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Moving up: comic guides
Friday 5 September 2014
I'm making a few slight changes to my working methods with this new Julius Chancer adventure. The biggest change is that I've decided to draw my master artwork at A2 instead of A3 (unless I hate it after trying it!).
This idea first entered my brain back in 2011 when I saw some beautiful photos of an Asterix exhibition and noticed, not necessarily the extra detail, but the amount of space available to draw in each panel. I always felt a bit crammed-in working at A3, especially when putting down 10 or 12 panels per page. And when drawing smaller full-length figures, and buildings, detail and accuracy does start to get a bit smudgy.

I've also been moving away from the ever-reliable Hunt-107 nib and have become quite attached to the Tachikawa Maru, a finer stylus, a little more flexible, but also allowing for a much more comfortable holder.

With the increase in paper size (actually I'll still be drawing on A3, just landscape in two parts) I have had to update my little set of home-made tools.

The first of these (above left) is what I call a marginator. It's a bit of card cut exactly to the width of my page borders, allowing me to quickly mark up the drawing area of the page without having to count the millimetres from a ruler. I know that's not exactly an arduous task in itself but, when you're doing lots of pages, anything to speed up the repetitive bits is a help.

My first version (for A3) was straight - this new improved model has a 90-degree angle on it, so I can place it in the corner of the page and mark two measurements at once.

Next to that (above right) is my balloon space guide. When I letter the completed page it is at A4, but I need to know how much room to leave for balloons when drawing my bigger original art. This allows me to measure the depth of balloons at A2-scale according to how many lines of text there are. I know how many lines to allow for because I do A4 roughs and letter them first.

I have a little print-out of all the measurements I'll need for working at A2 (above), just so I don't have to keep working out how big half or quarter of a page is, and also so I can quickly reference my basic panel sizes (third, quarter, fifth of a tier, etc). I rarely use those exact measurements, but it's a starting point from which I can go bigger or smaller, depending on what I need. My old A3 measurements are on the left.

The first scene of the new story is three pages long, and though I won't be doing this with the entire book (you'll be relieved to hear!) I am going to be blogging the process of this scene quite closely - just to get things going. Here are the thumbnails ...

posted 05.09.14 at 8:28 pm in Comics | permalink | 6 |

Make It Then Tell Everybody
Friday 28 March 2014
Yesterday (Thursday) I chatted to comic creator and teacher Dan Berry for his podcast, Make It Then Tell Everybody. We covered a number of subjects including getting started, the way you view your own work, research and my creative process.
Click here to have a listen, and thanks very much to Dan for having me on. Check out his amazing archive too!

posted 28.03.14 at 6:02 pm in Comics | permalink | |

Three good comicky things
Tuesday 25 March 2014
Here are three good comicky things that have come my way in the last week ...
One - MULP: Sceptre of the Sun. This is an adventure comic crossing the territory of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain ... all that lovely stuff, but with an extra unique feature - all the characters are mice! The story is intriguing and exciting, and the artwork is detailed and gorgeous. It's written by Matt Gibbs, with art by Sara Dunkerton and lettering by Jim Campbell. There's lots to love in it - 1920s cars and motorbikes, archaeological mysteries and clues from the ancient past, mice riding lizards, beetles as beasts of burden, wooden aeroplanes, a classy villainess, and lots more (including a background appearance by a certain Julius and Lily in mouse form). It's right up my street. The first issue (of five) will be released on 7th May 2014 and you can find out more at the Mulp website.

Two - Kurt Dunder. Perhaps you recall that I wrote a review of the only Kurt Dunder book to be published in English - Kurt Dunder in Tirol - back in 2009? Well, now Danish author Frank Madsen has made the very first volume available in English too, Kurt Dunder in Africa, in digital format from Comixology. This is terrific news, and as soon as I get my mitts on the family iPad I'm going to download it for myself!

Three - Unfinished City. This is a detective thriller set in the criminal underworld of Former Yugoslavia and it looks very nice. You can read the first 20 pages here. The art, by Robert Solanović, is wonderful and gave me a hint of Simon Gane, and a pinch of Paul Harrison-Davies - both favourites of mine, but it's all its own thing. And the story is enthralling and very readable, by a UK writer who I have long-admired as an excellent story maker, Ben Dickson, this time in collaboration with Sylvija Martinović. Please support the project's Kickstarter campaign - I want that book in my hands!

posted 25.03.14 at 9:10 pm in Comics | permalink | |

Reading Bingo Challenge 2014 - comics
Friday 17 January 2014
A few days ago, Random House of Canada blogged their 2014 reading bingo cards - a really good idea designed to get you to read more widely and to seek out books that you perhaps wouldn't consider otherwise.
This year, as well as their 'regular' bingo card, they produced a 'YA' (young adult) card as an extra challenge, with one of the squares suggesting 'a graphic novel'. Here are the cards (see them bigger here) ...

It's great to see that anyone doing the YA card will be including a graphic novel in their reading, many, possibly, for the first time. It also made me think how many people consider graphic novels a genre rather than a medium (and I'm not saying Random House are doing this here - they're not) and will immediately think 'Batman' when they see the term graphic novel.

So I wondered if the diversity of comics was enough to wipe out both bingo cards? I then wondered if I could wipe out both bingo cards with graphic novels from my own collection only (and without repeating any)? That would make it harder with my fairly specific tastes.

