Leeds. Jan 2014. Joanna Wilkinson. James McKay. Chella Quint.

Leeds. Jan 2014. My first ever Laydeez Do Comics meeting. I jumped on the train in Manchester – my heart aflutter. I am new to the world of graphic novels. I am a little bit frightened; I am a whole heap excited.  My name is Sui Anukka. I am writer. I am currently developing MIRA – a comic about a female, Asian Superhero saving the day in Manchester.

Speakers on the night were printmaker Joanna Wilkinson, comic artists James McKay and comedy writer, performer, designer and artist Chella Quint.

Jo-2JOANNA WILKINSON shared her influences and gave us an insight into her creative process when producing her exquisite, limited edition micro books (Zines), including  ‘Oranges are the only fruit’, ‘Bingo Voyeurism’ and ‘The Lady Garden Book of Holes’.

A bit about Joanna:  She is the daughter of a Vicar. She is half-Scottish. She grew up in Cumbria – spectacular views, but not a great deal to do. Life was austere. Her mum had strict rules about the television; no tele before 4pm = lots of time to for reading, drawing and flights of fancy. Little Joanna used to make her own comic strips and books. Joanna has a sister.

Early influences: Beryl the Peril, The Orr Wullie comic strips from The Sunday Post (The Scottish paper), The Family from One End Street and Posy Simmonds.

Joanna’s working processes:  She draws – a lot, experimenting with line, with capturing the moment at speed – in the car (when being driven), at the theatre. She keeps all her sketchbooks, building up a visual library. She takes over the kitchen table. She becomes obsessed the project at hand – the housework is ignored.  She collects ephemera uses household found objects – scanned.

Method and madness: Relief prints. Monoprints. Collage. Handmade. Textures. Whimsy. Real life. Batches of ten. Little narrative. Flaps. Doors. Discover things. Interactive. Engaging. Shocks. Surprises. Details. Quirks. Beauty. Musing subconsciousness.
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Joanna brought a collection of her work for us to look at. To attempt to describe them is to do them a terrible injustice. They need to be picked up, held, touched and explored.  Each piece is a visual treat.

Oranges Are The Only Fruit: The basis for Joanna’s first Zine was the tissue papers used to wrap supermarket oranges in Italy. With their vibrant colours and screen printed logos, to Joanna, they are things of beauty.
Bingo Voyeurism developed out of a series of sketches done with friends at a Bingo Hall in Brighton. The characters she observed are collaged, drawn and interwoven with images inspired by bingo calls.
How to drive emerges from sketches done whilst a passenger in a car. Images are meshed with lyrics of the tunes played in the car.
Gabriella and Orlando is a more straightforwardly narrative based piece. A couple fall in love. The postcards and letters they send each other form the basis of the book. Their relationship cannot continue as they are both married to others, but their love transcends. They arrive at the astral plane in animal form, an owl and a pussy cat, and here they continue to love.
A Chronicle of the Last Journey records the final days of Joanna’s parents’ lives. Joanna undertook this project as part of the sketchbook project. It is a visual meditation on how we deal with death and dying in this country. http://www.sketchbookproject.com/sketchbookproject
The Lady Garden – The Book of Holes was triggered by memories of drives and walks with Joanna had made with her dad, when each member of the family would be given a polo mint, and they would have competitions to see how long they could make the polo mint last. Joanna riffs on the idea of circles and holes. The book is (literally) full of holes – 230 to be precise—smelling holes, looking holes, halos, sound holes, milk holes, cake holes.

Joanna’s latest project:  Joanna is currently working on illustrating sonnets written by her sister.

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jamesJAMES MCKAY introduced us to Dreams of a Low Carbon Future a graphic novel that highlights issues around energy use and climate change.

James McKay is a comic artist. He illustrates for 2000AD and works on the science fiction title Flesh. He describes his work there as sometimes being ‘very blood thirsty and adolescent, but also it’s really fun.’ His day job, however, is as the manager for the Centre for Doctoral Training in Low Carbon Technologies at Leeds University.

How did the Dreams of a Low Carbon Future project come about?
Royal Academy of Engineering runs an initiative called Ingenious, which is set up to support projects that enable scientists and engineers to communicate their research and findings with the General Public. The Centre of Doctoral Training in Low Carbon Technologies in Leeds received £30k funding from the Ingenious scheme in April 2013 to produce a graphic novel about climate change and to distribute 5000 copies to the public, at festivals and through schools’ workshops.

