Scribing about scribing

“Scribing”, otherwise known as “graphic recording”, “graphic facilitation”, etc, is where an event is captured, often in real time, by an artist using words and pictures. You can be employed to do this, though I often do it on paper for my own benefit at conferences or talks I attend.

This year I’ve had more work in this field, so I was asked to speak on a “Graphic Recording” panel at the Australian Cartoonists Association’s Stanleys Conference this past weekend. Because I’m less expert at it than the other participants (Sarah Firth, Luke Watson and Glen Le Lievre), I asked if I could just scribe the panel itself rather than speak. This was the result!

Scribing about scribing - result of a panel at the ACA's Stanleys conference, Nov 2014

Hopefully you get an idea of the content of the panel, which was really well received. The very funny Peter Berner came up and asked me some questions about it afterwards, so hopefully we’ll be seeing him doing some scribing soon (he’d be uniquely well-equipped for it)!

Someone asked if we tend to “editorialise” while we draw. I said that I definitely do (unless I’m asked not to). I certainly did above. The editorial is bound up in the process of understanding what we’re scribing. If we don’t get it (which happens when we’re thrown into a situation with no context and loads of jargon/acronyms), you end up with lots of words and arrows and clouds and stuff but not much rhyme or reason to it. If we understand the topic, you get a better result (and I can start making jokes)…

Stanleys 2013: The Australian Cartoonists Association conference (part 2)

Hi! This is part 2 of my report on the Stanleys conference. Part 1 of this recap is here.

I had some interesting conversations with people after I spoke; I’m sure Tim did too. They were intrigued by what we’re doing at Squishface, and often this led into conversations about the ACA, and what and who it’s for.

There’s a number of interesting organisations which shine a light Australian drawing to various degrees, some of which would be Illustrators Australia, Just Another, the Jacky Winter Group, etc, which are more illustration-oriented than the ACA is; the ACA is more specifically about cartooning.

There’s a lot more places for a prospective cartoonist or illustrator to learn and showcase themselves nowadays than there were even when I left high school in 1997, so the very hard-working guys who run the ACA put a fair bit of that work into keeping it relevant.

This bush turkey appeared on the hotel-resort grounds but failed to register for the conference proper.

Jason Chatfield’s talk, The Importance of Being Online, could have been called “Look, Idiot, Your Website Doesn’t Work On Phones”. It was a good talk. “Plugged in” as I am to web and social media compared to some in the room, I still don’t have a site that works great on a mobile device, because I’m a dope.

I’m not a caricaturist, but I had a crack

I was EXTREMELY surprised to win the “best caricature of the day” award for the attempt at Paul Giamatti above, but I’ve got the portable hard drive I won right here, so it must have happened.

I’d taken every opportunity to ask the attendees to draw on coasters for Squishface’s Coaster Show (opening Sunday November 3 at Squishface, 309 Victoria St, Brunswick!), and we got a nice pile before the day finished up with Russ Radcliffe, editor of Best Australian Political Cartoons, who presented some of his favourites from the ten-year collection.

I’d met Jos Valdman before but I hadn’t connected him to the recent scuffle between a South Australian minister and a cartoon flamingo, so I was very pleased to congratulate him on his good work in attracting legal threats, something I’m slightly familiar with.

Once the day’s talks were over, I grabbed up my hard drive and pile of coasters, then wandered over to a convenient duck pond, where I chilled out for a bit and changed my shirt in preparation for the awards night.

Chris Downes and myself and our awarded drawin’s.

The awards night was hosted by Peter Berner. He did a fine job and shares, with ACA President Jules Faber, a dry persona that says, “Here is a gag, there it went, I’m not underlining it for you, dummy”.

Anton Emdin gets an award. Tom Richmond wears a smock. Jules Faber looks on. Photo by Tim McEwen.

You can look up all the nominees and winners if you’d like — as far as I’m concerned the right people won, even and especially in the Comic Book Artist category, in which I was nominated. I was honoured to have been in the mix.

Chris Downes and Glen Le Lievre present an award to David Rowe. Photo by Tim McEwen.

I’ve been to these awards three times now and my favourite part is watching the talented and modest Anton Emdin crumple a bit when he wins something. He won three statuettes this night and I swear he looked sadder each time. He deserves every bit of his acclaim, and I bet one day he’ll even believe that.

