I started The Rainbow Orchid in 1996/97 before it saw small-press publication in BAM! (Bulldog Adventure Magazine) in 2002. In 2005 I started colouring the strips and posting them online. One thing lead to another, which lead to getting an agent, which lead to several publishers showing interest, and eventually to publication through Tintin's UK publisher, Egmont.
Not content with one, I had two book launches in August 2009 - an 'industry' one at Foyles in London (I was super ill, but managed to survive the evening) and a local one at East Grinstead's Bookshop. The support and love shown for the book at these and subsequent events was wonderful, and has continued throughout the life of the book - an aspect I find pretty humbling and feel enormously lucky about.
At the end of 2009 I wrote up a little overview of how the book had been received, with some thoughts on the UK comic industry of the time (a lot has changed since then). I was privileged to have a number of lovely and enthusiastic people working with me on the book, and in 2010, around the time volume 2 was published, I interviewed several of them about their roles in publishing (agent, commissioning editor, editor, designer, and press officer).
In July 2010 I was able to announce the first foreign language edition of The Rainbow Orchid, in Dutch from Silvester Strips. This would be the first of a handful - with Spanish in 2012, French and German in 2013, and Danish in 2015. A contract was also agreed and signed for a Bengali edition, but sadly the book never materialised.
These European editions lead to me travelling to my first comic shows abroad - twice to Holland, twice to France, twice to Denmark, once to Austria, and four times to Germany. Of course I also attended a good number of UK comic shows and most of the big literary and book festivals - which were wonderful. (I won't mention specific shows, but all my reports are linked here.)
Not every event I did was a roaring success - I did a fair number of school events (not listed), some were fantastic and some I couldn't wait to get out of there! I turned up to one bookshop event to find none of my books on display, no promotion, and, perhaps not surprisingly, just one person turned up to my talk at the end of the afternoon. At another I found my audience was largely 5 and 6 year-olds - too young for my book really - and a table of cakes and fizzy drinks had been set up right next to them. That was memorable! At the other end of the spectrum I found an audience full of serious-looking twenty-somethings, obviously expecting the 'graphic novel' workshop they were attending to feature more darkness and grittiness, and less how to make a fun story out of the surprise novelty items I'd placed into a pillow case and reciting my 'Adventurer's Oath'. We got through it!
One of my favourite events was at my second Edinburgh Festival, jamming and drawing stories with Nick Sharratt and Vivian French inspired by audience suggestions. One of the most memorable was travelling on my own to Angouleme, getting to stay in the grounds of a misty 14th century castle and having a series of more and more delicious meals. I spent time with some incredible comic creators from the UK and Europe, I had dinner with Tom Gauld, Kerascoet and Boulet, discussed blues with Francois Walthery, had a one-to-one director's commentary on Franka from Henk Kuijpers, signed a stack of books for an hour with Posy Simmonds, walked around Angouleme with Eric Heuvel and Vano, and have generally met more lovely people than in any other walk of life.
Sketching in books at shows was something I had to get to grips with quite quickly - I was very rarely pleased with the drawings I produced, but I did slowly get a little better as I went along. At festivals such as Hay and Edinburgh I may have had shorter lines than the big-name authors next to me, but when they'd finished, I was still signing - a sketch in every book!
I had some unusual requests, especially in Europe. Could I draw Evelyn in the nude? (No!). Please draw Julius flying an aeroplane, Julius riding a snow leopard, please redraw this panel here, these two characters fighting, full-length, etc. etc. I usually declined and got them to compromise with something smaller - or my publisher would step in, saying "portraits only!".
In 2012 the complete edition of RO was published - by this time Egmont may have been running out of steam on it, budgets were dwindling, sales were slowing, and I think I was feeling a bit tired of it by now too. There were still some nice things to come - including blistering sales at that year's Thought Bubble and a British Comics Award the following year.
To this day I have still not read The Rainbow Orchid all the way through from beginning to end. While I'm proud of it overall, some of it makes me wince and it's still the bits I'm least happy with that stand out to me when I look at it.
Having said that, my six-year old son just picked it off my bookshelf and asked for it be his bed-time book. I tried to dissuade him, but he insisted, so I am currently reading it to him, a few pages at a time. One thing I will say - the dialogue reads rather well out loud, and it's one book where I can be sure of getting the voices more or less right!