Q&A with Gayle Rogers and Ryan Prout

Q+A on Do Not Pass GO 

RP How do you combine analogue and digital tools and materials in your work, and do you have a preference for one or the other? 

GR I need thinking time before I start a project so I might not draw anything for a few days. I’ll be researching and putting together files of notes or lists of resources around the theme of the project. I enjoy this part as it often throws out a eureka moment or a special gem that I can focus on. Then when I start to understand the project better I’ll draw and write with a 2B or 6B pencil on brown paper- always on brown paper. I either tear a sheet from a big roll of packing paper I have or I use an A3 brown paper sketchbook. Brown paper is cheaper than white so I’m not so precious about making mistakes and trying out ideas on it. It also forces me to consider tone as well as line.  

For this project I started on brown paper then moved to A4 white paper using a 2B pencil and an ink pen. I made line drawings of most of the page ideas and layouts then I scanned them to create jpegs that I imported into digital drawing software on my laptop. I then draw digitally using a digital pen on a touch screen, mindful of leaving space around the image for the text. I worked in layers over the top of the scanned drawings using more details, textures and colour. Eventually I erased the original scanned images, and the digital drawings are all that remain.  

I enjoy using both drawing techniques and see them as tools that work well together, rather than in competition. I have a free drawing app on my mobile phone that I use to sketch ideas or cartoons. I use my finger as a pencil on the phone screen – it’s a quick and simple way to make notes and sketches on the go when I can’t carry my sketchbook and an actual pencil. 

RP Why was the thimble player piece important for you? 

GR I felt that when we were developing DO NOT PASS GO it was a very informative read – but it was a very depressing read too. Even though times are tough – there is hope and good folks out there looking to make the world better, so I felt that needed to be said.  

As I decided early on that the unification of the pages of the comic was going to be through each page having at least one visual representation of a token – I felt that an additional last page could just be a token. As a token is essentially the representation of one player or one person it felt like the comic was being brought back to the individual reader. The thimble to me felt like an embodiment of that reliable, protective and supportive person that helps bring positive change by helping people help themselves. It helps repair damage and guard against more damage. The thimble has so many positive qualities it deserved its own page.  

I worked in furniture design and as an upholsterer for several years and I used thimbles as tools to protect me when I was working. I have memories of seeing my mom and nan using thimbles when they were making and repairing clothes and as a child, I enjoyed wearing the thimbles and playing with them pretending I was making things too.  

When Monopoly was being handmade one board at a time, the designer didn’t supply tokens, rather he suggested players use household items like buttons or thimbles as tokens. It kept his production costs and times down but also allowed players to customise their games. It gave people a little bit of autonomy and choice and I liked that little bit of freedom to be yourself. The thimble has seemed always to have had a unique role in the history of the game – originally as an appropriated object and then as an official token. It has persisted in some guise or another in the game for many years. I like its quiet, understated tenacity. For me it is a symbol of hope passed through generations.   

Some of the tokens I referenced in the piece have been ‘retired’. Some are wooden pegs – as in the Cemetery Junction page. They were made when metal was a precious commodity during wartime, or they were handmade tokens when tokens weren’t supplied with the game. I wanted to celebrate the resourcefulness of early players who made their own tokens and to remind the reader that there is an alternative to the garish plastic houses or hotels and shiny mass-produced tokens.  

You’ll spot tokens you know on the pages and perhaps those you don’t. I like the idea of challenging the reader to think about how a token is being referenced and why it is being used where it is.   

Some of the tokens are familiar, like the boot, which I paired up and put outside the tents in Veterans Alley. Others might be less obvious like the more modern rubber duck token referenced in amongst packing boxes of belongings on another page. I was pleased that I could use the battleships to say something about oligarchs and the war on Ukraine on another page. 

The tokens proved to be useful tools of expression and took the drawings to places they probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise. They unify the comic and reflect how all the issues raised in the text are connected. 

RP Some of the details in this strip, e.g., the reference to homeless veterans, pick up on the conversation we had before you started work on the drawings. Can you expand on that?  

GR I do a lot of walking and cycling in the local landscape and often come across remote abandoned camps and makeshift sites where people have stopped to sleep or eat. Some are well hidden, and I know from stories shared with me that people live ‘wild camping’ in some woods in Wales and some of them are veterans. To expose where they are or the people helping them would be wrong, but I wanted them to be represented in a comic about homelessness and to be ‘seen’. 

