A comic creation workshop is just the sort of new and open approach to literature that Wordplay should be about, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.
Comic Creation with Edward Ross, held at Lerwick's Mareel on Thursday, invited locals of any and all levels of ability or interest in comics to come along and try their hand, under the guidance of Edinburgh-based comic artist Edward Ross.
Ross freely admitted that he would never have pegged himself as a comic writer. While he dabbled in comics as a teenager (both reading and drawing them) he had fully intended to be a filmmaker.
However, despite studying film at university, Ross said that he didn't have the passion for films needed to fully embrace it as a career.
When his partner re-introduced him to comics, he found the passion he had been lacking - Ross started writing and drawing comics and soon began to feel that he was "really getting somewhere". Ross traded a future in celluloid for ink and paper, and embarked on a new project.
His first comic was released just over seven years ago. It was a short piece on the subject of film, of which 100 issues were made (via photocopier) and sold in the Edinburgh Filmhouse, which Ross described as being like 'Edinburgh's Mareel'.
Contrary to his expectations, all 100 copies swiftly sold out; as did the next run of 100, and the one after that.
Ross soon expanded this idea of using comics to talk about film into the pitch for his graphic novel Filmish, a history of film in comic form, which took two years to pitch, and a further two to complete.
He has gone on to do comics on parenthood, stem cells and malaria, among various other topics.
With a highly-acclaimed graphic novel under his belt, Ross was well-placed to lead an interesting and relaxed workshop on the fundamentals of character-creating and comic writing. The attendees were for the most part an older crowd than one might expect, with only one person in the under 25 group.
None admitted to any prowess at drawing, and few confessed themselves to be fans of comics - most were in attendance due to a general interest in the medium.
Ross discussed the artform with genuine enthusiasm and excitement. He explained several interesting aspects of modern comic writing, including the imposing 'diary comic' (where the writer makes a comic of everything they did that day) and the imposing '24-hour comic' (where the writer has to make a 24-page comic in 24 hours, not for the faint of heart) in addition to how he approached his own works.
Ross observed that the basic of comic writing, as with all writing, is well-rounded characters.
Much of the workshop was based around creating a character whose personality is not only fleshed-out but also visually represented - Ross explained that a comic character requires "visual distinction, personality and expressive traits". Random word selections helped building up random ideas for characters- such as 'gloomy', 'William' and 'lawyer'.
While William the gloomy lawyer is not quite as fantastical as the pirates and robots that some of the participants got, it's still a vivid image and that's what counts. Ross' own work is certainly a good starting point, with clear, expressive art and a strong sense of humour.
Perhaps most interesting was the Pictionary-like group work, drawing comics based on each others' captions, before passing the illustrations along to be re-captioned, in order to see how well the pictures conveyed the message.
It was a fascinating look at the way people find different ways to interpret simple messages, and how evocative illustrations can be as a means of storytelling. As Ross put it: "It's not about polish, it's about communication."
The majority of the workshop focused on the ability to represent themes, emotions and personality through illustration. In reality, it was more about the thinking behind the process of comic making than actually making comics themselves.
None of the participants left the workshop prepared to write the next Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, nor did anyone learn how to draw hands properly. What everyone did leave with was a new appreciation for comics as a medium of communication and storytelling.
It was an interesting, enjoyable and different addition to the book festival; a conscious effort to include non-traditional literature alongside the prose and poetry that you might expect.
Hopefully Wordplay 2017 continues in the same vein. Maybe by then some of us will have learned how to draw hands.