THE WRITING OF SPEECHLESS THE BOOK


Part 3: REVIEWS, EDITS & DEADLINES

Baiting the invitation with several crates of (cheap! I was dog skint at the time and had the bank feeling my collar) beer, I dragged (drugged?) as many of my friends as possible to a review session to see how they'd react to the material so far.

Review night flyer

People plastered the printed out pages with post-it notes full of comments about what worked, what didn't, what to add, what to subtract, and so on... all continuing the feeling that the book was turning into something of a group effort. (And why not?)

Review night photo 1

Review night photo 2

Jesus. No-one seems to be laughing that much, do they?

Here's my overwhelmingly favourite post it note comment (it refers to Page 20); it still makes me laugh.

Chrisp Tofu's legendary Triceratops post it note what a lovely man he is!

Anyone who's read the book and knows their dinosaurs will see he got his own way.

At several points in the process of writing the script I totally lost track of who came up with what idea... person A would make comment A, I'd repeat that, or a slightly modified version of it, to person B, who'd make comment C... at times it was like a game of pass the parcel where you ADD a layer of wrapping paper... a particular example of this was the concept of the 4 'ordinary life' sepia pages.

In the meantime, I was turning into a monomaniac, who's only topic of conversation was 'The (as yet without a name) Book'... and I still feel deeply grateful to everyone who indulged me and (at the least) faked an interest, and (at best) threw in some fantastic ideas. Take a bow, folks, I couldn't have done it without you...


Censorship?

Early on it became clear that only a few printers could technically handle the 'book within the book'. The only one that would make the project economically feasible was in Hong Kong, a printer the NI had a long standing relationship with, from before the handover to China.

We were comfortable with the level of autonomy Hong Kong has from the Chinese dictatorship, and since the book was to be shipped so widely (to North America and Australasia as well as to Europe) it made no difference ecologically.

What we didn't anticipate early enough was that the following image of Tienanmen Sq would cause problems for the printers, who themselves had to subcontract the actual binding to the mainland:

The original Tiananmen pencil sketch

Red faces all round, and the question "What to do?' Back down?" That clearly wouldn't have been acceptable, but of course we could only sympathise with the printers not wanting to have the Chinese authorities feeling their collars.

Happily, and in keeping with the historical tradition of 'boxing clever' around and under the censors, this felt like a good solution:

The 'censored' final Tiananmen artwork

...and (surprisingly?) was 100% acceptable to the printers.

I'd go so far as to say it's even more effective than the original, as it talks about censorship, something that hadn't been covered elsewhere. The phrase that kept popping into my mind was 'If people in China can't see this image, then tough... neither can you.' The fact that the GOOGLE gag got such a big laugh in the office nailed it for me.


The grind

One of the great things about being a cartoonist is it normally makes for a really lazy late night partying lifestyle.

Until a project like this comes along and delivers a million volt shock to the system by forcing you to work 10 hour days, 6 days a week... and then 11 hour days 7 days a week, and then 12, as the horrific multi fanged monster that is the deadline creeps ever nearer... until... CRUNCH! You know there's not a hope in hell you're gonna make it. No chance.

If solving the 'which book' puzzle was the big high, this was the big low, knowing you're about to utterly let down the people who've invested so much faith, effort and time in your work.

OK, it's just a book at the end of the day, but it's also become the dominant thing in your life, and it does feel like it'll be the end of your career when you ring your publisher to tell them that you've fucked it up. (And there was no chance of delaying by a year, due to the terms of the grant FoEI had raised to pay for the artwork.)

At this stage I was imagining my editors stringing me up from a lamppost... and still having to draw 12 hours a day, pretending there was a future to the project when I knew there wasn't...

Huge thanks to my mate Stuart here, for coming in over the weekend and doing a bucketload of photocopying, scanning and pencil erasing! Ta, dude!

All that anxiety (and to be honest, feelings of total despair) turned out to be a storm in a teacup. Miracle of miracles, it turned out we were able to wrangle an extra month, A WHOLE MONTH!!, onto the deadline. Salvation!


Car Crash

I was still looking at 70-hour weeks for a short while, but the book was back in action... and there was a mates birthday piss up that night, so I had to go celebrate.. It's a shame reality had other plans...

On the way to the pub a (insert long paragraph of abusive adjectives) driver who couldn't be arsed to slow down at a corner took me over the bonnet of his car, tearing a ligament in my leg, fracturing one of my ribs and cracking my scalp open on the road. Oh boy.

I was left hobbling on crutches and hoping that his driving wasn't a premature critical comment about the quality of my work... but also feeling lucky again... it could have been a lot worse and most importantly I could still draw and think straight.


High Again

Just as I finished the artwork (I only had the cover left to do) and felt relaxed enough to have a wild night out, I came across this graffiti on the wall of the gents in the bar...

