As well as accompanying me to one of my workshops (at the Forest Row Festival) we also went through the process of making a single page comic featuring Tom's own characters, The Larrys. Here's a little interview I conducted with Tom, as well as a few pieces of his fantastic artwork, more of which you can see over at his website.
Tom, can you introduce yourself - age, interests, and what you'd like to do when you leave school?
I'm Tom V. Leighton, I'm 17. I love to draw and create my own comics, I like watching films and spending time with my friends. I am in my last year of Imberhorne Sixth Form and I am studying Art and Design as well as ICT. When I leave school I would like to go to University in America (Brigham Young University) where I will study animation and hopefully get a career at one of the large animation studios.
You recently visited me one day a week for a few weeks as part of a school project, can you give some background to this - what you had to do and what you wanted to get out of it?
I had to produce a case study of the business over a few weeks, I had to learn about the trade and gain ideas for a final piece. To begin with I learned about some basic business and the process of how you created a comic strip, which I found very interesting! We had some discussion and over a few weeks we decided to produce a full six panel comic strip starring some of my own characters, The Larrys. We also attended the Forest Row drawing workshop where I helped as an assistant. This was a new experience and I felt that I would observe to see the basis of what happens at these workshops. I learned a lot from these visits and I am very grateful for the opportunity I had in doing so!
It was good fun, and I learned some stuff too! Can you introduce us to your comic characters, The Larrys - what's it all about?
Sure, The Larrys is about a group of young boys (around 7 yrs) who get up to all sorts of adventures. There are 5 of them to begin with until they take on a new member later on! They have certain adult characteristics to them and they occasionally refer to themselves as characters in a comic strip in some way or another. The adventures are based on what I would have liked to have done as a kid. There are quite a few adventures, I haven't developed all of the stories yet but all in good time! I came up with the comic idea from a dream I had; I dreamed that my Mum bought me a t-Shirt that had The Larrys on it.
Curious! We made a little 'Larrys' comic together (well, 90% you, 10% me*) - how did you find the experience? Was it very different from the way you usually work?
I found it very fun, I learned about the processes in scanning and colouring the strip and I thought it was great that we combined our two illustration styles. The process was definitely more technical than the way I would have done it without any guidance; I would have just drawn out the boxes and characters, followed by outlining it with black ink and then colouring it using comic pens. I will definitely consider the process for the future.
Sometimes it's interesting to know how other people do things, perhaps pick up a tip or two, but we all find our own way in the end. Can you tell me when and how you got interested in comics?
When I was in year 3 [age 7-8], I had a friend who 'taught' me to draw cartoons. From there I guess I became interested in different cartoons and came across different comic books. I came across a Wallace and Gromit comic book and a Garfield annual. I then became interested in The Beano when I got an annual for Christmas. I then went to Florida in 2004 and got a Fantastic Four comic book. I guess I came across other comics and started to develop my own characters and stories.
And what comics do you read now? What are your all-time favourites?
I mainly read The Rainbow Orchid, Garfield and Marvel. I did read some Adventures of Tintin and after working with you I have gained an interest in Tintin. My all time favourites are: Marvel, Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, The Rainbow Orchid and there are probably other comics which I can't think of right now.
So, if you had to pick one comic to take to a desert island, what would it be?
That's a tough one, hmm ... If I had to pick one comic to take to a desert Island then I would probably have to take a big book of Marvel as it would be made up of lots of different stories.
Good thinking! Is there any interest in comics amongst your friends and fellow students?
A small amount, I don't really discuss comics and such, if I do then it is usually about my own works. I don't mind this as I enjoy talking about my own ideas and it implies that people are interested in my interests and hobbies.
As a young chap looking to embark on a career in comics, how do you see the current comics scene, especially in the UK? Do you feel optimistic both as a creator and a reader?
I don't really know. To begin with I genuinely thought that I would get a lot of money straight away from my comic ideas, now I see that's a bit dumb! Ha! There are many different comic ideas and there seems to be a lot of repetition over the years. I guess it is down to personal tastes and popularity. One comic may gain a lot of interest and some may not get much interest. It would probably be different in the USA. As I plan to live there when I'm older it may help as there is a different comic culture over there. If that makes sense.
Yes, it's good to have a clear plan like that. Having something to aim for is really important! At this moment in time, what is your ambition in art, comics, or any related fields? What is your ultimate aim?
At this moment I aim to get good grades in my A levels and to get into university in the U.S. and see where it takes me. My ultimate aim is to work at Pixar in many different fields of art, animation and illustration or even start up my own successful comics company. but we shall see...
Well, it seems you're certainly setting off on the right foot, so I wish you all the best with it! Thanks very much for your time and for answering my questions, Tom.
You can visit Tom's website here.
Firstly I should say that I haven't read any Tintin in a long time. That might surprise you, but there's a reason for it. When I started The Rainbow Orchid I wanted it to be a British comic but in the mould of European classics such as Tintin, Blake and Mortimer, Freddy Lombard, Yoko Tsuno and their ilk. But being so heavily influenced from the start I wanted to find my own feet with the style and story, so I pretty much cut myself off from reading Tintin (the best-known of the influences) over the next few years. I perhaps sneaked in one or two reads in something like eight years.
In that time I was given a hugely generous 40th birthday present from Egmont - the UK publisher of Tintin (and The Rainbow Orchid) - in the form of a complete set of Tintin in hardback. In the US the Tintin books have been published since the 1970s by Little, Brown, and recently they released a series of young reader editions, sporting newly designed covers and - the best bit - fascinating bonus material at the back of each book.
The new covers are the first thing you'll notice about the books, each one enlarging an extract from one of the story's panels on a flat colour background. There have been mumblings from some Tintin fans that the original albums shouldn't be messed with, but I have to say I think, for an offshoot edition, they're good; deliciously designed and rather attractive. The next thing you'll notice is the size - these are digest books measuring roughly six by nine inches but they're mostly perfectly readable (a few of the illustrated documents and longer balloons can be a bit of a struggle for older eyes) and they double up as an ideal and portable travelling edition.
Before you reach the start of the story you'll find seven pages, each devoted to a key character from the album with a little introduction to them and the part they play in the adventure ahead. So, in Cigars of the Pharaoh we get Tintin and Snowy, Sophocles Sarcophagus ("Doctor Sarcophagus only has one thing on his mind throughout this adventure: Ancient Egyptian pharaohs!"), Rastapopoulos, Thomson and Thompson ("The world's silliest police detectives make their first appearance in this Tintin story. Right from the start their investigations are in a hopeless muddle!"), Sheik Patrash Pasha, The Fakir, and The Maharaja of Gaipajama ("The dignified Maharaja of Gaipajama welcomes Tintin into his palace, and the heroic reporter returns his kindness").
The bulk of the book is, of course, made up of the most important bit, the Tintin adventure itself. I don't think I need to go into any more detail than to say that Hergé was a master of graphic storytelling, tight and exciting plots, wonderful characters, and sublime clear-line drawing ... do I? There's a very good reason the Tintin books are still selling in their hundreds of thousands to this day. There are currently ten titles in the Little, Brown young reader series; in order of publication: The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham's Treasure, Cigars of the Pharaoh, The Blue Lotus, Tintin in America, The Broken Ear, The Black Island, King Ottokar's Sceptre (all 2011), The Crab with the Golden Claws, and The Shooting Star (2012). In the UK Egmont have so far published The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure in this format, with further titles to follow in 2013.
The most interesting unique feature of these young reader editions is the bonus material at the back of each book. Entitled 'The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Tintin's Adventures', this section provides twenty-two pages of behind-the-scenes notes, research, facts and figures relating to the story, and sketches and photos to help provide context. All this has been put together by Stuart Tett, working directly out of the Moulinsart vault with access to the entire Hergé archives, and he's done a terrific job. There's no doubt these are written with a junior audience in mind, but - even with my own well-stocked library of books about the making of Tintin - I found them fascinating and informative.
