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!
What about the new Julius Chancer strip? That will launch in February, once I've completed my work for Maschinen-Mensch and I can turn my attention more fully to it. In the meantime, have a look around the site, and do let me know if anything is broken. I have not yet fixed blog comments, and there are coding and css improvements to be made, but there's time for that yet.
As a little blog test I thought I'd indulge in a post about my Minecraft world ...
I'm kind of new to this, buying the game for my children during the lockdown months of 2020 and having a go myself in August of that year. In 2021 I didn't play much at all as I got rather absorbed in the incredible Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but I picked up Minecraft again a little over Christmas.
Really, I've not explored very far from my spawn point at all. I'm a bit of a scaredy-cat, especially with caves! I've built a house with a farm and barn and I've done a lot of strip-mining. It took me a number of weeks to realise there was a village just across the river, beyond a few trees, and when I got there it seemed to be deserted.
In fact the few villagers had all got themselves stuck in a cave, so I rescued them and went home. When I returned a little while later there were only two left - so I blocked off the cave and started developing the village. Now it's bustling with master craftsmen, new houses, and a very healthy number of golems, as well as being protected by a wall of thorny sweet berries!
Eventually I decided I should get a bit braver about exploring, so I've built a boathouse and a lighthouse from which to launch my expeditions. There's also a big ravine near the village, and my 10-year old daughter, who's far braver than I, has promised to hold my hand when I go down it, and pass on some of her top adventuring tips. My 8-year old son has about my level of bravery, but is a walking encyclopaedia of Minecraft lore, so he's good to have close at hand as well.
Wish me luck!
Optimism also as human ingenuity through the power of science came through with several effective vaccines against the virus that has caused so much misery and death. Of course, it's not over yet, and in the UK we are currently witnessing the worst wave yet - though not with the previous high level of deaths - thank you vaccines, scientists and health-workers (no thanks, Tory government).
Our own household has not been hit too hard. Schools were disrupted which meant homeschooling our two children at various times, and that did affect my wife's and my work (and earnings), but we did not have it as bad as I know many did. And we staved off the actual virus until November, when both children and my wife came down with it. I'd just had my booster-shot, so was probably fizzing with antibodies, and despite the close quarters we kept I experienced no symptoms and had negative daily test results. For my family it was an annoying heavy cold, thankfully with no lasting effects.
I was extremely sad to learn, in September, that the actor Antony Sher was terminally ill, and then that he died in December. I'm a long-time fan of Sher, first seeing him in Tom Stoppard's Travesties in 1993, and then being hugely inspired by his diaries, particularly Year of the King. I followed his career closely, read his books and enjoyed his art. In 1994 I sent him a copy of my comic adaptation of The Tempest and had a short but kind postcard from him in reply. (Here's an old blog post about Sir Antony.)
Work-wise, 2021 saw my third full year working for Berlin-based games studio Maschinen-Mensch on Curious Expedition 2 - in fact I did no other work this year at all. Alas, this wonderful project is coming to a close at the end of January 2022. I'll leave a review of the project until it's all done, but it's been a fantastic experience, and the game is so good - I urge you to give it a play if you haven't already done so! (Available for PC and Switch now, with X-Box and PlayStation in the next few months).
What will I do next? I don't know yet ... except for one thing - Julius Chancer will make his (long-awaited?) return. I spent my Christmas break re-designing the Julius Chancer/Rainbow Orchid website - this will be uploaded early in the new year and will include the first few strips of the new adventure, which I plan to continue as often as possible throughout the year. So watch out for it in the coming days.
I wish you all a better, prosperous and happy new year. Deep breath, let's go, 2022 ...
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!
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 grew up in the 1970s and even as a kid I was vaguely aware of power cuts, strikes, the IRA, and something called politics, but it was all very distant to a young child who preferred to live in a world of adventure stories, comics and science fiction. In the 1980s however, things changed. The world suddenly seemed a more dangerous place, with the USA and the USSR at each other's throats and nuclear war seeming a very real possibility. We watched Threads at school and I took instructions on how to build a fallout shelter at home very seriously. Mum bought a little store of tinned foods and essentials that she kept in her wardrobe - just in case.
