Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Comic Art: Where Comics and Art Meet!

Last weekend, while the majority of UK fandom were up at Northampton for the N.I.C.E. convention, I went and visited two Brighton art exhibitions in the nick of time before they closed.
The first was the MA Sequential Design/Illustration show at Brighton University. There was a plethora of rising and existing talent that knocked my socks off including Dominic Evans (art below)...
...Ellie Crane and Sophy Henn. Then there was Phil (I didn't catch his last name)'s Parallel Universe Switch and accompanying graphic novel, which promised a better life at the push of a button. Apparently, I'm already living in the luckiest universe, which is handy.

Apart from the fact that the show centres around sequential art (in it’s multifarious forms – not just obvious comics), I was there to see the work of two friends, Rory Walker and Woodrow PhoenixRory is a former Brightonian and regular attendee of Cartoon County. For this course he made a beautiful paper theatre telling the story of Sinbad. The theatre was made exquisitely with some really neat technical touches using magnets. He talks more about constrructing paper theatres here.

Woodrow (above) has been a stalwart of the UK comics scene long before I’d discovered there was a “scene” and I’ve known him so long he had a different name when I first met him. More importantly, he’s been continually pushing and experimenting with the medium for decades with cutting edge graphic novels like Rumble Strip and being one half of the creative geniuses behind the graphic anthology Nelson. His coursework for his MA is no less impressive. She Lives is a vast, silent graphic novel that pays homage to The Bride of Frankenstein. When I say vast, I don’t mean in page count, but rather surface area. In the video below Woodrow explains a little bit about the project as he turns the pages:

So that’s almost a meter square book (over 2.5 ft sq), that not only has all the original artwork in it, but Woodrow also bound and made the book himself. It’s impossible to get the sense of scale in a video or photograph and it’s a book that has to be experienced "in the paper."
If comics like The Authority and The Ultimates are supposedly “wide-screen comics” then She Lives is an IMAX experience, as the book fills your peripheral vision, giving the reader the sense of entering the paper universe. This is the closest you’ll get to “immersive comics” without all that digital nonsense.

Woodrow said he wanted to get back to that feeling of being a child, when comics and picture books felt enormous in one’s tiny hands. He’s succeeded magnificently. Currently a "work in progress" Woodrow hopes to finish it before the end of the year and whether this ever gets published at this size (and anything smaller would be doing it a disservice) time will tell. Meanwhile, look out for it, as it’s bound to be on tour shortly. It’s a great big beautiful beast of a book.

On the way home I popped into David Blandy’s solo show.
Blandy has taken all my preoccupations of my (and his) youth; anime, action figures, computer games, lego and Japanese culture in general, and created a parallel universe where his own creations—including variations of himself (as above and below)—are filtered through these media.
Simultaenously derivative and intriguing, the show was hit and miss for me. Some elements, like the two films Anjin 1600 and Child of the Atom, work best. The first is a homage to the classic anime, Ulysses 31, with the character Anjin (Japanese for "pilot") lost in space trying to either find his way home or to the mythical planet of Edo. The story is also based on the incredibly true tale of William Adams who became the only Western samurai (as fictionalised in James Clavell’s Shogun novel). 

Child of the Atom was a powerful meditation on Hiroshima, as a docuemtary with Blandy wandering the city with his toddler daughter, as she narrates it as an adult from the future. This was all interesperesd with Akira-inspired animation.
The whole exhibition felt like an otaku’s genuine affection for this material sifted through the commercial filter of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. Perhaps that latter element left me feeling slightly uncomfortable, particularly as a large portion of the artwork was actually created by talented Brighton-based manga artist Inko (who contributed to the Spirit of Hope anthology). Blandy wears his influences on his sleeve, but I fear he’s more of a conceptual artist, and while many of his pieces will impress the less knowing—and raise a wry smile among manga and anime fans—it will be nice to see where he develops in the future. Hopefully in more unique and original areas.

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