Well, actually it wasn't that hard after all, and many of the squares could have been filled with various titles. I tried to be as diverse as possible, from within my own shelves, and chose titles largely as if recommending books for readers new to comics. I also avoided adaptations, wanting the books to have been made to be comics. Why not have a go from your own collection? Here's mine ...

Regular Reading Bingo

A book with more than 500 pages - Bone, single volume edition by Jeff Smith (1332 pages)

A forgotten classic - Camelot 3000 by Mike Barr and Brian Bolland (well, I think so!)

A book that became a movie - Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn by Hergé

A book published this year - Nemo: The Roses of Berlin by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Niell (I haven't bought any 2014 comics yet, but this one is on my wishlist)

A book with a number in the title - Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa (had rich pickings here!)

A book written by someone under thirty - Spider Moon by Kate Brown (took longer to confirm a choice here)

A book with non-human characters - Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley by Floyd Gottfredson

A funny book - The Terrible Tales of the Teenytinysaurs by Gary Northfield

A book by a female author - Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds (a bit obvious, but a well-known name and a great title for a newbie recommendation)

A book with mystery - The Black Feather Falls by Ellen Lindner

A book with a one-word title - Dororo by Osama Tezuka

A book of short stories - Nelson by various

Free square - thank you, I'll have Oor Wullie by Dudley D Watkins, please (Ken Harrison is fine too)

A book set on a different continent - Palestine by Joe Sacco

A book of non-fiction - Science Tales by Darryl Cunningham

The first book by a favourite author - Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (a collection, admittedly)

A book you heard about online - Widdershins by Kate Ashwin (wanted to choose a web comic here, something comics do so well)

A best-selling book - Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

A book based on a true story - Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A book at the bottom of your 'to be read' pile - Largo Winch: The Heir by Jean Van Hamme and Phillipe Francq (sorry Largo Winch, I must read you one day)

A book your friend loves - Mortensen's Escapades: The Secret Mummy by Lars Jakobsen (recommended to me by Colin Mathieson, though I also plan on getting a book he recommends even more - The Nieuport Gathering by Ivan Petrus)

A book that scares you - Uzumaki by Junji Ito (thanks for the nightmare)

A book that is more than 10 years old - Charley's War by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun

The second book in a series - Grandville Mon Amour by Bryan Talbot

A book with a blue cover - Scarlet Traces: The Great Game by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli

YA Reading Bingo

A book with a female heroine - Yoko Tsuno: On the Edge of Life by Roger Leloup

A book set in high school - Mo-Bot High by Neill Cameron

The last book of a trilogy - The Incal vol. 3 by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius

A book with a colour in the title - The Yellow M by Edgar P. Jacobs

The first book in a series - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind 1 by Hayao Miyazaki

A book set in the future - Give Me Liberty by Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons (almost went for Alan Moore's Halo Jones, but in order not to repeat an author too much I decided on the Ballad of Martha Washington instead)

A book with a break-up - Blankets by Craig Thompson

A book without a love triangle - Rumble Strip by Woodrow Phoenix

A book that became a movie - From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

A book set in Paris - Paris by Andi Watson and Simon Gane (I was torn between this, Tardi's Adele Blanc-Sec books, and Hubert and Kerascoet's Miss Don't Touch Me ... decided the title had it!)

A book set in the past - Asterix and Cleopatra by Goscinny and Uderzo

A book with magic - Ralph Azham 1: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love? by Lewis Trondheim

Free square - The Complete Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing (it could fit a number of categories, but as it's a free choice, I thought I'd indulge)

A book set in the summer - Black Hole by Charles Burns

A book with a dragon - Dungeon Parade vol 1: A Dungeon Too Many by Sfar, Trondheim and Larcenet

A book that made you cry - Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot (films make me cry all too easily, but comics ... not so often. The first I remembered was the scene in Alice with the girl carrying her dead sister home ... yup, that got me)

A graphic novel - Maus by Art Spiegelman (one of the books most often associated with the rise of the 'graphic novel')

A book based on a myth - The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb (this one had to be an adaptation)

A 'classic' YA book - Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

A book with a lion, a witch, or a wardrobe - I Shall Destroy All The Civilised Planets by Fletcher Hanks (the witch is Fantomah, it even has a lion in - not so sure about a wardrobe)

A book with an incredible fight scene - Captain Britain by Alan Moore and Alan Davies (a difficult one this, but I always remember, as a kid, reading Captain Britain's fight with the Fury and feeling genuinely terrified that he couldn't defeat it)

A book you heard about online - The New Teen Titans: Games by Marv Wolfman and George Perez (aged about 11 to 14 I really loved The New Teen Titans - I saw online that Wolfman and Perez were teaming up again for a new book featuring the Titans and it was published in 2013; I haven't actually read it yet)

A book set in another world - Baggage by the Etherington Brothers (I considered Neverwhere by Richard Corben but that's way too far over the YA remit!)

A book with an epic love story - Saga vol 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

A book with music - Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf

posted 17.01.14 at 4:08 pm in Comics | permalink | 3 |

Interview with Chloë Pursey of Panel Nine
Friday 6 December 2013
Last month saw the digital launch of The Rainbow Orchid on iPad via Sequential. Panel Nine editorial director, Chloë Pursey, kindly took the time to answer some questions and give a bit of background to Sequential and the world of digital comics.
Can you give an overview of who Panel Nine are, and what Sequential is?

Panel Nine is a digital publishing company specializing in digital comics and graphic novels. It's actually an imprint of iEnglish.com, a software development company based in Tokyo which does a lot of educational apps for companies like Oxford University Press.

