Monday, October 22, 2007

Against Charity!!

Well, of course we are not 'against charity'. But I got up late on Sunday and all we had to read was a crappy local paper called Scotland on Sunday, it's sort of like if Edinburgh was a school, this would be the school magazine. Oh, it's probably no worse than some papers and better than some others, but it has no soul, it has poor and uninspired graphics, it pays no attention to people like me, illustrators who have to go abroad to make a living, whilst promoting writers who will never, ever, get their work into the publications that use mine. It is a very dull paper, indeed.

Anyway, I happened on a review of a book, the proceeds of which go to a good cause, Dave Eggers's 826 New York, which helps children aged 6 - 18 with their reading skills; the book, edited by Zadie Smith, is called The Book of Other People and in it 23 authors make people up. Now the book has, according to the review in this newspaper, an 'astonishing' roll-call of contributors - er, okay.

What does astonish me is that there are what the reviewer calls '3 graphic novelists' included here. Now, I might be missing the point altogether, but given that the fight is against illiteracy, and about tempting reluctant 'kids' aged 6-18 to 'read', wouldn't something the kids themselves might actually also want to look at be a better idea? Wouldn't more 'graphic novelists' have been, I don't know, in keeping with the message? I mean, I know that it is popular to align yourself with comic-book culture these days, what with Ian Rankin and the like eager to write Hellblazer and the increasingly hilarious Virgin Comics 'crew' such as musicians Dave Stewart and Duran Duran and movie star Nick Cage and Junior all giving birth to their inner-comics,
but cramming 20 wannabes like Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith, Toby Litt and AL Kennedy et al, in an anthology with only 3 'graphic novelists', that's a bit desperate, isn't it?

Now, as for the 3 'graphic artists', I'm presuming, that Zadie Smith is a Guardian reader, because the choices are so obvious, and so uninspired, that only a Gruniad reader would have settled for them: Posey Simmonds, Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes. Of course I am a fan of Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes and Posey is okay, but come on, this is hardly 'edgy'. There is a reason why Posey draws the green-welly brigade you know, it's because she is one of them. What's more Posey is in her 60s now, I mean, if you have to get a 'token' British cartoonist, sorry 'graphic novelist' does it have to be such an obvious choice. All the writers involved try desperately to be, or at least to look, young and hip, so why not try to find a talented youngster out there to illustrate a story?

As far as Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes go, the Gruniad readers have seen references to Jimmy Corrigan in articles about comic books, they aren't quite sure who Daniel Clowes is because they don't actually read comic books, but he has entered their consciousness at the cinema, during the credits of Ghost World - Oh, that's Daniel Clowes. I am a fan of both these cartoonists, but I can't justify having three quarters of the small representation of 'graphic novelists' come from the US, in what appears to be a British anthology, it gives the impression, wrongly, that there are no 'graphic novelists' or as we occasionally refer to them, 'cartoonists' working in the UK. Of course there are, and the reason they mainly ply their trade abroad or produce mini-comics themselves to reach their markets is because British publishers are only interested in them after they become a big success abroad, and the Guardian and the Telegraph write articles about them - without actually soiling their pages with the work, except as examples.

Having said all that, 3 cartoonists in this anthology is better than none, and the cover might just fool some people into thinking that there is a lot more artwork in the book than there actually is. So that's a plus. For all you 'content analysis' freaks, the review covered an entire page, and about twenty words were devoted to the 'graphic novelists', and that was a discussion about word balloons.


Steve# said...

I was at Kings with Zadie Smith in the same year. I can't remember whether she read the Guardian though :)

She can sing, which maybe not many people know.

I'm afraid I'm a member of the other 99.9% of people from that year that aren't famous authors.

I used to do various tasteless cartoons for the college newspaper including one infamous one of Stephen Hawking as a rampaging Dalek.

Rod McKie said...

I love tasteless cartoons. I'm a big fan of John Callaghan's uber-tasteless cartoons.

I don't know if she reads it Steve, it's my bette-noir. It lauds cartoonists from overseas or from the UK after they've made it or died, and carries 5-page articles on cartooning, complete with 'examples' of the work, but the paper itself carries little in the way of cartoons and illustrations. It's like, it's an artform for critical reasons, or if Steve Bell is drawing it, but even then not really. Plus, like Zadie's publisher, the old Gruniad/Observer has discovered this 'new' phenomenon called 'graphic novels'.

Did you notice that Zadie gets a mention in the Observer graphic novel/shortstory competition? So did Posey, and all the others, why, it's almost like a publicity stunt.

The winning entry was a cross between Little Nemo, the Upside Down Me and the Perry Bible Fellowship, with a script from a 1930's Tales of Suspense comic. Seemed to impress the hell out of the 'judges'.

Steve# said...

I've tried to get published a few times, but papers don't seem to carry many cartoons these days. I tried Private Eye, but I don't think my cartoons were unfunny enough for them :)

Currently I am trying to do some flash animations instead. I suppose my humor is a bit like "The Far Side".

Rod McKie said...

I don't know if there is a post somewhere on the blog here about it, but I think there are better ways into cartooning than the conventional route - which might never pay off anyway.

If I was starting out today, I'd make submitting cartoons a small part of my plan. I would submit illustration portfolios or point 'Art Editors' at a website portfolio, and I'd do a few self-published mini-comics. I'd also join the Comics Journal forum and get to know people there and submit work to anthologies that are often posted on that board. Nowadays, putting some good indy free work out there (at a small financial loss to you) will open more doors than getting some cartoons published.

A web comic at Web Comics Nation or Drunken Duck or similar might be a much better career-lift than getting a cartoon or two in Private Eye - it's a very parochial magazine.