Laydeez Do Comics at Foyles London, Dec 13

Introductions

This was my second Laydeez night, having first attended about a year ago when it was held in a warehouse building in Shoreditch. This time, hosted in the gallery room of Foyles Charing Cross, everything was looking very smart and spacious. Nicola and Sarah kicked things off by asking everyone in the room to introduce themselves by name, occupation and ‘highlight of the year’. By the time we’d been round the room you found yourself surrounded by artists, writers, academics and comics lovers from the UK, America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. I’ll include a more extended introduction here than I gave on the night. I’m Mark Pembrey. I worked as a writer on the Brighton: the Graphic Novel anthology after moving to Brighton for my MA Sequential Design/Illustration at Brighton University. I’d written short stories and a play script before but my story for the anthology was my first comics script. Short Back and Sides tells the bittersweet tale of Andrew Cooper, a notoriously foul-mouthed barber who cut hair in Brighton for over 60 years while refusing to move with the times. I’m now working on a full length graphic novel with one of the speakers, Jaime Huxtable, which I’ll briefly mention later. In my day job I work at Nomad Books, an independent bookshop in Fulham. One of the first things I did when I started working there was introduce a graphic novels section, so I’m always on the lookout for interesting new releases. My highlight of the year would have to be getting married to my wonderful wife Zoe in July. Working on Brighton: the Graphic Novel is a strong contender for second place, of course.

Tim Pilcher and Paul Collicutt

Brighton gn

Tim has worked as a comics writer and editor for over 20 years. He began his career at DC Comics and has just published a memoir called Comic Book Babylon: A Cautionary Tale of Sex, Drugs and Comics. Paul is a Brighton-based illustrator who has recently published his first graphic novel, The Murder Mile. Together they acted as writer’s mentor and artists’ mentor respectively on Brighton: the Graphic Novel, published in October by QueenSpark Books. Their talk was preceded by an animated trailer by Angie Thomas, a great introduction to the project that can be viewed here. The initial meeting of all the artists and writers involved was at the Jubilee Library in Brighton. From the start the emphasis was on collaboration and Tim and Paul were presented with the tricky task of matching the writers and artists in suitable combinations. Paul described it as a ‘collision of ideas’, Tim as a ‘lightning bolt moment’. Luckily all the pairs came to compromises and everyone got into the collaborative spirit, even if it meant a certain ammount of ‘letting go’ over their material. One example given was A Helping Hand, written by Tom Johnstone and illustrated by Joe Blann,  about the legendary Hand of Glory used by thieves to put householders in a trance while they stole their possessions. Tom had written his script in great detail and drawn sketches of where he wanted the artist to put everything, but after seeing Joe’s drawn interpretation of his lead character he  placed his trust in his artist and they ended up with great results. The project involved some artists with distinctive styles, such as Adam Moore, who it was a pleasure to work with on Short Back and Sides. Their approaches to storyboarding were all different, as were their approaches to the production of finished artwork. Chris Hagan’s large painterly artworks for Seawater had to be shrunk down, while Kathryn Miller’s tiny, intricate drawings for One Step into the Future, One Step into the Past had to be blown up to fit the page size. Paul and Tim seem proud of Brighton: the Graphic Novel as a collaborative effort that showcases a variety of approaches to the form and hopefully adds a little local colour to Brighton’s history. The following two short talks were from two of the artists involved, about their wider practice and their collaborative experience on the project.

Ottilie Hainsworth

Ottilie H Elvis

Ottilie is an illustrator and artist educator. To give us an idea of how she started using comics to express herself she showed us a charming selection of her personal work. Her Elvis series grew out of a time when she was living on her own and began imagining what it would be like if Elvis was her flatmate. In a series of hilarious comic sketches she parties with Elvis, takes him to meet her parents and encounters his troublesome friends: Marlon Brando and Rod Stewart. The drawings, with a David Shrigley-esque looseness about them, are disarming and nicely silly but also genuinely expressive, showing her fascination with imaginary worlds and biographical documentation. These she elaborated on with an Italo Calvino story she has illustrated and a graphic diary project. For Brighton: the Graphic Novel, Ottilie illustrated The Anthaeum: Eden by the Sea, a story by Rosanna Lowe about the doomed dream of Henry Philips, a horticultural writer who wished to create a glass dome close to Brighton’s seafront that would house botanical wonders from across the world. Being used to writing her own stories, Ottilie found illustrating someone else’s challenging at first but ultimately rewarding. I can see how Ottilie’s chaotic, scribbly style fits well with certain elements of the story, in particular the explosion of colourful plants filling the dome and the eventual shattering of the whole structure, devastating to watch. Ottilie’s blog can be found at http://ottilie-hainsworth.blogspot.co.uk/

