It was part of a Koreeda boxed set that I got for Christmas - I'd forgotten I'd put it down as a suggestion, based on reading something over a year ago that made me think I simply must watch this man's films, and since forgotten, so it was a nice surprise. The other films in the boxed set are After Life (1998), Nobody Knows (2004) and Air Doll (2009).
Still Walking is the story of a family that get together for a memorial to the eldest son who, we gradually learn, drowned fifteen years previously when he went into the sea to rescue a young boy. There are two grown-up children left, Hiroshi, who has married a young widow with a son, and Chinami, who has a husband and two children.
The family come home to their parents, the father a retired doctor who has lost both his heir and his purpose in life, and a probably fairly typical elderly Japanese mother, serving, fussing over her children, commenting on their lifestyle choices, and cooking, complaining and loving the rare gathering of her clan.
The film is peaceful and undramatic, but full of beautiful moments: the tension between the father and the younger, surviving son, who has failed to live up to expectations; the young widow's little boy, quietly trying to make sense of his own father's death; the uncomfortable annual visit of the boy (now man) whose life was saved by the dead son (and the mother's admission of why she continues to invite him); the yellow butterfly; the conversations; the gentle humour.
And the ending. I won't spoil it, but it brought an unexpected tear, though not a sad one. Well, maybe a bit - Hiroshi, it seems, could only be himself once his own parents had passed away, freed of his role as second son. Various aspects of this film will resonate with most people in different ways - something recognisable for everyone.
The whole film immediately brought to mind the great director Yasujiro Ozu, in setting, theme, style and mood, particularly Tokyo Story (see my review here). It even has a role, in the young widow (played by Yui Natsukawa), that would have fitted Setsuko Hara perfectly. I look forward to seeing the remaining Koreeda films, even if it might take a little while.
I'm delighted to announce that a Danish edition of The Rainbow Orchid is to be published by Forlaget Tellerup. It will be issued in three separate volumes and will be launched perhaps midway in 2015 - I will confirm the date when it is settled. The Danish title is Jagten på Regnbueorkidéen, and it joins the English, Dutch, Spanish, French and German editions.
My sincere thanks go to Michael E. N. Larsen at Tellerup, Hélène Ferey and Oli Munson at A. M. Heath, and Trine Licht at Licht and Burr. I also suspected I should pass on a nod of recognition to the Danish comic artists (Frank Madsen, Sussi Bech, Ingo Milton, and Tatiana Goldberg) I had a very nice dinner with in Erlangen, Germany, earlier this year, as I thought that getting to know them a little better may have had something to do with my coming to the attention of Tellerup! In fact, Mr. Larsen had discovered RO while browsing Amazon, which just goes to show that putting work out there gets it seen, and you never know what will come of it.
Anyway, if you're starting to think about your Christmas shopping then perhaps I can recommend a few nice little items here with my own stamp on them ...
The Complete Rainbow Orchid - if you haven't got it, then this is the version to get. The entire story in one volume with 17 pages of extras and behind-the-scenes sketches. Buy it from me (signed and sketched in), or from your local bookseller, or online at vendors such as Amazon or Book Depository.
The Rainbow Orchid Supplement - includes author's annotations for the entire story, plus notes, interviews and sketches. For the true fan, but brimful of Julius Chancer goodness. You can get your copy here.
The Rainbow Orchid volumes 1, 2 and 3 bundle - I have a limited number of these sets available in my online shop (signed with a sketch), when they're gone they're gone! This special offer includes The Rainbow Orchid Supplement. Individual volumes can also be bought through your local bookseller, or various places online including Amazon and Book Depository.
The Scarifyers - I've drawn nine covers for Bafflegab's excellent dark-comedy-supernatural-mystery series, featuring the acting talents of people such as David Warner, Terry Molloy, Nicholas Courtney, Nigel Havers, Leslie Phillips and Brian Blessed, to name just a few. These really are excellent audio adventures - if I didn't get a contributor's copy I'd buy my own! The latest is very festive, The King of Winter, and all are available from the Bafflegab website on CD or download.
The Book of the Dead and Unearthed - these two 'mummy anthologies' came out last year from Jurassic London, The Book of the Dead featuring new tales of the Egyptian (un)dead, and Unearthed featuring classic tales, including Arthur Conan Doyle's excellent Lot 249. I created several illustrations for The Book of the Dead and recently designed brand new covers for both volumes. Buy them from Amazon: The Book of the Dead link, Unearthed link.
