Mark William Cameron was born at Parkhurst Barracks at the beginning of 1884, his father being a Sergeant in the Seaforth Highlanders, stationed there after returning from service in Egypt and Afghanistan. His mother was only 18 at the time, and had married his father just five days before he was born.
Mark joined the Royal Navy, possibly inspired by his father's tales of campaigning in exotic lands for the British Empire, and perhaps also by distant tales of his great-grandfather, who had battled Napoleon's forces at Waterloo. As the new century began, he found himself as a Boy, 1st Class, aboard H.M.S San Pariel after stints on the Caledonia, Minotaur and Agincourt. In 1910 he married his cousin Margaret, daughter of his uncle Donald who had served abroad with his father in the 72nd Foot. In 1913, with the British and German Navys trying to outbuild each other as European tensions grew, he was in the Gunnery School aboard H.M.S Excellent, before being promoted to Gunner and joining H.M.S Invincible - the world's first battlecrusier - at its commissioning on 3 August 1914.
"The First World War had begun. In the northern mists the Grand Fleet (21 dreadnoughts, 8 predreadnoughts, 4 battlecruisers, 21 cruisers and 42 destroyers) was at its war base in Scapa Flow, under the command of Admiral Jellicoe. Diagonally across the North Sea the German High Seas Fleet (13 dreadnoughts, 16 predreadnoughts, 4 battlecruisers, 18 cruisers and 88 destroyers) were assembling in the River Jade under the command of Admiral Von Ingenohl." - V. E. Tarrant.
Invincible was involved in three actions. It had a small part to play at Heligoland Bight later in August, and then in December was involved in a naval battle against Vice-Admiral Graf von Spee at the Falkland Islands. But the Invincible will be forever associated with the Battle of Jutland, on the last day of May in 1916, when at 6.34 p.m a salvo from the Derfflinger penetrated the 7-inch armour and causing explosions in the gun-house, turret and the magazine, rent the Invincible in two, sinking it and killing 1,019 men. There were only six survivors, and Mark Cameron was not amongst them.
To boys who had grown up with the heroic deeds of their grandfathers, fathers and uncles, or the gallant officer adventurers in the novels of G. A. Henty, who had read of the brave thin red or khaki lines defending outposts against Zulus at Rorke's Drift, or Afghans at Kam Dakka, and where casualties rarely exceeded fifty on a bad day, or a few hundred on a disastrous day, the Great War will have come as a shock. Over 21,000 Britons killed in the first day at the Somme in 1916, and 6,000 Britons and 2,500 Germans lost to a watery grave at Jutland is a severe lesson indeed.
I didn't create the game, that was done by people far cleverer than I - but I did illustrate the map and all 100 locations - rather a mammoth task (especially all those cathedrals!), but enormously interesting, fun, and educational too.
As well as an online game, the map is appearing on JCDecaux digital screens across the nation over the next four weeks - so let me know if you spot one at a train station, airport, shopping mall or bus stop, etc.
It was very nice to be working with JCDecaux again - you'll remember that I did the Arni comic for them last November (see if you can spot Arni on the map). Both these jobs have been a challenge, but really rewarding, and both have given me the opportunity to up my game and increase my skills - so thank you to Russell Gower and Janet Guest and their team for that!
I've had a busy start to the new year, especially with one particular project that I've just completed - hard work, enormous fun, and I'll blog about it more when it sees the light of day later this month.
Julius Chancer has never been far from my thoughts and I've managed to get back to a bit of work on the next book again. It's frustrating (for you and me!) that's it's so slow, but money-earning work has to take priority, and that's not the comics, I'm sorry to say.
For now, here's some costume colour guide roughs for characters from the opening scene of the new book.
Both were driven by nostalgia to a large degree. We always used to go and see the new Bond film at the cinema ... I particularly recall seeing Moonraker, but I think The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was the first. But just six months later my life would change, because that is when I went to see Star Wars (at The ABC in Tunbridge Wells, now sadly flattened).
Up until then it was war - comics, toys, models and films - that were my main preoccupation, but I mostly dropped that after Star Wars, and science fiction and adventure became my new obsession.
It was a great time to be a young kid. After Star Wars came Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, Time Bandits, Clash of the Titans, E.T, Conan the Barbarian, Blade Runner, Tron, The Dark Crystal, War Games, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ghostbusters, and Return of the Jedi, to name a few that have stood the test of time.