RP What seems distinctive to you about telling a story in images?  

GR You can add layers with an image that sometimes take time to peel back and fully engage with the reader – helping them to dive deeper into a subject or thought. The page depicting the homeless penguins uses the penguin token to represent how nature cannot thrive and work if we keep destroying natural habitats. The representation of flightless penguins adds an extra level of pathos to the page. Amiable creatures they appeal to humans with their cute waddling and upright stature, but they are vulnerable to climate change because they can’t just leave their habitat by flying away to survive when their home is melting and being destroyed. The ladder represents a man-made world that is completely inaccessible to much of nature – including the penguins who in turn represent the many displaced and homeless people around the world. Those at the top of the ladder bask in the sunshine believing that they are protected by their ludicrous hats. Their top hats reference the top hat token but also ring masters in a circus who are often depicted wearing them. Ring masters control wild animals for their own personal gain and here these hat wearers have become ring masters keeping the homeless at arm’s length and ‘in their place’ – which is nowhere. Their disregard for the natural world is emphasised through their self-congratulatory high fives endorsing and participating in behaviour that damages everyone and everything they consider below them.  

RP Are there particular graphic artists or styles that have influenced your own practice?  

GR I loved reading from a young age and was constantly head down in a book in a corner somewhere. CB, or truckers’ radio, was big in my youth and those who used it had unique names or handles. As a teenager my CB radio handle was ‘Bookworm’.  

I looked forward to Saturdays when I could get my maximum allowance of books from the library each week. Herge’s Adventures of Tintin series was my favourite as a child. It was many years before I came to truly understand the power of images to help to tell a story. That revelation came when I read Spiegelman’s Maus and it’s been a joy to tell others about this special book and see them have the same experience of discovery as I did. That’s why I started a library in my gallery – the Workers Gallery in Ynyshir, South Wales, and why I have several shelves dedicated to comics and graphic novels. I want others to experience the joy I have reading and looking at them.  

The Inking Woman (edited by Nicola Streeten and Cath Tate) was the book that really helped me to understand the breadth of subjects that graphic novels and comics could cover. It not only introduced me to numerous fabulous inspiring women creating graphic novels, cartoons and comics but also to a community that supports those creators. It’s that community of creators that has been my biggest influence – rather than a particular style or artist. Saying that, I would recommend The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Becoming Unbecoming by Una, Sorry for the Inconvenience…We Are Trying To Save The World by Myfanwy Tristram and Rumble Strip by Woodrow Phoenix. A strange mix of titles I realise but that is the joy of the genre – there is a lot of wonderful work out there if you’re prepared to go exploring.   

GR I know you have some knowledge of how other countries address social housing needs. How did you find out about these? Are there any particular examples that stand out to you? 

RP To write an article on housing politics in Spanish comics and graphic novels I read an anthology of volumes in Francisco Ibáñez’s 13 Rue del Percebe. It’s very funny and also touches on the housing pinch in Spain in the 1960s. The comic’s template is a cross section of a housing block showing people’s tenuous grip on accommodation. There are residents living illegally on the roof; a man living in the sewer beneath the block; and enterprising landladies who maximise income from their rental units by cutting holes in internal walls to make space for tenants to lie down at night.  

Housing has become a very politicised topic in Spain where the constitution recognises an entitlement for all to decent and adequate housing, a guarantee honoured more in the breach than in observance. Researching the background to Ibáñez’s comic was fascinating inasmuch as I learned about the volte-face of the Franco regime in the 1950s: it abandoned a commitment to social housing and instead implemented a policy of proto-Thatcherite home ownership, one legacy of which is that Spain has the highest proportion of owner-occupiers in Europe and a very small and very tight social and rental housing sector.  

In the 2010s Aleix Saló satirised the woeful state of the housing sector in Spain in Spainistan, from the Spanish Building Bubble to the Crisis. In the comic, and the animation based on it, Saló depicts a younger generation taking on 40 year mortgages for the privilege of living in a hole in the ground. Add to this that living space is now being made into a resource for extractive industry by operations such as Air B+B, and another legacy of the earlier shift in policy is the emptying out of residents from Spanish city centres. They are turning from real communities into theme parks. 

