Ever since our ancestors began painting on the walls of caves, running has been a subject of art. From the “sprint championships” at the gates of Troy (The Iliad) to the 1924 Olympics (Chariots of Fire), great races have always inspired great art.
For Paul Collicutt, the author of the graphic novel The Murder Mile, inspiration came from the 1954 Commonwealth Games, when Roger Bannister took on John Landy in a race billed as the “Miracle Mile”. The narrative of Collicutt’s book, a piece of detective fiction described by Rachel Cooke as “like Chariots of Fire as rewritten by Raymond Chandler”, was inspired by the race’s crucial moment: when Landy, having led for most of the race, takes a glance over his left shoulder on the final bend, and Bannister passes on his right. “That was the thing I fixed on,” says Collicutt. “I thought, what if Landy had been distracted by a gunshot?” In this moment Collicutt saw the opportunity to create a piece of alternate history that centered on one of the most thrilling races of all time.
A former middle-distance runner himself, Collicutt was inspired not only by watching races but by taking part in them: “I’ve tried to show how we experience running,” he says, “as an observer (through newspapers and newsreels, and at a stadium) but also as a participant.” The pre-race nerves, the agony of the final lap, the joy of winning: this is something Collicutt feels the graphic format is particularly good at capturing, taking the adventures of comic-book runner Alf Tupper as an example. “Alf Tupper ‘The Tough of the Track’ had an energy that made me want to run,” he says. As a dedicated coach and Chairman of Brighton Phoenix Athletics Club, Collicutt is himself committed to inspiring runners.
Combining his love of painting with his interest in track and field, The Murder Mile was Collicutt’s ideal project, and one he admits he’s found difficult to let go: “Although I’ve finished working on the book, it hasn’t finished working on me,” he says. A year after completing the graphic novel, he’s still immersed in the history of mile running. He’s just finished painting a watercolour portrait of every world record holder in the event (from Walter George to Hicham El Guerrouj), which has been produced as a poster. But the project of combining running and art doesn’t stop there: Collicutt is preparing for a rather unconventional tour of London’s bookshops.
This Saturday, he will run from Broadway Bookshop in Hackney to Queens Park Books in Brent, stopping en route to sign books in central London’s finest comic shops: Gosh!, Forbidden Planet and Orbital Comics. “It’ll be great,” says Collicutt of the 10-miler. “I can get my run in for the day and promote the book at the same time.”
While admitting the tour is a slightly “mad” concept, Collicutt is dismissive of the idea that artists and runners share little in common. He’s convinced that planning a long-term artistic project is “just like planning for a big race”. That most famous of author-runners, Haruki Murakami, would agree: “Most of what I know about writing,” he writes in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, “I’ve learned through running every day.” It seems that artists can learn from the act of running, as well as become inspired by the spectacle of the race.
Paul Collicutt will visit Broadway Bookshop, Forbidden Planet, Orbital Comics, Gosh!, Lutyens & Rubinstein, and Queens Park Books on Saturday 4th May. You can order his poster in A3 (£13.80) or A2 (£27.60) by contacting [email protected].
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