And it's nostalgia that is at the heart of The Force Awakens - an aspect that is partly responsible for its huge success, but which has also been one of the main points of criticism of the film.
I enjoyed it immensely, but then perhaps the film was rather aimed at me and those like me, and it pushed all the right buttons. I liked it so much that I started 2016 by going to see it again, and was not disappointed with a second viewing and with the hype somewhat cooled.
It's nice seeing the old faces again, but the best thing about the film is the new faces: Rey is an intriguing and positive main character, Fin is entertaining and hugely likeable, and the dark side offers up a very interesting personality in the guise of Kylo Ren.
Unlike some critics, I didn't mind the plot parallels with the original Star Wars. I think it's a trait of the series (or perhaps the Force) that patterns repeat, and I'm not surprised, after the reception that greeted episodes I-III, that the writers and producers wanted to play it safe to get the new franchise off the ground.
My worry is that the creative team behind episode VIII, slated for late 2017, will give too much attention to the voices of the fans when they come to map out future instalments. While, as I said, I loved every minute of The Force Awakens, it has also, actually, given me a greater appreciation of the originality and vision of George Lucas's prequels.
I re-watched them over the past couple of weeks, for the first time in a long time (in fact, in the case of episode III, for the first time since seeing it just once at the cinema) and was pleasantly surprised. Jar-Jar Binks wasn't as annoying as I, perhaps, mis-remembered, and I even found young 'Anni' likeable and somewhat sympathetic. Certainly the over-baked scenes with Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman are a bit difficult to watch, but I got a better sense of Anakin's path to the dark side by seeing all three in sequence. I surprised myself by really enjoying the last of the three, even Darth Vader's "Noooooooo!" didn't seem half as bad as I recalled.
The setting of the prequels is a feast for the eyes, and I think the story just about works - especially if you immerse yourself fully into the fantasy. This isn't science-fiction, after all, it's pure space fairy-tale!
Was Lucas largely criticised for being original? For telling the story he wanted to tell, and not the one his films' keenest fans wanted (ie. a more Star Wars-y Star Wars). Are those who are criticising The Force Awakens for being too much like A New Hope the same people who criticised The Phantom Menace for not being 'Star Wars' enough?
I'm not saying the prequels were perfect films, not one bit. I do wonder if, because of what they are, they are put under a great deal more scrutiny than would ever be directed at the original trilogy. Episodes I-III are world-building, background, nerd-notes. I shed myself of some of the internet stigma that has built up around them, and found I enjoyed them more than I thought I would.
We've had our nostalgia moment with The Force Awakens, and that's brilliant. Now let's hope we move forward into new territory, where quality storytelling will prevail over commercial interests and fan pressure. I want to see the new characters grow, and I'd love to see Luke Skywalker - the kid that started it all - used intelligently, with new aspects revealed, giving impetus to the new series, so that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, has a bright, absorbing, and exciting future.
It's been enormous fun and a really interesting project (you can read a little interview with me over at the beframeus Facebook page). I've learned a lot from doing it, but overall it's been a success, I think. And there's been some really nice feedback - a big thank you to everyone who tweeted, shared or commented, and especially to all those who took photos of the screens - it's been great seeing them out there.
Here's a few of the screens, as photographed by a variety of Tweeters and Facebookers (as credited). Arni's Epic Adventures runs until the end of November - let me know if you spot him!
Follow Arni's adventure on Twitter with the hashtag #ArniStory.
Arni is a little red bird (a Pine Grosbeak, actually) who was having a lovely snooze in his favourite tree when he was rudely awoken by the sound of a chainsaw and his tree was carted off on the back of a lorry. Arni loves that tree, so he's decided to follow it, but that turns out not to be as easy as he'd hoped, and a series of exciting little adventures ensue.
The strip was commissioned by JCDecaux - "the number one outdoor advertising company in the world" and provider of those digital screens you see everywhere at railway stations, shopping malls and airports. The basic concept and the character idea is theirs, while the realisation of the idea (script, design and artwork) comes from me. He's appearing on JCDecaux screens across the UK, one strip per working day (with catch-ups at the weekend) throughout all of November - twenty strips in all.
