Gary Gray, our Senior Scottish Correspondent, writes;
While this may have been physically the last talk at the Stripped stand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival it had such a bum note and was so out of touch with the spirit of everything and everyone else that I'm dropping this report randomly in during the run of talks. Spiritually the last talk was Neil Gaiman, and I'd much rather end my run of reports on the talks on a positive note rather than the nonsense that Denise Mina and chair Stuart Kelly spouted. Please note that I'm not criticising artist Andrea Mutti during this report as his love for the medium shone through as he described his process and the research he did for the work (travelling to Sweden) we were ostensibly there to discuss: Mina and Mutti's (with Leonardo Manco) adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Okay, so just why was this such a bum note? And why was it such a bad talk to end the awe-inspiringly-brilliant Stripped strand at the Festival? It was the tone, lack of depth of thought and ill considered opinions. Absolutely everyone else over the weekend of forty-plus events had been so positive and thoughtful, with so much deep thinking and love for the comics medium, but Mina was disparaging of so many things it was painful to behold. I've enjoyed Mina's work in the past from her GN Sickness In The Family to Field of Blood, but I'm sad to say she's now way off my list of writers to watch.
First off she attacked the source books she was adapting, asking the audience if any of them had managed to finish the final book in Larsson's trilogy as it was quite dull. Then saying she rewrote the books as she just couldn't bear having all the women in the comics shag Blomqvist as happens in the novel, as he's a fat middle aged man. And saying that Larsson would be happy with all the changes she had made.
Point one: if you find the material quite dull in the first place why agree to adapt the book? She didn't say.
Point Two: Just why would Larsson be happy with such wholesale changes? From my reading of the books the reasons for him having relationships with a few of the female characters was his charisma and also the personality of the females concerned and worked perfectly well in the context of the piece.
Now I'm not saying her opinion isn't valid in any way, it was just the tossed off for effect way that she was talking about subjects that rankled. Even more galling as Mina has described herself as a feminist, which implies a certain responsibility to put some thought into what you are saying and the opinions you express.
The bum notes and loud noisy ill thought out opinions just kept on coming. I was genuinely shocked at Mina's poor attempts at getting a laugh when she described Swedish people being hard to draw as they all look the same. Okay, it got a laugh from the audience, but peek beneath the surface of that comment and it's entirely the same as saying all Scots are ginger and wear tartan or all Chinese people have slanty eyes. It's racist, it's nonsense and had no place at an intelligent literary festival. In fact Mina herself admitted as much saying that she was surprised that a DC publicist wasn't there as they would have been telling them to shut up – and I wish the publicist had been there to do just that. She even disparaged the TV series that was based on her tale Field Of Blood, saying it was cheap looking, and then revealing she wanted to work again with Mutti on a Hellblazer piece set in the original continuity. That's not going to happen with Constantine being hoiked over to the new 52 continuity, would current DC management be interested in a work like that?
She then described how she wrote the script and that it HAD to be very detailed with nearly 80,000 words, almost the same as a novel. Now I've no problem with long detailed scripts, but they don't have to be that way, that was entirely her own choice. John Wagner's scripts famously could get away with: "Dredd. On bike." for a panel description as he had so much trust in his artist Carlos Ezquerra.
Kelly then asked her about the decision by DC to publish the second book in the trilogy as one book instead of the two parts Book One was released as, to which she revealed it was an entirely business decision by DC. I'm not sure how big a seller the first two books in the adaptation were but I'm willing to bet they weren't exactly massive sellers, which might have something to do with the decision.
And then onto the final boneheaded discussion at the talk, with chair Stuart Kelly asking why there were so few original graphic novels with most being adaptations, autobiographies or reportage, and at this I gave up listening. Had Kelly been on a different planet to everyone else this weekend? A much better question would have been why an adaptation instead of a personal work? The reality was that the schedule was jam packed with wonderful original works of fiction, for instance during the festival there was the 9th Art Awards where all five books were original fiction stories (Nao of Brown is fiction but deeply personal). This was a festival where comics were being celebrated in such a wonderful manner, in so many ways. From deeply personal works, with no sexism or racism, to political works, never before have I seen comics treated as such a wonderful equal medium where anything can be created and this talk was the only low point of the weekend.