Wednesday, 4 April 2012

"Provoking Democracy" Book Review

I recently finished reading Caroline Levine's Provoking Democracy: Why we Need the Arts and found it to be one of the most interesting books that I've read in a long time, and perhaps also one of the best written. Provoking Democracy is part of the Blackwell Manifestos series, published by Blackwell's Bookstores, and if Levine's text is anything to go by, I may well have to pick up the rest of the collection.

Levine tackles the difficult issues of Art's role in a democratic society with a new and fascinatingly original argument; she tackles the age-old question "Is art for or against democracy?", but does so in a way which elegantly sidesteps entrenched arguments over censorship and funding. Levine focuses on the peculiar logic of the Avant-Garde as a way of looking at iconoclastic artists who have created challenging and unconventional works that attack institutions and ignore the tastes of the majority of the population.

" ...I want to suggest that the logic of the avant-garde itself can best be understood as a social institution... Continuous, organised, self-governing and prescriptive, institutions might seem like the very antithesis of the spirit of the avant-garde. And yet, despite its desire to be radically outside of the social order, the logic of the avant-garde does take shape as a social institution, reappearing with surprising regularity over time, and supported and legitimized by fellow institutions. And so to claim that the logic of the avant-garde is an institution is to draw a certain paradox at its heart: despite its aim to disrupt settled norms and routines, it is itself highly organized and self-regulating" (Levine, 2007, p25-6)
Levine's masterstroke is to argue that the Avant-Garde, like the Judiciary, is essentially an institution that disrupts and challenges the threat of "majority rule". In causing controversy, it is willfully divisive, able to blow apart public consensus  and that by challenging the limits of acceptability, art forms an important function, constantly testing and affirming democracy. The catch to this paradox is that the avant-garde iconoclast is always within an institution; even at it's most venomously anti-democratic and offensive, the avant-garde promotes democracy by demonstrating its pluralism.

Perhaps what makes Provoking Democracy so involving is that Levine has deliberately focused her attention on the legal aspects of this debate, drawing her discussion points from important precedents that have been set in the past. In doing so she's able to not only provide fascinating evidence of the evolving legal definition of art, but also to ground what could have been a very abstract and flighty manifesto in something very tangible. Levine's accounts of the court proceedings also furnish us with interesting examples of just how well the opinions of Art Critics hold up in a court of law. Some are much more successful than others, and unfairly it seems to come down to nothing more than how condescending the expert is when addressing the Jury. That's democracy!

The legal cases themselves are clearly explained, assume very little prior knowledge, and cumulatively provide a very interesting history of changing social mores. Plus they're just great anecdotes! Alongside the Bird in Space ruling of Brancusi v. United States are the hideously obscene and misogynistic rap lyrics of 2 Live Crew, the cringe-worthy spectacle of Jeff Koons making a total tit of himself in a court of law and some absolutely mind-blowing declassified facts about the CIA secretly bankrolling Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionist movement as a form of propaganda for democracy. Seriously, I'm not giving any more away about that. You have to go and buy the book yourself.

I came to Provoking Democracy looking for simple, blankets statements but came away with a lively debate and an energetic means of framing it. Levine has made me think differently about how I'll be approaching my work in the future and considering the role that underground comics play in the avant-garde.

Elliot x

Review by Sam Jones
Review in Times Higher Education (Steve Blandford)
Review by Paul Parker

Blackwell's Manifesto Series


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Comix Reader 3 Launch at GOSH! Comics

I'm a little late in blogging this up, but the Comix Reader launched on Friday the 2nd to great success at Gosh! comics of No.1 Berwick Street in Soho. Thanks so much to Gosh! for hosting this event; it's the first time we've launched in an actual Comics shop, and the turnout was exceptionally good. With an open bar and a huge selection of beautiful Graphic Novels to browse, a good time was had by all-- well, most, I suppose!

