This blog began in 1997 as a single news page called Nucelus. In 2005, during a long wait to move into a new house, I decided to learn some php and MySQL and write my own blogging system, which became inkyBlog and which now powers this, my own Webbledegook blog.
Thank you to my brother, Murray Ewing, for help with some of the more challenging aspects!
Is this a brand new story? No - this is the same story that was serialised in The Phoenix Comic back in 2013 (issues 75-78), though I have re-edited a bit of the text, and re-written and re-drawn large parts of two pages (pages 17 and 22 in the book).
Is this a full-length album? The actual Secret of the Samurai story is 20 pages long, but the album also contains two other short stories I wrote and drew (both of which have been published before): The Sword of Truth (2004, 6 pages) and The Girdle of Polly Hipple (2005, 4 pages). The album is 36 pages in total.
What is the book's availability? I'm not sure on this yet - as I write the album is not currently on the BD Must site. The French language edition is listed on Amazon. A crowdfunder for the French edition was successfully funded back in May on Ulule. I do know the print-run is not large, and that it's smaller for the English language edition. I will update this when I know more.
What's the story about? Briefly it's a mystery about the hunt for a missing set of samurai armour, and it takes place before The Rainbow Orchid. For more details and notes you can see some of the blog posts I wrote at the time it was serialised in The Phoenix Comic (note - some of the info in these posts is no longer accurate!): The Secret of the Samurai FAQ, blog post for part 1, blog post for part 2, blog post for part 3, and blog post for part 4.
I'll end off on the other question I get all the time (and no, I'm not tired of it, it's lovely), Will there ever be a new Julius Chancer adventure? The answer to this is yes, as long as I don't get knocked down by a bus (or whatever the modern-day equivalent is ... an Amazon delivery robot?). I'm still very busy at the moment working on The Curious Expedition 2, but I haven't forgotten Julius Chancer - the new story is all-plotted, semi-scripted, and drawing started (extract below). I fully intend for this new story to happen ... I just don't want to promise when!
You can do a Rainbow Orchid maze to find the Trembling Sword of Tybalt Stone (pdf) or to recover the statue of Idrimi, King of Atalah (pdf). Or you could try your hand at the snow leopard dot-to-dot (pdf). When you've done those, you can test yourself with the Rainbow Orchid word-search (pdf).
(By the way, if you get really stuck, here are the spot-the-difference answers!)
I hadn't realised that my Belgian-based publisher, BD Must, had run a crowd-funder earlier this year to produce the binder, and as it funded at 225% production went ahead and it's available. Plus I now have a few books to add drawings to for the top-tier funders.
The centre-spread art for the binder is from an early draft of the cover for volume 3, produced for Egmont long before I finished the album, but required for various advance publicity things, so it doesn't quite reflect what eventually appeared in the actual story. It's nice though!
I started The Rainbow Orchid in 1996/97 before it saw small-press publication in BAM! (Bulldog Adventure Magazine) in 2002. In 2005 I started colouring the strips and posting them online. One thing lead to another, which lead to getting an agent, which lead to several publishers showing interest, and eventually to publication through Tintin's UK publisher, Egmont.
Not content with one, I had two book launches in August 2009 - an 'industry' one at Foyles in London (I was super ill, but managed to survive the evening) and a local one at East Grinstead's Bookshop. The support and love shown for the book at these and subsequent events was wonderful, and has continued throughout the life of the book - an aspect I find pretty humbling and feel enormously lucky about.
At the end of 2009 I wrote up a little overview of how the book had been received, with some thoughts on the UK comic industry of the time (a lot has changed since then). I was privileged to have a number of lovely and enthusiastic people working with me on the book, and in 2010, around the time volume 2 was published, I interviewed several of them about their roles in publishing (agent, commissioning editor, editor, designer, and press officer).
In July 2010 I was able to announce the first foreign language edition of The Rainbow Orchid, in Dutch from Silvester Strips. This would be the first of a handful - with Spanish in 2012, French and German in 2013, and Danish in 2015. A contract was also agreed and signed for a Bengali edition, but sadly the book never materialised.
These European editions lead to me travelling to my first comic shows abroad - twice to Holland, twice to France, twice to Denmark, once to Austria, and four times to Germany. Of course I also attended a good number of UK comic shows and most of the big literary and book festivals - which were wonderful. (I won't mention specific shows, but all my reports are linked here.)
