IDP header, Art by Tom Kindley

EIBF2014: IDP:2043, a dystopian jam

OK, I know, it’s a bit late, but it’s a very big post today, mainly because it involved a lot of folks (almost) all talking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival over two events. They had just published IDP:2043, A Graphic Novel from Freight Books. conceived a year previously at the EIBF’s 30th anniversary, it’s set 30 years on from then in a dystopian vision of Scotland where the rich live in big tower enclaves and the rest (IDPs, Internally Displaced Persons) live in slums.

IDP:2043
IDP:2043

There were two events on the same evening, the first featuring Hannah Berry, Pat Mills, Adam Murphy and Will Morris, the second Irvine Welsh, Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and a chap named Barroux. Both were chaired by Denise Mina, who edited the project and for me, at least, it was a lesson in just how different two events about the same subject could be.

This was appropriate, as the book itself is let’s say, not as big a success as it probably could have been, and I think the two events illuminated exactly why it wasn’t. I’ll explain as we go along, so get a cuppa, this could take a while. The tl;dr version is: some of it is world-class, some is 1980s Vertigo C-list quality, some wouldn’t make a 2000AD try-out one-shot and one section is just so bafflingly stylised I’m not even sure what it is: a post-apocalyptic 7-Up advert featuring Fido Dido, perhaps.

The first event was in the medium-sized Garden Theatre, and was about a third to a half full. The guests huddled chummily on the stage and Mina kicked off with introductions, and so will I.

Adam Murphy is the author of Corpse Talk,
Fever Dreams and other things including an occasional slot in The Phoenix, Lost Tales. Hannah Berry has created her own critically acclaimed graphic novels, including Britten and Brülightly and Adamtine. Pat Mills should need no introduction but, just in case, he was responsible fo the creation of a huge number of comics and stories from Charley’s War through Nemesis the Warlock to Misty‘s Moonchild, and is quite properly labelled by Mina as “the godfather of British comics”. Will Morris created the gorgeous The Silver Darlings and various other bits and bobs, including a spot in Nelson (on which, more later). Denise Mina forgot to parp her own comics trumpet, though, as she’s done a couple of really pretty good Hellblazer stories and adapted Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books for DC.

Mills wrote and Berry illustrated the first chapter, and he gave an outline of the story: “It features what you might call greenwash characters. They’re a little bit on the fake side, and it’s the relationship between the three characters that drives the opening chapter and the ending, and inspires the stories in between. It’s that kind of thing where you get people on TV who seem pretty fake on ecological issues, they kind of inspired this story.”

The story opens with three stars of a show called Sky Farm which, reading between the lines, is propaganda to sell biotech as a solution to world hunger. So far, so Mills, and it’s a story that I’m pretty sure I recall he did back in Third World War 25 years ago.

He continued: “There’s increasingly lots of unusual agricultural systems I’ve read about online, they seem very futuristic and I think they’re actually largely suspect. Anything that gets away from natural, organic farming is probably going to be questionable. I fed that into the story where at least two of the characters are quite fake. There was then an extra element from the world you had established.” This would be the foul-mouthed arse-kicking flame-haired everywoman-ninja heroine, Cait.

Moving on to Hannah, Mina asked “is this your first time illustrating somebody else’s work?”

Hannah Berry by Pako Mera
Hannah Berry at Edinburgh International Book Festival, 24th August 2014
Picture by Pako Mera/Writer Pictures

“Yes, certainly the first time doing a long-form comic. I was a bit nervous about it. I told friends, ‘It’s written by Pat Mills’ and they all said, ‘That’s amazing’ and I said ‘I’ve got my standards’. I hadn’t met you before and the first time was at a Comica event.”

Mills said: “It is fair to say I am known for torturing artists. I’m joking about it now, but there’s a serious side. I think I’ve broken at least two artists. It is a very tough industry. If the artwork doesn’t look right the audience invariably blames the writer.

“In the past, I’d just write the story and that was it, but readers would come to me and say ‘The script was crap’, but then when the artwork was brilliant they’d say, ‘wonderful story as well’. I think for a while I’ve probably ridden on the coat-tails of great artists. You put all your energy into making sure the artwork’s good and it doesn’t really matter about the story as people think it’s good anyway.”

