Since the early 1990s I've kept a fairly detailed diary, so it's interesting to read what was going on back then. I was living with my brother and a friend in a rented house while my girlfriend (now wife) was away at university. I worked weekends at a mushroom farm (and I was just about to start a second job as an early-morning cleaner at a local health club) and spent the weekdays attempting to get my illustration career off the ground - at the time I was doing little bits and pieces, including inking some of Tony O'Donnell's pencils for Football Picture Monthly. I was in a production of Twelfth Night, playing Sebastian, and also working with my brother on a new fanzine called Baleful Head.
I drew the first panel of The Rainbow Orchid on the 13th March 1997, and the following weekend I attended the UK Comic Art Convention (UKCAC 97). On the 24th March I went to the cinema to see the new release of the Star Wars Special Edition. I had no internet at the time (I'd get it later the same year), so went to the local library for all my research. A few weeks later Labour would get into power after 18 years of the Tories, and things were looking ... hopeful.
Many things have changed since then, and some haven't. If you happen to have visited Amazon UK recently to try and buy The Complete Rainbow Orchid, you may have noticed that Amazon no longer stock it and it's only available from resellers. The last of the stock was sold off after a rather nice mention by Tanita Tikaram on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London at the end of March.
The Rainbow Orchid really has lived its long life now (well, almost ...). Honestly, it's time I got on with something new, isn't it?
Volume one had come out in June 2015 (see my report here) and while there had been a few delays and problems with the follow-ups, it's thanks to the dedication and tenacity of my editor, Michael Larsen, that the set has now been completed.
The Friday had started off on a sombre note as I attended the funeral of a friend who died far too early in life - a sad but beautiful service. A taxi to the airport (my wife was away with the car and children for the weekend) to catch my afternoon flight, and by 7pm I was at Copenhagen airport and, after getting the train into the city, I was in my hotel room within an hour. Anticipating I'd be too tired to go out for a meal I'd brought sandwiches, so sat and munched and watched a bit of Danish TV before collapsing into bed. It's a glamorous life!
After a hearty breakfast (I'm never certain if I'll have any lunch, or a late one, at these events) I met Michael in the lobby of The Scandic and we made our way to the Øksnehallen and the Tellerup stand. The books seemed to sell well - the first book I had to sketch and sign in was for a friend of Michael's, and halfway through doing it I had my first customer. I didn't get to finish signing that first book until the very end of Sunday.
Saturday was particularly busy - I was drawing all day, with only a break for lunch and also an interview as part of the festival programme. Unfortunately this was rather poorly attended - just a handful of people. I don't know if that's because I was on at the same time as fellow UK artist, the brilliant Tom Gauld, or - more likely - I'm just not at all well-known! Honestly, I didn't mind - I was interviewed by Danish comics creator Frank Madsen, who asked some interesting questions, and I enjoyed the chat very much. A big thanks to those who did come along.
On Saturday evening Michael and I attended a dinner given by the festival for the international guests, and we were in some pretty fine company. I was able to meet Tom Gauld for the first time (I especially enjoyed his Angoulême/Rammstein story), and was also seated opposite French artist Sébastien Cosset and Swedish artist Kim Andersson. Seated just outside my own conversation zone was an artist I really admire, Boulet - perhaps good that I didn't get to speak to him in case I ended up as an anecdote ("the dull British artist") in one of his web comics!
Much to my shame and some embarrassment, I hadn't realised I was sitting directly opposite one of my very favourite comic creators: Sébastien, I discovered the following day, was one half of the creative team known as Kerascoët. I love Miss Don't Touch Me (especially volume 1) and I thought the more recent Beauty was stunning - one of the few creators whose work I seek out and buy when it's available. But again, perhaps it's best I didn't realise it was him behind the nom de plume so I didn't end up fawning over him all evening! All were good company and I had a lovely evening with some interesting food (I passed on the course that consisted of skewered duck hearts ...)
The Sunday was another busy day, though not quite as manic as Saturday. I had another interview scheduled, this time with a bigger audience as it was with Jakob Stegelmann, the host of the famous Danish TV programme Troldspejlet. This interview kept me on my toes - it's been a while since doing publicity for The Rainbow Orchid, but most of my facts and stories are still in there - Jakob asked me about eyebrows, languages, inspirations, and whether it matters that modern children won't get many of the historical references in my story (short version: no, I don't think it matters). You can watch the unedited footage here and the full episode here.
