Thought Bubble 2017 – Festival Dates!

Thought Bubble 2017 runs 18th - 24th September!

Hey gang!

We hope you’re now fully recovered from last month’s Thought Bubble, and are gearing up for a nice winter break – we’d like to say another massive thank you to everyone who came out and made this year’s events such a huge success, and a special shout-out to our amazing (and ever-growing) army of red-shirt volunteers who helped make Thought Bubble 2016 possible.

Looking ahead, we’ve been hard at work this year planning for Thought Bubble’s future, as we enter our second decade (!!!) of putting on events to help promote the greatest story-telling medium in the known universe, and the creators who inhabit it.

After nine years of putting on our flagship convention at Leeds Dock, 2017 will see us heading back to the area of the city where Thought Bubble began, with the introduction of a brand-new, expanded festival village in the heart of Leeds City Centre

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Critical Approaches – Metafiction

[I’m currently studying MLitt Comic Studies at Dundee University. The course involves looking critically at comics and their history. This is the first in a series of journals I’m posting from the course.]

MARK CURRIE ARGUES THAT METAFICTION IS “A BORDERLINE DISCOURSE, A KIND OF WRITING WHICH PLACES ITSELF ON THE BORDER BETWEEN FICTION AND CRITICISM, WHICH TAKES THE BORDER AS ITS SUBJECT”. DISCUSS.

Mark Currie defines metafiction as narratives that are “somehow about fiction itself”, using “self-consciousness, self-awareness, self-knowledge [and] ironic self-distance.”1 Most postmodern literary theory puts distance between the author and criticism of the work1 , or as Roland Barthes describes it: “the text is henceforth made and read in such a way that at all its levels the author is absent”.2 Metafiction, however, shows the authors’ hand by engaging in a kind of self-referential critique that can take a number of forms.

In Flex Mentallo Grant Morrison “dramatises the boundary between fiction and criticism” by producing a work that is at once semi-autobiographical and a critique of the superhero genre.1

Credit: Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Credit: Frank Quitely, Pete Doherty (colourist) and Rian Hughes (designer)

Morrison explores the nature of the boundary between comic and reader, with the author acting as a kind of psychopomp, or spirit guide, between the two realms. In The Invisibles, he first plays with the idea of character-as-surrogate, fashioning King Mob as an avatar for himself (with the later suggestion that fictional events began to have a real-world impact on Morrison).3

Credit: Grant Morrison and Brian Bolland
Credit: Brian Bolland

By the time of Flex Mentallo, Morrison was using the author-surrogate as a way to critique the genre and write a work of semi-autobiographical fiction. Wally Sage experiences a breakdown in which the lines between fact and fiction are blurred, and he finds himself both disintegrating as a personality and integrating with the comic world of Flex.4

We know that it is an autobiographical work because Morrison leaves clues, such as in issue 3 page 9, where Wally says the following:

“Was I telling you about those political bookshops my Dad used to take me to? What was I saying?… Those terrible ban-the-bombzines; when you’re a kid they look just like comics at first but they’re not. It’s all screaming Hiroshima faces, burning cities. I used to imagine God was a skeleton and the thunder was the sound of his big, black iron train. War, apocalypse…”4

Credit: Morrison and Quitely
Credit: Quitely, Tom McCraw (colourist) and Ellie de Ville (letterer)

Morrison talks at length about these ‘zines in his later autobiography Supergods.5 Wally acts as a vehicle for Morrison to reveal something of himself, but also to deliver a critique of comics, and of the superhero genre. As a kid, he thought those ban-the-bomb ‘zines were comics, but in reality, comics were escapist – they didn’t reflect the harsh reality of growing up during the Cold War.

Even in the so-called ‘Dark Age’ of the medium, superhero comics weren’t so much engaging in a critical analysis of reality or reflecting the world in which the were created. The sex and violence that marked the era were still forms of escapism.

In Flex, Morrison not only parodies this era but engages in a critical appraisal of it, as well as superhero comics in general, by relating them to the dissolution Wally experiences. Grown-up Wally might just find himself in such a dark place since he, like many childhood comic fans, abandoned them as immature. In doing do, he has lost the magical/imaginative side of existence and is left in a nihilistic and suicidal void.

Flex, then, is both a critique of and paean to the world of comics and their importance to the author and the readers is hammered home through the use of metafiction.

Far from being an invisible actor in the work, metafiction such as this reveals the author to be engaged in exploring the boundaries between fiction and criticism, fact and fiction.

