Reviews: brilliant comics reportage in Times Like These
I’ve admired David Ziggy Greene’s refreshing style of comics reportage for several years, and still have a nice, signed copy of his first, self-published collection of Scene and Heard pieces, so I am delighted to see this new collection, and to see that this time a publisher has seen the merits in his work too and picked it up. Times Like These collects a selection of David’s excellent Scene and Heard comics from stalwart of Brit Indy journalism (and satire and home to a lot of cartoonists), Private Eye. This book covers work created between 2011 and 2017, with only a handful of the earlier works from the previous, self-published collection, included, while the vast bulk of the work here is collected for the first time.
I’ve had the good fortune to see David work first hand – he actually goes out to events, marches, protests and the streets and talks to people, gets their views, their words and uses those to put together each Scene and Heard cartoon. It’s proper journalism, talking to people involved, hearing what they say and trying to pass that on to readers while avoiding the reporter’s own biases (something the National Union of Journalists guidelines requires, even though, as we can see from a glance at most newspapers, most journos don’t really follow that, David tries his very best to). All the quotes you see here are actual words from real people David talked to, while the scenes are drawn from a mixture of photographs (where allowed, some events are a no-camera zone), sketches and memory. There is is a subject or theme to each work, and boy, is it diverse.
The subtitle to this series is “illustrated reports on modern life”, and that’s a good summary of what David does so well in the Scene and Heard comics, each cartoon is a self-contained piece of reporting and the topics for them vary enormously. Reporting from – or at least attempting to, they don’t seem to want him there as a journalist – the annual big arms fair in London (hey, come here, world, let us sell you lots of cool weapons!), the struggle farmer’s face to get a reasonable price for all their work, the last day of Dippy the dinosaur skeleton at the Natural History Museum, teachers, doctors, the Brexit and Scottish independence referendum, taxi drivers, cyclists, Charlie Hebdo (who David has also worked for, and indeed was where the genesis of what would become Scene and Heard first started), race and gender issues and more.
Quite often one strip will compliment another, or offer another angle on the same or similar theme, sometimes the opposite – for instance some stories may talk to squatters, another to people dealing with hiked rents and lack of affordable housing, while another goes to the other end of that argument to a landlord’s conference. I have to say my personal favourite pieces tend to be smaller or even local issues, some of which I hadn’t even heard of till I read them in Scene and Heard, and especially the ones taken, in the best journalistic tradition, right from the streets (sometimes literally, David talking to homeless folks, not preaching, not judging, just giving their voices an outlet, which I find admirable).
And for me that’s a vital quality to David’s Scene and Heard work – these are human, personal-level stories, even when he is talking with someone who holds views I dislike, they don’t come across as some ranter or idiot, David still shows them as people, and that’s refreshing in an era where media (and social media) largely polarise everyone into opposing factions that not only don’t agree but seem stoked to vilify, hate and dehumanise the other side. Scene and Heard does the opposite of that soul-crushing dehuminisation that much of the modern media creates. The book also comes with a selection of unpublished strips, David’s own explanation of how and why he works this way and putting the work into the context of historical illustrated reportage in the UK, harking back to Hogarth and others, and some pages of studies, sketches and glimpses into his process.
Times Like These is a beautiful example of the power of the comics medium to be used in different ways, here not replacing traditional prose journalism but rather complimenting it, augmenting it, telling important stories in a way that is more accessible and understandable, more empathic. Above all Times Like This is very, warmly human, and personal, David’s style delivers individual stories and voices, and often with that odd humour that real life just throws up. It’s a fascinating series of snapshots of society, drawn – literally – from all walks of life.