COMICS THAT ARE IMPORTANT
[caption id="attachment_13843" align="aligncenter" width="479" caption="Detail from Jason and Kathryn's story"][/caption]
Comics are great, but all too often they are about silly adventures and muscular men in impossible costumes fighting a series of increasingly stunt-cast villains. I don't care how much someone's liberal degree thesis says that the Green Goblin is in fact an allegory to Sinn Fein or whatever, Spiderman is basically fighting to get laid. That's why the new book involving the charity-funded magazine Ctrl.Alt.Shift and some of the world's best known comic artists, Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption, is a nice break. Well, not nice, because it's depressing and will make you wish you had kept your head buried in the illustrated sand of big tits and Lycra thighs. Anyway, we spoke to Jason Masters and Kathryn White, who created one of the many stories in the book (theirs focuses on ethnic violence in South Africa).
Vice: How did you get involved in the project?
Jason: We’d worked as a team in advertising and had both gone freelance afterwards. My friend John Dunning, who I’ve collaborated on pitches with before, asked me to do something for the CAS Unmasking Corruption project and suggested I collaborate with this writer from Haiti – but that would be silly when there’s so much violence and corruption in South Africa. So I phoned Kate and we got together to make a proper South Africa story.
How long have you been making comics and what are some of your past ones?
Jason: As long as I’ve been able. I used to draw my own Spiderman comics in old scrapbooks. I haven’t had a great amount of my personal work published. Little bits here and there in local anthologies and a piece in UK anthology Sturgeon White Moss 3. These stories have opened up doors to other more commercial comic work and I’ve done some interesting comics for clients as varied as Anglo Gold and Alexander Forbes.
Do you tend to stick to social commentary stuff?
Jason: For me, the genius of the medium is that it can tell any story in any way you can imagine. I loved getting this story out, but I don’t have a need to just make social commentaries. If anything, the message I want to get out is how broad and amazing comics are.
Kathryn: I do. I get mad and pissed off and indignant about issues and then need to vent them in some way. Often it’s rude to do so around the dinner table, so I save it for books. My first one, Emily Green and Me, had venting about the lack of healthcare, transport, social divides, gender bias. I was young and filled with anger.
What motivated you to do the work included in the book?
Kathryn: South Africa has such sensational stories – and they’re all true. So we had to choose between the Selebi case (where the police chief was busted being best friends with the top drug lord in the country), the Pikoli case (where the head of the NPA – your MI5 – was fired by the president before he could arrest Selebi), the liver case (where the head of the health department, who apparently has a major drinking problem, was shoved to the front of the liver donor queue) and then the xenophobic violence case. The xenophobic violence won because it was more real, less political. And it’s sad. We like sad.
Were you directly affected in any way by the recent violence in South Africa?
Kathryn: We weren’t directly affected. I mean, we did have to listen to the news and traffic reports to find out where the violence was happening – but that’s not actually being affected. We went to marches and people at office parks made hampers of food and did stuff, but mostly you get a feeling of helplessness while riots are happening.
Jason: Like, it’s upsetting, but you also feel very removed from it. We should be aliens too, being white, but we’re more protected.
What do you think about the project as a whole? Are there any other graphic novels you particularly enjoy that you think deal with issues like those covered in the book?
Kathryn: The project is an awesome idea. One gets this worry, though, about the way developing countries with issues get portrayed, especially by the UK media. It’s delicate for us. Often you just roll your eyes, so it’s good to do something where you can tell a story straight, show violence and the sadness but without resorting to clichés.
Jason: Marjane Satrapi’s Persopolis is great because she is so normal. Even when others view your country as fucked up, your days become entirely normal to you.
You can buy the book here from 5 November onwards.
BRUCE LE VRAI