Swindon artist joins global underground artist group to create first graffiti graphic novel

By Jessica Durston - 1 February 2023

Arts and Culture
  • Sarah painting one of her pages of the graphic novel

    Sarah painting one of her pages of the graphic novel

Swindon artist Sarah Harris has joined forces with a host of other underground creatives to put together 'Bad Benny' - a graffiti graphic novel.

  • Sarah's painting for the back cover page of the novel

    Sarah's painting for the back cover page of the novel

Published by indie comics title Markosia, Bad Benny is a collaboration from Swindon’s Sarah Harris, Southend’s KJ Stilwell, and graffiti street artists from eight other countries. 

The graphic novel was written by Canadian TJ Behe and illustrated by Bosnian Mike Bogdanovic. It was conceptualised by Stilwell, Harris and over a dozen other global street artists, and is the first graphic novel painted in graffiti sequentially on random walls all over the world. 

Each 'page' appeared spontaneously on previously undisclosed dates across locations in the UK, Indonesia, Holland, India, and Turkey, amongst others.  

A spokesperson described the plot: "Bad Benny is about a disgraced London cop struggling to police the vicious world of dark web social influencers - where people will go to any lengths for maximum popularity.  Benny lives in the confusing but ruthless world of the dark web where - after a cynical activist hack - account holders can physically own popular social media app Contraband by becoming its #1 influencer. 

"People everywhere chase the top spot - including fast-rising Blues star Jose. But when Benny uncovers a photo he's sure proves Jose's a cold-blooded killer, he becomes obsessed with exposing the player’s past crimes to regain his own credibility."

Both KJ Stilwell and Sarah Harris are active artists in their communities and had critical roles in the project. 

By creating Bad Benny’s first page, Stilwell (graffiti name KJ) was said to have greatly influenced the tone, characters and 'vibe' of the entire graphic novel. She has created her art in gardens, homes, pubs - and even a boxing club - all around Southend. 

She said: “Involvement in this exciting and original street art project was an opportunity that I could not let pass me by. I appreciated the freedom of self expression given to me whilst realising this awesome narrative.”

Sarah Harris (graffiti name Lost Dogs) said she worked through challenging concepts appearing on two internal pages  A full-time artist, Lost Dogs has done hundreds of street art works including recent walls for councils, football teams and other private clients - but she says she prefers creating expressive artwork in her favorite derelict building alongside other local graffiti artists.

She added: “I paint paid mural commissions - and on weekends with my friends in abandoned industrial buildings where painting is (although not strictly legal) tolerated. These are our own art galleries - now popular with locals who come to check out the latest art and graffiti.”

The spokesperson for the graphic novel project continued: "Although each individual piece was created to live on its own, strung together the wall art became a dark thriller about greed, insecurity and thirst for superficial fame."

Writer TJ Behe says the dozen artists provided their interpretation of very rough sketches of script, scenes and characters he’d shared with the group. From their wall artwork input Bogdanovic devised an illustration approach for the printed graphic novel. 

TJ added: “Graffiti is at the heart and the soul of Bad Benny - and this project tries to convey the raw realism of what graffiti is all about. These pages have appeared in busy markets, suburban underpasses, high street businesses, highway pillars, and transport vehicles. 

"The story features graffiti artist characters and the artwork is created in a graffiti style. So real graffiti artists had to be the people sharing their ideas on urban spaces through these pages.”  

Markosia publisher Harry Markos said: “This is exciting for us. We love innovative comic concepts and this is yet another amazing experiment for the genre and Contraband series.”

The project took 18 months to complete but Behe says it’s difficult to know how long the pages will remain on the walls.

He added: “Some pages seem to be standing the test of time - others were quickly covered over with fresh art from other creative graffiti artists. That is the culture.”

More information about the Bad Benny project can be found on its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/contrabandbadbenny

More information about Sarah Harris can be found on her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Roo17

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