Rutu Modan And Leanne Shapton Get Stripped


Gary Gray, our Senior Scottish Correspondent, writes;

Now this was one talk I was really looking forward to at the Stripped strand at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Rutu Modan and Leanne Shapton. And why was this one of the ones I was really looking forward to? Well I don't know about you I'm fed up people banging on about that there are no strong female creators in comics. It's bullshit, they are out there just creating the work and getting on with it, such as Modan and Shapton.

And even better was the fact that Shapton was a new find for me, I've been following comics with a passion for thirty years and I thought I pretty much knew who everyone is. But how cool that theEdinburgh Book Festival was able to feature someone who you maybe haven't heard of alongside such greats as Morrison and Gaiman. Shapton is a Canadian writer/artist who is published by Drawn & Quarterly and she was there to talk about her latest book Was She Pretty features small poems alongside extremely loose black and white brush drawings that are pushing the definition of actually being a comic to its limit. But it's published by D&Q so I'll go with it.

Modan, and if you don't know who she is get right out and buy her seminal work Exit Wounds, is a Israeli graphic novelist telling fictional works. Well she bills them as fictional works but admits it's her way of writing about her family without them disowning her.

Teddy Jamieson of The Herald was chairing the talk, and it kicked off with both authors doing a reading/presentation of their work. Also in attendance in the audience was Bryan Talbot who I think was at as many talks as I was over the weekend. Modan talked of her latest work The Tourist that follows an Israeli grandmother and her granddaughter who visit Poland to try and reclaim their property that was abandoned during the Second World War. Moan's presentation was much more assured than Shapton's, which was very stilted and her nerves were obviously on display. And that's no bad thing as it opened her work of twisted relationships to us more.

Modan then talked through her process of how she created the novel, and I was amazed to find out that she had photographed the entire book by hiring models Frank Hampson style. And through this she found the actors taking over the roles and adding to the book things she hadn't even planned for, such as the 86 year old actress and the actor who had sang at her own father's funeral, not realising this until after the shoot. She revealed that she had to get the actors to overact silent film style as thecomic's panel naturally reduced the emotion, and by overacting she got the feeling and feelings she needed. Her aim wasn't to make the look of the book natural and by overacting it reversely made it more subtle, unlike film where actors aim to dial it down as far as possible. But she found it hard to let go of control to her actors adding stuff describing comickers as control freaks.

Modan then revealed that when she first started in comics that there were no comics in Israel whatsoever, no Tintin and no Asterix whatsoever as comics had always flopped. Luckily she was introduced to them at art school by a lecturer who got her into RAW, Crumb etc and she realised this is what she wanted to do. Not realising she was the ONLY cartoonist in Israel! If she had then who knows, so not for her struggling to break into a male dominated industry, she was it. Shapton said she had started out as an Olympic swimmer (one of her prose novels is about her journey). But I'm struggling to find much more that Shapton said during the talk as she was very shy and not asquotable as the experienced Modan. Modan was dropping stuff in about Gaughan saying that one day someone will invent the perfect art that combines words and pictures. Well as we all know comicsturned out to be that art form. Kind of appropriate to be discussing that point at a Festival where finally the comics art form was being lauded as an art form properly for the first time, or how she had to look up Poland on Wikipedia as it only existed to her as a mass grave. Yes she knew how to give good quote that didn't impinge on the powerfulness of the story she had written.

Shapton did tell us about her next project for Drawn & Quarterly where she is drawing directly from stills from Sunday night movies where she freeze-frames the movie and draws her impression of what she has seen. But as I say the talk was fairly dominated (in a nice way, she wasn't overbearing) by Modan who was fascinating to listen to explaining how she visited Warsaw and was told to visit a certain concentration camp, that was better than Auschwitz. But both books looked equallyfascinating, for different reasons, Modans for its tale of a facet of the 20th century's most shocking event, and Shapton's examination of failed relationships. And as I say at the start how wonderful to have two great female comickers out there doing such uniquely personal powerful works. 

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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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