Thumbs up for thumbnails

Design James Walker.

Our Dawn of the Unread YouTube channel has 63 videos. I’m pretty proud of this, especially given that we don’t have a studio, budget or team of paid employers. The videos have been created mainly in collaboration with students and have been filmed on everything from a fancy phone to borrowed cameras.

Our first upload was on National Libraries’ Day on 8 Feb 2014 and featured disabled performance artist Simon Raven crawling across the streets in a sleeping bag and mask pretending to be a bookworm. The film was originally created for another commission, but Simon kindly allowed us to use it to kickstart our project.

Over time, themes for the videos have developed – some strategic, others more random. We have a ‘how to make a comic’ series which does everything the title suggests. These were originally embedded at the end of each comic with the aim of encouraging aspiring writers and artists to do similar. Our ‘Nottingham Essay’ series explores literary figures from Hood Town and was created to help Nottingham in its bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature.

The rest are a mixed bag related to our core themes: books, libraries, bookshops, reading, comics, promotion and Nottingham. The most recent one is a trailer for our Ms. Hood comic and was created by Zachary Omitowoju. Again, I’d love to have a promo like this for all of our comics, but we’ll see…

Recently, I’ve taken a bit of time out from our current project, Whatever People Say I Am, to go back and tidy up old content. This has involved doing a bit of training in graphic design via training sessions on LinkedIn and learning new programmes such as Canva – a graphic design programme that provides user friendly templates for all social media platforms.

Screenshot of playlists.

This has resulted in new thumbnails for all our videos which make it easier for users to distinguish between content. I’ve also included our logo, a strong image, and a block of colour in the designs. I’m really happy with the results and hope that this helps attract a few more visits.

Dawn of the Unread was created for many reasons, most notable of which was to raise awareness of low literacy levels across the country – particularly in the East Midlands. But digital literacy is becoming equally as important – not least in our ability to distinguish between fake news, conspiracy theories, and the insidious incentives of algorithms. But another form of digital literacy is being aware of your own digital presence.

It’s too easy to just keep lobbing up content and moving onto the next project. Sometimes you need to pause and go back and perfect or update previous work. New platforms like Tick Tock and Instagram Reels have high production values and consequently, audience expectations are rising. The age of the amateur is dead.

Taking the time for a digital spring clean has been a priority and hopefully our account now looks worth a visit. We now have playlists to help distinguish between different types of video. If we want viewers to embrace the themes of our project and share in our love of reading, we need to be as professional as possible. I’ve also welcomed the opportunity to upskill and learn new stuff.

Further Reading

  • Linkedin Learning on YouTube (YouTube)
  • 25 Graphic Design Tips for Non-Designers and Beginners (Canva)
  • Time for a Digital Spring Clean (jameskwalker.co.uk)
  • Your Easy Guide to Making a YouTube Thumbnail (blog.hubspot.com)
  • Building A Brand: Why A Strong Digital Presence Matters (Forbes.com)

Comics addressing refugees, migrants and asylum seekers

Comic available at whateverpeoplesayiam.co.uk

‘I’m Only Happy When it Rains’ is our fourth comic to challenge stereotypes and features a Hungarian migrant. The comic is based on research into new and emerging communities and aims to provide a better understanding of why European migrants come to the UK to work and the possible barriers they face. It will be available on our website on the 6 May to coincide with the Police Crime Commissioner elections.

For the past three years we have been working in collaboration with Dr Loretta Trickett of Nottingham Trent University to create two comics that address the issue of new and emerging communities. One key area of her research is barriers faced by migrants and refugees as they integrate into the host country. She is also interested in ways in which understanding of migrant communities can help reduce Hate Crime. These sentiments bode well with Whatever People Say I Am as we try to address stereotypes through comics. Our other reason for collaboration is to help make academic research more accessible. Often, it’s hidden behind expensive paywalls and read by a privileged few. The comic format allows us to distil the essence of this research and frame it in a format that will reach a broader audience.    

This has been a slow process for numerous reasons, the main one being that we have interviewed lots of people to find the best story to address the issues. I originally set out with the intention of featuring Roma people as I think modern life makes it increasingly impossible to live a simple nomadic life and I was eager to represent such issues in a comic. Similarly, the beautiful colours associated with the culture lent itself to visual representation. But as is often the case with research, the focus changes the more people you meet.

Words James Walker. Art Ella Joyce. From comic What is Coming.

In the end, we featured Syrians in our first of two comics addressing this issue. This made sense as some had settled in Nottingham as part of the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme – and so we had a strong local link. But this created its own problems, such as which of the 20 or so Syrians we interviewed do we make as the main narrator – particularly given that they all had such incredible back stories. In the end I opted for a teacher called Maamon as through his adult classes we could introduce the lives of some of the other Syrians.