Sequential is a digital graphic novel storefront app, which we launched in May this year [2013]. We offer a range of graphic novels and comics, tending towards the more literary stuff rather than going down the superhero route. It has a Storefront where you can see new releases and browse books to buy, and a Library where you can read the books you've downloaded.

How did you end up at Panel Nine - did you work in publishing beforehand?

After a degree in Philosophy and Theology, which unsurprisingly proved useless in the real world, I worked in children's publishing for several years, writing and editing magazines and activity books. Then my boyfriend and I moved to Tokyo in March 2011 (that's right - just before the big earthquake) and when I was there I got the job at iEnglish. I worked over there for a couple of years, and then when we decided to come home earlier this year, the company asked if I'd stay on and work from London.

And what is your role within the company?

I'm the Editorial Director, so I work with publishers and artists to decide what we put on the app and when, and then oversee the process of getting the books digitized and releasing them. Basically keeping everything ticking over. We're a small company, so I also pitch in with a lot of the production stuff, getting the layouts and extra features just right. I do a fair bit of business development as well - Sequential isn't the only thing we do and we always have other projects to work on.

What's involved in turning a book, such as The Rainbow Orchid, into a Sequential title?

After we get files from the publisher, we redo the pages to fit the iPad screen, take out blank pages, maybe put in some extra bits if necessary. Any double-page spreads are put together as proper spreads, so you can pan across them rather than just seeing the left and right pages separately. We create the panel links so readers can zoom in to Panel Mode, then other resources such as thumbnail images, contents, the main menus and 'about' screens etc. Some books, such as The Complete Rainbow Orchid, have extra features only available on Sequential, so we'll put all those together too.

Then when all the resources are ready they're bundled together and tested very thoroughly. When we know everything's perfect, the book is ready for release on the app, along with information on our Storefront about the book itself, and the creator and publisher.

Can you explain some of the features that are available with books on the Sequential platform?

Each book has Page Mode and Panel Mode, so you can zoom in and see panels in more detail, or read panel by panel. We worked really hard to make everything intuitive, easy to read, and pleasant, too - super-fast swiping, no horrid pixellated images, or waiting for pages to load. We can also add a whole range of things - extra content such as interviews, sketches and artwork, audio commentaries, videos, webviews, and HTML 5 content - almost anything, really.

We also have a new way of reading comics, which we're calling Sequential Mode. This is where, instead of swiping to the next page, you tap or swipe and one image is replaced with another, using any kind of transition you like. It makes for an interesting new way to present sequential images and tell a story. There's a freebie called Fictions which you can download in the app if anyone would like to have a look.

What are some of the other titles available through Sequential?

We're working with a whole load of brilliant publishers, so we have books from Jonathan Cape, Knockabout, Myriad, Blank Slate, plus a range of stuff from smaller and indie publishers like Great Beast, Tabella, Soaring Penguin, and Metaphrog. So you'll find a whole range of things from the greats like Alan Moore and Gilbert Shelton to more small press titles from people like Dan Berry, Terry Wiley and Isabel Greenberg.

We aim to provide a fairly carefully curated selection, and we're quite picky about what we put on the app, so you won't find any superheroes and you won't have to wade through loads of substandard stuff trying to find something decent to read. (At least, that's the idea!) And we add new books every week, so there's lots of good stuff coming soon. We're always interested to hear what readers would like to see, too.

Is Sequential available on any other platforms, besides iPad? Any plans?

It's currently only available for the iPad, but we're working on an Android version which should be released next year. Watch this space...

Is there much resistance to digital comics, from either readers or publishers? Do you think it's something people are embracing, or is there still work to do?

I think there's definitely still work to do. Digital's still fairly new, really, and a lot of publishers are understandably cautious about how and when to make the leap to digital. Having said that, people are reading digitally more than ever so there's definitely a need for it.

Often I hear people talk as though there's some kind of war between print and digital - as though if they read a digital comic they'll be betraying print, or aiding its decline. I don't think that's the case, and at Panel Nine we're certainly not trying to lure people away from print - I wouldn't work here if we were, I love my huge piles of old books too much. We're trying to provide an alternative, so you can find books you might not come across in your local comics shop (if you even have a local comics shop), or you can give your groaning bookshelves a bit of a rest, or if you fancy reading a gigantic tome like From Hell on the bus but you don't want to lug it round with you all day. And of course, digital comics can often include things print versions can't - audio, video, other bells and whistles. So I think print and digital can complement each other and there's a time and a place for both.

Another assumption people make is that all digital is the same, which frustrates me every time you see a bad comics app which is unresponsive, or difficult to navigate, or where you're not sure where to tap or what will happen. Just as print books can be designed well or badly, or be high-spec or low quality, so digital comics can be smooth and intuitive, or clunky and annoying to use. But all digital tends to get tarred with the same brush and I think a lot of people have tried a low-standard app or reader and thought 'that's it then, digital's not for me'.

Were you a comics reader before your involvement with Panel Nine?

To be honest I wasn't much of a comics reader. I'd read some random bits and pieces - Posy Simmonds, Scott Pilgrim, Ghost World, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I mostly stuck to my 19th century novels and I wouldn't have said I was a comics fan. I've read a lot more over the past couple of years though!

Do you have some favourites (digital or not)?

