Director’s Commentary: David Ziggy Greene talks Times Like These
We’ve been big fans of David Ziggy Greene‘s work for a few years on the blog. His regular Scene & Heard strip in stalwart thorn in the establishment side journal Private Eye takes elements of both cartooning and journalism and combines them to give a different and very accessible view on current events, covering all sorts of subjects, from the light and funny to the serious social issues of racism, homelessness and more. What’s struck me is how David works – he actually goes out and talks to the people you see in Scene & Heard, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him work when he was covering the Independence Referendum in Edinburgh.
The quotes are all words from people he has talked to, and he tries, unlike many journalists these days, to try and deliver them without injecting his own bias. It’s powerful work, it’s often funny, just as often likely to make you fume at injustice. It’s fascinating work and deserving of a wider audience. With September Books publishing a collection, Times Like These, I’m delighted David has taken the time to be our latest guest for our Director’s Commentary post:
Times Likes These is a collection of real-life, topical reports that spans the last three years under the regular title of Scene & Heard. The reports first appeared in Private Eye magazine in late 2011 and since then, over one hundred and fifty of them have been published in almost every issue.
Like myself, the magazine’s editor wanted to try something no-one else was regularly doing in the UK, which was to document real-life events and social issues in illustrated reportage form. And now September Publishing has also joined in to do the same in book form.
Scene & Heard has appeared fortnightly covering a stupendous range of topics from homelessness to AI to chess championships to immigration to naked bike rides to Brexit to Furries to elections to… you get the idea. So, it’s really been society, politics and modern life that decided what form the book took, what it has to say and its stories.
(all images here by and (c) David Ziggy Greene, click for the larger pictures)
For a commentary, I can explain a little how one report is generally produced and how we made over ninety reports sit together in a lovely book that works well.
A report theme can depend on either what is in the news or an event that may be of some interest. There can be a lot of topics that could be interesting but they do need to have a certain visual appeal in order to be drawn.
Once a topic is decided upon, I head off with my pad, pencil, camera and dictaphone. In the very early days, I just drew and tried to interview people at the same time, jotting down quotes, but it didn’t take long for me to accept that this was not a great way to work because a lot of stuff could be missed. Nowadays, I prefer to take quick reference snaps and record interviews thereby making sure that I don’t miss out on good information while my head is buried in a drawing pad.
For fun, let’s pick the example of the report I did about the ongoing ‘problem’ of aggressive seagulls on UK beaches. This is one of those silly news items that pops up every now and then, so I thought I’d go to see it for myself. I was a little sceptical, thinking that the newspapers had exaggerated things and I wasn’t too hopeful of getting much. I spent the day on ‘sunny’ Brighton beach where gulls had reportedly been a growing problem. To my amazement, it only took around ten minutes before I saw food literally being taken out of people’s mouths. ‘Bingo! We have a report,’ I said to myself.
This is a good example of the limitations of live-sketching and how photography can be used when making drawn reportage. A gull snatching food takes less than a second. No way was I going to be able to capture it in an on-the-spot sketch so I relied on my camera for the action and sketching for the scenery and notes.
I also interviewed lifeguards about their experiences with gulls and when a beach-goer was attacked by a flurry of wings, I tried to grab them for a chat too. After five hours or so, I thought I had seen plenty of menacing, Hitchcockian-style gull action so I headed back to the desk to go over the material.
Next is the transcribing. Sometimes there can be many hours of audio recordings to dissect to find a handful of good quotes. Deciding what ‘snapshots’ or images is what follows. This can be the most time-consuming stage.
Then the overall layout is planned and jiggled around until a nice smooth flow, balance and narrative are found. Drawing birds is slightly tough and in this case it was extra tricky to capture them being devious.
This report was a bit of a silly topic but most of the time, more serious issues are covered. Finding a way to deliver a kind of narrative that captures the scene while also informing the reader is the hardest part of making any report.
Then the chosen scenes are tightened, tidied up and inked…
After the inking is done, the report is ready to be sent off to the magazine. There are usually spelling mistakes to be corrected and the occasional design issue to fix but overall it is ready to fit into the next issue of Private Eye magazine with fingers tightly crossed.
When putting together the collection of reports in Times Like These, we decided to adopt a chronological layout. This delivers a timeline of society as the reports were being made.
So, the next hurdle was how to collate ninety-plus reports together without it looking too overwhelming. We thought the best way to overcome this would be to insert amongst the reports lots of sketches and process notes to help give some breathing space from the densely illustrated pages. I dug out all sorts of unused sketches, photos and a few extra anecdotes too.
I also spent time going out and about to create brand new ‘study pages’ for the book on topics that I hadn’t covered in any of the reports. These are mainly simple illustrated observations drawn with heavy pencils encompassing themes such as the Berlin Wall, flying or notes from rush hour on the London Underground.
Overall, it was great to collect all these reports from 2014 to 2017 together. There are a small handful of readers’ favourites from 2011 to 2014 also included in the book.
Scene & Heard is the largest body of work I have ever produced. It spans such a good period of time and I am pretty proud that they have appeared in Private Eye consistently for so long. It’s now an added bonus to know that they are collected together on bookshelves and are being read as a large record of our lives.