Hi! I’m Julia Brown, a second year visual communications student at Leeds College of art. My fourth meeting at ‘Laydeez do Comics’ in Leeds commenced on the 31st of March in the beautiful Wharf chambers.
(Here is a little illustration of two of this event’s speakers- Clare Shaw and Louise Crosby (who you’ll read about shortly) I wanted to illustrate all those who spoke but ran out of time!)
The theme of this evening was “Comics and the Senses”. Ian Hague, Louise Crosby and Clare Shaw, Ravi Thornton and Dr Matt Green gave three wonderful presentations. All three presentations introduced different sensorial approaches to comics that I had not been aware of- very exciting!
Ian Hague, author of Comics and the Senses: A Multisensory Approach to Comics and Graphic Novels. He spoke about his research into multisensory ways comics can be approached -stimulate all the senses and enhancing the experience of reading.
I have to admit before listening to Ian speaks I did have the preconceptions the comics and graphic novels are exclusively visual, now I realise what a ridiculous idea that was!
My mind was opened! This understanding of print as something a lot more tactile can really enhance a reader’s reception to the mutli-sensory stimuli. I really started to understand this idea more sufficiently when Ian spoke about digital books- many people (including myself) prefer to read from a printed book but I never really assessed why I preferred this. It is because I hade became unfamiliar with the idea that the printed book brings with it multiple sensory experiences that enhance the visual text, tow of these include smell and touch- these elements completely transform the readers experience- this is why it is so crucial that this understanding of multi-sensorial experiences must be utilised!
Ian’s (currently) two issue comic book series “ABPositive” can be found here: http://abpositivecomic.com/. He spoke about how the potential downloadable and DIY print/assembly of the comic is a way of enhancing the viewer’s sensory experience. Variations in printing tools, paper, and assemblage open up ways of immersing the reader into a new literary experience. This expansion an utilisation of this economical and DIY distribution process allows the reader to participate in the comics formation, their sensorial experienced of hearing and touching etc. navigate the comics formation I think this is a very exciting element of consideration. A standardised format exists within the comic world for various reasons, this is probably most likely for budget reasons, but comics don’t have to be standardised! Every single one can be unique!
Ian talked about comics he had known that had used scented and edible paper! Very notably, he spoke about how these sensorial experiences don’t always necessarily have to be pleasant. He spoke about the example of how in Ren and Stimpy they had scratch off smelly elements, which smelt of things like kitty litter and wet dog. He then spoke about motion comics, as these are very popular for comic fans due to the are multi-sensory elements. This use of motion is just one example of how we navigate space throughout a comic and transform the story. There are infinite possibilities to be explored.
As soon as Ian had finished it was question time. One question he was asked was whether if as a writer Ian feels that the juxtaposition of senses in comics is possibly an over compensation – it is an example of how a writer may have failed to evoke senses within the literature alone.
Ian’s answer to this was really reflective- my mind was imploding with new ideas at this moment! He spoke about how not all comics will utilise sensorial elements in a way that works well. He mentioned about the use of musical scores within comics- the comic requires a performance to the reader- it’s incomplete without it. Rather than trying to challenge the literature element of the comic he is trying to challenge the comic medium. The challenge of this medium is giving a new experience beyond literature.
The next set of Speakers Louise Crosby and Clare Shaw fitted the theme of the night perfectly. This collaboration between Clare as a poet and Louise and Illustrator was fascinating. Clare’s poetry is performed a long side Louis’s comic illustrations- very multi-sensorial indeed! This was also the first time this performance had happened at a comics event.
Louise and Clare briefly introduced their practice before their performance. A print maker for years Louise has always been scavenging for subjects to print. She spoke about poets like Patti Smith really inspired her as a person and practitioner. However, it was frustrating wanting to explore poetry that potentially had a thick wall of copyright restrictions around it. When Louise finally meet Claire a year later she found a way in which she could make images from her poetry free of these restrictions.
