November 22, 2016

The Language You Didn’t Know You’d Learned

Pictures are the language you learned without realising it. From before you were born, they have been influencing, informing and enriching your life. They were the illustrations in the books about babies your parents read with nervous anticipation as they waited for you to emerge from the womb. They were the health promotion posters on the walls of the hospital on the day you arrived. They were the diagrams on the instructions your parents followed to put the car seat in, to put together the baby gear and the toys that would promote development.

They were the illustrations on those toys, on the play-mat and your high-chair tray, your plastic plate and your bib. They were the images on the cloth books and board books that you chewed as your mum and dad gazed down at you with love. They were the cartoons you watched as you grew. As your parents and teachers first taught you to read, a systematic process laid out in the school curriculum, they used pictures to help you understand the meaning of words. But there was no systematic process to teach you how to read the lines, shapes and colours that made two-dimensional symbols on paper. Easy Option-Book BlastIt was taken for granted that you would understand these without being taught.

Even as you mastered reading words, you continued to read illustrations, because they made the early struggles easier, and still they showed you things that would contort words into knots to achieve the same meaning. These two languages were two aspects of the same thing, human expression, each as valuable as the other, though you wouldn’t know that from the way the world treats them. As ‘reading books with pictures’ became an idiom for ignorance and stupidity, as illustrators were sidelined, given a lower status than writers in publishing lists and book awards, you still looked at pictures in newspapers, magazines, adverts, adult cartoons, instruction manuals and road signs. You graduated from comics and cartoon strips, ‘growing up’, but it was still okay to look at political cartoons that could convey more meaning with one image than many of the news articles you read. Imagine the worldwide web without pictures. Imagine if the only images we had were the ones that could be photographed.

And now, as a new generation of parents around the world sit down to read picture books to their children – without explaining to them how to read pictures – remember what it was like when you were that age. Remember that you were able to learn this language of illustration so effortlessly, so instinctively, because someone else put in the time, hard work, imagination, passion and expertise to understand how a change in the curve of this line can be the difference between showing contentment and regret; how this shadow can give the illusion of depth to a two-dimensional image, how adding this colour will change the entire feeling of this picture.

You can read this language because an illustrator uses it so skilfully and expresses themselves so clearly. It is the language we use to learn other languages and it is the only universal language the world has.

We could do more to show our appreciation for that.

January 24, 2012

Twisted

While looking for info on a comics artist recently, I came across a site called Irish Comics Wiki . . . and then found this on it – a real blast from the past. It’s amazing what people can dig up!

Back in art college, I was set on becoming a comics writer and artist. Not long after leaving, I’d started work on a few stories, but wasn’t sure how I was going to get them produced – there were already a lot of photocopied comics out there from local enthusiasts, and I wanted to try and go one better, and get mine printed properly.

I knew a guy who ran a computer games shop and, along with a couple of the lads who worked there, we decided to do a magazine that would combine my work with games and Manga reviews. I came up with the title ‘Twisted’, and we sold just enough ads to cover the first print run – three hundred copies, I think – with a three-colour cover.

There were three stories: ‘The Goon Squad’, about a group of anarchic cyborgs led by a disfigured guy named Ghastly (you can tell Derek Landy I had that one first); ‘Nursery Crimes’ about a psychopathic criminal who is executed and reincarnated as a toddler who tries to take over the creche and meets his match in a criminal prodigy; and ‘Titanium’, about a tiny little scientific genius who creates a superhero that looks human, but which is actually a robot – he controls it, riding around inside its chest cavity.

Two things prevented the completion of the second issue: the first was every self-publisher’s Achilles heel – marketing and distribution. We published the comics without a clear idea of how and where to sell them. The other obstacle was that I started getting commercial illustration work that paid . . . y’know . . . money.

If you ever come across a copy of this mag, hold onto it, there can’t be many left out there.

November 10, 2011

Chairing and Blogging for CBI

Children’s Book Festival has come to a close, and I’m starting to catch up on all the things that have piled up on the desk while I’ve been running around like a blue-arsed fly, and shouting at defenceless children. One of the things I’ve got to swot up for is the Green Inking Comic Event this Saturday. I’ll be chairing the proceedings.

This half-day seminar will take as its inspiration the increased visibility of graphic novels and comic books by Irish creators and/or concerning Irish themes. The event will take place at the Seminar Room in the National Library of Ireland from 10am until 1pm.

Here’s the schedule for the day:

10.30 – Luis Bustos
CBI and Instituto Cervantes are delighted to welcome Spanish graphic artist Luis Bustos, creator of Endurance, which chronicles Ernest Shackleton’s voyage.

11.15 – The O’Brien Press
The O’Brien Press introduce their new collections of graphic novels for young readers.

12.00 – Panel Discussion
Irish graphic novel/comic book panel with Rob Curley of Sub-City and Atomic Diner, Tomm Moore of Cartoon Saloon and illustrator, animator and printmaker Cliodhna Lyons.

I’ve also just done a guest post for Children’s Books Ireland, telling the story of a typical morning for me during Children’s Book Festival. I’ll have to do a proper round-up for myself soon (now that I’ve mostly recovered), but in the meantime, you can check out my piece on the CBI blog.

October 11, 2011

Attention-Seeking

This is a bit of a mental week (I’m in eight different places this week alone – more, if you count individual libraries in a county), but I wanted to post a few things before I forgot.

First off, if you’re a budding new author – or indeed a frustrated old one – Irish PEN are hosting a panel talk on writing for children this Thursday (the 13th) in Dublin, featuring yours truly, but also properly interesting people such as leading agent, Julia Churchill; Puffin Ireland publisher, Paddy O’Doherty; and authors Sarah Webb and Anna Carey. You can find out more about it here.

I recently did a guest post for the Meath Libraries blog after running a series of comic-book workshops. You can read that here. I’ll be doing a few more in other places before the month’s out – I’ll link to them as they happen.

If you’re into science fiction and/or fantasy, I’ll be at Octocon, the National Irish Sci-Fi Convention in the Camden Court Hotel in Dublin. I can’t make the Saturday, but I’ll be there Sunday. Yes, there may be one or two nerds present, but they are mostly harmless, and often very entertaining (usually on purpose). Drop in if you can – it’ll be like Scooby Snacks for the brain.

And finally, my last post was a tribute to my old Mac, with which I have had a ten-year turbulent relationship, but whose design and reliability I have long been thankful for. The man who deserves the hero’s portion of that thanks died this week. Steve Jobs changed the way we regard technology, and though everybody talks about the iPod, the iPad and the iPhone, I got hooked a lot earlier than all that. Whatever issues I might have with Apple, I’m the first to admit that Steve Jobs and his people were among the first to make computers for the way human beings were designed to work.

Rest in peace, Mr Jobs.