Monday, 07 October, 2013

I went to the GRAPHIC Festival this weekend at the Sydney Opera House and now my brain is buzzing with ideas and creative juices. But it is also overtired from Daylight Saving beginning and a lot of walking, so I'm going to have to make this quick! Here goes.


Getting there

We had been warned to leave extra travel time because the International Fleet Review was also happening that same weekend and crowds of people were going to be flocking into the city to see the boats and the aerial displays and so on. Getting to the Opera House did take a little longer because I had to do it via Macquarie St, but the signs were mostly clear and there were plenty of people to ask when I wasn't quite sure. The crowds were amazing though: this was Macquarie St in the morning:

Macquarie St this morning international_fleet_review

And this was the Opera House on approach:

The Opera House this morning International_fleet_review

Certain areas had been blocked off and they were only letting ticket holders through, so it was quite a relief when I finally got in the building to where I needed to be.

I ran into some of the Canberra comics folk (Emma and Gavin), as well as some of the Sydney comics folk (Julie, Tim and Hayden), and we got to hang out for a bit (which was really nice as usually I see them in passing or just on social media), gobbling down lunch before the next event started.

Which was …

The arts of publishing and editing

GRAPHIC panel: The arts of publishing & editing: Françoise Mouly, Luke Pearson, Sam Arthur, Len Wein & Leigh Rigozzi.

The panel was chaired by Sam Arthur of Nobrow Press in the UK, and consisted of Luke Pearson (an illustrators who has published books with Nobrow and also created art for the cover of The New Yorker), Len Wein (comics editor and writer, who has worked for both DC and Marvel), Leigh Rigozzi (editor of the Blood & Thunder anthologies) and Françoise Mouly (who, along with her husband, Art Spiegelman [creator of Maus], edited RAW magazine and its related books until the magazine ended. She now works for The New Yorker as well as publishing children's comics under her own imprint, Toon Books).

The panel started with Françoise giving a short talk (illustrated by slides) of her history in graphics publishing—talking about RAW, their books and The New Yorker, of course, but also the experimental side of printing and how they used to create the printed objects themselves. (She was easily the most fascinating person on the panel, in my opinion!) Then there was general discussion among the panellists, lightly steered by Sam Arthur. They talked about different aspects of publishing and editing and working with artists. Leigh Rigozzi talked about Blood & Thunder and the whole experience of printing 300 copies of the actual thing: those involved all worked day jobs, but the printing process took longer than expected, so they would work all day and print all night, and they did that for a month!)

There was an opportunity at the end to ask questions and I asked about how to get into comics editing and whether you had to also be a comics publisher to do so. The general consensus seemed to be yes because it's not a job that really exists anywhere and you sort of learn it as you do it. Françoise did speak a little about the nuts and bolts of it—how she would work closely with her creators to shape stories and would ask to see layouts and whatnot. (She sounded like the sort of comics editor I would like to be [if I should be so lucky …])


I'd been badgering the Opera House people on social media about whether Dave McKean (who, for people who know nothing about comics, is an artist, graphic designer, filmmaker, musician and longstanding collaborator partner to Neil Gaiman). Fortunately they replied before I had to leave the house, so I brought something along to be signed.

But since Dave's first session wasn't over yet, I checked out the Kinokuniya bookstall and, on the strength of hearing from Luke Pearson and Sam Arthur in the panel just gone, bought a copy of Hilda and the Midnight Giant. (I didn't know which Hilda book came first really.) I got it signed by Luke, who also did a very nice doodle in the front, and I also got to talk to Sam a bit more about comics editing (against noise backdrop of naval planes going by overhead).

Then I joined Dave McKean's signing line and got him to sign my script book of Mirrormask (while at the same time blabbing about how much I liked the movie):

Dave McKean (davemckean) signing. GRAPHIC
My Mirrormask book has now been signed by both neilhimself and davemckean

So now it's been signed by both Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman!


