The notion of the Scottish Animated comedy of the title is as unclear as the first part of the title. Is there such a genre? Is there a national identity inherent in a body of work? If so, can it be seen in particular examples over the last 10 years? This post is meant to do several things: it is the starting point for a paper with this title, to be presented at the year’s Society for Animation Studies conference being held in Lisbon in June; it is trying to flesh ideas out for a later book chapter, but it is also a response to some points made in Vassilis Kroustallis’ recent post on European animation for this blog.
I will start with the last point first. I enjoyed Kroustallis’ post and was particularly struck by the final points that both, “European culture is more complex than the sum of its parts” and “European […] animation won’t simply denote a newly-minted, ‘European’ status quo; it encompasses instead multi-faceted, identity questions placed in a constantly changing environment which characters need to explore at all costs, expressed with aesthetic choices that add their own complexity layers.” This, I think, is key to the potentially problematic notion of a national cinema in general, but particularly of a national animation which exists within a collection of other nations in a small island state and even beyond into a larger continent.
Much of this is a larger project for many of us to consider and I look forward to seeing what comes out over the next few years, but it does make me pause when I think of even my own narrow paper topic – what is Scottish animation? We have no industry as such, rather a collection of smaller successful studios and freelancers, (currently) no funded centres or tax relief programmes (though this is apparently on the way). But what we do have is a long tradition of art school thinking which teaches students the value of individual creativity, not necessarily being moulded for a particular mode of industrial practice. We also have a truly international body of students, who influence each other with their own lived experiences. This fits well in an environment of freelancers who mix well with smaller studios but have failed to live up to some expectations. For example, Sylvain Chomet set up his Django Studios in Edinburgh to make The Illusionist (2010) , but was disappointed that he could not find enough student artists to fill his pipeline . This highlights that the geographic area is perhaps smaller than Chomet presumed (the entire population of Scotland is smaller than that of Greater London), but also that not all of the students work in the same assembly line style. Our course at Edinburgh College of Art (I cannot speak for the others) deliberately allows students to work in whatever mode they want and to try different things (though despite what the article in the second note says, we haven’t thrown out drawing in some thrall to CG). The animators that work here make their own ‘aesthetic choices’ within a small geographic area, thus complicating the notion of a shared identity? What defines national identity?
As another complicating factor, and not to mention the B word, we have a peculiar sense of Scottish identity just now, which is distinct even within the UK and has partly arisen from the 2014 Independence referendum. If these aspects complicate the notion of nation – how can we possibly theorise or consider a collective identity for creative practice? What I want to develop over the course of the paper, and later the chapter, is to look beyond the animation itself, as Kroustallis points out, the styles and methods are as varied as the animators, but look to commonalties in language, subject and modes of comedy.
Maybe it is as they suggest about seeking the ‘otherworldly’ in content, or perhaps in the case of the subject of my paper, it is a more universal concern. I am deliberately going to keep this short, to tease the subject for later (and hopefully get more discussion going), but the main case study focus of my paper is the collection of animated shorts from the award-winning alumni of ECA, Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson. They each make their own films using different methods, but they also collaborate on very distinctive comedic shorts which use particular Scots dialects and comedy tropes to present absurd situations. In each of the examples listed below, the pair have written, voiced and animated the shorts, which initially started as post-graduation fun. The pair found viral web success with their unique comedic take on a variety of subjects, with the last one below, as part of a commissioned series for BBC Scotland which sees the pigeons consider a variety of aspects of Scottish life. I will leave you with three links, one featuring the title of the paper, one on Trump and news, and another on the subject of Fracking…using the universal issues faced by pigeons and seagulls… to be continued.
WARNING: CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE & some Scots which might be hard to understand 😉
Dr Nichola Dobson is a Lecturer in Animation at Edinburgh College of Art. Founding editor of Animation Studies (2006 – 2011) and Animation Studies 2.0 (2012- present), she has published on animation, television genre and fan fiction, including Norman McLaren: Between the Frames (2018) for Bloomsbury and Historical Dictionary of Animation and Cartoons (2009) for Scarecrow Press. She co-edited and contributed new work to The Animation Studies Reader (2018) for Bloomsbury. She is working on a book on TV animation with Paul Ward for Edinburgh University Press. She is currently President of the Society for Animation Studies.
 De Mott, R. (2005). “Chomets’ Studio Draws Animators to Scotland”, AWN.com, https://www.awn.com/news/chomets-studio-draws-animators-scotland (accessed March 7, 2019).
 Anonymous (2010). “Interview: Sylvain Chomet, Film Director”, The Scotsman, https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/interview-sylvain-chomet-film-director-1-476590 (accessed March 7, 2019).