Then came the 1990s. Nelson Mandela was released from prison and Apartheid ended in South Africa. The Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunified. Margaret Thatcher resigned. Gorbachev was reforming the Soviet Union, and the Communist bloc fell apart. The IRA called a ceasefire. The Israeli Prime Minister shook hands with Yasser Arafat. Of course not everything was rosy, but there was a feeling of optimism, of the possibility that the world might actually be getting better. People were coming together to try and make it happen.
That all pretty much ended on 11 September 2001. It wasn't just the attack on New York, it was the response: war. But worse than that, it was war based on lies. I've always had a strong sense of justice - of believing in what is right. Things should be done for the right reason, people should be treated as fellow human beings. For someone whose childhood was rammed full of war comics and toy soldiers, I ended up as quite the pacifist. Again, that naive idealism - as I was discovering music I was captivated by the Woodstock film and the ideals the movement strained for. I knew they were unachievable, but I couldn't help falling for it.
A week ago, the British public voted to leave the European Union, 52% to 48%, it was a close-run thing, but in a one-person/one-vote poll, the answer is unequivocal - of the people who voted, the majority think we're better off out. As a 'Remainer' (see my last post) I was devastated. Most of my friends have been devastated too, and across social media we've been discussing the fallout, sharing links and trying to understand what happened - and why.
'Leave' voters have often been unsympathetic, confused by our reaction, and even angry at us. Why don't we just accept the will of the people and shut up? Why are we such sore losers? The fact is, it's not about losing - that's fine, I've been on the losing side far more than I've experienced victory - I'm a very good loser.
No, this is the feeling that an injustice has been done. Before the day of the vote it was clear that most people who intended to vote Leave were doing so largely based on lies and misinformation, either distributed directly from the leaders of the 'Out' campaign, or borne of prejudice that had no connection to the EU, as well as ignorance of the EU itself.
£350 million will be saved and will go to the NHS, they said - a lie so often debunked, but repeated and bluffed through right up until voting day (and then brazenly denied after it). Our economy will improve, they said - a prediction that blatantly flew in the face of the advice of almost every financial and business expert out there. We're ruled by an undemocratic elite who impose on us the majority of our laws, they said - a soundbite misunderstanding of a system that is complex, but actually just as democratic as the UK government (if you care to look) and whose laws are not as numerous or binding as is often claimed, many of which greatly benefit us and protect us from greedy government and over-reaching big business.
And then the big one, the issue on which the vote was probably won: immigration. We'll take back control of our borders, they said, we'll stop them leeching off the system and taking over our jobs and towns, we'll stop the hordes of refugees piling into the country. It seemed they were trying to out-Trump Trump. The Remain camp were not effective in getting the truth of the matter out: we already have control of our borders, they are not open like those of countries who are part of the Schengen Agreement; leaving the EU will not curb immigrants and refugees who are not EU citizens; the refugees you saw crossing into mainland Europe will not be coming to the British Isles, Turkey are years away from joining the EU, immigrants contribute more to our economy than they cost; they staff our NHS, our universities, our laboratories, they are our friends and our neighbours.
But prejudice won out. Sometimes the reasoning was genuine but misplaced - there are people with real grievances, who cannot get employment, for instance, but who look to immigrants for blame. Much of the feeling is anti-Muslim, some of it just plain old xenophobia aimed at anyone with a different accent, language or shade of skin tone. It's nothing to do with the EU (unless you believe the conspiracy theories of Eurabia - and many do, just as Anders Breivik did).
The racist group Britain First has seen a huge rise in membership of its Facebook page since polling day, and currently has the support of almost 1.5 million people. The gap between the winning Leave vote and the Remain vote was 1.2 million people. Since the referendum results were announced, UK hate crime has increased by 400% - some of the stories have been heartbreaking.
