About James

James specialises in digital literary heritage projects. He spends most of his time in front of a computer screen writing about life instead of living it. Therefore, do not trust a word he says.

The Aura of Deferred Gratification

It’s 6.50am on Saturday morning in the mid-1980s. Me and the siblings are eagerly eyeing the letterbox, waiting for the postman to deliver The Beano and Eagle. When the letterbox snaps, all hell will break loose as only two of us will be victorious. The winners will scarper off and lock themselves away somewhere, devouring the comic in one sitting. This process will be repeated a couple of times before the battered comic is begrudgingly lobbed out onto the landing. When we’ve all read up, we’ll sit down and draw our favourite characters and then discuss how we’d defeat the Mekon or Doomlord if they visited Nottingham.

Saturday night is also when the videoman (back then it was always a man) will turn up in his rusty transit, peel back his creaking doors, and reveal 60 odd videos. So much choice! Problem is, we’re only allowed one film. Patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a necessity when there’s four of you. When it’s my turn I go for The Goonies. I’m allowed two friends to sleep over and we huddle under our bed covers in the front room and watch it repeatedly all night long until we know every line off by heart. Then the grim reality of waiting another month before I can choose another film, kicks in.

What these examples illustrate is the aura of material culture. 35 years later and I still find myself salivating when I hear our letterbox go – but now it’s just bills and credit card applications. Video has transformed into on-demand streaming that can be accessed 24/7 and comics can easily be purchased from bespoke shops such as Page 45 or found online for free – such as my own creations Dawn of the Unread and Whatever People Say I Am. And although I love the freedom and ease with which we can now access culture, I do miss the magic of deferred gratification.

In Ghostworld, which is 20 this year, one of the characters asks, ‘So, what’s my future?’ If asked this in March 2020, I doubt anybody would have said ‘wearing a mask, only allowed to leave the house for one hour of exercise a day, and a Tory government will implement a benefit scheme that will pay people not to go to work’. But this is exactly what happened when a disease that banished touch came along.

Our experiences of Covid vary, but I think one thing we all have in common is a greater appreciation for the everyday things we once took for granted. Eating out, seeing friends, listening to an elderly relative rattle on – have all become magical luxuries to be cherished. The banal has become spectacle.

Cinema is vital to this process of healing. To be sat in a dark cavernous auditorium laughing at a film together is not only about rebuilding a sense of community and connection but relishing shared experience.

During August, Broadway Cinema is looking at a hopeful future through comics, graphic novels and manga screen adaptations. Ghostworld, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, is the centrepiece of the programming. As part of this, I was asked by Melissa Gueneau, the Cinema Programme Coordinator at Broadway, to write something for a zine they are creating to celebrate the season (this blog is an extension of that article). There was also the opportunity to get involved in a post-film discussion of Ghostworld but I declined this invitation. This is partly because I’ve lost my enthusiasm for public speaking (probably because I work in education so get sick of hearing my own voice) but also because I would much prefer to sit and listen to others talk about the film.

I’ve been creating comics since 2014 and it’s a slow and costly process that involves lots of people (writer, artist, script editor, colourist, letterer, digitization). But it’s nothing in comparison to the amount of people involved in creating and producing a film, many of whom have been laid off during lockdown. Consequently, sitting and watching a film in a cinema has taken on new meaning. It’s not just about connecting with people again, it’s about supporting an industry that’s been battered by Covid. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that none of know our future. So best enjoy what you can, while you can.

Broadway Cinema, 14-18 Broad St, Nottingham NG1 3AL. The ‘So What’s my Future?’ season runs from 8 29 August. You can view the films Guardian)

  • Picture this: 3 possible endings for cinema as COVID pushes it to the brink (The Conversation)

  • Ghost World at 20: the comic-book movie that refused to conform (Guardian)

  • The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Walter Benjamin at MIT)

  • Broadway Cinema: So What’s My Future? (filmfeels.co.uk)

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    Time for a Digital Spring Clean

    I became a digital convert in 2013 when putting together The Sillitoe Trail for arts and media platform The Space. At the time I had no social media profiles, lugged a physical diary around with me, and thought YouTube was home to farting cats and people who wished they’d been on Jack Ass.

    Part of The Space commission required us to make content available in multiple forms and accessible across media platform. In short, I had to buy a smartphone which in turn led to recording meetings in Google calendar and creating a Twitter account (hence @TheSpaceLathe).

    Having no idea about social media I paid other people to manage this for me. This is one reason why The Sillitoe Trail does not have a bespoke YouTube channel. Fast forward eight years and I now manage numerous Instagram, YouTube and Twitter accounts for subsequent projects and have a deeper understanding of the identity of a project and how it operates at a transmedia level. All of which leads me to the point of this blog: A digital spring clean.

    I’ve spent three days rebranding all of the YouTube videos for Dawn of the Unread and the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. To do this, I first completed some training on LinkedIn (which I can access for free via Nottingham Trent University) about managing a YouTube channel. This typically involved adding contact details to the profile, changing thumbnails, and creating playlists.

    Dawn of the Unread currently has 63 YouTube videos and some of these have specific themes: ‘The Nottingham Essay’ series explores key literary figures and was originally created to support Nottingham’s bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature in 2015. The ‘How to Create a Comic’ series features artists from our graphic novel doing everything the title suggests. The D.H. Lawrence YouTube channel has 33 videos and now includes a playlist for ‘The Student Essay’ whereby students produce a short five-minute insight into an aspect of Lawrence’s life as part of their dissertation.

     

    There’s so much content online it’s really important that producers curate this to signpost readers to relevant stuff. Yes, there are marketing benefits in the sense that themed playlists can encourage binging on samey content. But a more important motivation is professionalism.

    Another fantastic tool in my digital spring clean was the discovery of Canva – a graphic design platform with user friendly templates for all social media platforms. It uses a simple drag and drop function and is pretty easy to get your head around. But I did a bit more Linkedin training in Canva and graphic design before making my changes. Now all of the thumbnails include the project logo and one block of colour. It looks pretty. It directs readers to specific content. It suggests professionalism.

    Important lessons to learn from this

    • Social media encourages instantaneous reactions to culture. Work uploaded is often guttural and raw. But the age of amateurism is over. There are so many tools available now that there’s an expectation of better production values.

    • You have to constantly upskill and retrain because digital doesn’t sit still. And why wouldn’t you want to learn new skills?

    • Now that everyone can upload content, we need people who can curate and bring order to the noise.

    • When you’re a creative producer you fall in love with ideas and jump and bounce from one project to the next. But being disciplined and making time to go back and perfect work is vital.