Claire as a well as being a poet is a mental health adviser, trainer and consultant. She spoke about the connection between her role as a poet and someone who works in mental health. A personal quote I found from her website explains this pretty well,
“Poetry and mental health might seem like very separate careers. They aren’t. Where they meet is in my passion for language; a passion rooted in my own experiences of lacking the right words to describe who I was, what my life was like, and what I needed. As a young person growing up in difficult circumstances, I found a means of expression in self-injury and other difficult behaviours. Later in life, I discovered how I could make language work for me; as a means of expression and communication, a way of walking in other people’s shoes, learning about – and changing – myself and the world around me. “
I find this really beautiful; I was excited to hear her poetry. The first poem she read entitled “Poem for a Bus Shelter” and her second “You” were bother personal confessions. “You” spoke about Claire’s pregnancy, as Louise’s imagery showed up a long side Claire’s performance you could see Clare’s visual descriptive words and use of allegory come to life.
Louise’s illustrations based on poem from bus shelter can be seen here:
Poem for a Bus Shelter – Lou Crosby. Illustration of poem by Clare Shaw (2009/2010)
During question time Clare and Louise were asked whether Clare responds to Louise’s images in some way. Clare spoke about how she didn’t really respond to the visual images created but see them as a wonderful way to transform her poetry and the images have influenced how she feels about her writing.
A poem that she wrote called “Tree” which she didn’t really like very much was transformed into something she looks at in a completely different way, making her think about her writing more. Clare was also asked if she ever thinks that she may have been tempted to write her poems using imagery that she feels Clare would illustrate well. Clare said about how that really was not the case, she thinks about her poems as poetry, not as anything else. She said how her poems are often rather dark and bleak- difficult things to illustrate, she enjoys seeing how Louise formulates this type of poetry visually.
Louise was also asked about whether after hearing/reading a poem she instinctively knows what she’s going to draw straight away or how/when does she know what she wants to draw. She answered saying how it varies. The way she approaches each poem is different. She goes to as many of Clare’s readings as possible, each time she hears things she hadn’t heard before of finds new interpretations. She spoke about one of Clare’s poems called “Night” which talked about where Clare grew up. Louise had a very different approach when trying to conjure of the imagery for this piece- Clare and Louise both arranged a day trip to Clare’s hometown where they photographed her area and worked from these. When hearing about this I can imagine this would have been a rather emotional trip to make, showing someone the physically remains of a difficult past would be a bizarre and very personal experience.
In terms of medium Louise did mention how her use of digital drawing has been a conscious one, she feels digital drawing allows for more mistakes and errors, there is more scope for the them to be resolved. In her own words “in other mediums there is no ‘undo’ button.”
Clare also spoke about how this choice of medium is frequently met with hostility. Louise see’s comparisons between etching and digital drawing. She spoke about how digital art is only now beginning to be appreciated is a legitimate mainstream art form- still many digitally illustrated books struggle to be published as the medium continues to be dismissed. She said about how etching as an art form (which has now been accepted in the mainstream art world) took 100 years to be really appreciated.
Our third set of speakers where Ravi Thornton & Dr Matt Green – Ravi is a award winning cross-media writer whose work includes the graphic novel ‘The Tale Of Brin & Bent And Minno Marylebone’. Ravi spoke with Dr Matt Green (an academic from University of Nottingham) who is working with Rami on several projects.
The first project they talked about was Ravi’s multi- sensory graphic novel the “Tale of Brin and Bent is a dark story accompanied by haunting imagery by Andy Hixon and a composed soundtrack. Ravi read the official description of her novel aloud,
“Brin and Bent are poolkeepers at The House for the Grossly Infirm. Their days are spent abusing the House residents with bleach and chlorine, spying on them through holes they have drilled in the walls. They do not know that someone else comes to the pool at night: Minno Marylebone, a child like no other.
