Back from a few days of refreshing seaside sun. I love Southwold!
So many different textures and tones to be seen. The coastal landscape is quite stunning.
It always helps when you’ve got decent weather, of course. Fortunately, it was a beautiful week and the town wasn’t busy, as it was the just before the summer season starts in earnest.
Back to work! I had some nice news whilst I was away – hopefully I will be able to share it soon.
This week I bought the Beano comic for the first time in, well… decades. As a child I had it delivered from the newsagents. ‘Beano Day’ was definitely a highlight of a week dominated by school and its associated joys/miseries. It was the first comic I ever read, and I’ve never stopped reading comics since. I’ve even had a go at making my own – its influence is enormous.
The Beano has recently had a revamp and I thought I’d have a look, and compare it to the comic of my boyhood. I was reading the Beano in 1977, which would have made the gap a nice, round forty years, but I must have thrown those issues in the bin at some point as the earliest I have is 1979. So here is a comparison of today’s Beano with that of thirty-eight years ago instead.
Fear not! This is not an old-man-ranting review. I appreciate today’s Beano is not made for me. I’ve self-published comics, edited comic anthologies and I write for children. I have some understanding of how much effort and cost it takes to get something like this into the shops every week (A LOT) and have a professional interest in what’s current in kids’ culture. I’m also a history nerd and documenting changes in popular culture is a useful exercise in seeing how far our society has progressed (or not). I also thought it would be a fun thing to do, so here goes:
The Beano was a cheap item in 1979 (a pint of milk was 15p, as opposed to about 45p today) and certainly, my hard-up parents didn’t begrudge it. £2.50 per week doesn’t seem too bad for a big, glossy, full-colour item these days. The digital version (take that 1979!) is £1.49. Although newsprint has nostalgia appeal, I can vouch for the fact it does not age well.
There’s a much greater variety of content in the modern Beano, with games, puzzles, jokes and the opportunity for reader contributions.
Having a comic version of me feature in a story, or having my own comic idea drawn by a Beano artist would have completely blown my 8-year-old mind! I also liked how the features link in with the comic story that preceded it.
The Beano of 1979 had a letters page, part of the elite Dennis the Menace Fan Club (including Gnasher’s Fang Club) but the rest was all comic.
I’ve noted ‘advert pages’ appearing in today’s Beano, but to be fair, these advertise the Beano itself, or its digital content and shop (Beano-branded Monopoly!).
There is one page of phone-in toy giveaways which have nothing to do with the comic but I was pleasantly surprised about how relatively ad-free the new Beano is in comparison with other news-stand children’s offerings.
Plenty of favourites have weathered the last forty or more years. There are eight survivors from 1979, with Ivy the Terrible and Calamity James having a decent publication history behind them too. Also are a couple of refugees from other bygone comics: the Numskulls (the Beezer, Beezer & Topper, and the Dandy) and Bananaman (Nutty, then the Dandy). There are three comics in the current Beano that involve reader contribution (#SOBeano, Comic Challenge and Make Me a Menace) which I think is great, and certainly something that never happened in 1979.
Story-wise, the slapstick scrapes the characters get into are pretty familiar, though the humour slightly drier. Terrible puns are passed down from generation to generation like precious heirlooms. However, Minnie the Minx does not get spanked by her father for her misdeeds in 2017. That’s the only act of corporal punishment in my 1979 comic, though it was pretty much a standard (and creatively lazy) ending to a story in those days.
The art is strong in 2017 Beano but there’s a much more consistent look to the artwork from story to story. I don’t know whether there is a deliberate house style, or artists having common influences, but 1979 Beano does have more distinctively different and interesting art styles compared to its descendant. Artists and writers are uncredited in 1979, something that I’m very pleased to see has changed.
Readers in 1979 would have had no concept of ‘diversity’ as we understand it. As a middle-aged, middle class, white male, I’m not the best-qualified person to discuss diversity, but I’ll make a few brief observations. Your comments/corrections of my ignorance are welcome.
