we come out of the gallery our friend Helen pauses, scans the sky and
That doesn't sound right. I correct her:
'Brooding.' Yes, that's it.
'No, it's balmy,' pipes up Helen. She's one those people you can get
into an argument with just discussing the weather. There's a tremendous
thunderstorm later (there you are, didn't I say it was brooding?!).
The Goathland Diaries
Despite my experience of working on the animated film Watership
Down the only cartoon characters who I know in real life are
Helen and John (Helen Thomas and John Welding).
In fact I met John through the pages of his Goathland diary
comics before I met him in real life.
Goathland was the story of John and Helen's daily life
in a North Yorks Moors village. My favourite edition is number eight
from autumn 1997 which starts with halloween and bonfire night (left)
and celebrates some of the seasonal pleasures of rural life, punctuated
with deprivations (they lived on Cold Comfort Farm, if
you can believe John's story) and tragedy.
I love the inkiness of John's drawings in this issue and
the way the feel of the thing comes halfway between comic strip
and wood engraving. It seems as much in the bucolic tradition of
Thomas Bewick, Samuel Palmer and Paul Nash as it is in the angst-ridden,
grungy urban mode of the autobiographical comic strip. But he's
good at angst too.
Now that they're living in Wakefield John's started this new journal,
available via his web site (I keep trying to persuade him to compile
a collected edition of Goathland).
They're now living on the southern edge of Wakefield in a house
which reminds me of the settings of Raymond Briggs' comic strip
stories. It's a Victorian semi-detached which stands in a coal yard
(but with a large garden behind). With an eccentric cat regularly
breezing in and out John isn't short of subject matter.
You say balmy, I say brooding
Helen is a painter and, now I think of it, our differing descriptions
of the same evening sky sum up our respective approaches to our subject
matter. Because of my temperament and my specialisation in natural history/geology
I can't draw any subject without brooding on time, loss and the many threats
to the places I love.
I'm like Eeyore: I just want to be left alone my 'gloomy place; rather
boggy and sad'.
brood: 5. Meditate (on, upon, over, about), esp. moodily
work is quite different in tone: I find it hard to describe her paintings
and drawings without mentioning Monet. Her subjects include sun dappled
woodland and meadows shimmering in summer breeze. They're seen close up,
filling the frame, and the compositions keep your eye moving around the
surface, rather than tempting you into some illusional space. Don't get
me wrong, there is space in them but its the kind of space you might try
to discover for yourself through meditation; a special place created through
feeling, rather than through intellectual analysis.
balmy: 1. Fragrant, aromatic, or soothing like balm.
2 Deliciously soft and soothing; pleasant.
Yes, 'balmy' is a good term for some of Helen's meadows.
Interestingly, bearing in mind that Helen and John lead a double life
as cartoon characters, here's another definition from the Oxford English
barmy: 2. fig. Excitedly active; empty-headed,
Now, that does sound like a cartoon character.
If I was a cartoon character,
who would I be? . . .
Strindberg and Helium.com:
'Look at this,' Helen says, ' - remind you of anyone?'
Thanks, Helen . . . and, you know, that pesky Helium seems strangely familiar
you'll find a link to a gallery of Helen Thomas's work on the links page.
To make sure you've got a little distraction in the post order John's
latest title now:
Richard Bell, email@example.com