Some more events from August’s Edinburgh International Book Festival have been uploaded to the EIBF’s YouTube channel, including the full, hour-long talk I chaired with Arthur C Clarke award winning writer Lauren Beukes and cracking artist Inaki Miranda, talking about their collaboration on Fairest: the Hidden Kingdom for DC’s Vertigo imprint:
Last month as well as reporting on the Edinburgh International Book Festival as I do most years I was on stage for some events, the first of which was chairing a talk with superstar Scottish comics writer Grant Morrison. We discussed his earliest work in Near Myths, an anthology which grew out of the old Edinburgh Science Fiction Bookshop (which would become the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet years later) which was well ahead of its time in trying to create a comics form for adult readers and also featured the first appearances of Luther Arkwright by the great Bryan Talbot – in a lovely moment Grant took the opportunity to pay tribute to Bryan’s place in the medium (Bryan was in the audience at the time and was, I think, rather delighted) – it was nice to see this peer to peer respect from one top creator to another. We discussed his Batman and Superman works, his plans for reworking Wonder Woman and the return to Seaguy, before throwing open the second half to questions from the audience, who were eager to ask Grant their own questions (and he was looking forward to the chance to interact with his readers, so we tried to give a good chunk of our hour to the audience Q&A).
I’m not mad at being in front of the camera, I prefer being behind the lens, but it was a fun event and from folks I bumped into over the rest of the Book Festival it seemed to have gone fairly well as they told me they enjoyed it, which was a relief as that was my very first time chairing an event at the Book Fest. I have done plenty of events with authors in my bookselling career of course, but it’s been years since I had to do an on-stage event and doing it with a major name, at the world’s biggest literary festival, well, that’s a hell of a way to get back into the saddle! But it was fun to do it as part of the huge Stripped segment of comics themed events at the Book Festival:
During my very busy period at the Stripped comics strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in addition to chairing a couple of the author events this year I was also delighted to pose the questions for a couple of their series of short video interviews with authors, including this one I did with Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda shortly before chairing their event (which was great fun) – don’t worry, you don’t see me in either as I am safely behind the camera (which I prefer) and indeed as they edited it to mostly the author’s responses you barely hear me, but was nice to be asked to do a couple and fun to do. I talked to Lauren and Inaki about their collaboration (this was the first time they met in person) as well as their next projects:
And I also got to ask Neil Gaiman some questions, which was great – hard to believe it’s been around twenty years since I first did an author event with Neil in my old bookstore. Our slot got bumped by another interview team but Neil noticed this and very kindly arranged to fit us in after the next item on his very busy schedule, and so we got to stand in late summer sunshine in Charlotte Square and I got to ask Neil about his returning to the Sandman, working with JH Williams III and how it felt, having grown up like most of us our age watching Doctor Who, to walk onto the TARDIS set knowing they were filming a story you wrote, and how much more receptive the people now at the BBC are towards his work:
Well, it’s been one hell of a weekend here in Edinburgh for the comic creators, publishers and readers. I’ve been along to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for many years, and in the last few years I’ve been covering some very fine graphic novel events. This year, however, was on a totally different scale with the Stripped strand of comics related events, from workshops for younger readers (whipping Gary Northfield into the venue full of excited young readers then locking him in with paper and pencils) to events with up and coming younger talent (from Gareth Brookes to Will Morris to Gillen and McKelvie), top-level home-grown talent (Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Bryan Talbot) to some of the most acclaimed comics creators from round the world (Joe Sacco, Chris Ware, Rutu Modan and more). The events went from workshops to talks to quick interviews, live Twitter sessions and great events in the Spiegeltent such as a live draw and a ‘literary death match’ which included many of the writers and artists in Charlotte Square, including Neil Gaiman, Paul Cornell and Emma Vieceli. And not forgetting a two day mini comic fair that gave a brilliant stage (in a handsome historic setting, no less) to our vibrant small press creators. Then we also had the very first 9th Art Award (scooped by one of our former Commentary guests Stephen Collins for The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil). What a weekend…
While we had some Stripped events earlier in the Book Festival (which you must remember is a huge event in the world literary calender – over two weeks of events and over eight hundred authors, there really is nothing else quite on this scale), most notably the events with Joe Sacco and Chris Ware, who had individual events and then a cracking double-header event which was a pleasure to see (my report is here on the blog and the entire event, plus some short interviews, is now available to watch in video form – see here), the main concentration of Stripped events was planned around a long weekend, from Friday through to this Monday. I’ve been there for that whole busy but wonderful weekend and my head is still whirling a little bit from it and the intensity. As regular readers know I usually write up individual posts on each of the graphic novel events at the Book Fest, but frankly this year’s scale and sheer busy nature makes that impractical (besides which a team of comickers such as our own Nicola Love, DTT’s Jeremy Briggs, Edward Ross and Metaphrog have been filing reports and interviews which you can check out here) and if I tried to do so I would still be writing by the time my few days off to recover had passed! So this year instead I’m just going to post a report on my whole Book Festival/Stripped experience over that weekend and what I think it says about our medium and how it being perceived right now. Apologies if that means it sometimes becomes a little rambling, but I will bung in plenty of photos too!
The first gig of the busy weekend for me was with Blank Slate Books alumni Will Morris, discussing his beautiful The Silver Darlings on stage with local creator Edward Ross (creator of, among others, the fine Filmish series I’ve reported on here before) and Dundee-based academic Doctor Chris Murray (in his trademark radioactive glow shirt). Will talked of his early comics reading and influences (unsurprisingly Chris Ware’s name came up several times from both the boys during this part of the conversation), while Edward noted that, like quite a few of us he read comics when younger then drifted away in late teens and early 20s, before being introduced to creators who hooked the adult reader in him back to the medium, eventually leading him to start dabbling with his own comics, using his love of films to inspire what would become Filmish. I’ve hugely enjoyed the very different work of both creators and it was a pleasure to see such up and coming talent on stage at such a major event.
My weekend then went into overdrive, after sitting in the audience and enjoying listening to Ed and Will discuss their work, then meeting a bunch of comickers in the author’s tent. And yes, being allowed access to the sacred enclosure of the author’s yurt is exactly as exciting as you are imagining it is. I count myself very fortunate that over my years in the book trade I’ve got to meet a whole range of authors and artists, and it’s one of the nicest perks of the job, especially as most I’ve met are very lovely people, very friendly to chat away to (I’m sure many of you have experienced the same when getting to chat to creators when getting your books signed) and we’ve been lucky that those contacts have often lead to us getting some of those creators on to guest here on the blog so everyone gets a taster. So I’m not unused to meeting authors, but holy drokk, this was on a ridiculous scale in such a small space! Every visit to the author’s yurt you would bump into several more comickers, then some more. Quite a few I knew already, there were more I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time (such as Robbie Morrison and Jim Murray, there with their excellent Drowntown). And then on a warm late summer evening Grant Morrison strolls into the scene. Yes, it was one of those weekends where things like that just happened (go on, those of you who were there, how often between events as you relaxed in the gardens of Charlotte Square did you spot favourite creators wandering about? It’s a great festival pastime!).
