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.
And on Sat 21 - Sun 22 June I'll be in Erlangen for Comic Salon, Germany's most important comics festival (held once every two years). I'll be on the Salleck Publications table where I'll be signing and sketching in the German edition of volume 2 (Die Regenbogen Orchidee: Auf Gefährlichen Pfaden).
This edition has a little bonus in the form of the Lily Lawrence Story Sword of Truth that I originally wrote and drew for The Girly Comic back in 2004, only now it's in colour.
If you've read my 'director's commentary' that appeared at the Forbidden Planet International blog a little while back, or have seen me talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, or the Hay Book Festival, or at the British Comic Awards last year, then you'll already be familiar with this material.
As a footnote to this post, there's a rather grumpy review of The Complete Rainbow Orchid up at Amazon.com (US) where the reviewer goes on at some length about the 'pathetic' 'self indulgence' of my making-of material at the back of the book. While I don't mind if someone doesn't like my book - that's fine (and I'm very aware of its imperfections myself) - I do feel that this criticism is a little unfair.
Perhaps things are different here in the UK where many comic creators are actively trying to revive the comics industry by getting young people engaged in the medium, especially at workshops where we help them to create their own comics. I get a lot of interest in how I work - from invitations to do workshops at schools and book festivals, to emails on the subject (often several a month) and queries at comic shows.
It's got nothing to do with thinking me or my creative process is particularly important. It's a different world now - most artists have blogs and show their working methods and many published comics have sketchbook and process sections at the back. Why? Because people are genuinely interested. I love seeing such things myself, from the smallest of small-pressers to the biggest names in the industry.
Now, that's enough self-indulgence!
I'd always wanted The Rainbow Orchid to be a single book, but in order to give myself some deadlines it was initially published in episodes in BAM! (Bulldog Adventure Magazine), from April 2002 to November 2003. In October 2003, upon the completion of the fifth episode, I decided to collect them all together and self-publish them as 'part one' - something that eventually set the template for Egmont's decision to publish it in three separate volumes a few years later.
I launched the book at the London 'Winterfest' on 1 Nov 2003, at the Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury, and sold almost 100 copies - it was really well received. The rest of the print run (250, I think) sold out fairly quickly afterwards, through the post and at the Bristol Comics Festival in May 2004. I sold the last copy on eBay, in December 2004, along with some sketches, where it eventually went for £79 (with 10 bids). I was amazed it went for so much, so threw in the original of the cover drawing as well. Someone else sold a copy on eBay, by itself, in June 2009 for £12, and I heard that another went on Amazon for nearly £100 (in the wake of an article on my work in Book Collector magazine).
The 2004 eBay lot.
Apart from the cover, the entire book is in black and white and the story is 34 pages long (two pages were added for Egmont's volume 1, as well as some individual panel changes). There are some 'extras' - a character page, not too dissimilar from the layout in the eventual Egmont edition, a single-page scrapbook (again, a precursor to the double-page spread at the end of the Egmont vol. 1), and a page of pencils and roughs - mainly character sketches. The back page featured a couple of early colour panel tests and some quotes from the BAM! letters pages. There are some minor printing errors on the inside-back and back pages due to the printer not flattening transparencies on the PDF.
That's about all there is to know about it, really. I was glad of the opportunity to draw a more dynamic version of the cover for Egmont, and also to lengthen a couple of scenes - especially the last scene with the aircraft taking off, which I finished rather hurriedly originally in order to get the book to the printer before I went off on holiday to Paris. A 'part two' was never published because I decided to serialise the continuing story on my website.
Since then the book has had its three complete volumes published in English, Dutch, Spanish, French and German, collected editions in English and Spanish, an iPad version, it's taken me to the Hay Festival, the Edinburgh Festival, the Cheltenham and Bath Festivals, as well as doing signings in Holland, Germany and, most recently, at Angoulême in France. Who'd have thought? (Not me!)
