Grappling with GRAPHIC

August 9, 2010 at 6:38 am (Uncategorized)

The inaugural GRAPHIC festival was held at the Sydney Opera House over the weekend, and Llew and I went along to a couple of Saturday sessions. It’s great to see this kind of event get some serious traction in one of Sydney’s highest profile venues – it does help demonstrate just how mainstream graphic novels, comics and other visual and animated storytelling modes have become, and it must be very validating to some of these guys to finally find themselves on a major league stage. Boasting international and local talent, GRAPHIC managed to attract plenty of fans, aspirants and professionals, and I suspect the Opera House will be very pleased with attendance figures. It was the first, but I doubt it’ll be the last.

Our first session was a panel discussion in The Studio between Chewie Chan, Mark Sexton, Chris Georgiou from Animal Logic and James Hackett from Hackett Films, entitled Storyboarding for Film. I was interested in this session from a characterisation point of view – there are two illustrators in my MS, and both Chewie Chan and Mark Sexton started off as comic book artists before moving into storyboarding (breaking in with Happy Feet, if you can believe that). I just wanted to observe and listen to the panelists, and soak up the audience atmosphere as well, as a way of bringing me closer to my two characters. There were other sessions that I would have almost preferred attending – including one with Matt Huynh, whom you may remember from previous posts about our encounters – but they were sold out by the time I belatedly got my act together to book, and this one was interesting from a career development perspective; it’s useful to be able to imagine what else my characters might want to do.

During the session, I could see Llew puzzling over just what I was scrawling in my notebook – 16 pages’ worth of notes, no less – but he immediately got it afterwards, once I had a chance to explain what was useful and relevant to me, including the answer to my question, which was about their day-to-day essential work materials. I wanted them each to describe their workbench, as it were, which they duly did. Chris Georgiou’s answer was the most compelling, because it was most like the space I think my ‘good guy’ illustrator would describe. The other thing particularly of note was how few women were present – not one on the panel, and scarce few in the audience. That’s important to me because my ‘villain’ illustrator is a chick, and there are interesting implications for her as part of such a male-dominated environment. That’s why going to these things is so surprising and important – one never knows what will happen, but just being immersed in that world with these people is absolutely invaluable.

Saturday night was the big ticket item: Neil Gaiman reading his newly published story ‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,’ accompanied by the Fourplay String Quartet and illustrations by Eddie Campbell. This was a sellout, and as you know from recent posts, Gaiman’s become a very significant figure in the development of my MS. Aspects of his Sandman cult comic series have become the structural and thematic scaffold of my protagonist’s thinking, which means Gaiman’s work is part of the organising principle presently guiding my own. I like Gaiman’s writing because he traverses so many boundaries, breaks so many so-called rules, and draws his influences from such an abundance of sources, from the ancients to the penny arcade. That’s for a start. The other thing I particularly love about his work is that there is a very dark stain seeping across it, and it’s a characteristic I don’t think we share. The fact is, I don’t have a dark mind – I don’t tend to inhabit nor conjure those black spidery spaces in which Gaiman so gleefully dwells. So I love going there with him.

As I described it to Llew and my writer friend L, I love it because it’s very like that delicious childhood terror of a scary story before bed. I feel safe – I don’t want to visit these terrible places on my own, and any badlands expedition I’ve ever attempted has failed, but I like exploring this sometimes ghoulish territory of Gaiman’s because it’s like I’m tucked up under the doona, toasty warm, and all the bad things are outside, rattling trees, where they can’t hurt me. It’s like Gaiman goes to the window, sees what’s out there, and casually reports back, whereas I stay put, shivering and hiding but also delighting in my fear. His mind works in a very different way to my own, and I enjoy following his trail.

A final word: Gaiman read beautifully, and the Fourplay string quartet was fantastic. They wrote an original, um, soundtrack, I guess, for the story – they didn’t actually write a traditional musical score, Eddie Campbell said they (incredibly) only had notes written down the side of Gaiman’s text – and it was just perfect, haunting and lovely and tinged with tragedy. I loved them.



  1. Grad said,

    The only thing I’ve read by Gaiman was The Graveyard Book, which I loved and which had me dissolved in a big bucket of tears at the end. Not just tears, but honest to goodness sobbing. I was shocked at my reaction. How might I have approached that book as a young reader – its main audience? I don’t know. But it was magic. Pure magic…and I want to read more by him.