Bryan Talbot, of course, goes way back with Grant, the pair of them being an integral part of one of the early attempts to create something new in comics for a mature readership (in some ways well ahead of its time), with Near Myths, which came out of the old Edinburgh Science Fiction Bookshop, which became the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet (our very own Kenny was often to be found in that old specialist emporium as the ‘Saturday boy’), and he was kind enough to introduce us properly. Less than an hour later and I’m walking onto a stage in a packed theatre with Grant… Yes, first time I’ve been asked to chair an event at the Book Festival and the first one was with one of the biggest names in the medium. So, no pressure there at all, eh?
You might imagine being asked to chair an event like that creates a mixture of pleasure, delight, stress and worry, and you’d be bang on. It’s a fairly daunting thing to do, especially with such a noted author; I’m no stranger to doing on-stage events with authors, but it’s been a while and what a spot to get back into the saddle. But while it is a little overwhelming to talk to such an acclaimed writer in front of a crowd I am also aware that despite the pressure that brings in some ways it makes it easier, because Grant is a professional, very experienced at such events and he genuinely loves getting a chance to relax and talk with his readers. So once we’d had a short chat we went straight to the Q&A with the audience, something I know he was keen to get to and certainly the crowd was desperate to get their questions in before the hour ran out. Before the audience Q&A though we briefly talked about his earliest work – since we were sitting in an Edinburgh venue it seemed appropriate to talk a little about Near Myths being put together in the same city several decades before. Grant, very nicely, made a point of also talking about how this was also where Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright first appeared and then paid tribute to Bryan as one of the great pillars of the British comics scene (to a great round of applause for a delighted Bryan who was in the audience); a lovely wee moment of respect from one top creator to another.
We also touched on his upcoming work such as Multiversity (several issues, each with different artists working with him), returning to Seaguy and of course since he had raised the subject himself in previous Book Festival visits, I had to ask him about his plans for Wonder Woman, and how he wants to take some of what her creator put in there (including that highly sexual element) to do her justice in a new form. But I think it was the audience Q&A which was the highlight of the evening for most in the audience, and I suspect we could have been there for several hours and still not got through everyone who wanted to ask a question. As in previous years at the Fest Grant was signing away for hours afterwards, taking time to chat to each person in turn. Sitting at one of the table nearby, just outside the signing tent, every few minutes I would see two or three fans walk out, clutching their just-signed books. Almost without fail I’d see them walk out, pause, excitedly open their books and show the signed pages to their friend, all of them with huge smiles as they exited; it was rather nice to see this repeat itself every few minutes, watching very, very happy, content readers happily holding their freshly signed books. That’s one of the simple pleasures of doing book events and signing sessions, seeing how it delights readers, and you know what, it’s a simple pleasure I never get tired of seeing.
From then on the weekend got busier and busier for me. I did manage to fit in a walk around the Mini Comics Fair though and chat to several of the small press comickers there, including the aforementioned Edward Ross, the Metaphrog crew, Neil Slorance (whose work is fast becoming a favourite with some of our crew), Stephen Goodall, Coll Hamilton and and Carolyn Alexander, Lynsey Hutchinson, Kathryn Briggs and more, and picked myself up a wee selection of comics for later reading. I know the organisers would have liked to have the mini comic bash in the main part of the gardens alongside the rest of the Book Fest, but there simply wasn’t any more room. So they had them directly across the road, just a few paces away, in the most splendid surroundings I have ever seen for a small press fair, being in a historic heritage property directly above the Book Festival’s own offices, a magnificent Georgian town house, all 18th century wood panelling and plasterwork ceilings. I could easily have spent much more time and more money there but there was always something else happening, not to mention the matter of preparing for the next day’s schedule.
And that next day was even busier for me, several events to take in, interviews to take part in and the small matter of chairing another event. The day started with Mary and Bryant Talbot talking with Teddy Jamieson, and naturally as well as discussing their previous and upcoming work (Mary’s Sally Heathcote, Suffragette, which looks like it will see print next spring, a fourth and fifth Grandville from Bryan) the subject of their unprecedented win at the Costa literary award, a first for a graphic work, was raised. This was a topic which came up quite a bit when I was chatting to other comickers in between events, it’s really been a boost to a lot of us involved in the medium. After this I had the pleasure of hanging with Arthur C Clarke winning novelist and comics scribe Lauren Beukes and artist Inaki Miranda. The weather gods, for once, had favoured us (which is not always the case at the Edinburgh festivals! Indeed Lauren had come prepared with a new raincoat just in case) and we got to sit outside while planning how the guys wanted to do their talk, which I was chairing. Interestingly this was the first time writer and artist had met in person, their collaboration on the excellent Fairest: Hidden Kingdom story arc was conducted online and through telepathy using crystals found only in a remote series of caves in Lauren’s homeland of South Africa.
You’d never know this from their rapport though and it was clear the two of them were having a terrific time. Lauren had been there for a couple of days, also taking part in an event discussing her prose work, for which she has garnered (deservedly so) a formidable reputation (her most recent genre-crossing novel, The Shining Girls, partakes of science fiction, crime and horror; it’s disturbing and compelling in equal measures, see James’ recent review of it here), poor Inaki had arrived just that morning and already we were prodding him to get ready, but he was game for it, driven along by endless good natured teasing from Lauren. Regular readers will know Lauren and Inaki from their Director’s Commentary guest post they were kind enough to do for us, and having talked with them before for that and then again more recently ahead of their arrival in Edinburgh we all had that nice feeling that although this was a first meeting for the three of us we also sort of knew each other already, and it made it an absolute delight to work with them, especially as they had a good idea of how they wanted to present their talk (a sort of process talk, a little similar to how they approached their guest Commentary).
The talk went very well and took in the mechanics of collaborating between writer and artist when both live in different continents, the approach to characters and story, setting and the role of sexuality and violence in the tale. Lauren was at great pains to use these latter aspects carefully, mindful of the reputation comics get for the way they portray sex, representation of women and violent acts (sadly sometimes criticisms of how comics show these can be quite justified), and the sexuality here was more of the naturally sensual nature of Rapunzel. Some violence in comics can be too ‘consequence free’, Lauren argued, huge superhuman fist-fights that look spectacular but give a cartoony, showy view of physical violence. In one harrowing scene in Fairest Rapunzel is in a fight and she is beaten, extremely badly. Both she and Inaki wanted this to be realistic, to show the horrid brutality of repeatedly striking another person, and they talked us through this scene, with Inaki’s art fragmenting as Rapunzel is repeatedly struck and begins to fade out. They didn’t want to glamorise the violence and I think their depiction was an interesting and mature way to show the scene. During the Q&A with the audience one young woman asked for advice in developing her own work, and both writer and artist offered some very helpful and encouraging suggestions. At the signing afterwords in the on-site bookstore sales must have been very good, because they actually sold out of their volume of Fairest!