It's an obvious choice but From Hell is one of my favourites - it's just breathtaking in its scope and scale. I just got round to reading Alice in Sunderland and it kind of blew me away. Favourite newer ones include The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon and Eustace by SJ Harris... and I'm looking forward to reading The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg - I haven't found time yet but it looks amazing. I also try and read stuff in Japanese; comics can be a really good language learning tool because of the visual element, so I'm working my way very slowly through some Tintin at the moment. Oh, and I do love The Phoenix... I'm biased because we do the iPad app, which is great because it means I get to see Bunny vs Monkey before everyone else.

A huge thanks to Chloë for taking the time to answer my questions, and for providing such interesting answers! You can download the Sequential app for free here, and you can see my video tour of The Rainbow Orchid on Sequential here.

posted 06.12.13 at 3:45 pm in Comics | permalink | 2 |

The Phoenix 100
Thursday 5 December 2013
Huge congratulations to The Phoenix comic which has reached issue 100! What a fantastic achievement, and a testament to the enthusiasm and tenacity of all the contributing creators and crew (past and present) at Phoenix HQ - as well as the quality of the comic itself, of course!
I've only played a tiny part in the history of The Phoenix, but I'm very proud to have had my work within its pages: The Legend of the Golden Feather in no. 1, The Bald Boy and the Dervish in nos. 23-26 (both written by Ben Haggarty), and Julius Chancer: The Secret of the Samurai in nos. 75-78.

The Phoenix has been consistently excellent, every week, regularly featuring the work of many of the best British creators ... Neill Cameron, Daniel Hartwell, Adam Murphy, Gary Northfield, the Etherington brothers, Robert Deas, Zak Simmonds-Hurn, Dave Shelton, Jamie Smart, Kate Brown, Paul Duffield, Wilbur Dawbarn, Jamie Littler, Matt Baxter, Dan Boultwood ... and that's not even half of them.

Special tribute should be made to the editors, firstly Ben Sharpe, and then his successor, Will Fickling - and not forgetting the man whose vision brought The Phoenix into existence, the man with the red bow tie, David Fickling.

I really hope The Phoenix continues well into, and beyond, its next 100 issues - it is part of the lifeblood of the British comics scene and is responsible for growing a massive crop of new comics readers and creators in this country. If you love good comics then you really should treat yourself!

posted 05.12.13 at 11:14 am in Comics | permalink | |

Asterix and the Picts
Wednesday 20 November 2013
Last month saw the release of a new Asterix book - always a big event in the comics publishing calendar, but this time there was something else to make it special ... it was the first Asterix book by brand new creators, Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad.
René Goscinny, the original writer, died in 1977, his last book being Asterix in Belgium (posthumously published), after which the series artist, Albert Uderzo, took up the writing as well - often to mixed reaction.

While Hergé explicitly forbid Tintin to be continued by other hands after his death, there has been success with the continuation of Edgar P. Jacobs' Blake and Mortimer series with new creators, so the situation with Asterix is not new territory - though certainly Asterix is a bigger deal on the world stage than Blake and Mortimer.

Asterix and the Picts sees Asterix and Obelix (strangely, leaving Dogmatix at home) travel to Scotland after a Pict is washed up on the Gaulish beach, frozen in a giant pebble of ice. After thawing him out, they decide to return the Pict to his native land, and end up involving themselves in the task of rescuing his kidnapped fiancé, while also attempting to stop the local rotten clan chief from claiming himself as king.

The artwork can't be faulted, and reading the book I couldn't help but marvel at Conrad's imitation skills. There's some very nice stuff with Nessie, and I liked the fact that the fiancé in the story - even though she did need rescuing - was not the usual film-star blonde, but a slightly more down to earth depiction.

The story is fun and breezy but, apart from the setting, not much leaps out to make it particularly memorable. Perhaps, with Uderzo peering over their shoulders, the new creators decided to play things safe, or maybe it suffered slightly from no one wanting to make any radical suggestions or take any risks with this new venture (even though it could be 'anything goes' after the bizarre Falling Sky).

The plot felt a little stilted, but I wonder how much of that is my acute awareness of the new authors. I certainly didn't laugh as much as I usually do with Asterix, though there was humour enough, and the book didn't feel as sharply clever or witty as during the Golden age of Goscinny. I re-read Asterix in Britain afterwards, the Gauls' other visit to our shores, and it really sparkled, with a story that romped at a pace with plot twists and turns, and many good chuckles.

But overall I'm happy with Picts. It's better than some of the more recent books, and I think - I hope - that the creators will grow more confident, become less intimidated (as admitted), and loosen up a little with their new charges. And I hope Uderzo lets them. There's just enough here to feel optimistic about the future of Asterix.

posted 20.11.13 at 11:11 am in Comics | permalink | |

Nick Cardy 1920-2013
Monday 4 November 2013
Today I read the news that comic artist Nick Cardy has died, age 93 - a very good innings, and one filled with a huge variety of extraordinary artwork.
I'm not much a fan of the superhero genre of comics, though I did enjoy them for a short while - somewhere around 1980-1984, and in that time my favourite comic was The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez - I really loved it (Brother Blood! Trigon! The Brotherhood of Evil! Blackfire!).

Sometime later, in the 90s, I had a slight resurgence of interest and decided (as I then had a pay packet) to brush up my collection, which included going back to the original 1960s incarnation of the Teen Titans, and this is where I became aware of Nick Cardy's work. It was his covers that really astonished me - not only the drawing, but the composition and the design as well. To this day I have several of his covers on my wall, and I quickly added John Coates' book, The Art of Nick Cardy, to my library.

