Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Review: The Homesick Truant's Cumbrian Yarn by Oliver East

I have always considered Oliver East to be an artist who just happens to be using comics as his medium but I think that might be doing a disservice to his dedication to comics. Yes, his practice of taking long walks and then making art from them has similarities to artworks such as Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking (1967) and Francis Alÿs’ Seven Walks (2005), but where those artists use different media to record their work, East consistently uses the comics artform. In a recent interview with Down the Tubes he said “treat the walk as the ‘thing’ first and foremost and the comic as more of a record of that thing.”

Many of these ‘records’ have been published by Blank Slate including the collection of his self published comics Trains are...Mint (2008) and last year’s Swear Down. In 2013 he also posted 200 one page Rolling Stock strips on the Comics Workbook tumblr, and he is also a member of Team Weird Comics alongside Derik Badman, Simon Moreton and Warren Craghead.
The Homesick Truant's Cumbrian Yarn (cover) by Oliver East

Despite East’s prolific output I have somehow never managed to buy one of his books. I admire his work but when I was deciding what to spend my (too small) disposable comics cash on, there was always another comic I wanted to buy more. When he recently announced a new book I decided it was time to rectify this oversight. The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn is the first in a series of self-published comics commissioned by The Lakes International Comics Festival, which will cover a 200 km walk following the railway line that skirts the edges of the Lake District National Park.

The first thing that surprised me about this new book was its size, I was expecting something smaller but THTCY is an A4 24 page comic. Another difference with East’s recent work, and harking back to his self-publishing roots, is that the comic is black & white with a cover printed black on orange card. It is a classic small press format and looks great. In dispensing with colour East allows the reader to focus on the mark making on his pages. There is some lovely linework, brush marks and ink splatter on these pages.
The Homesick Truant's Cumbrian Yarn page 5 (detail) by Oliver East
On page 5, for example, East has used a wide flat brush to scrape the ink across the top of the panels to create an atmospheric morning sky and two pages later he conjures up an all too believable storm with wild splashes of ink. The changeable weather can be seen on a double page spread on pages 10 & 11 as East shows the now calm landscape with 12 panels of silent comics. Simple lines suggest the distant clouds like the backgrounds in a Krazy Kat strip transported from Coconino to Cumbria.

East’s deft note taking on his walks preserves his interactions with people he comes across, he describes the shooting noises of a hunting party as the ‘scattergun jollies that will soundtrack the rest of my day’. We don’t see the group again but the intermittent ‘KRAK KOW’ noise breaks the ‘silence’ of his panels and makes me think about how we perceive noise in comics. Other events ring true, such as the dance he performs to conceal his actions from commuters when searching for the start of the walk. A dance I have performed myself many times in unfamiliar locations.
The Homesick Truant's Cumbrian Yarn page 15 by Oliver East

This book also reminds me of Eddie Campbell’s work, with its mark making experimentation and distinctive narrative tone. Like Campbell, East puts paid to any idea of the exact reproduction of events in his strips “it’s more how I’ll remember Cumbria rather than how Cumbria actually is.” However, the voice (and drawing) here is all East’s. If you have never picked up his work before this is a good place to jump on board, just as he starts his latest journey. You can order your own copy here.

I recently noticed that East’s drawing on the envelope that my copy arrived in was of the buildings on the street next to mine in my home town, a lovely personal touch. Thanks Oliver!
My home town - envelope drawing by Oliver East

Saturday, 2 November 2013

30 days of comics - day 2

OK, I have realised I have too many 'homes' on the internet.
The rest of 30 Days of Comics will be posted on my tumblr here: tickingboy.tumblr.com/
I will also tweet each day once it has been posted twitter.com/tickingboy


Friday, 1 November 2013

30 days of comics - day 1

So here it is 30 Days of Comics 2013. Follow #30dayscomics on twitter to see who else is doing it.

I have hardly blogged this year, at least on this site. You can see a list of my writings for other places here

Monday, 11 March 2013

Ticking Boy Owns The Internet

A quick round up of various activities from last week.

I posted my first proper contribution to the Graphixia comics blog on Tuesday, looking at adaptation with the comics of Harvey Pekar, and asking American Splendor: What's in a name?

As a precursor, the week before, I posted on Graphixia's Thursday Page my own adaptation (or cover version) of The Harvey Pekar Name Story strip, The Damon Herd Name Story.

Graphixia has been going for a couple of years and has a wonderful team of contributors with many varied tastes so make sure you check out some of the earlier posts too!

I recently took part in two podcasts for The Scottish Book Trust. The first one discussing Mary and Bryan Talbot's Dotter of Her Father's Eyes with Kier Hind and Paul Gallagher is here. Part two, which is a more general chat about comics will follow in a few weeks.

