Nine O'clock Finish

Published in Overland #200. 2010. 

With some surprise I received an email out of the blue from Jeff Sparrow, the editor of Overland, to adapt a short story from the literary magazine’s first issue into comic form for their then, upcoming issue #200. Moreover, it would be in colour and I'd be paid. 

I love nothing more than being asked to do something different, so I tackled it with relish. To accompany the published comic, I was also asked to write a short explanatory article on what my methods were, to which you may read, here: 

John Morrison’s Nine O’Clock Finish is not a naturally visual story, having, as it were, a single setting in the cargo hold and deck of the Nestor, and a time frame of perhaps half an hour, wherein a small gang of waterside workers debate the merits of direct action versus negotiation. It could have transferred to the stage very well; Morrison’s original even sports a Greek chorus, with a couple of blokes commenting from the side as they stand by an idle winch. 

A graphic story is visual, so I had to make it interesting beyond being eight pages of panels with talking heads. There were a few possible ways of achieving this: shifting the scene; manipulating the point of view or frame; or changing the ‘acting’ of the characters. Since Jeff, Overland’s editor, thought the original had currency in today’s workplace environment, particularly on the waterfront, where many of us have heard little since the heady days of the 1998 dispute with Patrick stevedores, I decided to bookend the original with a contemporary scene that directly relates the past to the present. 

As for manipulation of frame and ‘acting’, I have long tried to give readers a reason to read the pictures so that they are not merely identifiers of who is speaking or narrating. The graphic story frame operates like the proscenium of a theatre or the frame of cinema: it encloses a time and space that is presented to an audience – or reader, in this case. Thus I, as artist, stage the scene using the formal properties of visual art such as figure/ground, scale, line and colour. My aim is to create a vivid sense of time and place, so that the reader sees past the hand-drawn image and disappears into the drama of the story. The film director Robert Wise used to argue that a director has done his job if no one notices his technique, but Brecht and Godard would have it otherwise. At times, I agree with them. A reader should have cause to go back and re-read a work, picking up detail that was missed on the first pass – the body language of the characters, their relationship to one another – using the same cues as they would in real life. After all, the story is set in a time and place that Morrison experienced first hand. It is not history but historical; not a documentary but a human drama. That is where art and life connect: at the level of shared experience. If I have done my job well, then I hope the reader will be moved in some way..

Type: Short Story