My favourite obscure Nick Cardy fact is that is that he added C3-PO and R2-D2 to Tom Jung's famous 1977 Star Wars film poster - a design later reworked by the brothers Hildebrandt. (Nick did many film posters himself, and there is also a sketchbook available of his war art).

posted 04.11.13 at 10:59 pm in Comics | permalink | 6 |

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival
Thursday 24 October 2013
I'm not entirely sure when LICAF was originally announced (I was invited in February) but it had been brewing for a long while, a slow build-up with steady and continual announcements of guests and events, progressively revealing that this was not going to be just another regular convention in the comics calendar.
With a limited budget, I had decided to do just one big show towards the end of the year, and finally I settled on the Lakes rather than Leeds. Last year's Thought Bubble had been excellent, with my best sales yet (128 books), but I was wondering if I would reach many new readers with the same book for a second year in a row, plus there was the cost of travel and hotels - with no new book out this year some of the financial support given by my publisher in previous years would be lacking (though they still generously contributed a bit), plus my father-in-law, who had provided a welcome waypoint en-route, had moved away.

Despite being a brand new festival on the scene, LICAF showed obvious ambition and professionalism from the very start. Right away you could see they were modelling themselves, to some degree, on the world-famous Angouleme festival, where the whole town is integrated into and supports the show, alongside some local authority funding and assistance. In addition to that it had the feel of a literary festival - treating its subject seriously, its guests as VIPs, and with a well thought-out and full itinerary of events. There was a real buzz about LICAF from very early on in the year. But could all that promise live up to reality?

One thing that put me off was the distance - a 300 mile, 5 hour journey from West Sussex by road. Public transport is out of the question with the weight of the books I have to carry (one box of 22 Complete Rainbow Orchids is 15kg). Thankfully, Colin Mathieson of Accent UK helped to break up that journey by letting me stay at his house in Manchester - still a 4 hour drive, but a lot more achievable in a single run. Plus - any time spent with Colin is an added bonus, his taste in comics and his interest in history can keep us both nattering away for a good few hours!

Kendal - here we come

So after a good night's sleep after a long day's drive, Colin and I set off for Kendal on Friday morning. Arriving via the main route into the town we were instantly greeted with signs and banners announcing the festival. This was not going to be a show that was hidden away, hard to find, or available only to those in the know - this was a town festival, and one all about comics. A walkabout revealed shop windows full of comic characters, art and information - you could not ignore this festival!

The Town Hall, aka the Comics Clock Tower, complete with Batman flag and LICAF banners.

While looking for a suitable place to grab some lunch, Colin spotted Waterstones, and as I was the first signing of the day on Saturday, we decided to have a look. Having been told the signing had been well-promoted I wanted to see where and how my books and others' had been displayed. I was a little disappointed not to see anything in the window, but with so many comics around, and with me not being a big-name creator, that wasn't totally unexpected (at least there were comics in the window - already better than the usual state of affairs in bookshops). Inside there was a lovely table of graphic novels right at the front of the shop, as well as some decent shelf-space nearby in a prime location. Excellent stuff - but no Rainbow Orchid. Perhaps it was in the kids' section? After all, I am usually marketed as a children's book in the UK. We went to the back of the store to find an extensive children's area, but again no Orchids - not even alongside the Tintin and Asterix books. My heart sank. I'm afraid it sank even further when I enquired and was met with panicked expressions and learned that my book had not actually been ordered in. A batch was hastily ordered and I was told they would be at the shop in the morning, in time.

I don't know what went wrong. As well as the graphic novels table, they had a display for another author who was signing in-shop the following week, complete with flyers, which is the kind of thing you expect for an author signing. This has happened to me once before, attending a Rainbow Orchid event at a shop to find no copies of my book, or promotion of any kind - not surprisingly only one person turned up ... the author's nightmare! Luckily it's a rarity.

Sorry to start with a negative - it is not at all representative of the weekend as a whole, as you shall see!

After a sandwich, Colin and I made our way to the town hall, rededicated for the weekend as the Comics Clock Tower, where we both had a table. There was another slight disappointment as early on in proceedings both Colin and I had requested we have our tables next to each other, but the actual floor plan revealed Accent UK on the first floor, and me on the ground floor. This wasn't a big deal, and I'm not going to criticise the unenviable task of the organisers in having to layout a floor plan to keep as many people as happy as possible, let alone organise a festival the size and complexity of LICAF! We were both very impressed with the venue, it had oodles of character.

The ground floor room where I was about to set up my table in the Comics Clock Tower - also the Town Council Chamber. My table was directly in front of the Mayor's seat.

The first comickers we bumped into in the street were John Freeman and Jeremy Briggs of Down the Tubes. We all made our way to the Brewery Arts Centre to get our lanyards, and soon enough more and more recognisable and friendly faces were coming into view - I won't even attempt to list everyone! After booking into the Premier Inn (where the reception staff were dressed as superheroes) we had a lovely meal at a little Italian restaurant with the other half of Accent UK, Dave West, and his family - and then it was off to bed where I, unfortunately, had a very bad night's sleep and a complicated dream sequence, perhaps triggered by some slight anxiety about the upcoming first day of the show (not something I usually experience).


