Comics Features Interviews

Community, Compassion, and Comics: An Interview with 24 Panels’ Kieron Gillen and Rhona Martin

A few months ago I had the opportunity to review Kieron Gillen, Steven Thompson, and Rhona Martin‘s beautiful 24 Panels. 24 Panels is an anthology made to raise money for the survivors of the Grenfell fire. It’s an anthology created with care and thoughtfulness. A selection of stories varied in content and tone but united in a sincere humanism and compassion.

So I was positively thrilled to get the opportunity to catch up with creators Gillen and Martin about their book.

A Place to Hang Your Cape: In what ways has the conversation around the Grenfell fire changed in the past year and a half? In what ways do you think it should have changed?

Rhona Martin: We’re not spokespeople for the Grenfell community, nor are we experts in the field of mental health (however, I do suffer from longterm PTSD and that was the prime motivation behind our projects). We’re trying to raise money as best as we can to help the experts assist those affected by this horrific and unjust event. Even if it’s only a bit.

I’m sure people are as angry and frustrated as they were 18 months ago and feel forgotten and ignored. Public enquiries drag on because that is the nature of investigation; hopefully lessons will be learned from enquiries such as Hillsborough and no stone will be left unturned, but for those directly involved (like the families of the Hillsborough victims), I’m sure they feel nothing is happening and harbour the feeling that no one will be held accountable.

AP2HYC: Given the subject matter, were there any personal challenges and additional stresses with 24 Panels? And, if so, did you have any particular method for dealing with them?

Martin: Steve and I already had experience from co-creating the prose anthology 24 Stories; this prepared the ground for 24 Panels so there wasn’t too much in the way of unexpected events or stresses.

I think when you have the right team of people all lending their own skills and quirks, it helps overcome any bumps along the way.

Kieron Gillen: I was the new boy to it, so I leaned on Rhona and Steve’s experience. They were great with me.

AP2HYC: How did you go about creating the balance of tones and styles for the book?

Gillen: Some of the balance is hard-baked into the concept. As in, half the book is from open submissions, the other half from curated professionals. The open submissions means it automatically becomes one of the community – the people contributing are the people who want to be involved. That means we got a mass of voices, meaning we could select ones with a fine array of styles.

In the curation side, it’s a case of just reaching out to talent and thinking how can we create a portrait of comics and community in 2018. As such, diversity on multiple vectors was on my mind – not just of identity, but also style of the creator’s work and their position in the medium. I leaned towards creators with a connection to London, to try and make it speak to the place. London is a complicated city. As such, the book should be the same. I hope we achieved that.

AP2HYC: What was the most unexpected part of working on this project?

Martin: Oh wow, there are so many things; all pleasant! I’m not from a comics background and discovering how warm, approachable, and welcoming the comics community was (creators and comic fans alike), that’s been fantastic. I felt very welcomed and that in itself tapped into the “community” thread running through 24P.

We didn’t expect the volume and quality of writing and artistry we received from our open call for submissions (there are some seriously talented people out there who need to keep creating!) Also the readiness of very well known industry names to unite and create original work sympathetic to our brief of: Community, Hope, Unity and Positivity.

Gillen: The expected unexpected is what is the joy of comics. You open the inbox, and you see a new page. You’re expecting it, of course, but the exact nature of the page is unexpected. Seeing how a bunch of my favourite friends and peers responded to the formal challenge of the book (as in, no more than 21 pages) was a hell of a thing. Seeing how the wider comics community responded was another.

AP2HYC: What would you like readers to take away from the collection?

Martin: I hope an increased empathy and the seeds of understanding will be something to take away as well as joy from seeing such rich and varied display of talent and good will.

Gillen: For me, that’s an answer which varies according to the individual reader. I lean towards the idea that art should increase empathy and insight. I always hope our book does that. But, as a charity book, what I really hope readers take away is a desire to get their friends to buy copies of the book so we can get more money for the cause.

AP2HYC: What advice do you have for creators looking to serve their communities in a similar manner?

Martin: Firstly: what’s your idea and how/where do you want to direct it? Open up to other like-minded people and go for it. Get all kinds of people involved. Don’t be afraid to create. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions (because there’s no such thing!) Also, don’t rush at it, enjoy the process.

AP2HYC: What can readers do to further support people suffering PTSD and mental illness in general?

Martin: I’d ask people to get educated; speak to the person who has the diagnosis and learn how it impacts them as an individual; seek out information from reliable written material and websites like the Royal College of Psychiatry, medical professionals, MIND, and other relevant organisations and charities. I’d also like to add that while PTSD falls within the field of psychiatry, it isn’t solely psychological and can over time affect the body in many ways, so if you know someone who has been diagnosed with PTSD please understand that it manifests in multiple ways. Be patient, allow them to guide you in the best ways to respond to their needs.

AP2HYC: Can you tell us a bit about any current projects?

Martin: I’m always busy! Apart from the demands of daily life, I’m continuing to spread the word about 24 Panels and our prose based anthology 24 Stories. Steve and I are working on a documentary film about New Wave music called Couldn’t Miss This!

Unfortunately poor Steve is so snowed under with work that he was unable to take part in this interview.

Gillen: My current main project is getting over jet-lag!

And with that you can support 24 Panels and the survivors of the Grenfell fire with Image Comics. If you’re looking to learn more about PTSD and the treatments thereof, you can find relevant information from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. If you managed to donate to this lovely cause, let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!

About the author

Aliza Cohen