Not every event I did was a roaring success - I did a fair number of school events (not listed), some were fantastic and some I couldn't wait to get out of there! I turned up to one bookshop event to find none of my books on display, no promotion, and, perhaps not surprisingly, just one person turned up to my talk at the end of the afternoon. At another I found my audience was largely 5 and 6 year-olds - too young for my book really - and a table of cakes and fizzy drinks had been set up right next to them. That was memorable! At the other end of the spectrum I found an audience full of serious-looking twenty-somethings, obviously expecting the 'graphic novel' workshop they were attending to feature more darkness and grittiness, and less how to make a fun story out of the surprise novelty items I'd placed into a pillow case and reciting my 'Adventurer's Oath'. We got through it!
One of my favourite events was at my second Edinburgh Festival, jamming and drawing stories with Nick Sharratt and Vivian French inspired by audience suggestions. One of the most memorable was travelling on my own to Angouleme, getting to stay in the grounds of a misty 14th century castle and having a series of more and more delicious meals. I spent time with some incredible comic creators from the UK and Europe, I had dinner with Tom Gauld, Kerascoet and Boulet, discussed blues with Francois Walthery, had a one-to-one director's commentary on Franka from Henk Kuijpers, signed a stack of books for an hour with Posy Simmonds, walked around Angouleme with Eric Heuvel and Vano, and have generally met more lovely people than in any other walk of life.
Sketching in books at shows was something I had to get to grips with quite quickly - I was very rarely pleased with the drawings I produced, but I did slowly get a little better as I went along. At festivals such as Hay and Edinburgh I may have had shorter lines than the big-name authors next to me, but when they'd finished, I was still signing - a sketch in every book!
I had some unusual requests, especially in Europe. Could I draw Evelyn in the nude? (No!). Please draw Julius flying an aeroplane, Julius riding a snow leopard, please redraw this panel here, these two characters fighting, full-length, etc. etc. I usually declined and got them to compromise with something smaller - or my publisher would step in, saying "portraits only!".
In 2012 the complete edition of RO was published - by this time Egmont may have been running out of steam on it, budgets were dwindling, sales were slowing, and I think I was feeling a bit tired of it by now too. There were still some nice things to come - including blistering sales at that year's Thought Bubble and a British Comics Award the following year.
To this day I have still not read The Rainbow Orchid all the way through from beginning to end. While I'm proud of it overall, some of it makes me wince and it's still the bits I'm least happy with that stand out to me when I look at it.
Having said that, my six-year old son just picked it off my bookshelf and asked for it be his bed-time book. I tried to dissuade him, but he insisted, so I am currently reading it to him, a few pages at a time. One thing I will say - the dialogue reads rather well out loud, and it's one book where I can be sure of getting the voices more or less right!
"Will there EVER be another Julius Chancer graphic novel? We have been waiting for more than five years. I hope that you realize that it won't be long before your readers turn their attention elsewhere. Tintin has stopped the production of new stories, but there are 24 of them. Blake and Mortimer, ever since the title was revived, have come up with a new story every six months to a year. The Rainbow Orchid is too good to let die. Surely, the fertile brain that concocted that story has not run dry."
My stock answer to questions about an Orchid follow-up has been to say that the next story is plotted, partially scripted, and I've started the drawing - all true, but it doesn't really tell you much. So, I'll answer the points in the email above and, hopefully, shed some light.
Will there ever be another Julius Chancer comic? The real answer to that is that I have no idea. I always intended to do another and, as mentioned, I have started one. Since publication of the collected edition I have run hot and cold with the idea - sometimes feeling enthusiastic about it, and at other times thinking I should move on to something different. In the past year I increasingly felt I should abandon Julius Chancer and do something entirely new. The Rainbow Orchid was a big effort, wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be, and the rewards have been mixed (though I hugely enjoyed the experience and I'm very grateful for all the appreciation it still gets).
To compound my recent feelings, last year I became very disillusioned with illustration and came to the brink of giving up on it. I'd thought about it before, when work was scarce (sometimes), or badly paid (nearly always), or if I was stuck in a particularly bad project (quite rare) - but it never felt serious and I didn't like the idea. But last year I felt absolutely fine about the possibility of leaving the profession and finding something new.
Even though I'm almost 50, it didn't feel like a mid-life crisis, I don't think I'm that sort of person. It felt calm and right. I went on holiday with my family and took all my Tardi albums to read (bliss!). I started getting new ideas about a different kind of work and perhaps some sort of comics hobby I could do that would free me from the pressure of perfection that ligne claire brings with it - it can be kind of exhausting.
After the holiday I left it at that and waited to see what might turn up. Soon enough a few bits of work came my way - I needed the money so said yes to them. Then more work came and my schedule was suddenly overloaded - and I enjoyed it. Illustration pulled me back in, and it felt fine.