I had the fish. It was OK. I bet the chicken was nicer, though.

All the Daves we could find: DJ Williams, me, David Rowe, David Pope. More next year, hopefully. Photo by Jos Valdman.

After the awards? I saw liquor and cigars, and Rob Feldman told a story about hiding from gangsters that sounded like it could have been written by Barry Levinson.

I didn’t get much sleep, but I can’t be kept away from a barbeque, so I was up early Sunday morning and got down to the hotel again for a couple goodbyes and a big fat sausage from Jules.

Jules wrapped his sausage in bacon and fed it to me.

I ate Jules’ saus

Anyway, I also met Christophe Granet, who organised an ACA exhibition at Top Ryde City earlier this year. He alerted me to the fact that there’s a new Asterix book out, written and drawn by a brand new guy.

Then I rushed off to the airport! I got a plane back to Sydney with Ian McCall, Grant Brown, Judy Horacek and David Pope. Ian marveled at the fact that Mr Pope can fit himself into an economy seat. I thought they should suspend food and toilet service so he could lie down in the aisle.

Tim & Anne-Maree McEwen pose with Tim’s nomination slide!

Anyway, what a nice time I had. I go to these, and am a member of the ACA, mostly so I can hang around and talk shit with cartoonists, as if I don’t get enough of that in my regular daily life. The membership are a fine bunch of guys, and I make more friends each time I attend the Stanleys.

My great thanks to the ACA executive, all the organisers of the shindig and the other guests. I was very, very pleased to have the chance to speak to them all.

Stanleys 2013: The Australian Cartoonists Association conference (part 1)

I went to the Stanleys again this year. The Stanleys are the conference/awards night of the Australian Cartoonists Association. I blogged about it the first time I went, in 2011.

The ACA is a funny little club, and I’ve been asked why I’m involved with it. I’ve now been a member for three years and I still can’t answer the question properly! I’ll try again at the end of this recap.

Coffs coast.

I arrived in Coffs Harbour late Friday afternoon and was picked up at the little airport by Pat Grant‘s mum, who had offered me a room to stay in during a drunken night a few weeks earlier at the Graphic after party. Paranoid that she’d regret her generosity, I made myself invaluable by loading up on Haigh’s nougat and chocolate frogs before leaving Melbourne.

I had myself a quiet, early night in preparation for the conference on Saturday, so I missed the Rotary Cartoon Awards, which took place Friday evening at the Bunker (a cartoon museum located in… a bunker). Apparently it was a nice night, and I gathered from the talk the following day that one notable part involved an older gentleman doing something quite slowly.

Jason Chatfield. Photo by Tim McEwen

The conference day began with the yearly AGM. This is a brief affair punctuated by amusing quips from off-camera. There were a few items of business, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what they were.

Brian Cook is an agent for authors and illustrators, and his presentation on how a typical book deal works made me wonder why anyone bothers to try to get a book deal at all.

My understanding was that an illustrator on a kids book that does fairly well can expect to make about $3000 in royalties on the first edition. After hearing that, spending $300 to self-publish 150 copies of a comic book and making $700 back doesn’t seem quite as pointless.

Tom Richmond makes us all draw Jon Hamm. Photo by Tim McEwen.

The weekend’s international guest was MAD Magazine’s Tom Richmond, who is the chief TV/movie satire guy there.

He did an excellent caricature masterclass. One bit that resonated for me was when he spoke about the elements of the face, and remembering to observe the space between them. Not enough to draw all the bits rights, you gotta space them correctly too.

Caricature of me by Paul "Harv" Harvey.

A couple of fellows representing The Bunker spoke briefly about how they need to start making some money out of their enormous original cartoon collection, as the Coffs city council wants to withdraw their funding.

Their idea of the way to do this, possibly thought up by their lawyers, was to request that all artists with work in the gallery sign over their copyright in the works. Several members pointed out politely that this idea robs artists of their rights and suggested an simply written licensing agreement allowing the Bunker to sell prints of the works instead.

Caricature of me by Rob Feldman.

After lunch, we learned a fair bit about how a MAD satire gets made in a panel called Defining MADness. It featured Tom Richmond, Anton Emdin and DJ Williams, the editor of Australian MAD.

Anton talks about his Glee parody. Photo by Tim McEwen.

