June 9, 2015, by Oliver Thomas
Comics about Sparta
Lynn Fotheringham talks about how she got interested in Sparta’s depiction in comics – the subject of an event at Lakeside Museum this Saturday.
One Tuesday evening in spring 1998, a friend of mine showed up at the pub with the first issue of a comic telling the story of Thermopylae. If it had been in French, Italian, or Spanish, that wouldn’t have been a surprise (the Europeans produce comics in a wide range of genres), but this was in English – and it had the sort of production values usually only lavished on superhero comics in the UK/US market at that time. The comic in question was Frank Miller’s 300, and it owed its existence and its expensive look to Miller’s love for the story and his enormous clout in the industry.
None of us could have predicted the impact that work would have – the 2006 film adaptation, its enormous financial success, and the number of films set in ancient Greece released since. Nor could I have predicted the impact the comic would have on my own life. I always wanted to publish something on Classics & comics, but as a Ciceronian, I thought I would start with a work focused on Roman history. But then I joined the same department as Sparta-expert Steve Hodkinson, who invited me to talk about ‘300’ at a conference he was holding. I mugged up on a topic I hadn’t thought about much since I was an undergraduate, and that became my first Classics & comics publication.
Then I learned that a friend of a friend, comics-writer Kieron Gillen, was planning a mini-series set in fourth-century B.C. Lakonia. I put Steve and Kieron in touch, and found myself in the privileged position of observing their collaboration – something else I hope to publish on some day. The collected edition of the mini-series Three appeared last year, with a transcript of a conversation between Steve and Kieron in the back.
If you’re in Nottingham this Saturday, there’s an opportunity to make your own comics set in Sparta, at a workshop (£8/£4 concessions) delivered by Kieron and Steve along with poetry-comics creator Chrissy Williams. They will introduce a range of ancient Greek stories about the bizarre customs and witty sayings of the Spartans (all relayed to us by non-Spartan writers such as Plutarch, for whose relationship with Sparta see this blogpost).
The stories selected include some that can be turned into very simple comic-strips as well as more complex ones for the more ambitious, and the emphasis is on story-telling so don’t worry about your drawing skills: stick-figures and collage techniques are both encouraged! The stories are also suitable for children: parents concerned about this issue are welcome to get in touch (lynn dot fotheringham at nottingham dot ac dot uk) for a preview of the material.
The workshop will be preceded by a lecture in which Steve and Kieron discuss their work together. (This will include images from Three, some of which involve graphic violence.)
Top, bottom-right: (c) Matt Brooker.
Centre-right photo: (c) Lynn Fotheringham. Comics about Sparta from Lynn & Steve’s collections – from top left: Patrick Weber & Christophe Simon, Sparte. 1. Ne jamais demander grace; Frank Miller & Lynn Varley, 300; Kieron Gillen, Ryan Kelly & Jordie Bellaire, Three; 300; Enrique V. Vegas, 600.