Since then, we have been working on the second comic addressing new and emerging communities. This features a Hungarian migrant who comes to work in Nottingham post-Brexit referendum. I was drawn to this story because it was so positive and features an independent woman with a strong work ethic who has no fear of integration, believing hard work can help you settle anywhere – she had previously worked in other countries too. I won’t give away the premise of the story other than to say it’s called ‘I’m Happy When it Rains’. The weather plays a significant part in the storyline and was also an opportunity for me to give a nod to my adolescence via The Jesus and Mary Chain.

This is the first comic that Paul Fillingham and I have worked on together. It’s been a very slow process because Paul has had to fit this in around his day job (running Think Amigo) as well as teaching himself new skills, such as 3D modelling. But I’m really glad we’ve had this opportunity to properly do something together. We’ve worked together for nearly ten years now, so creating a shared story together is a lovely way to celebrate this.  

Design James Walker. Picture of Paddy Tripping provided by PCC.

The comics are partly funded by Paddy Tipping, the Police and Crime Commissioner. In an article for the comic, Paddy reflects on his tenure as PCC and said: “Britain is more diverse than ever before. Nottinghamshire is a rich mixture of races, cultures, beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles. I want it to be the most welcoming county in the country, a place where people can be who they are without judgement or fear.”

He is genuinely committed to ending hate crimes of all sorts and recognises the importance of getting this message out in a way that’s befitting of the people and issues it addresses. It’s hoped that we will be able to put printed copies of the comics in public spaces – libraries, community centres, etc to trigger debate and discussion. It will also be used as a resource in schools. The comic will be available on our website by the end of the week.

Until then, the Police and Crime Commission elections are happening up and down the country on 6 May. In Nottingham the candidates are:         

  • Paddy Tipping (Labour)
  • Caroline Henry (Conservative)
  • David Watts (Liberal Democrat)

Please take the time to research the candidates and vote. We know who we will be voting for…

Dawn of the Unread explored Nottingham’s literary history and was created to raise awareness of low literacy levels in the UK. Whatever People Say I Am is our follow-up project and challenges stereotypes.

Further reading

Tongue and Talk – Pit poetry and Notts dialect…

Tongue and Talk is a three part series exploring dialect poets. It’s broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and produced by Made in Manchester. Episode 2 features an area that’s neither north nor south: Nottingham. 

When I was putting together Dawn of the Unread we were faced with an impossible task: Who do you include? We had a budget for 10 chapters and I managed to extend this to 16. But there’s 100s of authors from Nottingham who never featured. Many of these can now be found in the recent Five Leaves publication Nottinghamshire Writers, though there are many absences too. It’s an impossible task.

However, future projects currently underway are enabling me to address those that slipped through the net, particularly miners. Having grown up in a mining village I’ve witnessed the brass bands marching through the streets twirling batons and holding aloft tribal banners. I’ve heard the sounds of pit life, such as men quenching pay day thirst after a stint down below, looking like a collection of burly Goths with their eyeliner; playfully harassing each other with a quick-fired wit that comes from risking your life every day. But one thing I wouldn’t automatically associate miners with is poetry. This is based on the fact that I was hassled for reading where I grew up. It signified that I thought I was summat. Having said that, it was the eighties: Unemployment, Falklands, AIDS, Russia v America, and, of course, the Miners’ Strike. It didn’t take much to get people rattled.

Over the past six months I’ve discovered there were lots of pit poets within the East Midlands thanks to research by Natalie Braber and David Amos. Poetry served many functions, not least helping pass time as a cage lowered you five miles down into the bowels of the earth. Poetry was a way of making sense of the danger, the regulations, and the slow erosion of an industry that can be traced back to medieval times. It was also a way to reconnect with the world. More recently, poetry is helping to rebuild a sense of community, bringing miners together to share their experiences.

Al Rate and Bill Kerry
Al Rate (left) and Bill Kerry III (Right). Photos by James Walker.

David and Natalie have hosted numerous public engagement events such as Songs and Rhymes from the Mines, whereby musicians such as Bill Kerry III are taking the thick dialect of pit poets such as Heanor’s Owen Watson and translating them into folk songs so that they reach new audiences. Al Rate (Aka Misk Hills) has penned new songs inspired by specific pit words, such as ‘powder monkey’ and ‘elephant’s tab’.

To celebrate this and other forms of dialect, I’ve recorded an episode for a BBC Radio 4 series called Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets. It’s produced by Made in Manchester. The series kicks off on 13 May when Catherine Harvey returns to her roots in the North West of England to see if the dialect poetry of the cotton mills of the 19th century is alive today. In episode two (20 May), I’ll be discussing the local accent and then exploring ‘pit talk’ with ex miners, musicians and a new generation of poets inspired by life underground. The final episode in the series sees Kirsty McKay return to her Northumberland roots to witness the erosion of dialect and culture by the encroachment of urbanisation and influx of people moving into the area.

mard-arse
Nottingham’s favourite mard arse D.H. Lawrence features in Issue 7 of Dawn of the Unread.

