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A. M. Heath
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Silvester Strips
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blog of the day 29.04.2004
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Make It Then Tell Everybody
Friday 28 March 2014
Yesterday (Thursday) I chatted to comic creator and teacher Dan Berry for his podcast, Make It Then Tell Everybody. We covered a number of subjects including getting started, the way you view your own work, research and my creative process.
Click here to have a listen, and thanks very much to Dan for having me on. Check out his amazing archive too!

posted 28.03.14 at 6:02 pm in Comics | permalink | |


Three good comicky things
Tuesday 25 March 2014
Here are three good comicky things that have come my way in the last week ...
One - MULP: Sceptre of the Sun. This is an adventure comic crossing the territory of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain ... all that lovely stuff, but with an extra unique feature - all the characters are mice! The story is intriguing and exciting, and the artwork is detailed and gorgeous. It's written by Matt Gibbs, with art by Sara Dunkerton and lettering by Jim Campbell. There's lots to love in it - 1920s cars and motorbikes, archaeological mysteries and clues from the ancient past, mice riding lizards, beetles as beasts of burden, wooden aeroplanes, a classy villainess, and lots more (including a background appearance by a certain Julius and Lily in mouse form). It's right up my street. The first issue (of five) will be released on 7th May 2014 and you can find out more at the Mulp website.

Two - Kurt Dunder. Perhaps you recall that I wrote a review of the only Kurt Dunder book to be published in English - Kurt Dunder in Tirol - back in 2009? Well, now Danish author Frank Madsen has made the very first volume available in English too, Kurt Dunder in Africa, in digital format from Comixology. This is terrific news, and as soon as I get my mitts on the family iPad I'm going to download it for myself!

Three - Unfinished City. This is a detective thriller set in the criminal underworld of Former Yugoslavia and it looks very nice. You can read the first 20 pages here. The art, by Robert Solanović, is wonderful and gave me a hint of Simon Gane, and a pinch of Paul Harrison-Davies - both favourites of mine, but it's all its own thing. And the story is enthralling and very readable, by a UK writer who I have long-admired as an excellent story maker, Ben Dickson, this time in collaboration with Sylvija Martinović. Please support the project's Kickstarter campaign - I want that book in my hands!

posted 25.03.14 at 9:10 pm in Comics | permalink | |


Making a comics page
Monday 17 March 2014
I have published a new audio slideshow with me rambling on about my process of making a page of comics. You can view it in the behind the scenes section of the website here. There's also a YouTube version, but it's not quite as good quality.
If you've read my 'director's commentary' that appeared at the Forbidden Planet International blog a little while back, or have seen me talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, or the Hay Book Festival, or at the British Comic Awards last year, then you'll already be familiar with this material.

As a footnote to this post, there's a rather grumpy review of The Complete Rainbow Orchid up at Amazon.com (US) where the reviewer goes on at some length about the 'pathetic' 'self indulgence' of my making-of material at the back of the book. While I don't mind if someone doesn't like my book - that's fine (and I'm very aware of its imperfections myself) - I do feel that this criticism is a little unfair.

Perhaps things are different here in the UK where many comic creators are actively trying to revive the comics industry by getting young people engaged in the medium, especially at workshops where we help them to create their own comics. I get a lot of interest in how I work - from invitations to do workshops at schools and book festivals, to emails on the subject (often several a month) and queries at comic shows.

It's got nothing to do with thinking me or my creative process is particularly important. It's a different world now - most artists have blogs and show their working methods and many published comics have sketchbook and process sections at the back. Why? Because people are genuinely interested. I love seeing such things myself, from the smallest of small-pressers to the biggest names in the industry.

Now, that's enough self-indulgence!

posted 17.03.14 at 2:02 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | |


The Astonishing Adventures of Julius Chancer
Monday 3 March 2014
Late last week I had two emails letting me know that there was one of my early self-published Rainbow Orchids for sale on eBay (it ends on March 9th; thanks Linda and Jo). Jo hadn't heard of it and wanted some more information, so I thought I'd turn my answer into a blog post.

I'd always wanted The Rainbow Orchid to be a single book, but in order to give myself some deadlines it was initially published in episodes in BAM! (Bulldog Adventure Magazine), from April 2002 to November 2003. In October 2003, upon the completion of the fifth episode, I decided to collect them all together and self-publish them as 'part one' - something that eventually set the template for Egmont's decision to publish it in three separate volumes a few years later.

I launched the book at the London 'Winterfest' on 1 Nov 2003, at the Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury, and sold almost 100 copies - it was really well received. The rest of the print run (250, I think) sold out fairly quickly afterwards, through the post and at the Bristol Comics Festival in May 2004. I sold the last copy on eBay, in December 2004, along with some sketches, where it eventually went for 79 (with 10 bids). I was amazed it went for so much, so threw in the original of the cover drawing as well. Someone else sold a copy on eBay, by itself, in June 2009 for 12, and I heard that another went on Amazon for nearly 100 (in the wake of an article on my work in Book Collector magazine).

The 2004 eBay lot.

Apart from the cover, the entire book is in black and white and the story is 34 pages long (two pages were added for Egmont's volume 1, as well as some individual panel changes). There are some 'extras' - a character page, not too dissimilar from the layout in the eventual Egmont edition, a single-page scrapbook (again, a precursor to the double-page spread at the end of the Egmont vol. 1), and a page of pencils and roughs - mainly character sketches. The back page featured a couple of early colour panel tests and some quotes from the BAM! letters pages. There are some minor printing errors on the inside-back and back pages due to the printer not flattening transparencies on the PDF.

