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Arts & Culture

The cinematic silences of a graphic novel

Tumult (image supplied)

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Tumult is a new graphic novel written by John Harris Dunning and illustrated by Michael Kennedy.

It’s a contemporary thriller set in London’s Hampstead.

I caught up with John Harris Dunning for a between-the-pages look at the book.

What was the inspiration for the story?

Film Noir and old crime pulp fiction by writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. They often dealt with men marooned in urban settings up against the challenges of modern living. I like that these heroes are flawed people just doing their best in difficult circumstances.

Why was a graphic novel the right format to tell this story?

I also write prose, but comics were my first love — I actually remember dreaming in comic book panels with captions and speech balloons as a kid. I’m a comics nerd.

For this project, I actually started it as prose, then had this really strong visual impression of it and started writing it as a comics script. There’s something really powerful about the comics medium — you’re working on two levels as a storyteller, visual and narrative. It really packs a punch.

At what point of the creative process did you start the collaboration with Michael Kennedy?

The script was well and truly polished, so I had that to present him. I finished the script without any idea of who would eventually draw it. I totally lucked out. There was an immediate and very deep connection between me and Michael in terms of how we wanted this story to be.

He read the script, then presented me with a hundred page mood-board of images. As soon as I saw it I knew he was the man for the job. We shared a vision. The book wouldn’t be a third of what it is without his input.

There’s a magic that happens when a writer and artist’s ideas sync, that results in something greater than the sum of its parts.

How difficult was it for Michael to create visual representations of the characters that you’d written?

Michael’s grasp of the look and feel of the story was immediate, but we put in a lot of work too. I had a really specific vision of the characters, and we chatted away like hairdressers on crack about hairstyles and outfits. It got kind of ridiculous — in one instance I sent about 40 outfit reference images for a single panel. That’s when I knew I had to stop. But all of it was valuable.

That’s what I’ve learned about collaborating with artists — provide too much rather than too little reference material, then be prepared to be flexible about the results. If you trust the artist — and in this case I did — part of the joy of collaboration is to see where they take your ideas. It’s not about control. It’s about serving the book, which, if it’s working, takes on a life of its own.

What are some of your favourite graphic novels?

Ghost World by Dan Clowes is a perfect book. He draws and writes it — he’s a genius. The story’s deceptively simple, following two suburban girls on their last summer together having just finished school. It still makes me laugh and cry.

The Push Man by Japanese master Yoshihiro Tatsumi is a volume of short stories about post WW2 Japan, exploring the personal and political. It’s devastating in an understated way, and allows an incredible insight into the nation’s psyche. The Japanese comics tradition has been hugely influential to me. They have a more cinematic way of telling stories, a slow ease that I’ve adopted. I don’t believe all comic stories have to be told at breakneck speed. There’s a place for that, but I believe that there’s also a place for silence and meditation on the page.

I also love my superhero comics, and I can’t think of a better or more brilliant example than Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. Stylistically rigorous and even experimental, it’s a rollicking good tale full of action and humour. Pure comics joy.

What do you hope that people feel when reading the story?

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Turned on, frightened, intrigued, spiritually heightened — basically, like being on a date with me.

Is there more to come for these characters?

It wasn’t written with franchise in mind. It was written as a discreet story, but oddly enough I’ve been thinking about the characters and where they would go next. Never say never

Dive into the world of Tumult

Tumult is published by SelfMadeHero

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Arts & Culture

Giving a voice to gay Arab men

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Samer Bo (image supplied)
Samer Bo (image supplied)

I caught up with author Samer Bo to talk about writing erotic gay fiction in Egypt.

What led you to start writing erotic gay fiction?

I was forgetting what was happening. I noticed that when someone asked me about what happened to me the previous week, I couldn’t remember the details.

I think forgetting was my defence-mechanism for all the pain and trouble.

So, I started by writing my diaries, which ended to be quite erotic sometimes. Then that moved to erotic fiction.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your stories?

Inspiration comes from my personal experiences and sometimes my friends’ experiences. Other times, I just meet a guy or watch a movie, and it inspires me to write a story.

Who are your target audience?

I write for myself before anyone else. I’d love all gay men to read and get aroused by my stories.

But I guess I do write for minorities — people who don’t usually get represented in media, porn, or erotic stories. I want people to see themselves represented in my novels.

What sort of feedback do you get from your readers?

I get a lot of positive feedback from people in the Middle East who finally find a voice speaking to them. Some see me as a role model — a type of Egyptian guy that they never see in the media.

Do your friends and family know that you write erotic gay fiction?

Only some close friends know. I’m not in touch with my family anyway. Samer is my real name, but I changed my last name to Bo.

Have you had any negative reactions to the gay erotic fiction that you write?

I only tell people about my writing if I know that they’re either gay or gay friendly. So I haven’t had negative reactions in that respect.

However, I have had multiple incidents of homophobia. I was arrested once.

Son of the President isn’t an erotic story, how did that story come to you?

That story is based on the real-life story of an older friend that I met a few years ago. I told him about my erotic stories, and he asked me to write an erotic story inspired by his experiences.

However, I felt that if I wrote it as erotica, it would take away from the essence of the story. So I left it as non-erotic story.

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What do you hope that people feel when reading your stories?

First of all, aroused from my erotic stories. Plus, I want people to feel represented.

Gay Arabs are not represented in any kind of media. We’re being suppressed and discriminated against. A lot of gay men in the Middle East feel that being gay is wrong, and that homosexuality is a sin.

This is my small way to help those men feel better about themselves.

What are some of your goals and ambitions for the remainder of 2018?

More stories, maybe some non-erotic ones. I’m also helping a friend of mine to change his non-erotic short story into a play.

Read the novels by Samer Bo

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