Always judge a book by its cover: Judit Ferencz

Usually in blog posts I blather on about this and that but sometimes images are worth a thousand words. In Judit Ferencz’s case, images are worth a million words so I’m going to keep this post short so you can gorge on her incredible artwork. Judit is the artist for our Alma Reville chapter and you can listen to her discuss her collaboration with Nicola Monaghan in the video above, which was created by local filmmaker Will Price.

I wanted Judit as an artist for Dawn of the Unread primarily because she has illustrated for LeftLion for free in the past and this is my way of literally paying her back. For those who don’t know, LeftLion is a bi/monthly (monthly as of October) arts and culture magazine in Nottingham that would not be possible without the free labour of local artists and writers. I’ve done ten years already. Yes, I know. You get less for murder…

The Scientist
The Scientist by Judit Ferencz

Another reason for including Judit is because she has done various illustrations for publishers and magazines and so was perfect for our book-loving project. In addition to illustrating for the Economist she has created book covers for Laughable Loves by Milan Kundera and Gun by Mark Haddon for Granta Britain and James Joyce reprints for Vintage.

Judit is great at conveying stories within a story and this is most evident in the film reels for our Alma Reville chapter where Kerrie-Ann Hill, the feisty protagonist of Nicola Monaghan’s The Killing Jar, meets Mrs Hitchcock in a disused library now functioning as an illegal rave. What I love about these drawings is people who have read Nicola’s debut novel will know they refer to key scenes in the book. But if you haven’t read it, there’s enough detail there for you to imagine her life.

Judit has also created her own graphic novel The Scientist (see top of the blog), which won a silver medal at the 3×3 illustration proshow, and expanded into shop window fronts, such as Ridley Café and the Invisible Line Gallery. If those drawings don’t lure you in I don’t know what will. Dawn of the Unread will be visiting this shop very soon and will report back.

Photograph by Judit Ferencz

A good book always leaves a little to the imagination so that the reader has some investment in the story. Judit’s beautiful line-cut drawing style strikes that balance perfectly. I love her drawing of Kerrie-Ann Hill dancing with her partner at an illegal rave. I love the grin and the jutting elbows and the simplicity of bodily movement. Go check it out for yourself.

‘Psychos’ by Nicola Monaghan and Judit Ferencz was published on 8 August 2014. You can read it here


Writing for comics: Collaboration means conversation

Photo by Rodolfo Clix at Pexels.

The writer-artist collaboration is the fundamental building block of a comic. The editorial team’s job is to ensure the right people are paired up and that they both share the same objectives. The closer this collaboration is, the better the finished product. Part of this process is ensuring that one creative doesn’t dominate the other or else there’s gonna be lots of tantrums. With a new comic coming out each month, we haven’t got time for tantrums.

At Dawn of the Unread I sit down with the artist and writer and explain the basic aims of the chapter. The writer then pitches a brief synopsis and as long as it achieves our goals (every chapter must address either libraries, archives or independent bookshops) and is different to previous chapters, they then begin work with a Script Editor.

Although I have very clear ideas of how I would like each chapter to be, you must trust your writers and give them enough space to come up with something in their own voice. Too rigidly policing artistic boundaries can stifle expression and so I like to think of my role as having one of those really long dog walking leads that means writers can leg it off into the distance and only get choked if they get too close to the road.

Judit Ferencz's distinctive woodcut drawings of an illegal rave in a disused library
Judit Ferencz’s distinctive woodcut drawings of an illegal rave in a disused library feature in Issue 6.

We’ve deliberately selected writers who have never written for comics before and so Adrian Reynolds is on hand to teach them the grammar of the medium. For the writers this is learning that images tell stories of their own and therefore there is no need to be text heavy with the script. This is a difficult thing for writers to adapt to as we’re used to being given page after blank page to articulate our ideas. With only 8 pages, there’s a lot of babies that need to be sacrificed.

Equally important is rhythm. The artistic side of the equation is the most time-consuming and so they need their script well in advance. Similarly, they often have other equally time-consuming deadlines and so fitting this into their schedule takes a lot of planning. We had originally hoped to lure in Ian Culbard but he was booked up for the whole year with other projects. So even when you give someone a year’s notice it still might not be enough time.

I’m a big believer in meeting face-to-face and so whenever this is possible, everyone goes out together for a cuppa. This is where the real creativity takes place as ides get bounced around and occasionally take out a few teeth. The artist and writer are then provided with a researcher (Wayne Burrows) who provides all of the necessary visuals and facts to help shape a story.

Duke of Portland sketch by Toni Radev for Andrew Graves' script
Duke of Portland sketch by Toni Radev for Issue 8.

Sometimes it’s not possible for an artist and writer to meet up. For example, Toni Radev lives in Serbia and so Andrew Graves script was written mainly on his own. But we knew that Toni was perfect for illustrating this chapter and so we could show Andrew his work in advance. Now Toni is producing the roughs (sketches of each panel – see above image) we have a chat via email if anything needs to be changed or added.