I should apologise for the delay - it was partly due to other work, but I must admit it was also partly due to the big step of actually starting, coupled with the fact that the first panel was a bit of a challenge, having to tackle an establishing shot with a fairly intricate building (and van) in perspective.
One of the things that helped me get started was doing a private commission for a Julius Chancer illustration which acted as a great warm-up. It was a Thirty-Nine Steps-style scenario, with Julius being chased down on the Yorkshire Moors ...
Here, again, are the the thumbnails and A4 roughs for the first half of the first page ...
And here are the panels at the pencil stage ...
Finally, here are the drawings fully inked and coloured ...
This has been my first experience drawing at the new size - A2 (half a page is A3). The building did take longer due to the greater area to cover, but it was much nicer to draw something that required that level of detail with more space available. The following two panels probably took just as long as they would have had I been drawing at A3, as I did with The Rainbow Orchid.
One advantage I hadn't anticipated is that drawing the page in A3 halves provides me with smaller targets to complete - half a page is done and can be put aside, instead of a whole page having to be completed before I can tick it as 'done'. That might seem a false equivalence, but it's a psychological trick that actually helps! Giving yourself little targets to complete is great way to keep moving forward with a big project.
I plan to have the first three pages up for you to read at the start of the new year (fingers crossed!).
It's for a leaflet that explains how Jacobs was an influence on the three creators featured - Patrick Dumas (Allan MacBride), me (Julius Chancer), and Eric Heuval (Le Mystère Du Temps) - all published, of course, by BD Must.
Jacobs really was the spark that set off The Rainbow Orchid, far more than Tintin. I bought a copy of La Marque Jaune at the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée in Brussels, sometime in the 1990s, and it opened up the horizon for me on the wider world of ligne claire and the possibility of more serious adventure in this format. (I just checked the dates - I went to Brussels in April 1996 and drew the first page of RO in March 1997.)
I certainly wouldn't claim to be an heir, but I'm very happy to be thought of in the same context!
He was Wee Eck because he was the youngest son (though two girls would come after him) of Andrew Phillip, a stone mason from Inverkeillor, and Betsy Rough, of Kettins. The family was mostly girls - seven in all, with just four boys (though one died of croupe at three years old). You can see little Alex standing on the right, holding his mother's arm, in this photograph of the Phillip family from about 1886, about the time they moved to Dundee.
Alexander had the misfortune to be born in a fateful era - the final two decades of Queen Victoria's reign, whose children were ushered into the brave new twentieth century, then raked into the First World War, only to be torn apart and buried in the mud of Flanders, the sands of the Middle East, and the weather-worn hills of Gallipoli.
Wee Eck followed his father into the masonry business, but when the war blew across Europe he enlisted with the City of Dundee Royal Engineers, soon being posted to the 446th Northumbrian Field Company. In July of 1917 he found himself in the Hindenburg support trenches, and on the first day of August he and another Sapper, Henry Cawley, were killed outright by a German shell as they worked in the Swift support trench, right on the front line near to Chérisy.
His commanding officer, Major C. E. Boost, wrote to his father the very next day, the day his colleages buried him at Heninal ...
"I am very sorry to have to tell you that your son, Sapper Phillips [sic] of this Coy., was killed yesterday by a shell in the front trench system. In your great sadness I feel that it would help to know that your son has done splendid work whilst with the company. His close attention to duty and willingness to do anything that was required of him has earned himself a reputation not only with the men of his section, but with his section officers ... I am enclosing his cap badge which I feel you would like ..."
A fellow engineer, Sapper Thomas Brown, wrote a couple of weeks later to Alex's younger sister, Jemima ...
"I hope you will excuse me for intruding upon your grief, but I thought you would like to hear from one that was not far from your brother when he was killed. Please take comfort in the fact that his death was instantaneous and that he died a steady and true soldier, in the cause of his King and country. I cannot speak too highly of your brother for he and I were the best of pals for the all too short time I knew him, and I always felt he was a man to be relied on. I think the way him and I got on so well together was because we were about the only Scots in this lot, so you know we are a little clannish. As long as we stay here I will see that his grave his kept green for it is a sacred spot to me ..."