After breakfast (the Premier Inn was full of comics folk) it was off to the Clock Tower to finish setting up, and then, just as the doors opened to the public, I had to make my way to Waterstones for my signing. I wasn't too keen on abandoning my table just as the crowds came in, and I have to admit that a naughty thought entered my head ... "I won't mind if they don't have my books." As I entered Waterstones I saw a table with my name on, but no books. They still hadn't arrived. I gave the manager my mobile phone number and she said she'd contact me as soon as they were in and I could come back and sign them, either at another signing session or just for stock. I was quite happy to get back to my table at the Clock Tower, and I got right into a number of sales and book signings on my return. I never did hear from Waterstones, but perhaps it all worked out for the best. The only regret is not having my books available in the shop.

I had excellent table neighbours for the weekend. On my right was Shane Chebsey of Scar Comics, who I have known for a number of years - as a publisher he had a full 6-foot table to himself. I was a creator so was sharing a table with another creator, the talented Kristyna Baczynski, delightful company and a very interesting artist.

The table I shared with artist Kristyna Baczynski.

There's not much interesting I can say about manning a book table for a full day. It is always absolutely lovely to meet and hear from people who enjoy my book, in fact I even think it's vital as far as my continuation with the series goes thanks to the first-hand feedback and enthusiasm received - a great battery recharger. Getting to introduce new people to The Rainbow Orchid, whether they buy it or not, is also an important aspect.

And here was one of the best things about LICAF - the variety of people coming into the Clock Tower. Most comics shows are for already-existing fans of comics (nothing at all wrong with that!). We've been spoiled this year with the excellent Stripped strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where comics and a mainstream audience crossed paths, and the same happened at LICAF. Many families with children were present, more than you usually see at a comics festival, and I spoke to a lot of Kendal locals who came in to see what all this comics stuff was about. Most were impressed, and some even bought a copy of my book.

Whether this is something that can be built upon, to attract families and non-comics people from slightly further afield, will be an interesting challenge for future years. It's exactly the kind of thing we need to expand the readership of what has become, over the past few years, a very strong, lively, and diverse scene.

Saturday night saw another meal with the Accent UK families (Colin's wife had now joined us), this time at the Premier Inn restaurant (and very good it was, too), and then to bed, this time a much better night's sleep after a very full day.


The weather for the weekend was dull and rainy, but not cold. Sunday in the Clock Tower started more slowly, but after a couple of sales things started to build up again, and the second day got under way. On Saturday I seemed to be selling mainly to people who already knew and loved comics, whilst on Sunday there seemed to be more of the 'public' around - many of them buying their first comics since childhood, or ever. Sunday also saw a few of the VIP comics guests getting a look around, and I made a few sales there too - which is always a pleasing experience. (I would prefer if everyone with a lanyard had their name on it instead of, or as well as, 'creator' or 'publisher' - I often know the names via online social networks but not always the faces).

The question amongst all those who had a table in the Clock Tower was "how's sales?". Some reported doing very well, a couple I spoke to were very disappointed. The majority seemed to be reaching their thresholds, just making it worthwhile - myself included. Of course, these shows are not all about sales - there's much more to gain from them than that, as already stated. When I got home I took stock and found I'd sold 52 books in all. I tend to hope for 60-70 or more for a two-day show, but there were so many other positive aspects to the weekend, and I got a lot more out of it than what went into my money box.

Some fabulous Grandville cosplay from a representative of the
excellent Crooked Dice Game Design Studio.

I must make special mention of all the LICAF red-shirted helpers. Several times throughout the weekend they appeared at our tables to ask if we needed anything, often bearing bottled water, cups of tea, and even cakes and fruit! And all with a smile. A kitchen was available for sellers with refreshments freely available. The organisation and attitude of the entire festival was first class.

Finally it was time to pack up and get all my stuff back to the car. As well as the help of the always-generous Jeremy Briggs, I had invested in a fold-up trolley that proved very useful on its first official outing.

Jeremy, Colin, Colin's wife, and myself all went for one last meal, this time at Pizza Express (I'm afraid I did make the bad joke of a 'an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman (and Scotswoman) walk into a ...' well, not a bar, but a restaurant. Yet another very nice meal was had (it must be the company), and the festival ended with Jeremy leading me out of Kendal's complicated one-way system. Jeremy might have to become my approved comic festival usher, as he provided a similar role in Edinburgh, walking me to my bus stop at the end of the day.


My journey back to Manchester was through very heavy rain, but I made it safely back to Colin's for one more night, before my four-hour (plus half-an-hour lunch stop) journey back home. (That's the longest I've been away from my children - four nights - and it was lovely to get a huge hug and much dancing and laughing from my two-and-a-half year-old daughter when I appeared at the front door; even my 6-month old did a double-take when he saw me again, before breaking out into a big grin. Choke!)

Overall, the Lakes International Comic Art Festival was a very worthwhile trip. I had more time for social interaction than I did at Edinburgh, made decent enough sales, met a lot of interesting and interested people, had some lovely table-mates, and had a jolly good comicky time. There's an indefinable something extra that makes a successful comics show - something to do with the atmosphere and general feeling, and LICAF had that positive aspect on top of everything else.

