Ever wondered how people go about drawing graphic novels?

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I suppose we all grew up with comics. They were a guilty pleasure for me – for some reason my mother thought that they would addle my brain somehow so I used to read them in secret, borrowed from friends or picked up in those bargain bins they used to have in the news agents for pennies. Beano. Hotspur. All those ones with Spitfires and plucky tommies dodging bullets on the covers. As a student, my mate Mark had a thing for 2000AD, which both thrilled me and horrified me with its creative dystopian bleakness. Then I sort of stopped reading comics. They were for kids after alland my mum might have been right all along.

Something is changing though. The dominance of Marvel might be part of it, with the superhero genre taking centre stage. They are emphatically NOT my thing though, even the films that transcend the limitations of the superhero genre (bombastic conversation – ludicrous fight – bombastic conversation – ludicrous fight – repeat) to deliver something more nuanced and intelligent tend to leave me cold. And anyway, these films are live action now, despite all the CGI. No, something else is going on. The Graphic Novel is on the rise…

Forget comics. These are not disposable pieces of distraction. They are not even comic. They can be moving, inspiring and challenging in ways that all the best art really should be.

My window into this world is my mate Si Smith, who for years I have heard get excited about graphic novels and animated films that I had never heard of. I still mostly did not ‘get’ them, even if it was hard not to be caught up in his enthusiasm. I am too wedded to words perhaps. Also, the incredible craft needed to put together a whole story line in graphic form is hard to grasp for muggles life me.

Well, time to change all that.

A few months ago, I got my first read of this. 

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It is brilliant. You should buy it. If it is a new art form to you, here is some advice; treat reading it almost like you would a spiritual discipline. Lectio Divina or something like that. I know, that sounds blasphemous right? Follow me on this though- I suggest reading it through once quite quickly. Then notice the sound track- read it through again, much more slowly, allowing the songs to filter in too (there is playlist on Spotify under the same name if you use this.) Of course, the story will have nagged at you as you were reading. Then it might be time to think about meaning. What is this story about? Why is the main character doing what he is doing? What is driving him? Perhaps too, you will come to ask, what is the relationship between this story and Lent? Next, allow individual images to speak to you. Expressions, moments of tender observation…

Or you could forget all that and just enjoy the creativity- which brings me to this. Si has been running a side blog that reveals something of the process of how a piece of work like this comes together. Check it out here.

It gives a glimpse onto the way that each image is constructed layer by layer. A lot of the images are from another piece of work, also brilliant, called Abide with me.

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This is a very different piece of work, concerning itself with the ever present but often ignored issue of dementia. It is the story of one day, told from three different perspective, in three different zines. A man with dementia, his wife and their visiting son.

It is really great to celebrate the success of a friend, but this is no puff piece. Don’t take my word for it, get hold of these things for yourself. Allow them to open up a new world for you. You won’t regret it.

 

Hopeful economics; the rise of localism…

Bench, Sutton in Ashfield town centre

Economics has sold us a story of gloom over the last decade or so. Experts in the field (who seem to have been very poor at both predicting the scale of the crash, or learning from it, according to their own students) have mostly given us the language of austerity, of scarcity, of what we can not afford. What little hope that could be offered was measured in miserly predictions of growth, or increases in people working insecure low-paid jobs.

There is no ‘Magic Money Tree’, according to Theresa May- at least not for those of us who are in the most need. Quantitive Easing (QE) which might be regarded as the very definition of a magic money tree, only bears fruit for those who can reach the very top.

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A few months ago, I began a conversation with an economics professor that I hope to continue. I asked him what hope economics can offer us- as in where are the inspiring stories, the people who see differently within the field? What alternatives are being proposed? In the end though, the conversation tended to revolve around doing more of the same, only doing it better. Perhaps my naivety might have left me hoping for some kind of magic bullet, some kind of break-through brilliance that could turn the dreadful elitist and unsustainable inequalities of our current system upside down and ‘let the grand correction commence.’ Anyway, I was left disappointed.

But the conversation is only just beginning. There are of course many other economic perspectives that directly contradict what is happening within our economy at present, and not just from the old binary divisions proposing a Marxist analysis, or a return to the Keynsian hegemony of the fifties.

Interestingly, one of the ideas that has occupied my thinking for a couple of years now is Localism. Then, over the last couple of days, I have heard it discussed both on the radio, and in a rather fascinating article in the Guardian (more of this later.)

