The ideas of March

Another excellent evening at Laydeez do Comics. Anyway very exciting… two excellent speakers this week, Ros Archer, fine artist turned or turning comic creator and Woodrow Phoenix author of the groundbreaking Rumble Strip.
As usual we met in The Rag Factory off Brick Lane a lovely secret-ish venue – a lot warmer at this time of year, the first time for awhile the heaters haven’t been blasting. We started off in the usual way – everyone introducing themselves and answering a question posed by Sarah or Nicola, this time we all grapple with ‘What have you recyclced this week‘ A nice way to break the ice and get things going. Sarah completely excelled herself with not one, not two but three cakes. Chocolate, apple and carrot. Worth the trip alone.
Ros Archer not published, but I suspect soon will be, has been preparing work to apply for an MA. Ros is super enthusiastic and thoughtful and also very funny. She showed us very beautiful work, pencil, ink, charcoal, lithographs and sculpture. Exploring, narrative, ideas, dreams, memory layering of meaning, use of physical space. In other words lots of ideas and content which I can’t really do justice to in words.
One particularly good example was her first story using a clockwise narrative. There was good debate about how unexpected layouts or paths can be communicated without having to have extra instructions for the reader and if that adds or subtracts from the experience…
The second story Ros showed us was a love triangle set in a circus between the Fire Eater, the Strong Man and the Bearded Lady. Some top advice from Ros at this stage: give your work to your friends as people respond to things in very different ways, some think things are funny, others don’t see humour at all – everyone gets something different. There is no absolute right and wrong.
Ros brought out a very neat thing called a Flexigon. (check out www.flexagon.net there is a whole enormous world of flexigon people out there) It looks like a hexagonal folded piece of paper but then opens in all sorts directions revealing different facets. On this particular one there were comic pages which could be revealed in different ways – another inventive use by Ros of narrative, time and space. There was much hilarity as Corinne from Myraid Editions managed to dismember it almost immediately,  thereby depriving everyone else of the pleasure of playing with it. But I won’t mention that as it would be rude.
Ros say she loves David Mazzucchelli. City of Glass written by Paul Auster and more recently Asterios Polyp. If you haven’t read Asterios Polyp, DO the drawings are beautiful and elegant, all in cyan and pink and the story is multi-layered and complex.
We then got a glimpse of an intriguing Paula Rego-esque (compliment) ballerina which is part of Ros’s new work. Dealing with the idea of 7 characters/ archetypes, 7 plots and more…
Near the end of her talk Ros revealed that she has been accepted for and MA in Authorial Practice at University College Falmouth. What does Authorial Practice mean I hear you all ask? It means COMICS!!!!!!
Ros’s interest in sculpture and comics leading on nicely to the notices:
N O T I C E S
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Paul Gravett says: The first ever symposium of Sculpture and Comic Art by The Henry Moore Foundation is coming up this year. See more at: www.henry-moore.org/hmi/research/calls-for-papers/sculpture-and-comic-art Call for Papers: Sculpture and Comic Art. Conference, Wednesday 16th November 2011
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Jimi Gherkin says: Still some table available for the International Alternative Press Festival 2011 27th May – 13th June 2011 A festival including comix, zines, printmaking, book arts, talks, workshops, exhibitions and performances featuring artists from the UK and Europe. There will also be a film made of the whole festival. www.alternativepress.org.uk/
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Jenny says: Are you feed up of drawing nude models? Then draw some clothed ones at The Art Breaks Meetup Group ‘Drawing each others portraits’ That was on Tuesday 22nd of March so you have missed it. Contact Mark 07939 346 930 to find out if there will be more.
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Other comic stuff going on:
Winshluss – Pinocchio 29th March 2011 9:30am – 9th April 2011 6pm Charing Cross Road www.foyles.co.uk/events-at-foyles An exhibition of original artwork from the French comic artist Winshulss’s version of Pinocchio, reinvented for the modern age.
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Insider tip checkout Zoom Rockman very busy 9 year old comic creator Orbital Comics KALEIDOSCOPE: A NEW LOOK AT BRITISH COMICS 06.03.11 – 31.03.11 www.orbitalcomics.com/events/
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A quick break for more cake and a chat and then… Woodrow Phoenix creator of Rumble Strip.