Mina: “Did he torture you?”

Berry: “He’ll be getting my psychiatry bill. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, it was OK.”

Mina then asked Morris and Murphy about their chapters, which they both wrote and illustrated alone: “Will, can you tell us about yours, as I know it’s a story you already had in mind but you just shoehorned it in.”

Morris: “It was the minimum work possible. Much like Pat, I’d squirreled away a few characters and I actually found mine in a graveyard. If you ever go to Highgate cemetery there’s a guy called Tom Sayers, I didn’t even bother changing the name, he was a pugilist of some repute in the Victorian era, and it was such a remarkable story of a young man’s incredible promise and then his fall from grace.

“He became an alcoholic, but was redeemed at the end, as apparently at his funeral there was a queue all the way from Highgate Cemetery to Tottenham Court Road. That was the inspiration. I spent most of my time working out how I could shoehorn it in and there’s these three hitmen on Pat’s story and if you get hitmen or stooges they’re often pretty faceless. No-one’s born in a black suit with a gun in their hand, so I started to think ‘how do you get to that place?’

“It’s about a young man who has aspirations and dreams and probably kids himself into thinking the steps he takes are for the benefit of others when really deep-down he enjoys the limelight of his pro-boxing career. I was able to draw in my 15-year-old fantasy of being a wrestler.”

Mina: “What was your wrestling name?”

“I didn’t give it to myself. It was Pretty Boy Will Morris.”

Mina then moved to Murphy: “Adam, your chapter for me is amazing because of the clash between the style and what is quite a complex philosophical discussion about privilege.”

“For me it was the concept and the script, we were given the first chapter in script form and I was asked to do the backstory of the main characters, how they met and a bit more about the world. There was a lot of stuff about global warming, and I’d done a comic with a professor who studies climate change and global warming. She was talking a lot about realistic predictions, and saying that in Britain we’re probably going to be OK compared to the dramatic changes we had in the book.

“It won’t be as bad here as it will in places like Bangladesh, which will be wiped off the map, or Chad, which will become a desert. People that are contributing [to climate change] don’t see as much of the effects as people who have nothing to do with it, who just get wiped away. It seemed to be a wonderful metaphor for a lot of things that are going on. It made these global patterns local. I was looking at different ways of coming at the same idea, and also getting more into the emotional life of the characters. There’s a sort of love triangle in the first one: the original direction was that Cait and Danny, who runs the farm, had been having an affair in the past which had dried up. Danny is living with the girlfriend Jools.

Adam Murphy at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014. 23rd August 2014 Picture by Pako Mera/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Pako Mera/Writer Pictures)
Adam Murphy at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014. 23rd August 2014 Picture by Pako Mera/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Pako Mera/Writer Pictures)

“We were worried about the idea that Cait was stealing this man. She needs to be appealing. She needs to be somebody we care about, as she’s what the story is hung on. And how can you show that the relationship he’s in is not a good relationship it’s not a real relationship in the same way the fakeness of the world they live in, and the fakeness of the way they’re maintaining their privilege.

“I started running with the idea that the people in the tower are living in a bubble and they don’t see the people outside. they have deliberate barriers in place so they don’t have to see the lives of the people whose lives their luxurious life affects. Much in the same way we all don’t see the impact our choices have on people around the world. Those were all the things I was trying to fit together.”

IDF2043 Chapter3
IDF2043 Chapter3 by Adam and Lisa Murphy

Mina said: “You did a fantastic job, it’s wonderful.” And he has. It is. It’s the one bit of the book that is an unqualified success. It’s so clearly written and drawn by someone who understands how comics work: the pacing, expression, clarity is all in service to a story that features real people. This chapter, as far as I can tell, is also the only one to explicitly refer to sea levels rising (though Morris has does use subtle visual cues). For all my other quibbles about the book, I’d say this chapter alone redeems them. Just compare the wonderful colouring by Lisa Murphy to the glaikit zombies lurking in the shadows in the final chapter. It’s a different class of work altogether.

Then they moved on to the design of the world, which was jointly designed by Berry and Charlesworth.

