The back story to my comic strips in the International Times:
In the mid-1970s the International Times underground newspaper was re-incarnated with a new editorial board of devotees, a blast of punk aesthetic and a swaggering commitment to ex-editor Mick Farren’s editorial philosophy of “lies, hysteria and abuse”.
Of course the board was dominated by men (and boys) but radical feminism was in the air… perhaps that’s why I was inspired to create a regular comic strip, encouraged by veteran I.T. editor Mike Lesser. I was a great fan of the Beano and Dandy and I dreamt up a British riposte to Fat Freddy's Cat and Robert Crumb, whose Californian characters dominated the Underground press. I decided to turn Beryl the Peril, Dennis the Menace, the Bash Street Kids et al into their adult 1970s selves: living in squats, dealing dope, getting busted, and as the 70s drew to a close, discovering radical politics.
The first strips were all true stories told me by my friends. Later, as I grew ever closer to my characters, they began to reflect events and issues important to our lives, to represent that heady time of riots and rage in run-down Notting Hill.
Radical feminist Theatre Company ‘Beryl and the Perils’ then asked me to create posters and eventually a comic book programme for their 1981 performance 'Is Dennis the Real Menace?' - now archived in ‘Unfinished Histories: Recording the Histories of Alternative Theatre' (www.unfinishedhistories.com/history/companies/beryl-and-the-perils)
Then, as now, I was a practicing artist, reflecting the world around me. I was the only woman making comics and political cartoons for I.T. I never signed my strips because we feared we might be sued for corruption of iconic characters. So I was the anonymous ‘Sensa Parolee’, and when I.T. finally died in a dramatic fire in Covent Garden, my characters only made brief appearances in friends’ 30th birthday cards, with Dennis increasingly angst ridden in the 1980’s world of power suited women, mobile phones and mortgages. Beryl, a pioneer of ‘turkey baster’ conception, did get a mortgage together with her co-parent and girlfriend 'Jinny the Jemmy' - now morphed into a high-achieving property lawyer specialising in basement disputes. They live dynamically in Hanwell, Beryl a robust promoter of organic gardening and a secret Lib Dem voter. I don’t think Dennis ever got a mortgage. Somehow without any effort on his part (except occasional contributions to the washing up rota and watering the dope plants) his squat morphed into a Housing Association in North Kensington and there he is to this day - older and not necessarily wiser, traumatised by the transformation of his local boozer into a Bar with cocktails and wild boar ‘sides’; buffeted by the rain and wind as he smokes his roll-ups outside, illumined by the glow from estate agents and ephemeral boutiques, watching the last greengrocer in Notting Hill put up his shutters for the last time…"
Nicola Lane aka Sensa Parolee / written for Richard Adams & Paul Gravett / March 11th 2014
7 Reasons Why the Future is Still Possible
performed by participants from the Art Salon
at GSK Contemporary, Royal Academy /
Reason No.2 written & performed by Nicola Lane:
"My piece arises from conversations with my friend, the mathematical philosopher Mike Lesser. It is also informed by Dr. Paul Darke’s essay, An Introduction to Normality Theory. Dr Darke writes:
"…NORMALITY (in its essential fiction) is highly unstable and fragile, within the individual and within society as a whole."
A definition of NORMALITY can be found in the process of averaging. When we NORMALISE something, we make it equal to some norm or standard.
Keith Calkin of Andrews University writes;
‘It can be shown under very general assumptions that the distribution of independent random errors of observation takes on a NORMAL distribution as the number of observations becomes large. The mathematician Gauss was one of the first to characterize this distribution, which also has the shape of a bell, hence another name, The Bell-shaped Curve.’
This process of averaging causes the loss of information.
An example is when you digitalise photographs for the web: you lose pixels in order to compress the image into a jpeg file. These pixels can never be retrieved. But this loss is very useful.
Let us now think about a situation where it is useful to GAIN information, not to lose it. Imagine a scenario of evolution: a creature in its environment… A creature that adapted itself to the largest resources available in its environment would flourish: until those resources ended. Then the creature would perish, as it knows of no other resource.
The question is, how can a creature prepare itself for changes that it can’t anticipate?
The answer is VARIETY.
Why variety? Because to enable a species to flourish when there is a high rate of change in the environment, it is best to encourage an increase in variety.
Variety is non optimal. This means it is not the best thing to be. It is not the most immediately profitable thing to be.
People who do not do what most people do are described by mathematicians involved in mathematical modeling as DIVERGENT PEOPLE. Divergent people add variety.
When there is a high rate of change in society- as when farming began, in the Paleolithic revolution or in the recent electro-mechanical revolution - we clearly need more variety, more diversity – we need to GAIN information, not to lose it.
Here is a story from the Iliad. I have compressed the story in order to save time and therefore much has been lost…
During the Trojan Wars there was a gifted archer called Philoctetes, to whom the dying Herakles gave his bow and quiver of poisoned arrows- guaranteed to deliver death.
But afterwards- for reasons unclear except to the Gods - Philoctetes was bitten by a serpent on his foot and the wound became a festering, foul smelling horror. So Odysseus abandoned him on an island - with only the death-delivering bow and arrows for consolation.
10 years later it was revealed to Odysseus that he could not win the Trojan War unless he recovered the death-dealing bow and arrows of Herakles from Philoctetes; but unfortunately, Philoctetes had to come too. Otherwise- death-dealing bow and arrows wouldn’t work.
There followed a tangle of ethical dilemmas - but essentially, Odysseus had very unwisely discarded the divergent Philoctetes and with him he had discarded the information that could win the war.
Discard divergent and diverse variety at your peril. Because we are living in times of great change.
Nicola Lane / 2008
In Memoriam Mike Lesser