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Adventures in Comics 3:

The Great Tree

This year, Marine Studios in Margate, Kent have organised their third comics competition Adventures in Comics on the theme ‘The Great Tree”. Over sixty submissions were sent in from as far afield as Sarawak, Perth and Minneapolis and all of them are eventually being posted online here. Mike Garley, editor in chief of new monthly digital comic VS Comics, was their guest speaker for their First Friday evening event on February 1st, and he will publish the best three comics submissions in his digital comics edition.

Publication of the tabloid newspaper compilation of entries will coincide with Margate’s GEEK2013 gaming convention next weekend. All entries were on display at Marine Studios on 1st February at their First Friday evening. This exhibition will then move to the Pie Factory, 5 Broad Street, Margate CT9 1EW from February 21st to 24th 2013 (open 12-4pm each day), where the public will identify the stories they think should win. These “people’s-choice” picks will share the winners’ podium with my own personal choice as guest judge and comics aficionado! And I’ll be in Margate this Saturday February 23rd to give an illustrated talk for GEEK2013 from 11am to 12 noon, and announce the results. Here’s the intro I’ve written for the newspaper.

For a third year, local, national and international creators have responded to the Adventures in Comics theme with extraordinary diversity and originality. It’s proof that great minds do not think alike! ‘The Great Tree’ symbolises so well the majesty, wonder and solace of the natural world and our relationship to it. The range of scale of the trees in these tales stretches from the massive tree of life Yggdrasil from Norse legend to the Old Testament apple tree in the Garden of Eden or the mighty baobab of African myths, right down to the Japanese miniature bonsai in its pot.

These storytellers keep you on your guard, as a child’s viewpoint can vary from innocent delight to a disturbing relish for revenge or a sense of loss at the extinction of trees, whose fruits live on only as holographic memories. A tree can represent love in a couple’s initials carved into its bark, consolation from its sheltering branches and blossoms, memory in its rings of growth, or death in the infamous Tyburn tree gallows.

Not all the voices and perspectives here are necessarily human either. Through comics we can enter into the thoughts and feelings of fledgling seeds struggling to grow, a father bird and his son losing their last precious perches, an ancient tree from Greek times convinced it is invulnerable to change, even chattering leaves on the very last tree.

Not surprisingly, environmental issues are critiqued by several entrants, from tipping the delicate balance between nature and humanity to reckless scientific experiments, whether in genetic modification (see Stuart Medley, above) or ‘new unimaginable evolutions’ like a human-fingered starfish!

For sheer imaginative surprises there’s the unlikely cereal-packet romance between the svelte model from ‘Special K’ and the hearty Scotsman in his kilt raised on porridge oats (see Jan Wheatley, above), while superhero fans will chuckle at our arboreal caped crusader, Spruce Cane aka The Bark Knight (by Paul Eldridge, below)!

The shape of a giant tree offers a natural structure for several whole pages here, its sinuous branches forming borders to enclose panels in the spaces between. There’s also a delightful variety of techniques and media on display here, for example textually in rhyming couplets or dense typeset blocks, graphically in exquisitely rendered pencil, bravura inky brushtrokes, mixed-media collage, expressive crayon or luminous watercolours (Azisa Noor from Malaysia, below).

In fact, ‘The Great Tree’ stands as a perfect metaphor for the medium of comics itself, whose roots stretch deep down into history as far back as the earliest cave paintings, and whose freshest branches probe ever outward and upward, sprouting new leaves and shoots. I hope you enjoy losing yourself in this forest of graphic short stories as much as I did!

With such a high standard and wide variety of excellent submissions, I found it harder than ever to pick my absolute favourite. But, in the end, Stuart Medley’s entry stayed with me and invited me back for several reasons. For starters, I enjoyed his clever composition, putting ‘The Great Tree’ centre stage across the two pages and showing the passage of time through the changing seasons and their effects on the tree as well as the characters, from summer and autumn through winter to spring. In fact, Medley’s whole spread can be seen as one single image subdivided into four time zones, with characters repeating as they reappear around the tree. It’s actually symmetrical and balanced, with three panels for each season.

I also enjoyed his darkly satirical scenario about two competing businesses, Mondo Planto (clearly a dig at Monsanto) and Global Botanics, out to secure the patent on this ‘rare flora’ for commercial gain, an all-too-possible plot in the crazy world of genetic modification and corporate greed. And re-reading it reveals a further humorous twist - you gradually realise that Global Botanics have misunderstood and targeted the wrong tree entirely. They have confused geneticist Dr. G.‘s ‘Grey Tree’ with the similar-sounding massive ‘Great Tree’ that fills this garden and these pages. In reality, the vital specimen is the less impressive smaller tree nearby which Dr. G and Mr S stand next to in the first and final panels. Add to this the way Medley cartoons clearly and sharply and his way with witty dialogue - I especially liked Dr G.‘s offer to ‘put real eyes in potatoes’ - and to my mind, you have a winner!

Posted: February 17, 2013

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