That's about all there is to know about it, really. I was glad of the opportunity to draw a more dynamic version of the cover for Egmont, and also to lengthen a couple of scenes - especially the last scene with the aircraft taking off, which I finished rather hurriedly originally in order to get the book to the printer before I went off on holiday to Paris. A 'part two' was never published because I decided to serialise the continuing story on my website.

Since then the book has had its three complete volumes published in English, Dutch, Spanish, French and German, collected editions in English and Spanish, an iPad version, it's taken me to the Hay Festival, the Edinburgh Festival, the Cheltenham and Bath Festivals, as well as doing signings in Holland, Germany and, most recently, at Angoulême in France. Who'd have thought? (Not me!)

posted 03.03.14 at 9:56 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | |


Zack Magazine
Tuesday 25 February 2014
The new issue of German comics magazine Zack (no.177, Mar 2014) is out and features a three-page article on The Rainbow Orchid / Die Regenbogen Orchidee by Peter Nover.
I can't read it, but it looks very nice, so huge thanks to Peter for putting in the work and writing and researching it. It's still to be finally confirmed, but I should be returning to Germany this year for the launch of Salleck's publication of volume 2 - more details nearer the time.

posted 25.02.14 at 1:19 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | |


Angoulême 41 - Festival International de la Bande Dessinée
Thursday 6 February 2014
At the beginning of December I had a call from Jean-Michel Boxus, my publisher at BD Must in Brussels, inviting me to Angoulême - the biggest and most important European comics festival, and the second largest in the world (after Tokyo's Comiket). I had long wanted to go to Angoulême, but the practicalities and price of arranging transport and accommodation so close to Christmas, and for so soon in the new year, always put me off. This time I decided I would brave the journey - five trains there and five trains back (including the Métro across Paris).
It was an early start on the Thursday - the first day of the festival, but one I would spend travelling - up at 5.45 for a train to East Croydon, then on to St. Pancras for the Eurostar to Paris. I was slightly anxious about the short time I'd have to get from Gare du Nord to Montparnasse for my train to Angoulême, but here's a top tip - I discovered you can buy Métro tickets from the buffet car on the Eurostar, so I got two (one for the return journey) and I was all set to get off the train and scoot right on to the Métro - plenty of time.

I finally reached Angoulême just after 16.30 and made my way up the big hill and into the town centre to find Espace Para-BD, where the BD Must stand was and from where I could collect my pass. I introduced myself to Jean-Michel and his BD Must crew, as well as the artists already signing - Eric Heuvel and Vano from the Netherlands (I had met Eric before), and Patrick Dumas and Nicolas Siner from France. I was also delighted to meet, for the first time, my Spanish publisher, César Espona of Netcom2 Editorial. Half an hour later I was sat down and sketching and signing in books as well.

The festival closed for the day at 7pm, and after wrapping up the stand we drove to a restaurant a few miles outside of Angoulême, where I had the first of three (Thur, Fri and Sat) of the best meals I've had in a long time. And the company was excellent too - Eric and Vano were my fellow non-French speaking, English-speaking travellers, while the French and Belgians had a mix of a little English to very good English. I had a tiny bit of French, which got me by when I needed it, but otherwise I had to rely on, and was very grateful for, the fact that mainland Europeans are so much better at languages than the British.

After that it was back in the car and off to our accommodation. This was at Chateau de la Tranchade, a 14th century castle (with some 16th, 17th and 19th century updates) some miles to the southeast of Angoulême. We weren't in the chateau itself, but a very nice converted farm house in the grounds, each with our own room, en suite, and a communal room with a real fireplace. I had a pretty good night's sleep!

The next day, after breakfast (pain au chocolat, toast, croissant and tea - I am in France, after all), we drove back to town for the start of the show at 10. I was signing from 10 until 1, and when not signing for actual customers, I was sketching in and signing stock for future shows (BD Must do about twenty a year). It was good to meet Thomas Du Caju, Belgian author of Betty and Dodge and Francis Carin, another Belgian author with his latest book, Ennemis de Sang - but I knew him better from his Victor Sackville series (written by François Rivière), and we discussed the Sackville name a little as my home town is connected very strongly with the actual family.

For lunch on Friday I went off with Eric Heuvel and Vano and we grabbed some sandwiches and visited a few of the other tents - Le Monde Des Bulles, which housed the big mainstream publishers and was something akin to a shopping mall with stands like little bookshops, and Le Nouveau Monde, which seemed to house the independent and small press and was full of a huge variety of fascinating material. Here I found some fellow British citizens in the form of the Dessinators - Francesca Cassavetti and Oliver Lambden (Sean Azzopardi and Sally-Anne Hickman were away from the table). I'd also had a welcome visit from Clíodhna Lyons earlier when she stopped by the BD Must stand.

We ate our lunch at Espace Franquin, where the Dutch contingent (many arriving together in a single coach - their French-dwelling countryman, Willem, was the festival president this year) had set up shop - a print shop to be exact, with a number of artists making daily posters, screen printing them on-site, and then putting them up around the town. While eating our sandwiches here we had an amusing episode: the three of us were sat down when suddenly a piece of paper and a pencil was thrust under my nose. I looked up to see a schoolboy of about 7 or 8 - he didn't say a word but had evidently seen my 'auteur' badge and was hoping for a sketch. As I put pencil to paper, we were quickly and silently surrounded by about ten more children, all with paper and pens (there were a lot of school parties at the festival). We did a couple of sketches, but had to say no to more or we'd have been there all day - I felt bad but we'd already been sketching all morning and had limited time before we had to get back.

But with the little time left before we had to be at the BD Must stand again, we went for a wander and got a little lost, though nicely so, because we saw some of the quieter bits of Angoulême. At one point we came across the cathedral, which also had a comics exhibition in. Vano made me laugh, saying "in every toilet an exhibition!". Not far off ... Angoulême is a true city of comics, from the speech bubble street signs (some named after comic creators), to the statues of Hergé and Corto Maltese, and the numerous permanent comics murals adorning many of the town's buildings. Eric's quote of the day was "our audience grows old with us and dies with us!"