I use Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s film Memories of Underdevelopment  in my teaching. One of the scenes that requires some explanation is where Sergio, a member of the rentier class, is present at an inspection of his properties that are about to be turned over to the state in the nationalisation of residential accommodation. Although the film is fiction it illustrates  that after the Revolution (and until the 2010s) there  was no more rentier class in Cuba and there wasn’t home ownership or property. Private homes in previously elite areas were divided up to house working people. People in the UK are very used to the interchangeability of the terms ‘home’ and ‘property’. When I edited a book on Cuban film I had to go through and change a lot of references to ‘properties’ to ‘homes’ because property made no sense in the Cuban context of the time.  

The motifs most commonly associated with the revolution are free heath care, low infant mortality, and very low rates of illiteracy. Just as radical was universal housing and the abolition of the rentier class, though this is often forgotten, perhaps because it’s harder to adjust to a romanticised Western idea of Cuban socialism that resembles life as know it with universal health acre and education but no redistribution of property.   

There are reasons to be cynical about the Revolution, including its abuse of LGBT people. On the other hand, reform of the housing sector and ending homelessness seems laudable. Needless to say, those in Cuba who stood to gain nothing from universal housing and the phasing out of homelessness didn’t appreciate this radical change. Property investors will be looking eagerly for the end of the Revolution to move in on a housing stock benefiting from benign neglect, just as they were after the ending of communism in Europe. 

In Vienna there are comics vending machines. In one of these I saw a volume in Vinz Schwarzbauer’s Herte & Hüne series. From the cover I thought it was about a Ping-Pong tournament in a science fiction utopia. But Alterlaa, where it is set, is a real place. The comic took me there and I was taken aback by how idyllic the whole complex was. It’s telling, somehow, that attractive and decent social housing still seems futuristic. The first 12 floors of each block have planted balconies; there are swimming pools, saunas, indoor playgrounds, and spaces for community associations and clubs. The 3200 flats were built in the 70s and 80s. This one complex by itself doesn’t mean that the housing situation in Austria is perfect, I know; but they must have been doing something different there to the Thatcher-Blair policies that led ultimately to the catastrophe at Grenfell. If social housing is decent and dignified in the first place it doesn’t need to be dressed up with deadly and flammable pastel panels to please the neighbours. 

GR There is a Lifesize Monopoly Experience that you visited. Did you enjoy ‘the experience’? Was it what you expected? Did it cover anything of the history of the game’s development? 

RP I was curious to see how a board came that depends significantly on the imagination is turned into a life-size attraction. It was fun, mainly thanks to the efforts of the animateurs who organised players into teams and gave them puzzles to solve. It feels a bit like being in a game show. The spaces on the board correspond to cabinets around the stage where there are other puzzles to solve, or challenges, like sweeping up as much Monopoly money as you can as it’s blown around by a fan.  

There was a brief introduction to the history of the game, in a video that was shown before the experience started. This was about the commercialising of the game: it didn’t mention its origins, its 30 year development from folk game to a mass-produced item, or Lizzie Magie. The experience was more enjoyable than I expected. On the other hand, it is another indoctrination into the philosophy of ‘greed is good’. Businesses are struggling with hugely inflated rents and you don’t have to go far on Tottenham Court Road, where this experience takes place, to see the effects of this. There are lots of empty retail units where businesses have shut down. There are unhoused people camped out next to Sainsbury’s, and representatives from homelessness charities further up the street encouraging people to sign up to subscription donation plans. London may exist as a sort of Renaissance City State that’s oblivious to the rest of the UK as it sucks in its talents and wealth, but it’s obviously not immune from the devastating after effects of the Covid situation.  

Five minutes away from Monopoly a very frail young woman, thin as a wraith and wearing threadbare clothes and shoes, was holding out her hand asking passers-by for change. Maybe she was on drugs. Who knows? Being homeless would probably drive most of us to drugs. What I do know is that people weren’t living on the streets like this when I was growing up. Something’s gone terribly wrong. It’s hard to rejoice in a game of life-size Monopoly when as soon as you step outside that fantasy of happy and glorious accumulation of wealth you’re thrust back into the Dickensian disaster that is unfolding across the UK. 

GR How important is it to remember the real origins of monopoly? 

RP The economist Kate Raworth says ‘The dynamics written into the rules of [Monopoly] were never intended to be the rules. It should come with a health warning, like a packet of cigarettes: “You are playing a twisted version of this game.”’ Magie’s purpose with The Landlord’s Game was to illustrate the dangers of landlordism, not to celebrate unbridled and monopolistic wealth accumulation.  

