Nottingham Does Comics

NOTT DOES COMICS HEADER

Nottingham Does Comics – ‘Taking Comics Forward’

Nottingham is a UNESCO City of Literature and now it’s also home to an exciting gathering of comics professionals thanks to John ‘Brick’ Clark.

John ‘Brick’ Clark, the writer and artist for issue#2 of Dawn of the Unread has been in contact to inform us that a bunch of comics readers, creators, academics, retailers and possibly their dogs are about to launch our city’s version of the hugely successful London forum Laydeez-Do-Comics. Called Nottingham Does Comics, their brief is a little different and best typified by their by-line, ‘Taking Comics Forward’.

The inaugural meeting is scheduled for 26 April and will feature three fifteen-minute slots from a combination of speakers: an old hand, a newcomer to working professionally and a seasoned academic.

Brick said: “Nottingham Does Comics is a bi-monthly forum by and for anybody interested in reading, creating, publishing, selling or studying new work and new horizons in the comics medium. It is a platform where those curious about comics can explore and exchange ideas with established and aspiring practioners, where the mainstream meets the indies, and where embryonic projects will be supported to find their wings”

Nottingham has a thriving art community so it’s good to see an attempt to draw enthusiasts together. The proposed talks are as inclusive as possible and selected from an open callout. So please submit ideas for presentations. To give you an idea of possible topics, here’s some of the issues that have affected Dawn of the Unread: How to create an equal collaboration between an artist and writer; digital v pen and paper; funding – is kickstarter the way forward for publishing comics?; black and white or colour pages; the difficulties of being a freelancer; given the time it takes to create a page, what’s a fair wage for an artist? How can panel shapes and sizes enhance reading and meaning; what to do when an artist or writer suffers from lack of confidence? If there are a lot of submissions it will also help Brick to potentially theme sessions.

Brick is a fantastic ambassador for comics so I’m not surprised that he’s behind this. During the consultation process for Nottingham’s UNESCO accreditation he was constantly pushing for comics to be part of our bid and reminding that literature comes in many shapes and forms.

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Embedded content works by clicking on a ‘star’ icon within a panel which takes you to a contextual piece, such as the Cloughie page (Top, right). Ok, it’s just a glorified hyperlink. Design Paul Fillingham.

I chose the graphic novel format for Dawn of the Unread because it was the right medium for our target audience: reluctant readers. I had no prior knowledge of comics and basically learned as I went along. In some respects this was an advantage as I wasn’t influenced by other styles or approaches. I’m pretty sure that Dawn of the Unread is unique in the way that we’ve used embedded content on panels as a means of contextualising and furthering reading. Now I can go and hang out with professionals and find out.

At the end of each issue of Dawn of the Unread we included a ‘how to’ video so that artists could share their approaches and techniques to that particular issue. The aim of this was to show that artists are a varied bunch: some have been to university, others simply practice everyday when they get the chance. The hope was that it might inspire other people to try similar. I suspect that Nottingham Does Comics has similar principles and in addition to offering engaging conversations and guidance will develop into a meaningful support network.

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NDC Flyer.
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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.

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Everybody’s Reading: Writing’s on the Wall #mentalhealth

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Building partnerships with external organisations is absolutely vital if you want to get those downloads and stats to impress your paymasters. The beauty of a project as diverse as ours is that we have so much content it’s a case of finding the time to build those meaningful links.

Mental health has become quite a regular topic for some of our chosen literary figures. In our Slavomir Rawicz chapter John ‘Brick’ Clark made the case that Ushakova, the wife of a Gulag commander, exhibited symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome in her kindness towards the imprisoned Polish officer. The validity of Rawicz’s story told in The Long Walk has been questioned by various critics, issues explored by Brick in his chapter. But whether Rawicz was telling a personal story or assimilating the countless number of stories of Gulag prisoners into a kind of collective conscience is irrelevant. Those who have not experienced war really have no place to judge how survivors deal with it. If he is guilty of fabrication, surely this is a consequence of war and therefore a mental health issue. Brick himself has suffered from mental health problems over the years, in particular wrestling with depression, ideas he articulated in the wonderful Depresso.

'Brick' explores the validity of Slavomir Rawicz's claims in his comic 'My Long Walk With Slav'
‘Brick’ explores the validity of Slavomir Rawicz’s claims in his comic ‘My Long Walk With Slav’ in Issue 2.

In our third chapter Adrian Reynolds explored the very nature of reality in our Gotham Fool chapter and made the point that reality is simply how we perceive the world and mental health is just one of many labels that people try to affix to our identity. In the video below he exposes the duplicity of such labelling, taking us on a journey that encompasses everything from eugenics to psychiatry. Adrian has been sectioned twice and his honest insight into his life is truly inspiring.

Our forthcoming chapter is about the Duke of Portland, an eccentric toff who spent most of his life underground on the Welbeck Estate. There are also suggestions that he may have lived a dual identity, but this has never been conclusively proved. To celebrate the launch of this chapter we have partnered up with Everybody’s Reading in Leicester and sent Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Poet off to run workshops at Embrace Arts.