The Beano has traditionally had broad appeal and hasn’t, as far as I know, ever been marketed specifically as a boy’s or girl’s comic. However, the majority of characters featured in its stories are very much male and that remains true today (I’ve included dogs, mice, bears, little-people-who-live-inside-heads and yetis in my survey). I’m guessing this stems from the old idea that boys could be naughty in a way that girls could not, and it’s those characters that have survived, with the exception of Minnie the Minx (who still has to have the tagline “She’s tougher than all the boys!”). Also of note, Rubi, of Rubi’s Screwtop Science, is a wheelchair user as well as being a tech genius.
I’ve assumed that all the 1979 creators are male, as I know Laura Howell was the first female artist to have a regular comic in the Beano. From this snapshot, it appears she’s still the only female artist/writer, which is a bit of a shame. There are hundreds of talented female creators producing amazing comics, so there is no lack of talent.
I don’t blame the Beano – it’s possible it’s just not on the radar of the younger female comic-maker, who now has so many (albeit mostly non-paying) outlets for comic-making and maybe didn’t grow up with the Beano at the centre of their comic world.
I hope that changes. If the sample of readership featured in the 2017 comic is an accurate reflection of the whole, then it surely will: there’s a pleasing 50/50 split between boys and girls.
There are two POC (people of colour, i.e. non-white) characters in 1979 Beano, both of whom are unfortunate reflections of the time: Little Plum (“Your Red Indian Chum”) and Lord Snooty‘s friend Polly, drawn with pickaninny-type characteristics. Ball Boy‘s best friend was a black boy called Benjy who featured often, but he doesn’t appear in this particular issue.
Modern Beano has two POC headliners, both girls: JJ in JJ’s Jokes and Betty from Betty & the Yeti (by comics pal Hugh Raine). There’s a smattering of POC background characters, with Ball Boy taking the lead again, but I do have an overall feeling of ‘could-do-better’ here, given the sheer number of characters having walk-on parts throughout the comic.
The major difference between 1979 and 2017 Beano is the digital resources that complement the printed comic. I’ve mentioned the e-comic, but the Beano.com website is brilliant, colourful and engaging – there are funny videos, drawing games (submit your pics to the editor) and how-tos, as well as a shop with quality-looking merchandise. It’s a smart addition to the brand and I hope they’re able to keep pace with young people’s technology use in the future.
Design-wise, I’m bound to have a soft spot for 1979 Beano. There’s something soothing about the broad, calm, white border and formal, unbroken panel layout. Modern Beano seems brash and busy to my eye, but it stands out on the magazine rack, which is the most important thing, and I guess youngsters don’t really care whether or not they’re reading a design classic. I have to say I absolutely love the revamped logo – with the yellow background behind it, it’s quite stunning.
Overall, I feel very positive about today’s Beano – I really hope its long-term future is as secure as anything can be these days and I won’t be waiting another few decades before I pick it up again.
Happy Mother’s Day in the U.S.! Hope all the moms are enjoying their special day.
Sunshine through the mailbox today: advance copies of Boyband of the Apocalypse!
Fan art of the gloriously villainous Lucretia Cutter from Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard.
Here’s what has been happening with me for the first part of this year.
When I’m a Mummy Like You!, the picture booked created by me and Francesca Gambatesa was released into the wild in February! We had a launch party at Gosh! Comics in Soho to celebrate (pic by Sarah McIntyre). It’s also out now in the US as When I’m a Mommy Like You! You can read a lovely review at Bookblog Book Monsters here. Francesca spotted the book in Foyles window as part of a Mother’s Day display.
We had to talk about our book characters and then lead the audience in a draw-along – the (huge) audience were very enthusiastic and some fantastic drawings were produced.
Read Sarah’s report here (from where I pinched these pics).
In March I had another big event at Leicester Author Week, organised by Whatever It Takes, an initiative to encourage reading within the city. I gave a talk to two sets of school children – about 400 children in all – about my work, followed by creative writing workshops. It was a busy day, but a lot of fun! Thanks to WIT for organising it, probably the best organised event I’ve been invited to. (Pic by WIT)
— Louisa Fielding (@WeezyFielding) March 2, 2017
— Keeley Darrington (@KeelsD76) March 2, 2017
— Michelle C (@TheTrueMC) March 2, 2017
Currently, I’m working on the edits for the first book of my novel series with Bloomsbury books, which comes out next year. An illustrator has been chosen and I’m very excited about the whole thing. Fingers crossed that other people like it too!
