Dark lights

Cartoonist Oscar Zarate was determined to expose the underbelly of London life in a collection of graphic short stories. He tells Teddy J amieson why.

Take a night in the city. Any night. What will you find? How about exotic dancers and deviant sex. hard men and hermaphrodites. conceptual artists and churches and mad dogs and murder.

At least that‘s the vision of the capital city to be found in the graphic short stories collected in a new anthology [13' Dark In London. We don‘t have to reheat the old ‘comics aren’t just for kids’ line any more. do we? It's Dark In Lam/on is sketched in blood and charcoal. rather than crayon and candy.

For those of you unconvinced. contributors not only include established comic talents (Neil Gaiman. Dave McKean and Alan Moore). and the cream of the criminally unrecognised British small comic press (notably Warren Pleece and Ed Hillyer). but real life ‘grown up‘ authors like lain Sinclair and Chris Petit.

The brainchild of Buenos Aires-born. London-based cartoonist ()scar Zarate. It's Dark In London zooms in on the ‘psychogeography‘ of the capital with noin'sh results. if this collection is to be believed it may be grim up north. but it‘s a bloody site grimmer down south.

Highlights include Carol Swain‘s Orton-inspired tale of literary terrorism among the Notting Hill set. More and Zarate‘s Ackroydian tale. ‘I Keep Coming

Frozen: irom a short story by writer Ohris Webster and artist Carl Flint

Back’ and Ed Hillyer‘s disturbing. poetic tale of hermaphroditism.

Zarate believes there is a real purpose in always looking on the dark side of life. ‘I think we feel a little bit alien to certain kinds ofemotions, because there are stories not being told.‘ he explains. ‘Everything on the edge is very blurry and we are not

dealing with that. we're dealing with Hollywood. So when people work on that area readers feel it‘s too bleak. 1 think what is too bleak is that we tend not to want to deal with it.

‘These writers and artists are telling you things you can‘t hear on the radio or see on the telly. Things that make you feel very unsettled or alarmed and that. for me, is what comics are about. Not just Fred Astaire tap-dancing. You can entertain. but also talk about serious emotions.‘

lfthere‘s a cavil to this argument. it is that the book is emotionally monotone. Even a normally upbeat cartoonist like Ed Hillyer is trawling through blackness here. Zarate is nonplused by the suggestion. ‘Most ofthe stories in this book are quite human. Ed Hillyer‘s story is quite beautiful. That character is usually treated as a freak and what Hillyer does is put a voice to that body. He takes away the label of freak and gives a human dimension.‘

As editor. Zarate was always keen to employ his favourite writers, whether they were familiar with comics or not. The question was whether they would want to be employed.

‘If you go to France. Italy or Spain. writers have more of a relationship with comics. because they are more close to visual an.‘ says Zarate. ‘l have been to many writers' homes and I look at the bookshelves and I can see comic books next to Shakespeare. so it is not foreign to them.

‘But it's a bit funny here. Comics aren‘t just peripheral, they're non-existent. So I was a bit surprised that these writers were cunous.‘

Surprised and delighted. He now wants It's Dark In London to be the first ofa series of books building up to be a ‘graphic documentary‘ of the city.

‘I am very happy here.‘ he says. ‘l feel very stimulated and I think there are more stories to be told.‘

It's Dark In London is published by Serpent Is 7211'] at £9. 99.

Aids and the power of the pen

When Oscar Moore died, The Guardian letters page was a testament to the power oi writing. llis monthly column about his one-sided battle with Aids had aliected thousands. People who never knew Moore were moved to tears by the news oi his death, one man broke down in the newsagent beiore he had even paid lor his paper. PWA: Person With Aids. Moore got behind the soulless American acronym and treated his illness with contempt and iascination, anger and humour. lie made no apology tor his gay litestyle, no complaint about having contracted HIV, and simply

Oscar Moore: charted his death irom nos

catalogued the rollercoaster ride irom the time the disease became tull- blown.

The humorous seli-deprecation oi a New Year’s dash to hospital in Oampbeltown in horrors - a Nissan Micra, is representative: ‘i was squashed in, ankles somewhere round my neck (but no pleasure anticipated) as we hurtled through the rain round the crags and cliiis oi a spectacularly grim coastline . . .’

Moore’s habitual word-play, diverting on a monthly basis, can become tiresome when read in one sitting. Overall though, the columns stand up well and his honesty about the indignities oi illness make this a book oi iar wider interest than might be assumed. ‘ln theory I am well,’ he says at one point,’ “but in reality I stagger irom spasm to wince via belch and tart . . .’

Moore’s introduction points out that llarold Brodkey’s writings in The New Yorker inspired his column, but Brodkey’s approach is much less

direct. This is more sell-consciously ‘writing’, but loses something in the intellectualising oi his ieelings.

‘The poetry oi being recognised and accepted as an important writer in Berlin and then in Venice while I was sickening in some way I could not understand presents to me a dark beauty oi complete wreckage,’ Brodky says, which sounds great, but doesn’t leave you any the wiser.

Where Moore’s book is moving, Brodkey’s is thought-provoking. Is it sloppy thinking, he wonders early on, which makes him tear death so little? ile moves irom initial disbeliei, through anger to linal anguish which makes it clear the answer is probably yes. It is the ilnal section, tree oi any aiiectation, which is the most powertul. (Stephen llaysmith)

PWA: looking Aids In The Face by Oscar Moore is published by Picador at £6. 99. This Wild Darkness: The Story Of My Death by llarold Brodkey is published by Fourth Estate at £14.99.

The List 29 Nov- I 2 Dec “Mb 87