I was signing again from 3-5pm, and for a short while sat next to Henk Kuijpers, creator of the astonishingly good Dutch series, Franka (I've long wished these were in English). He showed me some of the panels in his book, explaining some of the research he'd done and his creative process. I also very briefly met Thim Montaigne, the French artist behind The Third Testament.

Finishing at 5, I had two hours to fill until we went to dinner, and suddenly realised I didn't really know what to do. I wasn't very prepared for what to see at the festival and at first just revisited the big tents for a more detailed look. I thought about seeing the Tardi exhibition, but by the time I found it it was getting late and I knew I wouldn't have enough time. So, though it was nice wandering around, it was a bit of a long (and slightly cold) two hours. Lesson for next time - get to know the festival a bit better beforehand and have plans for free time.

Dinner on the Friday night was in a brasserie in Angoulême, and was, again, delicious, and again, in excellent company. I was learning a lot about the European comics scene from my new continental friends, and was even starting to believe that I may be a legitimate part of it after all - especially after meeting some of the enthusiastic customers for my own book. True, seeing the huge signing queues and marketing forces at work in Le Monde des Bulles reinforced the notion that I was a very very tiny part of it - but then I already knew that!

On Saturday I wasn't required at the BD Must stand until 1pm, so had the morning free. Eric and I went down to the Musée de la BD and had a good look around the main exhibition there. It was a chronological look through comics, with plenty of originals, vintage publications and process videos. I did a double-take when I saw a familiar-looking aircraft appear on a screen as part of a display of Bécassine pages from 1930. I waited until it came round again and, yes, there it was - a Breguet 280T! Only about 21 of these were made, so to see the aircraft I used in The Rainbow Orchid also appear in a classic strip from 1930 was quite a surprise. I overcame my strong sense to not flout rules and took an iPhone photo of the screen.

After that Eric and I took the weight off our feet and enjoyed a hot chocolate in the foyer. Eric was especially kind throughout the weekend, showing me around and being an excellent companion. BD Must have just put together a beautiful six-album set of January Jones, drawn by Eric and written by his mentor (Eric's term), Martin Lodewijk. Eric is a masterful artist of the clear line - and although I own some Dutch softbacks of some of the January Jones albums, I was droollng over the BD Must set (especially the two new works which I hadn't seen).

While Eric had to return to the stand for his next signing slot, I joined the long queue for the Tardi exhibition (Saturday was noticeably busier than the previous days). The queue didn't really seem to be moving, and it was looking very crowded inside, so with time running short I decided to return to the Musée and have a look at Nocturnes - an exhibition of comics relating to dreams and nightmares. And I'm glad I did - starting with prints from the Illustrated London News and a selection of original Winsor McCay pages, it was a very absorbing display. In fact, by the time I got out, I just had time to nip to the loo and buy a quick pressie from the shop for my daughter, and then I had to belt up the hill to make it to my signing session which started at 1pm.

(A note on the Tardi queue - I was later told by a couple of people that I should wave my 'auteur' badge around a lot more - it's apparently a permit to bypass queues, enter through exits, and to make a general VIP of yourself ... it really doesn't come very naturally to an Englishman - if we see a queue we're liable to join it.)

For the Saturday afternoon I was scheduled to sign from 1 to 5, but I ended up sketching and signing all the way to the day's end at 8pm (the festival is an hour longer on the Saturday). Dinner that evening was at a very nice little créperie - again, truly delicious. (Most of the restaurants in Angoulême are so busy during the festival that they simplify their menus, often to just 4 or 5 choices or a set 'BD Spécial').

And so came my last day. After breakfast, and with half an hour before the chateau owner's son drove us into Angoulême, Eric, François and I had a little time to look around the castle grounds. It was a lovely misty morning, very atmospheric, and I managed to get a few photos (I never take enough photos at these things).

I was signing from 10 to 2, a lot quieter than the Saturday (Sunday is 'family day'), but when most of the other artists left for lunch at 1 and there was room on the signing table for a little L'Orchidée Arc-en-ciel display, a few more sales were added in my last hour.

After goodbyes and au revoirs, I left for my 3.30pm train and the journey home began ... Angoulême, Paris Montparnasse, the Métro to Gard du Nord, the Eurostar to St Pancras, the Underground to Victoria, and then the last Sunday train home, putting my key in the door just after 11.30 pm. The first thing I did was have giant mug of tea.

So I have at last experienced Angoulême ... 18 hours of travelling, over 17 hours of signing and sketching, a city where comics and their creators are truly celebrated - like nothing in the UK. The festival prizes are widely reported in the mainstream press, taken seriously, and the publishers make the most of those prizes to help sell books, both during the nomination and winning phases. I hope things move that way here too. It's very interesting that the Grand Prix went to Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson - the winner becomes the curator for the next year's festival, but as Watterson retired in 1995 and pretty much disappeared from public life ... well, we'll see what happens.

I wish I'd got to see the Tardi exhibit - he's one of my favourite creators. I wish I'd made better use of my free time on the Friday afternoon. Was I inspired? Yes, to some degree - though I was working quite a bit, I did feel a lot more integrated with the European scene, which was very good for me. The question is, how can you hold on to that inspiration, bring it home and make it last?

