It was appropriate that the first event I was attending at Stripped, the comic book strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, would be by comic historian/ journalist/ publisher/ editor /man at the crossroads, Paul Gravett. Who could be better to open the strand than the man who has devoted his entire adult life to the love of the medium and has been a significant part of making it possible for the form to be celebrated enough to be at a ‘literary’ festival, and an International one at that. It wasn’t actually the first event, as we’d been treated to Joe Sacco and Chris Ware earlier in the week, but spiritually this talk was the ground zero, the flag in the sand for the event.
The talk was meant to be chaired by David Bishop former editor of 2000AD. Bishop resides in Edinburgh and lectures at Napier University, with courses that just happen to involve comics. I say, meant to be, as Paul was so obviously delighted and excited to be at Stripped, his enthusiasm gushed forth. It almost felt like this was the moment he had lived for. I have heard his presentation on the history of comics before, a second listening did not disappoint. David didn’t even have to introduce him; as Paul took to the lectern talking at a million miles an hour. His enthusiasm was a joy to behold.
It didn’t stop Paul having a little plug for a few projects he has on the go. First, a book being published by the Tate on Comic Art, backed up with a major exhibition and gallery of comic art that will be at the British Library in London next summer. And it would have been churlish to deny him that when both things will surely be worth reading and visiting.
Paul rattled through comic history, dropping anecdotes left right and centre, from Dave Gibbons being inspired to get into comics by reading about comic book burnings to tales of Goethe describing comics as marijuana in the nursery. The audience lapped it up. An audience that wasn’t even your typical comics audience. There wasn’t a sweaty armpit or batman t-shirt in sight. This was anyone and everyone who had come to find out just what was this awkward medium of comics was all about.
Paul was half an hour into the talk before he got through the introduction, Bishop still not getting a single word in. Not that he cared, sitting there with a big beam of appreciation, Paul on fire.
And that’s pretty much how the talk went, Paul churning through creators as fast as he could. Before you knew it we were at the end, Paul trying to squeeze creators he loves in left right and centre. The Q&A was even postponed as Paul just kept ongoing. For the first time ever the show organisers had to come onto the stage and ask Bishop to stop him as time ran out. Even at the end Paul squeezed in just one more creator, a certain Alan Moore, who unfortunately wasn’t at the festival, but his presence loomed large throughout the weekend. Many of the creators mentioned their debt to the hairy one from Northampton, and his wife Melinda Gebbie, who funnily enough was on another stage at the festival at the same time. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to hear Paul’s talk to the end, but I think I’ll need to have a word, asking him to start in the middle.