Pure and beautiful, every night the child enters the water and becomes celestial, laughingly riding the currents as the pool turns into a sea. Then one night Brin and Bent find the wax that has spilled from Minno’s candle and decide to lie in wait….”
Matt spoke about how the house is an allegory about sanity addressing ideas of how we address mental illness. It makes us think about how the institutionalisation of people can reflect how we see them culturally. Matt spoke about how , “The way we think about art can really transform our social landscape.” He spoke about how William Blake as cross media pioneer and comparing Rami’s work to this idea. Blake created something very tactile with his work and had been known to sing his poetry as well as paint it.
Rami and Matt spoke about Brin and Brent being an autobiographic work means that you must give something of yourself to complete it. The piece itself is very much like a memoir. Much of graphic medicine is like a memoir and has been considered to be a piece of graphic medicine as is addresses health issues in this way.
Andy Hixon’s visuals for the book we were shown by Rami in her presentation, they were absolutely captivating, I find they really managed to mirror what seems to be a disturbing piece of work. Rami talked about how these illustrations enhanced and pushed the literary narrative even further. Both these images and the novels accompanying soundtrack transforms the reader’s experience. The font that had been used for the novel had also been developed from Rami’s brother’s own personal handwriting further enhancing the readers experience.
The soundtrack was composed by pianist and songwriter, Othon. At the meeting we didn’t get the chance to hear the soundtrack but Rami spoke about the experience of working with Othon and emotional satisfaction and appreciation she had for this audio component. This element took aspects of the story and pushed them even further. As I write this blog post I’m currently being listening to this soundtrack (which can be found here: http://ravithornton.com/) and becoming partially immersed in the beautiful world of Brin and Brent. I can’t wait to read this novel.
A review from broken frontier talks about this project more eloquently than I ever could,
“Transcending its physicality as a printed object, Minno Marylebone is a project you don’t so much read as immerse yourself in. Daring, disturbing and awe-inspiring, Thornton and Hixon’s opening entry into the world of graphic novels is an experience you simply should not ignore and, in a field of quite extraordinary nominated work this year, a most deserving winner of our 2012 Best Debut Award.”
The novel managed to transform an autobiographical event. It is very easy to get very emotionally involved in the piece you are creating; the metaphorical aspect creates practical distance for Rami as a writer.
Personal events may be the basis for the work but once the event has been executed through the work it goes beyond the personal event, she is more distant from it. She is consciously achieving something that is more distanced. The basis is fact but it had been fictionalised. These takes the piece further and further away from it’s origins.
Ravi’s current project HOAX is a cross media project, which is a musical stage performance and a graphic novel. She wrote this touching project about her brother who killed himself with schizophrenia. The first part of the story is a stage performance and the second part is a series of poems based on the experience and looks at the actual personal poems Rami’s brother did write- during his illness her brother Rob wrote many poems. My Lonely Heart a musical stage performance, and HOAX Psychosis Blues a graphic novel. Both the performance and play will be released in June. The play will be performed at the Royal Exchange in Manchester from the 4th to the 7th.
The stage performance primarily uses dance to tell the story. Rami said how she finds the medium of dance moving and raw- t is the perfect way to tell the first start of the story; whilst she feels sequential art is the right way to tell the second half.
The artwork for HOAX Psychosis Blues is by ten different artists; she enjoyed working with a variation of work.
As mentioned earlier, this novel has been considered to be in the arena of graphic medicine.
“When I’m creating I’m responsible for making the story everything I feel it needs to be, but whatever my audience takes from the piece is up to them, it’s nerve wrecking to put something so personal pout there.” Rami
I’m certainly very excited for the release of Hoax- what an amazingly touching interdisciplinary project!
Well, that brings this March’s meeting to an end! Us at Laydeez do comics enjoyed some drinks at the end after being enthralled in to the multi-sensory worlds of all the speakers tonight. There was not one dull moment! These practitioners all working in such multidisciplinary way have got my very excited about comics and have me thinking about them in an entirely new way! I think that’s a great thing!