ADVENTurous is an open submission exhibition exploring the christmas narrative, which we're staging in 3 UK venues during advent this year : at Engedi in Colwyn Bay, Leftbank in Leeds and the Union Chapel in Islington, London.

The work exhibited at Union Chapel will also be part of the one-day ‘ADVENTurous' conference, hosted by Greenbelt Festival and partners.

On this blog we'll be posting regular updates about how plans for the Leftbank Leeds show are progressing, with information about the contributing artists, and possibly some previews of the work being created for the exhibition...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Introducing... Mike Maddox


Left Bank: It's great to have you on board for Adventurous! To start with would you like to introduce yourself and your work?

Mike Maddox:  I've written radio dramas, plays, comics and the obligatory novel.
It's a good thing for any writer to find out that they're not a novelist as soon as possible!
I like talking. It's for this reason I've found radio drama and comics so appealing, as from the writing point of view you're mainly just writing dialogue. I did think I'd end up writing superhero comics, and made quite a thing of chasing this idea as a young man. But there are really only  so many interesting things to say about two men in tights beating each other up. Sooner or later it all just looks like a particularly dramatic falling out at the Royal Ballet Company...
 What has been quite lovely, and entirely unexpected, was that I'd end up writing for Doctor Who. It's been said before, but there's something quite brilliant about an action hero who abhors violence.
I love radio plays. You can actually do more than you can on TV, in some ways. The other great thing about writing for radio is you can get ridiculously talented (And quite famous!) actors turning up to perform your scripts. There's no makeup, no costume, no hanging around for effects shots. And actors can concentrate solely on their voices, without having to worry about camera angles or bumping into the scenery, which is quite nice for them, too.
I worked with Jeff Anderson on a translation of the bible into comic strip, which was a huge success, and which nearly killed us doing it. What's been great has been to read the stories of people who say what an impact the work has had on readers, particularly on people who may never have given the bible a second glance otherwise. This will be the only bible some people will ever read. So, no pressure then.
I wasn't brought up in a particularly churchy family. I didn't really take an interest in anything remotely spiritual until secondary school. We had a brilliant RE teacher who started us out with Aztec mythology, before leaping straight into the Old Testament. The subject thought I would be boring turned out to be utterly brilliant, and we were soon knee deep in blood and gore. I think she understood 12 year old children perfectly, and may have invented Horrible Histories about a decade before Terry Deary did the same thing. I blame her. But in a good way.

LB: Wow, what a varied CV! It's really interesting that topics that seem so different, like the Bible and comics, can come together to form something new! What do you think it is about the comic strip style that gets people excited about something they may never have considered before?

MM:  I think that some people have such low expectations when they open a comic that they are often dazzled by the unexpectedly wonderful stories and art that they find. British culture seems to still sometimes equate illustrated stories of any kind as being for children, or semi-literates, and as such we don't always hold comics in very high esteem.
You can do things with a comic that you can't do in any other medium. It is not a genre (I dislike it when people call it that. "Comic book genre".), it's not a genre, it's a medium. It's as valid a means of storytelling as film, or theatre, or radio, or the novel,  or anything else for that matter.

LB: Hopefully when people come to see yours and Jeff's piece at Adventurous it will allow them to see the comic strip in a new light!  Your approach to the theme of Advent is really interesting. What were your initial thoughts when choosing "journey"?

MM: The obvious symbolism of 3 travellers following the stars on Christmas Eve was just too good to resist.
I'm old enough to remember the Apollo moon landings. My Mum let me sleep on the sofa in the front room, so I wouldn't miss anything. And yes, she's awesome. I remember waking up one night to find Mum doing the ironing, watching blurry figures walking on the moon. I went out in the garden and stared up at the moon, just in awe of the fact that there were men up there at that exact moment. I would have been about five, I suppose.
The story of Apollo 8 has always stuck with me. Even though they were nowhere near ready to attempt a moon landing, NASA sent a crew to the moon and back, terrified the Russians would beat them to it (The Soviets eventually sent a tortoise, of all things, in a spaceship called the Zond Seven). Apollo 8 wouldn't land, that would be left to Apollo 11.But the Apollo 8 crew would be the first humans to see the dark side of the moon. Out of the right hand window was the Earth, and 5 billion people. Out of the left, only God knows... They were the first people to see Earthrise (As opposed to moonrise or sunrise). 
All dialogue in the comic is taken directly from NASA broadcasts. We've left it exactly as is, resisting the temptation to rewrite it in any way. Whether or not the event was engineered by the NASA PR machine (And I suspect it probably was, to a certain extent. I'm sure there was a certain amount of content sign-off, shall we say?) the astronauts themselves have all written movingly of how they felt looking at the tiny, fragile Earth hanging in the sky in front of, and how the words of Genesis resonated.

LB: I love how you've taken ideas from the journey of the magi and applied it to something that has the same mind-blowing qualities. Through this and your work on the Bible, is it important to you to present the stories of the Bible in an accessible way?

MM: I do like to put the bible to people in a straightforward way, if I can.  But I think you also have to leave room for God to speak to other people in ways that might not make any sense to you, personally. Although the Christian message is essentially straightforward, life itself is messy and complicated.

LB: I think that will be the great thing about this exhibition- people  from a range of backgrounds will be able to portray their understanding of the Christmas story and I'm sure the results will be  varied! What has Advent meant to you over the years and will you be doing anything special in the run up to Christmas?

MM: I tend to get a bit carried away with the excitement of it all.
This year I'll be handing out free tea and coffee to commuters from 6AM Christmas morning. We've done this a few times, and it's a lovely thing to do. We're just handing out tea and coffee to people who are working on Christmas Eve, that's all. Just because it's Christmas. I mean yes, we're quite obviously from the church (Or a church at least) but it's just free tea and coffee  and have a Happy Christmas. Some of us will be back there from 5:00 to greet them off the train, hand out mince pies and sing carols.
What else... We're decorating our church. I've volunteered to go up the ladder. There's a service my wife and I are running. My wife is a lay minister in the Church of England. I think she's preaching on Christmas Day, so it'll be a bit of a rush to get out as usual.
Then of course there are presents to buy. My wife and one of my daughters have a birthday in December, so it's a busy time for me, present-wise.
Then there's carol singing, the Christmas fairs, the sourcing of an actual donkey for the late night shopping event (Highlight of the village year: Streets are shut, everyone turns out for mince pies and sherry) and that's all on top of the day job, which is ridiculously busy this time of year.
So yes, lots to do. On the plus side, I don't have to be Santa in the primary school this year. The rash you get from a cheap, sweaty acrylic beard after being stuck in a reindeer infested cupboard for a few hours is something else...

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