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!
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.
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).
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.
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 :-)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See part two - more thoughts - here.