One is Not Amused.
Our printer has done a fab job, and Issue 3 looks better than ever. We're packed with more artists than ever before, including our first two-page strip; a collaboration between Tobias Tak and Tanya Meditzky. In addition to that, we've also branched out into a couple of half-page strips by various artists alongside the full pages; great to have a bit more variety! It's always a bit of a giddy thrill to see something you've worked on in print; even more so when it's in a shop like Gosh! 

The Newspaper in situ.
With Issue 3 back from the printers, it's time to get on board and start shipping out and finding retailers! We're lucky to be represented by Diamond Distribution this time around, so there's some real scope for getting the CR out of London and into Comics shops all over the UK! However, if you are a small business holder or know someone who might be interested in selling the CR; wether it be in a Pub, Music Venue, Theatre, Festival, Record Store, Newsagents, Gallery, Cafe, Kebab Shop or whatever; then don't hesitate to get in touch and we can talk about delivering some in batch to you! 

For now, here's a few pictures of all the people who worked so hard to make it happen enjoying the big night! 

Richard Cowdry and Bernadette Bentley look hopefully towards a brighter Future!

The lovely Alex Fitch of Resonance FM's Panel Borders.  

Alex Potts, with his wonderful sideburns on display.

A new face to Issue 3: Dickon Harris! 
A very big thank you to Stephen Walsh and the staff at Gosh! for kindly hosting our event!
Special thanks also to Mike Medaglia and his wife Lisa Woynarski for their help in setting up and taking so many great photographs all night! 

Until next time, reader pals, 
Elliot x

Friday, 16 December 2011

Comix Reader Issue 3!

Work is progressing apace on the new issue of The Comix Reader, a collaborative newsprint comic featuring the best in underground British Comix talent! The Comix Reader is edited by Richard Cowdry and is something of a spiritual successor to his popular Bedsit Journals anthology, but on a never before seen scale! Twenty-plus comics artists from across the UK, each with a page to themselves, and a broad scope of great talent; Ellen Lindner, Jimi Gherkin, Lord Hurk, Kevin WardPeter Lally, Barnaby Richards, Julia Homersham, Alex Potts and many more! 

I find it hard to get across just how excited I am by The Comix Reader. I've only been involved in the anthology for one issue, but even in such a short space of time it's been exciting to see how it's developed. Not only does it possess an enviable rouge's gallery of the best UK comic artists, The CR also retails for a single pound, making it a great purchase for people who wouldn't usually consider themselves readers of comic books. The paper's raison d'etre has always been to reach new audiences and venues beyond the usual comic book stores, and in this sense it's a great showcase. If you want to get into comics, but havn't the faintest idea where to start, then The CR is a great stepping stone; even if you're the most virulently anti-comics curmudgeon, there's bound to be someone in it whose work you like! 

With this in mind, I feel exceptionally privileged to have been given the cover of Issue 3. I hope I do it justice. I've got the whole thing drawn, but the colours are still a little rough around the edges. Here's a little taster, to give you some idea of what to look out for in the new year: 

What's been fun about designing this cover has been taking the ideas from covers of issue one and two are trying to meld them all into something with a distinct flavour. A magazine really builds an identity for itself through what it prints on its covers, so a lot of what I've done is drawing on the idioms of the previous two issues. In each, we've got a character reading a comic (the increasingly beloved Jippy!) in an incongruous setting that puts them somewhat at odds with the rest of society. I think the incongruous humour of the comics reading itself is what's key to the paper's vibe; it echos the mission of trying to reach new audiences you wouldn't think of as "comix readers" in a variety of different settings. Other visual ideas involve a "dirty" aesthetic and gritty, urban surroundings.  

