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Post Referendum
Thursday 30 June 2016
I was quite an idealistic kid. When I was young I had an Usborne picture book about the future - it had a couple of illustrations that showed two possibilities ... One was positive, with monorails, greenery, clear blue skies, shiny technology and open spaces. The other was grimy and dark, polluted, it was overcrowded and people had to wear masks to breathe. I was very aware that either of these was a real possibility depending on how we treated our planet and its people, and those images have always stayed with me.
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.

Further reading:

Professor A C Grayling's letter urging Parliament not to support a motion to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty

A Note to My Friends Who Voted Leave by Jeff Lynn

posted 30.06.16 at 10:54 pm in Webbledegook | permalink | |

The EU Referendum
Wednesday 22 June 2016
I have kept politics out of this blog - it's primarily been for stuff related to work (comics and illustration) and some of my interests and hobbies (history, films and general waffle). But in just over 24 hours' time, we in the UK will be voting on something I believe is the most important decision we've had to make in a generation: whether we leave or remain in the European Union.
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.

posted 22.06.16 at 1:05 am in Webbledegook | permalink | |

Thirty years
Sunday 11 January 2015
2015 sees a number of significant anniversaries for me, some good, a couple not so good. One of the good ones is that 11th January marks thirty years since I started karate. I did have a couple of breaks in that time, so I have not been training fully for 30 years, but it is somewhere around 26 or 27 or so.
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).

posted 11.01.15 at 12:02 am in Webbledegook | permalink | 3 |

Garen Goodies
Wednesday 3 December 2014
Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier each year (as soon as Halloween is over, apparently) and while I try to let December get its motor going before I begin to think about it, I have been swept up in the tide, to some degree. Perhaps having children does that!
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.

posted 03.12.14 at 11:06 pm in Webbledegook | permalink | 1 |

Things I have recently put into my brain (part 4)
Monday 14 October 2013
I haven't done this for a while (um, almost three years), but here is a visual list of some of the books I have recently devoured, or are to be imminently devoured. (See part 1, part 2, and part 3).

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).

posted 14.10.13 at 8:25 pm in Webbledegook | permalink | |

Ten years and five years
Tuesday 22 January 2013
I missed the fact that in December my blog had its 10-year anniversary! In fact I've been blogging a little longer as my first regularly updated news page (called Nucleus) was pretty much a blog, and that dates from 1997 or 98 (now lost). If you feel like a delve into the past, visit the blog archive here.
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!
posted 22.01.13 at 6:05 pm in Webbledegook | permalink | 3 |

The Ghosts of Kiyomori Taira
Monday 21 January 2013
My Christmas present from Elyssa last year was a framed facsimile of one of my favourite Japanese prints, Taira no Kiyomori kai-i o miru zu, or 'an illustration of Taira no Kiyomori's vision of spectres' (a rough translation), by Hiroshige (c.1843).
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.

posted 21.01.13 at 12:54 pm in Webbledegook | permalink | |

Monday 23 April 2012
Many apologies for not being able to attend DemonCon 3 yesterday - I was struck down by illness and left it to the last minute to decide whether to go, hoping I'd improve, but unfortunately not. I'm really disappointed not to have made it.
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!

posted 23.04.12 at 10:41 am in Webbledegook | permalink | 3 |

Still here
Friday 5 August 2011
It's been a while! I have been rather busy, and sitting at the drawing table hemmed in by deadlines doesn't generate much exciting news (or time to answer lots of emails - apologies if you're waiting), so here's a gentle, rambly little blog post to ease myself back in ...
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.

posted 05.08.11 at 10:53 am in Webbledegook | permalink | 3 |

An evening of biology, reason and protest
Saturday 11 June 2011
On Thursday night, as a birthday present to myself, I went up to London and the Institute of Education to see an on-stage discussion between two well-known biologists, PZ Myers, visiting from the States, and our own Richard Dawkins, all hosted by the British Humanist Association.
I'd already heard rumours of a student protest taking place - targeting Professor Dawkins because of his assocation with A C Garyling's New College of the Humanities, so I wasn't surprised to see a police presence outside the building where the old UK Comic Art Conventions (UKCAC) used to take place, as well as a slowly growing crowd of protestors (their Facebook group had just over 100 names saying they'd attend).