Berry said: “Initially Kate Charlesworth and I were designing the sky tower. I did the design with some input from Kate. I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to design a skyscraper but it’s impossible to design one that does not in some way resemble a penis. It cannot be done. We tried to work around it, and Kate ended up doing it and I felt really bad so I went a bit overboard with the slum idea.”

Mills: “That’s got my favourite page: that awful container city.”

Berry: “There’s mud and a sort of half-arsed pavement of decking board. There’s nothing but pubs, three or four containers which are pubs because there’s nothing to do in this village but drink and there’s a kind of really desperate attempt at a pub garden on the roof of a container.

IDP:2043 Chapter1
IDP:2043 Chapter1 by Hannah Berry and Pat Mills

“We emailed back and forward about the name of the area where the slum is, Owen Paterson Common, which was better when he was actually minister for the environment. the other suggestion was Lord Lawson, which we should have gone with because he’s still there.”

And this brings me on to the first chapter, which is pretty well executed. The sense of filth and despair in the slums is well contrasted with the shiny tower. There are a few details that you’ll miss on the first pass, but which are more illuminating on multiple reads. The goat sequence does defy physics a bit, though, and I couldn’t help but hear Alan Partridge refer to “a bag of hooves” in the back of my mind.

Will Morris’s chapter comes next, and though as he says it was a story shoehorned in, it’s been done almost seamlessly. It looks lovely, visually explaining in passing a lot about the world outside, even pausing for a spot of quiet symbolism before tearing headlong back into the action. Asked by Mina what it was like reading other people’s chapters, he said: “It was like being given a Rubik’s Cube. You had the start and the solution and you had to find something that would tie it all together and still carry its own narrative in the middle. Towards the end me and Hannah were working on scenes that happen simultaneously but we were drawing them simultaneously. It was all about direction of travel and where the containers should be placed.”

Berry: “When we were trying to work out what was happening I wasn’t sure — as neither of us said ‘I want to design it’ — if I was being lazy or polite.”

Morris: “Had you just taken it on and done it I would have been polite.”

B: “Really? You should have just said that earlier.”

M: “You’d say, ‘I think it should be a haunting night-time scene,’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t think I can draw a night-time scene.'”

As Berry did the character designs, how did Murphy find taking on someone else’s character design?

“That was great. That is the first time that I’ve done that but I’ve done a lot of drawing people. That’s how I learned to draw.”

Mina: “You came to comics by quite an unusual route.”

“I had somehow fallen into doing animation for video games but I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. I realised that drawing is the core of everything and nobody was going to teach me and I had to just go out and do it. So I went and drew people in the street. Every lunch break, every morning, every evening, it was what I did all the time for about seven years just doing that.

“Because of that the guys I was working with saw that I could draw so I got more into storyboarding which was much better but it was still frustrating. Then The Phoenix, a children’s comic, came along and it became a full-time job. Drawing people in the street and trying to get a sense of how people’s faces work, the physicality and structure of it, but also how you can get a read of somebody’s soul just by their face. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t: something like Corpse Talk where I have to draw lots of people from history as zombie corpses but still get the likeness of the person I’m definitely using that.

“I loved Hannah’s designs of the characters because they all felt like real people. They really felt like, ‘That’s not a person I would have drawn.’ Cait was wonderful, almost like Greta Garbo but with crazy red hair.”

Charlie Dimmock by David McGill
British television gardener and author Charlie Dimmock, Photographed March 1999
Picture by David McGill/Writer Pictures

Mills: “There were several possibilities. Charlie Dimmock was one, there was also Rebecca Brooks. You brought something that came from somewhere else. It’s summed up by those sleepy eyes.”

Then came a surprise. Mina asked Morris about his apparent obsession with Neil Gunn. “You wrote a book called Silver Darlings, which is about fishing, and there’s a character whose wrestling name is The Silver Darling.”

Morris said: “I should preface this by exposing my lack of knowledge here. They’re sort of slippery and, just in case anyone doesn’t know, Silver Darling is the colloquial name for the herring, so he’s dancing around the boxing ring.” Then he admitted that prior to creating his book he’d not even been aware of Neil Gunn’s The Silver Darlings. To an Edinburgh audience this seemed amazing but, on reflection, I think Gunn is one of those authors, like Grassic Gibbon, who are huge in Scotland yet pretty much unknown elsewhere.