The rest of this part of the weekend saw me interviewing for the short video pieces the Book Festival has been posting up on their YouTube Channel (you may already have seen some of them as we’ve been embedding them), including one with Lauren and Inaki and another with some bloke called Neil Gaiman. Worry not, you don’t have to put up with me in the frame as I stood behind the camera crew asking the questions! But it was nice to get to take part in a couple of these events, a whole bunch of Book Festival and comicker folk have contributed to them and more will be appearing online shortly. On a related note I have to say a thank you to Neil, as a snafu over interview schedules meant our spot for the video got bumped, but he overheard and despite his packed schedule made sure to fit us in a little later so we still got it in the can. I managed to get in some questions about the upcoming new Sandman, working with JH Williams III and his Doctor Who work and other recent Neil-themed BBC collaborations, I’m sure the video will be up in the near future and we’ll point you to it, of course.
After that for the rest of that evening and the next day I could go back to simply being in the audience and enjoying the events. Hannah Berry had the daunting task of chairing Neil Gaiman’s Sandman talk for Stripped (Neil, as is now almost customary for him each August, was at the Book Festival doing numerous events, including Stripped). It is always a pleasure to hear Neil talking about his work, and for me it was an especial delight to hear him spending an hour discussing the Sandman, my all-time favourite comics series. Poor Hannah was teased mercilessly if playfully by Neil throughout their talk, but it was all very good natured and he was clearly relishing the chance to go back and talk about the Sandman, how he got into comics writing, how the story developed, him learning more as it progressed, and now this return to the Dreaming. The hour passed far too quickly and before the end Neil asked the audience not to applaud for him but to instead give that round of applause to Hannah for being such a good sport through their talk (personally I think she did a great job and so did everyone else I talked to).
The evening for me was finished off with an event I personally wanted to be at very much, the late night Iain Banks tribute. This would have been where the mighty Banksie would have been talking about his new (and sadly final) novel had he been fit enough, but after his shockingly sudden decline and departure to join the Sublimed of his Culture this spring some of his friends and fellow Scots authors – Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and Ken MacLeod – took to the stage in his honour, and Neil Gaiman, busy with a massive signing queue in the tent next door after his Sandman talk, took a few minutes from his signing duties to nip into the theatre to share an anecdote about his younger days at a science fiction convention and a drunken Iain Banks scaling the outside of the Metropole hotel in Brighton. It was a peculiar event, readings from Iain’s older and new work, his friends and fellow writers sharing memories of the man himself and the audience too being included, asked to share their thoughts and memories of Iain. Jura, one of the festival’s sponsors, had kindly arranged for everyone in the audience to be serve a dram of their fine single malt after the event, and his long-time friend Ken MacLeod lead us all in a toast. Sad, sad, sad to think of the Book Festival without Iain’s smiling presence, and yet heartening to see him so warmly remembered, there in spirit.
A final event for me and another bright and sunny day from the weather gods, I was meeting Inaki to go to the event with Martin Rowson and Rob Davis talking with Stuart Kelly, and in a good bit of timing we found them both already chatting by the author’s yurt, along with Emma Vieceli. This constantly bumping into comics creators was a theme for this entire weekend, every time I was coming or going from events I’d bump into folks – oh look, there’s John Higgins getting ready for a panel, there’s Dan Abnett, I’d cross paths with Garen Ewing or Gary Northfield while there would be a sudden flurry of activity and everyone’s heads would turn to take in Sarah McIntyre passing by in one of her wonderful costumes (I think literary critic and comics fan Stuart Kelly was the only one who came near her with his Riddler costume for one of his talks!). Rob and Martin were discussing adapting literary classic to the comics medium, Martin mostly on his very fine Tristram Shandy and Rob, of course, on his magnificent two volume take on the Cervantes’ immortal Don Quixote.
It was a fascinating talk, taking in not just how you approach adapting major works of literature but, equally important, why you do it. Both had their own ideas but both agreed very much on the fact that you had to be bringing something different to the work or it was pointless doing it, that you had to be able to retell the story to a new audience, staying true to the original’s theme while still bringing something fresh, a very difficult trick to pull off. Some may think that adapting an existing work is easier than having to script an original from scratch and then illustrate it, but it isn’t, and to be honest I suspect in some ways it may be even more difficult than writing new stories from scratch. Rob had planned some of his approach ahead, scripting it beginning with dialogue, while Martin said that he often didn’t know how he would handle each segment until he started it, he found himself unable to work from a script of storyboard (he said he did try it once but it simply would not work for him and he had to give that project up). It was a great talk, not least because their chair, Stuart Kelly (now out of his Riddler costume after his Batman talk), has a hugely impressive knowledge and appreciation of all sorts of literature which he could use to refer to Rob and Martin’s adaptation.
As you are probably getting from this report (which has, as usual, ended up being far longer than I planned – sorry! So much going on and I know I am still missing huge chunks out…) it was a tremendously busy four days. Some writers and artists I got to chat with for a few moments in passing, some I got to talk to for a bit longer, and there are others I missed getting to speak to altogether. This was a theme I heard from most of those present – there were so many events packed into Stripped that we were all coming and going so frequently, stopping to get a quick break and a drink and snack in the author’s yurt then back out for more, so that pretty much all of us missed some folks entirely and had to make that usual festival or convention dilemma decision of which clashing events we could go to and which we would have to miss out on. But while we all lamented this, I didn’t meet anyone who thought it a particularly bad thing, because, quite frankly, it was caused by a real embarrassment of riches. The Book Festival team – Roland, Janet, Kirsten and the rest, please take a very well deserved bow – had delivered us a huge and varied programme that really was, in effect, a mini comics festival within the main Book Fest.
Another aspect I picked up on talking to authors and artists and publishers between events was how happy most of them were to be there and at the sheer scale of the comics programming the Book Festival gang had put together. Pretty much every comicker I talked to saw this as hugely positive – the world’s biggest literary festival not just including comics (as they had for several years) but shouting about them from the rooftops. This and the Talbots’ Costa win and the media coverage of the Festival that concentrated on the comics strand all combined to give everyone a hugely positive, very optimistic feeling – there was a really great vibe coming out of this, and how many of the comickers thought it showed our beloved medium is being perceived, not just by other comics readers but by publishers, literary organisations, the media and non comics readers who have been tempted in by events like these to start trying some graphic works (just the other day I suggested some graphic novels to a reader on Twitter who had been intrigued after the Stripped events).
