I'd actually been invited to two other shows this weekend - the Munich Comics Festival, by my German publisher, Salleck, and the Bulles de Mantes La Jolie in Paris, by BD Must - but Copenhagen beat them to it. It's nice to be wanted, and I wish I could have somehow managed all three!
But I'd wanted to attend the Copenhagen event, which is held every two years, for a while now, after hearing positive reports from Colin Mathieson and Dave West of Accent UK, who both thought my book would find an appreciative audience there. When Danish publisher Tellerup added my book to their list late last year, the possibility of attending became a reality - and for that I must thank my champion at Tellerup, Michael Larsen, the Danish Arts Foundation, and Copenhagen Comics themselves.
I'm not a big fan of flying, but - though I'm not religious - there were about 20 or more members of the Salvation Army brass band on my flight, so I knew I'd be okay! Michael met me at the airport and we took the train into Copenhagen, hopped on a bus to my hotel (Hotel Sct. Thomas in Frederiksberg, right next door, it turned out, to Copenhagen's Salvation Army HQ) where I checked in and freshened up, and then we took the bus back into the city where we met the rest of the Tellerup team for dinner, at A Hereford Beefstouw, right next to the famous Tivoli Gardens.
The Tellerup team consisted of Michael, Thomas Schrøder and his wife Lise, Harald and Louise Tellerup, Valdemar Tellerup and one other chap, whose name didn't quite reach my ears (sorry!) [Edit: it was Steen]. They are a wonderful bunch and I feel very pleased indeed to have my work published by them.
After dinner Michael and I took a bus to Nyhavn - the 17th-century harbour that was once home to Hans Christian Andersen. Michael is an excellent tour-guide and he provided tea and good conversation, especially with his interesting insights into acting - something we've both been involved in.
The bus journey back led to a little adventure - Michael got off before me and I remained on board with a man who seemed insistent on informing me about (I think) his savings, the Danish tax rate, and the government (there's to be a general election this month). Whether it was due to this or my own lack of awareness, I wasn't sure which stop to get off at, so I took a chance and then used my 'intuition' to walk in what I thought was the right direction. My intuition was as good as random chance (unsurprisingly) and I soon realised I was going the wrong way. But purely by chance I had come out with a city map in my back pocket, and purely by chance I decided to examine it just as I was about to walk off the edge of it. A 20-minute walk got me back safely to the hotel!
I was staying in the same hotel as Colin and Dave of Accent UK and so I was able to meet them for breakfast the next day. Making up the rest of the Accent UK team were West Noir artist Gary Crutchley, and Colin's son Scott, and all four were terrific company all weekend, starting with breakfast each day.
Day one of the festival was hugely enjoyable - I was busy signing and sketching for most of the day and I met a ton of marvellous comic creators and readers. From my last German trip it was lovely to reacquaint myself with Tatiana Goldberg, also published by Tellerup and whose fantastic book, Anima, was shortlisted for a Ping Award (the winners were to be announced that evening); also Frank Madsen, Sussi Bech and Ingo Milton. I was also delighted to meet (all too briefly) Lars Jakobsen, creator of the fantastic Mortensen books - which Colin had turned me onto a couple of years previously.
At midday I was part of a panel discussion about drawing kids' comics, chaired by Michael Andersen and alongside comics superstars Luke Pearson and Thomas Wellmann. It was interesting that none of us had intentionally created a comic for children, we'd all made comics as something we, ourselves, wanted to read. Being comics for children had more to do with marketing, though all-ages content and clear storytelling were certainly aspects that perhaps made our books more widely accessible - not, we agreed, exclusively for a young demographic, but for a mainstream, even non-comic reading, truly all-ages audience.
Another friendly face present in Copenhagen Comics that weekend was Clíodhna Lyons, who was literally flying the flag for Irish comics, as well as her own gorgeous work. I'd last seen Clíodhna at Angoulême, so even though she only lives 30 miles away from me, we only seem to get to say hello when in mainland Europe. Along with the Accent UK guys and a number of friendly Danes, she was excellent company all weekend - and I owe her a drink in return for the enormous orange juice she treated me to at Cafe Obelix that evening.
The second day of the festival was another good one, perhaps a little slower than the Saturday, but I was still busy enough signing to keep me from clock-watching, with enough space this time to allow me to stretch my legs and have a wander around the Danish comics scene, which, I'm pleased to report, is friendly, full and fascinating.
