Freshly returned from a trip to Oxford, and feeling very lucky today. Why? Because my reason for being in amongst the dreaming spires was a meeting with Oxford University Press' children’s book editors, Liz Cross and Pete Marley. And these two, wonderfully charming individuals have made me feel lucky.
It’s not that we were discussing huge deals or big prizes - we were simply talking stories. Engaging, exciting, beautifully crafted stories.
I hope this would be enough to make anyone feel lucky – but more than just talking about them, we were exploring their creation….
- Structure, pace, humour, morals, messages and more: all the intricate facets of storytelling;
- Looking at these in relation to some of my own ideas;
- And also thinking about new and more integrated approaches to writing for children.
There was a true sense of collaboration. This isn’t always the case with authors and their publishers. But here there really was. It was genuine and invigorating. And that’s why I’m feeling very lucky today.
According to independent graphic fiction magazine Your Days Are Numbered, Julian Hanshaw is very rad. I thought this meant he was very radiator, as both he and I have turned 40 and the looseness of lingo tends to get replaced by the humdrum of household essentials the older you get….
However, I can now state for a FACT that Julian Hanshaw is indeed very rad – and this is because I have just seen his finished artwork for the HOAX graphic novel.
And I mean freakin-amazin-my-oh-my-oh-my-wow. You are in for such a TREAT!
Julian has a blogspot (fromjuliansbrain) and has posted ‘two tiny, tiny slithers from two of the pages’ there, along with this missive:
“Ravi Thornton (Brin & Bent and Minno Marylebone) has rounded up 10 outstanding names of the British Graphic Novel world and somehow I managed to sneak in when no one was looking.
Names such as Bryan Talbot and Hannah Berry have been given sections to illustrate of Ravi’s deeply personal project.
To find out more about this wonderful project and how in God’s name I was invited along for the ride, have a peek here [Ravi’s website]!”
So not only devastatingly talented, but endearingly humble too. What a lovely man.
The PSYCHOSIS BLUES graphic novel (part of the HOAX project) involves 10 illustrators each working to separate briefs. This means not only do their artworks have to cohere, but so too do their schedules, ideas stages, deliverables etc. along the way….
HOAX as an overall project has its own academic research strand, headed up by Prof Matt Green. Through Matt came a further research strand of in the form of Ellie Reedy. Ellie is currently doing a Masters in publishing, and one of her main research threads is how project management strategies bring together several creative collaborators on a single project.
As such Ellie has been acting project manager for PSYCHOSIS BLUES, gathering essential research for her dissertation whilst simultaneously providing invaluable support by way of her brilliant organisational skills and whipcracking.
Last week Ellie interviewed me as part of her dissertation, asking things like:
- What are the advantages of working on a collaborative project?
- What do you consider to be the biggest challenges of working in a collaborative team?
- How do you think project management strategies differ when working on a creative/arts project compared to more business focused projects?
All of which were really interesting questions for me to sit down and really think about.…
Her final question was: Can project management be a barrier to artistic projects such as HOAX and if so how?
I replied that I could only imagine it would be a barrier if you had the wrong person in the role. In my experience, Ellie, it’s been the complete opposite :)
You may recall me mentioning the call out (asking attending comic-people to submit artwork for auction) that went along with last weekend's conference in Brighton. Not being an illustrator myself, I submitted a piece drawn by my brother Rob.
Around 20 prints were auctioned, raising over £500 for the Creative Therapies Fund of mental health charity MIND.
The fund helps people make sense of their mental health problems through local arts projects in supportive environments with trained therapists.
'The therapeutic effects of creative activities can be enormous. For those who can't find words to express how they feel, they can be a lifesaver. For some people, creative therapies provide more profound and long-lasting healing than more standard forms of treatment for mental health problems. They provide a powerful means of expression and a release from trauma.'
It's a great cause, the auction was a great idea, and I'm glad that Rob and I have been a part of it all.
Find out more at www.mind,org.uk/get_involved/creative_therapy_campaign
Brighton was lovely. The sun, the sea, The Beau, the Brighton Sussex Medical School… and the host of really nice people attending it for this fascinating meeting of Graphic Medicine minds.
As mentioned previously, Prof Matt and I were down to talk about HOAX / THE TALE OF BRIN & BENT AND MINNO MARYLEBONE, and the ethics of fictionalising autobiography and biography.
It was great to hear comics and medical professionals alike, discussing themes and topics ranging from responsibility, psychology, trauma, perception, depression, sex, and much more besides….
Some highlights for me were hearing Graphic Medicine’s Ian Williams interviewing Nicola Streeten (of the infamous Laydeez Do Comics), and Paula J. Knight’s beautifully honest presentation concerning motherhood and miscarriage.
My shout-out goes also to fellow panel members…
Andrew Godfrey and Emma Mould of Sicker Than Thou, who talked about representation and responsibility in autobiographical comics;
Katie Green, who talked very movingly about questions raised in illustrating an eating disorder;
John G. Swogger, who discussed the ethical journey of a collaborative comic on dependence, and suggested the need for some ethical guidelines to be put in place – very interesting indeed;
And finally to our chair, the formidable MK Czerwiec.
