Posts Tagged ‘James McKay’


Ruined Arcologies c. 2320 (Illustration for “Dreams of a Low Carbon Future II”, 2016)

One of the events I’ve been to recently was the latest low-carbon workshop organised by James McKay at the University of Leeds. I’ve been involved in some of James’ low-carbon projects in the past – producing illustrations for Dreams of  Low Carbon Future II and being 1/5 of the team that drew the Supergen Bioenergy comic. This time, it was less about drawing and more about brainstorming. The event was organised with funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering’s INGENIOUS project. It brought together a diverse range of academics, climate scientists and researchers, people from local government and community organisations, students from the North Huddersfield Trust School and even artists and illustrators like myself to think, talk and pull ideas together for a positive vision of a low-carbon future.

The idea – as summed up by Jonathon Porritt, who gave an inspirational keynote talk at the end of the event – was to move away from apocalyptic doom-mongering about the future, which often ended up undercutting people’s sense of agency. Why should I bother to do anything about the future? It’s clearly already too screwed up and so we’re all doomed anyway… James stressed at the beginning of the event that we should focus on what people could do, what people can do, and what people are already doing to make a positive impact on our carbon future.

So we spent the whole day workshopping around that idea: using maps, drawings, short stories and discussion exercises to think big, think bold and think positive about what a low-carbon future in the north of England could look like. And we came up with some really interesting ideas: from small-scale things like how to cope with unpredictable weather, to big infrastructure projects like Leeds’ community heating schemes, to even bigger ideas like creating massive wetland buffer zones against storms and sea-level rise in coastal and lowland areas of Yorkshire.

It was a really interesting and exciting day – with so many ideas buzzing around that it was hard to keep track of them at times. James now has the unenviable task of pulling all our brainstorming together and producing a kind of reference or resource document for the next stage in the project. Building on this event, there are going to be art and creativity competitions and various other public events – and I’m looking forward to helping visualise some of these ideas with James and the rest of the art team.

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Swogger - Visions of the Future - final 6

A Vision of the Future? Page from my section of Supergen’s bioenergy comic.

This week sees the launch of another project I’ve been working on since Christmas – an informational comic about bioenergy, sponsored by Supergen Bioenergy, an industry research consortium.

The project is the brainchild of James McKay – engineer and 2000 AD comics artist (not often those two descriptors feature in the same biography). He’s probably best known in the comics world for his work on the 2000 AD series Flesh, but he’s also the creator of the bande-desinée La Cité des Secrets (Mosquito, 2007). James is also the man behind the Dreams of a Low Carbon Future (I & II) project – a two-part illustrated and comic book exploring the technologies and social changes necessary to create a sustainable, low-carbon way of life in the twenty-first century. I drew several large illustrations for the second volume, and through that was invited by James to contribute to the bioenergy comic.

The Bio-Energy comic is a similar project – but focused primarily on providing good, solid background information about bioenergy – What is it? How is it used? What does it cost? etc. – and combining that with some future scenarios to show how different ways of adopting and using bioenergy technology might shape the next 60-80 years.

Five comics people were involved: myself, James, comics illustrators Corban Wilkin and Emma Chinnery, and comics writer Ben Dickson; I found myself in the company of some very talented people! The project has been extremely interesting – not least for the complexity of the subject matter, and the long, workshop-based back-and-forth that was required to turn that into something more accessible and engaging; but also the process of working with four other creative minds all of whom have very different backgrounds in comics to myself, and consequently approach both the drawing and the writing of them very differently. It has been a hugely rewarding experience, and if anyone out there making a start in the world of comics has an opportunity to work on a collaborative project – don’t let it slip away! You’ll learn far more than you ever imagined. Making comics can be a very solitary enterprise, and seeing how other people do it is invaluable.

The Bio-energy comic is being launched this week in Manchester at a special Supergen event, and will be generally available soon.

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Page from "City of Secrets" - James McKay, 2007

Page from “City of Secrets” – James McKay, 2007

In the run-up to our Applied Comics Network meet-up in just over a fortnights’ time, I thought I’d flag up some interesting applications of comics that demonstrate the variety of different ways comics and information can be brought together.

First up, are a few examples of what’s more-or-less my home turf: science. Some of you might have heard of the illustrator James McKay. Some of you might know his work from Flesh (Texas, Midnight Cowboys and Badlanders) in 2000AD; some of you might know him from the bande desinee album City of SecretsOthers of you might know his work as a paleontological illustrator. Still others of you might know his work on the Royal Academy of Engineering funded project Dreams of a Low Carbon FutureHe is a prolific and accomplished illustrator with a highly diverse portfolio of work and interests.

James is an interesting example of someone who is combining their professional comics and illustration background with a very specific set of scientific and academic interests. I had the good fortune to run into James at Laydeez Do Comics in Leeds last month, and although we both had to run for trains, we managed to grab five minutes to talk about comics and the study of the past – and future. Interestingly, although James has produced both scientific illustration and entertainment-based comics that draw on his paleontological knowledge, he’s never combined the two: never thought of using comics as a form of scientific illustration. It’s something James said he’s going to start exploring in earnest. Dinosaurs and comics? What could be cooler!

It will be interesting to see how this path interacts with his interests in low-carbon technologies. James has already edited (and drawn part of) the collaborative book Dreams of a Low Carbon Future –  an anthology of informational comics that were part of an exploration of children’s ideas about low-carbon, sustainable living. It’s an interest he’s also explored in fiction with City of Secrets. 

Dinosaurs, sustainable technology, the deep past, futurology – these are subjects ripe for comics; and not just fiction, but informational comics. These are subjects rich in complex scientific detail and worthy of rich, visual discussion. These are the kind of comics would love to read!

Don’t forget: Applied Comics Network meet-up day – May 9th, 12-4pm, London College of Communication : more via ACN on Twitter

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