After getting inside and standing in a queue for a bit, we were allowed into the hall and I found a seat and watched my fellow humanists, rationalists and assorted others arrive. I think the last time I sat in this hall was to see an interview with French comic legend Moebius. Suddenly there was a commotion at the doors and I looked over to see the security guards trying, in vain, to keep a mob of slogan-shouting students at bay. They inevitably failed and a crowd of about 15 protestors (with more just outside) rushed in and took to the stage. Because their slogans weren't really that clear, I think most people assumed they were a religious group of some kind, but word soon got around as to their true cause.

Their occupation lasted about half an hour, delaying the talk by 15 minutes. They were monitored by two or three policemen and throughout the 'siege', they were engaged in discussion with various audience members, many who went down to see what they were about or to implore them to leave. A couple of audience members were disappointingly short-fused to the point of rage with them, but mostly it was lively and shouty, but peaceful. At one point a member of the audience started shouting out lines from The Life of Brian - "You're all individuals!", which got an immediate answer from a good 50% of the crowd "Yes! We're all individuals!". Then several people took off one of their shoes (none of us had gourds) - very funny. At one point, as a general reaction to the confrontational manner of the invading students, practically the entire auditorium stood up and turned their backs to the protestors' shouts and taunts. Another highlight was a chap getting up on stage, complete with backpack, asking the protestors to leave as he had travelled all the way from Romania to see this talk, to much applause from the hall. Soon enough police reinforcements arrived and the protestors were taken out, without too much kerfuffle, it has to be said. So, an exciting start to the evening!

I didn't go to university and can, rather annoyingly, see points on both sides of the argument concerning Grayling's New College. I don't think all the facts are in yet, and there's been a lot of Daily Mail-style ranting about it from people who tend to have a visceral reaction before knowing a lot about it. Politically, I do lean heavily towards a world of public services and social equality, and have some uncomfortable feelings about an institution that plans to charge 18,000 a year in fees, despite the greater number of full-fund scholarships this will allow. I think the root of the problem is the government's stance on education and privatisation of services, and picking on one example, high profile as it is, is not quite aiming at the right target. I wasn't annoyed by the protest, though their accusations that the paying audience were implicitly supporting a two-tier educational system was completely misplaced and rather offensive.

There were a couple more protests during the talk. Early on Richard Dawkins commented how both he and Myers were "interested in science" at which point someone shouted from the back "and in profit making!". The interloper was quickly taken out by police (who were now standing at every exit) as Dawkins made it clear that every penny he earns from his lectures he gives to charity (I did wonder if this was the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science rather than something like, say, Oxfam - not that the RDF isn't a very worthy cause!). Some way into the talk a young couple got up, hand in hand, from the front row and stood in front of the stage reading out their protest to Dawkins almost face to face. Dawkins told them rather firmly that he would take questions at the end, and they too were escorted out. Sure enough, at the end, despite the last question having been taken, a girl leapt up and took to the microphone and with much civility asked if Dawkins, as a humanist, would withdraw his support for the college. To his credit, the professor gave a fairly lengthy answer to this, with some good points, but also some not quite so good ones. He did strongly imply that he voted Lib-Dem at the last election because of their stance on student fees (a stance, sadly, since U-turned). It's a difficult issue, and no doubt one that will continue to attract attention and discussion - and protests - for some time to come.

The talk itself was absorbing and excellent. My favourite part was the first 20 minutes or so where the two biology greats discussed evolution, particularly how it might work in an extra-terrestrial environment (would it still be Darwinian?), and also the number of times certain traits (for instance, the eye, sonar, claws etc.) have evolved independently. Much of the rest of the talk concerned the question of religious belief and how the two of them are perceived in relation to their work in that area. They talked about what would constitute evidence for a supernatural claim, and how the natural world provides wonder enough without the need for faith-based belief as well as the indoctrination of children into the ideas of belief without evidence. There was about half an hour of questions at the end.