Look at the family photo above once again. The eldest child, Betsy, just behind Wee Eck, lost two sons in the war - Henry, at Gallipoli in July 1915, and Andrew, who drowned in Ireland while convalescing from wounds received in action at Combles. The tall chap at the back is John, the eldest son. He lost his boy, Alexander, just a few months after his little brother was killed, in December 1917, and another son, William, was poisoned in a gas attack in April 1918 - and survived. The wider Phillip family also suffered. Andrew's brother, James Phillip, lost a grandson, William, at Meteran, with another of his four serving sons wounded.
Alex's mother, Betsy, whose arm he holds in the photograph, died in 1899, so she would never know the horror of the war and the fate of her son and three grandchildren. His father, Andrew, carried the grief of his family's loss until his death in 1931, at the age of 87. He outlived five of his 11 children.
See my WWI family war memorial here.
As ever I was met by my German publisher, Eckart Schott of Salleck Publishing, and we drove into Mülheim and to our hotel, Hotel Kaiser on Wiener Platz. After dropping our bags off we went out to a little pizzeria (Palazzo) where I had a very nice pizza that I'm sure was meant for four people, not one. Our walk back to the hotel was just short enough to stop my bones from getting too chilled - there was a definite bite in the night air.
While Eckart had an early start to set up his stand at the comics fair, I was able to have a bit of a lie-in (a rare luxury with two small children at home), and I made my way over to the Köln-Mülheim Stadthalle (town hall) at about 10 am, opening time for the show. It was a beautiful November day - sun, blue sky, and not too cold.
The queue to get into the hall was enormous, so I walked round to the side to see if I could find a tradesman's entrance. I did, but was stopped by a door-guard who kept telling me to join the queue at the front despite my attempts to explain that I was there to sign books for Salleck. Luckily, just as I was about to give-up, a chap came up who recognised me and let me through. He turned out to be Thomas Götze, the organiser of Comicmesse Köln, and he gave me safe passage to Salleck's stand. Thank you, Thomas!
I wasn't totally sure if I was there because volume 3 of Die Regenbogenorchidee was now published, but actually that is coming out next May (2015), so I was there just to sign and do sketches for volumes 1 and 2. But that morning Eckart realised he'd forgotten to bring any volume twos! "Ashes on my head!", he said, obviously feeling bad about it. But actually it was fine - a good number of volume one was sold and I was kept very busy sketching - the day flew by. I didn't even have time to look round the hall myself and I didn't manage to take a single photo at the show.
I did meet lots of lovely people though. I always find my German hosts and readers to be hugely polite and friendly and it has made my trips there (previously to Essen and Erlangen) very worthwhile and a complete pleasure. I must offer special thanks to Peter Nover (he wrote the article on me in Zack Magazine at the start of the year) who gave me a complete set of the Erlangen Panini stickers (I'm no. 68!), and the album, as well as a copy of a new magazine he's involved in, Camp (which includes a rare 4-page strip about the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Edgar P. Jacbos, from 1964).
Eckart was also very generous - still feeling bad about the lack of volume two stock, he gave me a present of the two André Juillard Pêle-Mêle artbooks from Pythagore. I'd been drooling over one of these at a friend's house en route to the Lakes Comic Art Festival last year, so this was a wonderfully generous gift (and a rather heavy one, I just about got them into my little bag for the flight home!).
With the day over, I made my way back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep for an hour. At six I met Eckart in the lobby to go out to dinner. He had a very interesting guest with him - Dr. Johannes Wachten, the retired senior curator of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. He had helped Eckart with some specialist translation relating to the Israeli Air Force when Salleck published Yann and Juillard's graphic novel, Mezek.
We took the tram across the Rhein into Cologne, and then a walk to the Art'otel on Holzmarkt to meet one of Eckart's stand helpers for the day, Ernst, and his wife. En-route we had a very interesting historical commentary from Dr Wachten, especially in relation to the Roman origins of Cologne (Colonia, or Colony, more fully Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium - the Colony of Claudius and Altar of the Agrippinians!), which helped to keep my thoughts away from the fact that it was getting really quite cold. Also, there was a lovely yellow moon low in the sky across the Rhein as we walked along the redeveloped harbour on Im Zollhafen.
Things were kept interesting when, after a long walk, we reached our restaurant for the evening, Oxin (on Alteburger Strasse), and I had my introduction to Persian cuisine. Not being a very adventurous eater I found it very tasty, though I kept away from the octopus! Eckart said we should all have ice cream next so, despite feeling rather full, I did my best with some kind of mocha-extravaganza at the nearby Eiscafé Forum.
