Since the early 1990s I've kept a fairly detailed diary, so it's interesting to read what was going on back then. I was living with my brother and a friend in a rented house while my girlfriend (now wife) was away at university. I worked weekends at a mushroom farm (and I was just about to start a second job as an early-morning cleaner at a local health club) and spent the weekdays attempting to get my illustration career off the ground - at the time I was doing little bits and pieces, including inking some of Tony O'Donnell's pencils for Football Picture Monthly. I was in a production of Twelfth Night, playing Sebastian, and also working with my brother on a new fanzine called Baleful Head.
I drew the first panel of The Rainbow Orchid on the 13th March 1997, and the following weekend I attended the UK Comic Art Convention (UKCAC 97). On the 24th March I went to the cinema to see the new release of the Star Wars Special Edition. I had no internet at the time (I'd get it later the same year), so went to the local library for all my research. A few weeks later Labour would get into power after 18 years of the Tories, and things were looking ... hopeful.
Many things have changed since then, and some haven't. If you happen to have visited Amazon UK recently to try and buy The Complete Rainbow Orchid, you may have noticed that Amazon no longer stock it and it's only available from resellers. The last of the stock was sold off after a rather nice mention by Tanita Tikaram on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London at the end of March.
The Rainbow Orchid really has lived its long life now (well, almost ...). Honestly, it's time I got on with something new, isn't it?
Volume one had come out in June 2015 (see my report here) and while there had been a few delays and problems with the follow-ups, it's thanks to the dedication and tenacity of my editor, Michael Larsen, that the set has now been completed.
The Friday had started off on a sombre note as I attended the funeral of a friend who died far too early in life - a sad but beautiful service. A taxi to the airport (my wife was away with the car and children for the weekend) to catch my afternoon flight, and by 7pm I was at Copenhagen airport and, after getting the train into the city, I was in my hotel room within an hour. Anticipating I'd be too tired to go out for a meal I'd brought sandwiches, so sat and munched and watched a bit of Danish TV before collapsing into bed. It's a glamorous life!
After a hearty breakfast (I'm never certain if I'll have any lunch, or a late one, at these events) I met Michael in the lobby of The Scandic and we made our way to the Øksnehallen and the Tellerup stand. The books seemed to sell well - the first book I had to sketch and sign in was for a friend of Michael's, and halfway through doing it I had my first customer. I didn't get to finish signing that first book until the very end of Sunday.
Saturday was particularly busy - I was drawing all day, with only a break for lunch and also an interview as part of the festival programme. Unfortunately this was rather poorly attended - just a handful of people. I don't know if that's because I was on at the same time as fellow UK artist, the brilliant Tom Gauld, or - more likely - I'm just not at all well-known! Honestly, I didn't mind - I was interviewed by Danish comics creator Frank Madsen, who asked some interesting questions, and I enjoyed the chat very much. A big thanks to those who did come along.
On Saturday evening Michael and I attended a dinner given by the festival for the international guests, and we were in some pretty fine company. I was able to meet Tom Gauld for the first time (I especially enjoyed his Angoulême/Rammstein story), and was also seated opposite French artist Sébastien Cosset and Swedish artist Kim Andersson. Seated just outside my own conversation zone was an artist I really admire, Boulet - perhaps good that I didn't get to speak to him in case I ended up as an anecdote ("the dull British artist") in one of his web comics!
Much to my shame and some embarrassment, I hadn't realised I was sitting directly opposite one of my very favourite comic creators: Sébastien, I discovered the following day, was one half of the creative team known as Kerascoët. I love Miss Don't Touch Me (especially volume 1) and I thought the more recent Beauty was stunning - one of the few creators whose work I seek out and buy when it's available. But again, perhaps it's best I didn't realise it was him behind the nom de plume so I didn't end up fawning over him all evening! All were good company and I had a lovely evening with some interesting food (I passed on the course that consisted of skewered duck hearts ...)