A huge thank you to Jean-Michel for inviting me, and to all the BD Must crew, Patrick, François and Philippe, for making me feel so welcome and for looking after me. Thank you to everyone who bought my books! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I'm sure - I hope - I'll be going back.

posted 06.02.14 at 10:43 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | 8 |


Angouleme 2014
Monday 27 January 2014
Thanks to my French/Belgian publisher, BD Must, I am going to be at Angouleme this year. So many times I have intended to go to this, the most famous European comics festival, but I've never managed it. Partly it's been the expense, and partly it's been because it's quite a trek to get to. But this time, I'm going to brave the multiple train journeys and be there.
Most of the time I will be at the BD Must stand (Fri, Sat, Sun a.m., I'm travelling on the Thursday), which is no. H13 in the Espace Para BD (in the Place de Halles, bound by BD Pasteur and Rue de Chat on Place Guillon - see map).

Also at the stand will be Francis Carin (Ennemis de Sang), Thomas Du Caju (Betty and Dodge), Patrick Dumas (Allan MacBride), Eric Heuvel (January Jones), Nicolas Siner (Horacio d'Alba) and Vano (Rhonda).

If you're there too, please do come and say hello!

posted 27.01.14 at 10:44 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | 1 |


Blake and Mortimer
Monday 20 January 2014
Here's a Blake and Mortimer pencil drawing I did as a warm-up sketch this morning ...
posted 20.01.14 at 10:48 pm in Sketchbook | permalink | 4 |


Reading Bingo Challenge 2014 - comics
Friday 17 January 2014
A few days ago, Random House of Canada blogged their 2014 reading bingo cards - a really good idea designed to get you to read more widely and to seek out books that you perhaps wouldn't consider otherwise.
This year, as well as their 'regular' bingo card, they produced a 'YA' (young adult) card as an extra challenge, with one of the squares suggesting 'a graphic novel'. Here are the cards (see them bigger here) ...

It's great to see that anyone doing the YA card will be including a graphic novel in their reading, many, possibly, for the first time. It also made me think how many people consider graphic novels a genre rather than a medium (and I'm not saying Random House are doing this here - they're not) and will immediately think 'Batman' when they see the term graphic novel.

So I wondered if the diversity of comics was enough to wipe out both bingo cards? I then wondered if I could wipe out both bingo cards with graphic novels from my own collection only (and without repeating any)? That would make it harder with my fairly specific tastes.

Well, actually it wasn't that hard after all, and many of the squares could have been filled with various titles. I tried to be as diverse as possible, from within my own shelves, and chose titles largely as if recommending books for readers new to comics. I also avoided adaptations, wanting the books to have been made to be comics. Why not have a go from your own collection? Here's mine ...

Regular Reading Bingo

A book with more than 500 pages - Bone, single volume edition by Jeff Smith (1332 pages)

A forgotten classic - Camelot 3000 by Mike Barr and Brian Bolland (well, I think so!)

A book that became a movie - Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn by Hergé

A book published this year - Nemo: The Roses of Berlin by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Niell (I haven't bought any 2014 comics yet, but this one is on my wishlist)

A book with a number in the title - Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa (had rich pickings here!)

A book written by someone under thirty - Spider Moon by Kate Brown (took longer to confirm a choice here)

A book with non-human characters - Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley by Floyd Gottfredson

A funny book - The Terrible Tales of the Teenytinysaurs by Gary Northfield

A book by a female author - Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds (a bit obvious, but a well-known name and a great title for a newbie recommendation)

A book with mystery - The Black Feather Falls by Ellen Lindner

A book with a one-word title - Dororo by Osama Tezuka

A book of short stories - Nelson by various

Free square - thank you, I'll have Oor Wullie by Dudley D Watkins, please (Ken Harrison is fine too)

A book set on a different continent - Palestine by Joe Sacco

A book of non-fiction - Science Tales by Darryl Cunningham

The first book by a favourite author - Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (a collection, admittedly)

A book you heard about online - Widdershins by Kate Ashwin (wanted to choose a web comic here, something comics do so well)

A best-selling book - Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

A book based on a true story - Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A book at the bottom of your 'to be read' pile - Largo Winch: The Heir by Jean Van Hamme and Phillipe Francq (sorry Largo Winch, I must read you one day)

A book your friend loves - Mortensen's Escapades: The Secret Mummy by Lars Jakobsen (recommended to me by Colin Mathieson, though I also plan on getting a book he recommends even more - The Nieuport Gathering by Ivan Petrus)

A book that scares you - Uzumaki by Junji Ito (thanks for the nightmare)

A book that is more than 10 years old - Charley's War by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun

The second book in a series - Grandville Mon Amour by Bryan Talbot

A book with a blue cover - Scarlet Traces: The Great Game by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli

YA Reading Bingo

A book with a female heroine - Yoko Tsuno: On the Edge of Life by Roger Leloup

A book set in high school - Mo-Bot High by Neill Cameron

The last book of a trilogy - The Incal vol. 3 by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius

A book with a colour in the title - The Yellow M by Edgar P. Jacobs

The first book in a series - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind 1 by Hayao Miyazaki

A book set in the future - Give Me Liberty by Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons (almost went for Alan Moore's Halo Jones, but in order not to repeat an author too much I decided on the Ballad of Martha Washington instead)

A book with a break-up - Blankets by Craig Thompson

A book without a love triangle - Rumble Strip by Woodrow Phoenix

A book that became a movie - From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

A book set in Paris - Paris by Andi Watson and Simon Gane (I was torn between this, Tardi's Adele Blanc-Sec books, and Hubert and Kerascoet's Miss Don't Touch Me ... decided the title had it!)

