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A Review By: The Metro

The free London morning newspaper, The Metro, reviewed Unmasks Corruption and interviewed Paul Gravett on 3 November 2009. The full article and interview is available online here.

Whether you’d consider the comic book as having come of age when people started calling lengthier ones graphic novels, or at some specific point thereafter, the days when the term suggested nothing more than Lycra-clad crimefighters are hopefully long gone.

‘Comics are engaging, interactive, accessible and sophisticated,’ says Paul Gravett, director of London’s Comica festival and editor of politically charged new work anthology Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption. ‘You have to be alert. Sometimes what you read is also what you see but, equally, you can spot the contrasts, counterpoints or total contradictions between the text and image. There’s a real power in drawings to encapsulate ideas and psychological states, to show you what may not exist in any video or photos and especially to deal with the fine line between reality and fantasy or nightmare.’

In its short lifespan, UK-based magazine and cultural initiative Ctrl.Alt.Shift has staged an impressive array of awareness-raising artistic interventions, from last year’s HIV/Aids and Stigma dance event at Sadler’s Wells to a recent film project in which the likes of Julian Barratt and Martin Freeman starred in activist shorts written by up-and-coming film-makers.

Unmasks Corruption is a powerful entry into a new medium for Ctrl.Alt.Shift. The theme is corruption, political and personal, a broad launch pad for a punchy 24 stories in 100 pages. Inside, artists and writers offer visceral renderings of, for the most part, real-life events that no photographer or camera crew could ever have documented lucidly or safely.

So we have the likes of The Ayatollah’s Son, in which Pat Mills and Lee O’Connor team up for a stark account of the chaos that ensued after the recent Iranian elections; Benjamin Dickson and Warren Pleece offer Not One Minute Of Silence, a sorrowful spotlight on the Columbian police’s callous execution of student Johnny Silva Aranguren; and Black Holes, a truly horrific account of the Chinese government’s failure to deal with the country’s Aids crisis, drawn by Dave McKean and penned by an anonymous author.

There is a worry that despite some potshots at the West and the first-hand testimony involved, Unmasks Corruption may come across as a group of Western artists sniping at predominantly developing world and Middle Eastern targets. Naturally Gravett refutes this, with particular reference to Judge Dredd-scribe Mills’s script.

‘Pat worked closely with an Iranian informant who gave him exceptional access to what is happening there and its effects on ordinary people, aspects often missed or glossed over in our media’s coverage. We strove for some balance and certainly expose as much corruption on our doorstep as a world away, including a special online satire of the British MPs’ expenses scandal by webtoonist Daniel Merlin Goodbrey. It’s being serialised on Ctrl.Atl.Shift’s blog.’

It’s important to bear in mind that comics aren’t relentlessly grim, down-at-heel affairs.

Quite aside from the satire, there are many moments of sci-fi escapism here. Most notable is Behold, King Listpin III, which furthers Ctrl. Alt.Shift’s commitment to new talent by setting musician/artist Lightspeed Champion’s script about an alien bounty hunter to art by competition winner Luke Pearson.

But lastly, while Unmasks Corruption is an unquestionably dark read, it isn’t ultimately a nihilistic or bitter collection. ‘I was concerned at first that if all that this anthology gave people was a litany of how corrupt the world is, it would be pretty depressing and unmotivating,’ states Gravett.

‘The great thing is, it’s a wake-up call, a chance to hear voices that all too often are drowned out in our media circus. It’s not all doom and gloom, there is real passion, and anger, in the ink on these pages, as well as optimism, activism and the hope that each one of us can make a change.’


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My Books

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

All contents © Paul Gravett, except where noted.
All artwork © the respective copyright holders.