Was interested to learn that for Anton’s Glee satire (shown below), DJ chucked Anton the pages with finished speech balloons and photos of the characters dropped in where he wanted them drawn.

Tim talks about Australian comics. Photo from Tim McEwen.

Tim McEwen and I were asked to speak about the Australian comics scene. Tim ran through a massive (and yet incomplete!) list of Australian comics projects and events from just the past year. Among other things, he mentioned Aboriginal community art project NEOMAD, the anthology Blood & Thunder and the Silent Army Storeroom.

I wasn’t sure how to pitch my talk, as the amount of knowledge of local comics (as opposed to the more mainstream local “cartoons” and “comic strips”) in the room varied, so I kept my talk personal and narrative.

I spoke about the comics I read when I was young.

I spoke about the Melbourne comics scene.

I spoke about Hutcho and the other guys who founded Squishface Studio.

I spoke about what we hoped to achieve with the studio when we started.

I spoke about “our financials”.

And I spoke about why we love the studio and how it might grow and change in the future.

Apparently people found my talk interesting. I hope so.

This recap is already huge so I’ll get to the rest of the day and the awards night in Part 2.

The Stanleys 2011


What it is to be a cartoonist

Cartoonists don’t travel through physical space, only through time.

Even when the cartoonist looks, to an observer, to be travelling; on a plane, say, or a train – they are bent over their Spirax #534 pad, scratching away at a sketch of a fellow passenger. Desperately trying to cram in another good strong line or eye-dot before the vehicle’s next violent lurch.

To the cartoonist, the trip is instantaneous, the time eaten by their drawing. It’s over and done with almost before they get on board.

The sketchbook is the history of the world, and the pen is a time machine.

Cartoonists have to be careful not to leap too far into the future. They can miss their stop.

For this reason, the time machine is best operated by a cartoonist with a honed sense of what is important. Usually, it’s the comic they’re drawing, but sometimes, like last weekend, it’s what’s going on around them.

I attended the annual conference of the Australian Cartoonists Association, an organisation which was once called the Australian Black & White Artists Club, and which has been around for a little under 90 years.

Now that we live in a world where artists can afford to self-publish cartoons in colour — and do — they accept members who don’t make a living drawing newspaper editorial cartoons, although much of the membership have had occasion to draw a picture of Kevin Rudd with a knife in his back.

Other members do daily or weekly comic strips, the sort you might find in newspapers or magazines (including the cheaply printed ones with boobs in them. Skin mags are keeping more cartoonists employed than you can imagine).

I draw a weekly online strip. For free. Which makes me somewhat of an oddity among these professionals. I set my own deadlines. And I had a new strip to write and draw before the weekend was over, so I got cracking even as the conference’s first event got underway.

Anton Emdin presented an inking demonstration. He’s a fellow self-publisher whose comic books, when I discovered them eight or so years ago, stuck out as especially well drawn compared to other local fare. Funny, too.

Now he’s become something of a “golden child” of Australian cartooning, winning awards left and right and turning out extraordinarily accomplished illustrations for hire. I’m both pleased and galled to say that, like many talented people I’ve met, he’s a very nice guy.

But when he showed us a drawing he’d done just for kicks, in front of the telly, I remembered again what set his work apart years ago. He brings plenty to his commissioned pieces, but the stuff he does in his own time is what I want to see more of.

I don’t remember anything that was said at the children’s illustration panel. All I remember is Leigh Hobbs’ work. Somehow, some publishers are letting him be truly funny in front of kids, which, for someone with even a bit of experience in children’s entertainment, is surprising.

Reg Mombassa played with Mental As Anything, then created the most iconic art in the Mambo clothing brand, then designed a lot of stuff for the opening of Sydney Olympics (the best bits of which, apparently, were left out because of strong winds). Then he stood in front of us and told us all about it.

I saw him close up later on. He is a charming, funny man and he looks like he might be made of wax.

In a talk about a cartoonist named John Dixon, we learned that among his ancestors were Jeremiah Dixon, who, with Charles Mason, surveyed the Mason-Dixon Line separating the southern and north-eastern United States. This had little to do with John Dixon’s adventure strip, but was interesting nonetheless.

