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.

Comics Workshops and Teaching

As part of my previous teaching job I occasionally took part in various outreach projects, community collaborations, Kids Drawing Days, gallery projects (video of still above – at 1:53and other marketing events.

Add to that the various “live art” and Hull Arts Community projects I’ve taken part in, and I really got a taste for that mix of interacting with the public and showcasing design, art work and skill sets etc.

It was always a part of the job I enjoyed, being as close to the comic con experience as you could get, just sometimes in a more formal setting.

It was certainly one of the areas I had been interested in looking into this year as I started to look for new projects and freelance work. I.e. design showcases, or digital or traditional demonstrations, workshops in gallery spaces, at conferences or other similar settings.

And as luck would have it, I was offered some work last year that fell into that area.

First up was a short course for the Feral Art School here in Hull, looking at Creating your own Zines and/or Mini-Comics.

The Feral Art School is a great project, a cooperative educational organisation that started its life without any bricks and mortar spaces of its own and so taught its sessions in “loaned” spaces that had some affinity with the course in question.

So it was with that in mind that we approached Type Slowly (see video above), a great zine store that lives in a shared space with Warren Records Vinyl Store. It’s a space that gets used as a showcase stage for local bands to launch new music and similar events. They have a small amount of seating and a couple of work tables so it was great to be able to run the sessions there.

The course looked at the history of zines and comics, and over six sessions discussed practical approaches to developing your first zine or mini-comic, from selecting topics, looking at narratives, considering aesthetic approaches, in both the creation of original images or choice of reproduction methods. It considered the multiple possibilities for structure in terms of folds, fixings and materials, and encouraged the idea of developing a finished product, printed and ready for sale by the end of the sessions, building in tutorial time into each session to allow discussion of the work being made.

All that whilst being able to just stand up, walk across the room and point at some great examples of the form as reference.

Next up was a two day workshop for a younger audience, again looking at making comics, and built on the back of an excellent exhibition at the Cooper Gallery, Barnsley, that was showcasing the incredible work of comic artist Dean Ormston (Lucifer, Black Hammer) and Pin-up artist Fiona Stephenson (both local artists and still working out of their DC Studios in Barnsley).

The show itself was great, probably the best small exhibition I’ve seen relating to comics. As well as the fantastic array of career spanning work from the two artists, they also had work by other artists from their private collection, both contemporary (Mignola and others), and work going back to the forties. Dean’s Eisner award was on display as were several images showing full process from rough visual through pencils to colour along side the final print reduction. Great stuff.

The two day course covered some basics relating to drawing, character creation, how to keep non-action comics panels interesting, telling stories and creating dialogue. Over the two days, we pulled together a mini-comic anthology with the all the art and dialogue by the kids which was great. We also built in a tour and discussion of the work on show in the gallery which was below the workshop.

As a bonus the gallery asked me to produce a backdrop themed around the comics style city skyline we associate with superheroes, as it was to be part of their kids costume/dress up interactive in the gallery.

I was in the middle of a whole bunch of travelling around this time, and had to figure out how to keep working regardless of the inconvenience. The straight line snap tools in the software I was using proved invaluable as we headed to Scotland for the wedding of my wife’s niece at Gretna Green. As I was able to keep working in the back of the mini-bus, regardless of all the bumps and rocking as we travelled.

The whole project was really fun to work on, and what a great little gallery.

The third workshop was a single day seminar, looking at using comics to communicate factual information related to Net-Zero (carbon emissions) at DEFRA in Bristol.

I was one of three speakers including narratologist Dr Genevieve Lively (Senior lecturer in Classics, University of Bristol), illustrator/designer/cartoonist and animator Chris Day (Little Creature), and Dr Sam Cooper. a subject specialist in Net Zero Futures from Bath Uni.

My own input looked at The Nuts & Bolts of Communicating Through Comics, breaking down the elements of a page, how pages work as a whole (composition/flow through panels) and then how they work in a third composition, i.e, together in pairs, including mention the left hand page “reveal” mechanic, and a demonstration of how it is possible to create a multi-modal experience with multiple temporal positions in a single narrative, introduce narrative/concept reinforcing visual metaphors on just a double page spread (created “live” in front of the attendees, see spread above)..

After the individual presentations we helped the attendees develop ideas in comic form based around some of the concepts they worked with (relating to Net-Zero and Futures) and that they had over time found the most difficult to convey through other media. We looked again at holistic visual metaphors, multiple and staggered time-frames, and the physicality of comics and how that effects storytelling.

It was a strange, but without doubt, fulfilling day, working with a great set of attendees, all from highly specialised and unique backgrounds from within DEFRA Futures, external university’s like the University of Bath, Imperial College London and even the MOD.

I’ll hopefully get to work on other projects and workshops of this type as I move forward in this new chapter of my career.

Making Mini-Comics and Zines

Draw your own comics? Have an idea for a zine? Just not sure what to do next? Want to meet some likeminded people?

Why not take a look at the Feral Art School’s Zines & Mini-Comics Course.

In fact why not check out all the course listings over on the new Feral Art School site.

I’ll be running six sessions on pulling your ideas together in mini-comic or zine form, looking at the nuts and bolts of making your idea a reality.  Even better, the sessions will be run in the fantastic Type Slowly Zine Store here in Hull, starting March 7th.

Look how much creative inspiration there is in here!