Wednesday, 7 September 2011

New Comics?

I've been getting copied into a lot of e-mails of late in which my name is mentioned. That's great, keep 'em coming. It seems to centre round a correspondence I had with Paddy Brown in which I was reminiscing about some of the old comics that I used to read - The Valiant; the Lion; Buster etc. and how it would be great to bring something like this out over here in Ireland. This seems to have generated a lot of interest and people are actually talking about the possibility - which is terrific. However be aware that the whole process is fraught with problems. There already seems to have been a bit of a spat about the CIIF, the Creative Industries Innovation Fund, here in Northern Ireland as a possible source of funding for such a project. As one who has been through the process let me add a few thoughts. Firstly, the background - the Fund was set up as a regular tranche of European money designed to promote creative industries in Northern Ireland. Under the Direct Rule nobody knows what happened to it - may have gone into funding Government sponsored projects. However, under the new Assembly it suddenly lit on the desk of the then Northern Ireland Culture Minister, Edwin Poots. He didn't know what to do with it so he sent it to Arlene Foster, the Business and Enterprise Minister. She didn't know what to do with it so she sent it back to a new Culture Minister, Gregory Campbell. He didn't know what to do with it but set up the CIIF to dispense it. By this time Campbell had ceased to be Culture Minister and the brief was taken over by Nelson McCausland. The new body charged with evaluating projects and disseminating the money was composed of representatives from the Arts Council for Northern Ireland and several business-based bodies. Some of those who have contacted me have expressed an interest in approaching the Arts Council. That's fine, only remember one thing. The Arts Council have a rather limited view of what constitutes art. This doesn't mean that it doesn't count comics as art - obviously it is and the Council have funded at least one comics project, the Holy Cross Comics - but it does not attach a high priority to it. Secondly, it is alleged that the Council is incredibly susceptible to political interference. This protects the Council's own main grant from Government which goes to fund things like the Lyric Theatre in Belfast - and why shouldn't it? However, it's alleged that such interference was particularly rife during McCausland's tenure - he is reputedly well known for this and for imposing his own point of view on matters. I applied against this background with buisness plans, strategy documents, long-term plans etc. and having jumped through diverse hoops, some allegedly set up my the Minister himself and sat through a period in which the Committee "re-examined it's terms of reference", the project was eventually turned down. On inspecting the successful applicants I discovered that they were the usual suspects and statutory bodies - Ards Borough Council, the Verbal Arts Centre etc. as well as several established commerical bodies, such as a commercial greetings card company and a jewellers - all of whom I would stress were entitled to apply. However, there were no what I would term "innovative" companies or organisations and certainly no comics. The word "innovative" would therefore tend to be a misnomer. There is of course a new round of applications for the CIIF coming up in December and there was talk in my e-mails of applying for that to start a comics project. Again I would advise against it. The television series Game of Thrones and the film Your Majesty now has certain sections of the Assembly slavering at the prospect of turning Northern Ireland into another Hollywood. I would guess - and it is no more than a guess - that the next round of CIIF money will be channelled towards video and production companies as well as subsidiaries of BBC and UTV, who are entitled to apply. And from what I can gather the scoring system for this new round will be more "rigorous" than the old. There is neither the artistic or political will to promote comics except solely as a by-product of video and film. A bleak picture indeed. Paddy raised the possibility of producing something for the newspapers - a kind of comics supplement such as used to run in the American press. An intriguing idea but, I feel, a non-starter. I can't see papers like the Belfast Telegraph warming to this and even if they did, they would want a massive slice of the profits and total editorial control. In other words if they by any remote fancy decided to run with it, they would own it and all those working on it would have to be National Union of Journalists members. A depressing scenario. However, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to work on a such comic if it could get off the ground. And one step forward is to identify the difficulties. Despite all that I've said above, there is a way - isn't there?

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