Pleased to see this poster I did for Jonny Fluffy Punk is still doing the rounds. It occurs to me you might not have seen it if you don’t live in Brighton or subscribe to the usual anarchic performance poetry zines. In any case, Jonny is terrific. I highly recommend you go and see this.
Over the past seven weeks I’ve been in Bristol, working closely with a dozen amazing individuals to write a graphic novel. We did it in record time and the resulting manuscript is impressive. It’s full of true stories and fantastic lies and imagination. It’s the most exciting and bravest work I have been involved in yet and I can’t wait to share it with you, but I will have to draw it first.
It’s safe to say the past eight weeks of workshops and the process of writing using physical theatre exercises, improvisation techniques, group workshopping etc. has altered my practice forever. One thing that emerged was the advantages of non-commercial work – this project is being supported by the Arts Council of England and the Arnolfini in Bristol – over work whose end goal is to satisfy sales targets and generate profit for the writer, artist, publisher.
I’m aware that most of my colleagues in comic books aren’t familiar with this model of creating, as these opportunities are still fairly new and far between (outside of France and Belgium, who subsidise comics as any other art form with generous grants, residencies, prizes, awards). If there is interest in hearing more about this, I will write in depth about this some other time. But for today, I want to briefly qualify the drastic shift in style you see in Swallow.
No one asked me to draw Swallow. Like most webcomics, it was a self-initiated venture and until recently a total vanity project. On days when I didn’t feel like doing it, there was no client or boss knocking down my door and demanding a doctor’s note. This is liberating or frustrating, depending on your state of mind. Sometimes it’s nice to have a hard deadline.
To encourage in myself a performance of consistency and regularity, I opted to treat Swallow as if it were a commission or a conventional job. Until recently, that seemed to me the most natural and useful attitude. But during my time in Bristol, it finally dawned on me how draining, on top of financially unrewarding, I had allowed this project to become.
After sulking for a few weeks that it was no longer the creative outlet it had been at the start, I realised something crucial: I can do whatever I want. Of my current projects, Swallow is the most self-indulgent and least consequential to others. So why not produce something radically different week upon week? That’s what personal projects should be: a platform for personal and artistic development, not some hammed up melody of since-departed ambitions, reluctantly and arbitrarily revisited to feed your ego and postpone self-evaluation. Or whatever.
If you’re in the same boat as me, maybe the reason you haven’t made a change is you’re waiting for someone to swoop in and bind it and put in on the shelves of a library/bookshop. My advice is: don’t. Don’t give way to a fantasy and let it stunt you growth. Don’t labour robotically under the illusion that someone will recognise your determination and see through all the levels of artifice you guard it with. This work should be made of doubts and hope and insecurities and love, or not at all. If you’re going to hate your job, at least find one that pays properly.
So, here’s the latest instalment of my comic. It looks different, and I’m gonna learn a lot from this method.
Thanks for your patience and support. Keep checking back for more news on Swallow and other work. I’m glad to have finally figured out this blogging phenomenon the kids have been on about since the nineties. I hope some of it made sense, and other parts didn’t.
My fellow art bastards, I’d love to hear your ideas on the subject of personal projects and not-for-profit comics.
Have an awesome week.
Assembling notebooks for the workshop group.
This month I’m in Bristol, UK, leading a series of graphic novel writing workshops with the wonderful Drastic Productions at Arnolfini. It’s a tremendous experience that makes me feel all sorts of things. There are so many ideas in the room, and so much energy, that I am always running to keep up. We’re doing wonderful work. I look forward to a very beautiful book at the end of this.
This week’s workshop will focus on PLACE. I’m going to hand out notebooks and invite everyone to write down answers to a whole host of questions, all to do with where you are based, what and who surrounds you, what kind of atmosphere you inhabit. Even if your place is all Bristol–which it won’t be necessarily–everyone has a different take on what is Bristol.
The rest of this post is private.
Two of dear comrades are off in South Australia touring a bold and very beautiful show they created together. It’s called Folly. They are called Sally Jenkinson and Nuala Honan. I made a poster about it.
It’s been a quiet few months in this town of internet publishing, because I’ve been writing poems mainly for performance and more than that, I’ve been drawing again. If you haven’t read it yet, now is the time to get acquainted with my latest comic project, Swallow. There are about 40 pages of it online so far, and a new one will be appearing every Sunday.
These arms are tired from typing. May 2014 be the year we get hovercrafts!
How do I know it’s not gonna crawl on my face when I
sleep and nest in my eye sockets?
Because you just do. Because you oughtta know that.
Because you’ve lived for 26 years and it’s improbable
for anything to do anything so long without acquiring
this much working knowledge.
Because there are many way better dangers to worry about
and this scenario, which is vain and outrageous,
not to mention an insult to progress.
Because eyeballs are not part of a balanced diet.
Because mice have evolved to be sad
when people wake screaming and swat them away.
Because dumpsters are silent and sleeping.
Christmas on the island is not all about my bony burden
and letting fester in the sun like a salted slug, but
it’s mostly about that. And a mechanical santa puppet
that sings about sleigh bells and longing, but holds a sign
saying: ‘PLEASE DON’T TOUCH.’
In shadier moments, I’m unintentionally insulting
the homeless, sweating profusely regardless and being glad
you’re not here, because I can’t pay you back yet
For your patience and kindness.
What would you like? Perhaps you have wondered why
people in Scandinavian countries are without exception
so beautiful. You always did wonder
about beauty, where it comes from, what it likes to eat,
where it goes when we die.
Well, all the overweight and elderly Scandinavians are
here, on the infernal island where I’m Christmassing.
If you haven’t told a leper in a foreign language: ‘it’s nothing’
more out of reflex than out of having any money to give,
then you’re doing better than me on this holy day.
But listen, it’s 35ºC outside and both the sea
and the sky are the colour of insecticide
so by all accounts, I am halfway to hell.
I dreamt I was a shell and people crawled
In and out of me all day and I was
Just a shell.
And it was the way it’s supposed to be and
I didn’t want any legs.
My ribs were silver and exposed and I was just a shell.
The people were so TINY and smelled like cornflakes
And chutney. I delighted in them.
I turned my head and watched them march in and out
And I didn’t want for a waist.
One of the people (small though she was) looked
Troubled, as if she had lived longer than me
And she had, but I had seen further
For I was ENORMOUS.
I had see over the tops of the tallest trees and
Knew she had nothing to fear.
I wanted to tell her it straight, but she hadn’t
Seen my head.
She knew me only as a house
It would have frightened her to hear my voice
Just as it scared her what’s beyond the trees.
Beyond the trees (which represent death) is:
1. A fire
2. A bridge, and
3. Peace. Unwavering peace.
They went on asking themselves, what is it all for?
They marched in and out, sometimes staying for supper.
Sometimes they were nervous, maybe waiting for a friend
I smiled at them, turned my head and smiled and
I was just a shell.
Beyond the trees, where there is not fire and there is not
A bridge, there is peace.