Let's take a look in more detail at one particular volume, one of my favourites, The Black Island ... First of all you get a Hergé timeline, from birth to death, placing the volume in the chronology. The main text kicks off with Hergé's connection and interest in England and then moves on to a bit about Tintin's role in the story as he takes on the guise of detective. Next we learn about the book's publication history and the vital part played by Bob De Moor in the final updated version, including some of the reference photos he took on location and a postcard he sent to the Hergé Studio from Dover. We then come to a section common to all the books, 'Explore and Discover', where particular scenes from the story are looked at in detail with the research that informed them and connected trivia: the model of trains used in different editions, Dr Müller's country house, Craig Dhui Castle, a bit of cryptozoology, the real-life Dr Müller, and aerobatics. We end off with six post-it notes of trivia - all interesting stuff. All of this is profusely illustrated with gorgeous Hergé art and related photographs.
These Little, Brown and Egmont young reader editions will be a nice addition to any Tintin collection, no matter the age of the reader, but for children in particular they will really help to give some idea of the work put into these comics, and a new dimension is added with the very well constructed and written supporting material from Stuart Tett. I highly recommend them!
If you'd like to know a little more about the work behind these new editions, there's an interesting interview with Stuart over at The Compulsive Reader. And, if you're on Facebook, do check out the Tintin Facebook page.
He was not known as a comic artist, but was a well-known and well-loved science-fiction and fantasy illustrator. Even so, I planned to publish a one-off special of his comic strips, for which he provided me with good copies - unfortunately this never came to pass, mostly due to funding issues on my part. My last contact with him was in June 1997 when I returned his prints to him, but he came into my thoughts again in June of this year after I read Jeremy Briggs' article on Near Myths, a comic that Alan had contributed to (Private Eye in issue 5), and I discovered, thanks to Steve Holland, he was still living at the same address as he was in the 90s. Sadly I never got round to writing to him again, as I intended.
Alan was born in Coventry in 1923 and, inspired by some of the best pulp artists, particularly Virgil Finlay, got into science-fiction and fantasy illustration in the early 1950s. His work appeared in both professional and fan publications and he started the Fantasy Art Society. In his day job he worked as a technical illustrator for the Ministry of Supply, though he later had his own shop, a newsagent and stationers, at which point his illustration work all but disappeared due to work and family commitments.
In the late 1960s he left retailing and returned to drawing, this time for a large electronics firm, eventually working in computer graphics. He also made a welcome return to illustration for the SF/fantasy fan scene. He retired from work in 1989, though continued drawing. His wife, Joyce (Kirkham), sadly died in May 1994. They had a son, Christopher.
Alan was a superb illustrator. You just have to see his work to know the care and dedication he put into every piece, no matter how small. He was also a lovely chap, and very supportive of my own, then quite amateur, scribblings. I have put a few samples below, including the strip he contributed to Cosmorama 3 (Broken Contact, 1980) and a strip that would have appeared in the planned special (The Big Oak).
My condolences to Alan's family, friends and fans, the latter of which I most ardently include myself. You can read a little more on the British Fantasy Society website.
Broken Contact by Alan Hunter
On Saturday I went down to Lewes to give my adventure comics workshop at Bags of Books, an outstanding children's bookshop in a town that boasts a number of fine little bookshops. I think there were about 25 children and the imagination was in full flow as we created fabulous heroes, dastardly villains, and the shortest little epic adventure strips you'll ever see. A special thank you to Anna and Vikki for hosting me. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of Lewes, do go and give their wonderful shop a visit.
On Monday I was invited by Forest Row Primary School to give four comic workshop sessions to four classes, all in one morning - it was hectic but great fun. This time we added a dash of the Olympics to the proceedings as I set the story of the Olympic flame being stolen. As for by whom, and who would save the day, that was up to the children to decide, and I must have seen over 200 unique, bizarre, and amazing Olympic heroes and villains that morning! Another sincere thanks for having me, this time to Denise for setting up the event, and to Siobhan and her colleagues for looking after me so well.
This Saturday I will be at The Bookshop in East Grinstead, available to sign copies of The Rainbow Orchid, and I'll also have some original art pages to show. I'll be at the shop from 11 until 1, and if you tune into 107 Meridian FM from 10am you should also find me on Krys O'Brien's morning show just beforehand. I look forward to chatting to anyone and everyone who comes about comics - making them and reading them!