One nice thing that Tellerup had organised was an exclusive Rainbow Orchid poster, free to anyone who bought the book at the festival. It was a big one - 70 x 100cm - and a common sight was to see people carrying them around in their special Tellerup poster boxes. I'd drawn this in spare moments during a very busy period of work, but was pleased to see that it had come out all right!
I was very pleased to make the acquaintance of another talented Dane, Thomas Friis Pedersen (who uses the pen-name Thop), creator of Flix & Flax and Zombie Kravlenisser (as well as The Great Zardini, which really gave me a good chuckle) and is another Tellerup author. And it was good to meet Árni Beck Gunnarsson too, for whom Thomas and I collaborated on a little jam sketch!
Sunday evening saw a lovely dinner at The London Pub on Godthåbsvej with Clíodhna, Accent UK, and Søren Pedersen, founder of the famous Fantask comics shop, and his wife Vibeke. As with every evening, much conversation was had, including subjects as diverse as Japanese film, potatoes, the Gay Gordons, and, of course, comics.
On Monday morning it was time to return home. A slightly earlier breakfast, again with the magnificent company of the Accent UK team (Colin was torn between a Danish pastry and accompanying me to the station, luckily reason prevailed ... the Danish), before I said my goodbyes and walked off to Copenhagen Central for a train to the airport. Despite a slightly delayed flight I was home by 3pm, and I even managed to summon up the energy to get myself to that night's karate training.
So, did I enjoy my first visit to Denmark? Most certainly. Would I go again? Absolutely. The Danish comics scene was enormously welcoming and I had a terrific time. Huge thanks to Tellerup, especially Michael Larsen who made the whole thing happen, to the Danish Arts Foundation for help with funding, and - by no means least - to Steffen Rayburn-Maarup and the Copenhagen Comics team for having me as a guest. I feel very lucky and honoured that I got the chance to go.
Yes, I know it's the same cover that's been on all the editions, but I particularly like the title design here - I gave it a slightly larger 'O', even though it's all one word in Danish, and spent a little more time on shaping it overall than I have on some of the other editions (oh how I'd like to rework the English one!).
I have drawn a new piece of Rainbow Orchid artwork for a promotional poster, but I'll leave that to be revealed by Tellerup at the festival, so no sneaky peeks just yet! Oh, okay, maybe just a little one ...
The first is aimed at librarians and will take place at Crawley Library, West Sussex, on 18 May, where I'll be on a panel addressing the issue of reaching reluctant readers (something comics do very well!). My fellow panelists will be Helen Dennis, Mo O'Hara, and Lisa Williamson. You can book tickets here.
On the weekend of 6-7 June I'll be at Copenhagen Comics in Denmark for the launch of the Danish edition of The Rainbow Orchid vol.1 (Jagten Pa Regnbueorkideen, published by Tellerup). Long before a Danish edition was even a possibility I had wanted to visit this festival, largely thanks to the enthusiastic reports brought back by Colin and Dave of Accent UK, who will also be attending this year. I'm very grateful to the festival, Tellerup, and the Danish Arts Foundation for making this trip a reality.
At the end of November I posted some finished art for the first page and suggested that the next two pages might be available to read in the new year, but since then ... nothing! The main reason has been work, work, work.
During the time I was drawing The Rainbow Orchid I experienced quite a downturn in my regular commercial work, and therefore my income. This was because in order to get the comic finished I had to turn away a fair bit of paying work, a difficult decision to make! Since the book has been completed I've had to build things up again, and the last couple of years have not been hugely fruitful.
This year, so far, has been better - things are looking up, at least for the next three months or so, and I've been saying yes to most of the projects that have come my way (and I'm very lucky to have some really nice assignments at the moment). The obvious result of this is that I'm very busy prioritising my paying clients, and that sadly leaves little to no time for my own stuff.
Ordinarily these two aspects of my work should run along nicely together but I have probably taken on a little too much work right now - possibly in reaction to last year's drought, but also because the urgency to earn money has increased, with my wife (a writer and editor) going freelance and with two small children to care for, and who knows if work will keep coming or dry up again for a bit.