By Localism, I mean simply this;

  • Strengthening and developing local community resources, markets and networks
  • Pushing back globalised corporations, and loosing their grip on government
  • Finding local solutions to local problems wherever possible
  • Contracting out/employing local businesses and skills wherever possible
  • Valuing small over distant conglomerates
  • Investing money in local projects
  • Using localised banking and credit unions
  • Encourage local cashless exchanges
  • Encourage co-operatives and small community development projects.
  • Grow food locally wherever possible
  • Make things locally wherever possible

Why?

Well, the economic benefits are startling. Then there are the environmental benefits. Then there are the potential benefits to local democratic processes. Perhaps most importantly, localism speaks to our humanity in a way that globalisation can not. It allow us to focus on human-scale connection within known community, not on bloody ‘brand loyalty’. It reminds us that we are not just consumers, we are also neighbours who are responsible for one another and in charge of our own collective destiny.

But don’t take my word for it- check out the article here by Aditya Chakrabortty, which describes developments in Preston, Lancashire (of all places), somewhere I know well, having lived there or thereabouts for most of my early to mid adulthood.

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Here are a few quotes for those of you who are too busy to read the whole thing;

…the city council no longer plays that game. Instead it has adopted a guerrilla localism. It keeps its money as close to home as possible so that, amid historically drastic cuts, the amount spent locally has gone up. Where other authorities privatise, Preston grows its own businesses. It even creates worker-owned co-operatives…

 

…calculations in 2013 showed that a mere fraction – one quid for each £20 spent – stayed in Preston. Much of the rest was going to building firms headquartered in London, say, or to global catering companies.

Years before PFI builder Carillion keeled over and the rest of the country realised the importance of which particular private firms take public money, Preston had already begun fretting about where its pounds were going. “There was all this money in the community and it was leaking out,” says Brown. The Federation of Small Businesses has published research by CLES showing that for every pound spent with a small or medium-sized firm, 63p is respent locally. That drops to 40p for every pound given to a large or multinational company….

 

Decades of hollowing out and of contracts going to big companies elsewhere means Preston doesn’t have much of a local economy left. There is no shoal of eager contenders clamouring for each new job. Some firms simply aren’t used to applying for big contracts, so need coaxing. In other cases, Community Gateway asks bidders to detail how they will employ locally, provide training, and partner with other local businesses.

In 2015, Lancashire county council put a contract to provide school meals out to tender. That was impossibly large for local firms, so officers broke it into bite-size chunks. There was a tender to provide yoghurt, others for sandwich fillings, eggs, cheese, milk, and so on. One contract was split into nine different lots. It meant officials actually shaping a market to fit their society – and it worked. Local suppliers using Lancashire farmers won every contract and provided an estimated £2m boost to the county.

Preston is trying to do localism on a big scale. But what does it look like on a small scale? I am on the verge of becoming involved in something called the South Cowal Community Development Company. We are looking at various plans for investing in our small community. Buying the local shop perhaps and making it a hub for all sorts of other activities. Developing renewable energy sources and investing the income locally. Who knows where it will go? But it will be above all things, local.

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Let the chickens roam free(ish)…

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I built a chicken pen/coop a few months ago, and we have been waiting ever since for the arrival of some hens. We have always welcomed the chance to re-home some birds who might not have had the best start in life- in fact, they may never have seen the sky or scratched at real earth.

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In this case, we have 10 birds from Homes4hens.  Their birds are all about 13 months old, and despite being just at the start of their active lives, would have been slaughtered, because their first intensive laying period will tail off for a while at this age. They will have all been caged- and if you think that caged hens are a great improvement on the old ‘battery’ farmed ones, you should come and take a look at our poor birds, partially feathered and exhausted as they are.

Still, some food, some rest and some fresh air will work wonders and they will soon be fit, fully feathered and laying again. In fact, we expect to have more eggs than we need, despite the fact that, as vegetarians, eggs are a big part of our diet. If the hens are as productive as we hope there will be a few at the end of our drive for sale if you are passing!

When you first get chickens, it is wise to leave them shut up for a few days to get used to their new surroundings, but today, despite the mixed winter weather that included snow, rain and sunshine, they were so keen to be outside we did not have the heart to leave them in the dark. They emerged slowly, like pit ponies unused to daylight. Like the walking wounded onto hospital grounds. It was a delight to see…

 

Will the river run forever?

I have been working on some new poems that will form part of the fast approaching ‘Where the Streams Come From’ exhibition, which opens at Tighnabruach Gallery at the end of March.

