Faction Presents High Water: Damon Keen Interview

New Zealand publisher Faction Comics have a new themed anthology HIGH WATER launching tomorrow night in Auckland, 6:30pm at Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium. The launch will feature guest speaker Russel Norman and performances by Tourettes/The Climate Quartet. I asked HIGH WATER Editor Damon Keen a few questions about the background of producing a climate change themed anthology.

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Matthew Emery: When did you first become aware of climate change?

Damon Keen: The late 1980s if I remember correctly! I've always been fascinated by science, so I was interested in global warming from quite a young age. Also the Montreal Protocol had just come into effect, phasing out ozone-destroying CFCs, so I naively imagined a similar fix for greenhouse gases at the time.

But yeah... it's been over 25 years of watching our politicians do nothing. So while it's been great to see the green movement grow, between Abbott in Australia and Key in New Zealand, and a media owned heart-and-soul by the corporates, it's a bit disheartening at times.

Image from High Water by Ross Murray

Emery: I know you've campaigned to promote climate change awareness in avenues other than comics, have you personally experienced pushback from climate change deniers?

Keen: Absolutely; particularly online of course. Often it's people spewing out nearly incomprehensible gibberish, and crazy claims that have no basis in the modern understanding of climate change or even science. They're often just trolls, and not remotely interested in reasoned discussion, which I suppose makes them easier to ignore.

More disturbing is having encountered quite intelligent people who hold these beliefs. I talked to someone recently who had been soured by Auckland University Professor (and NZ Herald favourite), De Freitas, a man who insists on feeding his students denial information. Reasonably enough they think they're getting balanced information. They always parrot the old chestnut about "dissenters in science" having their place.

Yeah, De Freitas isn't Galileo.

Other deniers, who I would consider relatively scientifically literate (as much as I am, anyway), strike me as a real baffling curiosity. In the end I wonder if they cling to their beliefs out of a kind of incomprehension in the face of change. I think people really fear change - of any kind, and when things have been stable for a while they really struggle to imagine that things could be different. I think it just becomes easier for them to believe that things must stay the same - largely because they simply can not conceive of their lives changing that radically.

Image from Dear Hinewai by Dylan Horrocks.

Emery: Can you talk a bit about Creative NZ's involvement in the High Water anthology?

Keen: Creative NZ funded Faction to help pay for the printing costs of "Faction 3" and this special themed issue of Faction - "Faction Presents High Water". We hope to do more of these themed Faction hardbacks in future. They won't be included in the normal numbering of Faction issues (for those of us who are OCD inclined - like myself!).

Anyway, it was Faction's first support from CNZ, so wonderful to have! I think they're a lot more open to supporting the NZ comic community these days - and it's hugely appreciated. But actually High Water was also independently funded by a friend of mine, who thought it was a worthy cause and donated money to help make this happen. We're really indebted to her generosity.

Emery: Did you have editorial input into the comics in High Water?

Keen: Only to the extend that I outlined a few conditions to the artists about what we were envisaging from the beginning - and the kind of book it would be. Additionally I fed back a few ideas here and there as the comics came in, and asked for the occasional cosmetic change. However to be honest, these artists are all working to a very high standard, so my input just wasn't that necessary.

Come to think of it - my main job was chasing the ratbags down, to make sure they delivered!

Image from Below the Waves by Katie O'Neill.

2014 in Review: Li Chen

What have been your personal cartooning/comics highlights of 2014?
I published my third volume of Extra Ordinary this year! It was a lot less stressful this second time around (I published Vol 1 & 2 at the same time in 2012) and I got to enjoy the process more. I'm really pleased with how the book turned out.

What are some of the comics you've enjoyed in 2014?
I know I've mentioned Yotsuba&! before but I'm still addicted to it. Every time I read it I discover new things that I try to implement into my own work. I've also been getting into Kate Beaton's comics.

What is something non-comics that you have enjoyed in 2014?  
Every year I get really excited about the International Film Festival and this year I fell in love with a French animated film called Ernest and Celestine. It is such a beautiful, funny, and delightful movie and the soundtrack is great. I can't say enough good things about it, it's brilliant.

What are you looking forward to in 2015?
In 2012 when you asked me this question I said "Making more comics, making more art. Petting cats." That's pretty much still relevant.