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cabinet_room_1

The Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street – a panel-in-progress from Ben Dickson’s graphic biography of Neville Chamberlain which I’m illustrating.

This month marks the start – in earnest – of work on the graphic biography of Neville Chamberlain. The book has been written by Ben Dickson – whose latest graphic novel, A New Jerusalem, is out now. This project is only my second big graphic work  – the first being Something Different About Dad several  years ago. And with a script clocking in at about 200 pages, it’s certainly the longest work I’ve ever done on a historical or archaeological subject.

It’s a fascinating time-period and a gripping story. Ben’s script is a biography of Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister – from May 1937 to May 1940. But it’s also the story of Neville Chamberlain’s childhood, his political career, his marriage, his friends – and his rivals. Ben’s script challenges – as several other historians have done – the notion that Chamberlain was “a guilty man”, whose policy of appeasement was a thin disguise for cowardice. Instead, Ben paints a picture of a man who understood how unprepared Britain was for another war – not just economically and militarily, but psychologically.

It’s a story full of high drama, something which is overshadowed by our contemporary focus on the action of the war which we know is inevitable. When I first read Ben’s script I just couldn’t put it down: reading the story as a interplay of characters and situations, not just of dates and facts, brought home how tense and unpredictable this pre-war period actually was. It’s interesting how Ben’s Chamberlain comes across as someone who understands these complexities, and is willing to sacrifice his political reputation in order to steer the country on a safe course through them.

I’m going to be talking about the project at Laydeez do Comics in Leeds, this Monday evening – you’re all invited! (Wharf Chambers, 23-25 Wharf Street, Leeds, LS2 7EQ, 6:30pm. Entry: £1.50 – no need to book. Wharf Chambers is wheelchair accessible). I’m going to talk about the book itself, and about how I’m approaching the artwork – specifically historical locations and people. And I’m also going to talk a bit about what it means to work collaboratively with an author, and what it means to work on such a large-scale project like this one.

Hopefully see you in Leeds on Monday evening!

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Laydeez Do Comics - This coming Monday, Sept. 28th, 6:30-9pm

Laydeez Do Comics – This coming Monday, Sept. 28th, 6:30-9pm

What are you doing on Monday evening?

If you’re in or around Leeds, you should be going to Laydeez do Comics. One of the speakers is Lydia Wysocki – co-founder with myself and Ian Horton of the Applied Comics Network, founder of Applied Comics Etc., educator, artist, editor, publisher and all-round great comics person to know.

Lydia’s going to be talking about two of her most recent Applied Comics Etc. projects. The first is Spineless, a comic about invertebrates created in partnership with the Great North Museum and the Hancock’s ‘Spineless’ exhibition. Lydia’s going to talk about working with guest curators/researchers and the seven comics creators involved in the project. The second project is  True War Stories, a World War I local history project in partnership with the Thomas Baker Brown archive as part of Newcastle University Library Special Collections.

There are two other speakers on the programme: Ross Mackintosh (Seeds) and Emma Donnelly (A Fat Girls Guide To Life: How to Get Through a Breakup), so it will be a great night. Laydeez is always a great event – if you’ve never been before, this is a great opportunity to find out just why Laydeez is so popular.

So, get down to Wharf Chambers in Leeds (LS2 7EQ) this coming Monday, 28th September between 6.30-9pm. Everyone is welcome – £1.50 on the door.

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Thank you, Laydeez do Comics!

Thank you, Laydeez do Comics!

A big, big thank you to Lou, Jennifer and the huge crowd at Laydeez do Comics in Leeds last night, and for the overwhelming support and enthusiasm you showed for our graphic novel project. It was an evening that demonstrates just why Laydeez is such a phenomenon. It was an extremely rewarding evening for us, definitely firing us with even more determination to push ahead with the book and see it published as soon as possible.

Thanks also to everyone who wanted to talk archaeology and applied comics, too! For those of you interested in our upcoming meet-up in London, you can follow @appliedcomics on Twitter for details – but I’ll also be posting details here, on Facebook and on Twitter closer to the time.

And finally, thanks to our fellow presenter Christine Chettle for a couple of excellent ideas for comics workshops.

For more information on our evolving graphic novel project, step over to our dedicated blog. Hopefully we’ll be able to pay a return visit to Laydeez in the not-distant future to give you all another glimpse of the book as it nears completion.

