*and Batwomen, obviously!

As anyone unlucky enough to follow me on twitter will know by now, I was at Dundee Comics Day yesterday with Botswanna Beast, Mister Attack, Ben Deep Space Transmissions and Ben Deep Space Transmissions’ mate (who was lovely, but whose name I never managed to remember for >>> 5 minutes because I am a cock) yesterday.

Comics journalist Laura Sneddon was working at the event too, so Team Mindless had a brief but enjoyable chat with her about The Singing Kettle, which… uh, probably isn’t something you know about outside of Scotland, I guess. I also apparently ignored at least one person I’m twitter friends with, so sorry Dan!

Anyway, Dundee Comics Day has been a fixture of the town’s Literary Festival since 2007, and this year’s event was focused on Grant Morrison and some of his collaborators.  What this meant was that me and the boyce were treated to a solid day’s worth of comics chat, in a setting that was designed to force Mister Attack and myself and especially the Bottie Beast flashbacks back to our time in higher education.

The conversation with Grant Morrison that kicked off the day was entertaining if short on revelation.  There wee a few routines in there that anyone who’s heard Morrison speak more than once in the past decade will probably have heard before (“more space combat!” etc), but the man’s still good company whether he’s discussing why Batman is the only character he keeps coming back to (“because he’s so sexy”) or making my teenage brain melt by mentioning that he’s met with the RZA re: the proposed movie adaptation of Happy!  Of course he would have gained extra points if he’d announced this by saying “Me and the RZA connect”, but so it goes.

During the Q&A part of the event, I asked whether Morrison was interested in writing something set closer to home – if not GRANT MORRISON: THE SCOTTISH CONNECTION, then maybe something close.   Morrison responded by saying that he’d like to write something set in Glasgow, which he reckons would be a good setting for a horror story.  He pointed to Bible John as being the work of his that comes closest to fulfilling this promise, but noted that he  probably won’t get around to doing something else set in his hometown until he’s in his dotage.  Morrison also added that he’d love to play a computer game set in Glasgow so he could drive a car through Princes Square, to which I can only say “I Want To Go To There!”

There was a definite break between Morrison’s panel and everything that followed, and the line between the two parts of the day was exposed when Morrison was asked a question abut the future of comics.  Morrison joked that he’s still hoping that the world is going end in December so there won’t have to be a future of comics, before describing how he reckons that the sort of comics that thrive on the variety of new platforms available to them will almost certainly have evolved to make use of the new dimensions available to them.  This idea was presented enthusiastically, but there was a subtext of melancholy that makes perfect sense when you think about how closely entwined Morrison’s personal iconography is with the physical properties of the comics form:


The rest of the day was sort of a snapshot of a particular generation of comics artists in transition from traditional comic making techniques to a new, digital model complete with lots of anecdotes about not having any original art to sell anymore. This meant that we had to watch as Steve Jobs’ ring was posthumously moistened on more than one occasion (you might like that, The Internet, but it’s not for me); however, all of the artists present made a good case for the positive aspects of this shift in their method, particularly with regards to the way it frees them up to test different storytelling possibilities (aka new ways for Frank Quitely not to finish his exceptional compositions on time!).

Stepping in for Cameron Stewart due to early morning technical difficulties, Rian Hughes‘ presentation charted the progress of his work from comic books to logo design and back again (he’s working on a Batman book right now apparently), and did so with such grace that it made me wonder if Eddie Campbell was right when he claimed that the creation of the Knobcheese font was Hughes‘ greatest achievement.  This question might have sounded dismissive if I’d been able to ask it (I had my hand up and everything!) but it didn’t actually feel like a joke to me after I’d sat contemplating the constant refinement of his work for half an hour.

The next two presentations, from Frazer Irving and Cameron Stewart, were the slickest of the day.  Irving laid it on a little thick at points (the subtext seemed to be that he had used technology to brush away that parts of himself that didn’t work, and thus escaped the inky prison that awaited him) but it’s hard to argue with the untethered mix of gothic fog and spooky lighting that’s become his trademark:

Cameron Stewart developed a lot of the themes that Irving had introduced, talking the crowd through a fight scene from Batman and Robin and a couple of sequences from Seaguy before working through the development of a page of Batman Incorporated from layout to finished product.

Stewart‘s enthusiasm for his craft was as hard to shake off as the image of a young(er) Stewart dressed as Zenith for Halloween, which is quite a feat considering how striking that image was!  By focusing on small, simple details, like how he could scale up or remove figures with ease, or add falling leaves to the finished product, Stewart provided the day’s clearest examples of exactly what sort of freedoms the non-physical production model has to offer for this generation of artists.

I asked Stewart a painfully bloggy question about whether his choice of overtly horrific subject matter in the case of Sin Titulo and The Other Side, and more subtly disturbing material in his Grant Morrison collaborations, reflected some sort of attempt to counterbalance the criticisms that his work is “Too Cartoony”.  The short answer was “no”,  but that he might have to reflect on that a bit.  So, like I said: horrifically bloggy.


Frank Quitely‘s chat was like a more relaxed variation on what had come before.  He was asked a couple of very technical questions, and one or two more traditionally geeky ones (“Is there any character who you particularly like to draw?” followed straight away by “Is there any character who you would particularly like to draw?”), but I mostly just found myself amazed to note that one of the greatest artists working in comics right now still doesn’t think he’s found a suitable working method.

I know that Quitely was talking about the production side of things, but looking at the results he gets with his current digital/physical hybrid…

…it’s hard to imagine that this is the work of someone who doesn’t feel like they’ve got their house in order.   Still, apparently Quitely – unlike Irving – genuinely doesn’t feel like he’s found a process that truly works for him.  To be honest, I’m not sure that I’ll be able to handle it when he does find the form he’s looking for, you know?

Here as at Thought Bubble 2011, Peter Doherty (that fucking name!) came off as a nice, funny guy and a thoughtful colourist. I felt a bit self-conscious throughout his talk given that the reception to the new Flex colours was an obvious sore point for him, and given that I was one of the people who wrote about it on That Internet.  There’s no doubt that Doherty’s work on that book is more subtle and more considerate to Quitely’s line than the original colours, and he’s probably definitely not wrong about the conservatism of comics fans but (1) the new Mentallium Man still looks crap for no reason and (2) the original Edinburgh rock tones are still more potent and reactive for this particular Mindless.

All that having been said said, I could have happily have listened to Doherty talk about his colouring choices for another half hour, and his focus on enhancing storytelling clarity through colour choice is properly commendable.

Here’s one of  his sample try-outs for Morrison and Quitely’s We3:

Doherty also provided my favourite line of the day though when he said that he stopped calling Danny Vozzo when he quickly realised that he was just bumping up his phone bill when the end results would always be purple and brown.

Unfortunately I missed the final roundtable between all of the participants because the event was running late and I had a bus back to Glasgow to catch. Ben Deep Space Transmissions has advised that digital comics were the primary focus of this final conversation, which only seems fitting given everything that came before.

As I’ve already said, I thought there was an interesting tension throughout the day between Morrison’s favoured metaphors and the production methods that are now being used to deply them in The World; right now this tension is still producing some brilliant comics, but it will be interesting to see if Morrison develops new metaphors as his collaborators become even further removed from his old ones, in terms of both construction and delivery, or whether he keeps on doing it like he’s been doing, reading comics in the bath and tracing pictures on the wall with his inky fingers.

Unsubtle metaphor for the comics industry goes here.




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