I can't read it, but it looks very nice, so huge thanks to Peter for putting in the work and writing and researching it. It's still to be finally confirmed, but I should be returning to Germany this year for the launch of Salleck's publication of volume 2 - more details nearer the time.
It was an early start on the Thursday - the first day of the festival, but one I would spend travelling - up at 5.45 for a train to East Croydon, then on to St. Pancras for the Eurostar to Paris. I was slightly anxious about the short time I'd have to get from Gare du Nord to Montparnasse for my train to Angoulême, but here's a top tip - I discovered you can buy Métro tickets from the buffet car on the Eurostar, so I got two (one for the return journey) and I was all set to get off the train and scoot right on to the Métro - plenty of time.
I finally reached Angoulême just after 16.30 and made my way up the big hill and into the town centre to find Espace Para-BD, where the BD Must stand was and from where I could collect my pass. I introduced myself to Jean-Michel and his BD Must crew, as well as the artists already signing - Eric Heuvel and Vano from the Netherlands (I had met Eric before), and Patrick Dumas and Nicolas Siner from France. I was also delighted to meet, for the first time, my Spanish publisher, César Espona of Netcom2 Editorial. Half an hour later I was sat down and sketching and signing in books as well.
The festival closed for the day at 7pm, and after wrapping up the stand we drove to a restaurant a few miles outside of Angoulême, where I had the first of three (Thur, Fri and Sat) of the best meals I've had in a long time. And the company was excellent too - Eric and Vano were my fellow non-French speaking, English-speaking travellers, while the French and Belgians had a mix of a little English to very good English. I had a tiny bit of French, which got me by when I needed it, but otherwise I had to rely on, and was very grateful for, the fact that mainland Europeans are so much better at languages than the British.
After that it was back in the car and off to our accommodation. This was at Chateau de la Tranchade, a 14th century castle (with some 16th, 17th and 19th century updates) some miles to the southeast of Angoulême. We weren't in the chateau itself, but a very nice converted farm house in the grounds, each with our own room, en suite, and a communal room with a real fireplace. I had a pretty good night's sleep!
The next day, after breakfast (pain au chocolat, toast, croissant and tea - I am in France, after all), we drove back to town for the start of the show at 10. I was signing from 10 until 1, and when not signing for actual customers, I was sketching in and signing stock for future shows (BD Must do about twenty a year). It was good to meet Thomas Du Caju, Belgian author of Betty and Dodge and Francis Carin, another Belgian author with his latest book, Ennemis de Sang - but I knew him better from his Victor Sackville series (written by François Rivière), and we discussed the Sackville name a little as my home town is connected very strongly with the actual family.
For lunch on Friday I went off with Eric Heuvel and Vano and we grabbed some sandwiches and visited a few of the other tents - Le Monde Des Bulles, which housed the big mainstream publishers and was something akin to a shopping mall with stands like little bookshops, and Le Nouveau Monde, which seemed to house the independent and small press and was full of a huge variety of fascinating material. Here I found some fellow British citizens in the form of the Dessinators - Francesca Cassavetti and Oliver Lambden (Sean Azzopardi and Sally-Anne Hickman were away from the table). I'd also had a welcome visit from Clíodhna Lyons earlier when she stopped by the BD Must stand.
We ate our lunch at Espace Franquin, where the Dutch contingent (many arriving together in a single coach - their French-dwelling countryman, Willem, was the festival president this year) had set up shop - a print shop to be exact, with a number of artists making daily posters, screen printing them on-site, and then putting them up around the town. While eating our sandwiches here we had an amusing episode: the three of us were sat down when suddenly a piece of paper and a pencil was thrust under my nose. I looked up to see a schoolboy of about 7 or 8 - he didn't say a word but had evidently seen my 'auteur' badge and was hoping for a sketch. As I put pencil to paper, we were quickly and silently surrounded by about ten more children, all with paper and pens (there were a lot of school parties at the festival). We did a couple of sketches, but had to say no to more or we'd have been there all day - I felt bad but we'd already been sketching all morning and had limited time before we had to get back.
