I should apologise for the delay - it was partly due to other work, but I must admit it was also partly due to the big step of actually starting, coupled with the fact that the first panel was a bit of a challenge, having to tackle an establishing shot with a fairly intricate building (and van) in perspective.
One of the things that helped me get started was doing a private commission for a Julius Chancer illustration which acted as a great warm-up. It was a Thirty-Nine Steps-style scenario, with Julius being chased down on the Yorkshire Moors ...
Here, again, are the the thumbnails and A4 roughs for the first half of the first page ...
And here are the panels at the pencil stage ...
Finally, here are the drawings fully inked and coloured ...
This has been my first experience drawing at the new size - A2 (half a page is A3). The building did take longer due to the greater area to cover, but it was much nicer to draw something that required that level of detail with more space available. The following two panels probably took just as long as they would have had I been drawing at A3, as I did with The Rainbow Orchid.
One advantage I hadn't anticipated is that drawing the page in A3 halves provides me with smaller targets to complete - half a page is done and can be put aside, instead of a whole page having to be completed before I can tick it as 'done'. That might seem a false equivalence, but it's a psychological trick that actually helps! Giving yourself little targets to complete is great way to keep moving forward with a big project.
I plan to have the first three pages up for you to read at the start of the new year (fingers crossed!).
It's for a leaflet that explains how Jacobs was an influence on the three creators featured - Patrick Dumas (Allan MacBride), me (Julius Chancer), and Eric Heuval (Le Mystère Du Temps) - all published, of course, by BD Must.
Jacobs really was the spark that set off The Rainbow Orchid, far more than Tintin. I bought a copy of La Marque Jaune at the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée in Brussels, sometime in the 1990s, and it opened up the horizon for me on the wider world of ligne claire and the possibility of more serious adventure in this format. (I just checked the dates - I went to Brussels in April 1996 and drew the first page of RO in March 1997.)
I certainly wouldn't claim to be an heir, but I'm very happy to be thought of in the same context!
As ever I was met by my German publisher, Eckart Schott of Salleck Publishing, and we drove into Mülheim and to our hotel, Hotel Kaiser on Wiener Platz. After dropping our bags off we went out to a little pizzeria (Palazzo) where I had a very nice pizza that I'm sure was meant for four people, not one. Our walk back to the hotel was just short enough to stop my bones from getting too chilled - there was a definite bite in the night air.
While Eckart had an early start to set up his stand at the comics fair, I was able to have a bit of a lie-in (a rare luxury with two small children at home), and I made my way over to the Köln-Mülheim Stadthalle (town hall) at about 10 am, opening time for the show. It was a beautiful November day - sun, blue sky, and not too cold.
The queue to get into the hall was enormous, so I walked round to the side to see if I could find a tradesman's entrance. I did, but was stopped by a door-guard who kept telling me to join the queue at the front despite my attempts to explain that I was there to sign books for Salleck. Luckily, just as I was about to give-up, a chap came up who recognised me and let me through. He turned out to be Thomas Götze, the organiser of Comicmesse Köln, and he gave me safe passage to Salleck's stand. Thank you, Thomas!
I wasn't totally sure if I was there because volume 3 of Die Regenbogenorchidee was now published, but actually that is coming out next May (2015), so I was there just to sign and do sketches for volumes 1 and 2. But that morning Eckart realised he'd forgotten to bring any volume twos! "Ashes on my head!", he said, obviously feeling bad about it. But actually it was fine - a good number of volume one was sold and I was kept very busy sketching - the day flew by. I didn't even have time to look round the hall myself and I didn't manage to take a single photo at the show.
I did meet lots of lovely people though. I always find my German hosts and readers to be hugely polite and friendly and it has made my trips there (previously to Essen and Erlangen) very worthwhile and a complete pleasure. I must offer special thanks to Peter Nover (he wrote the article on me in Zack Magazine at the start of the year) who gave me a complete set of the Erlangen Panini stickers (I'm no. 68!), and the album, as well as a copy of a new magazine he's involved in, Camp (which includes a rare 4-page strip about the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Edgar P. Jacbos, from 1964).
Eckart was also very generous - still feeling bad about the lack of volume two stock, he gave me a present of the two André Juillard Pêle-Mêle artbooks from Pythagore. I'd been drooling over one of these at a friend's house en route to the Lakes Comic Art Festival last year, so this was a wonderfully generous gift (and a rather heavy one, I just about got them into my little bag for the flight home!).
With the day over, I made my way back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep for an hour. At six I met Eckart in the lobby to go out to dinner. He had a very interesting guest with him - Dr. Johannes Wachten, the retired senior curator of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. He had helped Eckart with some specialist translation relating to the Israeli Air Force when Salleck published Yann and Juillard's graphic novel, Mezek.
We took the tram across the Rhein into Cologne, and then a walk to the Art'otel on Holzmarkt to meet one of Eckart's stand helpers for the day, Ernst, and his wife. En-route we had a very interesting historical commentary from Dr Wachten, especially in relation to the Roman origins of Cologne (Colonia, or Colony, more fully Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium - the Colony of Claudius and Altar of the Agrippinians!), which helped to keep my thoughts away from the fact that it was getting really quite cold. Also, there was a lovely yellow moon low in the sky across the Rhein as we walked along the redeveloped harbour on Im Zollhafen.
Things were kept interesting when, after a long walk, we reached our restaurant for the evening, Oxin (on Alteburger Strasse), and I had my introduction to Persian cuisine. Not being a very adventurous eater I found it very tasty, though I kept away from the octopus! Eckart said we should all have ice cream next so, despite feeling rather full, I did my best with some kind of mocha-extravaganza at the nearby Eiscafé Forum.
The cold was getting colder and my brain was thinking thoughts bedward, but we decided on a quick tram trip to see Cologne Cathederal late at night - a very impressive structure that survived the Allied bombing of the city in WWII, and Germany's most visited landmark. We then said our gute nachts and Eckart and I made one more tram journey back to the Hotel Kaiser.
My flight home on Sunday was not until after 4 pm, so Eckart drove us both to Oberhausen (not far from Essen) and to the Ludwiggalerie to see the Streich Auf Streich exhibition - 150 years of German-language comics since Max and Moritz. It was a fascinating display, with many originals and made all the more interesting with Eckart as my personal guide. We followed the visit up with a luxurious lunch in the Kaisergarten Count Westerholt Restaurant (complete with live piano player) and then - though I was getting a little anxious about the time - made a very brief visit to a local moated 15th/16th-century castle, Burg Vondern.
After a little confusion about which direction to take, we got going back on the Autobahn, the traffic was kind, and I was dropped off at Köln-Bonn airport with time to spare for my flight home.
A big thank you, once again, to Eckart Schott for his generous hospitality, and to Ernst for taking me to lunch on the Saturday (and for his and his wife's, and Dr. Wachten's excellent company in the evening). As always, a super-big thank you to everyone who came to get a sketch, buy a book, or even just to chat - danke schon!
I don't know much more about it - but I do know that Thomas Du Caju (Betty and Dodge) who I met at Angouléme will be there, and so will Diana Sasse, a comic author who I was in touch with in the early days of the web-version of The Rainbow Orchid (she draws amazing horses).
Also in attendance will be Alexis Martinez and Gunther Brodhecker, creators of a little book I picked up a couple of months back called Das Tagebuch des Richardo Castillo, set in the 'New France' of the 18th Century (North America), with beautiful cartooning somewhat resembling the work of Willy Vandersteen, I thought. They have a colour edition coming out in French from BD Must.
See you there?
I've measured out the panels on the final drawing paper (A3 landscape for half a page), scanned them in, reduced them to A4, printed them out, and have then very roughly sketched in the basics of each panel (based on the script and the thumbnails). These have then been scanned in again and lettered so I know how much space the balloons will take up before I commit to the finished artwork.
The next thing to do is to start the actual drawing!
I tried a couple of new things out at the workshop - lucky-dip treasure items and communal map-making, which I will definitely keep for future workshops. I have to say I'd prepared the event for a slightly younger audience than I got, and the venue was incredibly noisy - but everyone still seemed to enjoy it, despite a bemused expression or two at my opening 'Adventurer's Oath' (soon turning to chuckles, though). Huge thanks to everyone who participated, and also to Jenny Hayes, from Egmont, for looking after me so well.
This isn't the sort of comic show I would normally attend, but it was fascinating to see. I didn't stay too long after my book signing, but - if for nothing else - the whole trip was worth it just to see RO reader Matthew Stubbs turn up in a fantastic Julius Chancer cosplay. Thank you, Matthew - that really made my day.
One other thing to tag onto this blog entry: a lovely review for The Complete Rainbow Orchid from the fabulous Read It Daddy ...
Charlotte's best bit: Fab and exciting, and plenty of awesome female characters for her to identify with as well as a no-nonsense hero that uses his brains rather than his fists.
Daddy's Favourite bit: A shining example of a brilliant story that you can comfortably recommend to parents looking to introduce their kids to comics. Cannot recommend this highly enough.
I will be there on Sunday (13 July), giving a comics workshop at 11.30 ('Create your own amazing adventure comic'), with a book signing afterwards. I believe the workshop is free (once you've paid admission to the main convention), you just need to sign up at the YALC booth inside the Book Zone.
Hope to see you there!
Is it because I'm an over-sensitive, thin-skinned artist? Well, yes, partly - I don't mind admitting that a bad review can make me feel a little down for a short while, but actually the past 3 or 4 years have thickened up my skin quite a lot, and a fair negative review has little effect on me now, especially as time and distance have made me more objective about RO myself.
But the main reason I don't particularly want to read negative reviews is because they usually serve no useful purpose for me as an author. I've said before that I'm very aware of my own book's shortcomings, and some of these have indeed been picked up in reviews as well. But quite often an author will look to readers' opinions to gage whether they are doing the right things, and if you do that, the message can get confusing ...
"... excellent, fast-paced, and very well-cast period adventure story."
"... a bit slower than you feel it could be ..."
"... the storytelling's so well paced it never feels like Garen's trying to squeeze too much in ..."
"... the narrative suffers from a horribly slow sense of pace ..."
"... the story is exciting and fast-paced ..."
"... the story took a long while to get going ..."
"... an interesting and fast paced storyline ..."
"... It's a slow burner ..."
"... a fast paced adventure quest, a real tale of derring-do ..."
"... It's fast paced and exciting ..."
There are other examples besides the pace of my story-telling, for instance the colouring - some people really love it ("beautiful colouring", "artful use of colour") and some think it's not so great ("dull, unexciting colours", "I found the colouring crude in places"), and so on - characters, drawing ability, plot, backgrounds, etc.
So what am I to make of all these contradictory views? Is my pacing just right or terribly wrong? Is my colouring lovely or terrible? The thing is, these are all aspects that, to a certain degree, are subjective. Yes, there's some bad colouring in my work, and yes, the pacing is not always as good as I would like it to be. But the fact is - I personally like a slow-burning plot with lots of intricacy, and I'm not a fan of bright colours or computery-gradients, I like muted colours, evocative for an historical adventure. And some readers will agree with me and some won't.
Even though I know these things can be down to personal preference and taste, I will still read a review that says someone doesn't like my colouring and I'll think, "people don't like my colouring", until, that is, I read another review that says the opposite, and then I'll think I'm doing okay. It's just the way our brains work.
Not Googling my book can have other consequences though. I recently did Google my book because the past week has seen a rather high number of Amazon sales (even selling out of stock two or three times), after a bit of a slump over the past few months, and I was curious to know the source - perhaps some widely-read nice review or something. I didn't get far into the search when I discovered, quite incidentally, a comics 'fan-site' publishing (terrible) scans of my entire book, for free, on its website. They were also providing several Cinebook titles (including Blake and Mortimer and Lucky Luke) and the full Asterix canon. I alerted Cinebook and we both sent messages to the site resulting in them taking our books down (and I never found the source of the recent sales, as the pirating task took up the next few hours of my day).
This time it was a fairly painless process - I've had to do this before, issuing DCMAs and taking full days out of my work to get a satisfactory result - not fun, and a bit like playing whack-a-mole, so not something I go looking for.
But let's end on a high note: I also came across these lovely tweets from BBC reporter Giles Dilnot:
"... Julius Chancer is pretty addictive ... enjoyed the Rainbow Orchid which I can now return ... felt v much like part one to wider adventures ..."
Thank you, Giles. And, with that, I'm now going back to my non-Googling lifestyle, and ignorant bliss.
As with all my recent European excursions, I had a fantastic time. German comic fans easily rival the Dutch for openness, friendliness and generosity (not to mention excellent English language skills), and I should also add patience to their list of virtues as I had quite a few more detailed drawing requests ... so much so that on the Sunday I was under strict instructions to only provide head-shots of my characters! Snow leopard cubs were requested quite a bit, too. Anyway - I am (and have been for a while now) a lot more comfortable with public sketching, and even though I haven't really done a lot of drawing this year, I enjoyed sitting and doodling away in people's books.
Comic Salon was a terrific show, a nice atmosphere, buzzing with comics of all kinds, and with a wide variety of readers. My French publisher, BD Must, was there, so I was able to say hello again to Jean-Michel Boxus after our Angouléme meeting, and I also got to meet Frank Madsen and Sussi Bech, two Danish comic creators I have long admired, along with their studio partners Tatiana Goldberg and Ingo Milton (and we had a lovely dinner together, along with my publisher Eckart Schott and Belgian artist Eric Maltaite, on Sunday evening). I also had a few good chats with Mike Perkins, who introduced me as his 'first inker' - back in the early 1990s I'd inked his pencils on a comic called Snowstorm, written by Paul H. Birch. I was also surprised to see Lizz Lunney at the show, and was able to say a quick hello.
At Angouléme I'd been disappointed that I hadn't been able to get into the Tardi exhibition, but I was delighted to see that it had made its way to Erlangen and I managed to get round it a couple of times, lost in the beauty of Tardi's art and the horror of its subject matter (mostly pages and sketches from Goddamn This War! (Putain de Guerre!). Also on the theme of the First World War, Joe Sacco's fold-out pages from his book, The Great War, had been enlarged onto canvas and displayed in the Schlossplatz in front of Markgräfliches Castle. It's a stunning book, and even more stunning at this size.
One of the special items made available to attendees at Comic Salon was a sticker book published by Panini with stickers of the guesting comic artists available from the various publishers around the show. When I was a lad of 7 or 8 I used to collect Panini football stickers, so to become a Panini sticker myself was a little thrill.
Thank you to everyone who bought my books and said hello, and a very special thanks to the Salleck Publishing stand-crew who were so friendly and looked after me so well. A special thank you to Wolfgang for his excellent company and chaperoning while I signed pre-orders, and, of course, to Eckart for inviting me and making it such a nice experience. I feel really honoured to be even a small part of the wonderful European comics scene.