Thursday, May 29, 2008

National Treasure; Roger Kettle.

Well, maybe some day. I certainly think Roger Kettle gets nowhere near the recognition he deserves. You know, we don't have a lot of indigenous comic strips over here, I think in the last 50 years you would be lucky to spot 20 home-grown strips, national ones, so maybe we should make more fuss about the ones we do produce. Sandy Graham created Fred Basset of course and Reg Smythe created Andy Capp, but most of the strips that we make over here never make the leap to national and international consciousness and have little or no impact on popular culture. Roger Kettle is a little different though, his work has made an impact, and I don't think you can aim any higher than that, as a creative soul, it's about the most important contribution you can make - I think. Not only does Roger write Beau Peep, and A Man called Horace, but he also writes Andy Capp these days, and the strip has certainly begun to attract the attention of critics and writers in a way that it never has before. Which I put down to a combination of great writing and great drawing.

Beau Peep by Roger Kettle Andrew Christine

Anyway, our national treasure, Roger Kettle, did me an enormous favour and read over my Sunshine on Leith preview and picked up on a mistake and even offered some help with the wording and I am, honestly, overwhelmed that anyone, let alone someone with Roger's credentials, would take the trouble. You see, and I try to explain this to anyone starting out in cartooning, that sense that you maybe are as bad as the Cartoon and Art Editors make you feel, never goes away. You just have to get used to it. Nothing makes it go away, not money, not fame, not daily validation through daily publication. On some level, you will always feel that you are maybe The Ed Wood of cartooning, or of writing - that you are the only one too blind to see that your work really is awful. So someone, anyone, paying attention to your work is marvelous, but when your fellow cartoonists do so, it's just the best feeling there is because you know, no matter what the Editors say, that your fellow workmates are the true yardstick.

So, I've reworded the thing and to be honest it is much better, and it lends more depth to the narrative. And hey, who knows - I may not be Ed wood after all. Here's how it reads now, I'll put it up on Word Press later.

The fact that I've added so much worries me. It means I didn't achieve a good balance, with the earlier page, between the story I'm trying to tell with words and the story I'm trying to tell with pictures.

The whole episode got me thinking about words and pictures in a new way. That's because I'm usually concerned with how writers who who have no experience writing for comics have a problem when they approach this genre. They tend to overwrite, and that's why people like me just stare at disbelief when a writer approaches with a 2,000 page script. On the other hand, illustrators are used to using a few visual symbols to encapsulate pages of descriptive writing - take for example Ernest Shepard's drawing of Pooh, grimly clutching his balloon, being blown over the treetops of the Hundred Acre Wood - that scene takes Milne a lot of lovely descriptive chapters, the drawing takes half a page of pen-strokes. When the two appear together in the form of the Pooh book they both illustrate the same thing. They are working together, but they are also separate and independent. That's how picture books often work. But that's not the way comics and graphic novels work. You don't just illustrate the text, you don't want a character opening a door saying 'I'm timorously opening the door now', you can learn that from the drawing. In comics and graphic novels you have to show and say some things with words and show and say some things with pictures. Getting the correct balance between the two is difficult. Take this drawing for the second chapter of Sunshine on Leith, Down Town:

What's going on here is the protagonist has been left on his own at the top of the largest boulevard in Scotland whilst his aunt, a teenager herself, has slipped off for a coffee and a ciggy with friends. It's early evening and the sound of Down Town is belting out from the surrounding cafes and bars and the street lights have gone on and suddenly the eyes on the buses and cars have lit-up. The chatter of people leaving work at the nearby factories and shops and bonds and yards, all at the same time, overwhelms him and he races around frantically looking in windows to find his protector.

Now at first, I wasn't really going to have too much writing here because this takes part in a fully illustrated part of the story, but that's me forgetting that my 'ideal reader' is me. I will have to do some more editing, I think.

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