A book set in the past - Asterix and Cleopatra by Goscinny and Uderzo

A book with magic - Ralph Azham 1: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love? by Lewis Trondheim

Free square - The Complete Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing (it could fit a number of categories, but as it's a free choice, I thought I'd indulge)

A book set in the summer - Black Hole by Charles Burns

A book with a dragon - Dungeon Parade vol 1: A Dungeon Too Many by Sfar, Trondheim and Larcenet

A book that made you cry - Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot (films make me cry all too easily, but comics ... not so often. The first I remembered was the scene in Alice with the girl carrying her dead sister home ... yup, that got me)

A graphic novel - Maus by Art Spiegelman (one of the books most often associated with the rise of the 'graphic novel')

A book based on a myth - The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb (this one had to be an adaptation)

A 'classic' YA book - Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

A book with a lion, a witch, or a wardrobe - I Shall Destroy All The Civilised Planets by Fletcher Hanks (the witch is Fantomah, it even has a lion in - not so sure about a wardrobe)

A book with an incredible fight scene - Captain Britain by Alan Moore and Alan Davies (a difficult one this, but I always remember, as a kid, reading Captain Britain's fight with the Fury and feeling genuinely terrified that he couldn't defeat it)

A book you heard about online - The New Teen Titans: Games by Marv Wolfman and George Perez (aged about 11 to 14 I really loved The New Teen Titans - I saw online that Wolfman and Perez were teaming up again for a new book featuring the Titans and it was published in 2013; I haven't actually read it yet)

A book set in another world - Baggage by the Etherington Brothers (I considered Neverwhere by Richard Corben but that's way too far over the YA remit!)

A book with an epic love story - Saga vol 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

A book with music - Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf

posted 17.01.14 at 4:08 pm in Comics | permalink | 3 |


A Glance back at 2013
Monday 30 December 2013
A few days off over Christmas and it's time to start thinking about the new year. But let's have a little look back over 2013 first ...

The year was very good for The Rainbow Orchid, seeing two new translations - a French language collection from Belgian publisher BD Must, and a German language edition from Salleck Publishing - and in November the book was made available in a digital edition through Sequential for iPad. The Complete Rainbow Orchid was shortlisted for a British Comic Award and - much to my surprise - ended up winning in its category, The Young People's Comic Award.

A new Julius Chancer story, The Secret of the Samurai, was serialised in four episodes in The Phoenix (and Metaphrog very kindly cited it as one of their best of the year over at the Forbidden Planet blog).

At the start of the year I didn't have many events planned, but the second half quickly booked up, with Stripped at the Edinburgh Festival, Nerd Fest, the Lakes Comic Art Festival, and Comic Action in Germany.

So what about 2014? I can already mention two events - the big one will see me at Angouleme in France at the end of January, and then I'll be at DemonCon in Maidstone in the middle of February. There will be more to come, so keep an eye on the events page. I'll also be doing more school events this year (but I tend not to list those).

There will be new Julius Chancer too. My plan is to start the new book and put the first few pages on the website. I'd like to do another short for The Phoenix (if they'll have me), but let's wait and see. And then I'd like to continue and get the next book well on its way and completed in early 2015. That's the plan anyway ... sometimes things change!

I hope you had a lovely Christmas break - and here's to a happy and prosperous 2014 for all of us!


My lovely Christmas pressies (socks and underpants not included).
posted 30.12.13 at 3:17 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | 4 |


Napoléon
Thursday 12 December 2013
I have mentioned a couple of times that one of the inspirations for setting The Rainbow Orchid in the 1920s was Kevin Brownlow's brilliant 1968 book The Parade's Gone By. It featured interviews with a number of then still surviving silent-film stars, directors and technicians, and though its focus was on Hollywood, it also featured a French director, Abel Gance.
Gance was a genius of the silent era, making startlingly creative films such as J'Accuse and La Roue. But his biggest project was Napoléon, and as soon as I read about it in Brownlow's book - in the mid-nineties - I knew I had to see it.

The trouble is, Napoléon is not an easy film to see. Pretty much as soon as it had its premiere, in 1927, the film was sent out into the world cut down, reformatted, re-edited, cut again, partially lost, resized, copied and recopied, and even, in the 1930s, dubbed into an awful sound version. Audiences who went to see the the film, proclaimed as sensational on its first showing, often saw something heavily watered down at best, and an incomprehensible mess at worst. Gance's star faded and he entered a long period of creative anticlimax.

That the film has today been restored to its former glory, and reappraised into its rightful high place in film history, is almost all down to the enthusiasm of one man - Kevin Brownlow. As a young film collector in the 1950s he happened across two reels of the film and was immediately struck by its originality and style. He set out to find more, a quest that led him to the flea markets of Paris, the guarded archives of France's Cinémathèque, and far beyond - including meeting and befriending Abel Gance himself.

That process of reconstruction has never really ended, despite it enjoying huge revival showings in the early 1970s and 80s. Finally, last week, I was able to see the film myself, in a one-off screening at the Royal Festival Hall, complete with live orchestra accompaniment from the Philharmonia, with Carl Davis conducting his own score for the nearly six-hour film.

I was slightly worried that the reality of Napoléon would not live up to my expectations, having heard and read so much about it, but the film actually left me in something of a daze. Some of the impact was immediate - the stunning Brienne snowball fight that opens the film, the emotional unveiling of La Marseillaise, the sensation of the convention scene, the rapid cutting of Napoléon and Josephine's previous encounters, the victims' ball (where the men were 18th century and the women were all but 1920s flappers), and - the show stopper - the much anticipated widening of the screen to reveal Gance's innovative triptych as Napoléon's army marches into Italy. Other scenes I struggled with slightly, usually owing to my own lack of Napoléonic knowledge - the scenes in Corsica being a case in point, but not much else besides that.

The music was a huge part of the experience - what a feat of stamina for the orchestra, and Davis, to keep going for so long, never mind keeping in sync with the film (including some perfectly timed cannon shots). It was a couple of days before some of the musical themes faded from my head.