Back to the slum container city, Mina noted that “Whatever disasters lie ahead, you can imagine this would be the solution for displaced persons.”

Berry jumped in: “It already is! In Brighton there’s some short-term housing for homeless people. It’s already being used as temporary accommodation at the moment.”

Pat Mills at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014. 23rd August 2014 Picture by Pako Mera/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Pako Mera/Writer Pictures)
Pat Mills at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014. 23rd August 2014 Picture by Pako Mera/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Pako Mera/Writer Pictures)

Mills noted: “Sometimes these things hapen in fiction. Electronic tagging was in Spider-Man some ten years before it became real.”

Mina: “Like substitute cigarettes in Watchmen.” [Audience “oooh”s]

Berry said: “You can hide climate change it in fiction, you can make it more approachable. If people tell you ‘this will happen’ you switch off because it’s so unfamiliar. If it’s approached in a fictional way it’s something people will be more ready to approach.”

Murphy: “It’s also the idea that if you have characters you invest in, fiction does something that you care about them as if they were people who you love and then you understand the impact of that on other people you don’t love but you would.”

Mills: “It’s an important trend because an awful lot of stuff doesn’t get reported in the media. There are certain things you can go into. Climate change is OK, but the social fallout of living in a container city wouldn’t be. It’s often only in fiction that you can go down that road. If you have heroes and heroines it dramatises it. This is a problem for people who unearth unpleasant truths, how do they get than information out?” He then described how he knew someone who had uncovered a historical scandal during the First World War that could only be published as a novel, The Cocaine Salesman.

After this the discussions spun off into genres that comics don’t normally cover (or do they?), with Murphy hoping we become more like Japan: “I don’t think we’ll ever get it, but I love to think we might, when there is no longer ‘comics are about these kind of things’, and it’s just another way of telling stories and there’s stuff for everybody.”

“The indie comics scene in the UK is so diverse and vibrant,” Berry noted, “and also there’s no money so people are working for pennies anyway people are not so concerned with hitting trends.”

And lots more about comics in all their forms, such as the future of digital delivery, from five people who really know their stuff and appreciate and love comics. Then it was back to the book at hand with discussion about displaced persons and marginalising people because of a narrative about austerity.

Mina: “I wrote the original story part, that everybody has moved on, and that was from Glasgow, what happened in Glasgow was that all the houses in the centre of the city were declared unfit and unsafe and everybody was moved to the outskirts in schemes and they were living on top of each other. It’s a kind of a universal story.

“The reason they moved everybody out to the outskirts was that after 1945 because they said that if there was ever going to be a Bolshevik revolution in Britain, it would be in Glasgow. So they moved everybody out to the outskirts so they would have to get a bus in to start a revolution. There are cabinet papers that say this. And there’s a motorway in the way.”

This sparked talk about how Hausmann rebuilt Paris with boulevards to stop barricades being built, and the importance of town planning to social control.

A final question was about how long the book took to put together.

Mina said: “It’s been a year, which is not long. More or less everyone was working on it simultaneously. I think it’s a bit of a miracle because it works really well. We have no idea if it’s any good because we’ve looked at it so much. It’s been a year flat-out. It came together two months ago, and before we came here we had never seen it. We were doing a radio interview about it on Tuesday and that was the first time we’d seen it.”

With the next event 45 minutes away, the panel adjourned to the festival bookshop, where pretty much everyone from the audience queued for signings. This meant that the next event’s start was delayed by a few minutes, which turned out to be a bit of a blessing, as the contrast between the panels was stark. In the much bigger Foundation Studio, the audience, even with the previous panel watching (and friends and family) barely filled a quarter of the seats.

It’s interesting that this panel included the “big hitters” whose names even non-comics fans would recognise: Irvine Welsh, Kate Charlesworth and Mary Talbot. And Barroux. No, me neither. Irvine Welsh needs no introduction at all, and Charlesworth and Talbot are well known for their work together on the brilliant Sally Heathcote: Suffragette and Talbot’s Dotter of her Father’s Eyes won the Costa last year. Charlesworth is a legendary figure in cartoons and comics whose style is clear and instantly recognisable, often used in the service of science education and political campaigns.