Artwork: Toni Radev. Words: Andrew 'Mulletproof' Graves. Released 8 October 2014
Issue 8 is released 8 October 2014

This was also an opportunity for us to uncover Leicester’s hidden literary heritage and so attendees will be producing stories and artwork that will be exhibited throughout the festival at the 15th annual open exhibition The Writing’s on the Wall. The work is produced by mental health service users from Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, some of which was produced at story cafes at The Bradgate Mental Health Unit on the Glenfield Hospital site.

Working alongside MulletProof Poet was artist and print maker Nick Burchall. At the Embrace Arts ‘story cafes’ Alison Dunne facilitated writing workshops and artist and fanzine maker, Steve Larder worked with the ArtSpace group, delivering illustration workshops inspired by this writing. This was Steve’s first public workshop (he is our artist for the Geoffrey Trease chapter) and so another example of how our project has helped broaden the portfolio of our artists and writers. This was a personal goal of mine and worthy of a post in itself at some point.

Lydia Towsey - because she's worth it
Lydia Towsey – because she’s worth it. Photo Lydia Towsey.

Lydia Towsey has been organizing the Leicester events on our behalf and is someone I would highly recommend for any project. She said: “Dawn of the Unread is a project using zombies as a metaphor and tool to campaign for books, libraries and reading. Here, the participating artists and writers have been inspired by films, fantasy and importantly, Leicester’s lost literary heroes and have generated their own unique responses to a range of authors, characters, places and stories.”

The workshops have also led to the production of a companion anthology and fanzine, the latter of which will be launched on October 1st, as part of the exhibition’s official preview. The anthology is due for release in November. For many this will be their first writing credit and hopefully will build confidence as well as offering a new means through which to express themselves. Writing is the ultimate form of therapy.

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This exhibition, running from Wednesday 1 October  – Saturday 11 October is being delivered by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust in partnership with: Brightsparks Arts in Mental Health Group, Embrace Arts, ourselves and the Everybody’s Reading festival. Funding support has come from Everybody’s Reading and the Charity of Carlton Hayes Hospital.

World Mental Health Day is October 10 2014.

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Don Juan, Cosmic Trigger and other stuff from our writers…

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood at Pexels.

Here’s what some of our writers have been up to when not wrestling with Nottingham’s unread…

Adrian Reynolds, our resident panel beater, will be taking part in a celebration of mystical prankster Robert Anton Wilson on 17 May at The Corner, Stoney Street. Pulling Your Cosmic Trigger will feature Daisy Eris Campbell whose adaptation of Cosmic Trigger will hit the stage later in the year, KLF author John Higgs, storyteller and performance coach Anna Reynolds (no relation, just a weird coincidence) and Nottingham improv comedy outfit Missimp.

Adrian’s chapter about the Gotham Fool is released 8 June 2014

Alison Moore’s second book The Pre-War House and Other Stories has been shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award which is announced on 15th May at Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire. You can also catch Alison reading at the launch of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio new premises on 16 May.

Alison’s chapter about Mary Howitt is released 8 March 2015
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9hA1ZYZRj0
Join Andrew ‘MulletProof’ Graves at Five Leaves Bookshop on 12 May and you can hear him reading from his forthcoming poetry collection Light at the End of the Tenner (Burning Eye Books)

Andrew’s chapter about the 5th Duke of Portland is released on 8 November 2014  

Andy Croft has asked 20 poets to write 50-100 stanzas each to create a modern interpretation of Byron’s epic Don Juan. In the original, published between 1819 and 1824, Byron took a swipe at Willy Wordsworth and various others so we’re wondering who will fall foul in this eagerly awaited updated version.

Andy’s chapter on Byron Clough is released 8 July 2014  

James Walker (Ahem) joins Geoff Dyer, Henry Hitchings, Katherine Jakeways and Dominc Dromgoole for five fifteen minute essays In Praise of the Midlands on BBC Radio 3. James’ essay explores Nottingham’s history of defiant individualism through Alan Sillitoe’s fictional anti-hero Arthur Seaton.

James’ chapter about Alan Sillitoe is released 8 February 2015

John ‘Brick’ Clark has received some glowing endorsements in the Independent for his forthcoming graphic novel anthology To End All Wars. It offers an alternative to Michael Grove’s jingoistic WW1 centenary celebrations by focussing on the “personal stories of men, women and animals caught up in the horrific cataclysm… our selection is principally focused on the psychological impact of this most extraordinary and unique conflict”

Brick’s chapter on Slavomir Rawicz was released on 8 April 2014
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0P2n83sHjbM
Paul Fillingham has freed himself from the digital lathe to do his bit for the miners. He’s produced A History of Mining through Ten Objects and is also part of Clipstone Colliery Regeneration Group who have some ambitious plans for reusing the huge headstocks at the former colliery.

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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. Artwork Brick.

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 died on 5 April 2004. Artwork from Issue 2.

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. Artwork from Issue 2.

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. Artwork from Issue 2.

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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