Monthly Archives: June 2010
The Quad in Derby was the scene this weekend for the latest edition of the Alt.Fiction conference. Given the fact that I had been loitering on the conference website for over a year with an early draft of Vampsov, it was difficult to avoid the moral imperative to support the event (and the folks at Writing East Midlands).
Apart from the moral imperative, I’d been looking forward to a trip to Alt.Fiction for ages. I was disappointed when it was cancelled last year, particularly as I had heard so many good things about previous events. This sense of anticipation was multiplied by the work we (The Speculators writing group) had put into preparing the free newspaper launched at the event and present in all the delegates’ goodie bags. An awesome achievement that I will come to later.
As with many things in life, the journey is an important part of the experience. Ten ‘speculators’ met for the trip to Derby early on the Saturday and set off in convoy to the venue. All went smoothly for 2/3 of the transports that got to Derby without delay or major problem. The venue (Derby’s Quad) is a tidy little cinema/arts centre in the heart of the city. This was good. It allowed the attendees to wander, shop and sample the local eateries and pubs. The sun shone down with seasonal benevolence.
There was a huge choice of panels, workshops and events on offer and our group split into groups to sample the different events. The first panel I attended was a great amuse bouche for things to come. The panel, featuring Peter Crowther, John Jarrold, Juliet McKenna, Steven Erikson and moderated by Graham Joyce talked about ‘Genre Books You Must Read’. It’s always good to hear writers talk about books they love, other authors they admire, writing that moves them. I had read a few of their choices, although others were surprising. A sort-of-consensus emerged that it is the books that do not ‘fit’ genre conventions, that challenge preconceptions are those that are most fondly remembered. In his vein, Steven Erikson’s passion for Viet-Nam War literature was certainly an eye-opener. I shall have to watch out for some of his choices in particular.
Meeting for coffee and brownies with old friends is certainly a huge part of the conference scene. It is also good to meet the like minded (or the similarly disturbed). I did my social-butterfly turn for a good hour before heading back into the panels. The pattern was set. My on/off attendance took in talks on Writing For Comics, What Is Alternative Fiction? and TV Writing. Again, the consensus seemed to emerge that it was the things that pushed at the boundaries that were the things worth getting excited about. Maybe it is part of the human condition, this feeling of being on the outside looking in. If it is (and I suspect so), I’m sure it is one of the greatest motors for creativity and innovation.
Alt.Fiction, like all good conferences do, ended in the bar. It was here where some very tired delegates got to regroup and relax. It is at this point where I felt that ‘Mission Accomplished’ feeling that The Speculator launch had gone so well. Here, as promised, I return to the story of our first ever newspaper. A month ago I had given up the whole thing. There was no money and therefore no point in taking the idea forward. It was on the evening of May 18th that I got the news that the funding was in place. Damien Walter & I would edit the thing. This left us with 13 days until the last deadline where printing and delivery could be guaranteed. Thirteen days to put together a twelve page newspaper. Fuck.
Luckily, The Speculators meet every Wednesday. By the end of our meeting we had decided on most things, most importantly the title. The call went out: Send your stories to the editors by Monday. Every Speculator who sends something in is guaranteed to appear. Jay Eales got busy designing the banner headline and designing the layout, Rob Hibbert started to tweak the images. Entries came in thick and fast from Speculators past and present. I approached my friends at Starbase Leicester. They too, helped out with contributions.
By the next week’s Speculator meeting, I had edited all the collaborations. In all there would be the work of 17 writers featured. Rob, Jim Worrad and Catherine Digman also provided illustrations. Jay and Selina Lock got images from quality artists like Paul McCaffrey and Peter Neville and comics (in collaboration with Mike Juniper and Dave Windett) that gave the whole paper an amazing look. The written submissions were also amazing. A little voice started screaming in my head: ‘Hey!’ it said ‘This isn’t half bad!’ All we had to do now was get the content and layout sorted. We had our photo taken (Maria Smith took the snap, Rob photoshopped it) It was all coming together. Amazing… This publishing lark, not hard is it?
