Biff! Bam!! Crikey!!! Seeing New Worlds In Dundee

Scotland is currently in the middle of the Six Cities Design Festival and Dundee, the home of Beano and Dandy publishers DC Thomson, has been running comics related events as part of the festival. Jeremy Briggs reports…

Interior art from the Strange New Worlds comic by Lyall Bruce aka Sooper DD

Interior art from the Strange New Worlds comic by Lyall Bruce aka Sooper DD

The Dundee Contemporary Arts centre held “See New Worlds With DC Thomson” to celebrate the launch of a free Six Cities tie in comic, also called See New Worlds (reviewed here). The event was listed as artists Hunt Emerson, who works for Thomson‘s, giving an opening speech followed by the screening of a documentary “Dundee Courier: Production of a Great Daily Newspaper” and concluding with what was described as “the chance to speak with a  C Thomson archivist about their well-guarded collection of historic publications”.

Meanwhile Lindsay Duncan, a scriptwriter on Beano and Dandy for 23 years, delivered two days of classes to teach techniques of “How To Write Funny Things For Children”. This tied in with the apparently successful attempt to involve the Dundee public in creating the world’s longest comic strip. (Read a BBC News story about this here)

Back at the DCA, their cinema screened comics related films 300, American Splendor and Ghost World over a weekend, but the biggest potential draw was the Biff! Bam!! Crikey!!! Comic Conference and Exhibition at the University of Dundee. It may have been an unlikely title for an academic conference but then, there really haven’t been that many held in the UK in recent years.

(The University of Manchester is organising one covering both animation and comics, titled “The Aesthetics of Trash” in August 2007, as we reported here).

Free to register, this was a Friday afternoon and all Saturday event with a small exhibition of original art and publications in the mezzanine level outside the main lecture theatre in the University’s Tower Building.

Great British ComicsThe main draw on the Friday was comics historian and author Paul Gravett’s talk which tied in with his recently published Great British Comics book, and very interesting, professional and down to earth it proved to be.

Of the other “presentations of papers”, museum curator Matthew Garron’s talk, Before The Beano: The Prehistory of Dundee Comics, which was on the pre-1920s newspaper and magazine illustrations which predated DC Thomson’s Adventure story paper was perhaps the most interesting and informative.

The smoothest presentation by far was by Metaphrog couple John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs. With apparently no notes and virtually finishing each others sentences they took us through the history of their publications and the audience’s interest was displayed by the number of people who bought copies of their bandes dessinee-style Louis books afterwards.

Saturday promised such subjects as Nicole Devarenne’s Comics and Literature against Nationalism, ironically in the same month as Scotland elected a Nationalist First Minister, and Peter Hughes Jachimiak’s intriguingly entitled Boys’ Comics, Club Membership, and Ways of Being Male.

Louis - Lying to Clive: Lying to CliveForbidden Planet International set up a small table selling mainly US reprint books, although the Metaphrog table appeared to be doing better trade, so perhaps FPI Aberdeen should have looked at the listing of presentations beforehand and brought some publications that actually tied in with what was going on.

As The Scotsman newspaper was keen to point out, however, our goody bags with their FPI logos included a selection of three US comics plus both of FPI’s current catalogues — plus a copy of the See New Worlds comic (reviewed here) and Thomson’s provided the current issues of the Beano and Dandy (with the Dandy’s lumpy free gifts of two “Splat and Dash” balls proving a bulky nuisance for all concerned). It would have been nice if they could have also included a copy of Commando or, probably more to the point, Classics From The Comics – but the free comics were well received with quite a few people commenting on how different the Dandy in particular was to their memories of it.

The Champion 1490 - Cover by Ronald SimmonsThe art exhibition had mainly pieces from the See New Worlds comic created for the Festival, plus some pieces from Metaphrog titles, some excellent modern Hunt Emerson pages, and some much older art loaned by the family of Ronald Simmons, a longstanding cover artist on The Champion story paper.

The display of his work included an original painted Champion cover and his Payment Book opened at a page which showed that in 1924 he received £2/10s for a cover.

Was the conference a success? I’m sure that the University will claim so, with presenters from Italy, France and England as well as from the locality. Yet I can’t help thinking that there we were sitting in a state of the art lecture theatre that could easily have sat 200-250 and there were barely 30 people there on the Friday.

I would hope that the Saturday proved more popular.

Jeremy Briggs

Read Jeremy Briggs review of See New Worlds

Viking cartoon by Hunt Emerson, on display at the art exhibition

Viking cartoon by Hunt Emerson, on display at the art exhibition

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