69. Isolationist England
This was for the Easter special so it had to be filed a few days ahead of schedule as these double issues go to print early. The comic had to be non time-sensitive. Not least because this issue stays on the shelves for two weeks instead of one.
I liked the idea of doing a twisted propaganda poster for holidaying in England. With a vintage, idyllic 1940s/50s setting that had darker things going on. It felt right to do it for an issue that might be read on planes/trains/automobiles while people visit family or go on holiday. I think I could have been more experimental with the illustration style and made it look even more like a classic 50s illustration but I’ll bear that in mind for next time.
I tried my best to evoke a John Carpenter vibe to this one. I watched lots of old 1970’s horror trailers (beyond the obvious The Fog which this is riffing on) to make sure this struck the right tone. Was fun to revisit Edgar Wright’s Grindhouse trailer Don’t. Such a perfect pastiche of those sort of trailers. I had written a slightly more righteous and serious piece about air pollution in the UK for this, but my editor correctly steered me in a lighter direction. New Statesman editors: Saving me from myself since 2012.
The idea of UK politics based toys tickles me. I find the coverage of the Clegg vs. Farage debates so overwhelmingly OTT that it feels like we’re meant to expect a real, genuine showdown of great import. A boxing match for the ages. Interviews with the two politicians before and after the debates come across like WWF trash-talking VT footage without the fun. We’re told to expect serious issues discussed with serious words and serious intent. Instead, we get the usual, bland, soundbitey distractions.
The faux-balance we’re often presented with on the news can be really irksome. Just give me an actual, well-informed expert with facts – I don’t need a counter-point from someone with an opinion. I use Twitter. The need for the BBC to present an impartial, unbiased image can end up leaving a casual viewer less informed than they started out. I was reminded of my feelings about this when Owen Jones wrote this piece about the right-wing bias at the BBC.
A nice coincidence – I only realised after the fact that I was drawing a Lovecraftian tribute during Hellboy’s 20th anniversary. Seems fitting.
When the word “divisive” got trotted out as the Tactful Understatement of the Year when the media marked the passing of Thatcher, that word took a bit of a beating. It got used a lot last week too – when people were talking about Tony Benn. So much so that it started to lose it’s meaning. There’s often a “word/phrase of the week” (remember when we didn’t know what ‘quantitative easing’ meant?). So I started thinking about what happens to those forgotten, overused and/or misused expressions…
After I’d filed the comic, ‘Selfie’ ended up having a pretty huge media week with the No Make-Up cancer awareness campaign. Making those final panels a little more prescient than I expected.
This is in response to the news that the Government tried to block the release of research that goes against the current narrative about immigration that May is trying to sell.
Quite an ambitious one visually and I’m not convinced I completely pulled it off. Those final couple of panels – involving a nod towards the final shots of Raiders of the Lost Arc and the X-Files pilot – could have used more panel real-estate and I think I did them a disservice. Still, the big superhero montage works and was fun to draw. And I’m glad I’ve finally had a chance to revisit Captain Social Justice. His first appearance being in this old In The Frame.
If you enjoy reading these short notes about the NS comics, you may be interested in a talk I’ll be doing at the next Gosh! Comics Process night. If you’re in London on April 2nd, I’ll be discussing my work on Solipsistic Pop, my comic career to date, and detailing the various stages of how I put together my NS comics on a weekly basis – from pitching to drawing to filing. It’s free. Details here.
Another comic about the DWP. Would usually have qualms about a similar topic two weeks in a row but the whole woman-in-coma-told-to-find-work story was too tempting. Enjoyed pulling the artwork together for this too. Having a lot of fun with the visuals for the comic at the moment.
This is in reference to the leaked Department for Work and Pensions document. Had lots of fun drawing stark, film noir images for this.
A relatively earnest, politically on-the-nose and straight-forward piece this week.
I’d like to talk about that for a second.
I’ve been producing the New Statesman weekly comic for over a year now, and making journalistic comics for longer than that. In that time, I’ve read/heard many in the comics community be dismissive, even a little sniffy, towards political comics and I thought it might be worth addressing some of these opinions here.
The negative attitude towards political comics seems to me to divide into three themes: 1. Legacy, 2. Purpose, and 3. Ideology.
There’s a common notion that political comics are going to date badly. That it’s far better to aim for universal content, devoid of historical context, so that future generations can appreciate a work as much as, if not more than, the audience of the time. Beyond the absurdity of the idea that avoiding references to current affairs in 2014 will somehow ensure a Peanuts-style, 25 volume, immaculate hardback retrospective, there’s also a more worrying idea behind this conceit: the notion that any artist is capable of producing work in a vacuum. Nothing we produce is timeless. Everything we make is steeped in how we are now. What we think now. How we feel now. It will date. In fact, I think a piece of work can say so much about current socio-political issues through the very things it omits. Aiming for timelessness by self-censoring what you choose to comment on seems, to me, to be an entirely self-defeating pursuit.
Another popular topic for critics of political comics is the limitations of satire. Like the dinner party bore who tries to find a philosophical loophole in the vegetarian’s life choice, there are those who would like to place parameters of success and failure around a piece of art that dares to critique the status quo. Who is it for? Is it only preaching to the choir? Has it changed anyone’s mind? Changed the world? Made everything better? If not, is it worthwhile? Why do it? Why bother?
Every artist should, of course, at least consider who their audience is, and question the intent behind a piece of work before they commit to it. That’s as true for the autobiographical comic artist as it is for the superhero comic artist as it is for the political comic artist. But suddenly, we’re in the territory of asking if the art is quantifiably worthwhile if it doesn’t change people’s opinions. Which seems to me to be moving the goalposts somewhat. And how exactly does one find out if the work has met some sort of platonic ideal of satire?
There’s always the worry, when sticking your neck out as an artist and saying “I think this“, that you’ll alienate some of your audience or – even worse – come across as earnest. There’s a comfort in flippancy and cynicism. By never committing to a position, you can never be called out on it. Now, I can be as flippant as the next comic artist but some of my favourite comics for the NS have been ones where I felt genuinely angry or frustrated and tried to articulate that in an interesting way. And I’m comfortable with the idea that my position could change the following week. That my opinions, however thought through they are, are malleable enough to take on board an opposing point of view. I’d much rather engage with an interesting argument that I disagree with than read one perfectly composed to say nothing at all. I just don’t know if earnestness should be such a dirty word.
There’s a Miro quote I remember reading that’s always stayed with me: “I understand that an artist is someone who, in the midst of other’s silence, uses his own voice to say something and who makes sure that what he says is not useless, but something that is useful to mankind”.
I’m not saying that everything (or, indeed, anything) I do is useful but I’m happy to strive for it. And I get a lot of joy, satisfaction and inspiration from consuming art that is antithetical to Miro’s fairly prescriptive statement. What I suppose I’m trying to suggest here is that there are many ways in which we all engage with the world and feed that into our creative output. And this one – political cartooning/comic journalism/comic reportage/whatever you want to call it – is as valid and worthwhile as any other.
60. How to Politically Survive a Flood
There’s a good piece by George Monbiot about dredging – and how it could arguably make the effects of floods worse – here. It was quite fun trying to mimic a classic, guidebook-style illustration aesthetic for this.
Someone should make a tumblr of: “Politicians in wellies, visiting flood disasters, and looking uncomfortable while waiting for their photo op.”