Just seven months later, in Nov 2013, James McKay and his team launched ‘Dreams of a Low Carbon Future’ at Thorpe Bubble.

Who was involved in creating the graphic novel?

  • 370 school children from 10 different schools
  • 25 artists of all descriptions – illustrators, comic artists, writers, fashion designers, activist artists.
  • 40 Phd researchers
  • A dozen or so senior academic staff (international thought leaders in their field)

The Creative Process

  • Workshops took place with the researchers to explore how comics work and how they could use text and images to tell a story. The researchers were also trained to communicate with children so that they could effectively raise awareness of the issues in the schools’ workshops
  • Between May and June the project was taken to schools and ideas and images created by the children brought back to the labs. Themes began to emerge. The scientists were then asked to engage with the pool of ideas and examine if/how they could work.
  • During August the graphic novel was put together. The result was a cross fertilisation of ideas that came from 10 year old kids on one end of the scale, and eminent scientists, on the other.

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The resulting structure
When visioning the future, three themes emerged which shaped the resulting graphic novel:
1.   The vision of the bad future – where we get to, if we keep on going as we are.
2.   Good Future 1 – a technotopia in which humans have employed technology, at vast cost, to solve all our energy problems.
3.   Good Future 2 – a low demand utopia in which everyone has changed their behaviour to solve the environmental challenges.

‘The oldest task in human history – to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.’
Aldo Leopold.

‘Unless you change direction, you’ll end up where you are heading.’
Old Chinese proverb.

These two quotes, which are on the title page of Dreams of a Low Carbon Future sum up the governing ethos of  this project really beautifully.

Hannah, one of the Phd researchers on the project accompanied James in his talk. Hannah talked about how the project was very much about encouraging people to take ownership of the future and fostering the idea that changes can be made on a local and micro level.
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We then took a break. Chat. Chat. Browse. Sip. Sip. Chat. Chat. Nice.

chellaCHELLA QUINT @chellaquint
The final speaker for the night was comedy writer, performer, designer and artist Chella Quint, who talked about her work and passion for Zines. She also talked about the Sheffield Zine Fest – 15th March 2014. She has teamed up with Leeds Zine Fair to create her zinester dream festival, the Yorkshire Zine Weekender.

We were running a little over time, and I had to go catch my train back to Manchester so I sadly missed most of Chella’s presentation. Chella, I beg your forgiveness and hope that people will refer to the podcast to hear your full presentation.

Chella started her presentation with a really important point re. the correct pronunciation of the word ‘Zine’ which is ‘Zeen’ as is ‘Magazine’ and not, as some would have it, Zyne, or worse still, Zin. Correct all offenders. It is the least you can do.

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Chella gave us a great introduction as to what a Zine is – cheap, fun and friendly; they are egalitarian. You don’t have to be a great artiste to produce them. They are for everyone.
I found the following slide, which Chella presented, a really useful guide to understanding the form.

zines

It was then time for me to leave….

Thank you everyone for a really informative, entertaining and inspiring evening.

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Laydeez do Comics London, 17 Feb 2014

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Hello, I’m Sonja Todd, and the reason I’m guest blogging for Laydeez Do Comics is that I recently began to draw comics after years of just being a fan, and I love to hear the stories of other creators. Last spring I drafted a comic about a work trip to New York, and took Emily Haworth-Booth’s excellent course at the Prince’s Drawing School, Drawing the Graphic Novel. I’m currently doing another great graphic novel course run by Simone Lia at Number 57, and I’m keeping a comics diary.

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My top tip? Diary strips come easier a day or two later when you’ve had a chance to digest everything. So long as you make some daily notes on the day’s happenings : )

I don’t have much work online yet, but you can follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

One of the best bits of Laydeez Do Comics is when everyone in the audience has to answer a question. This month it was ‘What have you learnt recently?’ My favourite answers were:

Arabian Nights wasn’t written by an Arab in Arabia.

Cruella Deville is a play on ‘cruel devil’.

Men are twice as likely to be left-handed than women.

When you TP someone’s house, it doesn’t mean turning their house into a teepee.

The ravens in the Tower of London can live for up to 50 years.

The smallest screw is so small, you could fit 47,000 of them into a thimble.

To turn a wine bottle into a vase, soak some string in nail varnish remover, wrap it around the top part, then set it on fire. The top pops off really smoothly.

