We spent last Sunday at ‘Wot Comics Taught Me’, the Dundee Comics Day. They had a fantastic line-up of legends, all there to talk about their experience as comic creators, and what they had learnt from comics.
John Wagner talking about the power of character, particularly the ambiguity of the character of Judge Dredd, saying that Dredd could be viewed as a genuine villain, and as a genuine hero.
Colin MacNeil (pictured), who draws Dredd, speaking very movingly about comics teaching him about his father: reading comics about World War II gave him insight into a generation who never spoke to him about what had happened to them in battle. Those comics were about real people, rather than heroes. ‘Hero,’ he said, ‘is a word of propaganda.’
Cam Kennedy, a fantastic old rogue, talked about his life and loves, France, his favourite artists, and drawing comics for George Lucas. ‘People in America told me I could be a millionaire. I said "I know"…I didn’t want to be a millionaire...I didn’t want my kids to come home with a holiday in Barbados fresh in their minds and find me slumped over my desk, dead.’
Paul Gravett kicked off the day, taking us through a brief list of the most influential comic makers, sweeping through the history of the forbidden, the avante-garde, and the surreal. I loved that he lingered for so long with Little Nemo, and I was intrigued by his photograph of Salvador Dali, who, moustache curling upwards, apparently declared that ‘Comics will be the culture of the year 3794.’ It was a history of great influencers of comic art and their relationship to narrative rather than the history of great story tellers, which is why, I suppose, not even the great Marjane Sartrapi made it into his brief list. She’s in the book though, along with some other women, all of them great.
Tits and guns
This brings me to my only quibble of the day: women were not represented at all, in the line-up or in the history of the literature. It was as if there are no women creating comics in Scotland at all. The conference packs included a complimentary copy of new magazine, Strip, and a flyer about exciting new MLitt course in Comics Studies at Dundee University. Both materials were decorated with conventional comic book tropes – muscular men, extravagantly proportioned women, and guns. As the day wore on, images were played on the giant screen, an endless succession of muscles and ladies with nipples akimbo. So much of the day was about comics of a certain kind, made by men of a certain generation. The Commando team – made up of such men - remained defiant when asked about their female readership. ‘2%,’ they told us ‘and the women who read it love what we do.’
That half the audience was made of women, (including folk from Team Girl Comic), patiently tolerating the ancient conventions of muscles, tits and guns, is proof that a quiet revolution is coming, has indeed already started. With the other overwhelming message across the board being to ‘just get out there and do it’, our hopes are high for the next generation of comic makers, and for seeing women in the narrative of conferences like this in the future.
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