I’m very much inclined to share this optimistic view, and yes some of that comes from the happy energy of the event, but it was more than that – as I said Bryan and Mary Talbot’s Costa literary award came up often talking to other comickers, and the upcoming Angouleme-style Lakes festival, along with the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s events were all combining to make many comickers feel that there was a real momentum to how the wider reading and publishing world is viewing comics now, and that’s something I think we can all take and build on. Given the pre-eminent position of the Edinburgh Book Fest as the largest lit-fest of its type in the world and the influence that has, I’d be surprised if this didn’t help to open more doors for graphic works at more literary festivals, and hopefully a wider audience. One of the things I loved about Stripped, apart from the diverse nature of the creators (which mirrors the diverse nature of the authors in the main programme each year) is that although Stripped was highlighted to all and even had its own wee programme to draw attention to it, it was still very much a part of the main Book Festival. As with the Talbots’ win at the Costas, there was no ghettoisation going on here, the comics works were treated the same as all the other adult and children’s works at the festival, simply as good books and good reading by interesting creators, and I see that as a good thing.
(above: another fabulous outfit and headgear from the one and only Sarah McIntyre, here with Gary Northfield, who was fresh from several hours of comics workshops for young readers, below, another shot – how could I resist? – of Sarah’s costume along with Gary and in the hooped top in centre her collaborator, author Philip Reeve)
It doesn’t mean we stop having our own conventions, but it does, I hope, mean comics works will play an increasing role in all sorts of literary gatherings and festivals and the wider reading audience that lets creators and publishers have access to. And that has to be a good thing, surely? For the literary festivals too I see this as a good move, widening their audience base – I know many at Stripped had been at previous Book Festival events, but I strongly suspect for quite a few this would have been the thing that got them to venture into Charlotte Square for the first time, and I hope that they will be back (and going to other events there as well). We know that sometimes large cultural events and spaces like lit fests or large galleries can be a little intimidating, leading to that “oh, not for the likes of me” feeling for some folks, and anything that breaks down those barriers and encourages more folks to come is a good thing in my book.
The Book Festival has seen another increase in both ticket and book sales this year – I don’t know what part Stripped played in that, but it’s hard not to think it must have helped, especially given the enthusiasm of the comics readers at the Festival and the piles of media attention the Festival crew helped generate that focused on the comics strand. I have no idea if Stripped will return or if it would be quite as huge as this year (so many variables – other parts of publishing demand attention too, after all, plus issues most of us never seen such as availability and costs issues, sponsorship etc) if it does, but I’d be very surprised if future Book Festivals didn’t feature a much larger graphic novel segment than in previous years. All in all, as well as being a hugely enjoyable series of events I think we can see such a large comics presence at the Edinburgh Book Fest as a confirmation of what a lot of us have been saying: it’s a damned good time to be creating and reading comics in the UK right now, and further afield. Here’s to more good comics and more good events…
This report was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog
A few hours after we had the pleasure of having Joe Sacco and Chris Ware doing a quick signing in our Edinburgh store (see here) I was off to see the pair of them talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Both had given individual talks the preceding evenings at the Book Fest as part of the huge Stripped series of comics events at this year’s Book Festival, and I am told they did so to packed crowds. So on their third night at the world’s biggest literary celebration did that mean they had exhausted the audiences? Nope, it was again packed to the rafters, a huge audience (among them plenty of comickers like Metaphrog, William Goldsmith, Will Morris, Edward Ross, Neil Slorance and our own Nicola among others). The bulk of the Stripped events take place in a huge, solid block of comics goodness over the upcoming bank holiday weekend, so this was my first Stripped gig of the Book Festival, and what a way to kick off this huge celebration of our beloved medium, with a massive, enthusiastic crowd packed into the theatre in the elegant Georgian environs of Charlotte Square and the Herald’s Teddy Jamieson (himself a major comics reader) talking to two of the most internationally acclaimed creators working in comics today. In a further bonus it was even a warm and dry evening (rain being no stranger to Festival crowds in Edinburgh!).
(Joe Sacco (left) and Chris Ware (centre) in conversation with Teddy Jamieson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of the Stripped series, photos from my Flickr, click for the larger versions)
Teddy started off the evening by asking Joe and Chris about their early influences and how they progressed into creating comics for a living. Chris replied that as a youngster he was pretty much addicted to television until he went to college and made a decision to cut most of that out of his life in favour of other things. Joe spent a part of his childhood in Australia, where he told us he was exposed to a lot of British comics in addition to the normal compliment of four colour titles from America, and some of the old British war comics had remained in his mind since then. Chris re-iterated his surprise not only at finding out when younger that you could actually draw for a living, but that he has actually made a living and a successful one from working in comics. He has, like most comics artists I know, also taken illustration commissions for companies to help pay the bills, but he said he regarded that kind of work as a bit like prostitution for the artist, work done purely for pay, with no real deep feel or love for the work you are doing, and he is happy he doesn’t really have to take on anything like that unless it is something he wants to do.
Joe, for his part, told us of drawing as a kid, influenced by his British and American comics reading, his sister also drawing with him in that competitive way siblings sometimes do (causing Chris to comment there are two main types of comics artists, the sibling rivalry driven ones and the ones who grew up alone and the comics were their outlet). Joe commented that he thought at that stage his sister was the better artist, but then she hit that certain age, discovered boys and stopped drawing. Luckily for us Joe kept doodling! On his path to the acclaimed comics as journalism genre that he has largely pioneered to such huge effect, he explained he was working on comics but it wasn’t like one day he suddenly thought right, today I shall combine comics and journalism! He was studying journalism though, and on visiting other countries he naturally did what artists do and drew some of what he saw, more like comics travelogues at that point, as he put it. But as he started to record more of what he learned from people he talked to in these places he started to think on applying lessons learned from studying journalism, and gradually the journalistic approach and the comics medium came together. He also paid tribute to some of the great photojournalists as an influence, but noted while they had to strive to try and sum up a whole story in one dramatic, iconic image, the artist is much more fortunate in that they can simply draw the scene as they wish. And then another and another…
Teddy asked Chris about his approach to the medium, and the sense of space he creates in his work, almost like architecture as comics, as he put it (most notably in his recent and rather magnificent Building Stories), and Chris discussed how he likes to make his scenes something a reader can inhabit (in fact both he and Joe talked about the need for both the creator and then the readers to be able to inhabit the settings and the characters, otherwise they felt they hadn’t done their work correctly). This three dimensional approach to the medium was something he clearly relished being able to craft and share, and he also lavished praise on Joe’s work for also creating that three dimensional feeling of a real space and real people (some of the audience concurred, indeed one man at the Q&A session afterwards had been in Bosnia before and after the war and congratulated Joe on the accuracy of his depictions). This mutual admiration was a hallmark of the evening’s proceedings, with both artists frequently citing each other’s works and what they loved about it. This was not done in some gushing, luvvie-style fest, I hasten to add, but was quite clearly the deep-seated admiration of one accomplished artist for another’s work.
