John Riordan

 

CAPITAL CITY

EDITORIAL CATEGORY WINNER

NEW TALENT

John is an illustrator and comic artist who has recently completed his MA in Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts. He co-creates and publishes the psychedelic, musical, soap opera, comic book Hitsville UK. He wrote and drew William Blake, Taxi Driver for Time Out London and has produced work for clients including the BBC, The Guardian, Readers Digest and Times Higher Education Magazine.

John is based in London in the UK and you can see more of his work at johnriordan.co.uk

Inspired by the prophetic books of 18th century artist William Blake, Capital City is a graphic poem about the financial crisis and its effect on The City of London. John uses existing symbology and mythology to create a recognisable vision a dystopian future.

The judges loved the sense of narrative and social comment in John’s work.  Rather than producing illustration for an existing text, John produced the words and as a result the text and image work in tandem. In addition to this, the judges were impressed with the visually stunning and atmospheric spreads.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with John featured in the awards issue of Varoom magazine.

BRIEF: Capital City was my big project for my Illustration MA at Camberwell last year, so I set my own brief. When I started the course I knew that I wanted to do something exploring mythology. Later on, under the influence of William Blake, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to apply the mythologising impulse to contemporary events. In the same way that Blake wrote (and illustrated) mythic interpretations of the American Revolution, I could have a crack at the financial crisis.

MATERIALS: My background is as a self-taught comics artist so I would normally draw with ink, then scan and colour on the computer. For Capital City I got much more into paint, pastels and ‘lo-fi’ printing techniques. Although the pages look like paintings I worked on separate layers (I got through a lot of tracing paper!), then scanned them and combined them all in Photoshop. This allowed me to be more playful early on and to fine-tune details later.

RESEARCH: Getting to grips with the themes of the project meant reading and trying to understand books on economics. I also brushed up on William Blake, particularly his later, madder poems, before taking the plunge and writing my own pseudo-epic poetry. In terms of visual research I took lots of photos and did lots of drawings of skyscrapers and office blocks in the City. I find that I'm simultaneously attracted to and repelled by these buildings. I also referenced classic satirical cartooning, particularly James Gillray.

PROCESS: Painting, printing and drawing on layers of paper and combining them on the computer meant that I could embrace lots of happy accidents. The way that two colours mixed or something misprinted might suggest new ways of composing the image, or create new elements that I could incorporate into the next layer of the image.

RESISTANCES: Early on I felt overwhelmed by the project, like there were too many ideas and my drawing wasn't up to the task of portraying them. My tutors, in particular Luke Best and Janet Woolley, were enormously helpful in getting me to relax and break the project down into manageable stages. Once I'd found a way of achieving the right aesthetic the biggest struggle I had was with the text. I always wanted the words to be part of the image itself as opposed to being on a separate page but it took a lot of revision and advice from graphic designers to get the text to work.

INSIGHT: Writing and drawing Capital City has made me much more engaged with the peculiarities of our current historical and economic situation and therefore with, for want of a better word, Politics. It's all fascinating but fairly exasperating stuff! In terms of illustration, I've gained a greater insight into the possibilities of image-making, of what I can do with my drawing. I feel like I have a much greater ‘repertoire’ of techniques which I can use to communicate ideas and moods.

DISTRACTIONS: Distractions are legion – twitter, facebook, comics, telly, the pub! Weirdly, I think I distracted myself on this project by researching for it. Quite late on in the MA it dawned on me that I should probably put the books down now and get on with actually drawing the bloody thing!

NUMBERS: 20. Capital City is a twenty-page graphic poem at the moment but my ambition is to produce a book-length version that gets to grips with the themes of the financial crisis in much greater depth. I've been working out how to do this and am looking for a broad-minded publisher.

AFTERWORDS: I'm all for celebrating the power of the image but I don't like the idea of being in a culture that is ‘after words’. I'm most interested when images and words are both present, working in sympathy or provoking each other. Right from the off, I was sure that I wanted the words to be part of the image in Capital City, and that the layout and size of the text would reflect what was happening in the narrative.

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