21st Sep 2015
Inspired by the #artcred hashtag and the panel on it at the ComicCity Festival in Derry the weekend before last, I’ve written a piece on Irish Comic News on how to review comic art.
21st Sep 2015
Inspired by the #artcred hashtag and the panel on it at the ComicCity Festival in Derry the weekend before last, I’ve written a piece on Irish Comic News on how to review comic art.
31st Aug 2014
I don’t do many reviews, particularly of Irish comics. The Irish comics scene is a tiny cottage industry and everybody knows everybody; a lot of the work is amateurish and unoriginal but it’s hard to be too harsh in your criticism because you want to encourage people and don’t want to hurt their feelings. Fortunately we have Leeann Hamilton who isn’t scared of letting rip when she thinks it’s necessary.
Sometimes, though, the work is far from amateurish or unoriginal, but is hard to review just because it’s bloody hard to describe. Such a work is Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick. I received my copy of the book shortly after the Kickstarter funding campaign closed in September 2013. It’s now just a kick in the arse short of September 2014, and I’m having a go at last.
Anna first came to my attention with her webcomic Between Worlds, a fantasy in a sort-of early modern European setting, notable for its sprawling plot, its emotional intensity and its beautiful digitally-painted colour artwork. Koré, other than the covers, is in black and white, and even the colour covers are sheathed in a slipcover printed in black and white on tracing paper, through which only the bright eyes of the pictured character can be clearly seen. The front cover and its slipcover are at the top of this review; the back cover and its slipcover are below.
Eyes are important, women’s bodies are important, and mythic symbolism is important. Koré is an alternative name for the ancient Greek underworld goddess Persephone, and means “maiden” or “daughter”. The snakes suggest the gorgon Medusa, but their juxtaposition on the back cover with medical tubes reminds us that the snake is also a symbol of healing.
Why am I talking about symbols, and things being “important”, rather than telling you what the book’s about? Well, I’m attempting to do both, but it’s not easy. Koré is told almost entirely in images, no words other than the title and a series of titles applied to the characters, or perhaps the same character in different lives, at the end, and while there’s a sequence and a narrative I’m not sure it can really be considered as a story. Will Eisner coined the term “sequential art” many years ago, and that’s what this is. Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics defined comics as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the reader.” The sequence of images in Koré certainly produces an aesthetic response, but it’s an impressionistic one that depends on the reader’s response to images, in symbolic as well as narrative terms.
The impression it creates in me is a strong sense of womanhood, in particular the physicality of womanhood, and womanhood experienced as something assumed, or felt as imposed, not entirely willingly or happily. The figures are drawn androgynously, broad-shouldered, small-breasted and square-jawed, but the persistence of blood as well as vulval and uterine symbols and the anguish and fear of the character(s) is undeniable. The eyeballs in the blood are more difficult to interpret, except perhaps by reference to the goddess Koré as “The All Seeing”, or by how women are judged by how they look creating a paranoid feeling of being under constant observation and scrutiny, but that seems too rational an explanation to be entirely satisfying. I wonder how much of Koré‘s symbolism was determined rationally and how much was a series of subconscious decisions.
Fitzpatrick writes on her Kickstarter page about “finding a path through depression in comic form”, and while I’ve had my own struggles with depression I experienced it in male terms, Anna experienced it in female terms, so for me there’s a sense of recognition, but also a gulf in understanding. I’m a man, and I don’t have any sisters, and an awful lot of the experience of growing up female is lost on me, but growing up female seems to me to be the overarching theme of the book.
Koré is a book that demands your attention, requires interpretation, and gives the reader access to a mind not their own (whether or not that other mind is entirely comprehensible), which to me is the highest purpose of art of any sort, and makes Fitzpatrick perhaps the most interesting and challenging artist Irish comics have yet given us. Koré‘s impressionistic, symbolic approach makes an interesting contrast to the work of another challenging Irish artist, John Robbins, which is framed in a more masculine way by its unflinching concrete specificity. But that’s another review that may or may not actually get written.
Koré is available from Anna’s Etsy store, for US$16.50, which currently works out at UK£10.21, or €12.89, a snip for such a handsome 74-page graphic novel.
