I am, of course, excited about the imminent publication of The Rainbow Orchid, but I think I have an inner defence system that subdues anything too overt. You see, I don't actually believe it's going to be published until I see it in a bookshop. Until then, until I hold a copy in my hands, I'll just remain calmly and optimistically hopeful.
the dummy, the first issue and the final issue of The DFC
In the late 1980s I had my first professional comic work accepted for publication. It was a three-page comic based on the song Iron Man by Black Sabbath, and it was to appear in the comic/lifestyle magazine Heartbreak Hotel. After the editor had phoned me and told me they wanted to print it and pay me, I did a few happy leaps around the room, maybe even jumping on the sofa. Sadly, the next issue of Heartbreak Hotel that was to contain my strip didn't appear - it had folded.
I carried on, happily self-publishing, and then another opportunity for professional publication arose, this time working on two titles for a U.S publisher, Blue Comet Press. I did the pencils on a couple of issues of a fantasy title called Zorann Star Warrior and full art and lettering on a superhero/horror title called The Devil's Workshop (written by the fabulous Paul H. Birch). Unfortunately, the black and white indie boom that enabled Blue Comet Press was dwindling, the company collapsed, and my issues never saw print (except for some art on an advertisement in another title).
Working as an illustrator I do quotes, rough sketches and even finished art for many jobs that never actually come to fruition. They probably outnumber the projects that do get completed and see print. I still learn loads from them and I don't feel great sadness or regret that these comic jobs didn't happen (at the time I did, of course, but there's always been new stuff to look forward to). So, you know, it's par for the course.
Having The Rainbow Orchid up on the web has brought a lot of good things my way, and one of them was The DFC...
27 September 2006
Do you have a phone number we can reach you on? We love your work on Rainbow Orchid and wondered if you might be interested in being involved with a project we are in the process of developing.
With best wishes, Ben Sharpe, David Fickling Books, Oxford
So I got involved in a project that did get me excited, though in the calm-and-optimistic way, not the jumping-on-a-sofa way. I tried out for one of the strips, got the job and saw three pages appear in the dummy issue. Then, as happens with these things in their early days, I got moved off that strip and offered another one or the opportunity to write my own - even better. I worked on a couple of stories, and then for many reasons, some avoidable, some not, I spent a long time doing my chosen DFC strip (Charlie Jefferson and the Tomb of Nazaleod) and I didn't quite make it in time before The DFC ended.
I didn't think The DFC was going to end - I always believed in it, right from when I saw the dummy issue. Yes, I was fearful it might end, but didn't really think it would. The DFC didn't fail, it's just bad timing. As far as I understand it, Random House were quite prepared to give The DFC at least a couple of years to grow its roots, to find its avenues, but were not prepared for the economic slump that saw them having to return to core business in order to ride the storm.
A lot of people, while being supportive, have criticised the subscription system. Personally, I think it was a great idea. It was the idea that made The DFC possible, that meant it could subsist on a budget that would not get eaten up by newsagent distribution, and meant it did not have to contain adverts, licensed characters or stick free plastic rubbish to its cover. And I'm a great believer in the power of the internet, which would be its starting base. People asked why wasn't it in WHSmith, why wasn't it in comic shops, why wasn't it in schools? It would have been - eventually. It couldn't do everything at once - it was going to be a slow yet sturdy grower.
Another impressive aspect of The DFC was the editorial input. They weren't controlling. Their attitude was "you're the experts at making comics, you make them". I saw some rather mean criticism of the fact that 'non-comic' authors were brought on board, a completely fresh and wonderful thing to my mind. Of course, as a children's book publisher, David Fickling Books had storytelling and marketing experience that was invaluable to every creator. The freedom and scope offered to the writers and artists on The DFC made for fertile ground, and a unique and wonderful mix of strips. It's true the balance wasn't always right, and the title cast a wide net as far as its readership was concerned, but it made for an excellent menu of stories, and, again, time would have seen it stabilise. Storytelling was always the most important thing.
from Charlie Jefferson and the Tomb of Nazaleod
I'm sad my own strip didn't get to appear, but I have at least had The Rainbow Orchid to work on and look forward to (and I am excited about it, honestly!). But when that red and yellow striped envelope plops through my letterbox later today, it's going to be unbelievably sad. I don't mean for me, I mean for everyone, the David Fickling team, readers, creators, and British comics in general. The DFC was - is - a brilliant brilliant thing. That's why I haven't written about this until now, it's just rather depressing to have to focus on the demise of such a marvellous idea.
So, is it the end? To be honest, I can't believe it is. The DFC has been put out into this world and has quickly become more than just a weekly comic. The idea has been made real, and I think we'll see the title back - maybe in a few months, maybe in a few years, but there's no way it's gone forever.
