Hello, I’m Hannah K Chapman, the guest blogger for Laydeez Do Comics London October 2014! Ready for the CV? I’m the founder of Comic Book Slumber Party and GCC’s Ladies Night, a contributor to the OFF LIFE and Forbidden Planet International blogs, and regular face behind the cash desk at Gosh! Comics. And do you know what else? I’m bloody late – so apologies in advance for not getting this online sooner! A taxi ran over my foot!
I was super nervous and excited when my pal Rose Robbins asked me to take her place as guest blogger. I’ve only been to a Laydeez event once before (Bristol 2012) but it was a great evening. I got to see the wonderful Joff Winterhart discuss his amazing book Days of the Bagnold Summer and met Simon Moreton (Smoo Comics and Bearpit Zines) for the first time – that was the night Simon and I first chatted about Comic Book Slumber Party and Bristol Comic and Zine Fair and by the end of the night I was on-board as a co-organiser of BCZF 2013. Great things happen when you stick a bunch of comics people in a room together – I suppose that’s why I was so nervous.
At the start of the evening Nicola Streeten (co-founder) took to the stage and apologised for Sarah Lightman’s (other co-founder) absence and the lack of cakes. Then she asked the dreaded Question, a way of having the audience and speakers share a little about themselves before launching into the talks. This months was: have you seen/been to anything cultural that inspired you recently. Now, I won’t lie. I did panic a little. I answered that the most inspiring thing I’d done was play the 1986 Games Workshop creation Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The game is incredible and I’ve been in love with it my whole life, it always get me excited to dive into creating my own ridiculous and complicated worlds to get lost in. My evening spent rolling dice and fighting trolls paled in comparison to the answers the audience were offering up though. One lady with particularly good hair told us about a Paddington Bear exhibition at the House of Illustration and explained how Paddington is an allegory for immigration and how, when you move to a new country, you become a child again. I’ve spent time in the US and in China and I agree with this sentiment completely. It also reminded me that since moving to London six months ago I’ve failed to make the most of everything on offer here! More galleries and exhibitions for me please.
Jenny Drew is a youth worker and comics creator and while she studied a course on the therapeutic use of the arts she explained to us that she is neither a therapist or an artist. She works in Bath and North Somerset (which is where I went to university so I’m feeling a real connection to all of this!) Jenny works with future offenders – young people at risk of getting themselves into trouble. It sounded a little bit like Minority Report with crayons – it’s worth noting that Jenny doesn’t kill anyone. They make comics instead!
Right at the start of her presentation Jenny shared a quote I’ve not come across before:
“Comics echo the way the brain works. People think in iconic images, not holograms and people think in bursts of language, not in paragraphs.” Art Speigelman
I thought it was a great way of getting across how useful comics can be as a communication tool for people who might struggle in other ways. I’ve an older brother with autism who has always felt a huge affinity for comics, especially as they were used to teach him about reading body language as a child!
As well as taking away the artwork that the young people create in the sessions, editing it on photoshop, and seining it back as a physical reminder of the session, Jenny also uses Sandplay therapy (a box of sand that the subject pops plastic toys and shells and other bits and bobs into). She explained that sandplay allows users to project a subconscious picture of their understanding of the world.
She told us how one of the young people she worked with had used the sand box to tell the story of a BMX riding zombie who couldn’t understand anybody and how, soon after the session, his communication had visibly improved.
But the Sandplay is not the only activity she uses. She’ll often plays the Exquisite Corpse game (where you fold over a piece of paper and each players draws a different part of the body) or asks the young people to create comics. When it’s the latter she’ll take the artwork home with her, edit it in Photoshop and create a finished book that she later sends back to them as a physical reminder of their session.
Of course these workshops don’t always go as planned and people can be dismissive of her techniques. She regaled us with the story of one girl who was not interested in a single thing she was offered, questioning the reason behind the different elements of the activity instead of taking part.
What she’s found through her work is that young people often feel far more comfortable talking about the experiences of a fictional character than themselves and will often add their own elements to the story without realising how much it reflects them. But there was a warning too, creating comics that speak about your own personal demons can be challenging especially if the reaction from the people your showing is negative. If something is too close to your own heart it may be difficult to detach from it and remain objective during the sessions.
At the moment Jenny and some of the young people she works with are working hard on a collaborative comic zine, Atomic Comic. I’m hoping it includes some of the gems she showed us in the presentation – Liberty the Golddigger is definitely a title I’d add to my standing order.
Future plans involve trying to set up some kind of short term comics mentorship for young people who are passionate about creating – perhaps pairing them with an established comic artist and arranging them to meet over six or so sessions. I thought this was a brilliant idea, just the sort of thing I’d have loved as a kid and would love to be involved in as an adult.
The last thing I’d like to point out is that Jenny draws some serious stick figures that totally blow the pants offa mine!
The second speaker was the dazzling Jess Milton. Now I’m a little biased here because Jess and I spent a magical night partying together and it earned a top spot on my list of favourite people in London. I didn’t even know she’d be speaking until the morning of the event which goes to show how canny I was with my research.
Jess introduced herself by announcing she’d arrived late and that she’d asked the staff in Waterstones for directions and it didn’t go down well. She then apologised for her rumbling stomach as she’d only eaten soup that day. Once we’d gotten past these vital steps in the introduction Jess launched into telling us all about her work and the projects she’s been involving herself in over the years.