The comics store GOSH! recently moved to fabulous new premises in Berwick Street in the centre of Soho, and though the shop itself is a glittering construction of brushed steel, glass and pine wood, it's situated just opposite a delightfully seedy alleyway that offers some of Soho's more established businesses. (Interestingly, the London comics scene grew up in the streets of Soho, but was driven out by the gentrification of the Thatcherite era.) That, and the 70's to 80's Underground Comix vibe that the CR pays homage to were the driving inspiration behind this cover (with a bit of Amsterdam thrown in). It was also fun trying to draw in some references to the Georgian caricature prints of Hogarth et al. that would have been sold around this area centuries ago; a lot of the creepy johns in the foreground have features pulled from 18th C. caricatures, and the vaguely-raunchy subject matter fits with the history of this district of London. Soho has always been the place to go to buy the steamiest novels, the lewdest prints, always willing to cater for the discerning pervert. Here's to Comics' triumphant return to the "slatternly streets" of vibrant Soho!  

Part of the reason why I'm so obsessed with The CR is that I'm a total wonk for publications that try to influence the publishing scene itself. The recession has definitely made things hard for publishers, printers and purchasers alike, and digital publishing threatens to overturn what little profits are still being made. In this economic setting, it's important to have projects like The CR that explore new directions and attempt to carve their own niches.

 A lot of artists are dissatisfied with the low profits that mainstream publishing models have been turning over in recent years. A lot of people are finding things difficult, many struggling to make comics a viable career. There's a sense that some artists want it to be 1989 again; an uncomplicated time when you could draw 'em, print 'em and sell 'em, and the publishing house would take care of all the nitty-gritty financial nonsense. The reality is that there's no way back; and that if we do want to push forward and keep print relevant in the 21st Century, it's going to involve boldly striking out into uncharted territories and making it up as we go along. 

That's not to say that we shouldn't consider the past at all; quite the opposite. Despite rising print costs, newsprint remains cheap and highly profitable. The digital revolution has brought down set-up costs, bringing it tantalisingly within the grasp of private groups and individuals. Perhaps most excitingly, it allows print runs on a scale seldom seen these days in the comics world; The Comix Reader is running in batches of 10,000 per issue. In the last decade, Graphic Novels have spearheaded a drive towards material quality in an attempt to gain respectability and permanence as an art form, and this ethos has had a huge impact on the production values (and retail prices) of small press comics. But in following these trends, are we forgetting comic's roots as a mass-produced, ephemeral art? We don't have to abandon the principals of good design, but we can do the actual printing on more of a shoestring. As it stands, there's a gap in the market for large, low-cost, mass-produced, full-colour comics, and no shortage of audience. In short, if we can't make it 1989 again, perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from 1889. 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Please Be Moral!

One of my best hauls from Leeds was a fantastic minicomic from the equally fantastic Sarah McIntyre, a comic based on her trip to China. Sarah herself did very well at Leeds; her book Verne and Lettuce won the Leeds Graphic Novel prize! Congrats, Sarah! I enjoyed  Please Be Moral: Do Not Spit so much that I wrote Sarah a short review which she posted on her blog! For more info on Sarah's work and some neat bookbinding tips about how she put the minicomic together, check out her blog!  

Recently I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Sarah McIntyre's China Travel Diaries at the Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds.

I'm not entirely sure what I expected, but it blew me away from the very start. Drawn whilst on the road, Sarah dutifully documents the travelling adventures and mishaps that are an essential part of any holiday, but also focuses on the broader themes of "family". After meeting with her parents in Beijing, Sarah and her husband embark on a once-in-a-lifetime trip that takes them from the peacefulness of Buddhist monasteries to the bustle of the Shanghai Promenade. Along the way, we get to know her tour group and they become something of a family themselves!

I found the actual story itself incredibly moving. It was as complicated and nuanced as China itself, and managed to give a very touching account of everyday life in the People's Republic. More than anything, it was the kind of story that I love, one that swings back and forth between jaunty comedy and more sombre topics, that manages to pull at the heartstrings with well-observed dialogue and warm relationships between the characters!

"Please be Moral: Do Not Spit" is also attractively hand-bound in a traditional Chinese style with a really fun cover design. Sarah McIntyre breathes new life into a tired TV cliche, transporting us on an "emotional journey" with an emotion and vigour that is refreshingly genuine. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to tear up slightly at the ending!

Overall, a brilliant minicomic, and it's one of my favorite things I got from Leeds!

dotComics update!

