Another comic about the DWP. Would usually have qualms about a similar topic two weeks in a row but the whole woman-in-coma-told-to-find-work story was too tempting. Enjoyed pulling the artwork together for this too. Having a lot of fun with the visuals for the comic at the moment.
This is in reference to the leaked Department for Work and Pensions document. Had lots of fun drawing stark, film noir images for this.
A relatively earnest, politically on-the-nose and straight-forward piece this week.
I’d like to talk about that for a second.
I’ve been producing the New Statesman weekly comic for over a year now, and making journalistic comics for longer than that. In that time, I’ve read/heard many in the comics community be dismissive, even a little sniffy, towards political comics and I thought it might be worth addressing some of these opinions here.
The negative attitude towards political comics seems to me to divide into three themes: 1. Legacy, 2. Purpose, and 3. Ideology.
There’s a common notion that political comics are going to date badly. That it’s far better to aim for universal content, devoid of historical context, so that future generations can appreciate a work as much as, if not more than, the audience of the time. Beyond the absurdity of the idea that avoiding references to current affairs in 2014 will somehow ensure a Peanuts-style, 25 volume, immaculate hardback retrospective, there’s also a more worrying idea behind this conceit: the notion that any artist is capable of producing work in a vacuum. Nothing we produce is timeless. Everything we make is steeped in how we are now. What we think now. How we feel now. It will date. In fact, I think a piece of work can say so much about current socio-political issues through the very things it omits. Aiming for timelessness by self-censoring what you choose to comment on seems, to me, to be an entirely self-defeating pursuit.
Another popular topic for critics of political comics is the limitations of satire. Like the dinner party bore who tries to find a philosophical loophole in the vegetarian’s life choice, there are those who would like to place parameters of success and failure around a piece of art that dares to critique the status quo. Who is it for? Is it only preaching to the choir? Has it changed anyone’s mind? Changed the world? Made everything better? If not, is it worthwhile? Why do it? Why bother?
Every artist should, of course, at least consider who their audience is, and question the intent behind a piece of work before they commit to it. That’s as true for the autobiographical comic artist as it is for the superhero comic artist as it is for the political comic artist. But suddenly, we’re in the territory of asking if the art is quantifiably worthwhile if it doesn’t change people’s opinions. Which seems to me to be moving the goalposts somewhat. And how exactly does one find out if the work has met some sort of platonic ideal of satire?
There’s always the worry, when sticking your neck out as an artist and saying “I think this“, that you’ll alienate some of your audience or – even worse – come across as earnest. There’s a comfort in flippancy and cynicism. By never committing to a position, you can never be called out on it. Now, I can be as flippant as the next comic artist but some of my favourite comics for the NS have been ones where I felt genuinely angry or frustrated and tried to articulate that in an interesting way. And I’m comfortable with the idea that my position could change the following week. That my opinions, however thought through they are, are malleable enough to take on board an opposing point of view. I’d much rather engage with an interesting argument that I disagree with than read one perfectly composed to say nothing at all. I just don’t know if earnestness should be such a dirty word.
There’s a Miro quote I remember reading that’s always stayed with me: “I understand that an artist is someone who, in the midst of other’s silence, uses his own voice to say something and who makes sure that what he says is not useless, but something that is useful to mankind”.
I’m not saying that everything (or, indeed, anything) I do is useful but I’m happy to strive for it. And I get a lot of joy, satisfaction and inspiration from consuming art that is antithetical to Miro’s fairly prescriptive statement. What I suppose I’m trying to suggest here is that there are many ways in which we all engage with the world and feed that into our creative output. And this one – political cartooning/comic journalism/comic reportage/whatever you want to call it – is as valid and worthwhile as any other.
This is just a quick sketch I did of a couple swing-dancing (I’m doing a bit of 1920s-30s fashion research for the comic I’m working on so I needed some practise too). My linework’s been feeling a little tight lately so I fancied loosening up a bit. Because I’ve got quite a heavy workload at the moment, I’m not getting to do much drawing for myself but sometimes a change is as good as a rest.
