Monday, October 22, 2007

Keep Britain Normal

Keep Britain NormalIt began with MRSA. A mutated bug no drug could kill. Then that mutated further...

Infection produced alarming symptoms. Soon the entire population lived in fear... No known treatment. The ill afraid to go to hospital... a death sentence.

A panic-stricken government introduced the Biological Security Act. It set up the Biological Security Agency...

Seconded from the military, their suited medics patrolled the streets responding to calls to the freephone number on all the posters and tv/internet ads...

As strange changes began to be wrought by the bugs on their victims 'Keep Britain Normal' became the mantra of all mainstream political parties....

The new profile artwork is by Felipe Cunha. Hybrids is itself hybridising into a comic. We have perfected character sketches. A teaser is coming before Christmas. Watch this space.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Doris Lessing and the Nobel Prize for Literature

Doris Lessing has at last been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Better late than never - although she has no shortage of gongs on her mantlepiece.

Many people today under 40 will never even have heard of her. This was certainly true of 20-30 year olds 15-17 years ago when our paths crossed.

I had commissioned a graphic novel from her. It's called Playing the Game and was eventually published by HarperCollins when they bought the rights to all her work. It was part of a series intended to match 'literary' authors - like Kazuo Ishiguro, Angela Carter and Ian Banks - with the best comics artists - like Lorenzo Mattotti, Dave McKean and Francois Schuitten. Sadly it was the only title published in the end.

I visited her house a number of times. She came across as a wonderfully alive person, with piercing blue eyes, and a genuine interest in everything you had to say. She really wanted to understand and would ask searching questions, listening intently to the answers.

At dinner, her adult son, who lived with her and has learning difficulties, hovered in the background, a source of guilt and responsibility for her - as well as of material for at least two of her works.

I had thought that such a giant of literature would not be concerned with mere comics, but her desire to push creative barriers knew no limits - not even comics!

Her choice of story was unusual - a fable, and one written in the form of an aria, which the artist was intended to illustrate. She wanted it to be an opera too (she'd just worked with Philip Glass on an opera) but I don't think this ever happened.

There came the task of choosing an artist. I came over with a large pile of books and we went through them. And you know what? She picked out the darkest, most heavy metal, and accomplished of the lot - Simon Bisley, who was drawing Slaine and ABC Warriors for 2000AD at the time and had a massive following, particularly among bikers, of which he was one... and a body builder.

I was surprised and pleased. So I asked Simon - who had never heard of her. He was too busy and anyway didn't like the story.

This pattern continued through all the other artists she liked and approached. The next, for example, was Duncan Fegredo, who I had 'discovered' and worked with since he was at Leeds art college, and who also draws astonishingly and with dramatic electric dynamism.

As we progressed, it became apparent that - most comics artists being working class and anarchic in sensibility - Lessing's reputation and style meant nothing to them.They all turned down this job - which some might have considered a dream job - one by one.

In the end the artist who eventually agreed was a hack, to be honest. An unexceptional and arrogant young typical Marvel artist who couldn't relate to the work either. No one liked the result, least of all me.

So what is it about Doris Lessing's work which doesn't speak to the recent young? After all, she has written many times about the quest of youth for meaning, and the difficulties of growing up in problematic surroundings.

The way I see it is that both the attraction and disadvantage of much of her work lie in its naivety. Perceptive in matters of the heart, her style and political idealism leave her at times exposed. She is at home when writing about things she has direct experience of, such as Zimbabwe, and awkward when not.

At the time when I began working on this, I was still involved in the grassroots anti-capitalist political scene in London. I was part of the collective producing Monochrome newspaper.

A couple of years earlier her book 'The Good Terrorist' had appeared. We all felt this was intended to be about people like some of us - for example Sarah Gellner, daughter of historian Ernest Gellner. So we all read it - but it did not resonate. It was not grounded in reality, we felt, and therefore was making a judgement about 'middle-class' 'revolutionaries' based not on research but on ideology. We laughed at it. What did she know?

But it's the ability to continue asking questions and experimenting that marks the true artist. Whether you arrive at the 'right' answers is not always relevant - you're bound to get it wrong sometimes. So I do believe that after a lifetime of such practice, Lessing every bit deserves her prize from Stockholm.