This was not a General Election. Leaving the EU will have international ramifications, but the epicentre is here in the UK, and those most affected will be the young - many of whom could not vote. The EU has its problems, not everything about it is good - but, in my view, the good far outweighs the bad. It has helped to keep the peace, it has provided a united voice, it has helped countries to raise their game. It was born in the hope of post-war Europe and updated in the renewed hope of the 1990s. Britain was a maverick member, we refused to sign up to everything - we forced compromises. We kept our sovereignty, but we had a voice - and we could have still had a voice in the development of a better EU, one that could have genuinely made the world a better place.
Now the EU hates us - they don't want to give us concessions, it's in danger of falling apart. The far-right have been emboldened across the continent, rubbing their hands with glee at the result in the UK. All the people I admire - artists, creators, authors, scientists and thinkers, said it would be in our best interest to Remain. The Leave camp was full of people who I disliked - people with hateful ideologies, people who lied for their own political gain, people who had a disdain for rationality and the advice of professionals. The aftermath has seen a collapse of our political parties, an abandonment of responsibility, and a power-grab by people who hate the NHS and want to dismantle human rights. The right decision was almost a no-brainer (though I still read around both sides of the arguments as much as possible).
This is the tragedy: the referendum was won on lies and ignorance. It should never have been held (or should at least have had rules for a bigger clear majority). Many, according to reports, are already regretting their 'Leave' vote. We've made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons, and while I hope things will settle down at some point - who knows when - I fear we've taken a big step closer to the possibility of a darker future, not a brighter one. For my children's sake, I really hope I'm wrong.
A Note to My Friends Who Voted Leave by Jeff Lynn
The two campaigns, 'Remain' and 'Leave', have hardly covered themselves in glory when it's come to giving us - the general public - the facts of the matter. To make things worse, the EU is a bit of a mystery to most, often characterised by its more bizarre attributes, either as the butt of a joke or, sometimes, in the form of an outright conspiracy theory.
My general feeling a few weeks ago was that I'd be voting Remain. I like Europe, I like Europeans, I love visiting Europe (as I have luckily had the opportunity to do several times with my book published in a number of foreign editions), and I like Europeans being in my country (I believe diversity does not dilute our culture but enriches it - not to mention the fact that migrants give the UK a £20 billion tax benefit). Most of all, I like the idea of a shared international vision and of being an active part of that vision.
As the date has drawn closer, I've become more interested in the debate, especially in how the result will affect me - both in the things I care deeply about in the wider world, and in my own personal life. The more I've researched and learned about both sides of the argument and about the EU in general, the more I now think a vote to Remain is pretty much the only sane choice. In fact, I think a vote to Leave could be potentially devastating.
I'm not going to write an essay going into all the details and conclusions I've come to, but I would like to present some of the broad strokes, and let you know why I think being part of the EU is a good thing, despite the fact that it, of course, has many problems too.
First of all, I believe the EU is generally a force for good. It was born out of the desire to see lasting peace in Europe, and it has achieved that very well. It promotes cooperation and has what I see as basically a positive Humanist agenda. It also provides a number of checks and balances on our own government who may not always pass laws with our best interests at heart. An example of this would be various directives that serve what I call the 'greater good' - that cover the health of the environment, tackling climate change, defending human and civil rights, limiting the power of private corporations and protecting minorities. The EU does all these things.
Of these I think the question of climate change is the most urgent, and this is something that simply has to be tackled with a united front. We're not doing enough as it is, but if we break from the EU then it will set the progress we have made back by vital years, maybe even decades. A united Europe working together sets an example and raises the game for the rest of the world.
Speaking of which, there has been a lot of fear-mongering about Turkey joining the EU. The fact is, it will be many years before they are able to join, the reason being that they must first fulfil a large number of tests set by the EU. This is because the EU has a moral and technical standard that must be met - the EU makes countries aspire to be better. We don't want Turkey to join as it is now, but a Turkey that eventually passes the EU test will be an asset.