The Sunday was another busy day, though not quite as manic as Saturday. I had another interview scheduled, this time with a bigger audience as it was with Jakob Stegelmann, the host of the famous Danish TV programme Troldspejlet. This interview kept me on my toes - it's been a while since doing publicity for The Rainbow Orchid, but most of my facts and stories are still in there - Jakob asked me about eyebrows, languages, inspirations, and whether it matters that modern children won't get many of the historical references in my story (short version: no, I don't think it matters). You can watch the unedited footage here and the full episode here.
It was great to meet so many of the Danish comic creators that I'd met on my first trip here two years previously, and it was also nice to meet the British contingent (Colin, Scott and Dave of Accent UK), Canadian John Anderson of Soaring Penguin, and the Irish contingent, Cliodhna Lyons, with her table-mate and fellow animator/comic artist, Benedict Edward Bowen).
After Sunday, Michael and I, with the Accent UK chaps, retired to a nearby restaurant for food and drinks, before it was back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and then to the train station where we said our goodbyes before I went on to the airport. My return flight was very busy, and delayed by about half an hour, but it was a good (if windy) flight home, and I got in my front door at about half-past midnight.
Thank you, as ever, to everyone who came by the Tellerup stand and bought a book or two or three (or who gave me one, thank you Ingo Milton!). Denmark is particularly nice to visit, and I had a lovely time. This was also, in large part, thanks to my editor and translator, Michael Larsen, who was again excellent company and has been vital to the existence of Jagten på Regnbueorkidéen. I must also thank the book's designer, Rasmus Kronholm - Michael and he have made, I think, my favourite edition of the book.
I had a busy week of work when I got home, and on the following Thursday it was World Book Day, which saw me give four hour-long talks at my old school - Imberhorne. It's been about 35 years since I was a student there, though I do teach karate there twice a week, so it wasn't a total shock to walk its corridors once again! The staff and pupils were lovely, though, and I enjoyed the day very much. A special thanks to John Pye of The Bookshop on the High Street for his part in the organisation.
It will be my second visit to this wonderful city, and I'm looking forward to it. You can even come and see me interviewed by comics creator and illustrator Frank Madsen (on the Saturday at 1.30 pm), plus I'll be signing and sketching at the Tellerup stand.
This is very likely to be one of my last appearances at an event related to The Rainbow Orchid (I may have promised one more) as, though these are new translations, I have been promoting the book for over 8 years now and I've run out of steam on it. While I'm still proud of the book, it's old work to me - I haven't actually looked at it in a couple of years and I've still not been able to bring myself to read the story all the way through. It's time - way beyond time - for something new.
In the meantime, I'm excited to see the story finally completed in Danish, all thanks to the efforts of my editor and advocate, Michael Erik Nøhr Larsen, without whom it would not exist. So, if you're in Copenhagen, come and say hello to us!
We decided to take the ferry from Portsmouth (a 2-hour drive), but it wasn't until I'd bought the tickets that I realised our littlest one didn't have a passport (our five-year old had hers for a previous comic festival trip to the Netherlands in 2012). This meant we had to do a rush application, including a visit to the passport office in London on the day of a train strike ... all rather hectic and expensive, but it worked out.
The quay at St. Malo - the white tents in the centre and the two long buildings and tent to their right is the main festival venue.
The ferry out to St. Malo was an 11-hour overnight crossing. Despite the calm seas, I didn't sleep well, and emerged into Brittany feeling a little dazed. But we had a lovely and well-timed welcome from my Belgian publisher, Jean-Michel Boxus, and his assistant, Francois Lienart, (both last seen at Angoulême in 2014) followed up by a fantastic French breakfast at Café de L'Ouest.
After that it was off to the festival, where we collected our passes and I got down to sketching and signing books while the rest of my family went off to enjoy the walled city and its beaches. It was great to meet (Dutch) Vano again, and later on (Belgian) Thomas Du Caju - both previously met at Angoulême. Other table fellows of the weekend included Spanish artist Jamie Calderón and French creator Julien Carette. I was also delighted to bump into my fellow Britannique, Ian Culbard.
