If I were an illustrators’ patron ….

I have been thinking about why I have found most comics, graphic novels and animated films kind of not what I was after, and what I would love to see – but could only summon-forth from the mind and hand of someone else…

Where my taste is at….

I like comics, no question. I’ve seen and loved the Bayeux Tapestry and am pretty sure I shall equally love Grayson Perry’s work if I ever see it in the flesh rather than on TV.

By far the best graphic novel – actually, an autobiography – I have seen is Charlotte Salomon’s very sad but involving work, Life? or Theatre?. I approve its boldness and originality: its colours and vigour and its painterly qualities. I find, by contrast, Art Spiegelman’s famous Maus curiously dull, perhaps because it is not merely monochrome but open to the charge of sameness throughout. (Dittto, the V for Vendetta stuff.)

I know whereof I speak when it’s a matter of monochrome dullness: in a Brighton comic shop, I found a hoard of 1960s and 1970s War Picture Library pocket 66-pagers, which took me back to a prep school in Helensburgh, where as perhaps a ten-year-old I was the main trader of such items. I still find them – though crude – very evocative.

On the whole, the whole “Goth”, conspiratorial, Hobbitty direction that fills comic-shops is pretty dull.

I try to admire old Superhero comics, but prefer the individual heroes modelled in plastic or portrayed in movies like Avengers Assemble or Ironman. And I mean this to be a comment as to the visual strength of the movies as well as their atmospherics.

I have thought that some cartoon accounts of intellectual issues can work well, and admire (for its real style) the most recent effort to portray Ayn Rand’s world and life. But I am little inclined to think that, unlike the Rand, these works seldom really intend to be or succeed in being beautiful.

On pure animation: I loved Waltz With Bashir in its entirety, but have not been thrilled by other modern adult cartoons. On the other hand, I thought Disney’s Beauty and the Beast stupendous (its music, too).

Perhaps the best animation I have seen, in the sense of its power to inform as well as entertain, is in an area I find fascinating: the graphic representation of statistics and math and almost anything involving pattern. So, I am beginning to watch Vi Hart‘s “Doodling in Math Class” and other material on YouTube and think her work on, variously, Stravinsky, logarithms and circles is engaging.

I know that of many illustrations which have grabbed me over the years, I’d rank: the “History is stranger than fiction” comic strips in the old Evening News Express; The Eagle‘s centrefold “cutaway” drawings of ships, houses, planes and cars; the modern Eyewitness travel guides; Alan Sorrell’s evocations of Roman Britain; my grandfather, Stanley North’s Map of the World for Thos. Cook.

My commissions (if only)….

So, here are three things I now long to see, in still drawing or animation:

* the medieval world brought to rich comic life, with chivalry and knights and damsels and crusades and religion and peasant realities all caught vigorously and truthfully.

* graphic accounts of the life – interior, technical, emotional – of F1 drivers, charting their confined athleticism; and their emotional and neurological and physiological strain; the technical genius of their machines; and the management of the entire deal.

* accounts of the “dust” from which we and our world are made, and I am thinking of graphic illustrations of the way we are all made of stardust, and how we have made sand into memory: Blake’s “the world in a grain of sand”.

* Mitch Miller “do” a Dialectogram of Cistercian and Carthusian monasteries.




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Publication date

24 November 2013


Mind & body; On art