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Archive for the 'Irish comics' Category

31st Aug 2014

Review: Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick

Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick

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.

Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick - back cover

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.

Double page spread from Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick

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 aboutfinding 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.

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18th Oct 2013

The Irish Comics Shadow Hall of Fame

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.

“The White Witch”, The Topper, 1960s, art by 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.

Marjorie Organ and her comic strip "Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins", New York Evening Journal, 1902-05

Marjorie Organ and her comic strip “Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins”, New York Evening Journal, 1902-05

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.

Cartoon from Dublin Opinion by Charles E. Kelly, date unknown

Cartoon from Dublin Opinion by Charles E. Kelly, date unknown

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.

4. William St. John Glenn.

"Ballyscunnion" from Dublin Opinon by William St. John Glenn, date unknown

“Ballyscunnion” from Dublin Opinon by William St. John Glenn, date unknown

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 self-caricature from an ad for shaving soap, date unknown.

David Wilson self-caricature from an ad for shaving soap, date unknown.

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.

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02nd Oct 2013

Why there’s no new comic this week

Comic Capers with Davy Francis and Chums

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.

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08th Dec 2012

Belfast Comics Fayre in the Haymarket Arcade tomorrow

Belfast Comics Fayre

Tomorrow, Sunday 9 December 2012, there’ll be a Comic Book and Collectors’ Fayre at Avalon Arts in the Haymarket Arcade at the top of Royal Avenue. Entrance is free, and it runs from 12 noon to 6.30. In attendance will be such luminaries as myself, Andy Luke (who made the above poster), and editor Eoin McAuley, writer Ciaran Marcantonio and artist Daryl Cox from the Dublin-based anthology Lightning Strike Presents, as well as hopefully a few surprise guests. Oh, and I’ll be launching issue 7 of The Cattle Raid of Cooley. Don’t, as the immortal Jim Megaw might say, you miss it.

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02nd Nov 2012

Vote for me!

The second annual Irish Comic News awards are upon us. I neglected to promote the nomination stage, but the nominations are in and you can now cast your votes.

Normally I rail against “hall of fame” awards, especially since they’re always given to people who are still active rather than someone with a whole career of achievement behind them. But The Cattle Raid of Cooley is nominated for the Hall of Fame (comic) award, so I won’t say any of that, or rant about the folly of nominating a book that isn’t even finished for such an award, and instead urge you to vote for it. My ego needs the stroking.

Other nominations I have some connection with: The Irish Comics Wiki, which I write for, is nominated for Best Irish Comic Related Blog/Website, and Lightning Strike Presents, for which I’ve done some lettering, is nominated for Best Irish Indy Comic. You may wish to vote for these, or you may wish to vote for other nominees. But I’d urge you to vote – the more votes, the more representative the results.

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31st May 2012

Romantic Mayhem in the Comics Journal!

Rob Clough has written a Survey of International Small Press Comics on the Comics Journal website, and one of the comics he reviews is Romantic Mayhem, the Irish anthology I did a strip for recently. Not only is it the most prestigious organ to review anything I’ve been involved with, it’s a pretty glowing review as well, and describes my effort as “a spectacular Alex Toth approximation” (I was aiming for something along the lines of Jesús Redondo or Santiago Hernández, but if you’re going to compare me to Alex Toth I reserve the right to be seriously chuffed.

The article also covers comics from Germany, Poland, Latvia (with contributions from a cosmopolitan gang of international artists), Holland, Turkey and Britain – lots of interesting artists to learn about.

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14th May 2012

Tommie Kelly’s The Holy Numbers

A new webcomic starts today: Tommie Kelly’s The Holy Numbers! It’s about a guy who wakes up with a vision of enlightenment and sets out to change the world. Is he a guru or a fraud? What happens when a movement overtakes its founder? The comic launches with six episodes in one go, and will update Monday to Friday from now on. You’ll want to follow this one. (If you’re at work or have a problem with that sort of thing, there’s some nudity and bad language.)

The Holy Numbers by Tommie Kelly

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22nd Apr 2012

Romantic Mayhem!

Romantic Mayhem

Cover art by Tommie Kelly

Romantic Mayhem, the new anthology from National Tragedy, is out! Edited by Gar Shanley, with a cover by Tommie Kelly, it’s full of fabulous satirical romance strips by the leading talents in Irish comics – including Alan Nolan, Deirdre de BarraArchie Templar, Elida Maiques, John Robbins, Hilary Lawler, Davy Francis, Ian Pettitt – and me!

What's Roy Thinking?

A detail from "What's Roy Thinking?", the first strip in the book, written by Gar Shanley and illustrated by meself. I've tried to imitate the style used by the great Spanish artists who drew British girls' comics in the 60s and 70s, people like Jesus Redondo, Purita Campos and Santiago Hernández.

The standard version was launched in Dublin last weekend and will be onsale at zine fairs and the like across the country, including Independents Day in Dublin this afternoon. There’s also a deluxe edition designed by Archie Templar, available in hardback and softcover from Blurb.com, including an 11-page online preview.

There’s also an interview with Gar about the book on Irish Comic News if you’d like to know more.

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03rd Apr 2012

Romantic Mayhem!

Romantic Mayhem launch

Ronantic Mayhem, a very funny and gorgeous new romance comic (that I have a strip in) has a launch party in Dublin the weekend after next (flier by Elida Maiques).

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24th Jan 2012

The Invisible Artist

The Invisible Artist, a documentary film made by Andy Luke and Carl Boyle for NVTV on the history of comics in Belfast, which I appeared in and helped out on the research for last year, is now online. As well as Andy and myself, there are contributions from Davy Francis, PJ Holden, Stephen Downey, John Farrelly, John Killen of the Linenhall Library, and many others. Go watch, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

The Invisible Artist from Northern Visions/NvTv on Vimeo.

 

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