Deecon is Dundee's own comicon, held on the Dundee University Campus. Phil Vaughan and Dr Chris Murray run the Comic Art & Graphic Novels Expansive Module at Duncan of Jordanstone Art College in Dundee and work collaboratively with the students to produce the UniVerse comic.
A lot of Superheroes have been around since World War II – like Superman and Batman for example. Are these characters still relevant? What heroes do we need for our present and future technocracy culture?
Phil Vaughan: Yes I would say these characters are as relevant as ever. This is because they have moved with the times. It’s not like Batman is still fighting bank robbers from the 1940’s! I think the way these iconic character have been interpreted over the years is key. The origin stories and general mechanics of these characters has stayed the same, you don’t generally tinker too much with that, but the visual style, tone and settings of these stories has changed.
There is a school of thought that the popularity of these characters changes with the political climate we find ourselves in, having a positive or negative effect. We have had dark phases in the careers of both Batman and Superman, but there have also been much lighter versions of the characters over the years. Projecting forward, I imagine technology will take a greater role in the stories of heroes like Batman and Superman. We have already seen the ‘teching up’ of the outfits of both characters (and of course Iron Man!), and the world that they inhabit now seems more like the near future than the present day. I think our heroes may become more augmented as we move further into the 21st century.
Chris Murray: It’s the emotional turmoil that’s keeps these characters relevant, because the inner demons Spiderman, Batman, Hellboy are all dealing with are very human, which makes it possible to identify with them. If you think about the origin or the word comic – it comes from the Greek word ‘Komos’ which roughly translated means a combination of comedy and tragedy. The characters of Kings and Gods also play fools. Look at the classic symbol of the theatre, the laughing face and the crying face, these are the emotions which resonate the most; pain and joy.
Comic books bare a lot of relation to those classical Greek Myths and you could argue the best heroes are the ones who have to deal with some sort of struggle, but are these kind of characters the most satisfying to draw / create / write?
Phil Vaughan: I would definitely agree that a lot of comics relate to Greek Mythology. The archetypes are very similar. Sometimes this is directly referenced, as in the case of Marvels ‘Hercules’, a member of the Avengers, or the ‘Olympian Gods’ from DC Comics. Other examples tap into more general themes. Although not a comic, Ulysses 31, a Japanese-French animated science fiction television co-production is essentially an updated version of Odysseus.
As far as characters that I find satisfying creatively, I do like characters that are steeped in pseudo-history and mythology (for example, Captain Britain) and I have been involved in the development of Diamondsteel Comics Saltire series, which is based on Scottish myths and legends.
Chris Murray: Yeah, totally agree regarding the Greek Myths! It goes back to what we’re seeing more and more of from the students, which are these auto-biographical stories. Artists and writers are expressing their inner turmoil by distancing themselves from it, giving it a face, a structure, making it tangible and more understandable, pulling a character out of this nebulous mass of emotions and confusion. There’s a huge amount of satisfaction in that!
Scotland has a great history for producing good comics, so it’s great this course exists. How do you balance the writing / art working aspects when you’re teaching, are the students paired up to work on projects for example? Basically, how does it work?
Phil Vaughan: Well obviously we are ideally placed in Dundee to be the ‘Home of Comics’, with the rich history of local publishers DC Thomson. We have a great connection with them, and they have been pretty supportive. The courses are structured in a way that they are academic and practical. The outcome of the module is a finished comic strip of around 6-8 pages. This is collected in a publication we have called Anthology, which we self-publish under the UniVerse imprint that myself and Chris have set up.
The brief to the students is very open. We do try to pair up writer and artists, but we have found that the sole creator route is the most popular, and we would never force people to work together, it has to be more embryonic. I have also noticed that the art students who take the module like to drive the narrative visually, without dialogue, which is a huge challenge. Those who pull this off are often the ones to watch! We have had some success stories already, with comics students being commissioned to produce real comics, and also working with companies such as the BBC, DC Thomson and Starburst Magazine. The first cohort are really only just entering the market… the future of comics is in safe hands!
Preferred term – comic or graphic novel?
Phil Vaughan & Chris Murray: Comics! Don’t shy away from the term!
Zombies – commentary on the human condition or tired cliché?
Chris Murray: Human condition
Phil Vaughan: Tired cliché I’m afraid. Over-saturated the market and the bubble has burst.
Dundee is currently the only University in the UK offering a comic module, you can get more information by checking out the course details here: http://www.dundee.ac.uk/english/prospective/postgraduates/comicstudies/
UniVerse comic is available to buy. The cover price is £5.95, and the venture is not for profit, with funds from sales being put directly back into the course to cover cost of publishing promotional copies of the next issue. For information, or to order a copy, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Deecon, please check out their blog: http://deecon2015.blogspot.co.uk/