Those of you who write poetry may agree with me that poems are never really ‘finished’. It is hard to let them go. Even years later, I will read something that I have written and wince, wanting to change it. Eventually all you can do is to set it aside and write something else. This is all the more true when a poem does not come easily, almost as if the flow of water has been blocked upstream and we poke at the flow with a stick in an attempt to unblock it.

So here is some work-in-progress. Still not quite flowing as freely as this;

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Will the river run forever?

 

Will the river run forever?

Will it keep on tumbling down this cliff?

Will it keep on sparkling with the splash of light and life?

Will it dance to the scale of fin and fish,

Or will the music it makes

Fall silent?

 

Will the river run forever?

Will it carry the boat that carries me?

Will the flow go past these fields I know

And twist and turn to new places?

Or am I just a fool, floundering

In a stagnant pool?

 

Will the river run forever?

Will it keep carving these old rocks?

Will it keep on carrying them as suspended sediment,

Spew them through the open-mouth of an estuary

Fan them across the ocean floor,

Or will it fail?

 

Will the river run forever?

Will it irrigate? Will it recreate the flow

Of life in me? Will it roll through this world like laughter?

Will it quench the thirst of a thousand tongues,

Or will it dry, like the salt tears of a woman

Done now with weeping?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snow day…

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I have been doing a lot of walking recently. New year exercise resolutions and all of that. Not today though. We were due to be having a social day today, visiting friends, but against the forecast, it has been snowing hard all morning, sealing us (and the car) inside the house.

We should be out walking. Or building a snow man. Or sledging down slopes. Adventuring into the snow covered wild places hereabouts.

But instead, we are having a snow day.

Sitting watching the world as it is blanketed in beauty. All those dark browns and greys replaced by pure white.

Writing lazy poems;

 

Snow day

 I should be shovelling, but here we sit,

Watching the world turn white.

Warmed by each other, our

Fingers entwined around mugs of tea.

Bread is rising in the kitchen

And I hope it snows

Forever.

 

Here is the view- from the window of course. It’s cold out there…

The tide turns again on Jim Crow…

I thought some of you might like to see this;

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I post this with no sense of triumph, despite my previously stated concerns over the last ten years.

Thanks to a recent intervention by the father of the late Stephen Lawrence, the national spotlight was once more on the rock and this time, local opinion was shaken and the tide began to turn. One night, someone covered the rock with a different kind of graffiti.

The rock is a mess, but some of us might still regard it as an improvement on what was there before. It might surprise you to know that I am not one of these, for this reason;

The rock has been decorated with blackface imagery for over one hundred years. There have been numerous attempts to complain about this, each time the complainant was repulsed by local opinion, by local ‘historians’. Political representatives (not the current ones I hasten to add!) have publicly defended the rock as not racist and called for previous (less colourful) defacers of the blackface images to be pursued as vandals. It has also been repainted several times, arguably with images even closer to the golliwog of youthful memory. Perhaps it might yet be repainted again, but for now, it has gone.

It would be the natural thing for those of us who live here to want to hide this history, and pretend it never happened, but no matter what happens to this rock, it’s history remains. Whether we chose to acknowledge our history, it still forms us.

Therefore, glad that I am that we have reached a moment when we are confronted with this history, there is a danger that we sanitise it rather than use it to inform. It is easier to try forget than to engage with what we were, particularly when that involves a measure of healthy shame.

So, I want to give my voice to a call to place an information board on the sea front. I invite others to join me in this call. I would even go as far as to suggest some content;

  • Say what we know about the rock, how long it was painted, how we have disagreed about the meaning
  • Talk about the prevalence of blackface images around the world, how it was spread by popular culture, through ‘entertainment’ that made a display of a harmful stereotype, even though most people did so with little awareness of the damage done.
  • Describe how the word ‘Jim Crow’ was used, and what laws it gave name to in the USA
  • Remind us of the legacy of slavery and its bastard cousin, ‘indentured labour’ in the wealth of this area. How slave ownership was greatest amongst Scottish people, home and abroad. How sugar, tobacco and cotton were directly traded into the Clyde, resulting in wealth and prosperity that gave birth to the holiday destination called Dunoon
  • Remember the race wars that happened in the town during the time the American base was in the Holy Loch
  • Finally, it must give space to people whose life was affected directly by these things. Contact the Jim Crow museum, or the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.

 

Because although the tide might have turned, it is only a few hours until it turns again, and who knows what those waters might bring…