27th Feb 2014
The eighth issue of The Cattle Raid of Cooley (cover art below) is now available to buy from my Comicsy bookshop for £3.50. I’ve rejigged the way it calculates postage, so it should save you a bit of money if you’re buying multiple comics. I’ve also included options to buy all eight issues as a set, or all eight issues plus the prequel graphic novel Ness as a set, for a reduced price. I’m also gradually making digital download versions you can buy for £1.50 an issue, but they’re not all up yet. So if you appreciate what I’m doing here, I’d appreciate it if you’d support me by buying my books.
Some people who have said nice things about my work:
01st Jan 2014
And as it turns out, this Wednesday is New Year’s Day. Whose idea was that? If Julius Caesar or Pope Gregory the whateverth who made the calendar had thought it through, they would have realised that meant me missing two weeks in a row of The Cattle Raid of Cooley. So, normal service will be resumed next week when I’m back at my day job and can remember what day of the week it is.
So, 2013, eh? What was all that about?
An interesting year in a number of ways. My house needed extensive renovation – one of those annoying things where you get someone in to deal with a minor problem, and they find a bigger problem underlying it, so you get someone in to deal with that and they find an even bigger problem underlying that, and so on until you practically have to rebuild the house from the foundations up. So that was a bit stressful, and it meant I spent probably half the year at my mum’s. Which explains why my posting schedule was a bit erratic, but I couldn’t tell you that at the time, because what kind of idiot advertises the fact that their house is unoccupied on the internet?
But I still managed to do some interesting things. For example:
Plans for 2014 include ploughing on with the Cattle Raid, which has started its penultimate chapter; keeping up the singing, and hopefully doing a few open mic nights; and getting the new Belfast Drawers’ Club, or whatever it turns out being called, to include political cartoonists, caricaturists, illustrators and storyboard artists as well as comics artists, up and running. No doubt there will be a few surprises along the way. Hopefully they’ll be nice ones.
So, in conclusion, a very happy new year to all my readers. See yez next Wednesday for the conclusion of Medb’s flashback.
18th Oct 2013
I’m a contributor over at Irish Comic News, and currently running is the third annual ICN Awards. This year, rather than do it entirely by public vote, the editorial team has put together an anonymous panel who have come up with the nominations, and put those nominations out for a public vote – and may the best creator win. The Cattle Raid of Cooley is nominated for Best Irish Digital or Web Comic, and you may or may not want to go and vote for it, but please do check out the other nominees as there’s a lot of talent out there, and it deserves recognition.
The only problem I have with the ICN awards is one I have with pretty much all comics awards in the internet age – recentism. There are two Hall of Fame awards, one for individuals and one for comics, and with the exception of Paddy Brennan, DC Thomson adventure strip artist from the 40s to the 70s (see below), they’re all for contemporary artists and publications. If a Hall of Fame is for anything, it’s for recognising the greats of the past. So if you’re going to vote in that category, I’d suggest you vote for Paddy Brennan.
But I’m also going to start what I hope will be a new tradition. Every year from now on, while the ICN Awards shine a light on what’s going on in contemporary Irish comics, I”ll induct five creators into my own Shadow Hall of Fame. Creators you may never have heard of, but who I think you should have. The decisions are entirely my own, so it doesn’t have the authority of a panel or a vote, but I think I know my stuff, so trust me. And this years inductees are:
1. Paddy Brennan.
Dubliner Patrick “Paddy” Brennan (dates unknown) started drawing for small British publishers in the late 1940s. One of his characters, Marsman (1948), later appeared in Moore and O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He started working for Dundee comic giants DC Thomson in 1949, drawing adventure strips and literary adaptations for The Beano, The Dandy, The Topper, Bunty, Judy and others until at least the late 1970s, and his work was always robust and dynamic. The illustration above is from “The White Witch”, an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s She, from The Topper in the 60s. Long-running characters he created include The Beano’s “General Jumbo” and Judy’s “Sandra of the Secret Ballet”.
2. Marjorie Organ.
The daughter of a wallpaper designer, Marjorie Organ (1886-1930) moved to New York with her family when she was a child. At the tender age of 16 she joined the art room of the New York Evening Journal, working alongside comic strip pioneers Richard Outcault, creator of “The Yellow Kid”, and Rudolph Dirks, creator of “The Katzenjammer Kids”. She drew her own strip, “Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins” (1902-05), about a nervous chap mercilessly strung along by a pair of beautiful young socialites, said to be based on Organ herself and her pal Helen Walsh, who married Dirks. “The Wrangle Sisters” (1904-05) were another pair of fashionable girls-about-town, and other strips she drew had titles like “Strange What a Difference a Mere Man Makes!”, “Girls Will Be Girls”, “The Man Haters’ Club” and “Lady Bountiful”. Her career as a professional cartoonist ended in 1908 when she married painter Paul Henri, after which she effectively became his manager while continuing to paint and draw. She died of cancer in 1930, aged only 44.