A real break with tradition Woodrow doesn’t have a Powerpoint presentation!!!!! He has pinned ACTUAL pen and ink drawings to the wall. Radical. This deceptively simple act sums up Woodrow’s talk and work. A bit different, insightful, lateral and with real content and ideas. Also, Woodrow is a natty dresser.
Woodrow had lots and lots of interesting things to say. I have tried to report them in point form, some of them are pretty good aphorisms…
WP says he hasn’t talked the much about this book since it was done a couple of years ago.
But UK comics are in a weird place at the moment, in that there aren’t many educated practitioners in publishing. Editors and commissioners are not experienced in dealing with graphic novel/comics – they just don’t have any knowledge about why things are the way they are.
WP started as a lettering artist, then started drawing other people’s stuff, then mini comics, then his own stuff. (I guess that’s the 10,000 hours taken care of).
Because comics are easy to read people think they are easy to make. It can years, and that’s working everyday, drawing all the time.
In the 90s all of the publishers disappeared leaving a vacuum that has been replaced by the internet and has also laid the ground for lots of new creators… but the internet lacks a critical voice. You put your work up and get lots of “love it”, “wow”, “fantastic!” but anything else seems like sour grapes. It’s something to work on.
This is a tricky one as it’s all about respect and context, I would never just take work out to the park and ask passers by what they thought, but a group of people whose work and abilities… respect, that’s different… this was discussed later on as a group.
Comics are about talking about what’s inside you. The best work is going to be difficult to make meaningful and engaging…
When you are in your 20s and you go to art school it’s a big shock to realise that you are NOT the best drawer in the class. Ha Ha I think most people thought this was pretty funny. And true.
Rumble Strip, it’s not a book about cars it’s a book about how society is structured. While working in LA WP was forced to have a car, as he soon came to realise that no car = no food. You just can’t get ANYWHERE on foot. And only with a car does LA become understandable as a city. But as you have to be in the car most of the time on your own, it’s isolating, lonely and weird. What happens when you drive a car? What happens to your brain? How is it different to when you walk around?
WP talked about how in all the drawing, the captions or speech blocks are all in the vanishing points, a deliberate device to make you read the text and be a purposeful irritant. They are used in a very obstrusive way, unlike many comics where the speech devices are unobtrusive. The captions take the place of the protagonist. It is annoying but it makes you think about why they are there and what they are trying to do.
Rumble Strip combines different points of view, case reports and a variety of different personal experiences.
I liked this social transport hierachy and it’s definitely worthy of one of those pyramid charts:
Expensive/sports car = unlimited rights
Reasonably priced car = many rights
Motor bike = some rights
Cycle = no rights
Pedestrian = absolutely no rights
I would add in here Pedestrian with pushchair definately right at the bottom. Not only has it no rights but for some reason irritates all the other more important people.
You see it in how people defer to each other on the road. The guy in the expensive sports car has more rights, he knows it and you know it. But we all pay taxes, apparently, doesn’t that make us all equal? And this isn’t just in the UK, it’s universal.
One of the things that I thought was really interesting was they way Woodrow said that we tend to think of comics as a genre (action, thriller, comedy) NOT a medium and that limits the kinds of things we do with them – in Japan you can even get comics that show you how to fill in your tax return.
There was some great discussion about hand drawing and pens and inks, limiting your tools, electric pencil sharpeners – different types of Indian Ink Sennelier a la Pergode being WP’s choice (more expensive per litre than petrol – the irony!)
Although not autobiographical, WP does have first hand knowledge of friends and family who have been injured or killed in cars so in a sense Rumble Strip is a work of catharsis – but it is primarily a book of IDEAS. And sometimes complicated ideas are hard to sell…
All of this led onto general discussion about cover designs, plotting, traffic, shared traffic schemes and amazing film of Central London in the last century with many forms of transport all weaving in and out without any apparent street markings or organisation.
If you haven’t read Rumble Strip head straight for the library or book shop off ramp, or should I say pedestrianised zone…
STOP
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Blogged by Marcia Mihotich, graphic designer and illustrator – this week’s substitute or understudy blogger, the first designated blogger not appearing as planned.
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Do you speak Comic?

Karrie Fransman introduces the London Print Studio Comics Collective

Laydeez Do Comics. Could be described as the grape vine of the comics world, and you know, even the bean stalk as well! I’m very happy to have been invited this week by Nicola and Sarah to report on the latest goings on.

My name is Frankie Sinclair, I’m some sort of an artist, one who sees the world through cartoon eyes! Last year I focussed on starting up a group called the Cartoon Heart Club www.cartoonheart.com and www.meetup.com/cartoonhrt I’ve currently whooshed down a sort of rabbit hole of photography wonderland… When I come out again, I will no doubt run a few more cartoon related events. In the meantime, if anyone is running, or thinking of running a cartoon related event or project and you would like to invite people to attend or participate, feel free to contact me about posting it to or from, the Cartoon Heart Club (contact thru any of the websites).
Well, certainly things rarely do just happen overnight (on the beanstalk theme) but meeting people along the way and being open to talk and exchange can certainly bring golden opportunities and experiences. Something of a theme last Monday night was the comic artists’ discovery and appreciation of the comic scene. Groups and networks like Laydeez have really touched the lives of some artists. The discovery of one group can connect an artist into a whole network, internationally and at home. Although as we discovered, language can sometimes be a problem…
It was a packed night at the regular Rag Factory venue There were four main presentations. Three comic artists described their work, recent and past:
Sean Azzopardi
Francesca Cassavetti
John Miers
plus the London Print Studio Comics Collective comic interns (phew long title) reported back from the Angoulême International Comics Festival.
As a somewhat angry young man, Sean loved to create mini comics naming and shaming the evil characters who plagued his working life as a concierge. Sean is (perhaps controversially) unapologetic about using people’s real names in these minis which were later put together to form a book called the “Twelve Hour Shift“.
There was also horror in the background in Necessary Monsters (created with Daniel Merlin Goodbrey), a genre based story with monsters and spies which was intended to be a commercial project. It started twice a week on the internet and was meant to bring them both fame and riches. It didn’t, and Sean actually changed his mind about the direction he wanted to go.
Not as horrible as the dirty fact that Sean confessed to having thrown away three whole bags of his own sketchbooks in a big clear out before Christmas. Hope there aren’t any Azzo fans out there now, or in the future who would kill to touch one page of such a sketch book. But hey, murder your darlings.
Having exorcised the demons, or at least ‘poured all [his]… derision into it’ Sean decided to bring some Ying to the Yang and worked on ‘Ed‘ for five years. This he finished just before Christmas last year. He describes this as being a light romantic tale about a girlfriend, flatmate, sunshine, cats and flowers. Just right for Spring then.
Lately Sean has moved away from grey scale drawings and he’s experimenting with cartoon water colours, getting tactile with the medium as a change from the intensive Photoshop square eyes experience. In other words (his) he’s gone all ‘touchy feely’.
Francesca Cassavetti

It should have been “The Most Natural Thing in the World” to be a mother, but it wasn’t, so Francesca decided to draw about it. She longed to be a famous cartoonist, meanwhile there were nappies to change. Despite the obvious difficulties of creating and mothering at the same time, Francesca carried on cartooning for years and years with very little readership. She said,

“Some strips got into magazines, then the mags would fold and that would be it.”
Her semi-autobigraphical work, drawn up in black and white lines just grew and grew organically. She showed it to the odd publisher, but they would say ‘nice but we don’t know what to do with it’. However, the value to her was immense as the comics acted as a sort of self-therapy when she felt trapped and frustrated with the whole kids and family situation.
Eventually, she met Gary Norfield who suggested DIY, publish your own, and that was the turning point. Whereas in book publishing, ‘vanity’ tends to be frowned upon, in the comics world it’s defacto, and as everyone at Laydeez agreed, the way forward.
