In Haunt

- By Emily Oldfield

‘To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you,’ – so roll the almost-apocalyptic, intense lyrics of Ian Curtis – frontman and lyricist of the iconic band Joy Division (formerly Warsaw) and a complex creative whose work was often inspired by the dark, urban impressions of 1970s Manchester.

Now a piece of vivid pictorial history New Dawn Fades – A Graphic Novel About Joy Division and Manchester has been released, giving a gripping alternative account of the city.

The book has been written and illustrated by Brian Gorman, a local man who is also behind a successful stage show of the same name. It also contains a foreword from esteemed music writer Mick Middles, whilst designed and edited by Giles D Bastow, who HAUNT recently featured following his creation of a horror music video in Hulme for the band Evil Blizzard.

New Dawn Fades – A Graphic Novel About Joy Division and Manchester is intended to be a companion piece to Gorman’s original stage play, which has been impressing audiences for a number of years, making its debut at the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival in July 2013. Now, due to popular demand, planning is underway with producer Giles Bastow, to tour across the UK (with a number of European dates) next year.

Both the play and the new book take the form of an alternative history of the city and Joy Division with a gritty feel – packed with emotion, dark humour, domestic strife and of course, music. The name ‘New Dawn Fades’ itself after all is taken from a track on the band’s dark and delving debut album Unknown Pleasures, released in 1979.

The graphic novel itself is likely to continue the profound impression, with Brian’s own evocative black and white ink-based illustrations chronicling the rise and fall of the iconic post-punk band, as well as the influence of Manchester’s wider history upon them. Highly-anticipated, it has been ten years in the making.

Testament to the DIY ethos which is the cornerstone of much of Manchester’s alternative creative culture, the book also includes a selection of stunning colour photographs by local photographer Shay Rowan, who has followed New Dawn Fades from the very beginning. New Dawn Fades is evidently a work which supports and celebrates the city’s grassroots, stories and talent.

Although the members of Joy Division themselves were from a number of areas around Manchester – Ian Curtis and Stephen Morris were actually based in Macclesfield for example, whilst Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner were from Salford – the city was still the place where they completed some of their most powerful work.

For example, Joy Division regularly used the gritty T J Davidson's Rehearsal Studio on Little Peter Street (where the promo video for ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was shot), made their debut gig at Collyhurst Street’s neglected-bingo-hall-turned-punk-venue The Electric Circus in 1977 and played a number of evocatively-named locations in Manchester including The Squat, Rafters and Pips.

Their image often incorporated urban industrial bleakness – with some of the most iconic photographs of them taken on Hulme’s Epping Walk Bridge and outside Manchester Cathedral. The Joy Division debut EP ‘An Ideal For Living’, released in 1978, even roused its own dark controversy at the time, with cover art featuring the image of a Hitler Youth boy playing a drum, and the later 12-inch vinyl displaying a harsh scene of scaffolding.

Gorman’s graphic novel keeps this distinct imagery in mind, giving a real flavour of the urban and intense experiences of the band. This involves a number of encounters - from early gigs, to meeting Tony Wilson, to Curtis’ terrifying confrontations with his own epilepsy and ultimate suicide in 1980, aged 23.

Handled in a skilled, sensitive and yet poignantly perceptive manner, Gorman’s graphic novel explores the history of not just a band, but the wider city also. An array of historical figures and events which shaped the city are within, including Roman General Julius Agricola, The Peterloo Massacre, Dr John Dee, Friedrich Engels, The Industrial Revolution, The Drones and The Sex Pistols.

It has to be seen to be believed – and the graphic novel, published by Invisible Six Books, is available for order online www.invisiblesix.co.uk, priced at £15, with a launch event in Manchester to be soon announced.

HAUNT Manchester spoke to the writer and illustrator himself, Brian Gorman, to find out more:

Hello Brian. The story of Joy Division is both hard-hitting and influential.  Why did you choose the graphic novel format to approach this?

“I was originally writing and drawing a graphic novel history of Salford and Manchester, back around 2009. I'd just moved to the area (Salford), and I'm always fascinated by the history of a particular location. A friend of mine, Bryan Talbot, had recently had a graphic novel published called 'Alice In Sunderland', which chronicles the entire history of Sunderland, using the works of Lewis Carroll as a theme. I was inspired.

