THE WRITING OF SPEECHLESS THE BOOK

Thinking of writing a cartoon book? Well, here's how it happened for me.


Part 1 - ORIGINS & INFLUENCES

I'm told I've been 'going on about this book for at least 15 years. It's an interesting bit of psychological archeology for me to try and trace it's roots.

The earliest obvious one is the BBC TV children's programme 'CLANGERS':

the Clangers, a 1970s children’s tv series

by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin... see www.bbc.co.uk/cult/classic/clangers for more.


Even though I detest the book, a film I saw of Antoine De Saint-Exupery's 'The Little Prince' must have reinforced the idea of how a miniature version of our world can reveal the moral absurdities of the full size one...


Early themes in my work

A book I worked on in my early twenties reflects a lot of the themes and images that made their way into SPEECHLESS... the major difference being this early book was a pile of juvenile, pretentious toss... which I hope SPEECHLESS isn't. Here's the same fascination with miniature worlds, a very similar starscape technique, and a similar 'regrowth ending' image to the last page of the small book... I even considered using the hero character design from this early work for the One Tree Island creatures... (And of course feel free to think 'All he's doing is recycling the same old rubbish from when he was a kid'...)

polyp cartoon lolup 1 polyp cartoon lolup 1 polyp cartoon lolup 3

Come to think of it, I guess I've always been fascinated by the idea of the miniature- the concept that when we look at something from a distance we start to see certain properties it has... ones that are kind of invisible when we're living within it.

And of course that's almost a summary of humanity's view of the planet- very slowly, over the centuries, we've come to see the bigger and bigger picture... culminating in our species first ever view of the 'whole earth'. This is why the Apollo moon mission has such a prominent place in the story, and partly why the whole thing ends with that very photo- the most reproduced in the history of photography...


This map, done for New Internationalist, also feels like one of the many seeds that made up the SPEECHLESS hybrid...

polyp cartoon map rich world poor world


Here again (from Chris Brazier's 1999 RADICAL 20TH CENTURY issue of New Internationalist) is another miniature world combined with a history theme... and since it was written in 1999, the image of the twin towers at top right is perhaps a little bit of a spooky co-incidence..? (And that's all it is. Just a co-incidence... OK?)

(click on the image to see a bigger version)

polyp cartoon history 20th century population technology


Yggdrasil

Although it doesn't really count as an influence, since I only came across it after the basic One Tree Island idea was pretty much nailed down, I was pleased to discover 'Yggdrasil' an ancient 'World Tree' myth...

Yggdrasil an ancient world tree myth


Investigation Earth

The concept of the book being 'silent' was an easy one.

Firstly, when viewed from a distance (and quite possibly through the eyes of an orbiting alien?) the earth would seem 'without words'. On some levels this children's comic strip I did for Christian Aid can be seen as another precourser to speechless..?

An older polyp cartoon called Investigation earth

Secondly, I've always liked cartoons that make a really strong point without language... and I was desperate for the book to scream out at the reader "Look! Look! What's going on in this world is so astonishingly blatant it doesn't need words to describe it!"


The Cosmos

The work of science educator Carl Sagan was a massive influence on my younger self and subsequently SPEECHLESS.

His tv series Cosmos was one of the things that persuaded me I had to become active politically in the face of the cold war and nuclear escalation. 'Pale blue dot' was a phrase he coined to describe the most extreme 'Whole Earth' photograph we have.

Here's a Youtube clip of Sagan reading his 'Pale Blue Dot' essay, with music from Eno's Apollo album.

Taken from far outside the solar system (6 billion kilometres from the earth) by the Voyager 1 robot spacecraft, it shows the Earth as a small number of pixels, embedded, by a nice co-incidence, in a sunbeam reflecting off the spacecraft camera. I hope the influence of this image on the 'One Tree Island' concept is clear...

NASA photo of the earth from far outside the solar system. Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot


When you combine all the above with the 'If the World Was a Village of 100 people' viral email that 'did the rounds' in the 90's, you then have almost all the pieces in place.


One Tree island

Perhaps the keystone was the name of a superb Manchester club night called One Tree Island. As a phrase I found it really thought provoking. It suggested to me the idea of the biosphere as a single tree supporting all life on 'This Island Earth'. And it was a good club night!

When the opportunity to run the idea past an interested publisher / funder arrived, I jumped at it... though it now seems strange to me that I wasn't more pro-active about promoting it in the first place?

Perhaps it just felt too ambitious or weird an idea to try and show it 'cold' to potential publishers..?


PART 2: Getting a Publisher and Starting Work