In November last year, A Scottish Wave of Change asked creatives from around Scotland to contemplate Scotland’s future. Their combined dreams and visions have now been collected in ImagiNation: Stories of Scotland’s Future a compelling mix of prose, poems and, in an interesting move, graphic fiction.
On the 15th of October I tootled along to the CCA in Glasgow where the comic contributors came together to discuss their work as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. The talk was led by comics whiz-kid Dr. Christopher Murray from the University of Dundee, with contributions from underground comics creator Rob Miller, giving the low down on his darkly cynical High ‘n’ Dry set in Wester Hailes and Ciaran Slavin who talked about his tale of Scottish realities both actual and virtual, Wave of Change.
We began with a brief history of Scottish comics and the important role they’ve played in the medium through the ages. Stretching all the way back to 1825 with John Watson’s seminal The Looking Glass, through the much loved works of DC Thompson and ending with international successes like Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, it’s impossible to deny the influence of Scotland’s comic book culture.
While the talk covered a lot of old ground for someone nerdy as me, it did introduce me to the fascinating world of DC Thompson’s superheroes. My personal favourites were the Amazing Mister X, a Scottish Superman who wrestled deer and could clear field and glen with a single bound and the suspiciously familiar Green Ray with his magical lantern that could project rays of solid green energy.
After the talk, the panel answered questions on the future of Scottish comics. We revisited the perennial favourites; what is going to happen in the digital age? (Nobody knows) what do we need to do to for comics to be respected as a medium? (Nobody knows) and what do they think of the new craze for manga? (They don’t like it). The problem with asking questions like this is that there aren’t any easy answers. The panel’s view was that manga is good insofar as it’s easy to learn and appeals to the kids, but bad because it gives us a generation who think drawing is much less work than it is. Webcomics are successful and e-readers are making waves but there’s no way of knowing how those winds will blow. And comics are getting more respect than they used to, but as long as the big name American companies keep producing schlock aimed at lonely 40 year olds, the struggle will be an uphill one.
Another old favourite about the “lack” of female comic creators turned up and Dr. Murray mentioned the 60/40 split of female to male students on his MLitt course in Comic Studies, as well as plugging the Glaswegian geniuses at Team Girl Comics. I mentioned our modest hosts at Graphic Scotland, of course. The audience’s main reaction to these revelations was a resounding “huh, but there don’t seem to be any” which is probably half the problem, unfortunately.
All in all it was an interesting event, which made me optimistic about the future of comics and graphic fiction in Scotland, if not necessarily the future in general.
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