After that, I ran into Tim McEwen again (who seems to know everyone in Australian comics!) and he very kindly offered me a free ticket to see Art Spiegeleman and Phillip Johnston's Wordless!. That started in five minutes in the Concert Hall, so I forwent the Len Wein panel and hurried upstairs as fast as the PGP would allow me to. Here was my vantage point:

Vantage point graphic

It was a really interesting show—part lecture about comics and comics history, part illustrated autobiography and mostly a showcase of these really old woodcut novels (and related works), or excerpts of them, by artists I'd never heard of, which we viewed one page at a time alongside Phillip Johnston's score. It was amazing stuff and I wish I hadn't been so sleepy because I'm sure I missed little bits of it when my brain started having microsleeps.

Art Spiegelman & Phillip Johnston's " Wordless" was fascinating. Thanks TimMcEwen67 for the ticket!

There was a short Q & A afterwards, during which people could ask questions about the work and what it was like for Art and Phillip to collaborate.


Afterwards, I got a quick peek out the back of the Opera House to see what was going on in the harbour (not much):

View from the back of the Opera House this afternoon international_fleet_review

I was pretty hungry too and tried to find something to eat, but there were a lot of people around outside (which made me not want to venture outside), the café just outside that section of the Opera House was being used for a private navy families function, and the bistro inside didn't have much by way of dinner options: it was basically junk food or a cheese box, and I was wary of getting a cheese box because there were a bunch of soft cheeses in it and I didn't know if they'd been made from pasteurised milk (because there's the risk of getting listeria and hence a miscarriage from unpasteurised milk, which is why they tell you not to eat soft cheese when you're pregnant, but really a lot of the cheeses in Australia are made from pasteurised milk). I ended up opting for junk food, but it turned out I still had enough food left to tide me over somewhat—my banana, the rest of my salad and a muesli bar.

Which brings me to the last session of the day:

Dave McKean's 9 lives

The supremely talented DaveMcKean at the piano, taking us through a feast of sight & sound as part of "9 Lives" graphic

I confess I had no idea that Dave McKean is musical. He said that when he was younger, he used to be able to keep both facets of his life in the areas of both art and music going, but then it got harder and harder, and art won out. However, he said that recently he'd been going along to open mike nights at his local pub and trying out new material there, and he and some other patrons decided to form a songwriting group in which they would get together once a month and showcase a new song they had written—for an audience of three, but hey! An audience!

His show was really interesting: it was like a collection of short stories—but some of them were little films (animated and not-so-animated), during which he did all the voiceovers, and some of them were songs (which may have also had accompanying graphics/video). And yes, there were nine of them. They varied in length, and of course there were some that I liked more than others (I think my favourite was the one he told about his father's story, which was represented onscreen as a jagged shard of glass), but overall, it was a fantastic evening and I was glad I had bought a ticket.

(Incidentally, that was one of the peculiarities of the festival's program: there were things that I was sort of interested in because of the topic, but I didn't really know the participants and it was only when I went to the event that I understood their importance; there were things that I went along to because I was interested in the people featured [like Dave McKean], but I didn't really know what to expect—what they'd be doing during that time; and there were things and people that I had never heard of, which perhaps I probably would have found really interesting and inspiring if I had attended, but I didn't because I didn't know what they were about and why they would have been interesting to me. I don't know if that's something that the organisers of GRAPHIC could work on. It strikes me as being quite an unusual festival in many respects because it's not a comic convention, but at the same time, its program is not really comprised of “shows” in the traditional sense [though I got the sense that a lot of the stuff I saw on this day had been commissioned for GRAPHIC].)

Getting home

After McKean's performance, I was hungry, tired and I had a headache. So even though I had vaguely toyed with the notion of staying around for the fireworks and light show (which was happening as part of the International Fleet Review, and it would have been a good opportunity to go because I was still in the Opera House area and only ticket holders were allowed there), I thought I had better head home before I crashed.

Getting back was a bit of an ordeal though because it wasn't quite clear where to go. I finally figured out that I had to head back up Macquarie St (which was a bit painful with the PGP), then down Alfred St, and then I had to cut through a rather large crowd (entranced by fireworks they could barely see because the Cahill Expressway blocked their view) in order to get to the station.

Getting back to the station was, in the words of Pete Campbell, "an epic poem". Macquarie St was fine, but closer to the station, I had to get through this.