3. Charles E. Kelly.
Charles Edward Kelly (1902-1981) is perhaps the most prolific and versatile cartoonist Ireland has ever produced. He started out as a teenage messenger boy in the Irish Civil Service, and in 1922, at the age of twenty he, fellow cartoonist Arthur Booth and writer Tom Collins founded Dublin Opinion, a humorous magazine that quickly became a top seller. After Booth’s death in 1926, he and Collins edited the magazine until it closed in the 1960s. An untrained artist, Kelly taught himself from the work of the leading cartoonists of the day, and drew cartoon after cartoon for the magazine in a bewildering variety of styles, also contributing cartoons and illustrations to The Capuchin Annual, exhibiting his watercolours, and climbing the greasy pole of the Civil Service, where he became Director of Broadcasting and Director of National Savings. He died in 1981. His son Frank Kelly is well-known for playing Father Jack in Father Ted.
William St. John Glenn (1904-1974) started contributing cartoons to the Belfast sports paper Ireland’s Saturday Night in his teens. In 1925 he created a comic strip for its parent paper, the Belfast Telegraph, called “Oscar”, that ran until 1936. Oscar was an ugly but witty little man, and his attempts to chat up girls gave Glenn the chance to draw fashionably dressed young women, which he particularly enjoyed. When Glenn married a glamorous young woman called Dorothea, so did Oscar, and from 1936 to 1939 Glenn drew a strip called “Dorothea” for the Daily Mail. Readers were so impressed by his attention to ladies’ fashion they assumed that “Glenn” (as he signed his work) must be female. Meanwhile, from 1938 until the ’60s, he drew a weekly scraperboard cartoon, “Ballyscunnion”, for the Irish humorous magazine Dublin Opinion, in which the exploits of the inhabitants of a fictitious Irish village commented obliquely on national and world politics. He worked for the UK Ministry of Information during the Second World War, and afterwards became head of the Daily Mail‘s cartoons department, where he drew the paper’s long-running funny animal strip “Teddy Tail” and a strip based on The Diary of Samuel Pepys. He retired in 1961, and was elected an Honorary Academician of the Royal Ulster Academy in 1968. He died in 1974, at the age of 70, after a series of operations to remove brain tumours.
5. David Wilson.
David Wilson (1873-1935) was born in Minterburn, County Tyrone, the son of a Presbyterian minister, and grew up in Belfast. After he left school he joined the Northern Bank, taking art classes in the evening, and sold his first cartoon to the Daily Chronicle in 1895. He contributed full-page caricatures to Alf S. Moore’s Belfast-based satirical magazines The Magpie and Nomad’s Weekly, around the turn of the 20th century, his bold brush style, influenced by German Art Nouveau illustration and Japanese prints, superb eye for a caricature and surreal political imagery setting him above his local rivals, and he was soon drawing cartoons for magazines in the UK like Punch, The Graphic and The Passing Show. He moved to London, where he set up the Sphinx Studio in 1908. He also painted theatre posters and, during the First World War, propaganda posters, and illustrated books. From the 1920s on he concentrated more on fine art painting. But he never recovered from his son Jimmy’s suicide in the early 1930s, and died himself in 1935.
02nd Oct 2013
It’s still just about Wednesday, but I’m not going to make my deadline. I know my rate of production has slowed dramatically this year, but I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. This week, though, there’s a good reason.
On Sunday, as part of Belfast’s Belly Laughs Comedy Festival, I’m involved in organising Comic Capers with Davy Francis and Chums, a celebration of comics and cartooning featuring one of Belfast’s not-sung-enough heroes, who sold his first cartoon 40 years ago this year (he was eleven, it was to the East Antrim Times, and he was paid 50p). Since then his loopy dip-pen line has graced titles as varied as the Belfast People’s Comic, “Screw the Bap and Head the Ball” in the Shankill Bulletin, Ximoc, Cicerman, Monster Fun, Oink!, Holy Cross, Seven Deadly Sins, Jim the Elephant, Sancho and Thunderbags. Last week he and I drew caricatures at a charity event, and it’s always a pleasure to watch him draw.
