The latest instalment of Joanna Neary’s adventures with people in the arts and their associated materials sees her meeting a comic artist who’s inspiring positive action.
Welcome to The Unsolved Pencil Case, taking a sideways glance at comedy and art while occasionally celebrating stationery, especially pencil cases.
I recently acquired one of those antique wooden ones with three tiers and a sliding lid that can double as a ruler, for £4.95 from the Samaritans shop. If this column were an actual pencil case it’d be a Bob And Roberta Smith one with a slogan on it from the Royal Academy Shop, currently in the sale. But that’s enough about pencil cases for this week; there’s more to life than art materials.
This week, I’m talking to a comic artist who was frustrated by current politics, and decided to do something about it.
I first saw Myfanwy Tristram’s work when I was at Falmouth Art College, in a lo-fi comic called Girl Frenzy. Her work was delightful and a real inspiration in terms of zines and DIY counterculture. Girl Frenzy showed me how you can make it yourself, if you just work hard. Myfanwy continues to do so.
She has recently co-curated Draw The Line, an online comic in which more than 100 comic artists present positive political actions anyone can take. If you want to find ideas towards making a difference and/or like comic books, Draw The Line is a joyful and thought-provoking guide to being proactive. Like a political Haynes manual.
Hello Myfanwy. How many actions do you have in Draw The Line? I reckon the average Joe (me) can list about three.
We originally thought of 159 actions between us. We’ve ended up illustrating 139 of them.
They range from really small things, like wearing a badge, or the action you ended up illustrating, putting a poster in your window, to much bigger ones, like standing for Parliament.
The brief was quite wide really, so we included all sorts of things that you might not originally think of as ‘political’, like shopping in charity shops, or planting wildflowers for bees, because these actions support people and the environment, that current administrations aren’t giving much support to.
Did this idea start small, like a little seed?
Yes – originally I thought that I would get five or six people together and we’d self-publish a comic to sell at comic festivals.
This was pre the US election, but after Brexit. I was already feeling like I needed to do something political.
I’d been to the Graphic Brighton conference, where I’d seen artists like Olivier Kugler and Kate Evans speak about the documentary comics they’d made after talking to refugees in Calais, Kurdistan and Greece, so I already had a little seed germinating there, about how people think comics are very jolly and an easy read, but actually they can tell a story like no one else can, and get right to the heart of complex political situations.
How did you develop Draw The Line?
I posted the idea on Facebook and a few friends said yes. Then someone pointed out that Karrie Fransman, the graphic novelist, had recently made a post asking what comic artists could do in the current climate.
I left a comment, she came on board, and that’s when it really took off.
Were any actions particularly challenging to the artists?
Yes, some of them were a bit of a stretch (especially actions that you take online: it’s quite boring drawing a web page), but it’s been amazing to see some really thoughtful interpretations that weren’t at all what I’d expected.
There are some incredible artists in the roster as well, so that’s been an education to me, to see how they’ve approached the brief.
Did you begin to attract attention from people you didn’t know?
Yes, comics people are a sociable bunch: if one comes on board, you can be sure they’ll know a dozen others and invite them in too. The other factor was Karrie having such a massive number of contacts.
When the artwork came in from Steven Appleby, Fumio Obata, Dave McKean, Hunt Emerson, Kate Charlesworth and Lucy Knisley, for example, not only was I thrilled to see it, but I knew that we’d be able to get some proper attention for the project, which will (hopefully) help all the more people become inspired and start thinking about how to bring about political change.
I know that it was important to you to represent as many parts of the world and different voices as possible.
One of the first objections that came up from a number of people was that we might look like a load of white, middle-class people preaching to others about how to live or what to do. But in the current political climate, none of us are untouched.
I think we have artists from 15 countries and represent a broad spectrum of minority groups. I’ve just done a very rough gender count, and it looks like we have around 68 female artists, so that’s pretty much a 50/50 split.
Also, to ensure we’re not just representing our own views, or coming up with actions that may not actually be the best, we reached out to a load of charities and organisations working in the areas each action deals with. Under most of the comics/illustrations, you’ll see a link to learn more.
I was sent the action ‘Shout to the streets’ and I remember being torn about the fact not everyone lives in a regime – or suburb – where they would feel comfortable attracting attention to their beliefs. Did any other artists adapt the action to be more reflective of them?
It is inevitable that when you write an action in the abstract, then send it out to an artist, they are going to think about it more deeply and see it within their own context.
There were a couple of concerns that I can remember – nothing major; they just caused people to ask if they could change things slightly. One was about not staring at people in the street if they look a bit different.
Originally it was titled ‘Keep your eyes to yourself’, but we changed it to be more positive: ‘Smile don’t stare’, after some input from a couple of our artists who are disabled. One of them said, “I’m a wheelchair user and get stared at a lot, but those that just nod, smile and acknowledge me, make my day.”
I suspect that some people would have liked a much more vocal and political message than I ended up drawing.
I think that the best comics and the best art comes from a place of truth. If you are representing your true thoughts and feelings, it will speak to any audience.3156 Views
One of Standard Issue’s super-talented bunch of illustrators. www.joneary.com @MsJoNeary