This week, Mike Medaglia and myself have been starting to push our anthology dotComics a bit more! I think this is the first time I've posted on my blog about the comic, which is awful seeing as I helped edit the whole thing. 

For those of you not already in the know, dotComics is the first anthology dedicated to bringing webcomics to the printed page. Attempting to reach a new audience, and offer an alternative to endless internet trawling, dotComics selects extracts from some of the most exceptional webcomics, and brings them into lush, full-colour print! We also feature interviews with creators as well as insightful critique and scholarly essays on some of the biggest questions about the digital revolution. 

Gorgeous coloring by the wonderful Mr. John Riordan

dotComics is now on sale a two of London's loveliest Comic book retailers, Gosh! Comics of Berwick Street, Soho, and Orbital Comics of Great Newport Street. If you happen to live in Leeds, you can pop into OK Comics to get your fix! Online sales are still a way off, but more comics retailers are constantly being added, so check back here regularly to find your closest seller. Alternatively, why not friend dotComics on Facebook, or follow our Twitter feed?  

That's all for now! I'll be back with exciting updates about progress on Issue 2 later in the week! Until then, 

Elliot x

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In The Studio

I'm having a bit of a colouring meltdown at the moment. My attempts at colouring my comics in the past have been decidedly mixed, so I'm trying to make a little bit more of a concerted effort to use colour rather than just hobbling myself by constantly sticking to black and white. Of course, it's not coming easy. 

Part of the problem is that I don't really know where or what materials I want to focus on, so I'm experimenting with a couple of different approaches. This is something of a double-edged sword, because lacking that specificity can turn you into something of a jack-of-all. For the moment, however, I'm taking a break from the painfully slow world of computer colouring and focusing more on traditional materials. 

I was given a gorgeous set of Acrylic Inks some time ago and have only really gotten around to trying them out. The colours are incredibly luminous and strong; they layer really nicely too, and you can get a good variety of tones. The downsides are that it takes time to build up more nuanced, muted colours, especially if you're using thin washes like I am. Of course, applying thin wash after thin wash is just one way of using inks as a medium, and preferably I'd like to slap it on a bit thicker, and be bolder with my colour schemes. I'm hoping I can get a load of glass phials and start mixing up colours for some Herge-style colouring experiments! Does anyone know anywhere that might sell such a thing? 

Time consuming though it may be, I think I'll be colouring the bulk of Nineteen-Ough-Two like this. If anyone has any good tips or tutorials, then I'd love to hear them! Keep me posted, 

Elliot x

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Little Historical Titbits

Like most people, I think I'm still reeling from the vast amount of Comic events that have gone on this week and trying to get my thoughts in order! Going through my photos of Thought Bubble, I managed to find these Photos I took in the Leeds City Museum of some great little Neo-Classical ladies' fans...

 Aren't they great? I love the little motifs and decorations that go into the borders around the delicately painted scenes, and no surface of the fan is left untouched; even the supports have little scenes filigreed into the ivory. I'd really love to try and include some of these flourishes as comic panels. This would be a great way to actually think about presenting a comic strip as well, for anyone willing to experiment with fan-making, as well as drawing a curved, radial comic. As a format, it's neat, compact, and easily portable; plus a lifesaver on hot days! Why not enjoy your favorite funnies whilst hob-nobbing with the duchess at the Opera? 

On a similarly decorative note, my charming boyfriend recently brought me this wonderful bar of finest Kazakh chocolate that he was given by a foreign agent. The packaging is insane. In case you can't tell, it's gold-embossed, with a prominent blue silhouette of Kazakhstan. It looks more like currency than any chocolate bar I've ever seen, and we half expecting to find a golden ticket to visit Mr Wonkovitch's marvelous chocolate factory when we opened it. 

Instead, what we found was some of the nicest chocolate I've had in a long time, dark as sin and slightly bitter (just the way I like it) with rich body and a slightly salty, smoky aftertaste. Overall, really excellent choccy! Watch out, Switzerland! 