2016 is rapidly coming to its end and most people seem to be quite happy about that, as far as I can tell. It’s been a bit of a bumpy one, current affairs-wise, but 2017 promises more of the same. Let’s hope that cooler, wiser heads will prevail and that it’s not too troublesome.
For me, the second half of 2016 (as it’s been that long since I updated this blog!) was quiet, book-wise. I was focused almost entirely on writing, something that makes me very happy! I can report that the first draft of the first of my two books for Bloomsbury has been handed in, and I’m awaiting the editorial verdict. I’m expecting lots of red pen as even I could see the flaws of this draft, but I’m looking forward to fixing things up with my editors’ help. I love the world I’ve created in this book and really enjoyed writing it, in spite of a few uneven
sentences paragraphs chapters. I have to finish this book and hand in the first draft of the second book by June next year, so I’m expecting the first six months of 2017 to be spent tapping away on a keyboard…
…apart from January/February, when I’ll be working on the illustrations for this book written by Tom Nicoll. It’s very funny and I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty on the drawings. There are some great, quirky characters in it, which are always very satisfying to do. More info on that when I’m allowed to show it.
Speaking of quirky characters, I drew a whole bunch of them for Inktober. This is an internet community thing set up by artist Jake Parker. It encourages artists to create an ink-based picture every day for the whole of October. It’s a chance to draw just for fun, without the aid of a computer, and not be too precious about the splats and smudges. I’ve posted all thirty-one pictures on my Instagram account .
The last Creature Teacher book was published in July. It’s now out in six languages (English, Turkish, Danish, Slovak, Hungarian and Vietnamese) which is very pleasing.
Writer Sam Watkins is currently working on a new series from Egmont: The Fintastic Diary of Darcy Dolphin which is out soon, and I’m sure will be… well, fintastic!
Jampires has become something of a Hallowe’en book – not quite what Sarah McIntyre and I intended, but I love hearing about little Jampires turning up at costume parties in October – there are more and more each year!
On the subject of Jampires, here is Mrs Coventry from St Joseph’s School in Keighley, Yorkshire, reading the book aloud for us:
A very impressive performance! I went to a workshop for children’s writers in October on how to inject a bit of drama into book presentations so I’m hoping my reading skills have buffed up a bit. It was hosted by the Golden Egg Academy who mentor up-and-coming authors through the writing and publication process. It was an excellent day and the Golden Eggers are a lovely bunch of people too. I’ve a big couple of presentations in March (among other things) where I need to step up my showbiz side a bit more.
— Anthony Ho-Ho-HoBurt (@AnthonyJBurt) October 22, 2016
My most recent public gig was at the brilliant Brentwood Children’s Literature Festival back in July, organised by Natasha and Jim at the Chicken & Frog Bookshop. It was very well-organised for a first-time festival and there was a great crowd at the Brentwood theatre to see me do my Monster & Chips comic-making spiel. Some fab comics came out of it too, my favourite being about a prince and princess who meet, fall in love… and are eaten by a giant fly. (Pic below by Natasha.)
— JANE MILES (@MrsJaneMiles) July 29, 2016
Here are some more monster-y drawings that have been sent my way – firstly, this fearsome chap who comes with his own specials board (I love this colour combination!):
— Sophie Anderson (@sophieinspace) October 8, 2016
And also this brilliant comic featuring Fuzzby and pals (a couple of years old but which I only just found out about on the Imagination Project website):
Last, but definitely not least, I’m very excited about the next book from me and the amazing Francesca Gambatesa: When I’m A Mummy Like You! It’s out in early February (just in time for Mothering Sunday in the UK) and a bit later in the US – where it’s called When I’m A Mommy Like You! (obviously).
I can’t get over how super Francesca’s art is – there’s more at the book page. She’s done such a wonderful job with my rhyming nonsense and I hope people love it! There’ll be a launch party at some point which I’ll post about here when we’ve firmed up the details.
I’m going to be offline for the rest of the year but have lots of plans for 2017 so will be back refreshed and recharged in January.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful 2017!