Turkey is just one of the un-facts touted by the Leave campaign, but it is not the only one. Perhaps the most blatant is that the UK "sends £350 million a week to the EU". This figure is false, as we get a substantial rebate (taken off before any money is sent) and we get a lot of money back in various forms of important funding, not to mention the incalculable extra value we get from goods, services and protections by being a paid-up member of the Union. The UK's contribution is only 1.2% of our total government spending.
Boris and his cohorts have said, if we leave the EU, we can use that "£350 million" to use as we wish, and they give the example of "a new hospital every week". The problem is, most, if not all, of the spare cash will be wiped out due to the massive economic downturn we'll experience on Brexit, which may even go as far as a pretty bad recession. And then what will we use to re-make those vanished laws and systems that we'll be 'free' of? The NHS will not get anything - especially from the likes of Boris, Gove and Farage, all of whom are on record as saying they would like the NHS privatised.
Okay ... I'm getting a bit verbose! The economic argument is the one that worries me most on a personal level. Almost every major financial institution predicts a monetary loss for regular families if we leave the EU, and quite likely a return to recession. Even many in the Leave camp agree with this assessment - though they think we can ride it out. Well, I probably won't be able to ride it out. My wife and I are both self-employed and we are just starting to get our heads above water after the hit of the last recession.
I lost clients in the last recession and it's been a struggle to climb back up. As the UK's economy started to improve, so did my own finances - but I am very close to the breadline on a monthly basis, sometimes under, sometimes a little over (illustration is not generally well-paid). Unlike the last recession, I now have two young children, so I'd be punched a lot harder this time. Even on the least-worse predictions I dread to think what our family situation could be if the UK economy shrinks again and businesses stop hiring freelancers like Ellie and me.
The UK is one of the strongest voices in the European Union, along with our allies France and Germany. Together, the 28 countries present a powerful force in the area of trade (giving us international bargaining power), diplomacy (preventing other powerful states from flexing their muscles too readily) and security (with shared intelligence and joined-up reaction to events). Scientific research, resulting in better treatments for disease, the solving of technological problems, and even space exploration, all benefit from EU funding.
The EU is often mischaracterised as undemocratic, yet a close look at the way it actually works shows that it is just as democratic as the UK (despite our unelected House of Lords!). We vote for our MEPs and they have real power to accept, reject or amend European legislation. They can even dismiss the Commissioner, and our Prime Minister and various other UK government ministers hold important positions when it comes to making legislation. The lack of democracy is a myth repeatedly peddled by the leave campaign.
Going back to a more personal level, the EU provides protection for my work and my rights as an author and artist on the international stage. There are a greater number of opportunities for grants and easier access to a wider readership. Membership of the EU has allowed me to easily travel to other countries where my books are published, to get paid more easily, and even to make sure I'll be looked after should I ever fall ill on one of those trips.
On a slightly more negative note, the kind of politicians who I feel most ideologically opposed to are the ones who might come out of a Brexit vote with the greatest amount of power: people such as Boris Johnson (whose main agenda with this referendum is to get himself into No. 10), Michael Gove (who wants to scrap the Human Rights Act) and Nigel Farage (who only turned up to one out of 42 EU Fisheries meetings, despite being an MEP on the Fisheries Commission, showing just how much he cares about British interests). They are on the side of privatisation and less social responsibility, and what they might have in store for us, if given a mandate, worries me greatly.
There may well be some benefits in cutting our ties with the EU, but I have seen none that have convinced me, and none that outweigh the huge number of advantages we get by staying. The vast majority of arguments for leaving have been gut feelings, amorphous patriotic slogans, and - I'm sorry to say - rather a lot of xenophobia.
For me a vote to Remain is a vote for the future, a vote to stay involved and an opportunity to try and make things better. I will be voting to Remain, for me, my children, and for the world. If you're undecided, I urge you to do the same. Please vote.
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).
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.