Send in the Clowns

Published: 14 December 2020

As he prepares his keynote speech for publication, Professor Billy Grove looks back at the phenomenal success that was the Pacific Ancient and Modern Languages Association (PAMLA) 'Send in the Clowns' Conference in San Diego towards the end of last year.

When asked to design a T-shirt and poster for the Send in the Clowns San Diego conference in November 2019, Frank Quitely, a frequent collaborator on SMLC events including exhibitions and Glasgow conferences, and one of our honorary graduates, responded as follows:

"I read up about the origin of the phrase ‘send in the clowns’ and how it was about heartbreak and how Stephen Sondheim had always intended it to be sung in a very different way from most subsequent recordings. I liked the idea that the face paint would look like a smile from a distance (a T-shirt or poster on the far side of the street), but would reveal sadness closer up. The circus clowns of my childhood in the Kelvinhall looked old and rough to me, and often wore the ‘See you Jimmy’ hat / wig combo, and of course this ties in nicely with both Glasgow, and British TV shows like Russ Abbott’s Madhouse and his lampooning of the Scots. And the balloon is a nice visual trick to make sense of the head being disembodied whilst keeping the clown/entertainment theme—and of course hints at the fragility and transience of life."

The design amused delegates (nearly 1,000 of them) at the PAMLA (Pacific Ancient and Modern Languages Association) conference, where Frank Quitely appeared in conversation with Professor Billy Grove, who also gave the Forum Keynote address on ‘The History of Clowns in Comics’. This formed a follow-up to his PMLA article on ‘Scotland, the Cradle of Comics’:

Billy and Frank Quitely also led sessions at a local school, and a packed-out event at San Diego State University. Pamela Jackson, Popular Culture Librarian who oversees the University’s world-renowned comics collection, reported: "I've been hearing nothing but excitement and positive feedback today. Later in the evening yesterday, a student accosted me in the hallway and was completely losing his mind about how awesome the event was. He was actually stunned and told me he could not believe that event just happened and that he got to be there. You all gave an engaging and thought-provoking talk and I appreciate it so much."

They must have seen the good side of the clown!

Professor Billy Grove

First published: 14 December 2020

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