Visualising Scotland's Future
A collaborative graphic novel – involving the diverse talents of writers and artists from Irvine Welsh to Pat Mills – IDP: 2043 aims to paint a picture of Scotland's future and strike a blow against anyone viewing the form as any sort of literary lesser
The Edinburgh International Book Festival is one of the most prestigious literary events in the world, drawing from across the globe and the literary sphere and calling together the wise voices of the world's most famous writers to meld with the younger, rougher tones of the up-and-coming to turn Charlotte Square gardens into a cacophony of book-love. In recent years, the festival's Stripped events have championed the graphic novel form and, in 2013, a very special work was commissioned to mark the festival's 30th anniversary: IDP: 2043.
A speculative imagining of what Scotland might look like in another 30 years' time, IDP: 2043 depicts a world completely re-moulded by climate change. With sea levels rising drastically, huge parts of Britain have become uninhabitable and Scotland's high-rising hills have suddenly made it the place to be. With an entire nation crammed into its highest peaks, the resultant overpopulation has led to the creation of vast slums built from shipping containers to house those made homeless by the rising tides: Internally Displaced Persons. Society's upper echelons now occupy luxurious neighbourhoods composed of towering skyscrapers which see them peering down on the huddled masses from almost literal ivory towers. Some of these towers are also used for vertical farming, superficially as an answer to the food-shortage of the climate-ravaged future world but primarily as a method for the powerful, to keep those beneath them helplessly dependant. A reality TV show called Sky Farm, set on one of these towers, allows them to provide both the panem et circenses to keep the main population in line and stars the novel's lower class hero Cait as a presenter and a relatable face for her fellow slum-dwellers. After she inadvertently finds herself on the wrong side of the nation's most powerful, she's flung ass first into a frantic quest to escape their clutches, doing her best to solve her boyfriend's murder, expose the Sky Farm's evil underbelly and remain as free from bullet holes as possible along the way.
While Glaswegian novelist Denise Mina lays the trail for the story to follow, each individual chapter is handled by a different pair of contributing writers and artists. The result is a kaleidoscopic combination of different styles that switches the entire feel of the book from section to section. The dark dystopian hues of comic legend Pat Mills merge with the unthinkably adorable illustrations of French artist Barroux, while Adam Murphy's colourful cartoons sit nervously next to the curse words and heroin-soaked stylings of novelist Irvine Welsh. In addition to all this, Will Morris adds a rise-and-fall crime tale in nostalgic monochrome. Hannah Berry and Dan McDaid bring Mills' and Welsh's words to the panels, and Kate Charlesworth and Mary Talbot combine their talents to create the novel's final chapter and round out the project's impressive line-up. One of the goals of the festival's Stripped segment has been to aid the rise of graphic novels as a form, expanding their audience and legitimising their image. By bringing together the talents of writers and illustrators from different corners of the literary world – acclaimed prose writers, academics, graphic novelists and children's book illustrators – IDP: 2043 strikes a powerful blow to any idea of graphic novels as a lesser.
A Conversation with IDP: 2043 graphic novelist Hannah Berry
The Skinny: How does it feel being here as a graphic novelist, at a festival where traditional prose still dominates?
Hannah Berry: It sounds quite silly but I still feel quite special walking around literary festivals. I'm quite lucky to get to sit here and be handed nice mugs of green tea. The only downside is the inevitable number of articles in newspapers and things saying 'Kapow! Comics not just for kids anymore!' It's like, we know! That's the only downside.
The exact same thing that happens every time a good animated film comes out.
I know! We just need to sit people down with something like Grave of the Fireflies and then, when they leave weeping, they'll understand.
Sounds like a plan. So with the REFRAME exhibition, Hoax: Psychosis Blues, Above the Dreamless Dead and now IDP 2043, a lot of your recent projects have been collaborations – has this been by design or just coincidence?
I know, I've never collaborated before and then this year's been like a collaboration frenzy. I think I just got lonely, I wanted to work with some other people: friends!
I don't know, maybe I said something to someone, like 'I am lonely', and people heard the cry and offered me work.
"We just need to sit people down with something like Grave of the Fireflies and then, when they leave weeping, they'll understand" - Hannah Berry
A while back you said in an interview that you've 'always harboured a hatred of things written by committee' and Denise Mina expressed a similar sort of initial unease at the idea of collaboration.
Yeah, it can go so wrong, there are so many that fall apart quite dramatically. This was the first time that I'd illustrated a long comic that had been written by somebody else and it was actually quite pleasing, quite fun to do.
IDP 2043 has been described in a lot of places as a 'new kind of dystopian sci-fi,' would you agree with that?
Someone actually got in touch via email and told us it was cli-fi: climate fiction. So that was something new and exciting that I'd never heard of. I think science fiction has to have a nice dystopian element, and the dystopian element has to be about things that people are actually worried about. Whereas it used to be social decay and corruption – society sort of tearing itself apart – now I think it's the climate aspect. So I suppose that's reasonably new-ish.
Denise Mina also described it as “a comic for people who don't read comics,” how does that one fit?
Yes I think it is and I think it's also quite a nice mix of styles so everyone can sort of latch on to the style they like the most. I guess it's nice to show the range of work that's out there, that it's not all big muscles, tights and boobs. Something for everyone to be drawn to.
[Followed by several minutes of effusive apologies for the awful accidental pun and requests for it not to be included. No such promises are made.]