An editoral meeting at Jay and Selina’s took place on Saturday 29th of May. I remember it well. While others were meditating and achieving Zen mastery of their chakras (or whatever), I was sitting on Jay’s sofa with my scrawled plans and being bitten by an angry dog. Nevertheless, most things were now in place. By Tuesday lunchtime, we had to have the thing finished. Newspaperclub only print on a Tuesday and deliver within 7 days. If it didn’t go this Tuesday, we could not guarantee delivery before Alt.Fiction. All our hard work would have been for nothing. Stress? Tell me about it.
The day came, we sent off our PDF file with everything in place. As soon we had sent it I noticed a missing hyphen. “Fuck! This is terrible!” I wailed. Every spelling mistake was now a mockery of my very being. Call yourself an editor, Ribot? But I needn’t have worried. The newspapers were delivered and looked fantastic. Will Ellwood helped me deliver the finished papers to a bemused Antonia, Catherine and Henderson at WEM with two days to spare. We’d done it! Great stuff. I only relaxed, though, when I got to Alt.Fiction and checked my goody bag. There it was. The Speculator. Cute, cuddly and less than a month old. Welcome to the world, kid. (click here to see it.)
The links between comic and film are long and well-established. Lumiere premiered his moving pictures in 1896, the same year that Outcault’s Yellow Kid first appeared in newspapers. Photography, which captured movement (or didn’t) through blurring the image, led to the development of speed-lines in the comic –essentially an attempt to copy the photographic effect. Will Eisner (1917-2005) is clearly a reference point for these linkages. His style, use of light and shade, characters that look and act like Hollywood stars… evidence enough, I think, to make a case.
Furthermore, Eisner’s place in comic book history is cemented by the publishing in 1978 of the first ‘graphic novel’; A Contract With God ( i.e. the first Bande Dessinee album written in English). Again, this could be interpreted as an attempt to get a full-length feature film down in one comic, rather than in smaller B-feature episode snippets. Eisner went on to do further ‘features’ including an urban version of Hamlet, an autobiographical story about a young cartoonist in Brooklyn and his two books on the art of cartooning and comic art, Comics and Sequential Art (1985) and Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative (1996).
The Spirit (1940-1952) is, however, his most famous creation. It is an amalgam of the various trends popular in 30s comics. Part superhero, part detective thriller, it plays with the tropes of both. One thing that Eisner is good at is humour. The Spirit is replete with parody, slapstick, puns and the odd surrealist lapse. The plot itself involves a young, handsome square-jawed detective, Denny Colt. Denny’s taken on the secret crime-fighter identity of ‘The Spirit’ after being declared officially dead. He now fights crime as a man with no name, his identity concealed with a risible Lone-Ranger type mask.
In essence, The Spirit is a noir thriller. The detective solves crimes in a mean city populated by rogues, villains and femme fatales. One of these dangerous-yet-vulnerable bad girls is Sand Serif (named after a type of font). Sand typifies the noir code of boy meets girl; Denny loves Sand, Sand loves Denny but they are separated by The Law. Denny’s duty is to send her to jail, Sand’s destiny is to plot against Denny and the rule of law. Yet both dream (secretly) of a future of marriage, kids and a picket fence. A dream that will never be. Ahh, the cruelties of fate.
Eisner’s work has always been well regarded – and rightly so. He even gave his name to the Comic-Book world’s most prestigious awards: The Eisner’s. There is a lot about his comics to enjoy. His characters seem rounded and real, his style rich, subtle and generous, his plots witty and well crafted. It turns out that these days it is the film world that borrows from comics rather than the other way round. The cycle turns, the snake devours its own tail, so it goes. It would be good if this period of cross-fertilization of media could produce figures of the stature of Will Eisner. My feeling is that(apart from Hellboy), it might not. The film version of the Spirit is a particularly cruel travesty.