At the Australian Comics panel, Tim McEwen presented the work of local comic book creators. I think people in the room were wondering, “You mean they staple these books together themselves? Why? Do they sell them door-to-door?…”

The conference’s special guest was Ron Cobb. A jaw-droppingly profound editorial cartoonist in the ‘60s and ‘70s, his expert rendering and extraordinary imagination dropped him into a career designing little things like “the spaceships in Alien” and “the time machine in Back to the Future” and “the stuff Conan the Barbarian wears”.

At one point, the U.S. government enlisted his futurist design brain in coming up with ideas for inventions that could save soldiers’ lives. With any luck, they used a few.

I was drawing while he spoke. I’m pretty sure he said that the “Hammerhead” character he designed for the Star Wars cantina scene is from a race considered the best joke-tellers in the galaxy. I love when background characters are way too thought out.

I spent the conference massively unbalanced; a very strong dizziness gripped me for the whole two days. It simulated drunkenness and probably made me more sociable than I would otherwise have been.

I chatted with several new cartoonist friends, including David Follett, Mark McHugh and Luke Watson (whose dad makes cheese). And I caught up with a few others I already knew, such as Matt Bisset-Johnson and the mysterious Troy Mingramm, an elusive sprite whose brand of unexpurgated slice-of-druggy-life stories have been missing from my life for a while.

Missed the AGM on the second morning. This was deliberate and unavoidable. I had to go to the pharmacy and ask for “anti-dizziness medication”. I don’t think it exists. Pharmacist offered me motion sickness pills, helpfully adding that they would do nothing. Didn’t buy jellybeans, either.

Eric Lobbecke demonstrated how an editorial cartoonist works. Drew nice Abbott.

I powered into the Bret Braddock cartoon I needed to finish. Time slipped away. Roger Fletcher passed back original art from his strip Torkan. Realised the man handing them to me was comedian Peter Berner, apparently a cartoonist for many years. Maybe the inverse of The Age’s Andrew Weldon, who did comedy first then switched to cartoons.

Met Gary Clark; his strip Swamp has been going for thirty years. It’s great looking! How have I missed it? May not be published in Melbourne papers.

The conference catering was very nice.

Graphic’s Jordan Verzar read out e-mails from Robert Crumb explaining why he decided to cancel his visit to Australia this year. Short version: “I and my family are frightened of Hetty Johnston, and there may not be enough cool old 78s for me to buy and really, I can’t be bothered”.

Glen Le Lievre spoke about submitting to the New Yorker. I will never submit to the New Yorker.

Jules Faber gave me an ACA T-shirt because I asked for one.

Hung out with David Follett and Jozef Szekeres before the big Stanleys awards night. Jozef’s portfolio is an astounding thing to look at. You rarely see Disney art and huge cocks in such close proximity.

The conference culminates with THE STANLEYS, Australia’s cartooning awards night. It was slick. Reg Mombassa played slide guitar. For almost the first time during the conference, women appeared (not to discount the attendance of Alex Hallatt). There were tuxes with gold sneakers, and berets. I put my time machine away, for the most part.

Ron Cobb was at my table. I wasn’t able to have a conversation with him because it would have just been DeLorean questions punctuated by awkward silence. So instead we went with uninterrupted awkward silence, my sole contribution to his enjoyment of the weekend being to pass him a plate of grilled prawns he would not have had access to otherwise.

A nice young fella named Connor was there, representing the night’s charity, Westmead Children’s Hospital. Troy slipped him some of his NSFW-style comics, exhorting the youngster not to tell his mum. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a 14-year-old suffering from crippling arthritis, among other things, you’re allowed to read naughty stories about Troy being picked up by a middle-aged woman on a cruise ship.

I bid on an original Tandberg in the silent auction, but lost to Mark Knight, who was gracious in his triumph. I think I was amusing to him in a hotel hallway, but I have no idea how.

I touched Anton’s Gold Stanley, then wore a bunny hat. Then it was 3am and the after party got busted up by hotel security. I toddled off to my room.

It was a fun night.

The drinks machine in the departure lounge was spitting out free bottles to anyone who pressed a button. A little girl pressed buttons just for the fun of it and a Coke fell out. I got a mineral water, and justified the theft in my head.

I finished my comic on the plane home.

David Blumenstein is a cartoonist and animator who not only got a room upgrade at the hotel, but also got reseated in the emergency exit rows on both plane rides. Leg room!