Huge congratulations to Julie and Sharon Tait, Jenny Graham, Bryan and Mary Talbot, Sean Phillips, Owen Michael Johnson, and all the LICAF team and helpers. I'd definitely do it again.

posted 24.10.13 at 8:53 pm in Comics | permalink | 2 |

Comics in Kendal
Tuesday 15 October 2013
This weekend sees the inaugural Lakes International Comic Art Festival (perhaps henceforth to be known as LICAF) in Kendal, Cumbria. I will have a table in the Comics Clock Tower (the town hall) - see the plan below - and I will be signing at Waterstones on Saturday, from 11 am -12.00.
As a special offer I will be selling The Complete Rainbow Orchid for the ridiculously attractive price of just 10 - probably the last time I'm going to do this at an event because it doesn't do much for my bank balance! But it is quite good for sales of my book - so please come along and buy yourself a lovely big adventure comic from me :-)

posted 15.10.13 at 9:26 pm in Comics | permalink | 2 |

The British Comic Awards 2013
Thursday 26 September 2013
Yesterday the shortlists were announced for the British Comic Awards, with each category containing five books from a longlist of eligible works. I'm chuffed and delighted to be able to tell you that The Complete Rainbow Orchid has been selected for the category of the Young People's Comic Award.

I do not envy the job of the BCA committee to whittle down the books to just five - when you look at the longlist then you could quite easily and legitimately replace any of the shortlist books with other titles - Teenytinysaurs, Pirates of Pangea, Corpse Talk, Porcelain, etc. It just makes my own inclusion even more of a (nice) surprise.

I honestly couldn't say who might win - all my fellow nominees bring excellent books to the list, with a refreshing diversity in subject matter and of publishers. I think my own chances are low, but that might just be natural, defensive pessimism! Still, you never know, and it's a lovely thing to have got this far - I'll bask in it while it lasts.

The British Comic Awards is something that is good for all comics in that it raises awareness, gets people talking, and celebrates the medium. My huge thanks to the BCA committee for the vote of confidence, and my thanks to all those who have sent congratulations.

posted 26.09.13 at 9:02 pm in Comics | permalink | 2 |

Daisy and the Goldbug Variation
Sunday 16 June 2013
I was sent this comic album by the authors, Eileen and Trevor Green, and wanted to let you know about it. It's a fabulously fun detective romp, taking in the Scottish Highlands, the dreaming spires of Oxford, and the French Riviera.

The plot concerns an ingenious method for accumulating gold from the sea, and an even more ingenious method for encoding that secret. Needless to say, nefarious forces want to get their hands on it, and Daisy, and her little brother, Co, get entangled into proceedings, determined to make sure that things turn out right.

The story was written by Trevor, an architect and founder of the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford. Eileen is a children's illustrator; she pencilled the artwork and then Trevor would make a clear-line tracing - an interesting collaboration!

The artwork is very much in the school of Hergé and has a lovely kinetic quality to it - the detail is absorbing from first page to last. And the story keeps you going, with equal measures of humour (whether puns or physical comedy - plenty of both) and drama, excitement and suspense.

Have a look at their website here, and go and get yourself a copy of the book right here. And the good news is there's more to come as a second book is planned, The Souvlaki Mechanism.

posted 16.06.13 at 9:22 pm in Comics | permalink | |

Seventeenth Century Manhua
Friday 22 February 2013
If you're interested in the history of comics then I thought you might be interested to see this seventeenth century Chinese porcelain vase. I came across it completely by chance while researching some background material for a new Julius Chancer story.

It was made in Jingdezhen sometime between 1690 and 1700 (Quing Dynasty) and depicts the tale of Xi Xang Ji (The Western Chamber) in a remarkably bande dessinée-like four tiers of panels. There are similar vases of the same period but many of them have panels designed as nested petal shapes and don't tell any story, just showing scenes of ladies on terraces and flowers. This one in particular, complete with panel gutters, looks as though it could have been transferred directly from the pages of a Tintin album (see it in more detail here).

Far Eastern objet d'art have long been adorned with traditional folk tales. I remember studying my grandparents' Willow pattern tea set through the glass of their 'best china' cabinet, with my mum explaining to me the tale it told of two lovers transformed into birds. Of course now, thanks to Wikipedia, I discover that particular story and design was an eighteenth century English invention, an imitation made to cash-in on the popularity of the real thing.

The Western Chamber - the real thing - also tells the story of two lovers, with the young man having to overcome the adversity of tradition, bandits, a civil service exam, and - worst of all - the girl's disapproving mother. The Jingdezhen vase is housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, though is currently in storage.

posted 22.02.13 at 1:51 am in Comics | permalink | |

The Phoenix Comic - digital edition
Saturday 5 January 2013
Excitement! Not only is The Phoenix comic one year old but it has also just released its digital edition, available as an App for your iPad. And double-excitement - for one week only you can get a six-month subscription for the incredible price of just 9.99! Remember, The Phoenix is weekly, so that's 24 comics for a tenner! (A six-month sub would normally cost you about 56 for the paper copies - and that's good value too).
The Phoenix is a weekly children's comic featuring some of the very best in UK comics talent, providing a variety of funny, dramatic and adventurous stories in a beautiful, ad-free, wonderfully designed package. It is truly one of the best British comics around (for all ages), and one of the very few true UK comic weeklies in existence. If you want to support the future of British comics then this is a good way to do it. So, if you've got an iPad (I believe other platforms are on their way) then you really must take advantage of this stupendously amazing offer.

Here's a link to the App, here's The Phoenix's web page about it, and here's an early review from George Shiers' Wacky Comics blog. Go!

posted 05.01.13 at 4:34 pm in Comics | permalink | |

Some thoughts on creating comics
Wednesday 2 January 2013
While I do make new year's resolutions I don't tell anyone about them! Instead, I thought I'd offer a few new year's thoughts on creating stories, being a creator, and on comics generally.
These are extracted from a file I've kept on my desktop over the past three years or so that I add to whenever a thought occurs. Some are learned from my own experience, and some are from observing fellow creators. All of them should be taken with a pinch of salt, and none are any kind of gospel, or even necessarily true. They're just notes, but perhaps one or two may resonate with you as well ...


