Capes and Tights – WORD Christchurch

Image of Capes and Tights Session WORD ChristchurchI always love panel events because it can be much more of an organic conversation between panellists, bringing up themes and topics that might not otherwise be heard. I was especially excited about Capes and Tights because, well, firstly it’s about comics, and secondly, the speakers are all excellent people. The session did not disappoint.

Discussion began with an exploration of each speaker’s initiation into comics (Tintin and Asterix being the main offenders), and then their first experience within the realm of the superhero.

Damon Young confessed being drawn as a teenager to the rage and violence of characters such as Ghost Rider, the Punisher and Batman, whereas Dylan Horrocks and Jonathan King were both fans of the fun and absurd superhero comics of the 60s. Karen Healey was a relative latecomer to superhero comics, becoming fascinated with comics such as Kingdom Come at university despite an initial difficulty breaking into the genre as a reader.

Dylan Horrocks asked the panel for their opinion of the “dark and gritty” reboot of many characters, and the fetishization of violence in the superhero canon (comics often being produced with sponsorship by or advertising for the US Army and Air Force). Comments ranged from an appreciation of the way in which physical violence can be paralleled by verbal argument, to the disappointing flattening of a character consumed only by darkness.

Karen Healey brought up the problematic trend of fridging female characters and bemoaned the lack of a Black Widow movie (seriously, when will it happen? We’re ready), which segued into a discussion on copyright and our collective ownership of these characters.

Superhero comics are basically fanfiction. The writers, the artists are all fans of these characters and are creating stories in response to that history, but they have no legal ownership of that material.

All agreed that it is time for DC and Marvel to let “their” creations fall into the public domain, to be used as modern myths (à la Robin Hood or King Arthur) without threat of legal action.

What superpower would you most like to have?

Damon Young:Cover of Batgirl/Robin Year One

The teenager inside me would say mind control, because that would just be incredibly useful, but I think I’d like physical invulnerability.

Karen Healey:

At first I thought telekinesis, but then time-travel because imagine how much time you’d save on research!

Jonathan King:

I’ve always dreamed of flying, so I think I’d have to go for that.

And Dylan Horrocks opted for invisibility.
Capes and tights session

Journey to Hicksville – WORD Christchurch

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was going to write comics. When I would read Tintin, even the individual panels seemed like a little window I wanted to climb inside. Creating my own comics is a way to climb in that window.

Journey to HicksvilleDylan Horrocks

Dylan Horrocks was born in 1966 and raised on a diet of Asterix, Tintin and Captain Marvel. He was part of the 80s zine revolution, photocopying his own comics at school and giving them away. Despite learning (to his surprise) that writing comics is not a high-paying profession, he moved to London with the intention of making his way in the European comics market. It was in London, pores full of smoke, that he began to write comics set in New Zealand.

Hicksville started off as a side project, emerging from the stories I was writing for Pickle. Eventually Pickle was swallowed into Hicksville and that became my main thing.

Given the option by his publisher to either finish off the Pickle series or bring out Hicksville as a graphic novel, Horrocks decided to publish Hicksville.

After working on something so carefully planned out (Cafe Underground), I wanted to do something I could just make up as I went along.

There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in —Leonard Cohen

As someone who is fascinated by concepts such as Jasper Fforde’s Well of Lost Plots, writing ephemera and the mystery of unfinished drafts, I was excited to discover Horrocks is a fellow fan of the unpolished product (which I might have guessed from his recent title Incomplete Works). There’s just something alluring about the idea of what might-have-been:

A finished novel is like a palimpsest where if you scrape it away you find all the different Incomplete Works — Dylan Horrocksversions, all the drafts and different endings the author gave up on.

It reminds me of an anecdote in The  Changeover session, where Karen Healey recounted the experience of re-reading her own work and discovering she’d accidentally created a time capsule of pre-quake Christchurch. Every written word is a moment captured in time. Sometimes it can be a thought that will ring just as true across several centuries, and sometimes it will be a mystery to be puzzled over by a future reader.

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen

Titular Sam Zabel is in Christchurch for a conference when he is catapulted into a comic set on Mars. His adventures and attempts to make sense of himself make up the book soon to be published by Fantagraphics, and otherwise available on his website.

I just wanted to set up a situation that had plenty of potential for exploration. I wanted to ask: Does it matter ethically what we fantasise about? Do we bear a moral responsibility for our fantasies?

If you know the answer, please leave a comment and let me know!

Penguins, pencils and a room full of happy

I have a great view of the stage for this session – for one thing, the audience here is a lot shorter than previous ones; and I’ve also chosen to sit up the front – I am here to see Oliver Jeffers, critically acclaimed award winning author and illustrator of multiple bestselling picture books, and he’s going to be DRAWING. On stage.  Right in front of us.

New Zealand’s own award-winning graphic novel artist and author Dylan Horrocks introduces him. Oliver has chosen to tell us his bio using slides, and once again I have to make Choices – do I Write or do I Watch? Clearly I watch (and you can too, here, although we get to see some extra special bits here at the Festival that he’s added just for us). He talks his way through the slides, and as well as photos of him as a child, and some of his work, we also get to see lots of pictures of things people have sent him, from crocheted penguins, to crazy glasses, and frighteningly, an oversized, realistic model of a human heart. On a pedestal. The room is already full of Warm, and Happy, and by the end of what is, after all, just an introduction, we are all in love.  Everyone, including all the grownups, is wearing an identical goofy grin.

We are still wearing the grins an hour later as we leave. Thanks to an outstanding tagteam live drawing collaboration with Dylan, we now know

  • how to draw a penguin
  • what a Huey does when he wants to stand out from the crowd
  • why you should be wary of sofas
  • what the trailer for his new film looks like
  • where his ideas actually come from
  • whether he can, in fact, draw feet
  • why you should always eat a cheese sandwich just before bedtime (special thanks to Dylan for this tip)
  • whether he can not just make but also AIM a paper plane
  • how to defeat a 20 foot tall giant banana with laser beams for eyes
  • why eyebrows are the only thing you will need in life
  • and finally, how to make an entire audience feel like we’ve been hugged by a giant penguin in a beanie.