Posts Tagged ‘One Girl Goes Hunting’

A brief glimpse of new artwork for "One Girl Goes Hunting" - script by Hannah Sackett, illustrations by me

A brief glimpse of new artwork for “One Girl Goes Hunting” – script by Hannah Sackett, illustrations by me

It was great to meet up with Dr. H recently – my collaborator on “One Girl Goes Hunting“, our graphic novel set in Neolithic Orkney. We’ve been working on this for a couple of years, ever since Dr. H sent me a script. As we worked, we started to play with the idea of doing the graphics in the style of Studio Ghibli, the production company for the films of Hayao Miyazaki – Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, etc. We decided that this approach would be a way of challenging assumptions about what is the “right” style for archaeological visualisation, and in doing so, ask some questions about expectations of the visualised past.

Anyway, recently I’ve been able to devote a chunk of time to producing some new artwork, which has been great. Dr. H and I got a chance to sit down and review them. Dr. H has also put some up on her Prehistories blog, and I’ll post some more over the next couple of weeks.

It’s an interesting project, and I’m glad to have finally been able to devote some time to it!

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Archaeological Oddities II - now available!

Archaeological Oddities II – now available!

I’ve been so busy the past six weeks getting the illustrations, comics and graphics for Middleport Pottery finished that I haven’t had a chance to review the second volume of Archaeologial Oddities, which is out now.

For those of you who don’t yet know, Archaeological Oddities is a series of highly imaginative one-page archaeological comics written and drawn by Hannah Sackett, who publishes them on her blog, Prehistories. They’re delightful pieces of work – and a really thoughtful way of presenting information about archaeological artefacts without being either overly didactic or literal. They’re exactly the kind of comics I look at and go: “Huh. Wish I’d thought of that…”

Anyway, the second collection is available now from Hannah’s etsy shop. But do head over to Prehistories for a more archaeological comics, including the longer The Bell in the Deep story which she’s recently posted – part of a Folklore Fridays series. Hannah also participated in the first Comics & Archaeology e-panel which I posted on Comics Forum, and she’s also taking part in our second panel, which is focusing on the practicalities of writing, drawing and publishing archaeological comics. Hannah and I are collaborating on the One Girl Goes Hunting graphic novel, too.

Can’t wait for more of Hannah’s comics, and looking forward now to Oddities III!

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Sea-Eagle Woman - from One Girl Goes Hunting (H. Sackett, J.G. Swogger, 2014)

Sea-Eagle Woman – from One Girl Goes Hunting (H. Sackett, J.G. Swogger, 2014)

Over the past few months I’ve been working intermittently on the graphic short-story project One Girl Goes Hunting that I’m doing with fellow archaeological comicker Hannah Sackett. As I’ve mentioned previously, this is a collaborative work – Hannah’s written the script, and I’m doing the artwork. The story Hannah has written is set in the Neolithic, and is all about a young girl going through the ritual of hunting for a husband. During the course of the story she travels around the island between some of the major archaeological sites – Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, Ness of Brodgar, Skara Brae, etc. – which gives both the story and the artwork the opportunity to explore the reconstruction of Neolithic architecture and lifeways in the form of a comic.

The interesting thing about this project is that Hannah came to me with the idea of doing the artwork in a style similar to that of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films. In doing so, we’re using the project to look at the question of visual style in archaeology. Why is it that some styles – even amongst archaeological comics – are considered “more appropriate” for visualising archaeological ideas and data than others? Increasingly, this seems to be a value judgement based on cultural prejudices, rather than an objective consideration as to whether any given stylistic approach is less or more capable of carrying the information. But when it comes to education and outreach, consideration of visual cultural norms and prejudices become increasingly important. Rinko Endo, creator of comics about psychiatric nursing training, specifically uses manga for works like Aggression Management Mangawhich was originally specifically aimed at a Japanese/Asian audience. It’s an object lesson in shaping your work to the demands and expectations of your audience.