Finally, I came across this little magazine in a market in Soho, and just had to have it. 

As expected, Eve's Own consists mostly of fairly "dainty", soppy, formulaic romance short stories and serials, with a handful of sewing patterns and home-keeping tips. But the jewel in its' crown is the extensive "Eve and the Editor" section, in which anonymous bright young things pour their hearts out to a fusty, male "Agony Uncle". "Old Solomon" deals with these sensitive issues with an authorial voice that is almost audibly pompous, plummy and patronising. My long-term, mixed-race (part asian) gay boyfriend and I had a good laugh over this little snippet; 

Dear me. Unfortunately, this is fairly representative of Solomon's replies and prose in general. I have to admit, as a piece of Psycho-History, these Agony Aunt sections are an amazing way to get inside the minds of women of the distant past; to discover what their anxieties were, how they conducted relationships, and how an oppressive patriarchy idly dismissed their troubles. A great resource for anyone wanting to write historical fiction. But I can't help but hope that Mournful Mollie stayed with her Chinaman. 

I think I'll leave it at that for now. Until next time, dear little pals, 


Friday, 25 November 2011

More News from the Studio

Work on Nineteen-Ough-Two is coming on apace, and it looks like I should have the strip inked by early next week! A lot of my time so far has been concerned with Historical research, which is always time consuming, slow, but ultimately very rewarding. I've found some great old photos to work with. Whilst on a search for old costumes to use for bystanders in the "1902" segment of the narrative, I came across this great turn-of-the-century portrait:

Dude! Cecil Higgins, you dandy gentleman, where have you been all my life? That spotted 'kerchief, that dapper watch fob, those lush curled moustache tips! Cecil may have to find a home in one of my other stories, because he is simply a Cartoon character made flesh. I am working fairly flat out on Nineteen-Ough-Two this week, but if I have a spare hour, I may break off to sketch up a my own portrait of Cecil. At times like this, I feel that good image research really pays off; every now and again, divine providence throws something like this in your lap, but it's not something you want to be relying on all the time. 

Anyway, enough rambling, here's another very quick "raw" scan to let you see how everything's coming along: 

Blank spaces in panels 3-6 are where the "1902 AD" logo will be copy-pasted. Of all the tools an artist can use in the digital world, copy-paste is probably the lowest, the cheapest, most miserable attempt to bulk out work, so i've tried to keep it to an absolute minimum. I'm also justifying it by reminding myself that all these panels will be coloured individually. In fact, a lot of the narrative will be told through colour.

In case you hadn't guessed, repetition is going to be a key theme in the visuals of Nineteen-Ough-Two (hence title) and this approach is what's allowed the whole thing to come together so swiftly. However, I always feel that true repetition in art is boring for everyone involved, which is why I've tried to vary the seemingly repetitive panels as much as possible. More often than not, true repetition can end up creating works that are as dull for the reader as they are masochistically tedious for the artist to produce. Successful art in this genre usually ends up relying on the sheer spectacle of scale and the baffling pointlessness and insanity of the exercise to impress. In the comic form it's very difficult to tell a narrative with truly identical panels; not only because nothing "happens" as such, but also because it doesn't capture the reader's eye in any way; you'll tend to skim the entirety, like you would a fabric pattern, rather than pausing and considering each individual panel. That's not to say that audience reaction isn't a useful tool in it's own right! See Tim Kreider's masterful We Even Yet? as an example of how this glib visual attitude can be used to evoke a powerful reaction from the reader.  

The only other Wimbledon news is that a Tutor's asked me to exhibit some pages in a small college exhibition, so you could see some of these coloured sooner than I anticipated. Until then, have a great weekend, everybody! 

Elliot x

Thursday, 24 November 2011

In the Studio

Hey Guys! Just thought I'd give you a quick update as to what's been going on at my studio HQ at Wimbledon! Things are pretty busy this week, as I've been trying to draw a new comic! Nineteen-Ough-Two is my first attempt at making a long-format scroll comic; it' also completely silent and follows the life of a Cornicestone through a century of London History.