I’m off for a summer break soon, escaping to the seaside from the city and its current political wailing and grinding of teeth. There is a folder filled with creative projects going with me. Past experience says they won’t even make it out of the suitcase – it’s good to do nothing sometimes. I might post some terrible snaps on Instagram, but aside from that it will be a very welcome social media-free zone.
To counteract that, here is a blog post written around other people’s Twitter photos! I may not do social media very well but I can’t deny it’s very useful.
Out and About
— Hachette Children’s (@HachetteKids) June 21, 2016
I was very privileged to be asked along to the first Lollies awards ceremony recently, hosted by TV presenters Sam & Mark, to honour the best in funny children’s books. It was a jolly event at the Lyric Theatre in the West End of London with entertainment provided by the performers of the stage show of Horrible Histories. There were even lollies for the audience – very welcome on a hot day.
This year’s winners were:
Picture Book: I Need A Wee! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
6-8 years: Badly Drawn Beth by Knife & Packer
9-13 years: The Parent Agency by David Baddiel & Jim Field
Among the nominees was my book buddy Jamie Littler, one of the hardest working people around. He wasn’t a winner on the day, alas, but it was great to see him recognised, and to see an award for funny books to replace the late lamented Roald Dahl Funny Prize. My friend Alex Milway has done a huge amount of work with his This Book is Funny Campaign to highlight the hunger for funny books amongst children. The more attention they can get, the better!
— This Book is Funny! (@ThisBookIsFunny) June 17, 2016
— francesca gam (@francescagam) June 20, 2016
It was great seeing When I’m A Monster Like You, Dad! in various shop windows over the Father’s Day weekend. It’s going down well in the U.S., apparently, and everyone wants to know what Francesca will do for the illustrations for our second book together (including me). There will be a wait, I’m afraid, as that’s not out until early next year. However, you can colour in some of her illustrations with these lovely activity sheets she made, available on my activity page.
— Brentwood Art Trail (@BwdArtTrail) June 21, 2016
I will be at the Brentwood Children’s Literary Festival next month, and in the run up to that I’m taking part in the Brentwood Art Trail. Some of my illustrations are in the window of the wonderful Chicken and Frog Bookshop, who are organisers of the festival. I’ll be running a writing workshop on the 29th July so do come along – tickets are available at the above link.
Meanwhile, I’m super-excited about a new book deal which means I’ll be writing a couple of books for an older age group (9-12 years) than my usual 7-10 years. It doesn’t sound like a big age gap but there’s quite a leap in reading ability in that time. Monster & Chips was about twelve thousand words in all, these will be about thirty thousand words long: loads more to write but loads more to play with, developing characters and exploring new worlds. It’s going to be a real challenge but I’m so looking forward to it, especially as I’ll have an editor holding my hand along the way. The first book won’t be out until 2018 but I can’t wait to see what people think.
Now, off to pack my bucket and spade!
Happy book birthday to us! Francesca Gambatesa and I have a new picture book in the shops today (and if you’re on the USA, it’s been out for a month already!).
When I’m a Monster Like You, Dad! is about a little monster who wants to be just like his dad: BIG and BAD! But Daddy Monster just wants little monster to have fun. The words are by me and the beautiful artwork is by Francesca. I’m thrilled with how it looks! It’s been a long-timing coming (I wrote the text in 2013) but it’s great to see it finally in the shops -just in time for Father’s Day (June 19th).
We had a launch party at the wonderful Gosh! Comic Shop in London last Friday. Lots of people turned up and I did a dramatic reading of the book! It was a lot of fun – thank you to every one that came along, and thank you to Gosh! for being such good hosts.
Francesca made some goody-bags with little note-cards and badges in. So cool!
Here’s me and Francesca, with monster ears, proudly holding our book baby (taken by Sarah McIntyre):
There are a load of other great photos from the night here, taken by Gosh!’s resident photographer, Mauricio Molizane De Souza. Here’s one of us signing some books (fascinating fact: it was the first time Francesca and I had actually met!):
All the buying information can be found here. Francesca and I will be at Village Books in Dulwich on Sunday 11th June at 11am for a story-telling session, and we’ll be making Father’s Day cards too, so do come along if you’re around. Toot-a-loo!
