Sunday, 6 March 2011

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!

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