At the BD Must stand.
My lack of sleep on the ferry started to manifest towards the end of the day as I began to feel rather light-headed, and at one point I'm sure the picture of Evelyn Crow I'd just drawn winked at me! It was time to get to our hotel, a couple of miles out from the old city, and we were grateful for the services of Francois who drove us to and from the hotel for the duration of our stay.
The hotel, La Rotonde on Boulevard Chateaubriand - a late booking - was good, basic, of 'unique' character, and did the job for four tired travellers. We had a take-away and watched a bit of French children's TV before lights out.
I was given Saturday morning off, so we took a walk round the city wall, taking in the wonderful coastline, sights, fresh air and history (St. Malo is home of the corsairs!), and a crêpe breakfast along the way. The only blot to the trip was the loss of our little girl's much loved soft toy cat, Fudge, mislaid somewhere in the festival venue. We asked several times at the Information booth, and a 'wanted' poster was made and posted up - but no joy, alas.
After a sandwich lunch in the open space of the Esplanade Saint-Vincent, it was back to an afternoon of sketching. I'd had a few moments to stretch my legs and look around the festival - it had a very nice atmosphere, much smaller than Angoulême, but better for it, I think, more manageable, and lovely BD albums wherever you looked. My children enjoyed it too, seeing a live 'time travel' show at the Palais du Grand Large (Collecteur Temporel) and taking advantage of some their drawing and colouring sheets.
Vano, Garen and Jamie signing and sketching.
We returned to the crêperie where we'd had breakfast, Couleur Safran on Grand Rue, for a Breton galette dinner, where the owner, it turned out, had a couple of sketchbooks filled by guests from past Quai Des Bulles, and I was requested to add one myself, resulting in a slightly dishevelled Julius Chancer being placed in the window for the evening.
After a much better night's sleep, it was time for the ferry again on Sunday morning, with a lift from the hotel to the port from Francois. The journey back was about 8 hours, but it was really rather pleasant. I was kept busy taking the children to a Halloween magic show, and then trying to solve the ship's treasure hunt. Plus I had a nice Blake & Mortimer to read and a little snooze to enjoy. Our daughter even won a prize in the drawing competition. It was gone 10 pm by the time we reached home, the children asleep, and big mugs of tea much needed by the parents.
Enormous thanks to Jean-Michel for inviting me to Quai des Bulles, and to the BD Must team, Francois and Patrick, for looking after us so generously. And an extra special thanks to everyone who came by and bought L'Orchidée Arc-en-ciel, I really appreciate it.
The ferry home.
I've had a busy start to the new year, especially with one particular project that I've just completed - hard work, enormous fun, and I'll blog about it more when it sees the light of day later this month.
Julius Chancer has never been far from my thoughts and I've managed to get back to a bit of work on the next book again. It's frustrating (for you and me!) that's it's so slow, but money-earning work has to take priority, and that's not the comics, I'm sorry to say.
For now, here's some costume colour guide roughs for characters from the opening scene of the new book.
Of course everyone has asked me what I thought of the beautiful city of Vienna - and, as with my previous European adventures, I honestly can't say! I spent the majority of my time sat behind a table sketching in books and chatting with German and Austrian comic fans - the reason I'm lucky enough to be there. I didn't even see much of the rest of the comic show. I saw a little of the city - through a car window, or taking the Viennese U-Bahn and then walking to the venue with some of the other artists (including Don Rosa, Francois Walthery, Thomas Cadene and Davide Fabbri) - and Vienna does indeed look very nice.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy the weekend - very far from it, I had a wonderful time (and was put up at a lovely hotel - Hotel Kummer on Mariahilfer Strasse). I was particularly pleased to spend so much time with my fellow Salleck author, Belgian artist Francois Walthery, creator of Natacha and long-time assistant to Peyo of Smurfs fame. He didn't speak English and I didn't speak French (well, each a very little) but we bonded over a mutual love of 60s British/US Blues icon John Mayall - and comics of course. Francois, as he said himself, has been drawing comics since the formation of The Beatles (though comics have not made him as rich, he added!).