References

1 Mark Currie, ‘Introduction’, in Metafiction, ed. by Mark Currie (Essex: Longman Group Limited, 1995), pp. 1-18.

2 Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, Image Music Text (1977), 6.

3 Grant Morrison, The Invisibles Omnibus (New York: DC Comics, 2012).

4 ———, Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery – the Deluxe Edition (New York: DC Comics, 2012).

5 ———, Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero (London: Vintage Books, 2012).

How does make comics when depressed?

depressionI’ve not done much personal blogging for a while. I’ve also not talked much publicly about my depression and anxiety. Those things are linked, for sure, but I’m not exactly sure how. A while back, welljesuschrist, September 2013 in fact, I published the last of my quick and scuzzy webcomic, Suddenly Something Really Interesting, where I’d gotten to the end of therapy for my anxiety, and the utterly non-climatic or euphoric or epiphanic realisation that underlying all my anxiety was a deep depressive state I’d had since I was a kid.

Even my counsellor seemed disheartened that it ended that way – she didn’t get that sense of satisfaction that we’d “broken through” together. Just a kind of sullen resignation between the two of us that, you know, we’d tackled some stuff, and that, well, this realisation was at least that.

A realisation. Something tangible to potentially work on.

It didn’t really work out that way

Well of course it didn’t. Depression doesn’t work like that. You don’t go, okay, now I realise that depression is the underlying problem, I can solve it. You go, shit. Fuck. Depression, that’s a problem. Then you get depressed, and there’s no way you can summon up the energy needed to work on it.

Or anything else.

Since then, I’ve worked on a number of comic projects, and a couple of other bits and pieces. Thing is though, I don’t think I can comic well when I’m depressed. I mean, sure, I can summon up the energy to draw, because I love it. Occasionally I get fortnight-long periods where I’m writing constantly. Rarely, I’ll feel like I’m ready and willing to take on the world and somehow emerge as an actual professional.

But then the shit-storm hits.

Then the black dog wraps its tail around your neck, swivels its dull eyes at you and rudely salivates drool on your shoulder from its gaping maw, and you can’t even find the energy to turn around and look at it. You know it’s there, but you’re too paralysed to acknowledge it properly, let alone tell it to leave.

When that hits, you’re fucked. I’ve missed the chance to work with at least two writers who’ve since hit big in comics because I was in the middle of a long, slow breakdown. I’ve stretched the length of time a project that should have taken from, say, three months, to over a year because I blinked, freaked, gave up, and went back to full time office work because I couldn’t realistically see how I could make it as a freelancer any more.

I’ve gone to cons, at the very nadir of the depression, and left thinking that I never wanted to make a comic again because it was pointless and no one even wanted to look at my work let alone buy it and what was wrong with me that I made such weird comics anyway instead of stuff that people would actually buy and anyway why do I even want to be involved in this world of comics when it’s all a big sham and a fraud even though I feel like the fraud and the interloper who’s been working for seven years to try and convince people that I’m a comic creator when I’m actually just shit and everyone knows it…

Because depression and anxiety are intrinsically linked for me, and many others.

And then the utter, soul-crushing energy-sapping breakdown that comes afterwards, where you have to try and pick up the pieces and change your life while feeling completely embarrassed with yourself and disconnected from the world. And then the anxiety that comes from the realisation of that. And then, and then, and then. An endless cycle of dragging yourself from a low energy state to be catapulted into a high energy state only to crash back into a low energy state, and so on.

Call to Action

Here’s the bit in a blog post where you should put some kind of call to action, if you’re trying to sell a product or service. Here’s the bit in this blog post where I tell you that there is no getting out of this cycle, and all you can do is use what little energy you have when it arrives.

What I’ve done is recognise that, in many ways, I have to start from scratch. There’s a couple of projects I need to finish freelance-wise, and then I have to concentrate on my own stuff. For me to feel any kind of sense of completion or satisfaction in creativity, I have to finish something that’s solely mine.

I embarked on Gonzo Cosmic a while back, and though I’m still in love with the idea behind it, it’s a long, arduous project with no sense of finality and a lot of hubris to overcome. So while it’s still on the go, I need something more satisfying.

That’s why most of my attention is focused on the Dundee Uni Masters course I enrolled on. I need to give myself the ability to focus on learning about and researching comics for the sake of it for a while. I enjoy it, I’m good at it, and it could give me potential career avenues when I complete it, that would complement the creative work I do. I love the medium of comics, and exploring history, sociology, form, all of that, is exciting and is giving me the buzz back.