    • doctordi said,

      Ooh, I haven’t read that one, but I’ll take your recommendation, Graddikins, and get hold of a copy. Yes, it’s quite an extreme response, isn’t it, and I must say, I also love the way he’s unafraid of scaring and/or upsetting kids in this context, because it’s in this context that I recall, as a kid, loving a story’s ability to do both – for the same reasons I mention in the post, which clearly haven’t changed. I think one of the deadliest tendencies of all is for adult writers to patronise child readers, and Gaiman never does that.

  2. davidrochester said,

    What a great experience — and yes, it really is a male-dominated world. One of the members of my writers’ group was working on a novel a couple of years ago in which the main character starts to produce an underground ‘zine about an itinerant preacher, and I was fascinated by his (the writer’s) attempts to find and collaborate with an illustrator who could draw part of the text for him, and also by the whole world of ‘zine and upscale comics illustration.

    “Fourplay Quartet” is a great name, btw.

    • doctordi said,

      That’s interesting, David – how did he go with that? Yes, I’ve found it a pretty fascinating and very enthusiastic sub-culture – these are just obvious examples of people who are in the right job.

      Isn’t it? I thought so too.

      • davidrochester said,

        Well, what he ended up doing instead was sort of a cut-and-paste thing using Photoshop because he couldn’t find an affordable artist he liked. The book is being pitched, but hasn’t gained traction yet.

        There’s actually a ‘zine museum in Portland, dedicated to preservation of comics and graphic novels … maybe “museum” isn’t the right word … more like a preservation library. Which is a museum, sort of.

      • doctordi said,

        Yeah, I did a couple of drawings myself – not sure if you remember – but just realised pretty quickly they were never going to make the grade. The cut and paste option your friend’s taken is probably quite adequate in terms of getting his point across in a pitch, but I think the difficulty for both of us and others like us is that what you’re really talking about, bottom line, is more cash, and that is going to be off-putting to publishers.

        An expensive project by a completely unproven author? Forget about it. That was the big difference for ‘The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet’ – Reif Larsen was in the fairly unusual position of being able to write and draw, so as a proposition, he was in a much stronger position from the outset.

  3. Litlove said,

    I will confess: I’ve never read a graphic novel because it feels too much like reading a comic. And don’t get me wrong, I ADORED comics in my childhood and have no problem with other people reading them whatsoever. It just hasn’t attracted me as a notion in adulthood. But I really ought to give it a go, because you never know until you try, right? Very glad you’ve been having a fascinating time.

    Oh and must read Gaiman too. I have trouble reading anything I’ve heard too much about in advance, so perverse as it undoubtedly is, I’d be quicker off the mark with Gaiman if he weren’t GAIMAN and this legend person. Must get over myself!

    • doctordi said,

      LL, in that case, I would highly recommend you start with MAUS, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork – I can practically guarantee you’ll never look at GNs the same way again – although strictly speaking, many GNs including MAUS aren’t actually fiction, so the ‘novel’ part of the title is a misnomer.

      I do the exact same thing!! I was lucky, because I came to Gaiman quite late, or else I might have done my usual trick of avoiding anything too slavishly popular – I had no idea about the extent of his profile until it was too late to save myself.

  4. Norwichrocks said,

    I’ll have to check out Neil Gaiman now, after that!

    And I think I’ve written on my blog before how male-dominated the world of illustration is, so you’ve got that particular nail on the head. In fact, of the more than 50 illustrators I work with regularly, only 2 are female.

    However, there are slightly more female illustrators in the fashion world and in picture books for the under 5’s.

    • doctordi said,

      Oh do, Truce, he’s such a wide-view fellow, and his oeuvre is so full of the unexpected.

      Good to have you second that observation from the inside – it was blatant on Saturday, but I did wonder if that was the exception or the rule. How extraordinary a gender imbalance… all good food for thought.

  5. Pete said,

    Just catching up with my blog-reads and this was so interesting both in terms of hearing more about your MS and getting insight into the male-dominated world of illustration. I’m adding Gaiman’s Sandman series to my list (or do you have another of his works to recommend first?)

    • doctordi said,

      It’s been interesting for me too, Pete, I must admit – I mean, this isn’t a world I knew anything about until the illustrator character in my MS started making his presence felt. He was SO MINOR in the original draft – only around for a couple of pages. But it’s been the making of the story in more ways than one, and I’m loving getting to know more about these people and what they do and how they see the world. Fascinating stuff.

      I haven’t read everything of Gaiman’s, but yeah, the Sandman series is a good place to start.

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