So far the most interesting collaboration has been between Nicola Monaghan and Judit Ferenz for our Alma Reville (Mrs. Hitchcock) chapter. Judit lives in London and so came up to Nottingham and met Adrian and Nicola. They got to know each other, chatted about what they both liked and then maintained that relationship via regular emails.

What was most interesting, though, was Nicola’s approach to writing. She submitted the opening 4 or 5 pages of dialogue but then left the next few free, stating what would happen. Judit then created illustrations for these pages based on the notes and Nicola wrote the dialogue afterwards. This shows incredible confidence and trust on the part of Nicola, particularly as this is the first time she’s written for a comic. It also illustrates a completely equal relationship and is why this chapter has worked so well. But it’s also about striking a balance with rhythms of working. Nicola had a lot of other commitments and so dipped in and out of her script when she had time.

Alam Reville and Kerrie-Ann Hill have a natter. The film reel tells the story of their lives.
Alma Reville and Kerrie-Ann Hill have a natter. The film reel tells the story of their lives. From Issue 6.

As Judit was preparing to think about how she would approach the comic, Nicola and I bombarded her with images and ideas that we thought were fun or what might work well within the story. Judit was then able to incorporate some of these that she liked, such as the idea of a reel to tell stories (see image above), while interpreting it in her very unique style. Perhaps the best way to describe this process is conversation rather than collaboration, as this happened at every single stage.

Dawn of the Unread got off to a bit of a jumpy start and this was no doubt largely down to my lack of experience in the medium and not being clear about expectations and processes of working. But now that we’ve got a few comics under our belt it’s becoming increasingly clear that a cup of coffee and a chat are absolutely vital to success. People work differently when they’ve met each other. It changes the dynamic. It installs a personal obligation into the creative process and means both sides fight for each other. We may be producing a digital comic and finding ways to engage readers virtually, but never for one moment underestimate the importance of human contact.


Literary holidays: Butterflies and The Killing Jar

“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.” John Keats

My life is dictated by books. Even on holiday there needs to be some kind of literary connection. I visited Ljubljana when it was the World Book Capital, did the James Joyce trail in Trieste, read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin on a beach in Kefalonia and recently dragged my son to Latvia to see their new library.

In August the Dawn of the Unread offices moved to Sicily for a couple of weeks as I tried to locate the fictional town of Vigata, home of Inspector Montalbano. But while there I discovered a more relevant location to our graphic novel, Favignana, which I visited on 8 August to coincide with the release of Nicola Monaghan and Judit Ferencz’s comic Psychos.

I couldn’t resist visiting Favignana when I discovered it is known as the butterfly island on account of it resembling the shape of this insect. Butterflies are of course an integral image in Nicola’s debut novel The Killing Jar, a superb book which won a Betty Trask Award as well as a Waverton Good Read Award when it was published in 2006. It instantly led to comparison’s to Alan Sillitoe due to the way in which Nicola captured the rawness of working class life on a tough estate in Broxtowe.

The Killing Jar is a reference to the device used by entomologist Mrs. Ivanovich, to preserve butterflies in toxic liquid. It is also a metaphor for the estate she lives on and the characters that are entrapped there predominantly through drugs and poverty.

killing jar and fav
Favignana… the butterfly island, although it does look more like a moth

The main protagonist of Nicola’s novel is Kerrie-Ann Hill, the daughter of a smack-addicted prostitute who is sent to peddle drugs outside her school by one of her mother’s numerous ‘uncles’. I asked Nicola if she would consider bringing Kerrie-Ann back to life for the comic and was chuffed when she agreed. This is without a doubt the biggest highlight for me so far as Kerrie-Ann is one of my all-time favourite literary characters. The character and novel also have particular resonance for me as I spent my late teens a few streets away from where the book is set.

While in Sicily I spent a fair few hours locked away in a sweaty apartment sorting out the production of the above video and sourcing creative commons images of butterflies for it through Vimeo. This was then edited together by Daniel Finnerty to fit a specially commissioned soundtrack by Mansfield-based DJ Pete Unique (my brother).

Pete Unique (left), image from Killing Jar remix to right and illustration of 'Psychos' by Judit Ferencz at bottom.
Pete Unique (left), image from Killing Jar remix to right and illustration of ‘Psychos’ by Judit Ferencz at bottom.

In Psychos a disused library is turned into an illegal rave and so we decided to make the track, with Nicola reading extracts from her book, as an embed within the comic so readers could be temporarily transported to the illegal raves that feature in The Killing Jar.

I’m guessing that not many people would really appreciate the significance of visiting a butterfly shaped island while editing together a comic that features a character from a novel that uses butterflies as symbolism, but for me it created the perfect holiday.