And, I’m also focused on making AION. It still comes with hubris (I’m calling it my “queer Flex Mentallo”, go figure why anxious and depressed people like to paint these kinds of targets on our heads), but it’s a complete thing, almost entirely written in my head, pages started. It’s a semi-autobiographical work with elements of superheroes, sci-fi and Burroughs-esque fiction in there. I mean, I never really make it easy on myself, but I have to make the work that excites me, the kind of work I’d read.

I’m also exorcising some pretty big demons throughout AION too. I hope that helps me to feel at least a little better about myself. And you know what? In some ways, I’m looking forward to having it completed and putting it out into the world.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned over the last year or so has been that I need to learn to create without lust for result. AION is mine, and if I put the work in and everyone thinks it sucks, fair enough – but I can’t argue with the fact that it’s exactly what I want to make. And I’m not beholden to anyone, anyone I can let down on deadlines, or fuck up with in some other way. I just have to please me, and right now, that feels like the best I can do.

I’m also writing a novel, which has some very minor elements of autobiography in’t. It’s another thing I think I need to get out in the open – it’s bleak, unremittingly bleak. New Bleak, in fact. It comes from reading ‘Ghosts of my Life’, ‘Conspiracy against the Human Race’, ‘Cyclonopedia’, the ‘Southern Reach Trilogy’ and other stuff that I absorbed over the last year. It’s also my take on queer zombie horror, completely nihilistic, as the zombie genre really should be.

I get moments where I sit and wonder what’s wrong with me that I’m writing something so bleak.

Then I get other moments – mad, raving moments – where I realise that the bleakness is unmitigating anger at the world.

So, that should be fun, for you to read, I mean.

And finally, I’m sitting with this post open, completed, re-reading it and staring at it, wondering what egotistical drive makes me want to write this, thinks I should write it, that I have anything worthwhile to say, that it’s just me feeling sorry for myself, or trying to publicly make excuses, or self-flagellate, or

That’s what it feels like, all the time. In everything I do. Who am I? I’m not good enough to do this. I’m not worthwhile enough to do this. I’m nobody. And so I suppose writing this, and making work, and sharing work, even though it comes with fear, is about trying to prove that I’m not nobody. To try and silence the voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough. So whatever, here it is, and that’s that.

Feel free to hit me up with your thoughts in the comments box below.

aion-page-one-flats

 

 

Ceej Says… Shorts review

Ceej reviews Sam Read’s collection of comic shorts, including ‘The Answer to Question ‘M” wot I drawed.

BIG COMIC PAGE

Click to enlarge. Cover by Ruairi Coleman – Click to enlarge.

Writer: Sam Read
Artist(s): Donal Delay, Garry Mac, Elias Martins, Paul McAllan
Lettering: Colin Bell, Robin Jones, Ryan Ferrier
Cover Art: Ruairi Coleman
Release Date: 14th November, 2015 (Thought Bubble Festival)


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Health Economy, or Why You Don’t Need To Earn A Living

Some home truths here from Ste, and his argument for a Guaranteed Minimum Income. Right on.

Don't Freak Out

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I like my gym. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, it’s well equipped, it isn’t too far from my house and there are two novelty oversized dogs that wander around behind reception from time to time. Like most gyms, though, it doesn’t half life a motivational quote. Above the mirror at the freeweight section a banner reads: “Some people want it to happen. Some people wish it would happen. Others MAKE it happen.” It’s a cute trick, motivating you while stroking your ego. You’re one of the ELITE, right? You’re MAKING it happen. The sentence structure alone tells you you’re at least in the top 33.3% of the population, and let’s face it, that percentile is probably lower because you’re just that special, you muscular workhorse, you man of iron. In fairness, determination and the will to do something is a huge part of exercise or going to the gym. Some…

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Insert Boomtown Rats Reference Here

Ste keeps his blog going with an update re: Nanowrimo. Which I am also doing because masochism and what the hell?

Don't Freak Out

It’s Monday when you’re reading this,(for me it’s Thursday, I try and write in advance) so that means it’s a writing blog. Contain your excitement, yeah? It’s only the first paragraph. As with the last two, I’ll just be giving a quick update on where I’m at with my writing endeavours before getting into more meaty stuff next week.

As most of you are likely aware, the main focus of my writing is usually comics. Can’t get enough of em. Can’t afford to make them, either, which means comic book writing is going to have to take a back seat for a little while. I love it, I always will, but a huge part of making comics is actually making the things, which means working with and paying an artist, colourist, letterer etc and I can’t quite get there right now. I still have a few projects simmering – a…

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