I actually found this aspect of the evening’s talk fascinating – obviously all of us who were present are enthusiastic readers of their work, or we wouldn’t have been there, and we’ve all got out own unique interpretations of their works and what they mean to us, how we view them, how they make us feel, all filtered, as any art form is, through our own experiences, previous readings and knowledge. We all see things a little differently, and artists usually even more so when approaching an appreciation of other art. So there was something quite compelling in finding out a little about how artists of this calibre viewed the work of another creator, of equal stature and acclaim to them but with a very different style and approach to the form. While I am sure I would have loved their individual events in the preceding evenings I think having the pair of them discussing parts of each others works that they each admired so much was a bonus to having both of them on stage at the same time, and was for me the highlight of the discussion.
I came away from the talk into a crowd of fellow comickers, standing in the gardens of Charlotte Square on a balmy summer evening, crowds of book lovers coming and going past us to and from the hundreds of other events taking place this month, like a literary tide washing around us as we all stood around with huge smiles, everyone delighted and happy after such a lovely event. So my first Stripped event of this August, and come the weekend after next I will have a pile to attend (and yes, I will do my best to report on them as usual), and this year I’m actually chairing a couple of events too (one with Grant Morrison and another with Inaki Miranda and Lauren Beukes), so there’s a dubious pleasure for the audiences! And let’s not forget on the 24th and 25th we’ve also got the Small Press comic fair, with a whole bunch of Indy creators on hand with their works at the Book Festival. Those of you in Edinburgh or in easy reach of the city, please do come along and support these events, the better it all goes the more likely we are to see plenty of large-scale comics events in future Book Festivals, but as with any of these sorts of projects it requires organisation, planning, and most of all, support from the readers to truly work. And trust me, Stripped is something all of us who love our medium should be supporting. Watch this space for more Book Festival updates in the very near future. On a related note, if you missed Joe and Chris at the Book Fest or when they were signing in out store yesterday, the Edinburgh FP still has limited supplies of signed book by both of them that you can get your hands on.
This report was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet Blog
Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited again to the launch party for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and this year the world’s biggest literary festival celebrates its thirtieth anniversary. This year there is a huge and very diverse comics strand, Stripped. There have been comics and graphic novel for a good few years and I’ve been along to cover them and report on them, but this is on a vastly larger scale, practically a mini festival within the main festival. There are author talks, workshops, school outreach programmes, events for adults, event for kids, the new Ninth Art Awards and even a free mini-comics event for the small press, Indy self-published comickers to show their wares at this huge event.
(above: the band entertaining us at the Book Festival’s swish launch party last night in Charlotte Square;below, locally based comics creators Will Morris (left) and Edward Ross (right) at the launch party last night, both of them will be taking part in the author events as part of Stripped)
I’ve helped out a little with contacts and suggestions over the months leading up to the festival, as well as helping them with content celebrating some of the writers and artists who will be attending, with the Forbidden Planet blog sharing some of our guest posts by creators with the Stripped blog, and I am really delighted at the diversity and range of events the organisers like Roland, Janet, Kirsten and others have put together (a huge, huge effort). I’m off to my first event later this week, although the bulk of the comics events I’m going to take place over the weekend at the end of August. As well as covering several of the events I will be chairing a couple of author talks this year and looks like I may be doing an interview or two as well. Been a while since I did an on-stage author event, so hoping my old events mojo is still in there somewhere! Sure it will be fine.
And of course the rest of the Book Festival carries on around it, with some 800 authors present over a couple of weeks, the place for book lovers. Sadly one of our regular fixtures at the Book Fest, the great Iain Banks, will not be there this year. He hoped to still be strong enough to read from his new – and sadly now final – novel this summer, but even that was denied to him when his condition took him even faster than any of us thought it could, but several of his friends and fellow writers such as Ian Rankin and Ken MacLeod will be standing up for him at that event. There’s also some nice little touches so Iain is still present in spirit at the Book Festival, such as these terrific literary deckchairs their partners at the Guardian have had made up, featuring quotes from Iain’s work.
You can read a short interview I did with one of the Book Festival’s organisers, Janet Smyth, about the comics strand Stripped over on the (recently relaunched and rather shiny new-look) Forbidden Planet Blog here.
I was fortunate enough to be invited again to the launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s programme for this year, once more in the handsome and historic Signet Library in Edinburgh’s Parliament Square in the heart of the Old Town. Over right hundred events, a vast array of authors and artists on all subjects from biography, science and history to fiction, children’s books, music and this year there is a massive strand, Stripped, focusing on the increasingly vibrant international comics scene, with days of events including up and coming new comics talent, major names (Bryan Talbot, Neil Gaiman, Joe Sacco, Chris Ware to name but a few), works for adults and kids as well as workshops and even space for the excellent native small press, self published comickers and the first of the new comics awards. I don’t know any other major literary fiction which has given such a huge emphasis on the graphic arts like this, let alone the world’s biggest public literary festival. There are more details of Stripped over on the Forbidden Planet blog here.
(above:John and Sandra of Glasgow’s Metaphrog, creators of the gorgeous Louis books among others with the Book Fest’s Kirsten Cowie who is overseeing the Stripped segment, below: local comickers Edward Ross and Jeremy Briggs chatting in the Signet Library)
Third and final of the reports I penned on the comics related events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August for the Forbidden Planet blog:
Top comics scribe Grant Morrison returned to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for his second visit following his very successful Book Fest gig last year and again it was an absolutely packed late-night audience. Grant seemed pretty happy to be back and was in very good form, obviously delighting in getting the opportunity to talk directly with some of his readers. Much of the discussion centred around Supergods, his very interesting book which combines a short history of the American superhero comics with autobiographical elements from his own life as a reader and a writer (just out in paperback from Cape).
Grant told us that the book originally started as something quite different, but the publishers liked what he had written on the history side of comics and the personal angle, asked him for more of that and the book we now have started to take shape over many months. A history of comics he had been reading all his life as well as writing for decades, how hard could that be, he said, smiling – no need to do a lot of research, know most of that already… And you can guess what’s coming – the more he expanded on chapters on different periods the more he realised he had to mention (can’t miss that comic, that artist…), entailing more words, more research. In fact he said that the finished book represented roughly half of what he had, after much editing, there could have been a lot more and it could have been a different read, although better or not is hard to say, but it gives you an idea of the amount of work he had to put into it. And bear in mind this work was running parallel with his regular comics writing duties, including, of course, some pretty major flagship DC titles. Asked how he managed to juggle these various competing deadlines he smiled and answered a lot of very late nights.
