For most of us, the idea of a day chatting and hearing about comics has to be as close to a perfect way to spend an afternoon as we could get. In this event, Dundee University got it exactly right with its Comics, So What? event,organised in conjunction with London’s Cartoon Museum – and it was a day I could have happily extended by a decade or three.
Chris Murray, one of the event’s organisers, made his opening remarks to an eager audience and gave over the floor to John McShane. His recollections had us all enraptured and featured more name dropping in a minute than I have encountered in a long time, but as he advised us that he had financed Fat Man Press, which published the hilarious The Bogie Man, the work of writers John Wagner and Alan Grant and artist Robin Smith, he was very swiftly forgiven. (I may have traumatised John by hugging him like an over-zealous fan!)
The image of a stunned Kevin O’Neill being all fan-boy with Will Eisner certainly had us all chuckling.
We had a small break after this and it was a great pleasure to chat with artists Graham Manley, Alex Ronald and Montynero at various points through the proceedings.
Next up was John Ferguson, who discussed the impending publication of Annihilation: 2 by DiamondSteel Comics. He also gave the assembled audience the exclusive that a collected version would be coming out later in the year that would feature the three Saltire books already published and some new artwork!
He was followed by Treehouse, a small press initiative who discussed the vagaries of being a small press collective and presented their newest issue. They were followed by Norrie Millar, who presented his labour of love, Duality (and a nice piece of work it is too) that he wrote, inked and coloured. This session was concluded by Panels, a new comics collective.
During this, we could see that the panels at the back of the room were being filled up by art featuring The Spirit, the creation of the late Will Eisner. And there was a script provided by John McShane and Chris Murray for people to provide panels for in celebration of the event being run during Will Eisner Week.
Our next talk was provided by Montynero, the innovative writer of Death Sentence (and he’s not too shabby an artist either) who gave a talk on how to break through the barrier that there appears to be in “Making It” in comics. I was left with the distinct impression that it is better to create your own ideas and self-promote that way than to slavishly rehash the latest adventures of your favourite characters as many of the editors at the large publishing houses are looking for innovative ways to deal with their current crop of characters rather than going over the same ground again.
We had a very interesting presentation from Dr Clare Kirtley who is studying the psychology of how reading a comics affects the reader with the use of an eye tracking device. The technology will demonstrate which panels really do catch and hold the reader’s eye
Taking shameless advantage of the next break in presentations, I took immense pleasure in watching Alex Ronald as he was putting together a wonderfully atmospheric piece in homage to The Spirit.
We then had people presenting their favourite pages from comics. Montynero gave us a page from Asterix and how it influenced his current layouts regarding the passage of time. John Ferguson’s selection was from 300 and a page from Annihilation: 1 and how both dealt with the relative morality and depiction of who could be considered heroes and villians. Damon Herd gave us the cover from Love and Rockets and the beautifully rendered Gasoline Alley by Frank King from 24th August 1930 that demonstrated the passage of time, while paying homage to the style of an earlier artist.
David Robertson‘s choice was a page from Star Wars where Chewbacca forcibly defenestrated an alien that was giving Hans Solo a hard time. This was followed up by the Hulk fighting The Human Cannonball. These dealt with the passing of time and the changing of viewpoints to indicate dynamic tension.
I followed Damon’s example and gave a favourite cover (the cover to the 1977 Victor Annual by Ian Kennedy) and a favourite page (the last page from the beautifully illustrated Commando “Death Of A Wimpey”). My reasons being that the Ian Kennedy cover showed how dynamic a static picture could be and almost tell the story in one frame. And my reason for selecting the Cam Kennedy panel was that it showed redemption, rebellion, reassessment of behaviour and remembrance all in one panel. So if there is ever a story about Commando archives going missing, I know nothing…
The last group of presentations informed us of DeeCon, DeeCap and the Spirit drawing competition. DeeCon is the largest free cosplaying event in Scotland which takes place on 4th April 2005, while DeeCap is performance cartooning, where story telling is enhanced by the use of graphic art. A good example of this is the cartoon short where Winsor McCay is seen interacting with his creation Gertie The Dinosaur.
The Spirit competition was won by a lovely submission by Norrie Millar (above), which incorporated the look of The Spirit with some characters that we might be familiar with. An honourable mention went to a certain Iona Noble, who reprised the Steve Bell’s cartoon of what would Dennis and Walter be like when they grew up.
Overall, this was a comics day that will live long in my memory for all the right reasons.
A life-long comic fan, specialising mainly in UK adventure comics, Colin did his very best to support his passion for the comics of his youth, Commandos (still going!) and any small press that interested him. Sadly, Colin passed in March 2021, an invaluable downthetubes team member, much missed by us all