Andy Mason reports
A few mad moments, a couple of curved balls, lots of intense discussion, laughs and even some tears, an outrageous collaborative visual art performance event, loads of new friends and fruitful connections… and CCIBA’s masterclass and symposium on the Graphic Novel is behind us. The event was well documented, with a plentiful photographic record and a great little movie by Luke Mason, plus the large-scale 8-page comic strip “Petrified”, produced under arduous conditions at the Old Cement Factory in Phillipi (soon to be published in 3Ayhe!, CCIBA’s collaboration with the Cape Codes Collective).
Two days after the event ended I boarded a plane for the Periscopages bande dessinee festival in Rennes (article to follow soon), to return ten days later to the madness of a city in the grip of 2010 soccer fever. The intensity of these intervening events make the masterclass seem like something that happened a long time ago, or to someone else, like a tale told in a midnight bar. My sense of it hangs on vivid images that linger in my mind, triggering strong emotions.
The alchemy of the event derived, I think, from two main sources. First, the concentration of remarkable people in a closed circle, fused together by a common fascination with comics and the art of graphic narrative; second, the collective emotion generated by a tough question that we all face every day of our lives: are we really immersed in the full realization of our talents through total commitment to our chosen medium, or are we living a half-life of artistic compromise?
This question was foregrounded by the participation of some remarkable artists, not least the event facilitators, JP Kalonji, Jesse Breytenbach, Mogorosi Motshumi and Pete Woodbridge. Each one of them has demonstrably turned their back on the comforts of compromise to engage in mortal combat with the forces that seek to annihilate the muse in us. And their stories are challenging. Pete, who turned away from a successful career at Strika to pursue his dreams of artistic fulfillment; Mogorosi, who soldiers on with his great work of autobiography despite hurdles that would flatten the rest of us; Jesse, who worked night and day to create a space in which she could produce her own book and was powerfully enriched in the process; JP, who turned a personal disaster into a remarkable piece of entrepreneurial publishing that has landed him a top art director’s job in New York. The message is simple: no compromise. As Kalonji makes clear, you gotta kill each one of those 365 samurai, and then bend your own ego to the sword…
The commitment demonstrated in the presentations by these artists found its realization in the visual art performance event in the Old Cement Factory. The awesome, crumbling ruin of the venue, energised by the District 9 feel of the surrounding township, brought an insane energy to the impossible task of producing a publishable 8-page comic in a single day, outdoors by natural light, in the wind and dust, with only a few tins of paint and some dodgy markers to work with. The only electricity used in the production of “Petrified” was the cord that powered the sound system, but the spontaneous electricity produced by the combined action of all the eyes and hands swishing, fluttering and jabbing across the surface of those eight Corex boards produced an effect that is difficult to describe. On one level, mundane, gritty, tiring; on another, ethereal, transcendaent, inspiring.
We’ll be having many more masterclasses and visual art performance events in the months and years ahead, but I doubt that any of them will ever duplicate the unique experience of that one day in the Old Cement Factory.