60. How to Politically Survive a Flood
There’s a good piece by George Monbiot about dredging – and how it could arguably make the effects of floods worse – here. It was quite fun trying to mimic a classic, guidebook-style illustration aesthetic for this.
Someone should make a tumblr of: “Politicians in wellies, visiting flood disasters, and looking uncomfortable while waiting for their photo op.”
59. Punching Down
Here’s more of the report the comic references. It’s grim seeing the normalising use of rape in comedy routines (and elsewhere) and worse when it crudely gets defended with the “comedy is about breaking taboos” by rape joke apologists. I could probably write a very long, very boring blog expanding on all this but suffice it to say: No, I do not think any subject, rape included, should be off-limits for a comedian – but I think it’s the responsibility of the comedian to – at the very least – question what their point is, and where that joke is coming from. Film Crit Hulk wrote a very good article responding to a contrarian clickbait Slate article about rape here. Worth checking out.
While working on the New Statesman comics, I’ve also been working on some other projects this past month…
1. I was commissioned by European Movement to produce a four page comic about the EU (and the UK’s part in it) which will be published online and as a physical pamphlet. It was written by Peter Luff at EM. That’s all finished and should be going to print soon I think. Here’s a small preview from page one:
2. And now that’s completed, I’ve just started work on a 48 page comic about the past, present and future of humanitarian aid – on behalf of Cordaid. The comic will be divided into 5 chapters which should be going online over the next few months. The comic is written by Tjeerd Royaards (editor and founder of Cartoon Movement) who is travelling around interviewing people and digging into archives as I type. When the chapters are finished, the comic will be printed as a physical book.
I’ll update the blog when all these go online and are available to read in their entirety. In the meantime, I’ll continue posting new NS comics here every Friday!
If you’ve not been keeping up with the Lord Rennard scandal, there’s more here.
The whole thing has been reminding me of recent political and internet “discourse” which can quickly descend into cries of “I’m hurt” or “I’m being bullied” rather than substantive debate that involves talking about the actual issues. It’s a popular tactic in social media arguments (particularly Twitter) but seems to be a new way for politicians to avoid difficult questions. There’s a good article about the rise of “Smarm” that touches on this which can be read here.
It was difficult turning these thoughts into something visual until this popped into my head. There was something irresistible about the dinosaur metaphor and it was insanely fun to draw.
After the righteous anger, this is always my next reaction to new GCHQ/NSA scandals. I’m sure there’s some smart software flagging things and making all this data easier to sift through, but I can’t shake the image of a lone, poor GCHQ employee sitting there scrolling through millions of soul-destroyingly dull text messages.
If you liked the title reference, you might enjoy this. Try getting it out of your head after one listen.
Ah, this was a fun one to draw and colour. All 1980s/90s pastels.
It all came out of an idea to do a comic about Michael Gove as a teacher. I started thinking about what detention with him would be like. Which got me thinking about The Breakfast Club. Because I am nothing if not a child of pop culture, unable to relate to the real world without the filter of TV/film. That final voiceover essay started going round and round my head. With just a few changes, I could make that a fun teacher call-to-arms. Subverting the original intention of the monologue.
It ran the risk of being a little too reference heavy but I liked the concept and thought it worth taking a risk on losing people who haven’t seen The Breakfast Club (if you’re one of them, this is probably all you need).
One of my other concerns when I was drawing the tired, overworked teachers (as grown-up, dishevelled versions of The Breakfast Club kids) was that the “Teachers’ Club” looked pretty white and unrepresentative. But by changing that, I might lose the clarity of a joke that’s already relying on people picking up on 1980s film references. In the end, I erred on the side of joke clarity. I still can’t decide if that was the right way to go but at the very least, it was a considered choice.