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That’s Novel:

Lifting Comics From The Page!

Thursday, 21 October 2010, saw the opening party for a new exhibition I have curated for the London Print Studio entitled That’s Novel: Lifting Comics From The Page. This also forms the centrepiece and hub of this year’s Comica Festival kicking off on 5 November. It’s been an exciting, challenging creative project collaborating with the artists and with Studio director John Phillips and his team.

The future is graphic. WIth their continuing acclaim from the worlds of literature, art, cinema and beyond, graphic novels have proved that they are not some passing fad, mere ‘graphic novelties’, but can be truly innovative, interactive storytelling experiences through sequential art, with or without additional words. While more and more are being adapted successfully to the big and small screen and attracting fresh audiences, from Scott Pilgrim to The Walking Dead, graphic novels are so much more than ‘movies on paper’ or thinly-disguised, storyboard-style pitches for stereotypical blockbusters.


That’s Novel exhibition at London Print Studio

Graphic novels, and their related forms of manga from Japan, bandes dessinées from France and Belgium and others elsewhere, are liberating the comics medium from the confines of safe conformity, well-worn genres, corporate properties long past their sell-by date, and lack of space and ambition. Now at last it’s possible to realise the full potential of comics through fascinatingly diverse, complex, often provocative narratives, for adults and for all ages.

As the major element of this year’s Comica Festival, the London International Comics Festival, That’s Novel: Lifting Comics From The Page surveys some of today’s transnational innovators in the comics medium with a special emphasis on the British-based cutting edge. Through their original and digital artworks, their printed books and their specially-conceived projects both on and off the page in this exhibition, they give visitors the chance to discover where they are taking comics next on and off the page.


Opening Night at ‘That’s Novel’.

‘From the page’ can include literally escaping flat two dimensions and exploring 3D comics, for example as Philippa Rice’s cardboard cut-out characters stumble into the third dimension for the first time or Karrie Fransman crafts models and sets her stories, even gutting her childhood dolls house to tell a creepy legend. Comics can also escape their confines by being adopted as educational and informational tools, such as Brick’s Depresso, extracts from which are proving invaluable for those dealing with depression. Other new directions include searingly frank autobiographical comics, acute social documentaries, narrative street art from Tito na Rua in Rio de Janeiro, global manga transcending national frontiers, a visionary expansion of the zombie genre, The Walking Dead, now adapted for television, and Pulp Theatre’s compelling online strip serial for Channel 4’s website.

The exhibiting creators are organised into the following six main thematic sections:


1. RETELLINGS

Nobrow: A Graphic Cosmogeny
“In the beginning…” was the comic! And what better story for comic artists to tell again than the very first story, of creation itself? Adventurous publishing and printmaking group Nobrow asked 24 international artists to interpret the birth of the universe, not in seven days but in seven pages. Six contributors present two pages each from their versions and a full contingent will be launching this ambitious tome once it is back from the printers in Italy.

John Miers: The Tower of Babel
One language that can cut through the divisive babble of multiple spoken languages is the purely visual language of ‘silent’ comics. John Miers reinterprets the Biblical verses about The Tower of Babel into nine compositions, rich with iconic play and wordless storytelling, annotated with a clever map-style ‘Key’ to symbols and systems to help people navigate these pages.


2. IDENTITIES

David Bircham & Pulp Theatre: Alien Ink
Real teenagers with real issues form the heart and soul of Channel 4’s straight-talking online serial off the streets of Camden. Each weekly webisode lets readers interact with the highly individual cast based around trendy tattoo parlour Alien Ink. For the show, David Bircham has collated a striking digital print demonstrating his creative and collaborative process, and further ahead is developing stylish tattoo designs to be launched at the gallery.

Gary & Warren Pleece: The Great Unwashed
Meet Reg Chivers, washed up at Wigan, as he reflects on achieving his lifetime ambition of becoming a successful stand-up comedian. In their forthcoming ensemble work from Escape Books, The Great Unwashed, the Brighton-based Pleece Brothers dissect the foibles and flaws of assorted misfits and mavericks with dark wit and scalpel-sharp insight. As well as the finished pages, Warren has supplied some preparatory roughs and a new portrait of Reg in full swing. 