Spooky stalker type graffitti in a local bar.

I confess I was both amused and really quite spooked...

OK, 'Polyp' isn't that unusual a name, after all it's one of those latin root words (From Ancient Greek p???? (polus), "‘many, much’") and it was a bar that a lot of Europeans drink in, but all the same... a bit weird, huh? (No, it's not my drunken handwriting!)

Is reacting emotionally to your own work kind of a bit weird?

Although a really lengthy project like this means you totally lose touch with whether or not it's any good (it all just becomes mental wallpaper it's so familiar) there are occasional moments when you still react emotionally to it.

For instance I hate this guy with a passion, in both the book and in the real life visual reference. Wanker!

I want to kick this guy's teeth down his throat


This dinosaur's expression still makes me laugh, even now:

A funny dinosaur. in my opinion at least.

I don't know why, it just does.


Despite how deeply jaded I felt towards the end of the artwork, when I put the final lighting touches to this double page spread it took my breath away to see how well it had worked...(By the way, I really hope finding all the little details within the pictures is proving to be a fun experience!)

A pretty picture


And perhaps because I was, by now, feeling really deeply bone tired, this image almost made me cry. Here it is, alongside the photo that inspired it:

I'm a big cry baby!


I guess there's something innately moving about the thought of all those fellow sparks of consciousness who've come and gone throughout the huge sweep of history; their lives and the lives of their loved ones meant so much to them, and yet where are they now? Time's up, folks!

And that's quite enough of that, I think.


PAGES THAT NEVER MADE IT INTO THE BOOK

Here's a quick guide to stuff that fell by the wayside owing to the insanely short amount of time, and therefore space, there was available. (One of the negotiations that I think really tried everyone's nerves was arguing about how many pages there should be in the book- me arguing for less, the NI arguing for more...)

THE MIDDLE AGES
(I particularly wanted to explore how the routine use of torture was never questioned by that culture. If anything it was seen as the sign of a firm, no-nonsense leader. To me it's a sign that as a species / culture we are making ethical progress. (Richard Dawkins calls it the 'shifting moral zeitgeist') Yes, yes I KNOW it still happens loads- but the moral zeitgeist is such that the torturers have to try and hide it or justify it etc. in the 'good old days', had you challenged them about it, they'd have shrugged their shoulders and said "and your problem with this is..?" And then they'd have tortured you as well.

And following on from that:

GUANTANAMO BAY
I really, really regret Guantanamo not making it to the final 'cut'- it would have been a fairly straightforward rendering of the infamous image... The thought bubbles I might have made entirely black as a way of trying to suggest the sensory deprivation torture the people in this picture are undergoing.

Torture

I'd also have tried to find some way of ensuring it had a visual 'link' to the proposed middle ages page. If you look carefully through the book, visual 'riffs' like that are spread throughout it. Here's a very obvious one that links the propaganda of the crusades to the propaganda about the war in Iraq...

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

CHINA
Other than the two pages where it does get a look in, I feel I neglected China and never really got my head around it's geopolitical / historical significance, so opted to say nothing.

THE INTERNET
Given it's huge role in making the book feasible, it would have been great to include it, with a barbed edge to the effect that when people say it's linking 'all' the citizens of the world together they're talking out of their arses. Access to the internet is as dependent on wealth and power as is access to food.

GHANDI AND NON VIOLENT RESISTANCE TO COLONIALISM

SOVIET IMPERIALISM
I hope I made sufficient references to it?

EASTER ISLAND
Although I was never able to include Easter Island in the main book, a friend delighted me by pointing out a (totally unintentional on my part) visual reference to it in the small book-

An accidental reference

FEMINISM

1930'S DEPRESSION

POPULATION GROWTH

POST COLONIAL PROBLEMS IN AFRICA

INVENTION OF THE PRINTING PRESS


TO TRANSLATE OR NOT TO TRANSLATE?

The 'translations' in the back of the book were the end product of a very long debate. Although it was a difficult decision, what tipped it for me was the idea of how frustrating and annoying it would be for the reader to get stuck on one word bubble in a particular narrative.

It was a shame in some ways to have to 'freeze' the meaning of the bubbles- we really wanted the experience of reading the book to be interactive... hence the proviso at the top of the translations... we really mean it- you may see things in the bubbles that we never did...

And one last thing- I gotta say here how entertainingly often my editors were right and I was wrong about a lot of stuff. Some very, very, nice calls, there, Dan, Janneke and Chris. I'm very impressed, and more importantly, the book is much better for your ideas.

 

Thanks for reading, maybe you'd also enjoy to see how the book was drawn.

 

PART 1: Origins & Influences

PART 2 - Getting a Publisher and Starting Work