What is stunning about the film is not so much the story (interesting as it is), but the way it was told. Gance freed the camera - it was a snowball in flight, it was attached to sleds and guillotines, it swung on a pendulum and ran around attached to an operator's chest. The cutting was tight and sometimes startlingly rapid. At other times the screen was charged with two or three images on top of each other, wonderfully composed. The scope of the film, as you'd expect with the subject, was epic, a feeling reflected in the triptych, sometimes displaying a vast panorama with horses galloping from one end to the other, and sometimes parading two or three juxtaposed images. At one point the three screens were tinted with the Tricolore. It was immensely impressive.

Brownlow's story of the reconstruction of Napoléon is as fascinating as the film itself, and a couple of days ago I attended a talk by him at the British Flm Institute, though much of that story is written in more detail in his very absorbing book Napoléon: Abel Gance's Classic Film. It was really a triumph of will to put the film back together, especially in dealing with the often obstructive Cinémathèque, and even sometimes with Gance himself. One particularly poignant image is of Gance, 89 years old, watching alone from his hotel window as the audience below, at an outdoor revival in Telluride, gasped in astonishment at the revived masterpiece.

At the BFI someone asked if Stanley Kubrick, given his interest in Napoléon, had ever approached him about Gance's version. Brownlow - after not quite hearing and saying "Stan who?" - causing much laughter - replied that Kubrick had 'phoned him, asking for a print. "You're a man of the cinema", said Brownlow, "you have to see it on the big screen!". Kubrick, to his knowledge, never did. When informed that Baz Luhrmann had recently been chosen to revive Kubrick's project he rolled his eyes; when he was told that is was for television, he groaned!

There are many other stories, not least of the actors, particularly Albert Dieudonné, who played Napoléon, and never again stepped out of his shadow (on a trip to London later in life he said "I do not want to visit Trafalgar or Waterloo!").

If you get the chance to see Abel Gance's Napoléon - do so (it's next showing in Amsterdam, in 2014). Do not see it on DVD - there is one available, and Brownlow warned us not to buy it from the BFI shop; he wanted his name taken off it, "but instead they made it bigger" he sighed. This is a spectacle - it demands a big screen, live music, and an audience. A true emperor of film.

Special thanks to Linda Wada for her excellent company on this cinematic expedition!

posted 12.12.13 at 10:12 pm in Film | permalink | |


Interview with Chloë Pursey of Panel Nine
Friday 6 December 2013
Last month saw the digital launch of The Rainbow Orchid on iPad via Sequential. Panel Nine editorial director, Chloë Pursey, kindly took the time to answer some questions and give a bit of background to Sequential and the world of digital comics.
Can you give an overview of who Panel Nine are, and what Sequential is?

Panel Nine is a digital publishing company specializing in digital comics and graphic novels. It's actually an imprint of iEnglish.com, a software development company based in Tokyo which does a lot of educational apps for companies like Oxford University Press.

Sequential is a digital graphic novel storefront app, which we launched in May this year [2013]. We offer a range of graphic novels and comics, tending towards the more literary stuff rather than going down the superhero route. It has a Storefront where you can see new releases and browse books to buy, and a Library where you can read the books you've downloaded.

How did you end up at Panel Nine - did you work in publishing beforehand?

After a degree in Philosophy and Theology, which unsurprisingly proved useless in the real world, I worked in children's publishing for several years, writing and editing magazines and activity books. Then my boyfriend and I moved to Tokyo in March 2011 (that's right - just before the big earthquake) and when I was there I got the job at iEnglish. I worked over there for a couple of years, and then when we decided to come home earlier this year, the company asked if I'd stay on and work from London.

And what is your role within the company?

I'm the Editorial Director, so I work with publishers and artists to decide what we put on the app and when, and then oversee the process of getting the books digitized and releasing them. Basically keeping everything ticking over. We're a small company, so I also pitch in with a lot of the production stuff, getting the layouts and extra features just right. I do a fair bit of business development as well - Sequential isn't the only thing we do and we always have other projects to work on.

What's involved in turning a book, such as The Rainbow Orchid, into a Sequential title?

After we get files from the publisher, we redo the pages to fit the iPad screen, take out blank pages, maybe put in some extra bits if necessary. Any double-page spreads are put together as proper spreads, so you can pan across them rather than just seeing the left and right pages separately. We create the panel links so readers can zoom in to Panel Mode, then other resources such as thumbnail images, contents, the main menus and 'about' screens etc. Some books, such as The Complete Rainbow Orchid, have extra features only available on Sequential, so we'll put all those together too.

Then when all the resources are ready they're bundled together and tested very thoroughly. When we know everything's perfect, the book is ready for release on the app, along with information on our Storefront about the book itself, and the creator and publisher.

Can you explain some of the features that are available with books on the Sequential platform?

Each book has Page Mode and Panel Mode, so you can zoom in and see panels in more detail, or read panel by panel. We worked really hard to make everything intuitive, easy to read, and pleasant, too - super-fast swiping, no horrid pixellated images, or waiting for pages to load. We can also add a whole range of things - extra content such as interviews, sketches and artwork, audio commentaries, videos, webviews, and HTML 5 content - almost anything, really.

We also have a new way of reading comics, which we're calling Sequential Mode. This is where, instead of swiping to the next page, you tap or swipe and one image is replaced with another, using any kind of transition you like. It makes for an interesting new way to present sequential images and tell a story. There's a freebie called Fictions which you can download in the app if anyone would like to have a look.

What are some of the other titles available through Sequential?

We're working with a whole load of brilliant publishers, so we have books from Jonathan Cape, Knockabout, Myriad, Blank Slate, plus a range of stuff from smaller and indie publishers like Great Beast, Tabella, Soaring Penguin, and Metaphrog. So you'll find a whole range of things from the greats like Alan Moore and Gilbert Shelton to more small press titles from people like Dan Berry, Terry Wiley and Isabel Greenberg.