A big thank you to Eckart Schott for the invite and the hospitality, to Wolfgang Klingel for the company, conversation and translation services, to Johannes Seybert and Michael for the chaperoning and airport transport, and to everyone who said hello (including the pleasant surprise of meeting Dirk Verschure again, last seen in Haarlem attempting to make my then baby daughter laugh), or who bought my book, or even just showed an interest ... danke!
I'd actually been invited to two other shows this weekend - the Munich Comics Festival, by my German publisher, Salleck, and the Bulles de Mantes La Jolie in Paris, by BD Must - but Copenhagen beat them to it. It's nice to be wanted, and I wish I could have somehow managed all three!
But I'd wanted to attend the Copenhagen event, which is held every two years, for a while now, after hearing positive reports from Colin Mathieson and Dave West of Accent UK, who both thought my book would find an appreciative audience there. When Danish publisher Tellerup added my book to their list late last year, the possibility of attending became a reality - and for that I must thank my champion at Tellerup, Michael Larsen, the Danish Arts Foundation, and Copenhagen Comics themselves.
I'm not a big fan of flying, but - though I'm not religious - there were about 20 or more members of the Salvation Army brass band on my flight, so I knew I'd be okay! Michael met me at the airport and we took the train into Copenhagen, hopped on a bus to my hotel (Hotel Sct. Thomas in Frederiksberg, right next door, it turned out, to Copenhagen's Salvation Army HQ) where I checked in and freshened up, and then we took the bus back into the city where we met the rest of the Tellerup team for dinner, at A Hereford Beefstouw, right next to the famous Tivoli Gardens.
The Tellerup team consisted of Michael, Thomas Schrøder and his wife Lise, Harald and Louise Tellerup, Valdemar Tellerup and one other chap, whose name didn't quite reach my ears (sorry!) [Edit: it was Steen]. They are a wonderful bunch and I feel very pleased indeed to have my work published by them.
After dinner Michael and I took a bus to Nyhavn - the 17th-century harbour that was once home to Hans Christian Andersen. Michael is an excellent tour-guide and he provided tea and good conversation, especially with his interesting insights into acting - something we've both been involved in.
The bus journey back led to a little adventure - Michael got off before me and I remained on board with a man who seemed insistent on informing me about (I think) his savings, the Danish tax rate, and the government (there's to be a general election this month). Whether it was due to this or my own lack of awareness, I wasn't sure which stop to get off at, so I took a chance and then used my 'intuition' to walk in what I thought was the right direction. My intuition was as good as random chance (unsurprisingly) and I soon realised I was going the wrong way. But purely by chance I had come out with a city map in my back pocket, and purely by chance I decided to examine it just as I was about to walk off the edge of it. A 20-minute walk got me back safely to the hotel!
I was staying in the same hotel as Colin and Dave of Accent UK and so I was able to meet them for breakfast the next day. Making up the rest of the Accent UK team were West Noir artist Gary Crutchley, and Colin's son Scott, and all four were terrific company all weekend, starting with breakfast each day.
Day one of the festival was hugely enjoyable - I was busy signing and sketching for most of the day and I met a ton of marvellous comic creators and readers. From my last German trip it was lovely to reacquaint myself with Tatiana Goldberg, also published by Tellerup and whose fantastic book, Anima, was shortlisted for a Ping Award (the winners were to be announced that evening); also Frank Madsen, Sussi Bech and Ingo Milton. I was also delighted to meet (all too briefly) Lars Jakobsen, creator of the fantastic Mortensen books - which Colin had turned me onto a couple of years previously.
At midday I was part of a panel discussion about drawing kids' comics, chaired by Michael Andersen and alongside comics superstars Luke Pearson and Thomas Wellmann. It was interesting that none of us had intentionally created a comic for children, we'd all made comics as something we, ourselves, wanted to read. Being comics for children had more to do with marketing, though all-ages content and clear storytelling were certainly aspects that perhaps made our books more widely accessible - not, we agreed, exclusively for a young demographic, but for a mainstream, even non-comic reading, truly all-ages audience.