Thank you to everyone who made the conference possible. And to Hannah ‘Beachbabe’ Berry for knowing the best place in town to watch the sun go down….
So I arrived back from the Comics and Medicine Conference in Brighton to be tail-waggingly greeted by both The Daughter and (post kennel-collection) the Elegant Hound.
So completely non-stressed was Ziggy (thank you Auntie Chris!), and such was his delight in seeing me, that I decided now was the time... TO CLIP A CLAW.
AND – I did it!
‘Um, what?’ you might ask, wondering whether this masterful storyteller is ever going to reveal the gripping climax she has so skillfully drawn you towards….
But that, my friends, is it.
It’s taken me 2 years and 11 months of paw stroking, but today the Elegant Hound let me clip a claw. It might not sound like much: but considering that, when I got Zig, he wouldn’t let anyone near his feet without trying to bite their head/limbs/torso off (read the backstory on my website), and that before today the only time I’ve been able to get his claws clipped are by the local vet and under anaesthetic, then I’d say this is an achievement worth marking.
Good boy, Zig! Good boy :)
Me ‘n’ me ol’ mucker Matt Green (Associate Professor of English Literature at Nottingham University, and academic researcher of HOAX) are in Brighton this weekend to present our paper THE ETHICS OF GRAPHIC MEMOIR AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY to the Graphic Medicine/Medical Humanities community at the 4th International Conference on Comics and Medicine.
We’ll be presenting the paper orally, and in case you’re wondering what we’ll be talking about, here is our abstract:
“This paper will discuss two works that depict the effects of trauma and mental breakdown, considering the ethical implications of translating real events into a fictional format and of representing the life story of someone else. Combining the self-reflexive accounts of the writer with a critical analysis grounded in the medical humanities, this paper aims to yield insight into the ethical questions associated with representations of trauma and mental illness. Further, it will explore the use of the graphic novel to tackle sensitive mental health issues as well as the medium's relation to other genres.
The first text, The Tale Of Brin & Bent And Minno Marylebone, encodes personal trauma
within a metaphorical form, seeking to convey first-hand psychological experience through fictional narrative. This intercourse between fact and fiction raises ethical considerations in its own right, particularly as the narrative utilises the fictional account of an abused child to explore an adult experience of helplessness, which prompted the printer to require the insertion of an authorial note disclosing the book's autobiographical dimension.
The second work, HOAX, tells the story of the author's brother, Rob, who suffered from
schizophrenia, and killed himself in 2008 at the age of 31. The first portion of the story is
told through musical theatre, while the second part takes the form of a graphic novel based around poems that brother and sister wrote during his illness. In addition to yielding insight into the movement between genres and across different audiences, this project facilitates an exploration of the relationship between memoir and biography. Specifically, it brings into focus interrelated questions related to voice and authenticity. The project functions as both memoir and memorial, while at the same time transposing Rob's experiences and words into new -- and public -- contexts.”
And yes, those are ossified human remains.
PSYCHOSIS BLUES is the graphic novel contingent of the cross-media project HOAX.
When creating a graphic novel with some of the top illustrative talent around – Bryan Talbot, Hannah Berry, Mark Stafford et al – it’s easy to get caught up in the sheer superbness of it all. Seeing their work come in, with all of its deftness and surety, can make it look so effortless. But of course it’s not. It’s hard work like any creative endeavour.
And perhaps it’s hardest of all for Rozi Hathaway.
When devising HOAX, it was really important to me to bring on board not just established illustrative cream, but also one complete unknown. That unknown is Rozi.
I connected with Rozi via Twitter, and saw something in her artwork that I thought might just work for a particular section in the graphic novel. We had a chat, and she rose to the challenge admirably. I use the word challenge because I think for Rozi this project has been just that.
The reason I wanted to spotlight this in a post, however, is not to portray Rozi as a mouse amongst giants. Instead it’s to say how impressed I am with how Rozi has dealt with the challenge, coped with the considerable amount of feedback on her various roughs, taken all of that feedback on board, stayed positive, committed and communicative (all whilst holding down two jobs), and produced some truly excellent work as a result.
Thank you, Rozi. Your efforts really are appreciated – and I know you’ll do my brother proud... x
HOAX (the cross-media project inspired by the life, and death, of my younger brother) has many themes. One of these is schizophrenia, and last week Director Benji Reid and I sat down with Doctor Ian Williams to learn more about the condition from a medical perspective.
As a close family member of someone who suffered from schizophrenia for several years, I have my own, very personal views and beliefs on this particular mental illness. In some ways I’m acutely informed, but of course this can also blind me to the wider, more objective truths of schizophrenia.
It was great to hear Ian’s perspective, based both on his learning and experience. The conversation was lively and insightful, and the first of several I’m sure, as we delve ever deeper into HOAX, it’s characters and how we bring their heart-achingly honest stories to life.
Many thanks Ian, for your time and expertise. It’s a real boon to the project to have you aboard.