Monday, 24 May 2010

Find of the week: Graphic Medicine

The popularity of comics and graphic novels about coping with illness both mental and psychical (both from the point of view of the sufferer and those close to them) has been soaring for quite some time , and perhaps in response to this Ian Williams (who did a MA in Medical Humanities(*1)) has set up this site. The purpose of the site is to review graphic novels and comics that have a central medical narrative, but with a bit more of an expert view on the medical issues at hand. Williams also aims to promote the use of the arts and humanities in order to give a fresh perspective on the treatment of various medical conditions, encouraging a more humanistic approach to medicine. It is a great resource for beginners, and features web comics and educational comics beyond more well known titles such as David B's Epileptic and Harvey Pekar/Joyce Brabner's Our Cancer Year. The site has met a positive response from many people employed in the medical profession and inspired real action, one example being the inclusion of graphic novels in the library of Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, London. Williams has also set up a conference in London on the subject of Graphic Medicine with keynote speeches from the likes of Brian Fies (Mom's Cancer), Paul Gravett, and Marc Zaffran, as well as a discussion between Philippa Perry (Couch Fiction) and Darryl Cunningham (Psychiatric Tales). This conference talks place on the 17th of June at The Institute of English Studies, University of London, Senate House and tickets are limited and cost £25. More details can be found of the website here.

(*1) The discipline of Medical Humanities encourages the study of modern and classic literature in order to understand the human condition, and with this site Williams is hoping to show that comics have just as much potential to help us understand illness and our mental state of being

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Review: My friend Dahmer-Derf

I have a small goal, one that when I confess it makes me feel like I should be locked away in a home for the socially inept. I wish to own ALL of the weird and wonderful comics collected together in Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury's great little reference book The Leather Nun and Other Incredibly Strange Comics This book gives you a taster of a whole range of comic book alternatives to offbeat erotica, cheap b-movies, and exploitation shlock horror including Amputee Love, Barkley versus Godzilla, and Hansi: The Girl Who Loved The Swastika. Derf's twenty six page comic book true life story about his high school experiences with the notorious serial killer Jeffery Dahmer is the first one of The Leather Nun comics that I can cross off my list. It all starts off with a pretty intelligent and yet straightforward text only introduction from the author/artist of the book. It responses openly to questions about why he wrote the book, and his difficulties getting it published, before finally sticking a boot in to any would-be serial killer groupies reading it requesting them not to contact him, and go and get help. He finally explains in response to people questioning the authenticity of his story, that he deliberately toned down his usual style of artwork(*1) in order for it to match the straightforwardness of his story and therefore make it entirely believable. Derf's handling of the story is effective because it remains fairly neutral and open ended throughout. It doesn't glamorise Dahmer or set out to represent him as evil incarnate, neither does it alievate him of his crimes due to a less than perfect childhood. Derf does express a certain belief that perhaps if someone had taken notice of his strange actions Dahmer might have been saved, but he places the emphasis on the word 'might' acknowledging that there was something in Dahmer's make up that wasn't right from the beginning, a numbness almost. His storytelling is sparing, both visually and in terms of narrative. In terms of plot outline, it is broken down into a series of small chunks that make up the bigger picture. There are no real earth shattering moments of relivation but Derf's omnipotent narration at the top of the panels piece together clues and signs that his teenage self may have missed or just chose to ignore. Visually Derf makes good use of black and white, and a very subtle use of shadow, a lot of which ends up focused on Dahmer's face in a perhaps cliched attempted to make him look menacing and/or tortured. A fairly uniform panel layout except for a few visual effects and metaphors (the end of the penultimate section of the comic sees the final panels shrink in size to represent Dahmer's withdrawal from society) means that you are not distracted from the story at hand. Overall this small slice of life comic is well worth owning although I wouldn't expect any major insights into the mind of a serial killer when reading this. Derf however is honest and brave in this comic, admitting guiltily that although he was no way responsible for what happened to Dahmer, his friendship with him was not one based on mutual respect.

View Derf's website here.
(*1) Derf's style is usually heavily influences by his punk sensibilities, something that is desperate to break out in some of the depictions of Dahmer imitating his disabled decorator, with the grotesque distorted lip curl Derf comes across like a slightly more two dimensional Charles Burns

Book cover(s) of the week

Decided to post a double whammy today as I haven't done one of these posts for a while. Here's two classic orange sci-fi books by John Wyndham. The Kraken Wakes is illustrated with a more bold heavy black, decidedly b-movie feel, while The Day Of The Triffids is slightly more playful and cartoonesque with overlapping colours and the triffids appear less menacing on this cover, like giant friendly thistles.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Publisher Spotlight: Nobrow Press

Nobrow is a London based independent publisher with an eye for design. Formed in 2008 they specialise in publishing quirky and eye catching work by lesser known illustrators and comic artists. Although they publish a lot of UK based talent such as Bristol based illustrator Ben Newman (whose comic book debut on Nobrow I reviewed here) they also publish work from international artists such as Berlin based master of colour and Ou Ba Po, Blexbolex, and American Micah Lidberg. Despite being a small publisher they don't cut corners when it comes to quality which is something that instantly draws me to them. They seek to use the best paper and experiment with different sizes, means of folding, and other techniques to insure that what they produce is not only worth reading but also worth holding on to as an art object in itself. They also have their own in house studio with screen printing facilities where they produce prints and posters by their rosta of artists and they even sell an expensive (but great looking) vinyl toy designed by Ben Newman. To cement their identity further, you can usually tell a Nobrow product due not only to its comforting to touch paper but also from their use of colour. A lot of their products are printed in only 2-4 colours (usually blues, reds, and sometimes they venture into neon territory, but the artists here make neon look good, unlike the people over at Paper Rad/PictureBox). Sometimes as with a lot of indie publishers and artists, there is a danger of venturing too far into the twee style of illustration and some of the items can be a bit pricey, however I shouldn't let this bother you too much as you are paying for quality. If you fancy getting a sample of what they do, they release an anthology type magazine every now and then. If you live in London they are also opening a shop and gallery space on the 27th of May which I can imagine would be well worth checking out (details below).

Out of what they have to offer now, the things that catch my eye are Micah Lidberg’s stunning prehistoric concertina Rise&Fall, Blexbolex's abstract alphabet Abecederia, and John McNaught's Birchfield Close (which reminds me a bit of Tobias Schalken's work).

Nobrow's site is here, and blog is here.