But with the little time left before we had to be at the BD Must stand again, we went for a wander and got a little lost, though nicely so, because we saw some of the quieter bits of Angoulême. At one point we came across the cathedral, which also had a comics exhibition in. Vano made me laugh, saying "in every toilet an exhibition!". Not far off ... Angoulême is a true city of comics, from the speech bubble street signs (some named after comic creators), to the statues of Hergé and Corto Maltese, and the numerous permanent comics murals adorning many of the town's buildings. Eric's quote of the day was "our audience grows old with us and dies with us!"
I was signing again from 3-5pm, and for a short while sat next to Henk Kuijpers, creator of the astonishingly good Dutch series, Franka (I've long wished these were in English). He showed me some of the panels in his book, explaining some of the research he'd done and his creative process. I also very briefly met Thim Montaigne, the French artist behind The Third Testament.
Finishing at 5, I had two hours to fill until we went to dinner, and suddenly realised I didn't really know what to do. I wasn't very prepared for what to see at the festival and at first just revisited the big tents for a more detailed look. I thought about seeing the Tardi exhibition, but by the time I found it it was getting late and I knew I wouldn't have enough time. So, though it was nice wandering around, it was a bit of a long (and slightly cold) two hours. Lesson for next time - get to know the festival a bit better beforehand and have plans for free time.
Dinner on the Friday night was in a brasserie in Angoulême, and was, again, delicious, and again, in excellent company. I was learning a lot about the European comics scene from my new continental friends, and was even starting to believe that I may be a legitimate part of it after all - especially after meeting some of the enthusiastic customers for my own book. True, seeing the huge signing queues and marketing forces at work in Le Monde des Bulles reinforced the notion that I was a very very tiny part of it - but then I already knew that!
On Saturday I wasn't required at the BD Must stand until 1pm, so had the morning free. Eric and I went down to the Musée de la BD and had a good look around the main exhibition there. It was a chronological look through comics, with plenty of originals, vintage publications and process videos. I did a double-take when I saw a familiar-looking aircraft appear on a screen as part of a display of Bécassine pages from 1930. I waited until it came round again and, yes, there it was - a Breguet 280T! Only about 21 of these were made, so to see the aircraft I used in The Rainbow Orchid also appear in a classic strip from 1930 was quite a surprise. I overcame my strong sense to not flout rules and took an iPhone photo of the screen.
After that Eric and I took the weight off our feet and enjoyed a hot chocolate in the foyer. Eric was especially kind throughout the weekend, showing me around and being an excellent companion. BD Must have just put together a beautiful six-album set of January Jones, drawn by Eric and written by his mentor (Eric's term), Martin Lodewijk. Eric is a masterful artist of the clear line - and although I own some Dutch softbacks of some of the January Jones albums, I was droollng over the BD Must set (especially the two new works which I hadn't seen).
While Eric had to return to the stand for his next signing slot, I joined the long queue for the Tardi exhibition (Saturday was noticeably busier than the previous days). The queue didn't really seem to be moving, and it was looking very crowded inside, so with time running short I decided to return to the Musée and have a look at Nocturnes - an exhibition of comics relating to dreams and nightmares. And I'm glad I did - starting with prints from the Illustrated London News and a selection of original Winsor McCay pages, it was a very absorbing display. In fact, by the time I got out, I just had time to nip to the loo and buy a quick pressie from the shop for my daughter, and then I had to belt up the hill to make it to my signing session which started at 1pm.
(A note on the Tardi queue - I was later told by a couple of people that I should wave my 'auteur' badge around a lot more - it's apparently a permit to bypass queues, enter through exits, and to make a general VIP of yourself ... it really doesn't come very naturally to an Englishman - if we see a queue we're liable to join it.)
