Museum & Heritage Comics.

I talked previously about the book I produced for Barnsley Museums some time ago, here. It was an experience I enjoyed, as I’ve always been interested in history/heritage. And through that project I was subsequently commissioned to create two more (albeit short) comics projects, this time actually based here in Hull.

The comics were to tie in to the ongoing Maritime Tales project (which I’d already produced illustrations for), a series of events and commissioned interactions that were designed to keep the idea of the Maritime Museum (as it underwent its huge refurb) alive in the minds of the people of Hull. The first event was The Hull Kraken. A narrative based event that saw the emergence of a mysterious but vast tentacled creature in the city, and its movement through the streets from building to building. Here’s a local article on that side of the event.

The covers to the two books produced, the narratives of which feature a pair of precocious mythology and art buffs, kids who dissect the folklore and history of the city and its art.

My role with the comic was to provide a backstory for the creature, creating a story that moved between the present day were a pair of precocious kids helping out at a Saturday Museum Club discover something odd and decide to investigate. Meanwhile the story they uncover tracks the journey from Hull to the Arctic and back of a 19th Century ship of curious characters, and their subsequent return with something very curious locked in a crate, that gets mislaid upon its arrival back in the city, only to be discovered in the present, with its curious passenger, alive and well (and now huge). The books were designed to be used as handouts, and contained a map designed by a local agency to tie in with a number of other heritage trail events, and so the book was published in the thousands, most of which went in the first two weekends.

The first book, The Strange Case of the Very Strange Case, was a really fun exercise in layering the comic with dozens of Easter eggs, both visual and in the writing, through the naming of things and by making a bunch of historical connections. Part of the project saw me presenting a workshop at Hull’s Ferens Art Gallery to discuss the making of the comic, were I discussed the writing as well as the art process.

While the second book, Drawing (near the isle of the) Sirens, focussed on the Herbert Draper painting, Ulysses and the Sirens in the Ferens Art Gallery, and saw the same two kids from the first comic, discussing the various mythological descriptions of Sirens, and comparing that to the incarnations we often see in Victorian paintings (ie. appearing as mermaids rather than bird like creatures), and why that might be, whilst also discussing some of the other myth relegated sights around Hull, including the great statue of Oceanus that is hidden away just off a main thoroughfare. This second comic also featured a number of art works from the gallery hidden amongst the siren art in the book, acting as an Easter egg hunt for visitors.

With both books I was given free reign to write and interpret as sequential art, and so felt very connected to the end products produced.

These projects, often filled with a mixture of straight narrative, explanatory asides, surreal visual guesses and and other visual non sequiturs were a real joy to work on, both as a writer and as an artist, to the point which even if not commissioned by others, it’s my goal to create some more. Specifically about aspects of Hull’s heritage and history, now that I’m settled back here for good.

Of the various projects like this that I’m interested in exploring, the one I’m most enthusiastic for is “A history of Hull’s Deaf Community and the Hull & East Riding Deaf Institute (now Hull Deaf Centre). My wife is manager of the centre. She is a CODA (child of deaf adults) and a signer/BSL user (we actually met when I had a profoundly deaf student I my games design degree class). I’ve grown a fascination with the history of the centre, and the organisation of the charity which began in the city in the mid 19th century, and even currently give the tours of the centre (purpose built for the deaf in 1926) on the Heritage Open Days in September of each year. Taking that interest into my chosen storytelling medium seems like a very natural progression.

The finish art/book would be given over to the charity to produce and sell to raise funds as they see fit.

The script is already started, my plan would be to involve the current deaf community in the themes that might be discussed and interwoven into the wider social history and discussion of the evolution of this robust community. As a back up, I’d also be interested in developing a brief history of BSL to accompany the work.

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