Quite naturally at A Place To Hang Your Cape, we love conversing with fellow film, TV and comic geeks, so we were delighted when SelfMadeHero let us have a read of Edward Ross’ Filmish, a graphic novel detailing a brief yet diverse history of film. It’s a book that you could use as a reference text in your dissertation as much as you could use as a handsome ramble through some of film’s key concepts.
We recently had a chat with Ross about the book, and discuss the joys of film, what makes Filmish stand out from other books on the subject and the impossible task of choosing his favourite film!
A Place To Hang Your Cape: You talk of how your early life as a self-confessed film-nerd lead to the idea for Filmish, what made you want to produce Filmish as a graphic novel rather than a straight forward book?
Edward Ross: Filmish came together the way it did entirely by chance. I studied film at university and always really enjoyed the process of researching and writing essays, but coming out of university I knew that I wanted to pursue creativity rather than academia. Working at Edinburgh’s independent cinema, the Filmhouse, it was known that I was beginning to dabble in comics, and I was asked to create something for the member’s newsletter. It was here that I had the idea for Filmish – the perfect marriage of my love of film theory and my burgeoning passion for communicating through comics. Really, the idea of producing a straight forward book about film never occurred to me – but comics were a way to look at those interesting elements of film in a much more relaxed and absorbing manner than I ever could just with words.
AP2HYC: Can you expand a little more on your credentials as a film buff?
Ross: Hah, I don’t know what else I can do to prove it to you! To be frank, I’m not even sure I am exceptionally qualified. I know a lot bigger film buffs are out there. But the point of Filmish was never to be a know-it-all. It’s a celebration of the films I love, from Die Hard to Mirror, and ultimately I want people of all tastes and all levels of obsession to be able to pick up the book and find something that will give them a new outlook on cinema. I don’t think anyone should be excluded from the debate about what the movies mean just because they don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of film.
AP2HYC: Aside from the cover, Filmish is an entirely black and white affair. Why this method?
Ross: It started as a practicality when I first self-published the early Filmish mini comics. But I think that look has come to define it in a lot of ways. My drawings, and their black and white nature bring a degree of separation from the films I’m talking about – these aren’t just film stills presented as proof of what I’m arguing, but comic book renderings of these movies that help to us to look at these famous scenes with fresh eyes.
AP2HYC: I found Filmish to work as both an academic text and a more playful romp through film’s basic elements. Would you agree?
Ross: It’s certainly designed to be an accessible piece of work, and I worked really hard to make it something that someone with no background in film theory could pick up and read through. That said, I think the lack of a clear chronology through film history could trip some people up. But I never wanted to present the story of film in that way. We don’t watch films in order of their creation, and the way a film from 1920s Germany can play off one from 1980s Hollywood can actually be really interesting and tell us a lot about the nature of the movies.
AP2HYC: How did you go about marrying the sprawling topics you write about with such neat, digestible artwork?
Ross: Filmish was all written before I even put much thought into the drawings, always knowing that making the arguments as clear and concise as possible was the number one priority. The visuals followed with two main jobs – to illustrate and illuminate these arguments, and to give the reader a pleasurable way to process this information. My style just naturally suits this kind of topic, and has evolved over the years to really present things as clearly as it can.
AP2HYC: With all the films and texts you reference throughout the book, was it a lengthily piece to put together?
Ross: Ignoring the three years I spent self-publishing Filmish before starting work on the book, you’re looking at about two years’ worth of work, split about fifty-fifty between writing and artwork. Once I had the chapters down, and structure decided, it was basically a task of researching and writing each chapter individually, diving back and forth here and there when I discovered something interesting. It’s a book that probably wouldn’t have been possible without the internet – it’s amazing the amount we can access through the web in terms of academic texts, and hopefully in time more and more will become freely available so that those outside academia can learn from the work being done in universities.
AP2HYC: What would you say makes Filmish stand apart from all the other introductory texts about film?
Ross: Well I’ve not read all the introductory texts about film so I can’t speculate too strongly, but I think Filmish has two strengths over a lot of other writing on film. One is that it’s presented in comic form, which gives the reader a nice casual access point to get into these quite complex arguments. The second I’d say is that I’m not committed to teaching it all – I never set out to make a definitive guide to the history of cinema, so the book instead touches upon the things I find interesting, with chapters based on topics I think people will enjoy reading about. It’s a distillation of hundreds of fascinating ideas that other people have covered in greater length and detail, but which I can present in an introductory way, showing people where to go if they want to know more.
AP2HYC: Have you any other projects you’re working on?
Ross: I’ve already started planning my next book, but am still weighing up my options of what exactly that will be about. I’m also currently illustrating a short comic about Sleeping Sickness for the Wellcome Trust Centre For Molecular Parasitology over in Glasgow. It’s a really interesting topic, and goes nicely with some of the other biomedical comics I’ve done over the years.
AP2HYC: Lastly, if you had to pick just one, what is your all-time favourite film?
Ross: That’s an impressively impossible question. By sheer number of times watched it would be a toss up between Jurassic Park and Die Hard, but I could name a hundred others. In comedy it might be The Big Lebowski; in horror The Thing; in sci-fi maybe 2001: A Space Odyssey. I can’t and won’t pick one!
Have you read Filmish yet? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!