(forthcoming Happy by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, published Image Comics)
Discussion ranged from his childhood comics favourites (like Sheldon Cooper The Flash remains one of his all-time favourites, especially some of the great Carmine Infantino work – can’t blame him for that) through working in his own experiences, such as his world-travelling, into his work, the difference between working on creator-owned material (including his new Image title with Darick Robertson, Happy – which, as he explained, means no money up front for the creators until the work is out there and selling) and future projects. One audience member reminded him that last summer at the Book Fest he mentioned he had been trying to figure out a new approach to Wonder Woman, inspired by the inherit sexuality she had when her original creator William Moulton Martson gave her comics life; he was of the opinion that she lost something after that which the character required and he’s confident that he’s found a way to tap into that sexual identity element without being exploitative. Alas, although at the previous Book Fest he said he hoped to have that by next year (now this year), with all his various projects it has slipped back a bit and is likely to be next year now, but he is writing away on it, you’ll be pleased to hear.
Having managed to get my copy of Supergods signed last year I decided not to wait in the very long line after the event. Last year it was the best part of an hour for me to get to the front and I was not that far back in the line; Grant mentioned that the line was so long last summer that he ended up signing away until 2am (the talk had finished at 10.30pm!), so I do hope he didn’t have to stay quite as long this time! But he does seem to very much enjoy getting to not just sign the books but getting the chance to chat for a few minutes to each of his readers, which I’m sure they all appreciated. Another good comics event at the Book Festival, and there’s more to come this Friday with Bryan Talbot paying a return visit, this time with his wife and collaborator Mary, which I’m very much looking forward to.
Second of the reports I penned from the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August for the Forbidden Planet blog:
One of the UK’s finest satirical cartoonists, Martin Rowson, paid a welcome return visit to the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Friday, and was absolutely on top form. Comics and cartoons were discussed, politicians were skewered (deservedly), journalism, government and the role of cartoonists were all covered, along with personal tales, Martin’s work in graphic novels (including his new take on Gulliver’s Travels, one of the great satirical novels of all time), and all accompanied by a lot of humour and more swears than even Jamie Smart can fit into a whole chapter of Corporate Skull.
A busy day at the world’s biggest book festival, and the audience braves the humid heat to pack into one of the tent theatres in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square to hear Martin Rowson, frequent cartoonist for the Guardian among numerous other publications and creator of several graphic novels, discuss his craft. Interestingly, when discussing his work for the newspapers Martin said that he thought of himself more as a columnist, executing a sort of visual journalism, the (often very detailed) cartoons being the graphic equivalent of some of the regular text columns and editorials in the paper. His complete loathing for the current coalition government in power at the moment in the UK came to the forth, partly through some of his art on display on a screen above him (as he talked us through how he visualised certain politicians, from Cameron’s Little Lord Fauntleroy image to struggling with Nick Clegg before hitting on turning him into Pinocchio, which also allowed him to use his wooden boy as numerous other wooden images later on, part of a wheel, a pile of sawdust), partly through a pretty no-holds barred attack on the government, which he described as the worst in his lifetime (and that’s going up against some competition!). The attacks were laced with a lot of humour, but there was no mistaking the anger there too at a lot of inept fiddling while the rest of us suffer while Rome burns.
(“The World as it is or Bones & Bonuses”, by and (c) Martin Rowson)
Anger funnelled through his satirical cartoons was also noticeable in some of his work, as he admitted himself, especially one example, a cartoon ‘split screen’ image, one half a ragged survivor of the Haitian earthquake staggering through ruins clutching a child, the other half a fat cat banker staggering between canyons of enormous tower blocks clutching his bonus (see above). He said that it was driven by fury at the fact that the hideous suffering and vast death toll of the earthquake had been pushed a day later further down the running list on the news to make way for a story about banker’s moaning their bonuses were being cut, with him going on to discuss the disparity between just Wall Street bonuses alone and how much aid Western countries give. Not hard to see why anyone (other than senior bankers) would be driven to anger over that. And as Martin commented, for several centuries now, since the heyday of the great satirical print makers, it’s the role of the editorial cartoonists to hold up senior public figures and politicians to examination and ridicule to remind them they are not untouchable and above everyone else, and about the importance of such cartooning in a democratic world.
(Martin Rowson with his new Gulliver’s Travels graphic novel at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, pics from my Flickr, click for larger versions)
He also recounted a story about a cartooning exhibition of politicians where the guest was George Osborne, now Chancellor but back then in opposition years someone most of them had never heard of. He agreed to take part only if he could give a speech after the Tory politician, who remarked that there were no cartoons of him present. That’s because most of us had never heard of you or knew what you looked like, Rowson explains in his speech, before going on to serve him fair warning that if his party came into power and he into government he and his colleagues would be merciless in examining his every utterance and exaggerating every physical oddity, from his weak chin onwards, in depicting him, leaving the would be minister very upset and spluttering that he would never have come if he’d known what sort of people were there. Clearly, he added, no-one had ever talked to him like that, although he did apologise to his host of the evening if he had perhaps gone too far. No, his host replied, the boy needs toughening up if he’s to make it in politics… Asked by an audience member if he thought there was a role for cartoons praising positive work by politicians he said for the most part no. Although he would be delighted to see a world where his skills were not needed because everyone did their best for one another, openly, honestly, he didn’t see that happening and meantime doing too many positive cartoons as opposed to critical was too close to the work produced in totalitarian regimes; it was the job of the cartoonist and satirist to ever be on the offensive to make sure those in positions of authority are always aware of public scrutiny.
(“The Punishment Inflicted on Lemuel Gulliver” by Hogarth)
On the topic of his new graphic novel, a sort of sequel/modern interpretation of the classic Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, it was quite clear the huge esteem Rowson holds his predecessors in the fine and biting art of British satire, from the clever prose analogies of Swift to the astonishing prints of Gilray and Hogarth (he also mentioned something I’d never come across, a Hogarth work responding to Swift’s novel, “The Punishment Inflicted on Lemuel Gulliver”, which as he noted Swift could have probably sued him for, but actually he appreciated the work of his fellow satirist, leaving us to wonder what a partnership there might have been if the two had collaborated on a major project). That Rowson values his ancestral satirical spirits and endeavours not only to continue their fine tradition, but to honour it by doing the best work he can is quite clear, and quite commendable.
(a panel from Martin Rowson’s new interpretation of Gulliver’s Travels, (c) the artist, published by Atlantic Books)
With his Gulliver he has a Lilliput administered by a very Tony Blair-like leader and his descendant of the original Gulliver notices after a while among them that they produce nothing – no factories, no farms. In fact the only thing they produce, in large quantities, is human waste – they have a whole dome in which games of crappulence are played out, before a rather familiar looking media oligarch takes that crap to nearby Blefescu, where it is turned into material which is then sold back to the Lilliputians, a neat commentary on disposable culture and much of the media, rich meat for Rowson’s acid wit and famously detailed artwork. One is left with the impression that those mighty predecessors of his would heartily approve, laugh then take him for a fine meal and a pint of claret. An excellent event at the Book Fest and if you find an opportunity to hear Rowson speak at an even near you, I recommend you take it.
