Caution: This post involves people you might like acting dislike-ably, and it will upset before it gets better.
I’ve kept quiet about this a long time: three years. At the tail end of 2012 I posted an article on Irish Comic News, an opinion piece relating to the ICN Awards, then in their second year. The piece was deliberately provocative in addressing the negativities of such awards. It took to task the attitude of vanity arts culture, and did so with an undercurrent of slap-dash satire.
Perhaps the editor was right to pull it. It was constructed within a few hours after the better piece I’d written the year before went missing. I got the news it had been pulled in the same short email that instructed my future blogging required approval. Well, now, I completed my journalist training waay back in 92 and had been blogging about comics since 2000. There was hardly a wealth of real journalism at the site. Besides, I told the publisher, he was taking this way too seriously. Two emails later and Andy Luke is “no longer welcome at ICN”.
Well, I was angry, and I honestly feared for the mental health of this bloke. I spoke with mutual friends, asking them to chat with him, look out for him. Maybe the damage can be repaired, I thought. I was told in the same conversation, “I’m sure there were faults on both sides” or “I don’t want to get in the middle of this”. One (wisely) asked me in the week after not to write about it. That, was more or less it. As far as I know I was mentioned only once again on ICN, possibly to do with a wash-out comics festival I had a hand in, as ruined by Belfast’s pro-flag Unionist community.
I did a few pieces for DownTheTubes and BleedingCool, but the enthusiasm wasn’t there anymore. It was a few months later I really felt the bite of the ICN blacklisting. Yes, that’s what it was. I had gone self-employed, wanting to earn money making comics, and I’d just done ‘Absence’ and ‘The Invisible Artist’. It was my own fault my business plan didn’t work, I didn’t produce for the market as I should have, but “no longer welcome” saw what comics work I did create go unpublicised by that site. I’m thankful for the opportunities offered me by Avalon Arts, Titancon and the Arts & Disability Forum working with me on comics in that time, along with those who wrote about it: DTT, BC and the wonderful people at the FPI weblog and Broken Frontier. The Hold The Phones re-release came out at just the same time Alex Jones and Piers Morgan went head-to-head, and for a few hours Richard’s cover for the comic topped Google. Still, I’d lost a valued friendship and had to watch many of my friends rave about his ICN. Aided by the paranoia depression brings on, I felt more socially and professionally ostracised…too strong maybe…divided, from the Irish comics community. I made the odd veiled internet snipe about Cyanogen iodide (ICN), and got angry with some people not to blame, but largely held my tongue hoping things might be walked back. Who wants to be the guy shitting in the punchbowl? What good would it have accomplished?
At the same time I was running the Black Panel but the main ‘news’ door to promoting these comics, the site I helped build, was closed to me. Market laws in Belfast became so restrictive, business dried up. I left “comics”, and wrote prose, finding an incredible freedom denied by comics. I read my short stories publicly. I completed my first rough draft of a novel. Having the door slammed in my face was a total kunt move but I led myself to adapt.
Last week I was reminded of my LAST (!) foray into comics. Back in 2013, Belfast City Council awarded sole trader grant money which allowed Ruairi Coleman a little amount to draw ‘Bottomley’ for ‘To End All Wars’. The book, edited by Jonathan Clode and Brick and published by Soaring Penguin has been nominated for two Eisner awards in Best Reality Based Work and Best Anthology. These are the Cannes of comics, one of the higher accolades. They’re voted on by pros; just being nominated is a big deal. The tale Ruairi and John and I created is one among thirty compelling pieces. It richly deserves to win and I won’t be surprised if it does.
In the year after I left, all but two ICN founders stepped down. In 2014 (having heard nothing), I asked the publisher ‘if I am no longer welcome at ICN, would you remove my work?’. All that was needed was an apology, perhaps some small explanation. But this was “done”, and the following week, he stepped down.
Having mental health problems is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is not a badge of pride either. If that publisher couldn’t grow up, he was right to move on.
I wish ICN…well, I have no feelings really. They can’t be held accountable for dickheadery of publishers past. Visited the site twice for news since I was fired. I don’t even know if they’ve reported the Eisner nominations. I’ve written a brilliant graphic novel which I’m adapting into a screenplay for Channel 4’s Coming Up submissions, and it looks…brilliant.