Rob Davis And Martin Rowson, Stripped

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Gary Gray, our Senior Scottish Correspondent, writes;

Looking at the massive amount of notes I (attempted) to take at the next talk at Stripped, the comics strand of the Edinburgh Book Festival, I realised we were in a totally different territory to the other talks as it was double the rest and was utterly scrawled trying to keep up with the massive pace of the authors. Well actually only one of them the utterly wired political cartoonist Martin Rowson. I've heard his co talker Rob Davis before and he's usually confident enough to hold his own on stage, but he was utterly blown away by the speed freak that is Rowson who could blast through subjects using vocabulary so complex you'd have thought it was a medical journal he had written!

But that isn't me implying the talk was boring at all, in fact it was hilarious with Rowson dropping into the conversation stuff like he wanted to be drawing kittens on velvet in tea cups to try and decompress after finishing his adaptation of Gulliver's Travels. And this was the reason why Rob Davis and Martin Rowson had been programmed together, with literary host Stuart Kelly. Both had adapted for the comics medium great impenetrable works of fiction, with Davis taking on Don Quixote (Books 1 & 2) and Rowson Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and Gulliver's Travels. Rowson said his job was to do monumental pisstakes and mug charmless film noir with no reverence for anything. And what better book to adapt than the anti-book, the anti novel Tristram Shandy? As in the novel, his adaptation and in the talk digression was the theme with Rowson zooming over his subject material at a million words to the minute zipping over to his work on Gulliver's Travels that was set 300 years from Swifts work with Blairite Lilliputians and feeling that his work was less adaptation and more collaboration with Swift on his shoulder. And what a gruelling figure Swift was to work with that left him utterly depressed leading to the kittens remark.

I think Rowson could have blethered on without breathing for the rest of the hour but thankfully (for me to catch up on my notes) Kelly managed to wrestle the conversation back to Davis who discussed how he came to so successfully adapt the work that Terry Gilliam has so far singularly failed to adapt for the screen. Self Made Hero approached him to see if wanted to adapt a book as that was a significant part of their output at that point and somehow they settled on doing Don Quixote. I think the enormity of the task didn't sink in for Davis who attended a party later in the day where everyone said what? You idiot! And to prove that was what was actually said to him an attendee of the party Sarah McIntyre, who as a small aside was dressed in one of her splendid costumes. Davis reaffirmed why he took on such a monumental task as he felt it was for the love of books, and trying to breathe life into them for a new readership.

And that he wanted to capture all the elements of the book, not just the comedy. So he wrote up all the dialogue he needed to make sure he was getting the correct feel and intimacy for the subject matter before he could even attempt any drawing. Thankfully he managed to finish Book 1, and his plan was to see how Book 1 was mauled by critics and then add those critics remarks into Book 2 in a meta fashion, but it wasn't so the only thing he could add into Book 2 in that fashion was a comment by Hunt Emerson "me and my wife laughing our tits off at it". And this was in reference to the way that when Quixote was originally released Book 1 was plagiarised by all and sundry before Cervantes could finish Book 2.

But Rowson was just itching to get going again, dropping in stories about starting off sequences inside testicles and doing pastiches of Hogarth which he loves to do. Telling tales of his schooldays doing English Literature at Cambridge and a professor criticising his take on Tristram Shandy. That the professor said was not being reverent to the source material. Now if you're like me and find Tristram Shandy completely unwieldy, it's best to treat the whole endeavour as an utter pisstake. So the professor being upset at that is actually rather absurd and wonderful. Rowson also talked about his process for creating the books, of having an extremely low boredom threshold where being a political cartoonist suits him perfectly where he has only four hours to think up and finish a piece.

So he had to not plan out the adaptations in any way at all, and just take each page as it came and adapt that section. And on and on he went throwing in Karl Marx, taking the piss out of TS Elliott, Frances Weems and a million other subjects that I literally can't decipher out of my notes. I think for his next subject his own head would be an ideal subject so packed with tales and information and deep thinking that it would be fascinating. In fact maybe he could call it Being Martin Rowson and it be a very loose adaptation of the Spike Jonze movie.

To lighten up discussions both writers were asked what comics they grew up on with Davis revealing that he was dyslexic as a kid and loved Whizzer & Chips where he could get away with looking at lovely Leo Baxendale art without actually reading the bubbles. And Rowson saying he loved 2000ad, which really is surprising as not something you'd expect to find an English Literature graduate reading. Maybe it's the reason he's got such an amazingly warped sense of humour! I do have tons more notes, but as I say they are indecipherable, so I'll have to stop there, which kind of fits with the way that Rowson said his adaptations just kind of stopped.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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