Director’s Commentary: turning to stone – Chris Kent on Medusa
Chris Kent has been working on Medusa, a graphic novel which combines elements of the War on Terror, the traumas combat can cause in veterans and ancient mythology. I’ve a lifelong fascination for myth and how they relate to the human experience of the world, what they symbolise and what they reveal about the inner workings of our minds, hopes, fears, so I had to ask Chris if he would like to be our latest guest for our Director’s Commentary feature, where we ask creators of interesting new work to talk us through some of it in their own words. I’m glad to say Chris agreed and kindly took the time to write us a guest piece which has left me even more eager to read the finished book, which is due out later in February from Graphite Fiction; over to Chris:
Before we start…
For as long as I can remember I’ve always drawn. My dad would bring big sheets of paper, card and pencils back from work. I drew anything and everything – people off the telly, I copied Leonardo drawings…
Drawing is drawing – look at it, copy it, draw your own version, keep a notebook, draw peoples faces, how they stand, sit. Look at magazines, books, television, use your camera and record things too. Look, draw, look, draw. That’s all there is, that’s all you have to do! Over and over… Only if you like it. And if you do, you do another one and sometimes the drawing is good and sometimes it’s rubbish, but each time you’ve learned something else.
I grew up with comics – Alf Tupper, Janus Stark, Grimly Feendish; the odd characters. I never really copied the comics much, I liked the characters too much, I didn’t need to draw them.
I’ve worked on comic book Shakespeare, working with a team in a studio and have worked on lots of illustrations since. After art college (fine art – painting) a few years ago, I was working on some paintings for an exhibition, and someone said ‘are they from a graphic novel?’. Strange how a few words can have such a huge effect.
(all art in this post by and (c) Chris Kent, click on the images for the larger versions)
Setting the scene….How did I start?
I was lent a book of Greek myths and found Dryope, a story about a woman who was punished and was gradually turned into a tree, which reminded me of someone I knew who had cancer. Suddenly myths could have other meanings, other possibilities. Medusa seemed to be one of the most powerful myths.
I also researched harpies, minotaurs, gorgons, cyclops and realised those who saw these creatures were often soldiers… I wondered, what if a modern day soldier saw a face so horrific, it could turn him to stone?
Medusa was a gorgon, sometimes described as a monster with snakes for hair and a serpent’s body. Medusa had been a most beautiful woman. I was interested in both these aspects. Medusa was beheaded but her decapitated head still held her power. Her power was in her eyes. In some of my images she looks like a silent film star; think of Theda Bara, femme fatale. She was also known as ‘the serpent of the Nile’, and her name was reputedly an anagram of Arab death.
When I set out with Medusa I began in a normal pencil thumbnail kind of way, but as I was developing the drawings I suddenly felt they were not enough – I wasn’t getting the right feel. This book was to be a kind of diary of a soldier’s life – in Iraq and back in the UK.
Medusa – ‘the soldier’s story’ – was researched partly online via newspaper reports, soldiers’ personal experiences, and interviews, (my wife was in the army), as well as finding out about army uniform and equipment.
Some things stood out to me from the research; the injections apparently given to soldiers to combat chemical warfare, and the depleted uranium anti tank shells, the radioactive dust from which, if breathed into the lungs, would be carcinogenic. Medusa isn’t about conspiracy theories, it’s about the war and how it affected one man.
I wanted a ‘real’ sort of documentary look, rather than ‘comic book guy does the war in Iraq’ ; which would gradually break down into a more strange supernatural world as the story develops.
I started collaging pictures from magazines. I began working over the photos with paint, so it wouldn’t look like some kind of crazy true-romance story. I used acrylic paint over cut and torn pieces of magazine pages, sometimes photocopied because I liked the grainy effect. Making Medusa was a very physical process, collaging was like building up the pages in layers.
My work room became messy, my boxes of magazine cuttings overturned…. I began to get really good at finding a face or a car, then other times I spent hours looking for one image which, when I found it, turned out to be not what I thought. Doctors’ waiting rooms, hairdressers with their magazine racks became my treasure stores.
There were about 110 pages at this stage (2009), which I think I edited down too hard and so last year, when Medusa was reprinted, I revisited the artwork, returned missing pages and created new ones. So now there are 132 pages, and that feels about right.
So what’s the story about?
Corporal Elliot Ford is a soldier in Iraq. Whilst on patrol he noticed a young Iraqi girl watching him. He saw the same girl while he was looking after an injured Iraqi civilian. After this, in Basra, Elliot was injured and hospitalised. While he was there he was told his daughter had gone missing and he returned home to search for her.
When he witnesses a terrorist attack on a local bus, Elliot sees the same Iraqi girl for a moment. Had she followed him home, was she the terrorist? Elliot tries to investigate and discovers further information from his daughter Laura’s friends and a neighbour Melissa. He seems to be suffering from appalling hallucinations.
When the body of a girl is found – believed to be Laura, Elliot seems to know too many details and he is arrested on suspicion of her murder. Elliot’s sister Helen finds a page in Laura’s diary which begins to shed some light on the mystery. Elliot’s waking hours are filled with still trying to find his daughter and solving this mystery. His dreams bring him different answers, almost too horrible to comprehend.
Elliot’s only chance is to find the one person he knows who can help him. He receives stark warnings from those around him. Corporal Elliot Ford ignores these warnings because he believes his daughter is being held there and sets out on his most dangerous mission yet.He travels from his home town back to Iraq, and further still in search of answers.
Elliot Ford had come so close to death on the battlefield, amidst the heat and dust, and there he was at home in the relative safety of the streets of his home town, more terrified, more disorientated than he had been in Iraq.
Medusa’s creation had a lot to do with the idea of the nearness of death. On a battlefield – a sniper’s bullet, on a local street – a bus hitting you as you’re distracted by someone you think you know. Time interweaves, the past, present and future happening simultaneously.
Elliot is a good man who is looking for a little peace now, except his nightmares come while he is awake.
After Medusa: currently I’m completing work on The Golem, a very different piece. The Golem is a ‘Victorian Hammer horror’ kind of tale, with all the artwork in pen and pencil. The Golem will be out later in the year.