Episode 2 of Tongue and Talk also features Al Needham (who wrote our Bendigo issue) and Andrew Graves (who wrote our 5th Duke of Portland issue). We also visit DH Lawrence’s former home ‘Breach House’ and discuss his dialect poem The Collier’s Wife (featured in issue 7) I also interviewed Norma Gregory, a historian and writer whose research focuses on forgotten (ignored) black histories. She featured briefly in the final issue of Dawn of the Unread when we told the story of George Africanus and George Powe. Recently she’s undergone a mammoth project called Digging Deeper whereby she’s recording the experiences of African Caribbean miners. But the interview wasn’t used in the end as the emphasis of the programme is dialect.

However, I am pleased to announce that Norma is one of the commissioned writers for Dawn of the Unread II: Whatever People Say I Am. This interactive graphic novel serial explores myths surrounding identity and so Norma will be able to tell the story of one of the many miners she has interviewed recently. I’ve been working on scripts for this for the past year or so. It’s coming soon, I promise.

DOTU Round logo

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.

RELATED READING

Literacy – A Journey to Justice

Martin Luther King, 1964. Available at wikimedia.

One year ago I attended a meeting at the Galleries of Justice with 25 people about a project called Journey to Justice (JtoJ). The day was planned with our partners: Sharon Monteith, Founding Co-director of Centre for Research in Race and Rights (C3R), Rosemary Pearce then of C3R and Bev Baker (Senior Curator and Archivist at GOJ), Tim Desmond (CEO of GOJ) and Midlands 3 Cities with PhD student Scott Weightman, JtoJ local organiser.

The remit of JtoJ is “to inspire and empower people to take action for social justice through learning about human rights movements.” This voluntary organisation initially focussed on the US civil rights movement, taking Dr. Martin Luther King’s timeless message of solidarity, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” as their mantra. The first major project of JtoJ was a touring exhibition that focussed on the principles of the U.S civil rights movement. This has slowly developed and spread around the globe, linking with other activists to promote and educate about issues that specifically relate to local communities.

We were shown case studies of how other cities had got involved and I was quite taken by the scope and ambition of the project, particularly the ease with which organisations were able to collaborate and promote various causes. Nottingham, as a former ‘factory city’ with a real mix of identities and ethnicities, has a long history of activism so we were pretty spoilt for choice when trying to find causes we could promote. Some of the issues raised were: Nottingham’s refugee history; Streetwise Opera – homeless and non-homeless performers; Sash (Salaam Shalom) a Muslim/Jewish weekly soup kitchen and food bank; October Dialogues – Black History; Polish homeless men project; History of the 1958 race riots and colour bar; Child Migrant Trust HQ in Nottingham; Radical Walks; Women’s History Group; Bread and Roses Theatre group; Creating a school and FE resource packs; Nottingham’s first UK Black Lives Matter chapter. I was there as a representative of Nottingham UNESCO city of literature and Dawn of the Unread.

When Dawn of the Unread was created in 2014 I positioned illiteracy as a form of child abuse. Therefore, it is a human rights issue to me. It has been proven through countless research that an inability to read or write has profound effects upon a person’s life from their ‘trust’ in society to whether they become a home owner. Nottingham is below the regional and national average for literacy levels and so there is additional reasons to fight this cause.

Within the Dawn of the Unread comic serial we have championed other identity politics, from the Operative Libraries of the 1800s that empowered workers to self-educate and demands rights from employers to the #readwomen campaign that addressed gender inequalities within publishing. We explored the lack of representation of Black history in our final issue via George Africanus and George Powe, poiting our readers towards the work of Nottingham Black Archives (who were at the JtoJ) event as well as inspirational figures such as Norma Gregory.

10-02
Ms Hood. Issue 10 of Dawn of the Unread.

On Friday 24 March, Aly Stoneman  was invited by Bradley Phipps to host a workshop at Galleries of Justice. She was there as a representative of Dawn of the Unread and as a PhD student as part of Midlands 3 Cities. In issue 10 Aly explored the imaginary life of Ms. Hood, updating the Hood legend to a modern setting where activists are protesting at fracking and the greed of banks. Written as a poem, it takes inspiration from Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife. Of her workshop Aly said:

“The idea was to present a poem and talk a bit about the context of the piece and how it links to present-day social justice issues. Ms Hood seemed a good match, as the poem explores how contemporary social, political and economic situations might create 21st Century ‘Hoods’ and how challenging inequality and marginalization of vulnerable people is as relevant today as it was a thousand years ago. Topics I addressed included authority and anarchism, war, land ownership and the feudal system, race, feminism, education, police brutality, and environmental crisis. Robin Hood may be a myth, but it’s what he stands for that counts: Truth, Freedom and Justice.”

