Generally considered another success, this year’s festival (19th – 21st April) was the tenth and broke with tradition by flowing into Sunday, a day the town struggles to attract visitors (if only because public transport adamantly refuses to operate on ye olde day of rest). It stuck with tradition by inviting along a flock of gag, editorial, corporate and strip ‘toonists and illustrators who spent the evenings crying into their wines, beers and gins about the parlous state of the print medium. Strangely confusing the art with the media that carries and occasionally pays for it, the maudlin cry seemed to be ‘Cartooning is dead, long live…’ etc. While the public were blissfully unaware of the hanging black cloud and no doubt hugely entertained by the live cartooning and free caricatures, the contrast with the verve and excitement among practitioners at comix events was startling for a cross-over ‘toonist like myself.
Delivering a two-day workshop on producing mini-comics, I found myself stuck on an island adrift from the mainland of the event working my socks of with a small but perfectly formed group of eager learners. While well supported by festival helpers, not one of the great and the good visited us to encourage the next generation of ‘toonists, which was a shame. Aside from seeing what we were up to, they missed out on visiting the grave of Ebenezer Scrooge!
Just in case anybody out there believes the rubbish about how highly respected Mrs T. was around the world, check out this from Kenyan cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa. It would be nice if they wheeled out for her funeral all the cadavers of the nasty bits of work she supported during her reign, such as Pinochet, Ceausescu, Botha, Mobutu, Reagan, even Mugabe (having first shot him).
During my travels in the 80′s and 90′s, the only country where I found whole-hearted support for the woman was in Hungary, a country that still believes the vicious myths of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are an undisputed fact!
Hard to admit, but I owe Margaret Thatcher a debt of gratitude. Her rise to power and my total abhorrence of the threat posed by her strident politics gave me no option in the late Seventies but to become a political cartoonist. My first professional commissions came in 1979, the year she became Prime Minister. I couldn’t draw very well and was pretty ignorant about British politics, but my background, where I lived and the people I mixed with imbued me with a feel for ensuing events that found me able to articulate the outrage before it was expressed on the streets. Just how far she was prepared to go to dismantle Britain’s nationalised industries, chip away at the welfare state, and destroy the power of the unions I don’t think any of us could have predicted.
I live in the heart of what was the East Midlands coalfields. When Thatcher went to war on the NUM, I joined the picket lines and assisting with relief for miners families, but I was also the editorial cartoonist on The Chad, the Mansfield newspaper. You would imagine the local paper would be supportive of the miners and their families, given they accounted for a large portion of sales, but no. Then owned by the Linneys, a powerful local dynasty (still) who also controlled a huge print works and chain of stationers, it seems the word came from on high that Chairman Linney was less than impressed by the cartoons in his rag. They appeared to be somewhat biased against the police state, which is what the East Midlands felt like during the strike, what with units being bussed in from all over the country and raging street battles outside pits like Ollerton. The cartoon that finally got me sacked is featured, and even then seemed strikingly innocuous.
As for Prime Minister Thatcher, I remain outraged by what she did to this country and the legacy she’s inflicted on youngsters in decimated and isolated mining communities like Harworth, where today drug and alcohol abuse, and demotivation are the villager’s biggest headache. For all that and much more, Thatcher was also the last charismatic political leader in Britain who had a vision, a far cry from the grey, corrupt, corporate and incompetent toadies we’ve been saddled with ever since.
Old Nick won’t know what’s hit him!
Rated as ‘near perfection’ by French readers and critics, Régis Loisel’s Peter Pan is a sumptuous and, by all accounts, beautifully scripted bande dessinee prequel of J.M. Barrie’s story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Far from a cute Disney rendering of Peter’s early life, Loisel presents a dark, adult narrative that subjects the lad’s innocent flightiness to the trials and traumas of a Neverland whose underbelly is plagued by evil and ugliness. Clochette (Tinkerbell) is something of a scheming vamp and Hook is a decidedly troubled man, while Neverland has never been more forbidding… apparently.
Like so many examples of the best of bande dessinee, the collected edition of Loisel’s Peter Pan is currently only available in French. As someone who would happily trade his entire superhero collection for an English version of L’Aigle sans Orteils, it saddens me that we can count on one hand how few of these superb examples of the comic art have been translated, if only because the Yanks could learn a thing or two from them. But John Anderson, that adventurous man at Soaring Penguin Press, is sticking head and shoulders over the fiscal cliff to raise the £8,000 needed to translate and publish Loisel’s masterpiece. Please support the venture here, and tell every comics fan you know to join in and dig deep.