Blogging is less of a chore when there are lots of nice things to write about.
Firstly, lovely letters. Here’s a drawing from Theo, aged 7, a Monster & Chips reader. He’s drawn a brilliant monster with a snot-burger and chips. Great use of colours, too. You can almost smell the fart!
I also had a very nice letter from Charlie, which was beautifully written, so I’ve taken extra care with my reply. Charlie, from St Bede’s School in Weaverham, said the Barry the cat was his favourite character in Monster & Chips so here’s a little picture of Barry that I drew at the bottom of the letter.
I couldn’t be more pleased for writer Sam Watkins as it was her first published book. And I was completely bowled over when Sam tweeted about an animated trailer that the children from the participating schools had made. It’s absolutely amazing and I keep replaying it and having a chuckle!
Freshmade NYC are a cooking and craft studio that run cookery sessions for kids in New York City. They have a storybook cooking class, which sounds like a fab idea, and recently ran a Jampires doughnut making session! Here’s a pic from their Instagram feed:
Banana doughnuts! Yum.
What am I up to at the moment? I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately and a few weeks back finished a manuscript for a book idea that I’m really hopeful will prove to be publisher-friendly. It’s doing the rounds of publishers right now, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed and praying to the book gods that it works out.
I’m also working on a window artwork display for the nice people at Chicken & Frog bookshop in Brentwood. I visited them a couple of years back and am doing an event for the Brentwood Children’s Literary Festival which they are organising (tickets on sale!). It’s not something I’ve done before so it’s very exciting.
In the meantime, When I’m A Monster Like You, Dad! is out in the shops very soon! My advance copies arrived from the publisher today. Illustrator Francesca Gambatesa and I are hosting a launch event at Gosh! Comics in London on the evening of May 27th – all are welcome, so do come along if you can and say hello (and buy a book!).
It used to be that I wrote blog posts as a way of procrastinating before work. Now I find that I’m procrastinating before writing blog posts. It does seems a very cumbersome way of communicating news in these days of Twitter and other social media. But it’s a useful way of recording what I’ve been up to so I’m going to keep at it, even if updates get a little few and far between.
I can be found in a couple of social media-type places (above) but here’s a more long-winded catch-up with some things that happened in the latter part of 2015. Mega-post alert!
A second book of Sam Watkin‘s Creature Teacher series came out in August with me on art duties again. Creature Teacher Goes Wild is set at a theme park which meant lots of fun things to draw. Here’s a bit when Mr Hyde and the gang are on their way to Wilf’s Wild Adventure Theme Park – it gets messy pretty soon afterwards:
There’s another Creature Teacher book out very soon – next week in fact! Creature Teacher Science Shocker introduces a new character who’s more than a match for Creature – but who is it?
The fourth CT book is due out in July and I’ll be drawing the illos for that any day – can’t wait to get started!
CT is also coming out in Turkish which is very exciting. I love seeing books I’m involved with coming out in different languages! You can find information on all the Creature Teacher books here, or on Creature’s very own website where there are a load of activities to do too.
Speaking of foreign editions, JAMPIRES is going to be coming out in Korean which should be really interesting to see as it’s such an attractive written language. My fab co-author, Sarah McIntyre, and I donned our Jampire gear for a spooky Hallowe’en window-painting session at the wonderful GOSH! Comics in London back in October.
It’s very hard to paint on glass, never mind back-to front. I’ve borrowed these photos from GOSH’s Facebook page – they’re both taken by Mauricio Molizane De Souza and there’s plenty more of his ace work to be seen there too.
I’ve blogged previously about my friend Alex Milway‘s This Book is Funny initiative and was very pleased to be invited to join him and comics chum Gary Northfield at the Discover Children’s Story Centre‘s summer Storyfest that took place at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford in July.
We talked about our books – all of them funny books – having visited the schools involved in the previous weeks to see what kind of funny stories they could come up with themselves.
It had to be one of the hottest days of the year – not a day to be dressed up as a lion fighting a zebra Roman gladiator. Yes, dear reader, that is me in the furry onesie, having taken on gladiator Gary, and in the middle of my (very dramatic) death throes. A career highlight.