For the Saturday afternoon I was scheduled to sign from 1 to 5, but I ended up sketching and signing all the way to the day's end at 8pm (the festival is an hour longer on the Saturday). Dinner that evening was at a very nice little créperie - again, truly delicious. (Most of the restaurants in Angoulême are so busy during the festival that they simplify their menus, often to just 4 or 5 choices or a set 'BD Spécial').
And so came my last day. After breakfast, and with half an hour before the chateau owner's son drove us into Angoulême, Eric, François and I had a little time to look around the castle grounds. It was a lovely misty morning, very atmospheric, and I managed to get a few photos (I never take enough photos at these things).
I was signing from 10 to 2, a lot quieter than the Saturday (Sunday is 'family day'), but when most of the other artists left for lunch at 1 and there was room on the signing table for a little L'Orchidée Arc-en-ciel display, a few more sales were added in my last hour.
After goodbyes and au revoirs, I left for my 3.30pm train and the journey home began ... Angoulême, Paris Montparnasse, the Métro to Gard du Nord, the Eurostar to St Pancras, the Underground to Victoria, and then the last Sunday train home, putting my key in the door just after 11.30 pm. The first thing I did was have giant mug of tea.
So I have at last experienced Angoulême ... 18 hours of travelling, over 17 hours of signing and sketching, a city where comics and their creators are truly celebrated - like nothing in the UK. The festival prizes are widely reported in the mainstream press, taken seriously, and the publishers make the most of those prizes to help sell books, both during the nomination and winning phases. I hope things move that way here too. It's very interesting that the Grand Prix went to Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson - the winner becomes the curator for the next year's festival, but as Watterson retired in 1995 and pretty much disappeared from public life ... well, we'll see what happens.
I wish I'd got to see the Tardi exhibit - he's one of my favourite creators (update: I got to see it in Germany a few months later). I wish I'd made better use of my free time on the Friday afternoon. Was I inspired? Yes, to some degree - though I was working quite a bit, I did feel a lot more integrated with the European scene, which was very good for me. The question is, how can you hold on to that inspiration, bring it home and make it last?
A huge thank you to Jean-Michel for inviting me, and to all the BD Must crew, Patrick, François and Philippe, for making me feel so welcome and for looking after me. Thank you to everyone who bought my books! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I'm sure - I hope - I'll be going back.
Most of the time I will be at the BD Must stand (Fri, Sat, Sun a.m., I'm travelling on the Thursday), which is no. H13 in the Espace Para BD (in the Place de Halles, bound by BD Pasteur and Rue de Chat on Place Guillon - see map).
Also at the stand will be Francis Carin (Ennemis de Sang), Thomas Du Caju (Betty and Dodge), Patrick Dumas (Allan MacBride), Eric Heuvel (January Jones), Nicolas Siner (Horacio d'Alba) and Vano (Rhonda).
If you're there too, please do come and say hello!
The year was very good for The Rainbow Orchid, seeing two new translations - a French language collection from Belgian publisher BD Must, and a German language edition from Salleck Publishing - and in November the book was made available in a digital edition through Sequential for iPad. The Complete Rainbow Orchid was shortlisted for a British Comic Award and - much to my surprise - ended up winning in its category, The Young People's Comic Award.
A new Julius Chancer story, The Secret of the Samurai, was serialised in four episodes in The Phoenix (and Metaphrog very kindly cited it as one of their best of the year over at the Forbidden Planet blog).
At the start of the year I didn't have many events planned, but the second half quickly booked up, with Stripped at the Edinburgh Festival, Nerd Fest, the Lakes Comic Art Festival, and Comic Action in Germany.
So what about 2014? I can already mention two events - the big one will see me at Angouleme in France at the end of January, and then I'll be at DemonCon in Maidstone in the middle of February. There will be more to come, so keep an eye on the events page. I'll also be doing more school events this year (but I tend not to list those).
There will be new Julius Chancer too. My plan is to start the new book and put the first few pages on the website. I'd like to do another short for The Phoenix (if they'll have me), but let's wait and see. And then I'd like to continue and get the next book well on its way and completed in early 2015. That's the plan anyway ... sometimes things change!