I have been trying to think of solutions ... should I dive into the world of crowd funding (eg. KickStarter) or perhaps a system such as Patreon might be better? I'm not sure I'd be able to raise much this way - because of mainstream distribution with The Rainbow Orchid I'm not connected to the majority of my readers online, so I don't know if there's a good support base out there I can reach.
Either way, Julius Chancer is not dead - I'm too excited about this next story. It is better than The Rainbow Orchid, more original, more exciting, more mysterious, and my art and writing have improved a lot (I think). It will happen and I will try my best to get some new stuff to you as soon as I can.
Thanks, as ever, for staying with me!
In 2003 I self-published part one in black and white, and as part of the extras I included a page of sketches and a scrapbook, which is where the idea started - you can see it below.
If you'd like to look at some of the scrapbook items in more detail then you can have a look at the Julius Chancer Facebook page where there's an album dedicated to them. If you're not already joined up to it, please do! I often publish little bits and bobs there that don't appear anywhere else.
Volumes two and three, however, did include a 'story so far ...' section at the front, and for these I did drawings for the monochrome photographs. Here are the full colour versions ...
Lily, Julius and Nathaniel about to embark for Portsmouth, but somebody else is on this train ...
Nathaniel, Lily and Julius meet the elephant at Cunningham House, Karachi ...
The Complete Rainbow Orchid also had scrapbooks, gathering all three volumes' material into two spreads ...
Volume two had a much smaller single-page spread, and only one full drawing. It shows Nathaniel Crumpole in the Amman desert with his camel and the Breguet 280T and a refuelling truck in the background ...
Here is the vol.2 scrapbook page ...
Here are three from the volume 1 scrapbook: Julius and Chas in Gallipoli ...
Lord Lawrence winning the Fourth Wembley Botanical Competition, with Rudyard Kipling ...
... and Lily Lawrence on set with her friend, Edna Purviance.
This is the full vol. 1 scrapbook spread ...
Karate has been a very important part of my life. My last two years of school were not great, and starting karate brought back some of my self-confidence. Also at school, I was terrible at sport, but karate was something I did away from school and I allowed myself a fresh start. I took to it really well. The only person I was in competition with was myself, and that can be a huge incentive to try and excel, week by week.
My first sensei was Brian Whitehouse at his Shotokan Karate Club of East Grinstead, but when I went to live in the US for a year I took six lessons a week at the headquarters of the International Karate Association under the famous Takayuki Kubota. I returned to the UK and became the first black belt at Brian's club. A few years ago I wrote up my karate experience, just to help me remember it all - you can read it here if you wish (it's not a particularly exciting or outstanding story, I admit!).
Karate seems to be slightly unfashionable these days, largely, I think, due to the glamour of the new kid on the block, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). But that discipline doesn't do it for me - it's too much about winning, about competition, and about who is strongest and best. It misses the budo aspects, the humility, the finesse. It misses the Art.
One aspect of Japanese martial arts that comes in for more criticism these days is the idea that practicing a fighting art can improve your character. For me, it really has. Karate has been my model for bettering myself in all walks of life and for not giving up on something I want to do. When I lose my way, I think of karate. The lessons I've learned while attempting to perfect a technique, or to keep going when my legs want to give out, find other applications. My comic strip, The Rainbow Orchid, would not exist without my karate training (not to mention the fact that it helps when I'm drawing fight scenes!). It's not a spiritual thing for me, it's a practical, real thing.
I love kata - the pre-arranged forms or patterns of karate, an imaginary fight in multiple directions, an encyclopaedia of self-preservation techniques. I feel I'm just beginning to understand how they work - a glimpse of a bigger picture. I'm constantly trying to perfect them, and am always very far away from doing so. But each time is a new challenge. I also love the fact that practicing kata connects me to the art's history, and with forms that masters have handed down through centuries, changing and evolving with each interpretation and generation. The history of karate generally is a big part of the attraction, too.
I'm still doing karate (my current club's website is here) and I still love it. I can't kick quite as high as I used to, the jumps aren't quite as athletic, and the legs tire a bit more quickly than they once did, but it's still an enormous challenge. And I think I'm starting to get the hang of it a little - at last.
Here's a short video from the days when my limbs were a bit more elastic, even if my technique was a lot less formed - in the summer of 1985, as a 7th kyu orange belt in Brian's class at the Small Parish Hall (sadly just recently demolished).
Update: the sale ends at midnight tonight (5 Jan)!