Sean Michael Wilson & Chie Kutsuwada: The Story of Lee
What defines us and can we defy definitions? The romance between Lee, living in Hong Kong, and Englishman Matt must contend with parental disapproval and a xenophobic Chinese rival for Lee’s heart. Wilson is a Scot living in Japan and Kutsuwada is Japanese, living in London. Both have become leading creators of global manga, working for publishers in Tokyo, New York and Britain. Chie will be creating a brand new solo comic in print form with the Studio and launching during Comica 2010 both The Story of Lee and her other new title, Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai from Kodansha International

Mustashrik: Smoke Outside Please
A design prodigy feted in advertising circles, Mustashrik is brewing a personal project about the new social phenomenon of ‘smirting’, reflecting how outdoor spaces for public smoking have become perfect venues for flirting. A smoker himself, he is integrating illustration, comics, text, photography, film and music to document Smoke Outside Please, part of which was commissioned by Art Review magazine. His brand-new piece is a poster-style comics, the panels reading vertically up a totemic cigarette.


Metaphrog: Exclusive print for the exhibition


3. BIOGRAPHIES

David Quantick & Savage Pencil: Louis Wain
David Quantick and Savage Pencil delve into the turbulent life and art of Louis Wain (1860-1939). The Edwardian English artist was celebrated for his drawings of cats, but these became increasingly bizarre as his feline passion turned into maniacal obsession, driving him to a mental asylum. As well as showing the first three pages of his graphic biography serialising in Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic magazine, Savage Pencil has created four new prints of Wain’s sinister kittycats and two framed collages, all of them framed against some sickly sanguine Edwardian patterned wallpaper, in to which he has cut circular holes through which glower single disturbing diseased cats’ eyes, sourced from a veterinary guide to feline opthalmology. Quantick has generously lent an original Wain pen-and-ink cat drawing, in a frame with an aptly ‘cracked’ glass.

Will Bingley & Anthony Hope-Smith: Gonzo
The great American iconoclast, the great American outlaw, or the great American hedonist? However you view him, Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) remains the high watermark for social commentators worldwide, and a fearless champion of individual liberties. Bingley & Hope-Smith tell his story in words and pictures in Gonzo. On view are two spreads of original artwork, accompanied by Bingley’s annotated scripts for two pages, backed by a special patterned print of Gonzo devices by Hope-Smith.


Savage Pencil: 2 of his new Wain prints


4. TESTIMONIES

Brick: Depresso
Depresso: How I learned to stop worrying and embrace being bonkers is Brick’s unflinchingly frank, funny,  and ultimately redemptive semi-autobiography of living with and beyond depression. Passages are already being used by mental health professionals and patients as a valuable learning aid in recovery training and prints from four such scenes are presented here. Brick and Darryl Cunningham will be discussing their work in Frames of Mind on Saturday 6 November at London Print Studio as part of Comica.

Darryl Cunningham: Psychiatric Tales
In the stark graphics and candid confessionals of Psychiatric Tales, Darryl Cunningham recounts his often experiences as a former health care assistant on an acute psychiatric ward. The job took its toll on him. Here he is haunted by two suicide cases and his feelings of guilt that he should have done more to prevent them. The whole story is reproduced here along with his new cover illustration made for the American edition, due next February from Bloomsbury.

John Hicklenton: 100 Months
After a long, agonising battle with Multiple Sclerosis, famed 2000AD artist John Hicklenton took his own life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland on March 19th 2010. 100 Months unleashes the vengeance of Mara, Earth Goddess, in a mythic metaphor both for the environmental evils of capitalism and for John’s own struggles with his illness. It stands as his tortured, crowning masterwork, as seen in six pieces of his remarkable, large-scale original artwork. A special Comica tribute event for Hicklenton and this book is being planned with his long-time collaborator, writer Pat Mills.


John Hicklenton: Jesus print from 100 Months


5. PREMONITIONS

Metaphrog: Louis - Night Salad
The exquisite story-book charms of Franco-Scottish duo Metaphrog’s self-published books belie the deeper, darker levels of satire and philosophy. Somehow in these Orwellian fables, their endearing everyman Louis copes with all the adversities of his often soulless parallel world. In Night Salad he is on an urgent quest to cure FC, his ailing bird companion. Come and marvel at their exquisite colour originals on show here.