Jaime Huxtable

Jaime H Off the Rails

Presenting a contrasting style and methodology, Jaime was another artist on Brighton: The Graphic Novel. He was paired with writer Rob Simpson on Off the Rails, starring the brilliant and obsessive Magnus Volk, a pioneering electrical engineer who built the world’s first electric railway along Brighton’s seafront. While showing his rough sketches and completed pages, Jaime gave us further details of the fascinating history of the railway and examples of his visual research. The Pioneer (a.k.a ‘Daddy Longlegs’), an improbably tall railway transporter created by Volk, features in a handful of photographs from the period, but Jaime knew he would have to draw it from a number of different angles to fit the way he envisioned his panels. To get round this problem (useful tip for artists here!) he created a 3D model on his computer using the free programme Google Sketchup and referred to it each time he needed to draw it from a different position. His vigourous research and professional process have paid off. In Off the Rails we are drawn into a convincing landscape that brings Rob Simpson’s subject matter to life. Jaime’s personal projects often draw on Welsh mythology: Elidyr relates the travels of a twelfth century churchman who travelled through Wales trying to drum up support for the Crusades, while Anfanc follows a mythical beast who strikes fear into the local villagers, despite having the appearance of a startled beaver. Jaime touched on a new project that he and I have begun. Encouraged by the positive collaborative process of the Brighton project, we’re now working on a pitch for a full length graphic novel that will tell the story of a monstrous rivalry between two Victorian paleontologists, Gideon Mantell and Richard Owen.  To find out more and keep up to date with Jaime’s other projects, check out his website: http://jaimehuxtable.com/

Coffee and Cake

Before the final talk of the day we stopped to let it all sink in over a cup of coffee and Sarah’s homemade cakes. If you haven’t been to LDC before I can recommend it on the strength of these cakes. I got talking to a Serbian gentleman in the seat next to mine. His name is Zika Tamburic and he’s been working with his daughter on a website called Modesty Comics, where you can see the work of up and coming Serbian comic makers and even read some of them online for free in English or Serbian. This is a seriously well-organised site featuring beautiful artwork and stories. It’s great to find out about things like this. I strongly recommend looking it up: http://www.modestycomics.com/library/. I also spoke to Jon Sapsed, whose story Jonas Tindale: The Nightman features in Brighton: the Graphic Novel, and to Pete Hindle, an old friend of mine who I had no idea would be at LDC. We used to know each other when we both lived up in Newcastle but haven’t seen each other for three years, so it was rather nice to bump into him over comics and cake. His website features a series of witty watercolour comics http://petehindle.com/ Refuelled and ready to get back to business, we took our seats again for the final speakers.

Ravi Thornton and Matthew Green

Brin and Bent

Ravi published her first graphic novel The Tale of Brin and Bent and Minno Marylebone, a dark story of abusive poolkeepers at a ‘House for the Grossly Infirm’, to great acclaim in 2012. She has recently been working on Hoax, a cross-media piece to be realised as a musical stage performance and graphic novel sequel. Matthew Green is an Associate Professor of English Literature at Nottingham University and author of Alan Moore and the Gothic Tradition. Matthew began his talk on how he sees Brin and Bent fitting within the gothic tradition in which he specialises. He made a comparison with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House in its imaginative linking of location and psychological instability. The first lines of the novel are strangely relevant:

No live organism  can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed by some to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within.

He also mentioned William Blake’s experimental combinations of image and text, which provide us with a surprising link between early gothic romanticism and modern comic art. The likes of comic writers Alan Moore and Charles Burns still use romantic gothic techniques to great effect. Ravi Thornton seems to be following in this tradition, while clearly bringing her own special brand of darkness.

Ravi told us about her experiences working on The Tale of Brin and Bent and Minno Marylebone and her upcoming piece, Hoax. Both works have backgrounds in personal tragedy. Brin and Bent draws on her experience as a rape victim, which she didn’t initially make explicit in the English edition, but has now done so in the new American edition. She struggled with the decision of whether or not to explain its origins, as it inevitably alters the reader’s reception of the work. Hoax takes as its starting point a poem penned by her schizophrenic brother, who committed suicide in 2008. The planned cross-media performance promises to be an original and thoughtful tribute. The work can be experienced as performance, book or both; the two are complementary but also designed to work as stand alone pieces. Ravi’s comprehensive and fascinating website can be found at http://ravithornton.com/.

Afterwards

Nicola and Sarah and much of the crowd went for a meal down the road (a post-Laydeez tradition) but I had to get going, so my report ends here. In all December’s LDC was exciting, social and thought-provoking. As someone increasingly involved in comics it feels encouraging to attend an event that showcases various possibilities the medium can open up, from Ottolie’s expressive scribblings to Jaime’s considered panels to Ravi’s approach of mixing with other art forms. I look forward to news of future Laydeez Do Comics events. I should also say congratulations to Sarah, who was heavily pregnant at the time of the event and I believe will have just popped her sprog. Baybeez Do Comics? Just an idea…

Mark Pembrey