It was great to meet so many of the Danish comic creators that I'd met on my first trip here two years previously, and it was also nice to meet the British contingent (Colin, Scott and Dave of Accent UK), Canadian John Anderson of Soaring Penguin, and the Irish contingent, Cliodhna Lyons, with her table-mate and fellow animator/comic artist, Benedict Edward Bowen).
After Sunday, Michael and I, with the Accent UK chaps, retired to a nearby restaurant for food and drinks, before it was back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and then to the train station where we said our goodbyes before I went on to the airport. My return flight was very busy, and delayed by about half an hour, but it was a good (if windy) flight home, and I got in my front door at about half-past midnight.
Thank you, as ever, to everyone who came by the Tellerup stand and bought a book or two or three (or who gave me one, thank you Ingo Milton!). Denmark is particularly nice to visit, and I had a lovely time. This was also, in large part, thanks to my editor and translator, Michael Larsen, who was again excellent company and has been vital to the existence of Jagten på Regnbueorkidéen. I must also thank the book's designer, Rasmus Kronholm - Michael and he have made, I think, my favourite edition of the book.
I had a busy week of work when I got home, and on the following Thursday it was World Book Day, which saw me give four hour-long talks at my old school - Imberhorne. It's been about 35 years since I was a student there, though I do teach karate there twice a week, so it wasn't a total shock to walk its corridors once again! The staff and pupils were lovely, though, and I enjoyed the day very much. A special thanks to John Pye of The Bookshop on the High Street for his part in the organisation.
It will be my second visit to this wonderful city, and I'm looking forward to it. You can even come and see me interviewed by comics creator and illustrator Frank Madsen (on the Saturday at 1.30 pm), plus I'll be signing and sketching at the Tellerup stand.
This is very likely to be one of my last appearances at an event related to The Rainbow Orchid (I may have promised one more) as, though these are new translations, I have been promoting the book for over 8 years now and I've run out of steam on it. While I'm still proud of the book, it's old work to me - I haven't actually looked at it in a couple of years and I've still not been able to bring myself to read the story all the way through. It's time - way beyond time - for something new.
In the meantime, I'm excited to see the story finally completed in Danish, all thanks to the efforts of my editor and advocate, Michael Erik Nøhr Larsen, without whom it would not exist. So, if you're in Copenhagen, come and say hello to us!
Notes (top row to bottom, left to right):
'The Mighty One' by Steve MacManus (Steve's autobiography of his time at IPC and 2000AD); 'The Osamu Tezuka Story' by Toshio Ban and Tezuka Productions (manga biography of the great Osamu Tezuka); 'The Story of Life in 25 Fossils' by Donad R. Prothero' (fascinating account of the development of life on our planet, I'm a big fan of Mr. Prothero).
'Warring Clans, Flashing Blades: A Samurai Film Companion' by Patrick Galloway (a great 'dipper-in', I really want the first volume too); 'The Attention Merchants' by Tim Wu (had to buy this after reading a recent interview with Mr. Wu); 'Moments of Adventure: Collection One' by Colin Mathieson (great to see a new publication from Mr. Mathieson - and in full colour too, really enjoyed it - get it here!).
'Ambassador of the Shadows' by Mézières and Christin (limited edition hardback from Cinebook of this terrific Valerian and Laureline adventure, in anticipation of the upcoming Luc Besson film adaptation); 'The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen' by Jorge Zentner and Rubén Pellejero (loved these stories when I read them in Heavy Metal in the 80s, wonderful to have them all together); 'Explorers' Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure' by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert (a nice surprise Christmas present from my brother, a real treasury of adventure inspiration).
'William Simpson's Afganistan: Travels of a Special Artist and Antiquarian During the Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878-1879' edited by Peter Harrington (where my interest in adventure and the Afghan war meet, a very splendid book); 'The way of Judo: A Portrait of Jigoro Kano and His Students' by John Stevens (I don't do Judo (karate for me) but am fascinated by Kano, in particular because he was an influence on Gichin Funakoshi and his development of karate into a budo); 'A brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes' by Adam Rutherford (can't wait to dive into this!).