In the past few months I looked again at what I'd done for the new Julius Chancer adventure and felt pretty positive about it. The story is good - more original than Orchid (which was very much an homage to books such as Allan Quatermain) - and my art has improved a lot, I think, since the last story.
The current position is this: I want to continue it, but I can't devote a lot of time to it as it doesn't earn me any money and I do need to make a living. So I'll do it as and when I can. It's likely to take a number of years to complete (though I will start putting it online at some point before that), and there's always the possibility it will not get finished at all (but I hope that's not the case - I like the ending).
As the email above says - do I realise my readers will turn their attention elsewhere? Oh, yes, I'm very aware of that, and there's no doubt that has already happened. I'm very grateful to have had any readers at all, but I don't owe them anything more, and they don't me any allegiance. I have no publishing contract, no deadline, and no pressure.
What about Tintin and Blake and Mortimer? Well, Tintin earned its creator a lot of money and he had a full-time studio working with him on his books. As for Blake and Mortimer, they are a star property in Europe selling well over 400,000 copies in France alone and the characters' new creators are handsomely paid for such a high profile project. I'm in a very different situation. I took a drop in paying work while doing The Rainbow Orchid for Egmont, and even with the foreign editions it wasn't enough to make a living. It took me quite a while to rebuild my illustration business afterwards - it's not something I can easily decide to do again, especially with two young children who have since come along.
While I'm here, the following is an example of another email I get fairly regularly ...
"My children are really enjoying the first two volumes of The Rainbow Orchid. They have read and re-read them countless times. The artwork is beautiful and the plot is engaging. They now want to find out how the story ends! Unfortunately we can not find the third volume for sale anywhere except at prohibitively expensive prices. We were wondering if there was a reprinting planned sometime in the future?"
From what I remember, and I might not be totally right on this, volumes one and two sold out their first print run and were reprinted not long before the collected edition was released - which may not have been the best timing. Volume three was released around the same time, so it didn't really get much traction. Whether it eventually sold out, or just stopped selling and was pulped or is hiding in a warehouse somewhere, I don't know. Resellers on Amazon sometimes seem to have copies available, and I think it appears on ebay every now and then. It won't be reprinted in book form and the digital editions were discontinued (that's another story!).
So, short version - Julius isn't dead, but don't worry about him for now and he'll make his reappearance when the time comes - whenever that may be.
Also in that opening scene we see some of the building's interior - a bit of the hallway, the library, the collection room, and Sir Alfred's office. Later we see the breakfast room, which also made an appearance in The Secret of the Samurai, where I mapped out the room more properly. This made a big difference to the way I drew it and the way it came across in the strip - it had a much better sense of both space and place. You can read a bit more about that in this blog post - The Secret of the Samurai - Part 2. Another post on designing the environment can be seen here - Map Room.
This is all part of my learning process and a desire to make the world that Julius Chancer inhabits more realistic, or at least more believable. With this in mind, and having to show yet more of Sir Alfred's house in the next adventure, I have ended up going the whole hog and mapping out the entire building, both exterior and interior. A bit crazy perhaps, but now the setting is real to me and makes sense. (Some of it was hard to make sense of as I'd already drawn various rooms with windows in various places - but it all joined up in the end!)
The main content of the Supplement consists of 15 pages of notes and annotations for the complete story, a bibliography, a cover sketchbook, a handful of interviews, some RO Christmas cards, character genealogy, and more. For this digital release I've added in a few extra-extras, namely some more Christmas designs, a previously unavailable (at least publicly) interview, and a little extra artwork. The original Supplement was 48 pages, this one stands at 54. None of this repeats the extras collected at the back of The Complete Rainbow Orchid.
Out of interest, the RO Supplement did see a French translation of a kind - if you purchase the three-volume set of L'Orchidée Arc-en-ciel from BD Must then you also get Le Dossier, a smaller (16-page) edition of the Supplement, featuring three truncated/edited interviews and some different artwork (largely in colour - my English edition is in black and white). There are two versions - a brown 'Collector's edition', and a blue 'Press edition' - both with the same content.
To download the free (English language) Supplement PDF, visit the shop, scroll down to The Rainbow Orchid Supplement and you'll see the link there. Enjoy!
These are not official Osprey Games cards - they're fan art, and you have to make them yourself. You can do this by downloading the three card PDFs: Here's Julius , here's Lily , and here's Sir Alfred .
Try not to let them die in the jungle too often - I'm not sure how many lives comic characters have, and I might still need them for an adventure or two! Have fun ...
I landed an hour late at Flughafen München where I was met by two festival representatives, who then drove me into Munich. I'm not usually able to see much of the city on these trips, and often my most touristy experience is the lift from the airport! On this occasion the autobahn took me past the infamous 1972 Olympic Stadium and the Allianz Arena (each a former and current home of FC Bayern Munich).
I had a bit of a comedy of errors introduction to the festival - pointed to the wrong hotel and then left at the Bier Oktoberfest Museum (dating from 1327) where the comic creators and guests were to dine that night, with no idea quite who I was supposed to be attached to or where they were. Luckily I was rescued - first by Spy vs. Spy artist Peter Kuper and his friend Tony - we enjoyed the beautiful Munich evening with a little stroll to Marienplatz and the town hall - and then by the Danish comics delegation, who very kindly invited me to sit at their table for the evening. I'd only just seen them in February in Copenhagen, and it was lovely to see them again. I was also able to say a quick hello to Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury, who I hadn't seen for a few years.
Towards the end of the evening I was discovered by Michael Gref from the Salleck crew, and was able to join them for an adventurous journey back to the hotel - involving getting lost at the central station and a number of visits to 'Platform 2'. But it's a good way to get to know your new fellow travellers!
The (right) hotel, Hotel Krone on the Theresienhöhe (opposite the famous Oktoberfest grounds of Theresienwiese), was eventually reached, bang on the stroke of midnight, and the impossibly fluffy pillows were very welcome. Perhaps less welcome was the early wake-up due to the huge windows having very thin curtains and the 5.30 am sunrise - but I'd had a decent sleep and felt ready for my first day at the festival (which had actually already been running for two days).
The Kongresshalle was just a 10-minute walk from the hotel and my first signing session was 10 'til 1. I was kept busy throughout and, once again, German comic readers proved themselves to be among the most friendly and welcoming of comic fans. This festival saw me drawing in more sketchbooks than books, I think, each with their own paper thickness, tooth and size. It wasn't too kind on my pens - which usually get used on the more glossy paper of my books - and they only just made it to the end of Sunday where the whole lot were starting to dry out.
The festival had a really nice atmosphere and was compact, though of a decent size. It never felt crowded, and the gorgeous weather with an outside beer garden, public square, and nearby park made for very pleasant 'time outs'. There was also a wonderful set of exhibition rooms - including a comic stamps display (the collection of Jason, one of my chauffeurs from the airport), and galleries of work by various artists - my favourites being Olivier Schwartz, Isabel Kreitz, Klaus Voorman and the work of the Danish creators, who were the festival's special international guests.
On Saturday night the Salleck posse walked to Pettenkoferstrasse for a lovely outside meal at Lenz, and then it was back to the hotel for a much-needed slightly earlier night. I had excellent company throughout - including the Salleck crew, most of whom I had met on previous trips, but it was also a treat to meet and spend time with Eckart's two Spanish guests, El Torres and Jesús Alonso Iglesias, who had produced the excellent Gaudi's Ghost together. It was also a treat to meet the incredible artist Herrmann Huppen, and the prolific Pica (Pierre Tranchand) and his wife Annie, who I had last seen in Erlangen.
With such a meeting of so many terrific European comic creators and publishers, it was perhaps inevitable the topic of Brexit would come up. The universal opinion seems to be that the Brits are crazy to leave the EU - that it's an act of monumental self-harm, something I can only sadly agree with and which the facts tends to support. Apart from that, it was lovely to escape the current toxic atmosphere of Brexit and the General Election, and enjoy the temporary hospitality of a far more enlightened and forward-looking country.
Sunday was another mix of a couple of signing sessions and wandering around the festival. Over breakfast, at the hotel, I had a nice conversation with Taiwanese comic artist Sean Chuang and his translator, and lunchtime saw my 'most German' meal, seven small Bavarian sausages on a bed of sauerkraut, accompanied by a huge pretzel. At last the end of the festival came, and it was time for me to make my way to the airport. I was seen off on the airport train by my friend, Wolfgang Klingel, who I've now had the pleasure to meet on three trips, and bided my time at the airport by reading (Dickens' Oliver Twist) and people-watching. The flight was delayed by half-an hour, and I got home at about half-past midnight, and my first cup of tea in three days.
A very big thank you to my generous publisher, Eckart Schott, and to Heiner Lünstedt and the festival for having me in Munich. As ever, I was so well looked after and I always enjoy meeting my fellow German comic readers, as well as comic creators from across Europe - it's an honour to be a small part of such a friendly and interesting community.
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?