‘Scene and Heard’ by David Ziggy Greene is a collection of topical cartoon ‘reports’ on news events from 2011 to early 2014. The author was interested in garnering more female reviewer feedback, and this piqued my interest. I’m always curious about perceived gender bias, being a comic fan of that generation when it was still novel to a young female comic reader at all.
I’ll be honest at first glance this book is not something I’d typically read, but that in itself belies my own perception of satirical cartoon strips as an inherently masculine medium. The strips were originally produced for and printed in Private Eye magazine, a publication whose main readership is traditionally educated men of the 40 age bracket and over (although I believe they aim younger these days, still). Further confirming the ‘old boys’ demographic to which news related comic strips and cartoons are typically thought to appeal. However much is made in the introduction and glowing quotes on the cover of the fact that Scene and Heard is a form of illustrated reportage – it is a book of ‘cartoons’ that wants you to take it seriously.
Scene and Heard is subtitled ‘illustrated snapshots of modern life’ and this in itself is the biggest clue to how to read this book. Although the art style reads as comedic, it’s that kind of humorous grotesque style that you sometimes get in ‘underground comix’, this book is not full of gag strips or jokes. So instead of viewing this collection as cartoons, the key to reading is to consider it a wry illustrated eye on topical events that might be funny or might be awful depending on how you look at it.
The black and white illustrations are rich with detail, the more you look the more you see. Witty puns mix with bald statements of opinion and fact. The ‘strips’, referred to by the author as ‘reports’ are not linear, and do not contain frames or panels, you just read around the image to get the all over impression of public opinion on the topic or event discussed. It’s interesting to note that the artist does field research for all of his strips, literally going out and talking to people on the streets, on topics ranging from public protests to the Olympics to Christmas shopping. This is a reporter with a pencil and brush instead of a microphone, a wonderfully unique place to create comics from. This fact is what makes the book come alive.
So would I recommend this book? Yes, to readers interested in social politics, current events, and anthropology, although be aware that it’s London-centric. It’s also an intriguing artifact for independent comic fans of non-fiction and slice of life storytelling. And for the aspiring illustrator, the author gives insights into his progression towards a layout for the reports, and shares preliminary sketches as well as ‘strips’ that were not selected for publication in the magazine. There’s a lot to see here. (You can click on these images to enlarge).
Perhaps the biggest challenge that Scene and Heard faces is that it it’s not quite what it looks like. If you can see past the ‘Private Eye’ connection, and see past the term ‘cartoon’ that so often implies flippancy and cheap humour you will find a visual diary of public events from the early Twenty-Tweens, a period of time that has seen much social unrest and economic upheaval. This is a record of the man on the street, hand dawn with genuine interest and humility, and to quote the author this book is a random collection of ‘snapshots of us odd little creatures’ indeed.
Scene and Heard is available from a number of select bookshops and straight from the artist here: samu.co.uk