Comics – because of the wide range of stylistic options open to both text and image – have manifold opportunities to engage their audiences beyond simple considerations of data and informational content. The Studio Ghibli films appealed to us for this stylistic experiment as they already represent a visual hybrid between European motifs and Japanese manga representation. As such, they strongly suggested a way to see/show British prehistory in a new way. It will be interesting to see what the response is when the project is finished. And with increasing numbers of tourists from countries like China and Indonesia coming to the UK, perhaps thinking about “Heritage Manga” might not be a bad idea. Anyone out there like to commission a Windsor Castle Manga?

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From "One Girl Goes Hunting" (H. Sackett & J. Swogger, 2014)

From “One Girl Goes Hunting” (H. Sackett & J. Swogger, 2014)

It’s only March, and yet it’s already shaping up to being a busy year for me and comics.

I’ve got two big collaborative comics on the go this year. The first is the comic Hannah Sackett and I are working on, set in Orkney during the Neolithic: One Girl Goes Hunting. I’ve talked about this project a little bit before. This is our attempt at making an archaeological comic in the visual style of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films. It’s a really interesting and challenging project. It’s a project full of firsts: the first time I’ve ever collaborated with another archaeologist on a comic, the first time I’ve ever collaborated with a writer, and the first time I’ve ever collaborated with another comics creator! Hannah’s story is a lovely mix of archaeology, interpretation and magical realism; her art direction is nice and clear, however, meaning that I’m not struggling over how best to show what she’s written (the advantages of working with someone who’s both an archaeologist and a comics creator, I suppose!). The real challenge has been in trying to capture the feel of Studio Ghibli. While I’m a big fan of the films, I’m not naturally that kind of illustrator, so it’s been a bit of an uphill battle for me to find a way of working to that model in a way that feels natural. And it’s a challenging mix of drawing – the cel-shaded characters – and painted backgrounds. Since the autumn it’s been a bit of a case of two steps forward, one step back, but I think I’m just about there!

There’s more going on this year for me in comics and archaeology. Between now and June I’m working in the Potteries – at Middleport Pottery in Burslem – producing comics and graphics for their interpretation displays. The project is a real gem: Middleport Pottery is a nineteenth-century model pottery with a working pottery still occupying part of the factory. The complex includes a bottle oven – the only survivor of seven original ovens, and one of only a handful of such survivors in Stoke that has both the hovel and oven preserved. Anyway, more on that as the project progresses.

I’ll also be returning to Carriacou for my usual field season, and will be pushing forward the next phase of our use of comics in public outreach on the island with some museum displays and some live, weekly updated comics as well.

But I’m also returning to the genre of comics and medicine this year with the first chapter of One of Those People – a comic about eating disorders, depression and dependency. I’m collaborating with a very special author on this project, and we’re blogging the process on a separate site. We’re hoping to present our work so far at the 2014 Comics and Medicine conference in Baltimore, MD in June – still one of the best small comics get-togethers around, even if it has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two years!

So, as I say, a year full of comics. Onward!

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Creating archaeological knowledge - panels from my Llyn Cerrig Bach comic; CADW/MB Heritage Management.

Creating archaeological knowledge – panels from my Llyn Cerrig Bach comic; CADW/MB Heritage Management.

Thanks to everyone who came to my paper this afternoon at Comics Forum 2013 on comics, archaeology and professional discourse. For those of you who were asking, the text of the paper (minus slides) is here.

And if you’re interested in any of the things I talked about, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – particularly if you’re an archaeologist making your own comics! I’m keen to try and establish links between those of us in archaeology interested in using comics in our work. Towards the end of the year, the Comics Forum website will host a guest blog post about a recent “Comics and Archaeology” e-panel, in which a group of us archaeology comics creators  – Hannah Sackett, Al. B. Wesolowsky, Troy Lovata, Peter Conelly, Chloe Brown and myself, John G. Swogger – discuss what comics we’ve done and where we think archaeology and comics might – should? – head next. Hopefully it’s all part of starting the conversation.

In the meantime, my comics on prehistoric sites on Anglesey will be published by CADW sometime next year. I’ve got one or two other comics and archaeology projects up my sleeve as well, including my collaboration with Hannah on One Girl Goes Hunting.

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Character development sketches from "One Girl Goes Hunting" - illustration by John S., story by Hannah Sackett.

Character development sketches from “One Girl Goes Hunting” – illustration by John S., story by Hannah Sackett.