“During my research, I came across footage of Joy Division on television in the 1970s, and loved the music immediately. I'd had little knowledge of them, as my childhood in 1970s Wigan had been bereft of much exposure to popular music. I then decided to base the graphic novel around the band, and see if I could find links to historical events in Salford and Manchester. I was also hugely influenced by Alan Moore's 'From Hell', which told the story of Jack The Ripper, but also included narrative links to the history of London and the Whitechapel area.”

The graphic novel doesn’t just tell the story of Joy Division, but Manchester too. Why do you think drawing attention to the city’s wider history is important and why do you think Joy Division as a band facilitate this?

“Joy Division are perfect for a story about the history of Manchester, as Ian Curtis' lyrics appear to be intensely concerned with time and place. "To the centre of the city, where all roads meet ..." (from the song 'Shadowplay') seems to be saying that everything is connected, and everything links to one central source. Time and location.

“I was amazed to discover that Dr John Dee, Elizabeth the First's adviser/astrologer/occultist, had come up to Manchester, in his later years, and become warden of St Mary's Church (which is now the cathedral). A small bridge, over a now long-disappeared waterway, linked the church to the town, and Dee would have used it. That bridge is located in what is now a narrow alleyway called Hanging Bridge. In 1979, Kevin Cummins took a famous photograph of Joy Division walking down the alleyway. This inspired me to write a scene where Curtis and Dee meet. Two men occupying the same space, but at different moments in time.  It is my favourite scene in the stage play, and I've always found it to be tremendously spooky, unnerving, and quite terrifying.”

Many of the graphic novel illustrations are dark and intense. How did you achieve this effect? Can you tell us a little bit more about your technique?

“I've always loved black and white for its purity, and atmosphere. I love shadows, and sharp contrasts. The songs of Joy Division are seen as quite dark, melancholic, unnerving, and often very disturbing. Also, most of the photographs we have of the band are in black and white, as they emerged in the 1970s, and only achieved great popularity following Curtis' death.

“I prefer to draw in black and white, and I feel my style is well suited to the Joy Division story. I use a lot of photo reference, as it's very important to get the faces, wardrobe, and body language of real people correct.

“Also, I tried to find many of the actual locations, and take my own reference photos. Hanging Bridge is wonderfully atmospheric, especially just before dawn, and I took quite a few photos there, and discovered some actual builders' inscriptions etched into the brickwork.

“I draw in pencil, first, then add ink, and finally a bit of shading with pencil again. I like to work with very basic materials, and avoid computers as much as possible, as I feel it's vital that the art is created as organically as possible.”

Would you say that the graphic novel draws attention to the darker side of the city’s culture - and why?

“Yes. Manchester has been at the heart of many great historical events. The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 was a hugely significant event that had repercussions for the whole country, and the world. Democracy had to be fought long and hard for. Blood was spilled, and people were maimed and murdered by the authorities, on the spot where The Free Trade Hall was later built, and where the Sex Pistols inspired many new bands. Joy Division sprang to life on the very spot the massacre happened.

“There was also the industrial revolution, where Manchester prospered and technology advanced, but at the cost of many lives. Light has often sprung from darkness, and hope from despair.”

The book has been ten years in the making. What has been the biggest challenge and what has been the most rewarding thing?

“The biggest challenge was finding a way to get the book published. There were false starts along the way, and the stage play came about when I thought the book would never see the light of day. No matter the quality, it's extremely difficult to get a publisher to take a chance on you unless you are already a celebrity, or a 'name'. It's a vicious circle.

“Once the show was a success, I knew there was interest in the story, and how the story was told. I started a crowdfunder, and many people who loved the show helped to bring the graphic novel about. I will be forever grateful to those people who took a chance, and are now able to hold the book in their hands. 

“The most rewarding thing is knowing that if you love something enough, then you simply have to keep going, keep trying, and never give up.”


www.invisiblesix.co.uk

Live theatre photography: with thanks to Shay Rowan

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  1. El Neil
    A very revealing piece, looking forward to getting my hands on copies of the book when Brian speaks and signs copies at the opening of El Manisero at EVA Manchester on November 29... www.elmanisero.co.uk

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