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I’ll be at my second Laydeez do Comics this month – this time in Leeds, talking both about “One of Those People” and my archaeological comics. It’s another opportunity to talk about the complexity – and rewards – of working on a graphic medicine subject. And it’s a chance for me to give a summary of five years of fairly intense work on using comics in archaeology, plus give some idea of how this is linking up with a general interest in the application of comics to informational subjects.

And I’m looking forward to Christine Chettle’s presentation on using Victorian graphic texts in educational contexts – drawing on ancient and historical illustrations for educational comics is something Dr. H has been doing over at Prehistories.

Laydeez is at Wharf Chambers in Leeds, and starts at 6:30pm. See you there!

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Violence in Comics! Judges squaring off at ThoughtBubble 2014 - via: Integra Fairbook's Facebook page

Violence in Comics! Judges squaring off at Thought Bubble 2014 – via: Integra Fairbrook’s Facebook page

I was up in Leeds ten days ago for the Comics Forum conference and the Thought Bubble comics convention. If you’re interested in comics and you’ve never been, mark your calendars for next November: both the conference and the convention are real highlights in the comics year.

Comics Forum is a comics conference that’s been running since 2009. I first started going because they hosted a graphic medicine session in 2011, but have gone back every year since then because they’ve consistently attracted interesting speakers and put together a really diverse programme, whatever the overall theme. This year the theme was “Violence in Comics” – not, you might think, immediately relevant to comics and archaeology; but you’d be wrong. Because there is always such a diversity of speakers attracted to the conference, there was plenty that had both indirect and direct implications for aspects of comics I’m interested in. Some particular highlights:

  • Malin Bergstrom discussing Will Eisner’s work on informational comics for the US Army
  • Enrique del Ray Cabero on memory, politics and tensions between collective, national and personal experiences of historical violence in graphic novels about the Spanish civil war
  • Mihaela Precup and the depiction of survivors, survival and endurance during the Lebanese Civil War in Zeina Abirached’s A Game for Swallows
  • Jane Chapman‘s keynote presentation on trench comics produced by soldiers during World War I
  • Ian Horton on the social context of representations of violence with reference to British war comics of the 1970s
  • Orla Lehane on the quotidian context of extreme and political violence in Troubled Souls (which I remembered from its original publication in Crisis, many years ago)
  • Laura A. Pearson on animals and violence in Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas‘ graphic novel Red, which I referenced in my own paper last year – and in talking with her afterwards, how that violence is mirrored by the political, post-colonial re-claiming of space (gallery, museum, etc.) in the three lives of Red as book, mural and torn-apart-book (and actually, this links in with Olga Kopylova’s really interesting analysis of the effect of media mix in appreciating the “whole story” of manga)
  • And finally, a particularly archaeological treat: the panel discussion with Kieron Gillen, Lynn Fotherington and Stephen Hodkinson on the obstacles and pitfalls involved in aiming for a historically accurate depiction of Sparta and Spartans in the comic Three.

At the close of the conference I was invited to take part in the plenary discussion afterwards, which was a good opportunity to try and pick up on various themes running through the conference. Violence as information was something which caught my attention – violence not just as a personal experience, or an event, but violence as a means to communicate something lost, hidden or repressed. Much late-night pub-based discussions ensued on both evenings, catching up with old friends, collaborators and colleagues – and getting to know a whole host of new people as well. I strongly suspect most of the people I know in comics I met through Comics Forum.

And then, to wind down: Thought Bubble on Saturday. Surely the UK’s largest small-press and independent comics convention? At least 3/4 of all the tables were independent or small-press comics creators and/or publishers. Too much good stuff and interesting people to make any kind of full list, but I particularly enjoyed chatting with Lydia Wysocki about travel comics, Oliver East about walking comics, Louise Crosby about comics and poetry, Sarah Burgess about communication in silent comics, and Owen and Jasmine at the Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel who turned out to be archaeologists as well as comic-creators: hurrah!

If I had to pick a favourite comic purchase of the weekend, it would be Lando’s excellent anthology, Gardens of Glass – part Moebius, part Katsuhiro Otomo, part Martin Vaughn-James. The anthology is a collection of short works originally published separately through Decadence Comics, a collective run by Lando and Stathis Tsemberlidis.

As always, great conference – thanks to Ian, Hattie and all who help organise it. And a great convention, too. Thought Bubble just keeps getting better as it keeps getting bigger. And you know what? I’m looking forward to next year already.

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