The Cartoon Picayune
15Jan/131

Colin Tedford Q+A

Colin Tedford has been making comics in New England and helping run the Trees & Hills comics collective for years, but he has only recently started creating more comics journalism. His comics come from a different place, and "The Story of Jake Tuesday" from the most recent issue is a great example. He retains the rights to these images.

Josh Kramer for The Cartoon Picayune: Your story is one of most unusual and naturally dramatic I've published so far. How did you hear about it and what made you think that it would be a good subject as a comic?

Colin Tedford: On my way to visit a friend in Brattleboro one night I saw people morris dancing in Pliny Park (a little paved area with some shrubs on the corner of Main and High Streets) and wondered why on earth that was happening there at 10 PM. After parking I walked back to have a look; apparently I wasn't the only one wondering, because I overheard one of the dancers on the sidelines (almost certainly Geoff Rogers) telling the story of Jake Tuesday. I thought it would make a good comic mainly because, as you say, it's unusual and naturally dramatic. It also has good visual components, not to mention it involves a DIY holiday and people forming and maintaining community ties, which are things that particularly interest me.

What does Morris dancing mean to these men? To the community? Do you have different ideas about it now versus before you started the story?

I'm sure the meaning varies for each person and it only came up directly with a few people, but it's a fun physical and social activity and a way to connect with tradition and the seasons. There's also a rowdy aspect that didn't come up as much in the final story, of drinking and singing and flirting afterwards (this side of things was not so much Jake's thing, though). For some it has a spiritual dimension as well. For the wider community of non-morris folk I can only speculate; I imagine it's a fun thing to watch and a bit of a curiosity. Their public dancing usually happens as part of fairs and festivals. I didn't have many ideas about morris prior to this story -- I'd seen it before and knew it as an old English folk tradition -- so the main change is just knowing more about it in general.

This is one of your first efforts making comics that are journalistic. What is attractive to you about comics journalism, and how does the process compare to making other kinds of comics?

I'm fairly new to journalism but I've been making comics about real-world topics for about five years. This partly reflects my reading interests -- since college most of my non-comics reading has been nonfiction -- and partly reflects my desire to use comics as a tool to improve the world. What drew me to journalism specifically was stumbling upon Graphic Journos and Susie Cagle's website. Their rah-rah attitude made me think that pursuing journalistic outlets might get my work in front of more eyes and maybe even generate some income while allowing me to pursue my interests. The income has yet to show up (surprise), but already new people are seeing my comics. Nonfiction comics are definitely more work than fiction, though, because of the added research, which is why it's taken me so long to follow through on my interest in doing more of them -- and journalistic restrictions just add to the workload.

How did you find doing the reporting? Were there unexpected challenges?

Doing the reporting was basically enjoyable despite the expected challenge of having to push past my shyness. Probably the biggest unexpected challenge was the way the story expanded. I interviewed Geoff first and thought I basically had the story. I interviewed Jake pretty close to the event, expecting to just fill in some details, but his telling of the story and his thoughts about it were so much richer than I expected that I scrapped the outline I had. That made my deadline even tighter. I'd hoped to handle the color myself but finished so late that I had to accept the newspaper's original offer to have a staffer color it. Other unexpected challenges were mostly technical. My phone's speakerphone feature went on the fritz when I interviewed Geoff, so I had to awkwardly hold both phone and recorder to my ear. The person I was going to borrow a camera from took a spontaneous vacation, so I had to use my not-so-great-for-motion-or-low-light phone camera at the event instead.

Several journalists and documentarians I've admired have said something to the effect of needing to like the subject that they write about. You bring a lot more to your depiction of Jake besides simply sympathy. How long did you spend with these guys? What other kinds of things would you have said about them in a longer story?

I interviewed Geoff for about a half hour on the phone and Jake for about an hour in person, then attended the entirety of Jake Tuesday (about three hours). In a longer story it might have been nice to bring in more people's views. That would have required more interviews, though; I managed to talk with some people at the event but with all the activity and socializing and background noise it wasn't a great environment for interviewing.

Thanks Colin!

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  1. I love sharing May morn with the midwest Morris people! One of the profound spiritual days of my year-Thank you all…


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