So why is their chapter such a mess? To give them the benefit of the doubt, the project was on a very short timescale and they had to tie up loose ends. Talbot started proceedings by describing her difficulties: “I had the most difficult task which was to pick up strands of previous chapters and make sense out of it and make an interesting conclusion. You’ve probably all heard of the party game Consequences, it did feel like engaging in that initially. I had to pick up Pat Mills’ chapter where I had the heroine in a dramatic situation with three hitmen chasing her as she launches herself up a tower and I had to work out where she goes next. It wasn’t a problem at all

“I’ve never written this sort of adventure stuff, she had some kind of automatic weapon and a kind of utility belt with all sorts of potential magic stuff she could produce. I don’t usually deal in that kind of thing. I’ve written about a suffragette which was very exciting and I’ve done my first fight scene for that. This was a new challenge

“I don’t want to give too much away. One of the hitmen, he didn’t have a name, and Kate and I did something rather unpleasant to him which involved large quantities of blood. I wasn’t aware that this hitman actually had a backstory and another chapter by Will Morris. He didn’t want to be a hitman, he was a boxer and has a child to support and a wife. I thought, ‘Oh, shit’.”

I think you can even see a little Photshopped oval where they tried to tidy that up, but it makes no sense that the character was there in the first place. This is the least of the chapter’s worries. Charlesworth was similarly concerned about the job she had to do. Mina asked her if she’d ever worked before on a story with someone else’s character design.

Kate Charlesworth at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014  23rd August 2014 Picture by Russell G Sneddon/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Russell G Sneddon/Writer Picture)
Kate Charlesworth at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014 23rd August 2014 Picture by Russell G Sneddon/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Russell G Sneddon/Writer Picture)

“Yes, I have I a section of Nelson, which was a sort of exquisite corpse, another game of consequences. Nelson was a female character and she progressed. It was a basic character design. Everyone was given a year in this woman’s life and it had to be a day in the life and different people had just one day. You got all the years up to your bit and then it as cast on to the next person.”

This set a pattern for this panel, where they all seemed to be wanting to talk about something, anything else rather than the work at hand, but not in the same enthused way as the previous lot had. I felt there was an air of uncomfortable contractual obligation about the whole thing, despite Mina’s best efforts to coax them out.

She moved on to Barroux: “How did you find it picking up a character because your chapter is very reflective and thoughtful where a lot of the other chapters are action-packed.”

He replied: “It was difficult for me because it was science fiction so the most difficult part wasn’t to draw the characters it was to draw the background to be believable. In 25 years it will be the same, you’ll just wear different clothes.”

“The scenes of the ghetto you did are really beautiful.”

“The ghetto now or in the future will always be the same. You make your house with what you find in the streets. You just have to go on Wikipedia and find somewhere in Africa or South America.”

Barroux’s chapter, written by Mina, is truly weird. Impressionistic scenes that replicate the plot elsewhere, kind of, with sparse, monosyllabic dialogue that shows Danny questioning his life in the tower. As an exercise in showing how comics can use montage techniques and not restrict themselves to narrative it’s admirable, and out of context I would like the art, but I can’t help thinking the casual reader the project wants to attract will be baffled. I’m still unsure what the look of horror of a man sitting behind a brazier is supposed to represent, nor where this fits with the other chapters chronologically, and I’ve read it a lot.

Mina’s attention then moved on to Irvine Welsh: “Irvine, how did you find writing it because you’ve never written comics before, I felt you were a real natural at it.”

Irvine Welsh at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014  22nd August 2014 Picture by Russell G Sneddon/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Russell G Sneddon/Writer Picture)
Irvine Welsh at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014 22nd August 2014 Picture by Russell G Sneddon/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Russell G Sneddon/Writer Picture)

His reply was revealing: “I didn’t really know what I was doing or what I was supposed to do and sometimes that works to your advantage. You sent me a template that it had to be like a screenplay. I kind of messed around with it one afternoon and I didn’t have any strong reactions to it at all until I saw what Dan had illustrated and the thing that struck me about it was that working on a novel or a screenplay or stage play the essence of those things is alway the storytelling.