(thanks to Frances and the Book Fest press team for letting me attend the event)
Forgot to re-post my reports from this August’s biggest literary festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, on here, so starting them off now (originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog):
Friday 24th of August, and as the world’s largest literary bash, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, entered its final weekend for this year I headed in once more to the delightful environs of the New Town’s splendid Georgian jewel, Charlotte Square for my last event of the 2012 Book Fest, a double header event, in fact; unusually, it’s a husband and wife event which saw one of our most respected comics creators, Bryan Talbot, with his wife and now literary collaborator Mary, in conversation with literary editor for Scotland on Sunday and various other publications (and major comics fan) Stuart Kelly.
(Bryan and Mary Talbot talking to Stuart Kelly at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, pic from my Flickr, click for the larger version)
Much of the discussion centred around Mary and Bryan’s first literary collaboration together, the fascinating and frequently moving Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes (published this year by Jonathan Cape), an intertwined double strand of biographical tales of two daughters, one being Lucia, daughter of celebrated icon of Modernist writing, James Joyce, the other being Mary herself, as a young girl, daughter of one of the pre-eminent Joycean scholars of his age (his work, I believe, is still, decades on, hugely influential and respected in that very rarefied field of Joycean scholarship). Having retired early from her academic work (where Mary has authored notable works) the couple had discussed a possible collaboration between them on a new book. Something autobiographical sprang to mind, but as Mary commented modestly, she didn’t originally see her own story as being of particular interest to begin with. But on learning more about the life of Lucia Joyce and her relationship with her writer father she started to see an angle that would allow her to tell some of her own relationship with her father, the Joycean scholar, interwoven with that of Lucia.
There’s a feminist angle to the work, unsurprisingly given Mary’s academic background, and in the eras covering both women’s younger lives it isn’t just the relationship with their fathers which are under the lens, but the social expectations placed squarely on women by societal norms of the time, how they were expected to behave, the limits on what they could be ‘allowed’ to do in ‘decent’ society. While our own contemporary society is far from perfect in terms of gender equality (as Mary noted at one point we’re in a sort of post-feminist period where technically in law women have that full equality they fought for, except of course we know in many fields they still don’t truly have anything like equality or parity), it is still quite shocking to modern sensibilities to see how Lucia’s desires for her own life and her burgeoning career as a dancer and stage costume designer would be so curtailed (all the more shocking when one considers Joyce telling his daughter off for this ‘inappropriate’ behaviour, you’d expect a pioneer of Modernist art, in the Bohemian Paris of the 20s, to be more open minded).
When they came to discuss how they actually approached the collaborative process, Bryan noted that he’s collaborated many times with writers over his career, but this was a particularly unusual creative partnership. As he said, usually if you are illustrating someone else’s words, then you receive a script, usually with some directions, and you do your best to visualise the panels and the layout to bring that written script to comics life. Sometimes, depending on the writer you’re working with, such as, for instance, Pat Mills or Neil Gaiman, it may also involve some long chats over the phone to thrash out more ideas and suggestions, to develop the work. However, in this case, being husband and wife they see each other every day and throughout that day, so suggestions could go back and forth between both of them constantly, they could talk about the book over dinner and so on. Mary is an experienced writer, of course, but not in the field of comics work, and while she worked on the script Bryan made some suggestions and he handled things like layout and scene transitions in addition to actually illustrating Dotter. That said, Bryan was quick to credit his wife, commenting that although they talked constantly about the project, Mary worked on the script herself for the most part, some suggestions and chat aside, and he didn’t actually see any of the script until she finished.
He worked on the illustrations and layouts, sometimes with Mary having a peek over his shoulder, he joked, and when Mary saw some finished pages she realised he had made a mistake. For instance she said that her primary school segregated the girls from the boys, one group on one side, one group on the other side of the room, but Bryan had depicted a classroom of the era mixed, as his own had been. Rather than redraw this, they added a note from Mary saying oh, silly husband got this bit wrong! And they found they quite liked this little personal corrective note, and so did friends they showed it too, so they ended up using this device in several spots in the book. One particular, extremely memorable image (certainly one which has remained in my mind since reading the book back in January), depicts Lucia during a period of confinement, in the centre of the page but in multiple poses as she might be in her dancing career, except instead of the balletic grace of the elegant dancer this is a desperate dance of madness, her trained body now contorted not for art but in pain, her upper body wrapped not in one of her own beautiful designs but in a straight-jacket. The image had come in a dream, Mary explained, and when she told Bryan about it he crafted a page to depict that dream in an impressive piece of art.
(Lucia confined, from Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by and (c) Mary and Bryan Talbot, published Cape)
Upcoming projects were also touched upon: Mary is now working with veteran cartoonist Kate Charlesworth on a new historical comic work, using a working woman who slowly becomes involved in the Suffragette movement, which again I believe is likely to be coming from Cape and which sounds very interesting (hopefully we’ll be able to entice Mary to return to guest blog on that further down the line as she did for Dotter earlier this year), and she mentioned that she had learned a good deal from Bryan about how to structure and pace a narrative for comics which she is using in this new endeavour. Bryan is just finishing off the last couple of pages for the third Grandville album, Bete Noire (due this December from Cape in the UK and Dark Horse in North America), before they both enjoy a nice break, and Bryan was kind enough after the event to let some of us leaf through some pages from the new book he had loaded onto his iPad – you will not be surprised to hear it is again an utterly gorgeous looking, lavishly illustrated Steampunk world that looks glorious, and I’m looking forward to reading the finished book this winter. Bryan also mentioned that he has a fourth Grandville, Noël, full scripted now, with a fifth in the series roughly plotted out, at which point it may be on to pastures new. It was a very interesting event and I’m very much looking forward to the new (and very different) works from both Mary and Bryan, and of course we’ll try to bring you more on those books a bit further down the line. Meantime I’d certainly commend Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes to add to your reading list.
Yes, it’s August and in Edinburgh that means festival time – the Fringe started last week, the world’s biggest arts festival is underway, and this weekend the world’s largest celebration of the written word, the Edinburgh International Book Festival started. The city is buzzing and packed. And naturally, as usual, I have been clicking away with the camera, especially on the Royal Mile where performers get a space to advertise their shows, some doing small segments of their act to crowds or out in costume handing out flyers to drum up interest in their shows, always a happy hunting ground for taking photos. My Flickr stream normally goes nuts in August, often doubling the normal average views, mostly people looking for Fringe pics, from this year but also looking through the several hundred I’ve built up from previous years.
Some performers take it all lying down…
This lady was doing body art and henna tattoos on the Mile while the performers strutted their stuff, the sunlight hit her and the woman she was working on just right and I managed to get this close up of her plying her art on the lady’s hand, sometimes you get lucky:
And I got very lucky with this one as the actress held still in a pose with the sunlight hitting her just right, had time to frame her for a profile portrait shot. Quite pleased with how this came out, makes me think of a shot from a 1930s/40s fashion magazine:
She was part of this troupe, preparing the electric chair from the looks of it:
Who else do I see on a very sunny (yes, we have had a couple of days of sun! Finally!) Royal Mile but Spider-Man!