We aim to provide a fairly carefully curated selection, and we're quite picky about what we put on the app, so you won't find any superheroes and you won't have to wade through loads of substandard stuff trying to find something decent to read. (At least, that's the idea!) And we add new books every week, so there's lots of good stuff coming soon. We're always interested to hear what readers would like to see, too.

Is Sequential available on any other platforms, besides iPad? Any plans?

It's currently only available for the iPad, but we're working on an Android version which should be released next year. Watch this space...

Is there much resistance to digital comics, from either readers or publishers? Do you think it's something people are embracing, or is there still work to do?

I think there's definitely still work to do. Digital's still fairly new, really, and a lot of publishers are understandably cautious about how and when to make the leap to digital. Having said that, people are reading digitally more than ever so there's definitely a need for it.

Often I hear people talk as though there's some kind of war between print and digital - as though if they read a digital comic they'll be betraying print, or aiding its decline. I don't think that's the case, and at Panel Nine we're certainly not trying to lure people away from print - I wouldn't work here if we were, I love my huge piles of old books too much. We're trying to provide an alternative, so you can find books you might not come across in your local comics shop (if you even have a local comics shop), or you can give your groaning bookshelves a bit of a rest, or if you fancy reading a gigantic tome like From Hell on the bus but you don't want to lug it round with you all day. And of course, digital comics can often include things print versions can't - audio, video, other bells and whistles. So I think print and digital can complement each other and there's a time and a place for both.

Another assumption people make is that all digital is the same, which frustrates me every time you see a bad comics app which is unresponsive, or difficult to navigate, or where you're not sure where to tap or what will happen. Just as print books can be designed well or badly, or be high-spec or low quality, so digital comics can be smooth and intuitive, or clunky and annoying to use. But all digital tends to get tarred with the same brush and I think a lot of people have tried a low-standard app or reader and thought 'that's it then, digital's not for me'.

Were you a comics reader before your involvement with Panel Nine?

To be honest I wasn't much of a comics reader. I'd read some random bits and pieces - Posy Simmonds, Scott Pilgrim, Ghost World, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I mostly stuck to my 19th century novels and I wouldn't have said I was a comics fan. I've read a lot more over the past couple of years though!

Do you have some favourites (digital or not)?

It's an obvious choice but From Hell is one of my favourites - it's just breathtaking in its scope and scale. I just got round to reading Alice in Sunderland and it kind of blew me away. Favourite newer ones include The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon and Eustace by SJ Harris... and I'm looking forward to reading The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg - I haven't found time yet but it looks amazing. I also try and read stuff in Japanese; comics can be a really good language learning tool because of the visual element, so I'm working my way very slowly through some Tintin at the moment. Oh, and I do love The Phoenix... I'm biased because we do the iPad app, which is great because it means I get to see Bunny vs Monkey before everyone else.

A huge thanks to Chloë for taking the time to answer my questions, and for providing such interesting answers! You can download the Sequential app for free here, and you can see my video tour of The Rainbow Orchid on Sequential here.

posted 06.12.13 at 3:45 pm in Comics | permalink | 2 |


The Phoenix 100
Thursday 5 December 2013
Huge congratulations to The Phoenix comic which has reached issue 100! What a fantastic achievement, and a testament to the enthusiasm and tenacity of all the contributing creators and crew (past and present) at Phoenix HQ - as well as the quality of the comic itself, of course!
I've only played a tiny part in the history of The Phoenix, but I'm very proud to have had my work within its pages: The Legend of the Golden Feather in no. 1, The Bald Boy and the Dervish in nos. 23-26 (both written by Ben Haggarty), and Julius Chancer: The Secret of the Samurai in nos. 75-78.

The Phoenix has been consistently excellent, every week, regularly featuring the work of many of the best British creators ... Neill Cameron, Daniel Hartwell, Adam Murphy, Gary Northfield, the Etherington brothers, Robert Deas, Zak Simmonds-Hurn, Dave Shelton, Jamie Smart, Kate Brown, Paul Duffield, Wilbur Dawbarn, Jamie Littler, Matt Baxter, Dan Boultwood ... and that's not even half of them.

Special tribute should be made to the editors, firstly Ben Sharpe, and then his successor, Will Fickling - and not forgetting the man whose vision brought The Phoenix into existence, the man with the red bow tie, David Fickling.

I really hope The Phoenix continues well into, and beyond, its next 100 issues - it is part of the lifeblood of the British comics scene and is responsible for growing a massive crop of new comics readers and creators in this country. If you love good comics then you really should treat yourself!

posted 05.12.13 at 11:14 am in Comics | permalink | |


The British Comic Awards 2013: Young People's Comic Award
Monday 25 November 2013
On Friday 22 November I travelled up to Leeds for the British Comic Awards' Young People's Comic Award ceremony, which took place at Leeds Town Hall. I'd been enormously surprised to find myself nominated alongside four excellent books: Cindy and Biscuit by Dan White, Hilda and the Bird Parade by Luke Pearson, Playing Out by Jim Medway, and The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz.
I couldn't decide which one I thought would win, but I was fairly certain it wouldn't be me! Cindy and Biscuit looked as though it could really appeal to a young audience with its no-nonsense girl protagonist, giant robots and alien encounters; Luke Pearson had won last year with another Hilda book and had already proved himself a deserved favourite; Playing Out looked as though it spoke directly to young people and their real-life experiences, with style; and Viviane's book was a wonderfully original idea, beautifully executed by an author with a track record in quality work.

Photo courtesy Sarah McIntyre ©2013 - with thanks.

