Sunday, 19 May 2013

In Defence of Good Ideas : Drink & Draw

A good and supportive friend told me last night (this morning) that I should write down a rant that I delivered (briefly and with precision) as we waited for a taxi. 

I at first thought 'Surely everyone knows this stuff already? And I'm hardly in the first circle - I'm just an eavesdropper and an interested fanboy. The people who were in at the beginning must have already vented their disappointments, and pointed out the true facts, surely?'

But maybe not. People can be too polite to say. And the point was made to me that, increasingly, people just accept every change that happens without criticism & without memory: without choosing to care that something's shifted.

Me, I think it is SHOCKING when good ideas - good, creative, DIY ideas - get rebranded, get claimed and marketed, get the goodness of the idea taken out and get turned into a brand-echo. When the brand is then recirculated aggressively, widely, successfully, it covers up the original good idea. So that people like me who liked the good idea ( & who sometimes originate the good idea), get turned into outsiders who are just critical of reality. So if we want to join in we have to forget our criticisms? How wrong is that?

Sometimes I hate being a radical, being a moaner and a stubborn idealist. I just wanna ride the stream like the rest: join in with some nice creative endeavours, meet some good people to share some time with, experience some music and some moments of magic.

But then if you're 'serious' about being part of a scene, or if you really do love an artform and take it to your heart ... 

If you join an event and talk to people about doing something similar again, then you become the kind of person who can make a good idea happen. And if there are repetitive cycles of cynicism or of mercantile thieving-and-destroying out there, as I believe, then I think those who care about those good ideas need to start putting up a bit of defence. 

So, Drink And Draw.

I am going to write this first, and THEN check on the internet. It will be a nice experiment to test my memory against the recorded facts. But it can also be disempowering to be constantly in thrall to the 'right answer' already being out there on the internet. It stops us having a conversation, of putting our thoughts into words, and of modulating them. So apologies if this IS inaccurate, but here it is nonetheless:

Drink and Draw is a good idea. It is a get-together of people who like drawing comics, and it began in a particular US city at a particular US time. The aim was to create something sociable and inclusive, open and friendly. There were no profit motives and no one was using it as a move up the career ladder (the way that arts graduates in Newcastle are now encouraged to do). It was advertised, all welcome (so long as you were old enough to drink alcohol). The venue was a public space, easy to find, and you paid a small entry fee. The entry fee went on buying a crate or two of beer. And once you had entered, you could help yourself to that beer. No extra costs, no exclusivity, nothing more complicated than getting some fellow drawers and comics fans into a convivial space together. And then some creative stuff happened, according to the interests of those who went. It might have been hosted by a comic shop, or some such hub that the likely people knew.

Fast forward to Newcastle the last couple of years, and the Drink and Draw idea has become an international phrase, much beloved of comics fans and similar folk who like the idea of sharing their art, drawing with friends, and being part of that sort of community of interest. And who like a beer.

The venues: Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle Arts Centre, similar. 

The promoters: not sure, nice people most likely, but in a deal with the venue and maybe also with an 'arts organisation'. 

The door fee:   where does it go? 

The crates of beer:   not present. 

The bar:   charging money. 

The comics artists and drawing people:   only those with spare cash to waste on an entry fee and a charging bar, who don't feel upset or exploited by such a parasitical event drawing on their enthusiasm and their desire to share that convivial creativity together. Punters.

What was a good idea was a DIY, an open, a community-led, a sensible, no strings thing. Something that made sense on its own terms to bring people together and strengthen the community of interest that drew them together. It was given a name to describe it, and thus it spread.

What is now a marketable branding rip-off is deeply depressing in its mundanity. Sometimes it seems like every advertised event is another rip-off: another misuse of words, ideas and interests that we (the community) want to identify with. So we give it a punt and allow a little more exploitation for the sake of being with our fellows (this could be for music, for fanzines, for the environment, for anything, it's certainly not just comics). And maybe we have a good time. But it's a disappointing world, isn't it, that has turned every good idea into another situation like that?

We leave knowing we were there cos we were the punters with some cash in our pockets. And where was that community? I hope it was there somewhere. I always hope it rises above. But it was under attack and it shouldn't be.

Alright, rant done, I'll check the internet later today and add any facts to the comments. See you in a bit.


  1. I get where you're coming from and I do share some sense of your concerns (though perhaps not necessarily the vehemence).

    Must add a note though. Not sure on what side of the argument this entered your thinking but I think it warrants clarification:

    The Canny Comic Con has had two 'Drink and Draw Film Night' things at The Tyneside as 'wrap party' type events for Canny.

    Canny itself is, pretty uniquely, totally free for everything for everyone - and so were the Tyneside events.

    They were ticketed (to manage numbers) but were free and open to anyone (of drinking age).

    Also: yeah, people had to buy their own drinks but then that's fairer than a flat charge for everyone regardless of consumption? The drinking's optional after all.

    Also: the events were informally OK'd by the local chapter of the american Drink & Draw group (even thought there wasn't a direct formal link).

    Also: the Tyneside provided paper and pens and the facilities to show daft comics films on big screens while people drew nonsense. I.e. despite being a business with costs to cover, they were really cool - and motivated to make a good creative event.

    Also: the films themselves were purchased by me. I got zero money of any sort from anyone for anything for Canny and paid for the films (and a variety of other things) out of my own pocket, as part of the wider fact I was doing all the organisation (along with all the other good people helping out) on my own time for no remuneration at all, simply because it seemed like a good thing.

    And: the Drink and Draw events were a geet good laugh and there were, as far as I'm aware, no complaints about anything - just plenty of compliments.

    So: yeah, I hear your concerns about idea/brand appropriation of 'purer' artistic endeavours to slightly more commercial ends, but I trust that this clarifies your memory that the Canny Comic Con Tyneside events most assuredly were, if anything, a move in the opposite direction.


  2. Hey Mike;

    I had been meaning to reply to this, because I've been to a few D&D's in the Bedfordshire area. The people who are doing them literally have no idea how to monetise them, because they've kind of reached out to everybody who is doing them, and it's not a big area.

    To recap, you're saying that after a certain point, the drink and draw sessions - any session, of anything - gets taken over by a capitalistic viewpoint and is used to make money. And that this is a bad thing, because it removes the creative part of the night.

    However, as somebody who ran a pretty busy art email list for a while, which had occasional bursts of serious money, I would certainly have relished the chance to turn some of what I was doing into money. I had to deal with some right bell-ends occasionally, and the prospect of earning money might have made it a bit more tolerable.

    Anyway, I didn't want to leave a giant comment. I wish there was a way to get more nuanced about it. But I do think that there is a thesis and an antithesis in what you are saying, Mike, and I think you should explore it further.

  3. Apologies for only just noticing these comments now. Me and the internet are mates but not, y'know, family. We catch up. I appreciate the time taken to read and to respond to what I put down, and I have no counter-arguments per se.

    One thing my muddled memory is hopefully correct to tell me, however, is that there were Drink & Draw events at the Tyneside before the Canny (maybe differently titled)? I went to one and got priced out early, and it wasn't linked to the Canny Comic Con which I believe to be an excellent and phenomenally free event (I always work away at weekends, that time of year).

  4. Also, you are both lovely, and if I had children you could adopt them.