In the thirty years it took for versions of The Landlord’s Game to criss-cross America it became a celebration of inequality and acquisitive greed. It was also shaped by escapism and inventiveness in the Great Depression. Charles Darrow was the first person to commercialise the game, on a small scale. He lost his job in the financial crash and made copies of what he coined as Monopoly at home, to sell on a word of mouth basis, and through local retail. The circular board became rectangular; the title deeds for properties were typed and painted at home. If Monopoly lends itself well to reinterpretation in sequential art that reflects the fact that Darrow hired a graphic artist to outline the now familiar shapes, like the arrow, and the symbols for the utilities. When Parker Brothers eventually decided to license the game, it had become popular enough for Darrow to negotiate a royalty in the contract. Magie received $500 and no royalties. Monopoly tactics were applied to Monopoly. 

Ralph Anspach’s ten year legal wrangle with the makers of Monopoly over the Anti-Monopoly version of the game he created in the 1970s led to the rediscovery of the game’s convoluted history: Anti-Monopoly was not so much cashing in on the bestselling game developed from Darrow’s homemade board as returning to the roots of Monopoly in The Landlord’s Game. Remembering the history of the game was important in Anspach’s legal challenge and it also exposes the erasure of a female inventor. The fact that the monopolistic version of the game was the one that could be commercialised, and not the one that challenged inequity, must have something important to say about the tilt in popular culture and entertainment towards narratives that condition us into normalising the status quo. Monopoly was either banned, or not available, behind the former Iron Curtain. The standard American board, based on Atlantic City, carries traces of racial disparities and redlining in its hierarchy of properties. 

GR What lessons can we learn from the landlord’s game that we can apply to our understanding of what ‘home’ is today? 

RP Thanks to the policies of successive UK governments, home is something that is becoming chimerical for more and more people. For anyone without inherited wealth or a very large income the chance of owning property is dwindling. It’s harder for people to live where they grew up, or close to where they work, and to get on the so-called ‘property ladder’, as illustrated powerfully in the panel you drew for Zero Interest Avenue and Social Security View. Magie would be horrified, presumably, to see that not only has landlordism not been constrained but that, in essence, modern administrations have effectively brought back the feudal corvée. A new underclass of tenants stuck in the rental sector essentially works unpaid for the rentier class. Thatcher era legislation means the state must concede a right to buy, but not private landlords who are privileged by that same state. 

GR Does monopoly teach us about our attitude to housing and owning property or does it reflect what we already know and experience? Is there always just one winner? 

RP Despite the fact that the version of Monopoly that was developed into the board game known worldwide is more or less an inversion of Magie’s concept in The Landlord’s Game, it is still instructive about the perils of monopoly capitalism. It plays out one of the disavowed truths of capitalism, that is, that for all their talk about the virtues of competition what capitalists ultimately want is a monopoly.  

Eric Martin, editor at BoardGameGeek says ‘Magie was trying to put this gloss of entertainment on [taxation] where people were playing a game but they would come to understand why property ownership is bad. The idea is still exhibited in the [later Monopoly] game itself: one person wins, everyone else loses. It’s a celebration of capitalism where one person stands on top and throws all the money over their head: “I’m awesome. I rule. You guys suck. Get out of here!” And that’s exactly what Magie was trying to get across: some people end up owning lots of land. Everyone else has to pay for it through no fault of their own, in terms of just not being there early.’ 

GR Do you enjoy playing Monopoly?  What are your memories of the game as a child – if any? 

RP I have played it a few times since working on this strip. I think you can feel that it’s a game that went through a thirty year period of accidental testing, improvement and refinement of the player experience. It works better than some other board games. The fact that serious players can work out the probabilities of landing on any square, and can calculate which streets or utilities yield the most (the orange squares, not the blue ones) is fascinating; being in jail and staying in jail can be a good strategy, ironically. In real life I guess prisoners are fed and clothed, which is one step up from living on the streets.  

I don’t think I fully understood what it was about when I played Monopoly as a child. There’s some satisfaction for children in being able to work out the rules and make the game progress. You would never know as a child, though, that the appealing charms, the play money, the dinky houses, and the colourful squares are a primer in monopolistic practices twisted, as Kate Raworth puts it, from what was meant to be a lesson about the social ills of landlordism.   

To follow Gayle: 

The WORKERS ???? ✏???? (@wood4tt) / Twitter 

Gayle Rogers ✏ (@artgayle) / Twitter 

June 9, 2023