The first part of my day was for lunch at The Abingdon, just off Kensington High Street, to meet, for the first time, the team that will be helping me to make The Rainbow Orchid as good a book as possible before it gets released onto the nation's book shelves (next year). As well as my agent, Oli, and Tim from Egmont, who I have now met a few times, this consisted of Sharika (editor), Faye (designer), and Linda (marketing). I'm very pleased to say I got excellent vibes all round and can't wait to start working with them on my book.
I now had about three hours to fill before the big event of the evening, The DFC launch party, and decided to go to the British Museum and see what they had on the Indus Valley civilisation. While I did manage to spend a couple of hours in London's greatest treasure trove of fascinating artefacts, I didn't find anything from the Indus - the Asia room was full of Buddhas of every shape and size, from the fat and laughing to the emaciated and grim - still an absorbing display. I also enjoyed the small Japanese room with its amazing scrolls and a more contemporary exhibition off to the side. Of course it was the Egyptians that attracted the crowds, but that's not really surprising... the age and quality on show is awe inspiring. Less so were the large numbers of people who seemed to be racing through every room and only 'seeing' the exhibits through the lens of their camera, and not reading a single placard. For me, basking in the presence of something that was hand-crafted by our predecessors about 3,000 years ago is a far more gratifying experience. Pictures you can see in any old book.
After a quick look in at Gosh Comics, I had a rather poor cup of tea and a terrible excuse for a pastry in the drizzle in Russell Square and then made my way to the South Bank to meet up with Anjali (a good friend and my first agent when she was at A. P. Watt) and Paul H. Birch, a comics pal I have known for... (counts on fingers)... twenty years, when he was a contributor to Cosmorama, the comics anthology magazine I edited in the late 1980s. Together, and meeting up with Oli en route, we made our way to the British Film Institute café and the excitement of the DFC party!
The first sight to greet me was a small bubble of domestic serenity - comic artist Neill Cameron, with his lovely wife (and author) Diane, bottle-feeding their equally lovely very small baby. Turning the corner I was confronted with a quite different scene, and it hit me with some force... about 400 people (apparently) crammed into the BFI café, and they were all here for a comic! This was comics goodness turned up to 'slightly scary'. The first event of the evening, after being checked in, and unplanned I think, was a waitress dropping an entire tray of full wine glasses onto the floor in front of us, each one smashing into a thousand tiny pieces. Being an optimist, I'm the kind of person who likes to see this as a good omen.
Soon it was into the throng, and seeing another long-time comics pal, Jason Cobley, I decided to gently poke him in the ribs by way of greeting. While this is actually quite useful for getting people's attention in a room of hundreds, I wouldn't advise it generally for professional networking purposes, but I know Jason can take it - he wrote small press comics for 25-odd years. Thankfully opportunities are now opening up for people as talented as Jason, and he can be found authoring several Classical Comics, as well as Frontier for the DFC, with artist Andrew Wildman.
Indeed, this was kind of the theme of the little speech given by Nick Abadzis. Comics artists who have had very little option in recent years (many years, in fact) but to apply our talents to editorial, business and commercial illustration, when all we've really wanted to do was tell stories in comics, but with only rare opportunities to do so. But now these opportunities are increasing, and one of the most exciting, and encompassing a huge variety of British comics talent, is The DFC - to see its debut on May 30th (subscribe now, folks).
As an example of this diversity, Ben Sharpe (DFC editor) introduced me to one of the new generation of talented comic artists, Zak Simmonds-Hurn (with his girlfriend, Nikki Dyson, also an artist), who will be contributing his wonderful classic Disney-inspired art style to future editions of the comic - I can't wait to see them.
The main speech of the evening was by David Fickling himself, whose enthusiasm for the project and everyone involved washed over the room, and I think we all took a little of that 'fire' home with us. After a few words from Philip Pullman we moved outside to watch as a hundred or so DFC balloons were released up into the sky over the Thames, a handful of these with little cards attached, rewarding the lucky recipient with a free subscription to the comic (unfortunately, all the cards seemed to have become somewhat entangled, and they went off in a clump, creating a big subscription jackpot for someone somewhere!)
It was wonderful to meet Paul Gravett again who asked about Rainbow Orchid and told me about his next couple of books... leather nuns or lesbians will feature in the title of one of them! And he'd come over with Sarah McIntyre, an internet friend and now a real one too. I can't say how much I love Sarah's work without babbling, but her star is rising pretty rapidly and there's a whole lot to look forward to, not the least of which is Vern and Lettuce - another DFC launch strip.
I won't go into a long list of all the people I chatted to in the evening (I know, I already have), nor of those I frustratingly meant to catch up with, and missed. But I will say I at last managed to introduce myself to David Baillie, right at the end of the evening (just after I'd met Rian Hughes, and embarrassed myself by stupidly saying "the Rian Hughes?", so surprised was I at this unexpected and slightly star-struck encounter, rapidly followed by meeting Nick Abadzis, if that wasn't enough). David seems convinced that I awarded him third prize in a comic art competition about 6 years ago at a London library, an event I have no recollection of at all, which is rather worrying. I'm sure it wasn't me! David was with Mark Stafford, who was, well, a little the worse for wear shall we say. As I walked back along the South Bank with Sarah and her friends, I tried to keep an eye on him as he, intending to accompany our group to the pub, slowly veered off on a leftward trajectory, and then inexplicably disappeared. I hope he turns up safe and sound!
I didn't go on to the pub with Sarah, Rian and co... leaving them at Embankment and getting back to Victoria with perfect timing for my train home, and the end of my big day out.