If you've seen the current issue of TBK Magazine (Summer 2012) you'll see a lovely mention of The Rainbow Orchid, and also a page I wrote and designed that gets you going on your own comic strip, complete with some handy hints on how to write a gripping adventure story.
Which reminds me ... I have, at last, updated the online shop to include volume 3, either as part of the complete set, or as a signed and sketched-in edition on its own. From interest and enquiries so far I am expecting a bit of a glut of orders to begin with (I've had four in the half hour since I updated the page), so please bear with me if they take just a little longer to get out in the post than usual - thank you.
Finally, don't forget that this week sees part three of The Bald Boy and the Dervish, the penultimate chapter in Ben Haggarty's Silk Roads story, illustrated by me and appearing in The Phoenix. Here's a little sneaky-peek ...
Look carefully and you might spot a character or two (or four, actually) from The Legend of the Golden Feather, that appeared in issue 1, hidden somewhere in the story!
If you're not yet reading this fantastic weekly comic, go and get a subscription, right now!
He was a rare genius of the art of the comic strip with an incredible imagination and vision. He leaves a treasure trove of work - hopefully more of which will be translated into English.
Visit this wonderful tumblr blog of his work.
It wasn't really a piece where I was able to promote The Rainbow Orchid in particular - though it got a good mention, of course, and I also managed to give mentions to The Beano, The Dandy, Toxic and The Phoenix. It's available on the BBC iPlayer to listen to for the next week, roughly 20 minutes in.
Back in 2002 some friends and I decided to each write a Christmas ghost story and then read them to each other that Christmas eve night. My contribution was called Silent Night and I've put it up online here - so go and have a read if you'd like a little Festive Fright!
Last week Murray and I completed our podcast discussions for those ten adventure films I blogged about earlier in the year and you can listen to our chat about Ray Harryhausen's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad at the Adventure Film Podcast blog. We do intend to record an eleventh podcast, an overview of film adventure and to see if any interesting conclusions can be drawn from the films we discussed. Your thoughts are most welcome too!
I wanted to review a small pile of excellent small press titles received over the past couple of months, but have run out of time. Instead, let me point you towards them - all top quality and well worth adding to your reading list: wonderful artwork and superhero drama with Martin Eden's Spandex; stylistic and metropolitan comics antholgy from David O'Connell and friends with Ink + Paper; worthy and marvellous successor to Whores of Mensa, Strumpet; north-east heroics and intrigue with Daniel Clifford and Gary Bainbridge's Sugar Glider. And if you want some excellent comic reading throughout 2012, and you haven't done so already, do yourself a big favour and go and subscribe to The Phoenix - it is something truly special.
Lastly, don't forget that The Rainbow Orchid volume 3, the concluding episode, will be published at the beginning of April 2012 - precisely ten years since it was first serialised in BAM! (issue 22, April 2002). The Dutch edition, De Regenboog Orchidee, will be published in May. In the meantime, here's the completed cover for you.
Have a lovely Christmas!
Other contributors include some equally firm favourites such as Jamie Smart, the Etherington Brothers, John and Patrice Aggs, Dave Shelton, Kate Brown, James Turner, Gary Northfield - I could go on! I also have a strip, a one-off story written by the amazing Ben Haggarty - I say amazing because he wrote Mezolith, and amazing is one of the many apt words to describe that marvellous book (yup, marvellous is another). Here's a panel from our strip, called The Golden Feather ...
If you're able to seek out a Waitrose store then pop in and pick up their free Waitrose Weekend paper (dated 17 Nov). As well as a feature on The Phoenix there is a code with which to get a special (and also free) Phoenix issue zero.
For lots more information (including subscription details) see the new Phoenix website!
Demoncon is organised and run by Graham Beadle and his Maidstone comic shop, Grinning Demon. It was a lovely intimate event taking place in a small sandwich bar (Eden in Bank Street, though I believe a bigger venue is on the cards for next year) and had a really nice atmosphere. I have to admit my expectations for sales were modest, but I sold 19 books and a handful of badges and met some great people too (I was delighted to meet the fantastic Phil Elliott after many years of more distant and irregular correspondence).
Huge thanks to Graham, his team, and his shop regulars and other attendees for a very welcoming and enjoyable day.