Coming up on the 30th March I will be pushing my comics wares at the Dundee Comics Expo and hosting some comics based entertainment later in the evening at DeeCAP at DCA.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Cartoon College at the Glasgow Film Festival

Last Thursday I attended screenings of two documentaries about very different aspects of comic book culture at the CCA in Glasgow. They were showing as part of the comics strand of the Glasgow Film Festival. First up was Cartoon College, directed by Josh Melrod & Tara Wray. The film shows students on the 2 year MFA program at the Centre for Cartoon Studies in River Junction, Vermont. CCS is run by James Sturm and features other cartoonists such as Steve Bissette as lecturers with guest teaching from the wonderful Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, and James Kochalka among others. The students were a mix of ages and confidence levels and it was hard not to warm to them. In fact, the film tugged at the heartstrings as it made you invest emotionally in their progress through the course. You were rooting for them during the final thesis evaluation and there was a real poignancy if they dropped out. At one point Lynda Barry exclaimed “I’d like to kiss everyone that creates stories with words and pictures”, to which the reply came “You’d be kissing a lot of strange people”. The students were all indie/alternative cartoonists and many wanted to tell personal stories about topics such as relationships with their siblings or menstruation. Bissette made the observation that students at CCS don’t want to draw Spider-Man.

Bissette also said that there were now different groups of comics creators that had no idea of each others existence, which wasn’t the case even 10-15 years ago. It was hard to believe that many of the attendees featured in the next film would be aware of the students at CCS. Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is a ‘behind-the-scenes look at the fans who gather by the thousands each year in San Diego, California to attend Comic-Con, the world's largest comic book convention’. Despite Spurlock’s credentials this film was not a critique of Comic-Con in any meaningful way. With Stan Lee and Joss Whedon as executive producers and Kevin Smith featured prominently, the film was actually a love letter to the yearly comic book and pop culture extravaganza. The film followed a couple that had started dating at the Con the year before as the chap struggled to find time to buy a ring to propose to his girlfriend. We also saw two artists showing their portfolios to the professionals in an attempt to break into the industry, a group of cosplayers as they constructed their outfits and rehearsed for the masquerade, and a comic book dealer as he deliberated over selling a mega-rare comic to help combat low sales. This seemed the only slight criticism, that Comic-Con was now more about games and films than comics. Everyone’s story had a happy ending but their journeys seemed a little forced. It seemed to me that the media corporations are the ones that do best out of Comic-Con.

I found Cartoon College to be the much more engaging film but it was about an area of comics that I find infinitely more interesting than mainstream superhero comics. Indeed, I only attended Comic-Con IV as it was on the same day and I'd already made the 2 hour trip to see Cartoon College. I daresay a devoted Marvel fan might be bored by Cartoon College, as it does not have enough (any) Stan Lee. Of course there will be many in between that may find much to like in both films. However, I felt Cartoon College had so much more low-fi charm and independent spirit, although that's not to say it isn't a very well made film. It deserves to be seen and the good work of the school should be applauded above all the corporate hoopla of Comic-Con.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


Popped over to Glasgow yesterday to check out the latest exhibition by Mitch Miller at Market Gallery in Duke Street.  Mitch has spent the last six weeks making a massive dialectogram of Duke Street. Making a what? In Mitch's words:

"Dialectograms are large, highly detailed drawings of places, taken from the perspective of those who live and work there, and the person who tries to interpret those perspectives (me). I have been working on dialectograms in various parts of Glasgow since 2009.  I collaborate closely with residents, employees, owners, squatters punters and users of interesting spaces in Glasgow. From interviews, photographs, sketches and architectural plans, I try to get as much data about a placed into the drawing as possible. I invent symbols and signs to suit each dialectogram, honing and redoing the image until it begins to resemble something the people who know it best, will recognise."

The work is stunningly detailed, a mixture of technical drawings, floorplans, social history, comics and whatever else Mitch can add to make a rich, textured drawing of a place.  He is a friend and an ex-tutor of mine from Edinburgh College of Art but I would be fascinated by the work even if I had never met him. Mitch kindly let me take a few photos that I've posted below but I recommend heading to the gallery to check it out in person, but hurry as the exhibition closes at 5pm on Sunday 16th December. Mitch does hope to show the work again in the future when it should be even more detailed as he apparently has a huge amount of research that hasn't made it on to the dialectogram yet.

Just realised there is a dialectogram of a fictional place on Mitch's website, the bedroom shared by the two brothers in James Kelman's Kieron Smith Boy. It's brilliant, especially if you've read the book.

Friday, 30 November 2012

30 Days of Comics - day 30

Phew, the final strip and also deadline day for my PhD transfer. I did pass but it may not have gone quite as depicted in the first panel.