Overall, it was a memorable evening and highly enjoyable. I wish there had been more talk on evolution, even if in relation to its power in dismantling theism, but it was definitely worth the trip up. The main topic of conversation on the way out was the protest (as is the bulk of this post) so you have to admit it had an effect! Having said that, the BHA website report doesn't mention it, but that may not be so strange considering A C Grayling is the incoming Association President! (Edit: Not any more - he's resigned before taking office.)

posted 11.06.11 at 12:25 am in Webbledegook | permalink | 4 |

Happy Darwin Day!
Saturday 12 February 2011
Today, February 12th, is Darwin Day, a day very much worth celebrating, I think! Reading On the Origin of Species I'm just astounded by the ideas Darwin developed and then confirmed, not to mention all the stuff he wasn't sure about, but which have been proven in the 150 years since. It's true there have been things he didn't get quite right, but they have been small and have not altered the fundamental theory ('theory' in the scientific sense) that has explained how life developed on this amazing planet.
For me, Darwin's bravery in the face of a theocratic establishment, his open-mindedness and realisation of new ideas, his brilliance at communicating those ideas and his genius in general make him the greatest contributor to the understanding of what it is to be human, or to be alive at all.

Below is a quick drawing of Mr Darwin taking Indohyus for a walk. Indohyus fits somewhere very early on in one of my favourite evolutionary tales - that of the whale, a mammal that went from the land back to the sea and of which the fossil record, including some stunning examples of the intermediate stages, tells a remarkable story. Look at a whale or dolphin skeleton today and you will see one of the many irrefutable proofs of evolution - vestigial organs, for sea mammals retain rudimentary bones that were once hind legs, though they don't do a lot now they have become fully aquatic.

Another fascinating clue to the whale's terrestrial origins is the manner in which it swims, not like a fish, waving its body side to side, but in the same way that a dog or a cat runs, with the spine undulating like a ripple.

Spines... that brings me to a completely different topic, but something I thought I'd share. That drawing of Darwin above is the first thing I've drawn in over two weeks, a rather miserable couple of weeks if I'm honest. Two weeks ago I leant down to pick up a leaflet that had come through the letterbox and did my back in. Big ouch. My back is susceptible for a couple of reasons and I'm used to having a bit of a stiff back every other month or so. But once in a while, maybe every two or three years, it really goes, and this has been one of those times. The piercing muscle spasms render me almost immoveable to begin with, and the trouble this time is that after I started to get some freedom of movement back, I became over-confident and it went again, this time worse, prolonging everything.

Another big ouch. But in time, as it always does, things got better - the remedy beginning with a bag of frozen peas and lots of rest and moving on to heat patches, a back support and light movement as soon as I could. Interestingly, as things improve, the pain moves around, from the middle left, to the lower right, to the left side and eventually up to my right shoulder (just to make sure I really couldn't draw even at the end!). Today is the first day I feel virtually pain free, though sitting too long at the desk still produces an ache or two - so I'm being careful. (Of course, sitting at the desk for too long was the cause in the first place, picking up the leaflet was just the accurately proverbial straw (it broke the camel's back, you see, and the camel, being an even-toed ungulate, is a paraphyletic cousin of the whale - just to keep things Darwinian). Anyway, a regime of daily walks is now on the schedule.)

This, unfortunately, has consequences for the Rainbow Orchid publication date, though I'm not sure yet to what extent. In addition, none of this has done much for my mental attitude, and where the intense work ethic required for graphic storytelling is concerned, that is a hurdle to overcome - which I will, as I get back into things (so don't worry).

I do have one other remaining symptom of my back going, and that is an irregular sharp pain in my right heel. It's slowly fading, but I often have such hurtiness in my foot arches and just yesterday I realised that this may well be related to the state my back's in at the time, so I'll keep an eye on that.

Hm... and that brings me back to Darwin. An article in Science this week has shown how Australopithecus afarensis, an ancestor of modern humans who lived over 3 million years ago (the most famous example of which is Lucy), almost certainly had arched feet, evidence for bipedality - standing and walking upright. The thing about walking upright, wonderful as it is, is that we have not fully adapted to it - as with the entire evolutionary process, it's a matter of compromise after the fact. I became interested in evolutionary medicine after I saw Richard Dawkins interview Randolph Nesse, especially when he talked about how the spine is a mechanism that developed horizontally and is just about ideal for that kind of creature, but when it is moved into an upright position, a recent development, the internal organs that once hung perpendicularly now drape down, causing a few problems - for instance entangled intestines, a number of issues relating to pregnancy and, not related to the organs but to the new posture, good old back ache. Understanding evolution shines a very illuminating light onto all kinds of things - thanks, Mr Darwin!

posted 12.02.11 at 8:42 pm in Webbledegook | permalink | 9 |

Oh, some bits...
Thursday 12 August 2010
I forgot to say in yesterday's workshop post that afterwards I went along to The Bookshop on East Grinstead High Street and signed their remaining stock of volumes 1 and 2 of The Rainbow Orchid - so that's the place to buy it in EG!
A special thanks to Barry at the Geek Syndicate podcast for a lovely review of volume 2. (Now there's a few volume 2 reviews around I have updated the reviews page).