One of the first things she told us about was her re-telling of Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights: Jason. All of the characters in Jess’s version of the story are young men and it looks closely at discovering and exploring your sexuality. She also said that revisiting work from your adolescence is embarrassing. Her current project is based on the Russian folk story The Flying Ship which gave her the opportunity to experiment with a whole heap of different art styles and characters. The whole thing is heady with romanticism and Victorian romance (while still showing off the manga influences in her work).
There was a shout out to Gosh! (the brilliant shop I work in) and our monthly workshop Process which, as Jess said, is the perfect excuse to go to the shop, pour over books, and meet new people. The book, To Arms, in which Jess’s comic Canary Girls appears, all began at Process. The story itself talks about the women who ‘manned’ the munitions factories during the first world war and how, over time, they were being poisoned by the weapons they were making (exposure to TNT is toxic and makes the skin and hair appear yellow-orange like a canary – thank you Wikipedia). I particularly liked the way Jess chose to portray the brightness of the yellow, depicting all but the canary girls in murky shades of grey.
I really enjoyed Jess walking us through a comic she drew about Kentish Town and the character that stood out most for me was the vegetable seller who spent more time chatting people up than actually selling any marrows or carrots. An audience member called out that she lives in the area and that all of the people who appeared in the comic are very much still a regular fixture of Kentish Town. Jess also described Craig Thompson (Blankets, Habibi) as a huge inspiration and I think you can really see that in this piece of work. Certainly some of the brush strokes seem hugely reminiscent of Thompson’s.
During the Q&A Jess told us about the way she works on a script and the kinds of materials she uses: V-5 pilot pens with a wash and then tones added via Photoshop. She explained that working with physical materials gives her a level of control she’d lose if working digitally. I’m the total opposite – the handful of times I have tried to do any colouring by hand it has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
At the very beginning Nicola had mentioned the lack of cake so I figured why not head down to the Foyles Café and I ended up mashing the most delicious chocolate and pear tart into my cake hole. During the break I also admitted to Jess that I’d fallen a little in love with her dad when he told us he’d come back from holidaying on a cowboy ranch. Who doesn’t want to date a cowboy?
The final talk came from activist duo Jo and Yas who were representing NO MORE PAGE THREE (ethically-sourced and made in the UK). The pair were rocking the campaigns t-shirt which is a pretty slick design. I want to buy it in every colour and wear it in rotation with my FRANKIE SAYS RELAX and CHOOSE LIFE tees.
One of the ideas that was being floated during the talk was that boobs aren’t news; there’s a time and a place and a newspaper is not it. Another was that the campaign is not about pitting the working classes and middle classes against each other; feminism, after all, is equal opportunities. The girls threw out there: 100% of Green Party MP’s support the campaign, 53% of female MP’s support the campaign, and women’s sport gets the same coverage as men’s darts (5%). Allegedly David Cameron, when addressed on the issue in parliament, suggested that people offended by Page Three simply turn the page.
The campaign was originally the brainchild of Lucy Holmes in 2012 and now there are representatives all over the country helping to spread the message in different regions. One of the key parts of the campaign is encourage supporters to express themselves creatively, whether that means wearing the t-shirt and sharing the photos (or like Russell Brand simply hold the thing in the air like a matador). Yas staged a protest outside The Sun offices themselves. With the help of other campaign backers she wrote messages about the project on paper flowers, hung them from the trees outside of The Sun HQ, and had a bouquet of them delivered to David Dinsmore (the editor). Once she even threw herself in front of Rupert Murdoch’s car (but remained in enough pieces to talk to Laydeez!!!) Jo told us that while she’s an active member of the campaign, she absolutely hates marches. Once she was at a No More Page Three campaign, was handed the megaphone and immediately got tongue tied and said everything wrong – whoops!
Both women told us about their personal experiences with Page Three and how it had affected their lives. Jo’s story in particular struck me because it happened at such a young age and in a school. While working on a craft activity newspaper had been placed on the table and unknowingly that included Page Three. Boys on the table were laughing at the pictures and when Jo told them to stop laughing because “We’ll look like that one day” they responded with “Yeah, with big fat juicy nipples.” She channelled her frustration into her comics; illustrating the real stories of herself and others unwillingly exposed to the images. I think these short comics are particularly powerful and expressive: He didn’t buy it! She didn’t buy! They didn’t buy it! “You don’t have to buy into culture to revive payback”. She also told us that she’s been called a flat chested bint as a reason for her being anti-Page Three. Both Yas and illustrator Hannah Habibi created mock-front pages illustrating alternatives from ranging from men posing in sexy underwear (Yas) to celebrating the bodies of women who are much older (Hannah).
Questions raised by audience included the link between Page Three and the body image/confidence of the women looking at the photos. The speaker went on to explain how she quite liked nude images of Keira Knightley because she has small breasts and it shows a different body type. This is especially relevant considering Knightley’s recent interview and photoshoot celebrating her body un-edited. Perhaps the most surprising part, and most interesting, was when a member of the audience admitted to having a bigger problem with the campaign than Page Three itself; explaining that as she saw it, people were buying into escapism more than boobs. Jo closed by reminding us that the campaign isn’t calling for a change in legislation or for a ban on images; simply the acknowledgement that there is a time and a place, and that a newspaper is not it.
And with that? It was home time. Phew. It was such a great night and I came away with a brain buzzing as much as my hands were. Nicola and Sarah do a great job curating the speakers and I was pretty impressed with the variety of topics covered. Seriously – if you’ve not been to one of the events you need to get to one; the pear and chocolate tarts are to die for.