As I write, I've still got the last few pages to draw - a little nerve-wracking as the story began its run on Monday November 2nd - but I'm really enjoying it. Even as I wrote the script I knew I was setting myself a challenge with a fair number of testing environments to draw, including depictions of lorries, ships, cranes, and city scenes, many of them from unusual angles - and all with a rather tight deadline. But nothing gets you to do your best like a story that pushes your abilities - and a tight deadline!
A further challenge has been that JCDecaux have two different screen formats ... the Digital-6 is a portrait screen and the Transvision is landscape. As D6 screens vastly outnumber the TVs, I've drawn primarily for that mode, but have then had to re-compose the artwork for the longer, narrower format, often having to cut away some of my artwork (wince!). For me, the definitive versions are the D6 pages, but it's the more screen-friendly TVs that are being published online.
JCDeacux host thousands of screens across the country, many at major railway stations, roadside locations and big shopping complexes, reaching half of the UK population (they reckon 30-40 million). The strip is wordless and appears on screens for 5, 6 or 20 seconds and is being billed as "the first graphic arts story to be commissioned for digital screens" (the big ones, anyway!).
A big thank you to Russell Gower and his colleagues at JCDecaux for giving me the opportunity to work on such an exciting project. I hope you'll come across Arni on your travels throughout the following month - you can follow the strip's progress on Twitter through beframeus and ArniBird - and if you see a screen, do let me know, and tweet a photo if you can!
Of course everyone has asked me what I thought of the beautiful city of Vienna - and, as with my previous European adventures, I honestly can't say! I spent the majority of my time sat behind a table sketching in books and chatting with German and Austrian comic fans - the reason I'm lucky enough to be there. I didn't even see much of the rest of the comic show. I saw a little of the city - through a car window, or taking the Viennese U-Bahn and then walking to the venue with some of the other artists (including Don Rosa, Francois Walthery, Thomas Cadene and Davide Fabbri) - and Vienna does indeed look very nice.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy the weekend - very far from it, I had a wonderful time (and was put up at a lovely hotel - Hotel Kummer on Mariahilfer Strasse). I was particularly pleased to spend so much time with my fellow Salleck author, Belgian artist Francois Walthery, creator of Natacha and long-time assistant to Peyo of Smurfs fame. He didn't speak English and I didn't speak French (well, each a very little) but we bonded over a mutual love of 60s British/US Blues icon John Mayall - and comics of course. Francois, as he said himself, has been drawing comics since the formation of The Beatles (though comics have not made him as rich, he added!).
A big thank you to Eckart Schott for the invite and the hospitality, to Wolfgang Klingel for the company, conversation and translation services, to Johannes Seybert and Michael for the chaperoning and airport transport, and to everyone who said hello (including the pleasant surprise of meeting Dirk Verschure again, last seen in Haarlem attempting to make my then baby daughter laugh), or who bought my book, or even just showed an interest ... danke!
He was born on 16th September 1894 in Willowbank Crescent, Glasgow. His family had just a few months earlier moved from Dundee as his father, Samuel Stewart, was to take up a new post as gymnastics instructor at Glasgow Academy. His mother was Betsy Meffan Phillip, eldest child of Andrew Phillip and Betsy Rough.
By age 16, Harry worked as an apprentice for a shirt manufacturer, but by the time the war came, in 1914, he was working for ship owners J&A Roxburgh. He wasted no time in enlisting, with the 5th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, and in July 1915 he landed with his company at the Dardanelles.
I have not been able to access the war diary of the 1/5th H.L.I., so I do not know the exact details of the battalion's movements on 14th July 1915, the day Harry was killed, except for a report that they were "on general fatigues south of Backhouse Road [trench]". They had seen a fair bit of action in the previous few days, and several men's lives were lost to the deadly Turkish snipers that kept a constant watch on the British positions.
Harry's younger brother, Andrew Stewart, a Lieutenant in the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the winner of a Military Cross, would die in 1918, leaving just two sisters and a brother with their parents (Samuel was stationed at Gailes, training recruits). I've also written about the death of his uncle, Alexander Phillip.
Harry, who had been promoted to Lance Corporal in the short time he served, was just 20 years old. His memorial on the family stone in Glasgow's Western Necropolis states "asleep on Achi Baba".