2016 has been a turbulent year, and I am a bit worried it's just a warm-up for things to come ... but let's keep the hope, do good things, create lovely stuff, be nice to people of all stripes and see if we can help steer things back on course in some way (even if it takes a little while).
Best foot forward!
I've not had any involvement in this year's project, but my talented wife, Elyssa Campbell-Barr has. She was involved with Arni when she was commissioned later on to add rhyming couplets to the pages for a very limited edition book after it had completed its screen run. With Monkey Mischief she has co-created the story and written the words, with the art this time being the beautiful work of illustrator Alison Edgson.
If you're out and about over the next few weeks you should be able to spot Monkey Mischief on JCDecaux's screens across the country at train stations, shopping malls, bus stops, road sides and airports, etc. Follow Beframus on Twitter or Facebook to see the story unfold online.
On the subject of Arni, there was a little bit of chatter about how this year's Waitrose Christmas TV advert somewhat mirrors our tale of the little Norwegian Pine Grosbeak. After watching it, I can certainly see it has a few points of remarkable similarity - a little bird making the long trip from Scandinavia to the UK, getting hunted by a hawk, crossing the sea and ending up on a ship after being battered and almost drowned (and rescued) in a storm, and we could even say meeting a little girl at the end who provides it with food after the long journey.
I wouldn't go any further than just noting the similarities though - there are many differences as well, of course. Waitrose commissioned a book of the story written by world-class author Michael Morpurgo and wonderfully illustrated by Kerry Hyndman (and published by our friend, David Fickling) - plus 50p of every book sold goes to Crisis, the national charity for homeless people.
We decided to take the ferry from Portsmouth (a 2-hour drive), but it wasn't until I'd bought the tickets that I realised our littlest one didn't have a passport (our five-year old had hers for a previous comic festival trip to the Netherlands in 2012). This meant we had to do a rush application, including a visit to the passport office in London on the day of a train strike ... all rather hectic and expensive, but it worked out.
The quay at St. Malo - the white tents in the centre and the two long buildings and tent to their right is the main festival venue.
The ferry out to St. Malo was an 11-hour overnight crossing. Despite the calm seas, I didn't sleep well, and emerged into Brittany feeling a little dazed. But we had a lovely and well-timed welcome from my Belgian publisher, Jean-Michel Boxus, and his assistant, Francois Lienart, (both last seen at Angoulême in 2014) followed up by a fantastic French breakfast at Café de L'Ouest.
After that it was off to the festival, where we collected our passes and I got down to sketching and signing books while the rest of my family went off to enjoy the walled city and its beaches. It was great to meet (Dutch) Vano again, and later on (Belgian) Thomas Du Caju - both previously met at Angoulême. Other table fellows of the weekend included Spanish artist Jamie Calderón and French creator Julien Carette. I was also delighted to bump into my fellow Britannique, Ian Culbard.
At the BD Must stand.
My lack of sleep on the ferry started to manifest towards the end of the day as I began to feel rather light-headed, and at one point I'm sure the picture of Evelyn Crow I'd just drawn winked at me! It was time to get to our hotel, a couple of miles out from the old city, and we were grateful for the services of Francois who drove us to and from the hotel for the duration of our stay.
The hotel, La Rotonde on Boulevard Chateaubriand - a late booking - was good, basic, of 'unique' character, and did the job for four tired travellers. We had a take-away and watched a bit of French children's TV before lights out.
I was given Saturday morning off, so we took a walk round the city wall, taking in the wonderful coastline, sights, fresh air and history (St. Malo is home of the corsairs!), and a crêpe breakfast along the way. The only blot to the trip was the loss of our little girl's much loved soft toy cat, Fudge, mislaid somewhere in the festival venue. We asked several times at the Information booth, and a 'wanted' poster was made and posted up - but no joy, alas.
After a sandwich lunch in the open space of the Esplanade Saint-Vincent, it was back to an afternoon of sketching. I'd had a few moments to stretch my legs and look around the festival - it had a very nice atmosphere, much smaller than Angoulême, but better for it, I think, more manageable, and lovely BD albums wherever you looked. My children enjoyed it too, seeing a live 'time travel' show at the Palais du Grand Large (Collecteur Temporel) and taking advantage of some their drawing and colouring sheets.
Vano, Garen and Jamie signing and sketching.
