After many trials of various web-design packages, I've settled back with Adobe, and Dreamweaver. I'm not a 100% coder, but also I need more than just design by WYSWYG - I use PHP and MySQL, but am not an advanced user (I coded this blog from scratch - with occasional help from my cleverer brother).
So I've practiced on a couple of my other pages, getting the hang of CSS and responsive designs, and am now ready to start tackling this one. For now, it's just the blog page, but over the next couple of months I'll gradually update everything (it may take a while - work is particularly busy at the moment).
In the meantime, and to justify this test blog post, here's an illustration/poster I completed a couple of months ago.
I grew up in the 1970s and even as a kid I was vaguely aware of power cuts, strikes, the IRA, and something called politics, but it was all very distant to a young child who preferred to live in a world of adventure stories, comics and science fiction. In the 1980s however, things changed. The world suddenly seemed a more dangerous place, with the USA and the USSR at each other's throats and nuclear war seeming a very real possibility. We watched Threads at school and I took instructions on how to build a fallout shelter at home very seriously. Mum bought a little store of tinned foods and essentials that she kept in her wardrobe - just in case.
Then came the 1990s. Nelson Mandela was released from prison and Apartheid ended in South Africa. The Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunified. Margaret Thatcher resigned. Gorbachev was reforming the Soviet Union, and the Communist bloc fell apart. The IRA called a ceasefire. The Israeli Prime Minister shook hands with Yasser Arafat. Of course not everything was rosy, but there was a feeling of optimism, of the possibility that the world might actually be getting better. People were coming together to try and make it happen.
That all pretty much ended on 11 September 2001. It wasn't just the attack on New York, it was the response: war. But worse than that, it was war based on lies. I've always had a strong sense of justice - of believing in what is right. Things should be done for the right reason, people should be treated as fellow human beings. For someone whose childhood was rammed full of war comics and toy soldiers, I ended up as quite the pacifist. Again, that naive idealism - as I was discovering music I was captivated by the Woodstock film and the ideals the movement strained for. I knew they were unachievable, but I couldn't help falling for it.
A week ago, the British public voted to leave the European Union, 52% to 48%, it was a close-run thing, but in a one-person/one-vote poll, the answer is unequivocal - of the people who voted, the majority think we're better off out. As a 'Remainer' (see my last post) I was devastated. Most of my friends have been devastated too, and across social media we've been discussing the fallout, sharing links and trying to understand what happened - and why.
'Leave' voters have often been unsympathetic, confused by our reaction, and even angry at us. Why don't we just accept the will of the people and shut up? Why are we such sore losers? The fact is, it's not about losing - that's fine, I've been on the losing side far more than I've experienced victory - I'm a very good loser.
No, this is the feeling that an injustice has been done. Before the day of the vote it was clear that most people who intended to vote Leave were doing so largely based on lies and misinformation, either distributed directly from the leaders of the 'Out' campaign, or borne of prejudice that had no connection to the EU, as well as ignorance of the EU itself.
£350 million will be saved and will go to the NHS, they said - a lie so often debunked, but repeated and bluffed through right up until voting day (and then brazenly denied after it). Our economy will improve, they said - a prediction that blatantly flew in the face of the advice of almost every financial and business expert out there. We're ruled by an undemocratic elite who impose on us the majority of our laws, they said - a soundbite misunderstanding of a system that is complex, but actually just as democratic as the UK government (if you care to look) and whose laws are not as numerous or binding as is often claimed, many of which greatly benefit us and protect us from greedy government and over-reaching big business.
And then the big one, the issue on which the vote was probably won: immigration. We'll take back control of our borders, they said, we'll stop them leeching off the system and taking over our jobs and towns, we'll stop the hordes of refugees piling into the country. It seemed they were trying to out-Trump Trump. The Remain camp were not effective in getting the truth of the matter out: we already have control of our borders, they are not open like those of countries who are part of the Schengen Agreement; leaving the EU will not curb immigrants and refugees who are not EU citizens; the refugees you saw crossing into mainland Europe will not be coming to the British Isles, Turkey are years away from joining the EU, immigrants contribute more to our economy than they cost; they staff our NHS, our universities, our laboratories, they are our friends and our neighbours.
But prejudice won out. Sometimes the reasoning was genuine but misplaced - there are people with real grievances, who cannot get employment, for instance, but who look to immigrants for blame. Much of the feeling is anti-Muslim, some of it just plain old xenophobia aimed at anyone with a different accent, language or shade of skin tone. It's nothing to do with the EU (unless you believe the conspiracy theories of Eurabia - and many do, just as Anders Breivik did).
The racist group Britain First has seen a huge rise in membership of its Facebook page since polling day, and currently has the support of almost 1.5 million people. The gap between the winning Leave vote and the Remain vote was 1.2 million people. Since the referendum results were announced, UK hate crime has increased by 400% - some of the stories have been heartbreaking.
This was not a General Election. Leaving the EU will have international ramifications, but the epicentre is here in the UK, and those most affected will be the young - many of whom could not vote. The EU has its problems, not everything about it is good - but, in my view, the good far outweighs the bad. It has helped to keep the peace, it has provided a united voice, it has helped countries to raise their game. It was born in the hope of post-war Europe and updated in the renewed hope of the 1990s. Britain was a maverick member, we refused to sign up to everything - we forced compromises. We kept our sovereignty, but we had a voice - and we could have still had a voice in the development of a better EU, one that could have genuinely made the world a better place.
Now the EU hates us - they don't want to give us concessions, it's in danger of falling apart. The far-right have been emboldened across the continent, rubbing their hands with glee at the result in the UK. All the people I admire - artists, creators, authors, scientists and thinkers, said it would be in our best interest to Remain. The Leave camp was full of people who I disliked - people with hateful ideologies, people who lied for their own political gain, people who had a disdain for rationality and the advice of professionals. The aftermath has seen a collapse of our political parties, an abandonment of responsibility, and a power-grab by people who hate the NHS and want to dismantle human rights. The right decision was almost a no-brainer (though I still read around both sides of the arguments as much as possible).
This is the tragedy: the referendum was won on lies and ignorance. It should never have been held (or should at least have had rules for a bigger clear majority). Many, according to reports, are already regretting their 'Leave' vote. We've made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons, and while I hope things will settle down at some point - who knows when - I fear we've taken a big step closer to the possibility of a darker future, not a brighter one. For my children's sake, I really hope I'm wrong.
A Note to My Friends Who Voted Leave by Jeff Lynn
The two campaigns, 'Remain' and 'Leave', have hardly covered themselves in glory when it's come to giving us - the general public - the facts of the matter. To make things worse, the EU is a bit of a mystery to most, often characterised by its more bizarre attributes, either as the butt of a joke or, sometimes, in the form of an outright conspiracy theory.
My general feeling a few weeks ago was that I'd be voting Remain. I like Europe, I like Europeans, I love visiting Europe (as I have luckily had the opportunity to do several times with my book published in a number of foreign editions), and I like Europeans being in my country (I believe diversity does not dilute our culture but enriches it - not to mention the fact that migrants give the UK a £20 billion tax benefit). Most of all, I like the idea of a shared international vision and of being an active part of that vision.
As the date has drawn closer, I've become more interested in the debate, especially in how the result will affect me - both in the things I care deeply about in the wider world, and in my own personal life. The more I've researched and learned about both sides of the argument and about the EU in general, the more I now think a vote to Remain is pretty much the only sane choice. In fact, I think a vote to Leave could be potentially devastating.
I'm not going to write an essay going into all the details and conclusions I've come to, but I would like to present some of the broad strokes, and let you know why I think being part of the EU is a good thing, despite the fact that it, of course, has many problems too.
First of all, I believe the EU is generally a force for good. It was born out of the desire to see lasting peace in Europe, and it has achieved that very well. It promotes cooperation and has what I see as basically a positive Humanist agenda. It also provides a number of checks and balances on our own government who may not always pass laws with our best interests at heart. An example of this would be various directives that serve what I call the 'greater good' - that cover the health of the environment, tackling climate change, defending human and civil rights, limiting the power of private corporations and protecting minorities. The EU does all these things.
Of these I think the question of climate change is the most urgent, and this is something that simply has to be tackled with a united front. We're not doing enough as it is, but if we break from the EU then it will set the progress we have made back by vital years, maybe even decades. A united Europe working together sets an example and raises the game for the rest of the world.
Speaking of which, there has been a lot of fear-mongering about Turkey joining the EU. The fact is, it will be many years before they are able to join, the reason being that they must first fulfil a large number of tests set by the EU. This is because the EU has a moral and technical standard that must be met - the EU makes countries aspire to be better. We don't want Turkey to join as it is now, but a Turkey that eventually passes the EU test will be an asset.
Turkey is just one of the un-facts touted by the Leave campaign, but it is not the only one. Perhaps the most blatant is that the UK "sends £350 million a week to the EU". This figure is false, as we get a substantial rebate (taken off before any money is sent) and we get a lot of money back in various forms of important funding, not to mention the incalculable extra value we get from goods, services and protections by being a paid-up member of the Union. The UK's contribution is only 1.2% of our total government spending.
Boris and his cohorts have said, if we leave the EU, we can use that "£350 million" to use as we wish, and they give the example of "a new hospital every week". The problem is, most, if not all, of the spare cash will be wiped out due to the massive economic downturn we'll experience on Brexit, which may even go as far as a pretty bad recession. And then what will we use to re-make those vanished laws and systems that we'll be 'free' of? The NHS will not get anything - especially from the likes of Boris, Gove and Farage, all of whom are on record as saying they would like the NHS privatised.
Okay ... I'm getting a bit verbose! The economic argument is the one that worries me most on a personal level. Almost every major financial institution predicts a monetary loss for regular families if we leave the EU, and quite likely a return to recession. Even many in the Leave camp agree with this assessment - though they think we can ride it out. Well, I probably won't be able to ride it out. My wife and I are both self-employed and we are just starting to get our heads above water after the hit of the last recession.
I lost clients in the last recession and it's been a struggle to climb back up. As the UK's economy started to improve, so did my own finances - but I am very close to the breadline on a monthly basis, sometimes under, sometimes a little over (illustration is not generally well-paid). Unlike the last recession, I now have two young children, so I'd be punched a lot harder this time. Even on the least-worse predictions I dread to think what our family situation could be if the UK economy shrinks again and businesses stop hiring freelancers like Ellie and me.
The UK is one of the strongest voices in the European Union, along with our allies France and Germany. Together, the 28 countries present a powerful force in the area of trade (giving us international bargaining power), diplomacy (preventing other powerful states from flexing their muscles too readily) and security (with shared intelligence and joined-up reaction to events). Scientific research, resulting in better treatments for disease, the solving of technological problems, and even space exploration, all benefit from EU funding.
The EU is often mischaracterised as undemocratic, yet a close look at the way it actually works shows that it is just as democratic as the UK (despite our unelected House of Lords!). We vote for our MEPs and they have real power to accept, reject or amend European legislation. They can even dismiss the Commissioner, and our Prime Minister and various other UK government ministers hold important positions when it comes to making legislation. The lack of democracy is a myth repeatedly peddled by the leave campaign.
Going back to a more personal level, the EU provides protection for my work and my rights as an author and artist on the international stage. There are a greater number of opportunities for grants and easier access to a wider readership. Membership of the EU has allowed me to easily travel to other countries where my books are published, to get paid more easily, and even to make sure I'll be looked after should I ever fall ill on one of those trips.
On a slightly more negative note, the kind of politicians who I feel most ideologically opposed to are the ones who might come out of a Brexit vote with the greatest amount of power: people such as Boris Johnson (whose main agenda with this referendum is to get himself into No. 10), Michael Gove (who wants to scrap the Human Rights Act) and Nigel Farage (who only turned up to one out of 42 EU Fisheries meetings, despite being an MEP on the Fisheries Commission, showing just how much he cares about British interests). They are on the side of privatisation and less social responsibility, and what they might have in store for us, if given a mandate, worries me greatly.
There may well be some benefits in cutting our ties with the EU, but I have seen none that have convinced me, and none that outweigh the huge number of advantages we get by staying. The vast majority of arguments for leaving have been gut feelings, amorphous patriotic slogans, and - I'm sorry to say - rather a lot of xenophobia.
For me a vote to Remain is a vote for the future, a vote to stay involved and an opportunity to try and make things better. I will be voting to Remain, for me, my children, and for the world. If you're undecided, I urge you to do the same. Please vote.
Karate has been a very important part of my life. My last two years of school were not great, and starting karate brought back some of my self-confidence. Also at school, I was terrible at sport, but karate was something I did away from school and I allowed myself a fresh start. I took to it really well. The only person I was in competition with was myself, and that can be a huge incentive to try and excel, week by week.
My first sensei was Brian Whitehouse at his Shotokan Karate Club of East Grinstead, but when I went to live in the US for a year I took six lessons a week at the headquarters of the International Karate Association under the famous Takayuki Kubota. I returned to the UK and became the first black belt at Brian's club. A few years ago I wrote up my karate experience, just to help me remember it all - you can read it here if you wish (it's not a particularly exciting or outstanding story, I admit!).
Karate seems to be slightly unfashionable these days, largely, I think, due to the glamour of the new kid on the block, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). But that discipline doesn't do it for me - it's too much about winning, about competition, and about who is strongest and best. It misses the budo aspects, the humility, the finesse. It misses the Art.
One aspect of Japanese martial arts that comes in for more criticism these days is the idea that practicing a fighting art can improve your character. For me, it really has. Karate has been my model for bettering myself in all walks of life and for not giving up on something I want to do. When I lose my way, I think of karate. The lessons I've learned while attempting to perfect a technique, or to keep going when my legs want to give out, find other applications. My comic strip, The Rainbow Orchid, would not exist without my karate training (not to mention the fact that it helps when I'm drawing fight scenes!). It's not a spiritual thing for me, it's a practical, real thing.
I love kata - the pre-arranged forms or patterns of karate, an imaginary fight in multiple directions, an encyclopaedia of self-preservation techniques. I feel I'm just beginning to understand how they work - a glimpse of a bigger picture. I'm constantly trying to perfect them, and am always very far away from doing so. But each time is a new challenge. I also love the fact that practicing kata connects me to the art's history, and with forms that masters have handed down through centuries, changing and evolving with each interpretation and generation. The history of karate generally is a big part of the attraction, too.
I'm still doing karate (my current club's website is here) and I still love it. I can't kick quite as high as I used to, the jumps aren't quite as athletic, and the legs tire a bit more quickly than they once did, but it's still an enormous challenge. And I think I'm starting to get the hang of it a little - at last.
Here's a short video from the days when my limbs were a bit more elastic, even if my technique was a lot less formed - in the summer of 1985, as a 7th kyu orange belt in Brian's class at the Small Parish Hall (sadly just recently demolished).
Anyway, if you're starting to think about your Christmas shopping then perhaps I can recommend a few nice little items here with my own stamp on them ...
The Complete Rainbow Orchid - if you haven't got it, then this is the version to get. The entire story in one volume with 17 pages of extras and behind-the-scenes sketches. Buy it from me (signed and sketched in), or from your local bookseller, or online at vendors such as Amazon or Book Depository.
The Rainbow Orchid Supplement - includes author's annotations for the entire story, plus notes, interviews and sketches. For the true fan, but brimful of Julius Chancer goodness. You can get your copy here.
The Rainbow Orchid volumes 1, 2 and 3 bundle - I have a limited number of these sets available in my online shop (signed with a sketch), when they're gone they're gone! This special offer includes The Rainbow Orchid Supplement. Individual volumes can also be bought through your local bookseller, or various places online including Amazon and Book Depository.
The Scarifyers - I've drawn nine covers for Bafflegab's excellent dark-comedy-supernatural-mystery series, featuring the acting talents of people such as David Warner, Terry Molloy, Nicholas Courtney, Nigel Havers, Leslie Phillips and Brian Blessed, to name just a few. These really are excellent audio adventures - if I didn't get a contributor's copy I'd buy my own! The latest is very festive, The King of Winter, and all are available from the Bafflegab website on CD or download.
The Book of the Dead and Unearthed - these two 'mummy anthologies' came out last year from Jurassic London, The Book of the Dead featuring new tales of the Egyptian (un)dead, and Unearthed featuring classic tales, including Arthur Conan Doyle's excellent Lot 249. I created several illustrations for The Book of the Dead and recently designed brand new covers for both volumes. Buy them from Amazon: The Book of the Dead link, Unearthed link.
Some of the images are a little small, so row by row, left to right: The Property (Rutu Modan), The Great War (Joe Sacco), Napoleon - Abel Gance's Classic Film (Kevin Brownlow), Goddamn This War! (Tardi), The Storytellers (Rob Jackson), Widdershins - Sleight of Hand (Kate Ashwin), The Adventures of Jodelle (Guy Peellaert), Trick or Treatment (Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst), The From Hell Companion (Eddie Campbell), Napoleon (Alan Forrest), Ralph Azham (Lewis Trondheim), Return of a King - the Battle for Afghanistan (William Dalrymple), Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson), Saga vol 1 (Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples), and The Whale House (Andrew Cheverton and Chris Doherty).
While I'm mentioning this, I'll mention a couple of other things too. The first is a very nice in-depth review of The Rainbow Orchid on the SFSite. The second is some brilliant readers' art by William Lloyd Jones, age 5 - my youngest contributor yet!
The image comes from the Ashmolean Museum's copy of the print (the British Museum has one too), though an original came up for sale on ebay a few months ago and I was sorely tempted. After a day of being on the edge of bidding, I came to my senses and realised that I couldn't afford it, and anyway, I don't know the first thing about looking after antique Japanese prints. It would be a crying shame if it faded and died under my care. It sold, and I hope it went to a good home.
So, the Christmas present was my (very nice) consolation prize. I first came across the print in 1985 after I started karate and became slightly obsessed with samurai. One of the first books I bought on the subject was Stephen Turnball's The Book of the Samurai: The Warrior Class of Japan (1982), in which just two sections of the triptych were reproduced in black and white, though even without colour I was captivated by the beautiful depiction of the dead's cold visitation on the defiant Taira Kiyomori.
The book (I still have it, somewhat battered now after years of perusal) is full of such magnificent musha-e prints, and I immediately fell in love with the form. I don't know if the ligne claire of Tintin prepared the ground for my attraction to the pure line and flat colours of ukiyo-e, or if my love of both the prints and Tintin are a result of some other predisposition to such things - but I've been enamoured ever since. Turnball's book also introduced me to my favourite director, Kurosawa, as he used several stills from his films as illustrations leading me to seek out, at first, The Seven Samurai, and then more of this master's work, as well as that of his contemporaries (Ozu, Mizoguchi, Naruse and others).
Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181) was head of the Taira clan, leading its domination over Kyoto through powerful government positions, defeating his rivals, the Minamoto, and seeing his grandson take the emperor's seat - only for it all to come crashing down at the feet of his revitalised enemies not long after his death. This is told in the Japanese epic Heike Monogatari, and from this comes the scene in the print - Taira (played by the kabuki actor Nakamura Utaemon IV) at his Fukuhara palace, haunted by the vision of all those he has slaughtered in his climb to the heights of power. Mizoguchi actually made a film about the young Kiyomori in 1955, Shin Heike Monogatari (New Tales of the Taira Clan), one of only two colour films he made, and one of the last before his death in 1956.
The artist is one of the big four or five most famous ukiyo-e creators, Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), most well-known for his Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido. Other artists have also depicted the scene - Fukao Hokui (a pupil of Hokusai) in about 1835, and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (a pupil of Kuniyoshi) in about 1882. I like the others, but for me Hiroshige's is the best - the central figure of Kiyomori, grasping his tachi as if he fully intends to defeat all his vanquished enemies once again - though with perhaps a hint of uncertainty in his eyes; the concubine - we're not sure if she too sees the Chancellor's nightmare vision; and the silent, accusing ghosts in frozen white - which at first you may not notice, and then, like the Lord Taira, you start to see everywhere you look.
I must also apologise for the fact that The Rainbow Orchid vol 3 is still not up on my online shop. I have the stock sitting here, but I'm so busy with work right now (even more so since I've had a couple of days off ill) that I can't find the time to update the web-page, and I'd also find it quite difficult to fulfil the orders at the moment, anyway. Hopefully it won't be too long, but probably not this week.
My third apology goes to everyone who is awaiting an email response from me. I'm way behind on my emails and can currently only deal with urgent work-related ones.
I'll catch up at some point - I promise!
The Rainbow Orchid volume 3 is getting there. As I write I have six pages left to draw (pencils and inks) and 13 to colour. I'm hesitant to say the end's in sight, but I will say I'm about to turn the corner from which the end will be in sight. The big thing still to do is the cover, which requires some working out.
All work and no play means I don't get much time to read (though audiobooks entertain me while drawing) but I don't stop obtaining books and comics so have rather a large pile of reading material to catch up with at some point. There are some wonderful comics being made available these days! I got back from a meeting in London on Wednesday to find Jason and Vehlmann's Isle of 100,000 Graves, Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley, and Tillieux's Murder By High Tide had arrived. Waiting in the wings is Moore and O'Neill's Century: 1969 (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Hubert and Kerascoet's Miss Don't Touch Me vol 2, Tardi's The Arctic Marauder, and, oh, quite a few more (including a small sub-pile of Cinebooks, not to mention all the non-comics stuff).
Film watching has also taken a back seat, except for the ones I have to fit in for the Adventure Films Podcast, of course. In recent weeks Murray and I have recorded episodes five and six - David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits.
If you've ever wandered over to the events page and thought it looked rather sparse recently, you'd be right. Up until a couple of weeks ago I had no events planned for this year (due to work, publication dates and new baby), and that's still largely the case except for, now, one little appearance that will be in Maidstone on 6 November - Demoncon 2. It's a bit different for me in that it's organised by a comic shop and The Rainbow Orchid isn't a very comic-shop comic (at least that's what comic shops in general seem to indicate), so I'm really chuffed to have been invited and am looking forward to reaching a few new readers if possible.
Lastly, but not leastly, pop over to the readers' art page where you can see a lovely new addition in the shape of Evelyn Crow from illustrator Chris Askham.