“I thought the story I’d actually done for this character’s backstory, there wasn’t a lot of depth to it but when I saw the drawings come back I thought it was very colourful and very harrowing. It struck me that more than any other medium that the comic book isn’t about story it is about illustration, the power that the artist can bring to it. The evocation of the imagery is actually stronger than the story. It crystallised a lot of my feelings about comics and graphic novels that the story isn’t king as it is in other mediums. The illustrator is the secondary storyteller. I noticed that all the nuances he added to it really created something that was much stronger.”

IDP:2043 Chapter 4
IDP:2043 Chapter 4 by Dan McDaid and Irvine Welsh

It’s a two-hander with the history of one of the characters shown in flashback, illustrated by Dan McDaid. The flashback is notable for being set in a past Scotland, and there is great attention to detail, but it does put one of the main characters in his eighties, and he really doesn’t look it, here or elsewhere. Having reread it a few times, my initial objection, that I have absolutely no idea who the second character is supposed to be, is beginning to fade. The chapter is an explanation of the development of a sociopath with a messianic streak using some bloody symbolism that, again, is repaid with close rereading. The identity of the other man doesn’t matter to him, so it shouldn’t to us. But I suspect that the earpiece is supposed to identify him as a character who couldn’t possibly be in that scene. And I still don’t like the fact everyone has big, round staring eyes.

Mina: “What was the working process between you and Dan?”

“There wasn’t really. I said I would do this so I’ll take an afternoon off and sit down and try to work it out and I just knocked something out and sent it off and you came back with a couple of edits and it went off to Dan. He sent me some of the stuff he’d done, it was fabulous and I had no other comment to make other than that I liked it.

“Because the graphic novel is so much about the artwork that I just tried to respond to it the way I’d respond to a piece of art. You don’t try to analyse it too much. The bones of the story were down there, so I didn’t have an issue with that. I liked the artwork, when we were selecting the art, you gave me three options of artists and he was the one who, the way he did these images were very beautiful but very stark and violent, I thought that would dovetail with what I wanted to do.”

DM: “Your story is very strong technically, a perfect arc. Was it a story that you’d thought about before?”

IW: “Not really. I always big on character I’m not really a genre guy, I develop a character and let them tell the story. There was a character in there who was interesting because he seemed to be the bad guy who was pulling all the strings. I thought ‘how do you become such a person’ in that dystopian world, what kind of journey would he be on. I decided to write his backstory.”

Barroux, Graphic, Novel, writer, illustrator, at Edinburgh International Book Festival 22nd August 2014 Photograph by Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Must Credit: Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures)
Barroux, Graphic, Novel, writer, illustrator, at Edinburgh International Book Festival 22nd August 2014 Photograph by Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Must Credit: Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures)

The subject moves on to rising water levels and the city design and the containers. Barroux said: “In Paris there are many people from, say, Romania who are living under bridges. In Montreuil they have maybe 25 containers put together and some stairs and they have furnished them and put families in the containers. It wasn’t supposed to be for a long time, but it’s been a year now, but it’s better than being on the street. In Holland they use these kind of things for students because they don’t have enough space in the city.”

Taking up the theme of displacement Mina asked the panel that as most of them had moved around a lot, is there a connection between being creative and feeling displaced? This got a rather non-committal response, with only Charlesworth vaguely agreeing that she’s never really belonged to the places she’s lived.

A question about rising water levels and the threat to the environment also fell pretty flat, although Talbot had an interesting perspective that perhaps the younger artists wouldn’t have had: “Climate change and environmental disasters are something that I’ve grown up with. I didn’t expect to grow up, actually, we grew up expecting the bomb to drop. Bryan is out there and he’s nodding. We honestly didn’t expect to live to the age we are. Surely we’re all aware of the challenge to the environment. I’ve been reading about it in fiction since I was 12.”