I heard later that the fireworks and lights were spectacular—even better than Sydney on New Year's Eve. But at the same time, I was grateful to get home, to be fed by Ben (who had cooked) and to spend the evening relaxing with him (even though I had to stay up until midnight in order to send an email, which, in addition to Daylight Saving, meant I didn't sleep as much as I should have, which leads us to …)


Getting there

I went straight from church in the morning. Fortunately there were less crowds around Circular Quay and it was easier to get places: I could walk along the concourse instead of having to climb the hill to Macquarie St. It was a gorgeous day too:

This is what the harbour was like this morning. (Less crowds too.)

I ran into Julie and Tim again in the foyer—and Emmet O'Cuana too! (and then completely embarrassed myself because I didn't recognise him. I wish I wasn't so bad at names and faces …) We were all heading to the same panel anyway, which was …

The creation myth

Justin Hamilton, Grant Morrison, Dave McKean and Len Wein at The Creation Myth panel GRAPHIC

This was chaired by Justin Hamilton (who is involved with the Home Brew Vampire Bullets anthology) and the panel consisted of Grant Morrison, Dave McKean and Len Wein, who talked about the creative process and how they work/have worked in the past. I actually took proper notes for this one on my Bluetooth keyboard. Here they are in rough form, lightly edited:


I didn't really get to eat before going into that panel, so I was keen to sit down and eat properly afterwards. I kept running into people I knew, though—people involved with the Sydney Comics Guild, Emmet again, and the insanely talented Louie Joyce, whom I had met at Comic Gong. (He explained Home Brew Vampire Bullets to me because although I'd seen stuff about it on social media, I didn't really get what it was.) I ended up having lunch with a girl called Irene whom I'd met through Sydney Comics Guild things, and we talked comics, writing, stand-up comedy and Woody Allen for a good hour before it was time for the next thing.

Which was …

Label focus: Nobrow comics

This was a free event but you still needed a ticket to get into it (?!!) Yeah, I don't understand either. Anyway, I got in and managed to get a good seat, plus I got to catch up a bit with Yonas from the Sydney Comics Guild.

Sam Arthur, one of the founders of Nobrow gave a presentation about the company and how it started. I really like that he began with all the things that inspired him and his business partner, Alex—

Sam Arthur of nobrowpress tells the story of how Nobrow got started graphic

—old picture books from the 70s, 70s aesthetic and design, and so on. Here are my rough (but lightly edited) notes:


Luke and Sam were signing afterwards, and I decided to splurge and get the other two Hilda books. Luke signed them for me and drew more cool little doodles:

Decided to get all of Luke Pearson's "Hilda" books.
Luke Pearson did some nice sketches & signed each one.

I also got the chance to chat to Sam again briefly before he and Luke were whisked away to the next thing.

And then I ran into Tim again, who was sitting with some of the Melbourne comics folk—including some of the Squishface Studio crowd and Sarah Howell, whom I'd also met at Comic Gong. She told me a bit about her new project and we chatted about how to get feedback, as well as the sort of comics we liked. Then I had to get away because it was time to go to church.

In summary

Overall it was a fantastic weekend and I'm so glad I was able to attend all the stuff I did. I was really inspired by the work that all these massively creative and talented people had done, and I loved being able to catch up with people from the Australian comics scene and talk various aspects of comics. Things I took away from the weekend included a strong desire to make books (probably building on an existing one), (related) a desire to make more comics, and a strange impulse to get into comics editing (though how to do that without becoming a comics publisher will be difficult. I think I would need to team up with someone who is more business-minded than I am: they can take care of the operations and money, and I will take care of production. But then who would want to work with me? I can be exacting. I also don't really have the experience—I only know vaguely what I'm doing).

Right. Brain is failing. Bedtime.

(And guh: I still have issues with “quick”!)


Disqus comments

Other comments


Kinds of Blue: Cover art



A way of funding writing in the future: pitch and idea and get people to support it.

Place where you can hire play equipment for parties, etc.

How to recalibrate the home button on your iPhone.

Unsolicited manuscripts accepted by Pan Macmillan with certain conditions.

Thought Balloon is a group blog in which the writers tackle a new theme every week? month? with one-page scripts. This URL is for their Phonogram ones.


Social media