— Walker Books (@WalkerBooksUK) July 3, 2015
Finally, I’ve recently got to see the artwork for When I’m a Monster Like You, Dad!, the picture book I wrote that is being illustrated by Francesca Gambatesa. It’s been ages coming (for publisher scheduling reasons) and I was over the moon to see the final images. Francesca’s done such a great job so I couldn’t be more happy!
The second book in our collaboration is in production now and will be out next year some time, but WIMLY (as I call it) is out in the beginning of June – just in time for Father’s Day. I’ll be talking a lot more about this before then, but here is one spread from inside just to whet the appetite:
As usual, I have a page devoted to the book with all the buying information here.
I haven’t made any comics recently and actually took a break from even going to conventions in 2015. I’ve really missed being involved in comics and I don’t think it’s something you can ever really leave behind, although I know I’ve benefited creatively (and financially) from the break.
However, when my friend Richy Chandler asked me to take part in his anthology that came out in September there was no way I was going to say “No”! The theme of Richy’s book Tempo Lush Tales of the Tanoox was the idea of positive transformation, with the Tanoox being an emblem or totem of this change. I decided to do a short slice-of-life comic, a genre I’ve become more interested in over the years.
Here’s a snippet:
I’d like to do more with these characters, so might be tentatively dipping my toe in the murky waters of comics at some point this year.
TLTotT is a great anthology, with a diverse set of creators who’ve all taken very different approaches to Richy’s challenge. You can get a copy here, at various comic shops, or at any of Richy’s many convention appearances (and it’s worth meeting him in person as he’s such a nice chap!). His webcomic Lucy the Octopus is back next month after a break so make sure you bookmark that for some future funny-aquatic-eight-legged reading.
Out & About
There was a bit of London-exploring done last year – quite a lot of it underground.
We went on a tour of the disused Jubilee line Tube station at Charing Cross, that’s now used mainly for film-making (Skyfall being a recent example). We got to walk through the utility passages that stay hidden from passengers, although we could spy on them through the various ventilation grills that you see at the stations (but never give a thought to). The tunnels lead right underneath Trafalgar Square until you’re directly below the now-famous fourth plinth. Mind-boggling stuff.
We also visited the deep level bomb shelter that was built underneath Clapham Common to protect residents from the blitz during WWII.
Such a huge space! And very easy to get lost down there.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be stuck in the shelter when the bombs were falling. The smell from all the people must have been a bit wearing, at the very least. This shelter was later used as a budget hotel for visitors to the Festival of Britain, and as a temporary home for the first Caribbean migrants to the UK, which is the reason that Brixton and that corner of London became centres of the Afro-Caribbean community. The shelter is one of eight that were built and still exist today – they are mainly used for archive storage, but I think TfL want to try and open more of them to visitors.
Lastly, a trip into the bowels of the iconic Tower Bridge to see the workings of the bascules (as the draw-bridge bits are called). You get to see the massive counterweights that were used in the steam-driven era, and the chamber into which the road disappears whilst its far end goes skyward.
You can’t go in there when the bridge is open because you’d get squished! You also get a chance to visit the old Victorian engine room, as well as the walkways over the road with their great views and rather sick-making glass floors.
This publicity video gives a good preview of the tour if you fancy it:
Outside of London we spent our summer holiday in Blakeney, Norfolk. Brilliant beaches, lots of walks through wind and salt-blown scenery and lots of good food.
The dog enjoyed it and so did I!
Now: time to look forward to the challenges of 2016. Onwards!
I’ve a number of activity sheets available on my website (and there are more on the websites I made for JAMPIRES with Sarah McIntyre and CREATURE TEACHER with Sam Watkins). It’s always gratifying to know that people are downloading and using them.
Madame Picque recently emailed me from the Collège Romain Rolland of Waziers in northern France to say that she had been using my ‘Create Your Own Monster’ sheet as a way of teaching her English class physical descriptions. What a great idea!
Here are some of the results, they’re all wonderful but I think Nathan‘s monster ‘Georges’ was my favourite (see if you can spot him)!
Thank you to Mme Picque for letting me know – I’m sending a drawing of my own monster to the school in return: