Pacing and jumble sales

Last week: I’d just pencilled page 68 of an estimated 170. This week: I’ve just finished page 70.

Why an ‘estimated’ 170 pages? Because although I’m working from my own dummy copy of the whole book in thumbnail form, printed out and stuck together, now and again I come across a sequence where I haven’t really given myself enough space to properly convey what’s happening, or for the action to breathe.

Since there’s no-one else in charge of this project but me, in such circumstances I’m at complete liberty to increase the page count. The other week it was an estimated 168 pages and by the end of this process, who knows, it could be more like 180.

Which is good, as it’s divisible by 4. You know, as that’s how books are made, by piecing together double page spreads with content on both sides.

I can’t call myself an expert in the graphic novel, but there’s definitely a skill to the pacing. Cramming lots of words and action into several tiny panels on a single page might cause the reader to linger longer on that page, which is ironic really, because the impulse as an artist, when you want to insert a pause, is to throw in a lovely big frame, maybe a wordless one.

The irony is that the reader probably then flips quickly over to carry on with the actual action of the story.

Satin and Tat has a few double page spreads, which makes for an extra consideration. Where I decide I need more space, I can’t just add a random extra page.

This addition would have a knock-on effect that’s fine until you hit the next double page spread, because this would then be split over a page turn.

So this type of decision always involves inserting an extra two pages of content. Which is fine. It’s just something to remember to do.

(I hope I managed to explain that properly! It seemed to take a lot of words to describe something really quite simple.)

I think that Satin and Tat is fairly slow-paced. Conversations drift over a few pages, sometimes several. I hope the reader won’t dash through: I may not be a brilliant artist, but I have tried my best on every page to make pictures that are attractive as well as descriptive, and a lot of the book depends on a sense of place so there’s a ton of background detail to anchor it in a small Devonshire estuaryside village in the 80s and the present day (action is set in both eras).

Er, anyway, that’s not what I was intending to write about today. Page 68 is set in a jumble sale, as I mentioned in a previous post. I was going to pontificate more about these, and why they’re such an important background detail for Satin and Tat.

Ella, the main character, who is basically me (Satin and Tat is a memoir with some fictional aspects to make it more readable), was a goth in the 80s, just like I was.

As the adult Ella says early on in the book, while meditating on her daughter’s cosplay outfits, you couldn’t just buy the goth look from a shop in those days. It was a carefully curated and very personal collection of clothes and accessories, gleaned from wherever you could find them. You might nick your dad’s coat, buy crucifix necklaces from a church charity shop, dye boring mainstream clothes black or purple, sew up the side seams of trousers to make them extra narrow, or conversely split the seams and lace them up with ribbon.

Almost nothing went uncustomised; we’d paint our DM boots and change the laces for ribbon as well; paint band names or sew a fabric panel on the back of a jacket, and when I returned to my parents’ house not long ago, I found a pair of jeans I’d spray painted with a stencil to put the outlines of lizards all over them in blue and red.

‘Proper’ goth stuff, like the pointy-toed boots with buckles all over them, might have to be obtained via a print ad in something like the Melody Maker, and – crazy to think about – you’d be ordering from a hand drawn illustration rather than a photo. If you had a mum that was good at knitting, you might coerce her into making you a striped mohair jumper or a looseknit cobweb one. Batwing sleeves, of course.

My favourite detail is that we’d sometimes take an old pair of fishnet or stripy tights and use them as little bolero jackets, putting arms down the legs and cutting the toes off so the fingers could poke through.

All of this is why the fashion back then was so personal and non-uniform. When I say I was ‘a goth’ I don’t really mean that I only wore black lace and velvet. The eighties was also the time when New Romantic and the New Wave were fairly mainstream. It was fairly normal for boys to have their hair long and bouffed up with hairspray; perhaps even some eyeliner or blusher, and Adam Ant, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet were all top of the charts, bringing exotic clothing into the high street so that it was quite normal for the average ‘Sharon’ or ‘Tracey’ to have enormous puff sleeves, pussy bows, harem trousers, and flouncy rah rah skirts. I mean, these middle of the road people might have sneered at the backcombed goth hair, but the huge perms of the time weren’t exactly ordinary when you start looking at them out of context.

When I thumbnailed what ended up as the jumble sale scene for Satin and Tat, I set it in a charity shop, but I changed my mind when it came to drawing it. We undoubtedly did have charity shops back then, but jumble sales were far more common, and they were our Saturday entertainment – a treasure hunt in which you never knew what you were going to find. I wanted to draw that feeling of throwing the entire top half of your body over a mountain of clothes on a tabletop to retrieve a promising-looking garment, often while being elbowed out of the way by a ferocious old lady.

It barely mattered whether the items you bought fit or not, because they cost 5p and you’d be customising them anyway. Kimonos, grannies’ polyester suits, tablecloths and fake flowers were all great prizes.

I started wondering whether there is a cycle of vintage clothing: we were jumble saling in the mid eighties, and we found a lot of sixties minidresses and twinsets, often in psychedelic Pucci polyester – contrary to the goth stereotype, a garish psychedelic splash of colour could look amazing with a black leather jacket and the big backcombed barnet.

Is there a point, say, when 40 year old women realise they are never going to get into that shift dress from their 20s again and, with a sigh, add it to the jumble sale donation heap, creating a rich seam for the next bunch of youngsters?

Were we especially lucky with our finds because of this timing, and do such goods go through a number of different generations’ teenagers’ hands before they ultimately wear out completely (or indeed, if they are unlucky enough to hit a creative period like the eighties, are customised beyond repair)?

This week, I’ve:

  • Proofread the latest Draw The Line manuscript for Street Noise
  • Submitted an abstract to the Comics Up Close conference (er, how could I not? It’s the day before the Lakes festival, which I’m planning to attend, and the theme is ‘Comics can Change the World’, which Draw The Line demonstrably has done).
  • Enjoyed Karrie Fransman’s amazing animation for Positive Negatives

And I should mention Zara Slattery on Dan Berry’s Make It Then Tell Everybody podcast, which was not this week but which is definitely worth a listen.

I’ve known Zara for decades, and still didn’t know what she revealed in this interview about her own insecurities in drawing (which is astonishing to me, as I always think she makes it look so easy!). It’s a great episode for listening to if you feel discouraged by your own pictures not coming out quite as you want them to – what’s that saying? That the good drawings are there, but buried under several thousand bad ones that you have to get through to find them.

By the way, Dan Berry is such a valuable contributor to the comics scene. Through ten years of podcasts he’s pretty much helped to define what that scene is here in the UK. We should all support him on his Patreon, or at least by listening to every single one of his podcasts (not really a chore).

Published by Myfanwy Tristram

I am an illustrator, situated in Brighton on the south coast of England, and with a special interest in comics and graphic memoir. I also work for a non-profit which encourages people to be active in democracy and to exercise rights such as the right to information through FOIA.

One thought on “Pacing and jumble sales

  1. Your post about jumble sales reminded me of the sales that my mother took me in the 1980s at the garment factories, each of them had a shop for 2nd quality production, it was all in a heap for customers to forage into. I was always slightly ashamed to wear clothes not qualified for 1st grade quality

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