Mary Talbot at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014  23rd August 2014 Picture by Russell G Sneddon/Writer Pictures WORLD RIGHTS (Russell G Sneddon/Writer Picture)

The influence of the built environment on society was taken up by Charlesworth: “One of the main images of this book is the sky tower where people in flats at the top live in splendid isolation and there are shanty towns at the bottom. But in Edinburgh there were tenements, and in the Old Town you get the buried streets, rich people lived at the top and the poor people were at the bottom. How did it work? The rich were up in the air and the poor were down in the dregs. It must have been hell. In some ways human beings have always created horrible places to live for some people.”

Barroux talked for a while about a children’s book he’d created called Tuvalu, which links in with the climate change theme: “It’s a children’s book about Tuvalu in the South Pacific. 8,000 people live there and they will be the first people who have to leave their home [when sea levels rise]. No-one talks about Tuvalu because to cut emissions enough you’ll have to cut the world population in half and no-one wants to talk about that.”

Going back to Welsh, Mina asked about the process of creating comics. He replied: “You’d think it was similar to screenwriting, particularly if you get into storyboarding. If you do a screenplay you storyboard it after. I think that actually helped me.

“I’ve done a bit of directing, mainly a feature-length TV film and a few band videos. If you have a character and a narrative, I think it’s quite good to storyboard it. Particularly if you’re a novice, it keeps you on the right track.

“My generation grew up with DC and Marvel comics and all that but you do internalise that kind of structure.”

Mina was then asked by an audience member about the initiative behind the book.

“It was based on Stripped last year, and it was to celebrate 30 years of the Book Festival last year, looking forward 30 years. I find that really thrilling because the festival isn’t just about prose and poetry. It’s looking at the way people read and one of the things for me, when people talk about young people not reading is that you can’t get into Forbidden Planet on a Saturday where I live.

“Normally when you look at the demographic for a book festival event it’s people my age, and this is a really young audience. Hopefully the book will appeal to people who are not that used to reading comics. When people say ‘you should read comics’ that’s just like saying ‘you should read books’. It’s a silly thing to say, really, you should read the right comics.

“That’s how we started, then we got a list of people we wanted to work with. I wrote an overall structure for the story, and I love action comics, which is why we end up with people with guns chasing each other around. There’s a bit of a suspension between comics with vampires and people dying and more thoughtful, reflective comics, it’s almost like a class distinction, so I really wanted to bring those two together.

“The way to do that was to start with a chase, and we got Pat Mills to do that, then four reflective back stories and look at the characters in-depth, a more reflective storytelling, then go back to the chase at the end.”

One of the biggest problems with the final chapter is that — beside everyone sitting calmly at a table, looking like terrifying expressionless whiteface clowns, while people bleed to death just outside — is the weird fairytale twist that allows them to wrap up. It’s just daft and comes out of nowhere. But again, Talbot explained: “There simply wasn’t time to take anything further. I probably would have spent a year working out a clever way for the heroine to resolve everything. I went with Pat’s clever, useful suggestion. I hope I gave it another twist or two. It was nice working within those constraints but I’m not sure I always want to do that.”

An audience member asked whether the Scotland (blink and you’ll miss it) in the book is independent.

Denise Mina Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Stirling, Scotland Picture by Alex Hewitt/Writer Pictures (Alex Hewitt/Writer Pictures)
Denise Mina Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Stirling, Scotland Picture by Alex Hewitt/Writer Pictures (Alex Hewitt/Writer Pictures)

Mina said: “We worked quite hard not to touch on that. At the time it was because we didn’t want to tie any of the writers and artists into taking a position now it’s just fucking boredom. We worked quite hard at keeping out of all that, and any time we referred to the UK, we just took it out, to keep it neutral.”

Overall the book is fine, with some high points and some very low points, but compared to something like Nelson, a masterpiece which is only £3 more expensive, it’s hard to justify the £14.99 price tag. It should have gone straight to paperback, and I suspect they’ll struggle to shift the huge number of copies that were around the site in the next few months. It was an interesting experiment (that also had Scottish Government and Creative Scotland backing, which means I hope everyone was paid well) that could have used a firmer editorial direction, but I don’t want to put too much blame on Mina, who has clearly put a huge effort into trying to make it work, and she should be congratulated for doing a great job in what sounds like difficult circumstances.

Coming soon: an interview with Adam Murphy and Neill Cameron.