As in 2009 and 2010, though this time with our 20-month-old daughter in tow, Ellie and I drove up to Belton in Lincolnshire to stay with my wife's father and partner (always lovely), getting up early on the Saturday for the further hour-and-a-half's drive into Leeds. I had no idea how sales might go over the weekend so I decided to be optimistic and brought quite a few boxes of The Complete Rainbow Orchid - very heavy - as well as the newly printed Rainbow Orchid Supplement and a sensible stock (I thought) of individual volumes. This is where having a 20-month-old child came in very useful, as she could walk and I could commandeer her buggy to convey boxes from the car park to the venue.
I was in the larger of the two halls, New Dock, and as usual had made my first sale of the day before the doors officially opened. That set the tone for the rest of Saturday as things hardly let-up and I was selling, signing and sketching pretty much non-stop. Apart from a couple of furtive nibbles, I didn't get to eat my lunch until leaving the hall at about six in the evening.
The Rainbow Orchid table enjoys a visit from Accent UK: Colin Mathieson and Dave West
With my wife and daughter off and about in Leeds I was on the table by myself, and while being so busy is great, I am aware of people coming along, waiting for a bit, and then wandering off as my head is often down while sketching and chatting to someone else. With no one to help out and engage them I do wonder if I miss out on new readers. Can't complain though! The whole weekend was terrific for sales and I sold 128 books in all, including 71 Completes and selling out of volume 3s.
I won't list all the lovely comics colleagues who stopped by to chat - too many - but I must give mention to my table-neighbours, the fabulous Laura Watton on one side and the marvellous Gary Erskine and Mhairi on the other. Laura gave me a copy of her wonderfully titled and highly entertaining comic Reluctant Soldier Princess Nami, and Gary and Mhairi were very generous with their space as they allowed our buggy to be parked next to their table when Ellie came back to the hall from her town travels. Having nice neighbours does make the whole weekend that little bit more pleasant and easier - so thank you, both!
I'd also like to give a special mention to artist-extraordinaire Graeme Neil Reid who astounded me by spotting and naming a very obscure cameo in The Rainbow Orchid (it's on page 113 of The Complete, or page 37 of vol. 3, if you're up for a challenge ... or failing that, the solution is revealed in The Rainbow Orchid Supplement). I'll just mention that we're both David Lean fans.
One thing that made the show a little different was that my table was one of five playing host to the Phoenix Feathers collection game. On my table were several phoenix feathers to be collected by children and taken back to The Phoenix stall in the Armouries in exchange for goodies and prizes. It was great being part of it and it brought a lovely added focus to my display. The Phoenix was a strong presence at the show with much activity from several of the regular artists, including Neill Cameron, Gary Northfield and Dave Shelton.
There were no negative aspects to the weekend. The only slight pain was that the official hotel (the Marriott) was quite a bit further from the venue than I'd imagined, and with our little daughter with us, it was a bit of a trek. Most people I spoke to were staying at the Holiday Inn, right next to New Dock Hall, and it might make sense, if possible, for that to become the official/recommended hotel in future years.
This year's show was host to the inaugural British Comic Awards for which there was a very fine selection of nominees. The winner of the Best Book category was Nelson, a project in which I had a very small part but is really the vision and product of editors Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix, and made possible by publisher Blank Slate Books. Next year a very limited edition will be produced and today I was up at the Royal Festival Hall to sign 130 insert sheets for it. As well as myself, a handful of other contributors had not yet signed their names and I was joined at the signing table by Posy Simmonds, a British comics legend and someone who's work I read, own, and admire very much indeed - it was a real thrill to meet and chat with her.
Signing Nelson inserts with Posy Simmonds at the Royal Festival Hall, London
So, back a week: another Thought Bubble was over and we packed up on the Sunday (thanks to Colin Mathieson for his help with box carrying), and made our return trip to Belton for a lazy Sunday night, a slightly less-lazy but still pretty lazy Monday, and then a night drive back down to Sussex.
A huge thanks to everyone who came to the Rainbow Orchid table to buy books, say hello, or even just to browse, and an equally huge thanks to the Thought Bubble organisers and volunteers for another terrific show, the comics event highlight of the year.
A comics website recently quoted the fact that I'll be charging 10.00 for sketches at Thought Bubble - this is not the case! I have never charged for sketches and I'll be only too happy to do one for you, especially if you have bought my book.
I'd like to address another thing that happens quite a bit at comic shows, which is people asking for free review copies. Please don't take offence when I say no to this request - I no longer give away review copies from my own stock. A large percentage of those that I have given to in the past did not, in fact, review the book. Also, I pay for my own stock, I don't get these books for free, so it can end up costing me quite a bit! If you would genuinely like a review copy, please get in touch with my publisher, Egmont (or get in touch and I'll be happy to do it for you).
Still on the subject of cost, I was asked about the price of the books I sell from my website - with the suggestion that I was charging over the odds. Well, let's see - The Complete Rainbow Orchid retails at 14.99; my packing materials - a sturdy book box and an adhesive address label - cost me 1.25; at 650g the book is quite heavy, and packed up it costs 3.50 in the UK, 6.62 within Europe, and 12.10 elsewhere in the world (eg. Australia or the US).
So for the UK you're looking at 19.74 (I charge £18.50); Europe 22.86 (I charge 22.00); and international 28.34 (I charge 28.00). And don't forget - you get a sketch as well, not to mention the time I spend parcelling-up and sorting out postage. Of course I don't pay 14.99 for the books myself, I get a slight discount, but the sketch time easily swallows that up. I hope that makes it more transparent and that you can see I'm offering the best deal I can without making a loss.
One last thing, my complimentary copies of La Orquidea Arcoiris, the Spanish edition of The Rainbow Orchid, arrived today and they look wonderful. Please visit NetCom2 Editorial to find out more.
Hope to see you at Thought Bubble - I'll be on table 176, on the end of the aisle just round the corner from artist Gary Erskine.
Whatever, they are seen as 'our glorious dead', heroes revered and venerated at village memorials across the land. Indeed, I have identified thirteen members (so far) of my own family to have died in the conflict of 1914-18, and every one is a tragic tale of a life cut short.
But how about when it's not so clear-cut? This year I will tell the story of one of my distant cousins who died on the first dreadful day of the battle of the Somme, but who - when you know the full tale - you would find hard to fully revere.
His name was Thomas Sherriff, and he was born some time around 1885 to a family of Romany Gypsies, his parents being Hope (aka 'Gypsy Jack') and Trinity (aka Hetty, Genti, Trenetty or even Franette) Sherriff. He'd already served in the Sherwood Foresters alongside his father around the time of the Boer War. I don't yet know whether he saw service in that conflict, but I do know he was imprisoned for seven days for violently attacking a family rival in the marketplace at Wirksworth, in February 1900.
A far more serious offence occurred in January 1903 when Tom was arrested for his involvement in the killing of a policeman. PC William Price had gone to the Sherriff Gypsy camp to investigate the theft of three ferrets from a nearby farm. Things turned nasty and a fight broke out between PC Price and three of the Sherriff brothers, Tom, John and Joseph. Their father, Hope, and a fellow traveller, Arkless Holland (married to Tom's sister, Raini) were also implicated. During the fight, the constable was struck on the head with his own truncheon and the three brothers bolted. Price later died from his wounds and a murder hunt ensued.
After a few days on the run, and two more policemen injured while trying to arrest them, the Sherriffs were caught. Hope and Arkless, held earlier, were acquitted, but Tom, John and Joseph were found guilty of manslaughter and were given fifteen years penal servitude. The brothers never revealed who struck the actual devastating blow to PC Price, but the family story points most strongly at Tom. They were lucky - had the verdict been murder then they would have all hanged.
Joseph died in prison in about 1907. Tom and John can both be seen on the 1911 census as inmates of Portland Prison in Dorset. But, with the First World War looming, it seems they were released early, or perhaps volunteered, into the hands of the army, John into the Notts & Derby Regiment and Tom, at first into the Notts and Derby Regiment, and then the Lancashire Fusiliers. It was with this regiment he found himself on the front line of the Somme on 1st July 1916. At 7.20 am a huge mine was exploded under the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt and the Lancashires charged, only to come under severe German machine gunning and artillery. The regiment lost seven officers and 156 other ranks in the attack - including Tom Sherriff, a small portion of the 20,000 dead the British suffered on that first day alone.
For the past two years I have been invited by the Romany and Traveller Family History Society to join a delegation at the Cenotaph memorial in London, helping to represent Romanies who served. Sadly I have not been able to make it, and I do always think of the conflicting feelings that surround the sad story of Thomas Sherriff. Tom is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial in Picardy, and also on the village memorial at Newbold, Chesterfield. (Out of interest, Tom wasn't the only less-than-pristine family member to serve... another distant cousin, James Veevers, has a war record that brims with notes about drinking, housebreaking and disorderly conduct, all of which eventually landed him in prison for a while.)
Still, as well as Tom's fellow convict, John (also known as Uriah, wounded in 1917), other Romanies of my family served in the First War: Henry Holland, also with the Notts & Derby Regiment, was wounded on eight occasions in France, the final time, in Sep 1916, seeing him invalided to England before he died at home, in Aug 1918, from complications connected to his wounds; Charles Duffield (aka Hodgkins) was with the North Staffordshires and died at Ypres in July 1916; Perrin Dennett served with the Notts and Derby Regiment in 1918, though stayed in England.
Although my direct Romany-related line had ended their travelling ways in the 1870s or 80s, several descendants also fought in the war - my great-grandfather, Charles Hodgkins fought with the North Staffordshires in Gallipoli (see his story here); his brother Edward was also with the regiment (though a different battalion); their cousin Ernest Sherriff served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and then the Royal Garrison Artillery; and his brother, Horace, joined the Durham Light Infantry (though did not fight abroad).
This has been my seventh Remembrance Sunday post, though the first for two years. You can see the previous entries here: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004. My family war archive can be found here, and my online family war memorial here.
He was not known as a comic artist, but was a well-known and well-loved science-fiction and fantasy illustrator. Even so, I planned to publish a one-off special of his comic strips, for which he provided me with good copies - unfortunately this never came to pass, mostly due to funding issues on my part. My last contact with him was in June 1997 when I returned his prints to him, but he came into my thoughts again in June of this year after I read Jeremy Briggs' article on Near Myths, a comic that Alan had contributed to (Private Eye in issue 5), and I discovered, thanks to Steve Holland, he was still living at the same address as he was in the 90s. Sadly I never got round to writing to him again, as I intended.
Alan was born in Coventry in 1923 and, inspired by some of the best pulp artists, particularly Virgil Finlay, got into science-fiction and fantasy illustration in the early 1950s. His work appeared in both professional and fan publications and he started the Fantasy Art Society. In his day job he worked as a technical illustrator for the Ministry of Supply, though he later had his own shop, a newsagent and stationers, at which point his illustration work all but disappeared due to work and family commitments.
In the late 1960s he left retailing and returned to drawing, this time for a large electronics firm, eventually working in computer graphics. He also made a welcome return to illustration for the SF/fantasy fan scene. He retired from work in 1989, though continued drawing. His wife, Joyce (Kirkham), sadly died in May 1994. They had a son, Christopher.
Alan was a superb illustrator. You just have to see his work to know the care and dedication he put into every piece, no matter how small. He was also a lovely chap, and very supportive of my own, then quite amateur, scribblings. I have put a few samples below, including the strip he contributed to Cosmorama 3 (Broken Contact, 1980) and a strip that would have appeared in the planned special (The Big Oak).
My condolences to Alan's family, friends and fans, the latter of which I most ardently include myself. You can read a little more on the British Fantasy Society website.
Broken Contact by Alan Hunter