The ability to connect and provoke conversations has been one of the greatest successes of Dawn of the Unread. We have offered small glimpses into the lives of Nottingham’s literary history, created awareness of other organisations through our embedded content, and then left other people to continue the conversations. At the time of Aly’s workshop Rebecca Goldsmith is drafting lesson plans so that schools across Nottingham can use Dawn of the Unread as a learning tool, our student placement James Wood is writing blogs for us and mentoring in schools, Connie Wood is developing and managing our Instagram account, and the recently published book by Spokesman Books has been sent out to libraries and schools across Nottingham as well as UNESCO cities across the globe. And in the background, over many cups of coffee and bus and train journeys, I’ve been putting together Dawn of the Unread II which will be called Whatever People Say I Am. Amelia Sharland has been assisting me with the research. Another journey will begin very soon …

DOTU Round logo

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.

FURTHER READING

NEW version of The 5th Duke of Portland comic

At long last we can finally share our new version of issue 8: Duke and Disorderly which tells the story of a posh duke with a very long name: William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (17 September 1800 – 6 December 1879). I wanted this story changed for two reasons: Firstly, the original narrative was over crammed with information which made it difficult for our target audience to follow. This is my fault because I wanted certain things including (the parallel lives of Sarah Winchester and the Duke represented by their respective building projects and influential father figures; the Archduke Ferdinand shooting incident).

sarah
Artwork from issue 8 Duke and Disorderly.

Secondly, the focus was too much on the two young characters in the story and not enough about the Duke of Portland. When you’re producing a monthly digital comic you get caught up in the flow of deadlines and it’s only as a project develops and more content comes in that you realise exactly what it is you want to achieve. I wanted the stories to have more literary facts, such as David Belbin and Ella Joyce’s Shelves (Stanley Middleton) and Kevin Jackson and Hunt Emerson’s D.H Lawrence Zombie Hunter. The below panels are examples of how we added text and images to build up a more comprehensive biography of the Duke.

duke stuff
Bottom left panel: We were able to add additional biographical facts about the roller skate rink, ballroom and observatory by linking to the books. The drawing on the right is new too.
duke with text
Originally this panel had no text. Now it gives info about the Duke as well as explaining why Ben (the character being run over) is on the Duke’s land.

There were too many characters in the original story and so the first thing we had to do was sharpen the reader’s focus. We did this on page 8 by removing the two characters in the top left panel and introducing Suzy and her new meathead boyfriend. This meant they appeared throughout the page and became more significant to the narrative. The additional text helped us introduce bullying to the story.

dinner time montage
Artwork from issue 8 Duke and Disorderly.

We introduced a new character towards the end, a young black girl who Ben hooks up with. She is the opposite of Suzy and likes reading, which fits better with the overriding theme of Dawn of the Unread. Again, this meant erasing peripheral characters so that the reader could focus on key characters.

Point 1: Is the original page and has no text and too many characters.

Point 2: Originally had a random girl taking a photo. This was changed to the black girl taking the photograph (3) as it enabled us to introduce her into the bottom panels.

Blk girl montage
Narrative edits.

We had to redraw the last two panels to sharpen up the narrative. In the previous pages we had seen how money has had a damaging effect on the Duke of Portland and Sarah Winchester. Now we could demonstrate that Ben had learned something and therefore isn’t tempted to sell his signed book on eBay.

sarah
Artwork from issue 8 Duke and Disorderly.

All of our comics include a small animation (again, this was something that was decided latterly). In this issue I wanted the inside of a trench from WWI to turn red to represent blood. This was vital in the rewriting of the story as it helped better link Sarah Winchester and the Duke of Portland as additional text added later on discusses the Duke’s love of the colour pink.

red trench
The red blood slowly fills the trench on this page.
pink duke
This is the linking panel on the following page. I’d like the pictures on the wall to disappear too as later on in the narrative we discuss how the Duke got rid of pictures.

The writer for our Duke of Portland issue is Andrew Graves who has been shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards for his spoken word show God Save the Teen. I’ve seen it three times, and I hope he wins because he’s a brilliant writer who is able to blend compassion, wit and politics so that you leave feeling a host of emotions.

There’s also good news regarding playwright Nick Wood, who wrote an embedded essay for us about his hopes of one day staging an adaptation of Mick Jackson’s Duke-inspired book The Underground Man.  It’s coming to the Nottingham Playhouse later this year.

You can read the new Duke of Portland issue here

DOTU Round logo

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.