So, to get back to the point, a retrospective of Davy’s career will be the centrepiece of an afternoon event on Sunday 6 October, in the Black Box on Hill Street, from 2pm to 6pm. We’ll also be creating a giant improvised comic strip and holding a workshop for kids, and I’ll be speaking about some early comic strips from the Belfast Telegraph in the 1920s, and introducing you to a forgotten Belfast cartoonist. Other illustrious guests include cartoonists Ian Knox (Whizzer and Chips, Irish News, BBC NI’s Hearts and Minds), Alan Ryan (Faraday the Blob, The Beano), Ann Harrison (Bunsen Bunnies), Brian John Spencer (Slugger O’Toole, Huffington Post) and Patrick Sanders (SCEPTrE, Replay Theatre Company), and standup comics Peter E Davidson and Lorcan McGrane.
Promises to be a fantastic occasion and I hope to see lots of you there. But does mean I’ve had less mental energy to devote to other things, like this week’s Cattle Raid of Cooley.
01st May 2013
No page this week – my mind has been unavoidably elsewhere. There is light appearing at the end of the tunnel, finally – my kitchen no longer looks like an episode of Time Team, and soon I will no longer have to use other people’s bathrooms, but will be able to return to my own.
In other news, the panel at the Dundalk Book Festival went well – here’s a cutting from the local press with our photy in:
This Saturday coming sees the launch of Courageous Mayhem – the follow-up to last year’s Romantic Mayhem, this time parodying old boys’ comics. I have a strip in it called “Heroes from Bible Days”, and it’s full of great work from a lot of the same creators, and a few more. Gar Shanley is once again overseeing proceedings, so it’s guaranteed to be funny, and perhaps a bit sick. Anyway, the launch is at The Little Green café bar, 13 High Street, Dublin 8. Here’s the Facebook Event Page – invite your friends!
13th Feb 2013
Probably ought to call this comic “two-weeks-out-of-three-ly” – but I’d miss that deadline too. Ah, what the hell. This is a serialised graphic novel, and when it’s done nobody’ll care about the odd missed week here and there.
In the meantime, you can always go to Will Simpson’s exhibition at W5, opening tomorrow. Will used to draw comics like Transformers and Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper and Hellblazer and Batman. In more recent years he’s been doing concept art and storyboards for film and TV, working on Rob Bowman’s Reign of Fire, John Simpson’s Freeze Frame, Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto, HBO’s Game of Thrones, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s Your Highness, Dickie Attenborough’s Closing The Ring and the Tom Hanks-produced City Of Ember, among many others. The painting below is of Hayley Atwell from the 2007 Irish film How About You.
23rd Jan 2013
I know, I know. I’ve only managed two weeks after my Christmas break, and I’m already missing one. In my defence, this is a very complicated chapter, and I have a deadline on something else, various family commitments, and I’ve been moved to a new department in my day job and am learning the ropes. Plus, as I’ve probably never told this blog, I’ve been taking singing classes since last spring, and I have to learn my part of a song from Les Misérables, a show I’ve never seen, for Thursday. And my masked alter-ego has to stop my arch-enemy from destroying the world. All that. So once again, I crave your indulgence.
But I want to give you something. I’ve recently, with the aid of Irish Comic News, the Dublin cultural blog Come Here to Me!, and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, been able to reconstruct a biographical sketch of Phil Blake, a forgotten Irish cartoonist from the turn of the 20th century, over at the Irish Comics Wiki (check out the page of his cartoons and illustrations as well). Blake was born in Navan, County Meath, in 1869, the son of a farmer and Justice of the Peace, and seems to have started out drawing ads for Dublin businesses and theatre programmes, before taking over as the regular political cartoonist of the Weekly Freeman about 1898. He had a distinctive art nouveau style, and drew for the Freeman until about 1905, even getting a namecheck in James Joyce’s Ulysses. In 1908 he illustrated The Moneylender, a “controversial and scurrilous” novel about Jewish moneylenders in Dublin by Joseph Edelstein, a well-known if controversial member of Dublin’s Jewish community. Some time after that he relocated to Australia, where he illustrated fashion catalogues for a Sydney department store, and designed books of photographs by pioneering Australian photographer Harry Phillips. He died in Sydney in 1918, aged only 49.
16th Dec 2012
If you click any of the “bookshop” links on the left-hand bar or in any of the Cattle Raid of Cooley pages, you’ll now be taken to my new Comicsy bookshop. This should simplify the whole buying comics through PayPal thing. You can also now buy issue 7 – here’s what the cover looks like.