We returned to the crêperie where we'd had breakfast, Couleur Safran on Grand Rue, for a Breton galette dinner, where the owner, it turned out, had a couple of sketchbooks filled by guests from past Quai Des Bulles, and I was requested to add one myself, resulting in a slightly dishevelled Julius Chancer being placed in the window for the evening.
After a much better night's sleep, it was time for the ferry again on Sunday morning, with a lift from the hotel to the port from Francois. The journey back was about 8 hours, but it was really rather pleasant. I was kept busy taking the children to a Halloween magic show, and then trying to solve the ship's treasure hunt. Plus I had a nice Blake & Mortimer to read and a little snooze to enjoy. Our daughter even won a prize in the drawing competition. It was gone 10 pm by the time we reached home, the children asleep, and big mugs of tea much needed by the parents.
Enormous thanks to Jean-Michel for inviting me to Quai des Bulles, and to the BD Must team, Francois and Patrick, for looking after us so generously. And an extra special thanks to everyone who came by and bought L'Orchidée Arc-en-ciel, I really appreciate it.
The ferry home.
Jacobs had drawn his last book, Les 3 Formules du Professeur Satō, in 1972 (album, 1977) but the second volume of this adventure remained only in rough form at his death in 1987. It was completed by Bob De Moor and finally published in 1990.
Dargaud bought up the rights to publish Blake and Mortimer in 1992, and within a year writer Jean Van-Hamme and Benoit were meeting at Angoulême to discuss the scenario for a new book. Benoit found the work enjoyable but gruelling, and took three years to produce the album. Their next book (L'Étrange Rendez-Vous, 2001) took five years, and they were beaten into publication by a second creative team, drafted in to keep things on schedule, when Yves Sente and André Juillard brought La Machination Voronov (2000) to the public.
Benoit turned down the invitation to draw another book, though he did offer himself up as a writer, sketching out the plot for an immediately post-Swordfish adventure with the working title of Resurrection (2006), which Dargaud declined. Sente and Juillard went on to produce five more Blake and Mortimer volumes, while Van Hamme teamed up with René Sterne, Chantal De Spiegeleer and Antoine Aubin for two more (a further volume was authored by Jean Dufaux and illustrated by Aubin and Etienne Schréder in 2013).
Benoit did not have to make a great leap to put himself into the style of the series' originator, Edgar P. Jacobs, as he had been a devotee of the ligne claire since the 1980s, inspired after seeing the work of Joost Swarte and joining a new wave of clear-line stylists such as Floc'h and Yves Chaland. Before that he'd been a film student and assistant TV director, turned onto comics by the art of Robert Crumb, and passing through heavy Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Jacques Tardi phases. His clear line creation Ray Banana let him indulge himself in his passion for 1950s Americana.
Ted Benoit's Blake and Mortimer books are masterful and meticulous and he was a very worthy successor to Jacobs' legacy. I saw him speak at the Institut Français in 2008 where he spoke with passion for his love of the comic art form, though I do recall him seeming somewhat weary of the time and effort it took to produce an album, but determined to identify himself as his own man, not merely a supplicant to the might of the likes of Hergé and Jacobs - and he was justified, I think, in having that attitude.
His two Blake and Mortimer albums are published in English by Cinebook as the Francis Blake Affair and The Strange Encounter (both 2008).
After many trials of various web-design packages, I've settled back with Adobe, and Dreamweaver. I'm not a 100% coder, but also I need more than just design by WYSWYG - I use PHP and MySQL, but am not an advanced user (I coded this blog from scratch - with occasional help from my cleverer brother).
So I've practiced on a couple of my other pages, getting the hang of CSS and responsive designs, and am now ready to start tackling this one. For now, it's just the blog page, but over the next couple of months I'll gradually update everything (it may take a while - work is particularly busy at the moment).
In the meantime, and to justify this test blog post, here's an illustration/poster I completed a couple of months ago.
I have a number of relatives who were involved in various bits of action, and I'm currently aware of three who died. These were Thomas Sherriff (age 31, Lancashire Fusiliers, killed on the first day of the offensive, his interesting story is detailed here); Arthur Meffan (age 19, Highland Light Infantry, wounded on 16th July at Longueval, and died on 27th July); and David Howarth (age 36, Manchester Regiment, killed on 7th July when his regiment lost nearly 600 men to German machine-gun fire).