And her majesty Queen Elizabeth I:
It can be very tiring, the non-stop hurly-burly of the Fringe, so a nap is a good way to recharge – why not just carry your own bed with your for a wee lie down when you feel your energy flagging?
Some very colourful dancers and musicians from Mother Africa:
I even saw a man playing the musical saw (and numerous other items from his tool box too!)
Quick video to capture his playing:
These performers were putting on what looked like a WWII themed Macbeth
I’ve seen this young chap several times now at the Fringe (usually always with a different hair style), I think I have shots of him going back the last two or three years juggling firesticks and knives, he’s very good
And this was the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s director Nick Barley at the opening night party on Saturday night
had a very nice time at the opening party (have several book fest gigs to look forward to over next couple of weeks), plenty of drinks on offer to us, got to chat to some book chums – here’s top science fiction author Ken MacLeod talking with author and academic JF Derry:
It was too warm inside the Spiegeltent at the Book Festival so once the speeches were over we went back outside. My friend Melanie was at an author event which came out during the party and the book fest folks were nice enough to let her come in and join me, so we sat out under a glowing summer night sky as the festival buzzed around the city chatting and drinking
And while we were out there I got this great shot of Scottish poet Ron Butlin (left) with my friend JF:
Already shot ridiculous amount of Fringe photos and been uploading them steadily to my Flickr – quite often shoot another few dozen walking home along the Mile after work, but the weather is supposed to be back to horrid rain again for the next few days so suspect I won’t be walking along taking photos then! Still have a large amount waiting to process and upload though, so that’s not a problem! More to follow…
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be invited along to one of the highlights of the UK’s literary calendar, the launch for the programme for the world’s biggest literary festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This year the team held the launch in the gorgeous historic splendour of the Signet Library next to the old Parliament hall. There was a mixture of looking back to the beginnings and towards the future; director Nick Barley paid tribute to the Edinburgh Writer’s Conference in 1962 and great Scottish scribes like Hugh MacDiarmid and others who helped to reshape the cultural landscape in a city and country that was still struggling with the post-war place in the world and the decline of traditional strong areas like heavy manufacturing and a seemingly declining interest in our rich culture. Fast forward to 2012 and a very different Edinburgh (and Scotland and the rest of the UK), home to the biggest arts festival in the world, the largest literary festival, home to many great writers past and present, a UNESCO City of Literature… Well, you get the point, the richness of our artistic culture has become far more celebrated and has also given a practical boost in terms of bringing in visitors,and it makes me happy to think that books are at the core of that change. To mark that early 1962 beginning the EIBF has teamed up with the British Council and will be recreating those writer’s conferences, not just here in Edinburgh but in various nations around the world, celebrating the importance of writing and reading and publishing.
The programme for the adult and the children’s section is, as always, stuffed to the gills with events – over 800 authors I think Nick said during his introduction. On the children’s side there will be an artist in residence, none other than the very fine Chris Riddell, who will be doing various events and classes throughout the festival, including discussing his political cartooning for the Observer and he will be working with his regular collaborator Paul Stewart and also with a certain Neil Gaiman, who had such a ball last year at the EIBF he’s back again this August, I am delighted to say (he and Riddell will have an event marking the tenth anniversary of the delightful Coraline, a children’s book which is far, far too good to be left just to children, I think, discussing the interaction of writers and illustrators).
Also on the extensive kid’s programme those Etherington Brothers are again being allowed out (under responsible supervision) for a comics workshop, the Tolkien Society celebrates 75 years of the Hobbit (especially appropriate with the first part of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movie on the way later in the year), the Genomics Forum folk will be doing a piece for younger readers on science in fiction (which should be good, they have held regular science-literature crossover events in recent years in the city which have been fascinating and informative). The actor McKenzie Crook has not only written a book it turns out that illustration is his first love and he’s returned to it, providing his own artwork to his book The Windvale Sprites, Jenny Colgan and Steve Cole discuss writing Doctor Who novels, top illustrator Axel Scheffler will be there, as will his regular collaborator the wonderful Julia Donaldson.
In the adult programme one of our finest science fiction writers, Ken MacLeod, continues his work bringing together art and science as part of the festival’s Science Meets Fiction strand (on a related note if you haven’t read Ken’s recently published novel Intrusion you should – an absorbing near-future UK slice of SF very much dealing with some of today’s issues in a clever manner, much recommended). The inventive Jasper Fforde returns once more, local lad Iain M Banks will be there, of course, the excellent reviewer, cultural commentator and writer Kim Newman will be talking about the very welcome new editions of his Anno Dracula series (huge fun), Flame Alphabet writer Ben Marcus will be part of the Science Meets Fiction series, and the brilliant China Mieville will be in Charlotte Square talking about his new novel Railsea.
On the comics front as well as Neil Gaiman returning another of last year’s guests returns too – one of the medium’s best known scribes and one who has just recently been ennobled in the Queen’s birthday honours list, no less: Grant Morrison, MBE (how cool is it that one of our top comics scribes should appear on that kind of list? Not something I ever expected to see, well done, Grant!). Grant will be following up from last year’s sold-out event where he discussed his new Supergods book; he will continue on from that work to discuss the place of superheroes in the modern multimedia age. Bryan Talbot pays a return visit to the EIBF and this time he is joined by his wife and now artistic collaborator Mary to discuss their fascinating graphic novel Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, which intersects Mary’s childhood with a noted Joycean scholar for a father and the life of Lucia, daughter of James Joyce (an excellent work and again highly recommended – you can read a guest commentary by Mary and Bryan about Dotter here on the FP blog). Another welcome returning face is one of the finest editorial cartoonists working in the UK today, Martin Rowson (I was lucky enough to get into his last talk at the EIBF with Steve Bell, one to try and book if you can); Martin will be discussing his updated take on Swift’s superb fantasy satire Gulliver’s Travels.
(above: Grant Morrison at last year’s EIBF, below Neil Gaiman at the 2011 EIBF, pics from my Flickr)
Naturally with such a vast programme I can only bring you a little taster of some of the comics, illustration and science fiction folks out of a much larger, incredibly diverse programme featuring literally hundreds of writers, not to mention many other events – debates, live readings and performances, masterclasses and more. You can now get hold of the programme in print or browse online: this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival runs from 11th to the 27th of August in the New Town’s splendid Charlotte Square (box office opens on June 29th), right slap bang during the absolute madness of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe exploding all over the city. Despite how incredibly busy it is though, the Book Fest also offers up a nice oasis of calm among the greater festival madness, also being a nice place to sit back in a deck chair (if the weather stays nice) with a book and an ice cream or of an evening into the Spiegeltent, or browse the very well stocked bookstore. It’s a book lover’s dream tucked away into one historic square and has to be experienced. As always I’ll hopefully be reporting later in the year from a couple of the events.
(this report was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog)