me with notebooks in hand and asked for the above recommendations again. Another member’s departing words were, “If I wasn’t already into comics, I’d be hammering down the door of Page 45 with an open cheque book!,” an appreciation that belied their age and escalating passion.

Nottingham Does Comics was at Lowdham Book Festival on Saturday 25 June (3.30-4.30pm) The panel was chaired by James Walker with Sally Jane Thompson, Jonathan Rigby and Matt Green. 

DOTU Round logoDawn 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.

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#MondayBlogs: Disaster Drawn and the art of Joe Sacco

Chute_Billboard_900x324In Disaster Drawn (2016) Hillary Chute puts forward a convincing and comprehensive argument that comics as a medium are perfectly positioned to document the horror and trauma of war, while bearing witness to spaces that have previously gone unreported due to censorship – there are, for example, no photographers allowed into the torture chamber – or because many stories of ordinary lives have simply been ignored for a variety of reasons.

The book is full of illustrations to help contextualise points, with some insightful textual analysis to help the reader better understand how meaning is created in a comic through style, use of gutter, etc. The book also creates a genealogy of key developments in war reporting, with case studies of the likes of Callot, Goya, Nakazawa, Spiegelman and Sacco so that we can see how different artists have influenced each other over the centuries.

I reviewed the book for the next issue of the Spokesman Journal, where I focussed primarily on the work of Hiroshima survivor Keiji Nakazawa’s eyewitness account Ore Wa Mita (I Saw It) which would spawn “atomic bomb manga”. But in this blog I’d like to share Chute’s observations of Joe Sacco, whose work is predominantly associated with the Balkans and Middle East.

I first came across Sacco’s work after watching Michael Moore’s superb documentary Bowling for Columbine (2002). In this, Moore made the observation that on the day of the infamous Columbine High School massacre (April 20, 1999) there were more bombs dropped in Kosovo than at any other point during the war. The point of Moore’s observation was that Marilyn Manson was demonised in the press as the reason for the killings, whereas Moore wonders if it may have had anything to do with a large defence manufacturer in Littleton being one of the main employers in the area: We are all products of our environment. This raised the issue of how the media tend to simplify the complexity of atrocious human acts to conform to prevailing narratives. All of which led me to Joe Sacco.

Sacco trained as and identifies as a journalist and is credited as creating ‘comics journalism’ as we know it today. This style is largely influenced by the New Journalism of the 1960s which moved away from reporting as an “objective act covering raw data” and instead allowed the scene itself to flourish, warts and all. Sacco has made it clear he does not believe in ‘objective journalism’ but this doesn’t mean that he isn’t governed by ethical standards. His skill, according to New York Times journalist David Rieff, is his ability to “evoke reality in lived details”.

Rieff explains that Sacco’s comics, such as the Bosnian inspired Safe Area Goražde (2000), is “the one that those of us who covered the fighting actually experienced day by day, rather than the one we mostly reported on”. Sacco is effectively recording the kind of voices and stories that would otherwise be overlooked and therefore is offsetting the “institutional narrativizations of history across (and enforced by) conventional genres and disciplines”.

Sacco visited Goražde, a largely Muslim enclave in Bosnian Serb territory, four times in 1995/6 purely because it was completely ignored by the media. In the comic he writes “It’s suffering was the sole preserve of those who experienced it” and to ensure those who “had been cut off from the camera” are as visual as possible, he has drawn detailed portraits of witnesses directly facing readers.  You can’t escape their faces. Art has rendered them solid. Goražde, along with Srebrenica, was one of six enclaves deemed safe by the UN in 1993. But clearly this was not the case.

Likewise, Sacco believes that “landscape is character”. He does this by constructing double page spreads of street scenes crammed with life and details. The eye inevitably misses something; every time you return to these pages you notice something or someone new. Revealing information that had been ignored by mainstream media has made Sacco’s work a vital voice in any discourse on war. His approach was validated when Palestine (1996) was reviewed in the New York Review of Books.

Hillary Chute argues argues that Sacco employs a photorealistic approach as a means of ensuring people written out of history are not forgotten. She observes that this is in stark contrast to the work of Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1980) which uses sketchy lines “in order to signal his abdication of aesthetic mastery as appropriate to representing the Holocaust”.

dis drawnAs a literary journalist of ten years or so, I’m fascinated by Sacco’s approach and how he thinks about narrative. His work, such as Footnotes in Gaza (2009) “presents itself as a counter to official documentation, visualizing history based on oral testimony, and meticulously archiving previously unarchived voices”. Dawn of the Unread II will be giving voice to people written out of history: To ordinary lives that don’t quite fit into convenient metanarratives. Joe Sacco has been vital in helping me think about how to approach this subject – both through the art and the content of stories.

Hillary L Chute (2016) Disaster Drawn. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. £25.95 HB

 

DOTU Round logoDawn 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.

#MondayBlogs: Macbeth at Elsinore

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My Long Walk With Slav by Brick

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 JulietMacbethHamlet 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.

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A panel from Brick’s commission for Gothic Shakespeare

 

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!

DOTU Round logoDawn 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.

RELATED READING

 

Introductory Chapter: Featuring Mike White, William Booth and Edith Slitwell

Dawn of the Unread’s opening chapter is done in the style of American 50s horror comics, which according to campaigner Fredric Wertham were responsible for corrupting young minds. The psychoanalyst outlined his theories in a book, Seduction of the Innocent, which was substantially full of lies. What better genre to open our collection with? The aim is to play about with people’s expectations of what a comic is. The colours for the story are directly sampled from an old issue of one of those comics, and the tradition of having a narrator to introduce the story is followed too. Rather than a cryptkeeper or ghoul, ours is a take on literary heroine Edith Sitwell. We choose Edith for three reasons: 2014 is the 50th anniversary of her death, her incredible angular features make her a joy to draw and our chapter was released on 8 March, on International Women’s Day. Rumour also has it that she occasionally slept in a coffin…

Slitwell

This is my first attempt at a graphic novel/comic and I can’t begin to express how utterly demoralising and frustrating the process is, and I’m smiling as I write this. There are so many people involved in the chain that important information gets lost in translation and what you were expecting turns out to be a completely different beast. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted with what we’ve created but it’s been a big learning curve and consequently there has been a dramatic overhaul of processes and how information is communicated. Fortunately this documentary on the BBC called ‘What do artists do all day?’ has helped put it all into context.

The artist for the chapter is Mike White and the fantastic video of him at the top of the page was put together by students studying at NTU (thanks to Daniel Finnerty, Natalie Lau and Hannah Barker for this). Mike is an incredible artist and very kindly offered to illustrate this for free. This is part of a deal I struck many months ago and will result in us commissioning students at Confetti and their media team (Loops). Rhianne Murphy is our colourist for this chapter and will be followed by Jess Parry who will be debuting on 8 April.

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Nottingham very rarely gets credit in the wider media and so it is pivotal that we are ambassadors for our ‘duck’ speaking brethren. This led to an interesting debate about one panel where I’m reading LeftLion but the front page was drawn on the right hand side instead of the left. This didn’t seem particularly relevant to Mike as I guess it did its job and ‘signified’ LeftLion, but I don’t want to give anyone the chance to pick holes and so gave him the option of redrawing it correctly or erasing it. He chose the former. I don’t want people accusing us of being slack and considering that Eddie Campbell will be illustrating our third chapter, I want everything perfect. What these kind of debates highlight is the differing priorities of writers and artists. As with any good marriage, both sides, in their own way, are right.

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These issues may seem trivial when you see such beautiful artwork but I think comics are such an emotional journey that it’s difficult not to become obsessed. The lesson to be learned is roughs need to be approved before full blown drawings are finished so that you can add extra details. But this is easier said than done. Time was really against us with the opening chapter but fortunately my partner in crime Paul Fillingham, who in addition to being a technological genius has a background in fine art, was able to make a few tweaks to the completed artwork, such as putting the Robin Hood symbol in the eyes of this ugly looking get. Small details such as this make me smile on the rare occasion my head hits the pillow.

The digital versions of the comic will be released on 8 April. We’re a bit behind on this front because getting things passed by Apple is a right pain in the arse. But I’ll save this particular gripe for another blog. We’ve also got a very special video being made that celebrates that famous Tunes ‘Dottingham’ advert that we will embed into the App version. It relates to this panel here with William Booth, who’s got quite a bit to say about our project…

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Dawn of the Unread has taken up my every waking hour for nearly a year now and it’s so very difficult entrusting this vision to so many people, no matter how talented, but I’m slowly getting there. I’m learning to let go, honest. I do hope that you like it and sign up to follow us on our 14 month adventure into Nottingham’s incredible literary history.

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