The best defence against failure, and the best ally of inspiration, is to make sure you're working on a project that you really love.

You can learn from anyone, no matter what their level of expertise, no matter what their age is. Stay humble and be generous.

When 'character development' is mentioned many people think of the creation and filling out of a character before they are used in a story, but you should rather think of it in terms of the way the character develops because of the story. The story should develop the character.

In a story, for a character to change their mind (or have it changed) something dramatic should happen.

I don't like stories that are aimed at kids or aimed at adults. I don't like films that claim to be for both but are just slapstick for the kids and double-entendres for the adults. I like the story to be true only to itself, and not written for some imaginary demographic.

When you end a scene you need to end it with a full stop, or maybe an ellipsis, and when you start a scene you need to start it with a capital letter. Not literally (grammar goes without saying), but visually.

Writing for kids is difficult, which is why I don't bother. I write for me and hope that others, including kids, will like it too.

People sometimes seem to think that a strong female character is simply a girl who acts like a boy - in which case I think they're wrong.

I'm an expert in how to make comics the Garen Way. As for how to make comics any other way, I'm rubbish.

As soon as you get a book deal don't sit back and hope the publisher will take care of all the marketing from now on. What you actually need to do is double and triple your marketing efforts.

Self-depreciation and false modesty are all very well but don't forget you're a one-person marketing force on your own behalf, so it's best not to constantly put out 'press releases' saying how awful you are.

"That's brilliant, I hate you!", "It's really good, but I must say it's not how I'd have done it", and "you're sickeningly talented" are not really compliments.

Stop thinking you're important and get on with your work.

Stop thinking everyone else is better than you and get on with your work.

Stop thinking the world is out to get you and nothing's fair - and get on with your work!

I don't mind not being original, in fact I think that may even be beyond me. But I do want to be authentic and true to myself. That is very important.

How many comic creators does it take to change a light bulb? One, plus twenty-two to sit around saying how the light bulb industry is dying and if only they made light bulbs like they used to in the 70s then everything would be all right.

There's nothing wrong with occasional wordy scenes - as long as the words are useful, important and serve the story. If a comic is light on dialogue it might mean you're just reading lots of running and fighting. Either way, just make it good.

Success can often have more to do with not giving up rather than being brilliant or lucky. It's about not letting obstacles defeat you. It's about overcoming them and carrying on.

People who draw only sexy girls draw brilliant sexy girls, but not very good telephones. Sometimes you need to draw telephones.

The UK comics scene is small. When someone has a success with their comic, it is a success for all comics.

If fight scenes or extreme situations are too commonplace then they can lose their potency, their danger. If, like in life, fights are rare, then when they do happen they have greater impact, especially if the result on the characters is serious. Too much death and it takes on very little meaning.

When I make comics I am not a writer when I write the script and I am not an artist when I draw the pictures - I am a comic creator with both tasks. Making comics is a single discipline with a single end product - the comic.

Don't sit there sobbing over everything that's wrong with a drawing you've just done. Go and do a new drawing and make it better.

Don't concentrate on what you haven't got. Focus on what you have got and develop it.

Don't respond to bad reviews of your work. Don't, don't, don't, don't don't.

Things in publishing aren't always great. When this happens, don't withdraw - you've got to keep engaged. Keeping engaged means opportunities will still come your way and things will improve.

It's very easy to spend all your time writing emails, doing interviews, attending events, dealing with admin - and not writing and drawing. Don't do that. Writing and drawing must come first.

People are fond of saying how comics are great for slow readers to hook them into reading. Then they complain when comics are seen as dumbed-down kids' stuff, useful only as a stepping stone to 'proper books'.

The greatest enemy of the comic artist is to think you're worthless. Don't think that, it's not true.

Wherever there are awards, there are arguments.

If someone says "I could do better than that", what they usually mean, probably without realising, is they think they could improve on what they have just seen or read - not doing better from a fresh, uninfluenced, start - a blank sheet of paper - as the original author did.

You don't find the time to draw comics, you make the time to draw comics.

Everyone thinks there's a clique and that they're not in it.

If a gun is used, it must have serious consequences. A gun must not be used to solve plot situations. Guns don't solve problems, they make them more complicated.

A drawing will lay bare your soul. No wonder artists are so sensitive to criticism!

When I type a comic script I'm writing with words. When I draw a comic strip I'm writing with pictures.

Successful artists suffer from a lack of confidence in their own ability just like every other artist does, the difference is that they don't let it rule their lives.

Don't write for children, write a story with children in mind. The emphasis is on 'write a story', not 'children'.

Talking heads are fine if: a) the talking is interesting, and b) the heads are interesting. Oh, and it doesn't go on too long.

Isn't it time we moved beyond the idea of girls' or boys' comics?

For a villain to be a threat they must be shown to do something with real and serious consequences.

You are not in competition with other cartoonists.

No book reviewer has ever found a fault with my work that I wasn't already painfully aware of. Where my own work is concerned, I am the Critic King!

The Three Excitements: Action, Tension, and Comedy. Try to use at least one in every scene.

There seems to be this idea that there's a tiny room called 'Comics' and only a few privileged souls can fit in it. Actually 'Comics' is a universe, and it's bigger than all the comic creators in existence, many many times over.

posted 02.01.13 at 1:19 pm in Comics | permalink | 8 |

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