Paul Rainey: There’s No Time Like The Present
Speculative science fiction can offer a canny critique of our immediate present-day. Paul Rainey envisages the warping effects of everyday time-travel and the Ultranet, the next evolution in the Internet, on the entangled relationships of a group of Milton Keynes residents. Truly, There’s No Time Like The Present, when the future is no longer what it used to be. Rainey responded to the show by creating four new promotional posters related to the strange world of his graphic novel. such as an advert for the DVD of the next ten years’ worth of episodes of Emmerdale!

Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard: The Walking Dead
Kirkman & Adlard prove that there is much more to the zombie genre than George Romero splatter satire or Shaun of the Dead romps. In their relentless serial The Walking Dead, now adapted for TV, they can constantly surprise as they develop a complex variety of responses among the survivors of a zombie plaque and ask: what makes us human and inhuman? Adlard has lent six large frames worth of his original artwork, both stunning covers and interior pages, and will be talking with Alex Fitch from Panel Borders of Resonance FM on Saturday 6 November at the London Print Studio. Be sure to book your tickets for this here.


Paul Rainey: one of 4 new posters


6. ALLEGORIES

Philippa Rice: My Cardboard Life
Philippa Rice’s high-touch, craft-based My Cardboard Life thrives principally in the high-tech virtual realm of the internet. Here in their paper ‘flesh’, her handmade heroes venture into the unknown third dimension through the wonders of pop-up panels. In her flat, fallible characters, we can recognise others we know, and perhaps also ourselves.

Karrie Fransman: Behind The Mirror & Other Stories
Tapping into half-remembered legends like the ‘Bloody Mary’ myth, Karrie Fransman transforms each gutted room of her childhood dolls house into a 3D peephole panel of a scary warning of the horror that hides behind the mirror. A tireless experimenter, she pushes the medium into new forms and formats, whether drawings in compositions of different appropriate frames or as crafted figurines acting within miniature sets.


In addition to these principal artists, a large range of original and printed artworks by other graphic novelists will be exhibited alongside including Paul Peart-Smith (One Plus One), Catherine Anyango (Heart of Darkness), William Goldsmith (Vignettes of Ystov), Tayo Tatunla (a cartoon story about Nigeria for the BBC’s website), Kripa Joshi (Miss Moti), Randall C. (Sleepyheads) and Judith Vanistendael (Dance By The Light of the Moon).

Several of the exhibiting artists in That’s Novel, as well as invited guests from Britain and abroad, will be taking part in a programme of talks, panel discussions, masterclasses and workshops. They will also be collaborating with the London Print Studio over the coming weeks to produce and launch special printed works related to their graphic novels for display and sale. These include already in production: a limited-edition set of silkscreened Louis Wain cards by Savage Pencil; four new poster designs by Paul Rainey related to There’s No Time Like The Present; three signed bookplate illustrations by Metaphrog; and coming up will be new Alien Ink tattoos by Pulp Theatre. As a result, the exhibition is as much about demonstrating and celebrating the processes of making and printing comics in innovative ways, as it is about presenting the finished artworks and their final book forms.


Art on display from John Hicklenton’s 100 Months

There is also a ‘Continental Shelf’ to spotlight graphic novels which visitors can relax with and read, as well as a retail shop selling relevant books, prints, posters and other related items. For the Comica Festival in November, several major international creators will participate in exclusive events and displays of their work at the exhibition including Ho Che Anderson, author of the Martin Luther King biography King, who will be in conversation with Paul Peart-Smith on Monday 15 November, 6-30-8pm (book your places here) - and one of the greatest graphic geniuses of Argentina, Carlos Nine (details of his Comica events to follow).

Another offshoot opportunity of That’s Novel is the London Print Studio’s Internship in Comics and Comic Production. With some great artists lined up to mentor, they are currently looking for five enthusiastic 21-25 year olds from a variety of backgrounds who are interested in a career in comics, arts education, publishing or illustration. They will have the chance to: develop professional skills in the creative industry; run comic workshops for 16-25 year olds; receive mentoring from top professional comic creators and publishers; develop their own artistic projects with supervision from mentors; and take part in creating a graphic novel publication. The details and application form are online here and the deadline for applying is Monday 1st November. Get in touch asap and best of luck!

The final touch of the exhibition, lining the gallery windows facing out onto the street, are 15 new framed prints dropping key characters from the exhibiting artists, whether cardboard figures or rotting zombies, into the real-world setting of the Harrow Road itself. Comics truly walk among us!

Posted: October 24, 2010