As every village, city and country affected by the so-called Great War gears up to remember the centenary next year, I find myself co-editing an indie compilation of comics stories, writing at least one of them and drawing the ten page opener. (Like I haven’t got enough to do!) In monitoring preparations in my home town of Nottingham, where the Sherwood Foresters are the local regiment and air ace Albert Ball the local hero, I find it amazing to discover so few folk have any idea why the world descended into armed conflict in August 1914. At best, “Some Duke got killed somewhere in Austria, yeh?” At worst, “It was the Germans what wanted to invade us.”
So I’m delighted that my opening short story imaginatively tackles the reasons Europe stumbled into war. It’s taken some doing, but I’ve unpicked the whys and wherefores, presenting them in the simplest possible terms, at the same time drawing parallels with today’s manoeuvrings around the Eurozone crisis. I put the principals in the dock and examine the miscalculations that lead to The Great Blunder of the first world war.
If any budding writer or ‘toonist has an overpowering urge to contribute to this collection of fact-based stories, drop us a line with two ideas (no longer than two paragraphs, please) – your fave rave and a back-up idea.
I’m no big poetry reader, but have two books to draw to your attention, two from totally different ends of the emotional spectrum. Born to Giggle is a chuckle-stuffed collection of hilarious verses from some of the best children’s poets on the block, including John Hegley, Jill Townsend and Brian Patten. Heavily illustrated by some of the best cartoonists in the gutter (moi included), it’s been produced to support Save the Children, so is an all-round winner to buy for your favourite brat.
Grime Kerbstone Psalms is a whole other ballgame, and actually does come out of the gutters once occupied by first-time published poet, Miggy Angel (to whom John Cooper Clarke wrote, ‘I like your style’). Miggy chronicles the world of ‘pavement tramps’ and ‘cobble-stone kids’, of fried brains and seeping abscesses, but never ceases to find hope and simmering creativity in that dark disenfranchised world. It’s heavy going, thoroughly rewarding and, I suspect, what poetry was invented for.
A fan of my work recently sent me this photo taken when they were moving house. It features a pen and ink picture of John and Bob I drew to promote Nottingham’s version of the Rock Against Racism gigs from way back. Called Rock and Reggae, the weekend binge of bands, performers, sound systems, stalls and participatory crafts ran for ten years, was sponsored by the now defunct Radio Trent and equally defunct city council, and lasted until the three who organised it (myself included) moved on to other things.
After a protracted lull, it was reinvented (without the political edge) by others, finally fizzling out after too many years, as irrelevances generally do. Ironically, the racism in this country today could do with being highlighted in an equally imaginative way, but it is good to know a younger generation appreciates the sentiments of my picture and has it on their wall.
Having watched with controlled panic as my poor ol’ G4 melted in front of my eyes, along with the Photoshop 4 that did everything I ever asked of a grossly over-priced bit of kit, I have now turned to my beautiful iMac for all my ‘tooning. That means I’m having to invest arm, leg and most of torso in new software that’s even more over-priced and grossly over-engineered for my needs. Undaunted, I downloaded a trial version of Photoshop but timed it really badly, over Christmas and the New Year, when even I wasn’t at the my desk. Durrr.
Have thus been working 15 hour days to get done what I needed to get done before the clock calls time on me (today). So what I really didn’t need to do was set myself the task of drawing St. Peter’s Square for the Vatican section of ‘Leonardo’s Bicycle’. Looks good though, yeh?
On something unrelated, was sad to hear that Keiji Nakazawa, creator of Barefoot Gen died somewhat unnoticed in December. Bought my copy in 1987, long before I knew what the word Manga meant.
Busy time for Knockabout Comics right now, what with the launch of Krent’s Big Book of Mischief a couple of weeks ago (previous post) and now Hunt Emerson’s Inferno (as in Dante’s Inferno), re-envisaged with the help of Kevin Jackson, Hunt’s collaborator on the marvellous John Ruskin series How to be Rich etc. Kevin is a Virgil of a man whose towering intellect demands listeners engaged in conversation sit and brace themselves for pearls too weighty to catch and gather together standing up. Hunt is the sad, Dante-esque figure on Virgil’s left who learned this lesson too late in their relationship and is thus disfigured by the burden of wisdoms dropped on him over the years they’ve worked together. Not so long ago Mr. Emerson was a giant of a man!
Having seen sample pages of the work in progress, I have every reason to believe Inferno is Hunt’s masterpiece, but I’ve yet to see the finished opus. What’s certain is that, over the decades, he’s been steadily working his way towards taking on ‘the big one’, ticking off Coleridge (The Ancient Mariner, a personal favourite), DH Lawrence, Casanova and Ruskin (who I would never have understood without the comics). Hopefully some American, Italian or German university will buy the original artwork en masse and make Hunt a rich man, or at least rich enough to go get corrective surgery.
Knockabout’s cutting edge website has yet to catch up with the launch of Inferno but try here.