For such a small country, Scotland has long maintained a great influence over the comics industry - at least that part that reads in English at least - from the long-running Beano to modern day maestros Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, not to mention every Judge Dredd and Electric Soup in between.
Scottish comics are thriving, with sold out conventions in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, the first Masters in Comic Studies at Dundee University, and small press success for many.
Yet despite Scotland's illustrious history and a reputation for funding national endeavours, the country lags far behind our European cousins in taking comics 'seriously'. While comics are now winning Costa Awards and elbowing review space in the UK newspapers, the popularity of "wham! pow!" headlines is still high, and negative publicity the more frequent outcome.
This Monday, the Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance (SICBA) introduced Scotland's first comic symposium, Issue #One, drawing together speakers from academia, the comics industry, and beyond to discuss - with a willing audience - "the future of Scotland’s comic book industry".
A new piece up on The Guardian, where I have a chat with superb creators Posy Simmonds, Katie Green, Isabel Greenberg, and Kate Charlesworth ahead of this weekend's Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal.
We look at why they picked the comics medium, the subversive and communicative powers of comics, and how things have changed - and remained the same - for women creators across the decades.
Long-time Guardian favourite and multiple award-winner Posy Simmonds is one such guest, a prolific artist who has been drawing comics since she was a little girl. Her collection last year, Mrs Weber's Omnibus, brought together her long-running strips for the Guardian about a well-meaning middle-class family.
"As a child," Simmonds tells me, "I liked the combination of words and pictures - in bound copies of Punch magazines and, later, in the piles of comics some American kids used to give me. There was also something subversive about comics that appealed - adults didn't approve of them."
I'm really pleased with this great interview with the lovely Mary Talbot, published in today's Independent on Sunday.
Mary, along with husband and UK comics legend Bryan Talbot, made headlines earlier this year when her debut graphic novel, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, won a prestigious Costa award. We had a long chat in the sun about that win, how she came about entering the world of comics, and her upcoming second graphic novel and brand new comics festival.
“It was a medium of expression that I was very much aware of on a daily basis,” she explains. “I mean, I’ve been watching Bryan create and been part of the process to some extent, in terms of reading his drafts and scripts, looking at pages as they form on the page, very often commenting on them. I’ve never participated before, fully, but I’ve been to some extent involved. I must have soaked up quite a bit of it!”
Making the transition into working in comics herself was perhaps, then, a natural step. “The whole thing started off as a suggestion from Bryan,” Mary explains. “Would I consider writing an autobiographical graphic novel? That was the starting point. I was uncomfortable with the idea, because I didn’t think it would have legs.”
Though she modestly thought no one would be interested in her upbringing, Bryan assured her that her story was both unique and compelling. Her father, the Joycean scholar James S Atherton, has cast a long shadow upon Mary’s life, which naturally suggested a link to James Joyce himself. Aware that the Ulysses author had a daughter, Mary began to see how her own story could be intertwined into something larger.
Over at The Beat we dedicated last Friday to celebrating the wonderful world of webcomics. We each picked some of our favourites and one was featured every hour. Check out the masterlist and my selections below!
The Abominable Charles Christopher
- one of those rare comics that I recommend to absolutely everyone regardless of their age, genre preferences or comic reading habits. It’s also one of the hardest comics to describe in a way that fully conveys the beauty and genius inside, as it is essentially the tale of a Yeti or Abominable Snowman and his woodland friends... [Read the full article here!]
- a comic that I find myself trying not to visit for as long as possible, only so that I can then drink up a nice long chunk in one go before reluctantly slithering back into withdrawal. The plot is always veering off in spectacular new directions, with cliffhangers and revelations and I WANT TO KNOW MORE! [Read the full article here!]
- probably one of the main reasons I’ve been feeling meh about DC lately. Because this, THIS, is how our heroes should be done! [Read the full article here!]
- a master class in comics storytelling, courtesy of the ridiculously talented Cameron Stewart of Seaguy, Batman and The Other Side fame. It is also the only webcomic I’ve experienced genuine rage when reading, because my goddamn 16 MB/s connection wasn’t loading the next page fast enough. [Read the full article here!]
- most probably a comic everyone has heard of – Tatsuya “Tats” Ishida’s daily strip has been going strong for some thirteen years now but things have recently taken a surprising feminist turn. [Read the full article here!]
The Phoenix Requiem
- probably one of the most beautiful webcomics I’ve read. It is also now complete after 25 chapters and 800 gorgeous pages – the perfect time to sit down and start reading! [Read the full article here!]
- “Warning. This comic started out as an attempt to make pornography.” begins the opening page of the website. “It degenerated into sex comedy pretty much immediately.” Confirm that you are over 18 and we’re on our way! [Read the full article here!]
A project by Michael Lee Lunsford – of Supernnormal Step webcomic fame – that sees some of our favourite women superheroes dressed in non-revealing costumes has been causing a splash on the internet today.
I really love these, and it’s heartening to see the positive reactions. In my own world, superheroes would have more than one outfit because while some days we all feel like sex kittens, other days we just want to wear our pyjamas and veg out while reluctantly saving the world. And who wants to wear the same thing every day? Stick to a colour scheme to be recognisable, but work that capsule wardrobe folk. Lunsford is now working on a series called Super-Casuals, starting with Spider-Man.
An exciting new original graphic novel from Serena Obhrai and Jennie Gyllblad following the epic adventures of a not so ordinary girl.
Elysia is a 300 page urban fantasy and sci-fi graphic novel written by the prolific Serena Obhrai, that is currently causing a storm on Kickstarter. With 21 days still to pledge the project has already achieved 74% of the funding required and shows no sign of abating. In other words, get in quick!