 But that's not all! When it's complete, I'll be attempting the impossible and trying to turn this full colour comic into a limited edition screenprint! Since it's going to be about 28x300cm this could be a bit of a trick to pull off, we'll have to see how it goes. But it's also going to be pretty costly; and due to the amounts of ink, paper, and time that need to be devoted to it, I don't think it's really going to be an affordable comic; so Nineteen-Ough-Two will also be available online as a scrolling digital comic.

This comic's also a bit of a new direction for me in that I'm strictly limiting the tools I work with. I enjoy brush painting with inks, but the whole process can be very time-consuming, and makes me obsess relentlessly over wether I'm making the "right" lines. Nineteen-Ough-Two is my first real attempt to adress this issue; all the artwork is drawn with fims fixed gauge pens that don't allow for any variation in the width of the lines, and the colour will be carrying the story for the most part. The upshot of using a very inflexible nib when inking is that you end up thinking less about the inking process itself and concentrating more on how you use these largely identical marks to draw a variety of different forms, textures and objects. In short, it's great for practicing your markmaking skills without a lot of other hassle.

Here's a little taster to whet your appetite!

Check back later in the week for more updates! 
Until then, 

Elliot x

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thought Bubblin'

For those of you not in the know, last weekend (the 19th and 20th) was the return of the anxiously anticipated Thought Bubble Leeds Comic-Con! I have to confess that this was my first year up at Thought Bubble: my first ever trip to Leeds as well, actually: and the only negative thing I can say is that I deeply regret never going before. Thought Bubble, where have you been all my life? 
Due to my coach tickets being booked for an ungodly hour on friday morning, I actually got a chance to look around Leeds as well, which beats staring at the inside of a convention hall for an entire weekend! 

A Mucha-inspired muse of Art in one of Leeds'  many Victorian Shopping Arcades!
Having looked around Leeds I can also say, without reservation, that the city has the most breathtaking Public Library I have ever seen. Rooms stacked with books, a dedicated art library, soaring, intricate pillars and a stairwell that was like a cross between Hogwarts and an MC Esher print with a scattering of bizarre sculpture thrown in for good measure. 
The Stairwell 
The Attic Library
Be sure to take good care of it, Leeds County Council! I hope you know how lucky you are! 

The convention itself was great experience! The Big news of course, is the launch of dotComics, the Webcomic Anthology I have been editing with Mike Medaglia. It's also (as far as I know) the first publication of it's kind, attempting to link the divide between print and digital, and draw in a new audience who perhaps hadn't heard of webcomics or even knew they existed. I was particularly astonished by the print quality, as were most people who came to the table. The temptation to run your hands over the glossy pages is almost too much to resist, and there's a lovely texture of ink on paper. One of the guys I spoke to said that Josceline Fenton's Hemlock looked like it was printed with huge gobs of still-wet ink! (In a nice way.) Thanks to Pulse Print for a fantastic finish to what we hope will be a great magazine! 

The dotComics stand at Thought Bubble!
I swear, some of the worst photos of my life have been taken behind convention tables. This one is particularly unflattering. My evidently gross sandwich eating didn't put off the customers, however, and we did rather nicely! 

Among the stall holders at the Convention were some of our contributors! The charming Phillipa Rice had her checkered gingham table cloth covered with all manner of Comics, Prints, Totes and delightful goods from her webcomic My Cardboard Life

And the ever-prolific David O'Conell had his wonderful new anthology ink + PAPER for sale alongside his other work, where it was selling like hot cakes! 

TB Leeds marked a real change for me, I feel fired up and raring to go, and am already making plans for Thought Bubble 2012! Thanks so much to everyone who brought dotComics, helped make it possible, or just stopped by the stall! I hope you all had a good a time as I did. I feel I've barely scratched the surface in this blogpost, so I'll be returning to this topic later. In the meantime, I'll be pouring through all the lovely swag I brought back to London, and posting little reviews of some of my favorite comics and best buys from Leeds! Until then,

Elliot x