Another friendly face present in Copenhagen Comics that weekend was Clíodhna Lyons, who was literally flying the flag for Irish comics, as well as her own gorgeous work. I'd last seen Clíodhna at Angoulême, so even though she only lives 30 miles away from me, we only seem to get to say hello when in mainland Europe. Along with the Accent UK guys and a number of friendly Danes, she was excellent company all weekend - and I owe her a drink in return for the enormous orange juice she treated me to at Cafe Obelix that evening.
The second day of the festival was another good one, perhaps a little slower than the Saturday, but I was still busy enough signing to keep me from clock-watching, with enough space this time to allow me to stretch my legs and have a wander around the Danish comics scene, which, I'm pleased to report, is friendly, full and fascinating.
One nice thing that Tellerup had organised was an exclusive Rainbow Orchid poster, free to anyone who bought the book at the festival. It was a big one - 70 x 100cm - and a common sight was to see people carrying them around in their special Tellerup poster boxes. I'd drawn this in spare moments during a very busy period of work, but was pleased to see that it had come out all right!
I was very pleased to make the acquaintance of another talented Dane, Thomas Friis Pedersen (who uses the pen-name Thop), creator of Flix & Flax and Zombie Kravlenisser (as well as The Great Zardini, which really gave me a good chuckle) and is another Tellerup author. And it was good to meet Árni Beck Gunnarsson too, for whom Thomas and I collaborated on a little jam sketch!
Sunday evening saw a lovely dinner at The London Pub on Godthåbsvej with Clíodhna, Accent UK, and Søren Pedersen, founder of the famous Fantask comics shop, and his wife Vibeke. As with every evening, much conversation was had, including subjects as diverse as Japanese film, potatoes, the Gay Gordons, and, of course, comics.
On Monday morning it was time to return home. A slightly earlier breakfast, again with the magnificent company of the Accent UK team (Colin was torn between a Danish pastry and accompanying me to the station, luckily reason prevailed ... the Danish), before I said my goodbyes and walked off to Copenhagen Central for a train to the airport. Despite a slightly delayed flight I was home by 3pm, and I even managed to summon up the energy to get myself to that night's karate training.
So, did I enjoy my first visit to Denmark? Most certainly. Would I go again? Absolutely. The Danish comics scene was enormously welcoming and I had a terrific time. Huge thanks to Tellerup, especially Michael Larsen who made the whole thing happen, to the Danish Arts Foundation for help with funding, and - by no means least - to Steffen Rayburn-Maarup and the Copenhagen Comics team for having me as a guest. I feel very lucky and honoured that I got the chance to go.
Yes, I know it's the same cover that's been on all the editions, but I particularly like the title design here - I gave it a slightly larger 'O', even though it's all one word in Danish, and spent a little more time on shaping it overall than I have on some of the other editions (oh how I'd like to rework the English one!).
I have drawn a new piece of Rainbow Orchid artwork for a promotional poster, but I'll leave that to be revealed by Tellerup at the festival, so no sneaky peeks just yet! Oh, okay, maybe just a little one ...
The first is aimed at librarians and will take place at Crawley Library, West Sussex, on 18 May, where I'll be on a panel addressing the issue of reaching reluctant readers (something comics do very well!). My fellow panelists will be Helen Dennis, Mo O'Hara, and Lisa Williamson. You can book tickets here.
On the weekend of 6-7 June I'll be at Copenhagen Comics in Denmark for the launch of the Danish edition of The Rainbow Orchid vol.1 (Jagten Pa Regnbueorkideen, published by Tellerup). Long before a Danish edition was even a possibility I had wanted to visit this festival, largely thanks to the enthusiastic reports brought back by Colin and Dave of Accent UK, who will also be attending this year. I'm very grateful to the festival, Tellerup, and the Danish Arts Foundation for making this trip a reality.