Notes on Content – A Brief Conversation with John Robbins on The Grassy Knoll

Over 2008 I wrote weekly for  ComicsVillage.com, during a very exciting time in the UK comix scene..

My columns are concerned with four aspects surrounding comics – social community, economic factors, festival and exhibition coverage and modes of distribution.

sherridancottage

This will be my final online column until May 18th. It’s not gone. The Bristol Comics Expo will feature a new and challenging print column called ‘An integrated framework of Comics Arts Festival Management Utilising Popular Templates In Co-Operative Agenda’. Or perhaps abbreviated. In between degree assignments I may pop up on Bugpowder, the finest resource for news and current affairs in the UK independent comics industry.

Today I’m strolling off-topic of my usual look at selling and socialising with some self-indulgent agenda setting on creative content. The following is a previously unpublished piece written in April 2006, which constitutes and clarifies my response to John Robbins ‘Closing Shots from a Grassy Knoll’. If you’re not familiar with Robbins wake-up call to creators, I’d urge you to check it out here. The column below is a modified version of that previously printed in the ‘Sheridan Cottage’ print collection.

Notes on Content

Skimming through RedEye Magazine #6, snapshot of the UK comics industry, the healthiest in terms of wealth of product its been since – possibly, ever. The inclusion of centred punk work by and about Aleksander Zograf, a V for Vendetta comparative timeline, mentions of Joe Sacco and more Pat Mills satiate my desires. When this material is called contemporary it equates with relevant. Yeah, it bothers me. The examples I give are all professional, but must contemporary equal the work of someone who is at the top of the league ? Why are there no poor contemporary comics  existing in the UK industry ??  (Outside of those marginalised policy-activist circles, from topics of climate change to fundamentalist christian)

Diversity exists. From every bent of genre of superhero bunny ninja robot monkey cop dinosaur dinosaur jetpack. There does not exist reason why these elements cannot find their way into allegory on why Blair’s (Gordon’s) government never launched a proper investigation into the 7/7 London bombings. Traditionally, a cartoonist’s duty is to speak out against government-inflicted grievances, though looking at whats available, the pre-meditated illegality of tate sponsored slaughter of women and children pales in wacky zany loveable bedsit antics of a boy, a PS2 and a gun. There are a number of obstacles to cartooning contemporary from this pop junk background. Firstly, its hard. I knew for some time I wanted to draw political comics but it took about a year and a half before I was able to find some sort of political cartoonists “voice” that was graduated from my crowd-pleasing fantasy narratives of drunken pop culture celebs. Comparative to the process of learning to write and draw initially, though not as difficult as the “100 crap pages before the good ones” syndrome. I estimate this can be very off-putting for creators. Particularly if embarking on a course of cartooning aimed at a sensitive area, say for example, post-rape coping strategies featuring ninjas. It requires a level of maturity which, sweet thing, is not a universal value in comics artists. If you fail, if you turn in a sermonising patronising work of blindness, being a jerk or being a dick is going to get you told to fuck off.

In this age of information, access to points of interest grounded in the real world are obtainable like never before. Well, to an extent it is. Agents of misinformation take up the mass media with lies and diversions, a number of them are even paid high financial monthly wages and advances to do so. This is prevalent globally through centuries and decades. One only needs to study propaganda exercises such as the 1947 -1976 Operation Mockingbird in the 1980s, and its resurgence under various administrations. Recent example: Lil Bush Poo’s gross spending on public relations, such as the Armstrong Williams funds debacle. If you think these changes don’t affect Britain directly, you’re mistaken.
Robbins replies to this,

The ‘agents of misinformation’ paragraph wanders a little off-topic and perhaps inadvertently highlights the pitfalls related to crafting meaningful comics i.e. shoehorning a message or information into work in which it has no place. Incongruous digression is irksome for the reader, and worse still, can be counter productive. (I always remember that ‘Cat’ person on a Big Brother who tried to bring political activism to the show – so annoyingly out-of-place were her rants that I found myself soured to her causes.)”

“Perhaps a point worth making is that creative processes may require adjusting should creators attempt to meet your challenge. Myself, I rarely write unless I have something to say, and if I’m trying to affect change with my work then I like the entire story structured and the thread/theme established before the text part of the writing commences, which isn’t conducive to the incremental-development-of-story approach favoured by the majority of cartoonists. But then, I suppose I’ve only ever allowed for the organic aspect of comics creation to occur in the writing stage because I am so shackled by my cartooning ability; that sense of a work generating its own momentum has only ever happened for me pre-cartooning – where it’s much less painful to re-focus work that’s wandered from my central theme.”

Having attempted to sculpt my stories in this area I’ve ‘shoehorning’ and the whole process of cartoonist voice modification as Robbins suggests, awkward. ‘Off my chest’ (reprinted below) was in part brought on by shaving off my entire body hair, though only in the title of the piece have I highlighted this. Those who comment on political matters imaginatively through fixed sociable communication (Jeremy Dennis springs to mind) no doubt find insertion of political thought more flexible. Had I explained this in the strip, readers might find more to relate to. Many of my other attempts have something to say but don’t read well at all. This is a big problem with grassroots activists producing comics, many of which have an important message but are a trial to wade through. It’s the old adage of practice makes perfect, draw and re-draw, find this voice that you must have. Re-invent, its not easy, but being historically notable never is. For many of those raised on pop and South Park, this might be the way to go, Transformers in Tibet. Be careful. Metaphor and analogy and parable ? Those are the devices of writers who work without pictures.

In the moment were you wish you had been doing something else, time travelling transformers may not be able to help you. Fantasy encroaches rapidly on reality, and as representatives of dreams, cartoonists oughta exercise with responsibility those notions best benefit reality with their representing. Could it be that one small voice doesn’t count in this world ? This is your life, this is your time. Show them something new, show them something they’re not going to see coming.

off my chest 1 off my chest 2

 

I’d heartily recommend anything by Joe Sacco and Pat Mills’ Third World War Book One, and of course, Charley’s War. Perhaps you’d like to list your favourite politicomics or realcomix below ?

Coming up over the summer I’m looking forward to…

War_Page72dpi

War anthology, by Paper Tiger Comics, in collaboration with the Coalition Against the Arms Trade ( as referenced in column two weeks ago)

“An estimated 240 page book with music compilation with over 60 artists from 15 countries.”

And Cliodhna Lyons’ anthology for a registered charity GOAL , If you’re feeling up to to a tackle to challenge, the deadline is 8thAugust 2008. The theme of the anthology is,

phonebannersmall

 

And fuller information the book and requirements for submitting work can be found by clicking on this link. 

Look for a new Sheridan Cottage column at the Bristol Expo 9-11th May. Comics Village will be running a fete on the Saturday with a family fun theme, and on Sunday there’ll be some panels and workshops for the grownups. If you’d like to be part of a Sheridan Cottage panel or have any other ideas for the Comics Village fete pitch some to me at drew dot luke at gmail dot com.

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