As a tribute to that attitude, the Super Comics Adventure Squad has come into existence - a blog, a hub, for DFC creators, and a place where you can keep up with what they're doing. Dare I say it, but it's a place where the spirit of The DFC lives on...if you'll allow me to be a little melodramatic!
This is entirely my own decision/fault. I do all my own lettering, but Egmont re-set the lettering in-house, and while I want it to remain just as I set it originally (or as close as possible), the question of foreign language editions has come up. After seeing the first set of proofs, I decided my original balloons were a little too tight, so have spent the last few days re-adjusting everything. I truly hope this is the last time I make myself do this - part one has a long history of re-lettering and balloon adjustment, and it can send you just a little bit crazy, nudging balloons a couple of pixels to the left, shifting lettering a few pixels up, then down...
For the first three pages I used a method I'd devised when doing my comic strip adaptation of The Tempest, namely making up the lettering and speech balloons in QuarkXpress (I'm now an InDesign user), printing them, cutting them out, pasting them on to the original artwork, and using Tippex to draw the balloon tails on. And yes, I think I did indeed use ComicSans for this... it wasn't such a big crime in 1997.
By the time Orchid started appearing in BAM! I was adding all 'speech furniture' exclusively on the computer, and when I put out the first black and white collection in late 2003 I re-set the first three pages too. You can see here some slight adjustments to the look of the characters as they had grown into themselves a lot more since these early pages were first drawn. By now I'd changed my font to WhizBang after it being recommended by 2000AD artist P. J. Holden.
Not wanting to reprint part one, but wanting to make my story available to new readers, I soon started putting Orchid on the web, which allowed me to put the strip into colour at last. In print the lettering had been done at 6pt, so as well as colouring it I enlarged the font to 6.5pt, and adjusted the balloons accordingly.
When the Forum Ligne Claire translated the text into French, I re-did all the balloons too, so everything fitted just right.
With publication by Egmont looming, I realised a long-held desire to create my own hand lettering font, which of course meant I had to re-set all the text once more. I also increased the font size to 7.5pt to make it as comfortable as possible.
Upon seeing the first set of proofs I still felt the lettering was a bit too snug, and wanted a bit more space for the lettering to breathe. Also, it might mean less work if foreign language editions come into play (though some panels would probably still require adjustment). So I've set upon the latest programme of text and balloon adjustment. You know, if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing properly!
We were joined by Rian Hughes, and it was a highly enjoyable morning. It was great to see some of the wonderful Soviet posters and designs that had inspired my Tayaut poster in the previous entry, and as Sarah had lived in Moscow for two years, her knowledge of the subject provided an enlightening insight into many of the works. Afterwards we had lunch at Leon's (not Trotsky) and Sarah took some photographs, including the one below of Rian and me in the shape of constructivist icons. I was home by 3 pm and back to work on Orchid edits.
Photo by Sarah
Bulldog was one of the longest-serving British 'small press' comic characters, and one incarnation of the title (BAM! - Bulldog Adventure Magazine) was the only logical home for the first few episodes of The Rainbow Orchid when it was first published in 2002 (you can read a bit about how BAM! and Orchid came together in my interview here, and see the checklist here).
I never got to draw a proper Bulldog tale (though it was discussed on more than one occasion), but I did do a cover for the comic in 1996 (see below centre, ignore awful perspective on Big Ben), and I did an offshoot story for Accent UK's Pirates with a story featuring an ancestor, Captain Endurance Bulldog (see far right). But for the best of Bulldog - go and order the collection! (Cover, below left, by Kieran MacDonald)
I listened to a great little interview with David Baillie while drawing over the weekend. It was recorded for Panel Borders, a radio show for Resonance FM and podcast hosted by Alex Fitch. This is one of my favourite comics podcasts, largely because Alex gives a great interview that keeps on track and asks intelligent questions (witness Raymond Briggs brightening up after being impressed that Alex had actually done his research - another fabulous interview), but also because it focuses on British comics, and especially some of the more interesting alternative and independent stuff. David Baillie has a new book out, Tongue of the Dead.
Also over the weekend, I actually took some time out and watched two excellent films with my wife (I also made a lovely fresh pasta dinner on Saturday, if I do say so myself!). The first was In Bruges (on DVD) - great characters, great situation, great location, and a great plot that resolves itself very satisfactorily. I have been to Bruges, in the early nineties, and now I want to go again. The other film was Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona (at the cinema). Allen, one of my four all-time favourite directors, has been a bit up and down recently, but this is definitely an up. He's so good at examining creativity and its entanglement with relationships. As with In Bruges, location added an extra layer of loveliness to this film, and the music was superb too.
One last thing... a great article in The Sunday Times by Richard Girling called Fireworks over Fireplaces, about English Heritage not being entirely moral in relation to its restoration advice. This kind of injustice, greed and attempt at cover-up just makes my blood boil, and Girling presents the case very nicely.