“Keep singing come what may”: After Winter, a graphic novel, by Streetwise Opera and Teesside University

”The Weather Vane’ by Ben James from After Winter

If you were to imagine a county you could fill with creativity and kindness you would want to include everyone who has collaborated to produce the graphic novel, ‘After Winter’, inspired by Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter Journey) song cycle and the words of Wilhelm Müller.

Originally planned as a stage production by the charity Streetwise Opera, After Winter was to be performed in Middlesbrough Town Hall and at Rydale Festival in the Summer of 2020.  In the Foreword to the Novel, Marigold Hughes, Head of Programme for Streetwise Opera explains:

“The production was due to be staged within a collective feast and with a company of around 30 individuals affected by homelessness. In the days and months beforehand, the performers had been learning the music, the design had been mapped out and the creative team were knee-deep in planning. The countdown to production had begun. Nobody could have predicted what would instead be taking centre stage: Covid-19.”

In its place, in what Hughes describes as a ‘timely stroke of fortune’, Streetwise Opera formed a creative partnership to produce ‘After Winter’ as a graphic novel with students and staff of Teesside University’s BA (Hons) Comics & Graphic Novels programme in the School of Computing, Engineering and Digital Technologies.  Senior lecturer Julian Lawrence said:

“… during the last half of Semester 2 in 2020, the students worked collaboratively from home to create a 60-page graphic novel which adapts Streetwise Opera’s performance of Schubert’s ‘Winter Journey’.  While working on the project, students contributed to a blog on the Streetwise Opera website, SWO blog … [they] were inspired by the welcoming sense of community established by the performers.  This inspiration informed the narrative of our graphic novel, which tells the story of a heartbroken outsider.  The students’ empathy and warmth shines through in the art they created …” 

‘After Winter’ (download via the link above) reflects the rich effects and moods of Schubert’s music.  Even without the music itself, the minor keys of his first songs in the Winterreise cycle are wonderfully expressed in cold colours and graphic sadness of the Traveller in this engaging novel; it makes emotional reading. Throughout the tale the Traveller feels himself alone, but is in many places surrounded by a multi-national chorus who offer hands of friendship and kind words. We see his broken heart of unrequited love (page 8) as he thinks this world was never his. Then to echo Schubert who moved to a major key for The Linden Tree song (page 20), the Traveller finds some comfort and warmth, and hope that even though the heart is warmed only by love, Springtime of the heart can make blossom grow. Both visual imagery and alliterative sounds of the words throughout the novel are thoughtful and rewarding to read.

Jamie Sample, a performer from Streetwise Opera in Middlesbrough said:

“It is great to see this story come to life in these pages.  I love the mix of different styles of the illustrations, from Sunday morning comic strip to manga and Marvel/DC.  This graphic novel represents really well a man’s inner journey as he comes to terms with his broken heart.”

Streetwise Opera, Middlesbrough

Also, very much part of the collaborative effort in ‘After Winter’ were Media and Communication students from Teesside University.  Rachel Dodd, senior lecturer in Public Relations and Digital Communications said:

“The Streetwise Opera event was unable to run in its original format during the Summer and instead evolved the production as an online event.  Our students created comprehensive public relations campaigns, including strategic research, audience demographics, audience testing and campaign planning to help promote the project.  This is all part of our University strategy to prepare students for working in industry, through experience of working on live briefs with real clients … to help them develop industry-ready skills.”  

On the Overture page of the novel, Chrisina Jayne, Dean of the School of Computing, Engineering and Digital Technologies at Teesside University writes:

“As a civic university we want to engage with the community and this project allows our students to make a really positive impact upon the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable people. We are delighted with the result and are committed to our ongoing collaborative partnership with Streetwise Opera in the coming years.”

We may not be able to see ‘After Winter’ on stage now, but look forward to the time when we can gather in Theatre spaces or Town Halls to hear Streetwise Opera perform this piece live.  Until then we have the uplifting delight of ‘After Winter’ the graphic novel.  As the Traveller says on nearing the end of his journey (page 48) ‘Keep singing come what may.  Triumph or disaster.’

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