Adam Cadwell, the awards' founder, and Debbie Moody, the Leeds Young People's Librarian, were the hosts for the afternoon, with four or five school groups in attendance. The Young People's Award is voted for by actual young readers (the other British Comic Awards categories are voted for by a judging panel). Star author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre gave a fabulous 20-minute talk, focusing on her own work but applying it to how anyone can make their own comics. She also got everyone drawing their own Sea Monkey!

Each of the attending nominated authors then did a brief talk about their book. Dan White spoke eloquently on how he came up with Cindy and Biscuit, talking about creating his tough girl heroine and some of his story-telling techniques. I think I was next, extracting a part of my longer presentation where I concentrate on how I make a page and a few examples of research I'd done. Luke Pearson wasn't able to be there, but his publisher, Nobrow, had sent a set of beautiful Hilda models, one of each given to the school groups and an extra as a raffle prize. Jim Medway was illuminating on the philosophy of his book and on drawing his trademark cat-people. Viviane was last, revealing some intriguing snippets about the origin of her graphic novel and the stories and dreams contained within. It was a really good hour or so of fascinating comics creating information.

At last it was time for Adam Cadwell to open the little golden envelope and to reveal the winner. By now I thought I knew who it was, as when Jim Medway had got up to give his talk there had been a cheer round the room, which I don't think any of us others had, and I thought the winner had been revealed! Instead, however, The Complete Rainbow Orchid was announced. It really was a very big and genuinely unexpected surprise.

I felt a bit embarrassed getting up in place of any of the other worthy nominees, worried there had been a mistake. I made a pretty rubbish acceptance speech - sorry! On my way back to my seat Sarah said to me "all that hard work paid off", and it has been a long road ... I don't know if this is the end of it, but it's certainly a very nice capping of what's turned out to be a pretty good year for RO.

Photo courtesy Sarah McIntyre ©2013 - with thanks.

Unfortunately I had to return home that day, so I missed out on a weekend of selling my book at Thought Bubble as a BCA winner, and also attending the festival's main awards ceremony on the Saturday evening. The other winners were: Best Book - The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon; Best Comic - Winter's Knight by Robert Ball; Emerging Talent - Will Morris; and Hall of Fame - Leo Baxendale.

That will answer the question of why I was in Leeds on the Friday, but not at Thought Bubble for the weekend, which did confuse some people - sorry (see Sarah McIntyre's excellent blog round-up of the festival here). I'd like to clear up another point that has been put my way a couple of times - the question of why The Rainbow Orchid was nominated for a 2013 award when it's been around far longer than that. Well, the award is for The Complete Rainbow Orchid, and that was not completed, published, or available until September 2012 - just within the timeframe for the 2013 awards.

2013 has been a very good year for good British comics. So many other books on the longlist could have been justifiably nominated, and decisions could have gone another way with just a sigh. I'm very grateful to the BCA committee for nominating me from a particularly strong pool of books, and I'm enormously grateful to all the school children and groups who took part in the tough decision of voting. And thank you very much indeed for the avalanche of tweets, emails and Facebook comments with congratulations that poured in over the weekend - I'm not going to lie, it means a lot to me.

The Complete Rainbow Orchid is the British Comic Awards winner of the Young People's Comic Award for 2013. Thank you!

Reports:

The Comics Reporter

The Beat

Forbidden Planet International

Digital Spy

Edit: Here's a blog post about the YPCA voting process up at Forbidden Planet International blog.

posted 25.11.13 at 1:09 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | 2 |


Asterix and the Picts
Wednesday 20 November 2013
Last month saw the release of a new Asterix book - always a big event in the comics publishing calendar, but this time there was something else to make it special ... it was the first Asterix book by brand new creators, Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad.
René Goscinny, the original writer, died in 1977, his last book being Asterix in Belgium (posthumously published), after which the series artist, Albert Uderzo, took up the writing as well - often to mixed reaction.

While Hergé explicitly forbid Tintin to be continued by other hands after his death, there has been success with the continuation of Edgar P. Jacobs' Blake and Mortimer series with new creators, so the situation with Asterix is not new territory - though certainly Asterix is a bigger deal on the world stage than Blake and Mortimer.

Asterix and the Picts sees Asterix and Obelix (strangely, leaving Dogmatix at home) travel to Scotland after a Pict is washed up on the Gaulish beach, frozen in a giant pebble of ice. After thawing him out, they decide to return the Pict to his native land, and end up involving themselves in the task of rescuing his kidnapped fiancé, while also attempting to stop the local rotten clan chief from claiming himself as king.

The artwork can't be faulted, and reading the book I couldn't help but marvel at Conrad's imitation skills. There's some very nice stuff with Nessie, and I liked the fact that the fiancé in the story - even though she did need rescuing - was not the usual film-star blonde, but a slightly more down to earth depiction.

The story is fun and breezy but, apart from the setting, not much leaps out to make it particularly memorable. Perhaps, with Uderzo peering over their shoulders, the new creators decided to play things safe, or maybe it suffered slightly from no one wanting to make any radical suggestions or take any risks with this new venture (even though it could be 'anything goes' after the bizarre Falling Sky).

The plot felt a little stilted, but I wonder how much of that is my acute awareness of the new authors. I certainly didn't laugh as much as I usually do with Asterix, though there was humour enough, and the book didn't feel as sharply clever or witty as during the Golden age of Goscinny. I re-read Asterix in Britain afterwards, the Gauls' other visit to our shores, and it really sparkled, with a story that romped at a pace with plot twists and turns, and many good chuckles.

But overall I'm happy with Picts. It's better than some of the more recent books, and I think - I hope - that the creators will grow more confident, become less intimidated (as admitted), and loosen up a little with their new charges. And I hope Uderzo lets them. There's just enough here to feel optimistic about the future of Asterix.

posted 20.11.13 at 11:11 am in Comics | permalink | |


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