Francesca made mini comics and put them in Gosh. Paul Gravett invited her to do ’24 hour comics’ (a one day a year challenge to make a 24 page comic in 24 hours). “A fantastic exercise – you don’t worry about what you’re doing”. Things started moving, she was connected! Comics conventions, the London Underground Comics stall at Camden market. She says it’s all a bit like the punk rock scene: make your own records, control your own work, please yourself and not a target audience.
Which segues in nicely to a mention of a current project she is working on with her husband: an expose of his years as a punk rocker. He tells the story of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and she draws the pictures. But how much does she really want to know about those years (the years before they met even) and can their relationship take it? They seem to think so and they aim to create an ‘accurate, unflinching, honest but not hurtful’ story, with the consent and co-operation of his ex-girlfriend!
Also mentioned was B.A.S.T.A.R.D.S a striptacular antholgoy comic, turned around in one month, for the Angoulême festival. It stands for ‘British artists standing tall and reaching distant shores’.
They reported back from the Angoulême International Comics Festival in France for us, in comic form. Just to say, they are five artists working as comic interns at the London Print Studio. The project, set up by the director of of the London Print Studio, John Phillips is currently being led by Karrie Fransman.
Isabel Greenberg: wasn’t allowed to take gouache on the plane to France!
Rachel Emily Taylor: loved the tents where all generations of people from Granny’s to babes appreciated comics.
She is in love with Brecht Evens who painted her a comic.
William Goldsmith: used the opportunity to shamelessly network and got told off for not speaking French. Tant pis!
His Vignettes of Ystov has just been published by Random House
Joe Kelly attended as many talks as possible by as many artists as possible and created a fab tribute strip, perfectly in the style of his faves.
Freya Harrisson: visited the truly awesome comic museum, which is 5138 times better than the cartoon museum (in London) and where comic artists are treated as rock stars, and you can sit in comfy seats and read comics, and the fountains spew out lemonade!
 John Miers 
whose work I may find it difficult to blog about since it is highly informed and grapples with concepts.
John teaches full time, balancing his ‘real’ job with comics. But he finds that when time is more precious, he somehow gets more done. Like the others, he’s also experienced something of a turning point since he plugged into the comics community last year.
John is interested in formal experimentation. He ponders on ‘what is comics and how does it work?’ and he attempts to convey these tricky questions and some answers in comics themselves.
At first his comic creations were slab characters. Simply a rock with a slit gouged out for a month. Then he added stereotypical features to differentiate the slabs. Before teaching, he worked in an office and he’s very proud that he produced his ‘Intellectual strip’ entirely on company time using Microsoft Paint, in Word. It features crude humour and office alientation.
He imagined the Genesis of slabs, with the creation and eventual destruction of the world in 10 pages.
In another grapple with his subject, he created a pictographic comic with no words (well, no words as we know them). A circle man speaks with round language
and a rectangle man with squared language. Pictorially. They try to talk to each other about a plane and successfully communicate about a roundish, squarish plane.
Sometimes it seems only futility to ever try to represent anything. Especially if you’re a street portrait painter in a comic strip by Miers. As your sitter’s mood changes, so does your portrait and you end up with a cubist painting, incomprehensible to your customer.
Perhaps Miers most ambitious project to date has been his story of the tower of Babel, which explores language and how its used in comics. It was created using Illustrator docs drawn on top of with a wacom tablet and printed out on giant (in comics terms) sheets. The whole project impressed the International Comics Art Forum to such an extent that they asked him to present a 45 minute talk about the whole project.
I won’t even begin to try and describe this work. But the 45 minute talk on CD and comic is available from John. Just to say that people communicate successfully because they use pictures. They conceive of a tower to reach up to heaven but God comes down and confounds their language so that they can’t understand one another’s speech anymore. They can’t communicate sufficiently to finish the tower and their picture language starts to conflict in fascinating ways.
Finally, John wowed us with a comic featuring ninjas and a guy who wakes up only to discover that he is John Humphreys. I liked this one when the character has been knocked out, and strikes back by ninjing his opponent with a handy ‘dazed’ star from the circle around whizzing round his head.
Over and out Laydeez and Gentz!