I hope you had a lovely Christmas break - and here's to a happy and prosperous 2014 for all of us!
I couldn't decide which one I thought would win, but I was fairly certain it wouldn't be me! Cindy and Biscuit looked as though it could really appeal to a young audience with its no-nonsense girl protagonist, giant robots and alien encounters; Luke Pearson had won last year with another Hilda book and had already proved himself a deserved favourite; Playing Out looked as though it spoke directly to young people and their real-life experiences, with style; and Viviane's book was a wonderfully original idea, beautifully executed by an author with a track record in quality work.
Photo courtesy Sarah McIntyre ©2013 - with thanks.
Adam Cadwell, the awards' founder, and Debbie Moody, the Leeds Young People's Librarian, were the hosts for the afternoon, with four or five school groups in attendance. The Young People's Award is voted for by actual young readers (the other British Comic Awards categories are voted for by a judging panel). Star author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre gave a fabulous 20-minute talk, focusing on her own work but applying it to how anyone can make their own comics. She also got everyone drawing their own Sea Monkey!
Each of the attending nominated authors then did a brief talk about their book. Dan White spoke eloquently on how he came up with Cindy and Biscuit, talking about creating his tough girl heroine and some of his story-telling techniques. I think I was next, extracting a part of my longer presentation where I concentrate on how I make a page and a few examples of research I'd done. Luke Pearson wasn't able to be there, but his publisher, Nobrow, had sent a set of beautiful Hilda models, one of each given to the school groups and an extra as a raffle prize. Jim Medway was illuminating on the philosophy of his book and on drawing his trademark cat-people. Viviane was last, revealing some intriguing snippets about the origin of her graphic novel and the stories and dreams contained within. It was a really good hour or so of fascinating comics creating information.
At last it was time for Adam Cadwell to open the little golden envelope and to reveal the winner. By now I thought I knew who it was, as when Jim Medway had got up to give his talk there had been a cheer round the room, which I don't think any of us others had, and I thought the winner had been revealed! Instead, however, The Complete Rainbow Orchid was announced. It really was a very big and genuinely unexpected surprise.
I felt a bit embarrassed getting up in place of any of the other worthy nominees, worried there had been a mistake. I made a pretty rubbish acceptance speech - sorry! On my way back to my seat Sarah said to me "all that hard work paid off", and it has been a long road ... I don't know if this is the end of it, but it's certainly a very nice capping of what's turned out to be a pretty good year for RO.
Photo courtesy Sarah McIntyre ©2013 - with thanks.
Unfortunately I had to return home that day, so I missed out on a weekend of selling my book at Thought Bubble as a BCA winner, and also attending the festival's main awards ceremony on the Saturday evening. The other winners were: Best Book - The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon; Best Comic - Winter's Knight by Robert Ball; Emerging Talent - Will Morris; and Hall of Fame - Leo Baxendale.
That will answer the question of why I was in Leeds on the Friday, but not at Thought Bubble for the weekend, which did confuse some people - sorry (see Sarah McIntyre's excellent blog round-up of the festival here). I'd like to clear up another point that has been put my way a couple of times - the question of why The Rainbow Orchid was nominated for a 2013 award when it's been around far longer than that. Well, the award is for The Complete Rainbow Orchid, and that was not completed, published, or available until September 2012 - just within the timeframe for the 2013 awards.
2013 has been a very good year for good British comics. So many other books on the longlist could have been justifiably nominated, and decisions could have gone another way with just a sigh. I'm very grateful to the BCA committee for nominating me from a particularly strong pool of books, and I'm enormously grateful to all the school children and groups who took part in the tough decision of voting. And thank you very much indeed for the avalanche of tweets, emails and Facebook comments with congratulations that poured in over the weekend - I'm not going to lie, it means a lot to me.
The Complete Rainbow Orchid is the British Comic Awards winner of the Young People's Comic Award for 2013. Thank you!