What is the cultural significance of comics?

Kieron asked me that the other night. I gaped like a fish for a bit before he qualified the question ‘Why would you telling [a room full of designers] something about the workings of comics have significance to them? Why comics?’

And it’s sort of not a question. It’s like asking ‘Why is telly?’. But also not. It’s about stating one’s personal stake in the medium, and using that a lens to say why that medium is important.

So here’s my go;

1) They can be anything
2) They are simultaneously easy and exhausting to read
3) I feel utterly isolated during the reading of a comic
4) …

I had a fourth, but it ran away from me while I was writing 3.


I’ve spent the last week in Leeds, scripting comics and talking about stories as Thought Bubble Festival‘s Writer In Residence. It’s been fabulous.

My script for Kristyna Baczynski, the festival’s Artist in Residence, is in production, and the four blog posts I wrote (one, two, three and four) are online to read too. Kristyna’s a fabulous illustrator, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to piece a short story together with her and see skecthes and thumbnails become six pages of comics fun.

That’s All In The Past

I’ve given up a lot of projects this year, but one that hasn’t been surrendered to the great bonfire of thoughts in the sky involves commissioning Aiden Smith to do some square-format illustrations for me.

Aiden’s a bloody lovely bloke, one of Dan Berry‘s motley crew over at the North Wales School of Art & Design. He sent through some of his drafts today and I thought I’d repost this, one we won’t be using moving forward.

It’s of Kate Jackson (or, The Idea Of Kate Jackson), formerly of The Long Blondes, and I wanted to post it today because it’s been two years since they split up.

Mister Higgins reminded me of a post I wrote shortly after the split. It uses a lot of words to say very little, but there are some good bits in there.

The band, if anything, mean even more to me now. They were a great crutch in the winter of 2008, and the perpetually-retro nature of their music makes them an ideal band to turn to every time the new gets too much and the old feels too far away.

The Future Is A Blank Canvas Pinned To A Brick Wall

I am a Time Lord, and from the future I ask you what is the difference between Gibson’s quote last night and John Lydon yelling “No future”?

The concept that Science Fiction is losing the timeline – the vision of the future – because of the uncertainties of the present is a little frightening. It conjures some mythical version of the eighties, that mad sense of dislocation that comes with the concept of Armageddon. It is as if all the things we fear might kill us, that everything could end the world.

What a terrible thought. Worse, the idea that it might stop us really thinking about the future. Foresight and futurism are now discussed almost singularly as reactive tools. We are asked to imagine future solutions, to guess the best answers to problems we face now.

As a result, our futures are reactive. Our political and social maps are being framed as a consequence of today’s mistakes, not today’s possibilities. Our deferred pleasures are turning out to be sticking plasters.

I started thinking this in bed. I was there for ten minutes, head buzzing with a thought – thoughts – about the future.

I kissed Anne goodnight, got out of bed, put my iPhone in the LEGO Mobile, and opened Spotify. I’m playing Treats, typing on my wireless keyboard. I feel a little as if my doing all of these things has distilled my year into a handful of actions. I try and look ahead.

I can Google some of the samples on the album I’m listening to. I can discover that that blessed out beat sat underneath “Rill Rill” comes courtesy of Parliament. I can call up Funkadelic, scrobble it, dig around for a recommendation, move sideways, maybe to some De La Soul breaks. I can hear how these bands lay foundations for the music that comes next, whether they seep through as samples, guest vocalists or just through the speaker stacks.

If I want I can dissect the guts of “Stylo” and pull it into the perfect playlist.

I have infinite opportunities to explore the past like this. Generation Zero (births between 1998 and now – people too young to remember 9/11) will never know a world in which history is hard to access.

We access that history with tools that were, almost entirely, the props of science fiction my parents might have encountered – if they read it. My phone is my sonic screwdriver, the internet my TARDIS; these are the tools with which I unlock and manipulate time.

Take a leap and imagine these tools as a product of sci-fi’s imagined futures. Now think about a future in which we’ve stopped imagining them.

A song that makes me sad

Maybe four or five times I’ve seen this now, live, most often performed by James Yorkston but I did once see HMS Ginafore sing it. She performs with painful infrequency, seldom stepping south of the Scottish border. It’s upsetting. This is her song, which is to say that she wrote and she owns it, totally owns it, because when she sings it she blows you over.

I listened to an awful lot of Fence Collective records after my last break up, but the association with Fence and sadness – strangely – doesn’t revolve around that. It revolves around Scottishness.

My Dad’s parents are Scottish, but it’s fair to say that they’ve lived a much more international life than most since they first set out from Edinburgh. Somewhere between Iraq, Northern Ireland and California they lost their accents and gained a family, and while I’m sure they looked back it’s never something that’s given then cause to act.

And yet for years and years there are times when I’m sad when all I want to do is sit and watch the haar roll in on the docks of some remote Scottish port, wrapped to the chin in rough wool and humming through my beard. And so when Ginafore, or Yorkston, sing “let the north wind blow” I’m moments away from heading there. This song makes me sad because I don’t.


“Man, I need to sort out a website.”
“What platform will you use?”
WordPress I imagine. I don’t know about the template. Hah, I could set set up a wiki, use that as a home page-”
“-oh my god, that’s the best idea in the world!”

Page of Quintin's notebook

Quinns accidentally stumbled upon the best project idea I’ve heard in a long time today. Debating how to go about building a new site for himself he mentioned the Wiki as a format, and we immediately started talking about building an autobiography through an evolving wiki.

I tended towards the impossibly ambitious here, immediately thinking out the ramifications of autobiography as pure context: I’m wearing a blue hoodie from American Apparel, so the autobiowiki would include all of the information Wikipedia might use about Dov Charney or Legalize LA. You could build an entire life around someone, shedding light on nothing but context and seeing what shape of narrative you might discover.

Quinns preferred a more narrativist approach, which is what he scribbled down in the photo above, and I have to admit it’s probably the more entertaining: decide the essential elements of a life you might want to start entries around (History, Relationships, Employment, Projects) and create stubs for any facets of those that come to mind. The spend time on secondary elements (Influences, Education, Achievements and Place within Popular Culture) while approaching Friends to compile their own entries. The trick is to ensure that all of these broad and conflicting categories are written entirely within reference to the figure of the autobiowiki (Me, as far as this discussion goes), distinguishing the information from the encyclopedic aspirations of Wikipedia but still keeping free of the Encyclopedia Dramatica lurches towards humour.

Either method would work. Either method would be valid. Either method could also stand to exist without ever having an explicit entry about the subject of the wiki. A world constructed around a person, in which the central figure becomes shaped from the context explored by the reader. Imagine the impression you might get of someone over time reading only their own perception of the education establishments they attended, perceptions that could range between anywhere from a stub to an entire network of hyperlinks through the course of a year. Think of how many dead ends you might encounter with a person, how many questions you might have.

It is, frankly an impossible task, and one that could only be measured as successful if you chose to limit the time period you worked on it for: “I will make this the creative project of one year of my life, leaving a document at the close of it that would necessarily be imperfect.” The appeal of creating a permanently malleable archive of the self is, frankly, too terrifying.

Although you could, at the close of your participation, open the access to it: a free-for-all chance to alter one’s self-perception.