I’ve been working recently on a very interesting archaeological comics collaboration: a graphic story set in Neolithic Orkney, entitled One Girl Goes Hunting. Written by Dr. Hannah Sackett, a prehistoric and landscape archaeologist, it’s a tale of coming-of-age, ghosts and marriage set amongst the landscape around the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.  Hannah has been one of those contacts I made via the networks that encircled the fantastic Visualisation in Archaeology conference and workshop project.

Both Hannah and I have an interest in the connections between image, narrative and visual representation in archaeology – and in the connections between landscape, archaeology and story. Comics occupies the junction between all these elements: it brings image and visual representation together to create narrative – and can be used to blend together both archaeological, object-centred and lived, place-centered storytelling. This mixture of story-telling approaches to archaeological material has the potential to challenge the way in which we both visualise archaeology – its data, practice and experience – and the way in which we understand it to be consumed. Looking at the archaeological milieu through the lens of a different medium brings – quite literally – a different viewpoint. Just as the comics work of writer-illustrators like Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas has re-interpreted not only visual culture but storytelling relationships to it, so all comics have the potential to ask new questions of subject material which has for so long been referenced through clearly, cleanly and consistently (one might say, remorselessly) divided text and image.

Hannah’s approach to the story has been to create a fairy-tale like “quest” narrative threaded through some of the major sites and landscapes of neolithic Orkney. In approaching me to work on the art, she came with an unusual brief. Most graphic works on archaeological themes seem to adopt a ligne claire approach (Ben Haggarty and Adam Brockbank’s Mezolith, for example), or a somewhat more scratchy, messy approach (like Simon Bisley’s Slaine – okay, not strictly archaeology, but certainly inspired by it). In this they might be seen to represent the two major “schools” of thought that still dominate archaeological reconstruction images. The ligne claire school represents visualisations of the past that are more diagrammatic, static and which focus mainly on areas of known facts and details; the scratchy school represents visualisations which are more emotive, atmospheric and which are happy to wash great clouds of soot, smoke, rain or shrubbery over areas of doubt and uncertainty. I’m reluctant to categorise as there are no hard and fast boundaries between these approaches, but generally speaking Simon James would sit in the former, while Alan Sorrell in the latter. This stylistic distinction can be broadly observed across the spectrum of archaeological visualisation – even, as I say, in comics about the past.

But Michael Nicoll Yangulanaas’ work points the way towards other possibilities for comics. Indeed, if you scan a bookshelf of graphic novels the one consistent impression you will get is that there is no consistent stylistic approach within the medium. Sharp, clear, fuzzy, scratchy – all mixed together, sometimes within the same work. So when Hannah suggested that the artwork for One Girl Goes Hunting might head in a different direction, I was immediately intrigued. The direction she suggested was towards the studios of Hayao Miyazaki, and the production ethos that had created such films as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. The bright, clear colours and precise, simplified draughtsmanship of Studio Ghibli’s signature style might not, perhaps, the first thing you might think of when you thought of Neolithic Orkney – but…

Well, why not? After all, this is now a major style associated with storytelling in not only in Japan, but across the globe. It would perhaps seem more odd to try and insist on clinging to a style associated with a 110-year old military camouflage painter. Hannah’s point here, I think, is that storytelling – like visualisation – is a living process, adapting and evolving to meet the narrative demands and preferences of each new generation. If comics are going to do anything different to the way in which archaeology is presented and understood, then the practice might well have to begin to embrace, explore and adapt contemporary storytelling mechanics and styles – mechanics and styles which sit outside the current toolbox used for visualising the past. After all, one could argue that this is exactly what Goscinny and Uderzo originally did with Asterix.

So what is a Studio Ghibli version of Neolithic Orkney going to look like? What will it do to the stories emerging from the sites and excavations on the islands? I really have no idea, but it will be extremely interesting to find out. Work is progressing slowly – but steadily! – at the moment; Hannah has given me a completed script, and I am in the process of doing a lot of character development drawings, getting the look of locations and settings right, etc. Getting this to “work” will be both a challenge and an adventure – but I have no doubt it will also be extremely rewarding. I’ll be posting new work up here on a fairly regular basis from now on, and check out Hannah’s blog too, for more background to the project..

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