Protest, continued

Feels like everyone in the UK comics world is at the massive Thought Bubble comics festival in Harrogate this week. I’m slightly envious and at the same time glad not to have another big trip right now. Wouldn’t it be nice if LICAF and TBubs were further apart in the year?

Satin and Tat still languishes with zero progress having been made, while I use up all my drawing time on the Protest zine. I’m beginning to wonder if I need to stop calling it a zine at this point and start thinking of it as a comic, and here’s why:

As with these blog posts, I told myself the only way I could devote time to another comic project was to make it quick and dirty. Inktober meant that I already had the content; surely all I needed to do was chuck the images onto a rough layout and get the thing copied and printed up?

But it seems that when it comes to making comics, I just don’t work that way. First, I reasoned that as I’d shared all the images on my Instagram as I drew them, that I should make the number up to 50 and include some ‘never seen before’ content, otherwise, who’d want to pay for the thing? Fine – I drew another 19 pictures of people holding placards, and got that done.

Then I wanted to include some thoughts about protest in general: the reason I’d embarked on this theme in the first place is that legislation is currently going through Parliament that’s designed to crack down on the citizens’ right to protest. I want to show that this right is important, has been effective in shaping our laws, and can be of benefit to the country as a whole.

Fine: scrawl it all down, you’d think? But oh no, then I thought ‘well if I’m a comic artist, all that should be conveyed in the medium of comics. Uhoh: that’s when it starts to become more of a time sink.

Buuuuut… if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly, right? And once I started looking into the protests that I remember forming part of my childhood: CND vigils, the Greenham Common encampment, Section 28 and student loan marches — I was back on my favourite beat: at the intersection between autobio and social history.

So. It’s still not going to be the thick volume I could easily turn it into at this point – I am going to restrain myself and try very hard not to make it have to say everything I have ever felt or thought or researched and discovered about protest between the 70s and now.

But, I guess it is going to be a less slapdash thing than I first conceived. And, unlike Satin and Tat, it should be finished and out in the world at some point in the near future.

While looking for reference photos from those CND marches and vigils of my childhood. I fell down an interesting rabbit hole. My hometown’s local branch of CND is still running, and on their website they’ve published some of the minutes from their earliest meetings. I started scanning to see if I could find my Mum’s name – she’s been their longtime membership secretary and was treasurer at some point I believe. I couldn’t see it, but I did see so many names that were an everyday part of conversation around the table all through my teen years, and addresses of houses up and down our street.

I saw the organisaton – and my mum’s friendship group – as I’ve never seen it before: a bunch of neighbours in their 30s and 40s who felt so strongly about the threat of nuclear weapons that they gave up their spare time to agitate and organise.

These minutes were typewritten, with corrections in biro; there’s a wider newsletter for the county branch as well which seems to have been typeset by a putative cartoonist, with hand lettered comic titles and little speech balloons and cariacatures in the margins.

There’s talk of delivering leaflets door to door; of fundraising discos where you had to pop into the local bookshop to purchase a paper ticket; of cassette tapes and machines, and video players that could be loaned out (you had to provide your own TV and ‘for the sake of the audience, obviously the bigger the TV screen better’).

This was so that as many people as possible could see the The War Game, a 1966 TV programme which was clearly seen as a great persuader, but which it was noted in 1981, “the audience felt to be rather dated now. By way of answer we are considering joining forces with Bristol CND to buy Jonathan Dimblebly’s film “The Bomb” – an exciting prospect”.

Minutes were a way of passing on messages between branches: that a doctor in one town was keen to meet other medical professionals with an interest in banning the bomb; and between members: phone numbers and addresses of the contacts in various working groups scattered across the city; or a plea for an unwanted heater they might use in their shop.

Anyway – not to go on too long, but it was an interesting reminder of the sheer amount of work you had to do to organise before email and the internet. To call back to Satin and Tat, I’ve made the main character’s mum a CND membership secretary too, and she is occasionally seen with big sheets of stamps, a pile of leaflets, and envelopes to lick.

OK, that’s enough for this week. Back to drawing.

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.

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