The 30-year nostalgia pendulum took a swing at 1991 on the Ray D'Arcy show recently, as two massive pop-culture icons from that year featured in the same segment; The Den kid’s TV show with Zig and Zag and The Commitments movie, based on Roddy Doyle’s book of the same name. Media Studies lecturer Nessa Johnston came on to chat to Ray about her new book about the legacy of The Commitments film and – coincidentally – how she’s become internet famous for her Zig and Zag fan fiction she posted to The Den 30 years ago.
Back in 1991, 12-year old Nessa created an alien-inspired comic strip called 'Zag the Trainee Goth’. She sent it in to The Den, hoping that her artwork would be shown and her name would appear on screen during the show. The show received thousands of kid’s drawings at the time and Nessa says she has a very clear memory of creating it and send it in:
"I remember drawing it. Like a lot of kids, I was a huge fan of Zig and Zag. I had all the books, the kind of annuals they did. I like the drawing style in that and I was kinda trying to do that kind of drawing style."
Nessa’s fan art depicted Zag’s search to fit in to a 90’s subculture and the team at The Den loved it so much that Ray, Zig and Zag did a live performance of her cartoon Zag the Trainee Goth’ on the show:
"Everyone was always sending artwork into The Den and hoping it would be featured. I remember I was totally over the moon that not only was it on, but that Zig and Zag you did all the voices and everything and sort of acted it out. I mean that was totally beyond my wildest dreams."
As she told Ray, Nessa is now a senior lecturer in media studies at Edge Hill University in Lancashire. Ray played 30 seconds of the re-enactment of ‘Zag the Trainee Goth’ on air, which closed the circle for Nessa between the things she loved as a kid and her career as a media lecturer and writer:
"It’s funny, all that stuff about Zag being a Goth. You know, I have a whole chapter in the book about Dublin and the music scene and subcultures that were in Dublin in the late 80’s, early 90’s in the book. You know, it’s 30 years later and I’m still obsessed with the exact same things I was when I was 12!"
While promoting her new book about the movie version of The Commitments on Twitter, Nessa spotted that Zig and Zag @DoubleZCreative had just posted a nostalgic clip of themselves and Ray in the re-enactment of her comic strip. Nessa says she was delighted to find Zig and Zag having a 1991 nostalgia moment at the same time she was. She filled in some of the background to her new book, based on the cultural legacy of The Commitments movie which was released in 1991:
"I’m really interested in sound and music in film and television. That’s how I ended up doing a book about The Commitments, and it’s about The Commitments film more than the book. It was such a huge thing in 1991-1992, like the auditions in Dublin were huge, you know, thousands of people queuing up to be in the film. I feel like everyone my age or a little older knows someone who auditioned for it or was in it."
Ray reeled off a list of actors and musicians who appeared in The Commitments who still feature on our screens and in our headphones; like Glen Hansard, Maria Doyle, Bronagh Gallagher and Niamh Kavanagh. When asked for her favourite moment from the movie, Nessa didn’t miss a beat:
"Definitely Jimmy Rabbitte sitting in the bath pretending to be interviewed by Terry Wogan."
Nessa Johnston says that her Commitments book is part of a series her publisher Routledge is running on cinema and youth cultures She says the making of The Commitments film was as much of an event as the movie itself, and it reflected the change and positivity of the early 90’s, kicked off by the feelgood factor surrounding the Republic of Ireland’s performance at the World Cup in Italia ’90:
"It was just such an interesting time in Ireland, you know, it was a period of big social change. It was just before the Celtic tiger and there was such a young population."
If you want to hear more about Nessa's work, the impact of The Commitments movie and how she became Twitter famous for her Zig and Zag fan art, you can listen back to the full interview here.
Nessa Johnston's book The Commitments: Youth, Music, and Authenticity in 1990s Ireland is out now; published by Routledge and you can go here for the tweet by @DoubleZCreative featuring Nessa's creation.