Please don’t try that last one at home without at least looking up more in-depth instructions on Pinterest, or achieving fully-fledged adulthood.

Cliodhna Lyons (pronounced ‘Cleenah’) describes herself as a “comic book tourist”:

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She let us flick through three tiny notebooks in which each page is illustrated by a different comics artist she met on a trip around the world:

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hamburg_comics

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She showed us some beautiful screenprinted comics from Cambodia, where comics were often printed on the back of old bus timetables and shopping lists due to a paper shortage after the fall of the Khmer Rouge:

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She told us about a new centre for comics in Hong Kong called the Comix Home Base which includes permanent artists’ studios on the top floor.

Her approach was to simply email comics creators ahead of her arrival asking to meet up. People responded enthusiastically, which was delightful to hear. The number of sketchbooks she filled with her own work on her trip was an impressive 8 1/2:

cliodhna_sketches

Cliodhna’s enthusiasm for travel made me want to jump on the next train to Mongolia.

A. Dee stands for the Artful Dodger, which is an apt name for a street artist who dodges around the visual world, from graffiti and airbrushing via calligraphy and Wacom pen to 3D animation and comics. He showed us how trying new forms and techniques gives you a bag of tricks to take wherever you go. Comics is still quite new to A. Dee, and he’s already mixing in photography and digital art. He described his main comics challenge as “working out visual flow”. You’re not alone, A. Dee.

He talked about masked characters being known more for their masks than what’s behind them. I love Miffed, the evil twin he created inspired by Miffy:

miffed

This Miffed character morphed into a masked rabbit who is the star of A. Dee’s comic-in-progress. My favourite bit was when A. Dee explained he’s given his character a painting of herself that is hung on her wall “like a mirror”. All art and stories acts as a kind of mirror so this was a neat touch. Also, look at the level of furry detailing you can get with a Wacom pen!

miffed2

In the break I spoke to a lovely lady from the British Council’s literature division who plans to introduce more graphic novels into their programmes, which is great news. It should help more UK artists to international recognition, and give them extra sources of income. Hurrah British Council!

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The thing I liked best tonight was the way Steven Appleby (who you’ll know from his regular Guardian strip) presented his work as Obsessions. Steven’s obsessions are secrets, things beneath the surface, thinking and thoughts, pointlessness, meaninglessness, and death. He takes all those dark angsty existential thoughts that murmur away beneath most people’s surface, and reveals them in such a lighthearted way that you don’t mind having them. His work often appears frivolous and surreal, but is actually philosophically provoking. And also really funny.

applebycover

He likes “messing around with identities and the idea that nobody is quite what they show you.”

In the late 80s and early 90s, Steven made “pictures that were quite hidden”, including a whole exhibition called Icebergs about what is hidden below the surface.

There was a magical moment when he revealed some comics his mum drew in her schoolbooks in the 1930s, which Steven wasn’t aware of until fairly recently. He obviously has the comic strip gene.

Steven made me want to list my own obsessions, which I did, and it felt creatively useful. I recommend listing yours too.

I asked him the old chestnut question, ‘Do you have any advice?’

“If an idea’s brilliant, you can draw it rubbish,” he said (hurrah!) and “go with your instinct and do what you want to do. Don’t second guess. I did a book about farting because I thought it might become a bestseller. It didn’t.”

Steven’s output is impressive – roughly a book a year for the last 18 years. His work has been turned into a stage show, a radio series (“I wasn’t a good enough actor to play myself!”) and an animation.

He said his books sell only just enough to warrant doing the next book, which may have been part-joke, part-truth, but we should all buy more Appleby to ensure a steady supply.

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Steven’s beautiful shoes.

From the whole audience, I’d like to say a huge congratulations to Sarah Lightman, one of the Laydeez organisers, on the birth of her first baby six weeks ago – we missed you Sarah! Thank you to Nasrin for stepping in on baking duties. See you next month everybody!

Laydeez do Comics Glasgow, Monday 10th February

Our first Glasgow meeting featured excellent talks from Kat Lombard-Cook, Moogs Kewell and Neil Slorance, some excellent krispie cakes and top hats, and a small herd of elephants playing football upstairs – we’re assured they will be playing outdoors by the time of our next meeting! Thank you to our speakers and everyone who came along, and hope to see you next time on 12 May. Below is my blog of the night.

– Heather Middleton

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More information on our speakers: Kat Lombard-Cook, Moogs Kewell, Neil Slorance