Sign language and monsters
A bunch of comics-enthusiasts gathered on August 8th at the Comics Center to celebrate the opening of a new exhibition at the Comics Center Gallery. The atmosphere was literally quite warm as people circled inside exploring all kinds of monsters and robots doing their daily routines.
The man behind the exhibition is Matt Boyce (1981), a British artist who comes from a bilingual family. Both his parents are deaf, and he is fluent in English and British sign language. Sign language is part of both his own art and teaching work at a college in London. The Everyday Monsters exhibition is part of Matt’s residency project in the CUNE Comics-in-Residence programme.
The day before the opening I sat down with Matt and we talked about the residency and his stay here in Helsinki. What are his plans for the forthcoming month, what are his first impressions so far and what are the things that inspire him?
Matt told me that during his first week in Finland he has mainly done some touristy things like looking at sights and walking around Helsinki. During his residency Matt will be staying at Suomenlinna, an island off the coast of Helsinki that holds an old maritime fort built in the 18th century. He has been overall impressed by his lodgings at HIAP residence center.
“It’s great to have a big house all for myself. It’s the biggest place I’ve ever stayed in. It’s kind of funny to have a big space for painting and there I am, working on my comics.” During his residency Matt will be working on a new comic book, but that’s still very much a work in progress.
The way Matt uses sign language in his comics interests me. There is no sound involved in comics anyway, and all sounds from speech to effects are presented visually. Does he still feel like it’s important to incorporate sign language into comics? I revealed my ignorance to Matt and he gave me an answer:
“British sign language is different from English, and not everyone who speaks sign language knows English. For me, sign language was the first language I learned, and I still find English weird sometimes even though I can speak it fluently. In my teaching I use simple English and try to keep the style very visual. I teach courses for deaf children, and it’s important that everyone understands the comics I use for teaching.”
The most important thing for Matt is that everyone can draw comics and express themselves. This will also be the basis of the workshop he will be teaching during August at the Comics Center in Helsinki and HIAP’s Gallery Augusta. During the workshop the participants will be making autobiographical comics using sign language, similar to the courses Matt is teaching in London. He showed me some comics made in the workshops by deaf children who are leaving school. In the comics they talk about themselves but also their fears regarding the future. Matt explained to me that in England, deaf children get support and help with studies while they’re at school but after graduation they might have anxieties about the future. In their comics the children talk about their dreams for the future but also the obstacles they might run into.
Matt describes the island he is living on as both strangely silent and filled with tourists at the same time. The tourist crowds have actually given him an inspiration for a zombie-comic – both tourists and zombies are known to wander around in large packs with no sense of direction.
EVERYDAY MONSTERS exhibition is open at the Comics Center Gallery until August 31st.
Interview and exhibition photos by Laura Antola. Matt’s photo by Jack Barnes.