Scene & Heard- Book review

‘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.

scene-heard-header

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-feel-the-benefits

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.

reportage dogs scene and heard

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.

Scene and Heard- The Proms

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).

reportage disability living allowance

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

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3 comments

  1. I hope that David Ziggy Greene might also read the comments on this, because I love his work and think it’s an absolutely vital contribution to Private Eye. And as some anecdotal evidence to perhaps provide a counterbalance; I self-identify as a woman, a feminist, 40s age range and have been reading the mag for a couple of decades (and I left school at 16). The work of cartoonists to provide reportage, especially in satirical fields, has a long history too. Where would cartoonists or illustrators be without Hogarth or Scarfe as inspirations to further the field? Whilst I agree there’s plenty of room for improvement for women artists to be seen, the pages of Private Eye have featured more cartoonists with a social point to make as a whole than any other publication I’ve read.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Caro (and I’m sure David will see it). I’m not ignorant of reportage as an illustration medium but I chose not to mention Scarfe or Hogarth because that’s not what Scene and Heard is really like, but rather somewhere between this british cartoon satire tradition and the work of the likes of Joe Sacco (whose comics reportage is more story form). Comics Journalism is not as common in the UK as elsewhere in Europe or even the US, and Greene is sailing uncharted waters here.
    This is by no means a negative review, (and there are many glowing reviews of Green’s work out there- just look at The Forbidden Planet blog) and I address the gender issue purely as a result of the Author’s own call out for more female reviewers, and I was curious as to what might be putting the ladies off. No one said Private Eye is for men only, merely what the public perception might be (and I have read sources that claim only 30% of Private’s readers are women so I don’t think I’m terribly wide of the mark even if I am generalising.) Comics art as an intelligent art form is vastly under-rated in the UK and I’m glad that Private Eye gives artists a break, but it’s precisely this idea of newspaper ‘cartoons’ that limits this genre and the public’s perception of it in the UK.
    But of course, that’s only my opinion, as a comic reader from the age of 16, female, feminist and sometime comic creator myself.

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    1. I really do appreciate the reply, and thank you for expanding on your thoughts. I apologise for mentioning Hogarth and Scarfe in the way I did, as I’m very much aware of your own informed background, but it was really to point out that it fits in a sustained context, if one that is male-dominated nonetheless. I do think that political cartoons have a wider prominence than might, at first look, be notable. This does heavily depend on what definitions of ‘cartoon’, ‘sketch’ and ‘journalism’ applies, where it appears and what it’s supposed to achieve, as well as each person’s view on what that definition might be. I really don’t want to get into the comics vs. sequential art argument.

      I understand you didn’t say that Private Eye was for men only, but from my perspective to read your review it seems to focus heavily on a “publication whose main readership is traditionally educated men of the 40 age bracket”, “Further confirming the ‘old boys’ demographic to which news related comic strips and cartoons are typically thought to appeal” and “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…”

      If you dislike, or even outright hate, Private Eye for what it is then that’s entirely your personal response to express, but the point is here what it has done to provide a paying background for political or other cartoonists to have a career that keeps the cartoonist making cartoons rather than retraining as someone in the vital role of shelf-stacker. As someone who obviously knows the pitfalls of a creative, self-employed, pursuit, I’m not entirely sure why you’re echoing “public perceptions” rather than making your own, after research, and either challenging that directly in what can be improved or making insightful commentary why exactly these perceptions are excluding women. Apart from the 30% who do read it.

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