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On the 16 November 2008, Sarah attended the three Comica Conversations featuring Dave McKean, Between The Panels and Turning Classics Into Comics. Her review of these events can be found on her blog at Jabberworks.

Another busy day of Comica talks! I paid such total attention during the hour-and-a-half presentation by the amazing Dave McKean that I kind of fried my brain and had a hard time concentrating for the other four hours of comics school. Here’s a doodle I did in the very last talk, when I was about to fall off my chair from overstimulation.

Dave McKean gave an excellent talk, showing us lots of his work and talking about his working processes. What most struck me, and I asked him to expand on it in the question time, was his comment about the recent sketchbook albums he’s made of cities: Paris, Barcelona, Vienna. He said, ‘They’re very important to me, they’ve taught me how to draw. I’ve only really felt confident in drawing for the last three years because of these books.’ This seemed kind of shocking, coming from someone who’s had a long career of making drawings so good that half of the kids on every BA illustration course in the country are copying him. But he explained that, while he could draw, he’d often have to fight with drawings, and they hadn’t felt like they’d flowed freely out of him. By doing the city sketchbooks, and drawing whatever he liked, the penny somehow dropped; he compared it to drumming, when people get so good at drumming that they can start listening to themselves, and surprise themselves with new things they like because the drumming has so become a part of them.

The other thing he emphasised through the talk was ‘the importance of script’. ‘If a book’s going to be any good, it has to come from the script.’ McKean said he writes stories on little notecards, which he spreads around him so he can see how the ideas bunch together, and where they leave gaps. Even though he works on building a solid structure for his script, he still leaves room for play and writes the dialogue as the scenes occur, so there’s always something fresh and new happening. Once there’s a good script, he takes control over every part of the design process… ‘damage control’, as he put it. He said there’s nothing worse than doing all that work and having some designer come and slap hot pink lettering over the top of it. His art teacher, George Glenny, was very learned in semiotics, and told him ‘everything is loaded with meaning’, which includes fonts and every aspect of book design.

McKean also talked about working closely with other writers, including Neil Gaiman, but he focused on Iain Sinclair, as someone for whom he has great respect, for his ability to let go of text; while most writers ‘are in love with their words’, Sinclair told him on a joint project that ‘he didn’t mind if the books didn’t have any words’. McKean mentioned several films he’s worked on, and I’m eager to see them: two shorts called Dawn and Whack!, one set in Venice called Neon and another coming out soon, called Luna.

During the second talk, Between the Panels, we got to hear from the two runners-up and the winner of the Observer graphic short story competition: Isabel Greenberg, Emily Haworth-Booth and the winner, Julian Hanshaw with Sand Dunes & Sonic Booms. Super-cool fact: Hanshaw’s already on the schedule to appear in the DFC early next year, so look out for this guy!

Other speakers whose work I will have to look up very soon from the second and third talks are: Hannah Barry with her very promising looking novel, starring a detective and his tea bag partner, Britten & Brülightly, Paul Duffield, Marcia Wiliams (who recently wrote Archie’s War), John Burns, Jason Cobley, Mike Collins, Mustashrik, Chie Kutsuwada and Ian Culbard.


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"The talk - to a full house - was pleasant, convivial and amusing."
Tim Pilcher

"The epitome of geekchic, it's most definitely worth checking out."
The Rough Guide To Graphic Novels

"Every time I go to these events I come back inspired to do more work."
Sylvia Libedinsky

"...vastly informative and entertaining."
Kevin Fitzsimmons

"...a long-overdue celebration of graphic art and literature."
BBC Collective

"This event showcased some of the great variety of manga art styles and artists working across languages, continents and cultures in the world today."
Karl Pell

"I had a wonderful time and really enjoyed the presentation. It was so impressive!"
Helen McCarthy

"British preconceptions of graphic novels are changing as exhibitions such as Comica expose the challenging work out there."
Design Week

"...the social buzz is what I will remember from the day."
Ed Pinsent

"It's fun, it's informative, it's inspirational, and it's an absolute must-do."
Gosh! Comics