The cold was getting colder and my brain was thinking thoughts bedward, but we decided on a quick tram trip to see Cologne Cathederal late at night - a very impressive structure that survived the Allied bombing of the city in WWII, and Germany's most visited landmark. We then said our gute nachts and Eckart and I made one more tram journey back to the Hotel Kaiser.
My flight home on Sunday was not until after 4 pm, so Eckart drove us both to Oberhausen (not far from Essen) and to the Ludwiggalerie to see the Streich Auf Streich exhibition - 150 years of German-language comics since Max and Moritz. It was a fascinating display, with many originals and made all the more interesting with Eckart as my personal guide. We followed the visit up with a luxurious lunch in the Kaisergarten Count Westerholt Restaurant (complete with live piano player) and then - though I was getting a little anxious about the time - made a very brief visit to a local moated 15th/16th-century castle, Burg Vondern.
After a little confusion about which direction to take, we got going back on the Autobahn, the traffic was kind, and I was dropped off at Köln-Bonn airport with time to spare for my flight home.
A big thank you, once again, to Eckart Schott for his generous hospitality, and to Ernst for taking me to lunch on the Saturday (and for his and his wife's, and Dr. Wachten's excellent company in the evening). As always, a super-big thank you to everyone who came to get a sketch, buy a book, or even just to chat - danke schon!
I don't know much more about it - but I do know that Thomas Du Caju (Betty and Dodge) who I met at Angouléme will be there, and so will Diana Sasse, a comic author who I was in touch with in the early days of the web-version of The Rainbow Orchid (she draws amazing horses).
Also in attendance will be Alexis Martinez and Gunther Brodhecker, creators of a little book I picked up a couple of months back called Das Tagebuch des Richardo Castillo, set in the 'New France' of the 18th Century (North America), with beautiful cartooning somewhat resembling the work of Willy Vandersteen, I thought. They have a colour edition coming out in French from BD Must.
See you there?
Inking isn't totally free of creativity or difficulty, there's plenty of that involved, but it is made enormously more fun for me thanks to the tool I use - the humble dip-pen. I find it such a pleasure to use. I feel as though there is a tradition and history I'm part of. Using a dip-pen is a craft - the very act of getting the ink yourself, of charging the nib directly from the inkwell, and then drawing - from brain to arm to hand to nib to ink to paper, resulting in a physical image, transferred kinetically straight from the source (me).
The first dip-pen I used, on the opening three pages of The Rainbow Orchid, was an Osmiroid Rolatip. Using it now it seems so basic and easy to use, but back then I struggled with its unpredictability, and soon moved to using Rapidographs (often doubling the line to inject some variation). After a few years I found the Rapidograph unsatisfying and I decided to give dip-pens another try. I bought a Hunt 107, struggled a bit, and then it seemed to click.
Towards the end of The Rainbow Orchid I started to find the 107 a little unsubtle for some of the stuff I wanted to do, and a couple of pages into The Secret of the Samurai I turned to the Hunt 102, a finer nib and a little more flexible. I had no problem with this nib, but got curious about the Tachikawas that seemed to be so readily available (when the Hunts weren't).
So next I tried the Maru and the G-nib. The G-nib is a very good manga pen, but not quite right for ligne claire. The Maru was pretty close to the 102, perhaps able to go a little finer - a tiny bit less flexible, but with a tad more character, I think. I seem to be favouring the Maru at the moment, though I'd like to try a few British nibs at some point, perhaps a Gillott or a Leonardt.
Whenever I mention dip-pens on my website, or at comics workshops (I'm nearly always asked what tools I use) I always get interest in them. I'm often asked what kind is best, how to use them and where you can get them. Sometimes people come back to me, frustrated that they've not been able to get to grips with it. It's not like a marker or a drawing pen - you can't just pop the lid off and go. It can take a little while to get used to, but if it's the right tool for you (and it may not be) then it will click, and you'll love it.
Because of this interest, a couple of days ago I decided to make a video about dip-pens. I ramble on about them for about 10 minutes (probably a bit too long, sorry) and then demonstrate three nibs in action. Just seeing the dip-pen work can erase a lot of the mystery. So, if you're interested, here's the video ...