If you look on the interviews page you will see a brief Q&A I did for an Egmont promo leaflet on my book. And speaking of Egmont - they are currently selling RO at just 4.99 (that's 2 off!).

Elyssa and I went to see Toy Story 3 on Tuesday evening. I absolutely loved it - the quality hasn't diminished once throughout this series.

I've just finished reading Jason's latest book, Werewolves of Montpellier - wonderful, understated and dryly funny as ever. Did you know Jason has a blog?

A. F. Harrold very kindly sent me a copy of his new novel. I haven't had a chance to get reading it yet, but the back cover made me chuckle, so that's a good sign. It's called The Education of Epitome Quirkstandard.

And now, or as soon as I've cleared my current crop of book and t-shirt orders, I'm going to get as much work done as I possibly can before I hit the Edinburgh Festival!

posted 12.08.10 at 11:34 pm in Webbledegook | permalink | 1 |

It's the world cup!
Thursday 24 June 2010
I do like the World Cup. I'm not such a big fan of Premiership football anymore, not for a long time (too much money flying around has sapped a lot of the fun), and I've found it difficult to get overly excited about this year's England squad, largely because they're accompanied by so many personal scandals and petty crime records! I love the world cup for slightly soppy reasons really - the international festival of it, countries coming together to play football and forget about war and politics. (If only they wouldn't do that daft diving around and rolling about when they're touched slightly on the ankle).
I was football mad for a couple of years in the late 1970s, and it all started with the 1978 world cup (being half Scottish, I supported Scotland and have remained an interested supporter ever since). Here's a picture of me at the time in my Scotland football shirt (my brother has just banged his head on our dad's Mini, and is wearing a rather cool Star Wars shirt made from our mum's stock of iron-on transfers; the other two are my cousins who we were visiting in Southampton).

At the moment England have just got through to the second round after improving quite dramatically on their previous form, though still only able to score one goal. They play Germany next, old rivals, who also only scored one goal in their last game, but looked very good indeed. I'm also partial to the Netherlands, the team I supported in the 1978 world cup final (unfortunately they lost to Argentina then - they also lost to Scotland in the first round). Apart from that, I've just enjoyed the whole thing, watching a few games, and listening to most of them on Five Live while sitting at the drawing desk.

The UK has a great tradition of football comics - I worked on a handful of DC Thomson's Football Picture Story Monthlies myself. Like superhero comics, they give the artist the chance to draw the human figure in a variety of bendy action poses. Check out some of Rob Davis's marvellous football work here. And I did a drawing for The Observer Sport Monthly in the last world cup. Here's Julius Chancer in the 1920s England kit (no, he never played for England!). For another 1920s-related football post, see here!

posted 24.06.10 at 9:05 am in Webbledegook | permalink | 1 |

Tuesday 23 February 2010
Just a technical note - I have reactivated comments for this blog.
I closed comments here in early 2007, so it's been a while since I looked at the code I wrote. I think I've got it all working though. Please feel free to give it a try (just click on the little speech bubble below). If you're reading this on one of the syndicates (eg. Livejournal, Facebook, Google Reader etc.), then click here to visit the real home of webbledegook!
posted 23.02.10 at 1:41 am in Webbledegook | permalink | 10 |

Website woes
Sunday 23 August 2009
Many apologies for all my websites being down from Wednesday 19 Aug - Sunday 23 Aug, an incredibly frustrating outage as it meant I not only missed out on book orders, but also the extra traffic that would have been provided by my Panel Borders interview. Also I had the East Grinstead book launch on Friday (report coming up) where badges were given out for a web-based competition, which no one has been able to enter until now.
I've no idea what the problem was except that any page with a .php extension (whether it had php code included or not) would not load in. Streamline, my web hosts, did not actually get round to fixing the problem, it seems to have 'fixed itself' by Sunday morning. As it stands, my email is currently not working, so I apologise if I take a while to respond while that gets (hopefully) sorted out. (Edit: email was out until Wednesday night, with all email sent to me Sun and Mon being completely lost).
posted 23.08.09 at 6:28 pm in Webbledegook | permalink | |

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