• Beano 1979 versus Beano 2017

    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:

    Format:

    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.

    Content:

    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.

    Comics

    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.

    Diversity

    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.

    Sweet Sue by Bill Ritchie

    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.

    Extras

    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.

  • A Late Catch-Up!

    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.

    Find me here:
    Twitter
    Instagram

    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!

    Books

    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:

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    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!

    Writer Sam and I will be doing an event together at the Brentwood Children’s Literary Festival in July – come along and say hello if you can. Tickets are available here.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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:

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    As usual, I have a page devoted to the book with all the buying information here.

    Comics

    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.

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    Here’s a snippet:

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    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.

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    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.

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    We also visited the deep level bomb shelter that was built underneath Clapham Common to protect residents from the blitz during WWII.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    The dog enjoyed it and so did I!

    Now: time to look forward to the challenges of 2016. Onwards!

  • An Exhibitor’s Wishlist for Comic Conventions

    Last Saturday I attended the Comiket at the British Library. It was fun – a novel venue and a nice atmosphere. So-so takings, but I made enough profit for some beers afterwards.

    It was also my last comic convention as a seller for a while. I’m going to a couple more events this year, but I’ll be taking part in children’s activities and workshops, so won’t have a selling table. I’ve decided to take 2015 off from conventions (as an exhibitor at least) and enjoy being a comics consumer instead.

    The thought of leaving exhibiting behind (at least temporarily) has caused me to reflect on my personal experiences since my first convention in 2008 (the much missed Web & Minicomix Thing). There weren’t many events then – I think Bristol, Caption and the Thing were the only regulars. In the years since, the list of comics events and conventions has expanded dramatically. It’s brilliant that there’s so much enthusiasm for comics and so much choice.

    However, the quality has been very variable. Comics people are used to being treated as the lowest of the low and will put up with a lot, especially if it means they meet friends and like-minded others and have the opportunity for a good time. But exhibiting costs money, so we have had to become choosy about which events we attend. Word gets around fast and ‘bad’ conventions are quickly written off whilst the ‘good’ expand (which creates a whole range of other issues).

    I don’t under-estimate how hard it is to organise a comic convention and how much work goes into it. It must be an enormous, tedious job filled with horrible people management-type stuff. There are so many places where it can go wrong. I helped out at Caption for a couple of years, a tiny, unique event held in a community hall. But getting the committee together in the same place at the same time just to talk about organising it was enough of a logistical problem, never mind the actual convention weekend itself. So I wouldn’t want anyone to consider the following to be a list of DEMANDS or expectations or a rant against any event in particular. This is a wishlist for ‘Ideal Con’, from an exhibitor’s perspective.

    The Announcement

    This will have been made a year in advance if possible. LOCATION, DATE, TIME, a website address, a mailing list to join, a Twitter account and a Facebook page to follow/like. LOCATION, DATE, TIME, the three essential bits of information, are everywhere, the organiser’s email signature, twitter profile. EVERYWHERE. The organiser will still be asked this a million times but at least no one has an excuse not to know.

    Website

    This is probably the first thing anyone sees once the announcement has been made. It will have LOCATION, DATE, TIME right at the top, in the banner or right next to it.

    ‘Comic Convention’ means different things to different people these days, so a paragraph defining the scope of the event is helpful: celebrity signings or hands-on workshops or kid’s events or panels or all the above. Ideally a comic convention should actually have comics in there somewhere.

    There will be a whole page devoted entirely to HOW TO GET THERE. It will have a map, showing where the nearest public transport and car parks are. It will mention any planned engineering works for the day of the event. Additional directions are always good. It will show where the nearest food places and cashpoints are. It will show where any sponsoring shops/additional venues are (see below). If the venue has multiple entrances it will show which one exhibitors/visitors are supposed to use or where the information point will be (see below).

    There will be link to a printable PDF of all the information on this page. People still like to print stuff.

    There will be a separate page for exhibitors: it will have set up times and start/close times. A table plan at least three months before the event. The dimensions of the tables. How many seats per table. Power sockets and wifi info. If banners and stands are allowed. If table cloths are required. If there are volunteers who will cover your table whilst you have a break. This will also be a printable PDF and will be sent to the exhibitors three months in advance.

    There will be a simple one-stage table booking system. You select your table requirement, input your details, attach your icon jpg and press ‘pay’. A confirmation email arrives and you are done.

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    Marketing & Publicity

    If I want to sit in a room filled with tables and chairs and no customers I will spend my day in Furniture World in Plymouth. Publicity is the most important thing after LOCATION, DATE, TIME and is often forgotten. I’ve heard one organiser actually say publicity is the responsibility of the exhibitors. It is not.

    At Ideal Con marketing and publicity will always be at the top of the Ideal Con organiser’s (ICO) to-do list. At the TOP. With its own budget. Its own team. Enough money at least for a BIG sign outside the venue, and maybe a couple of sandwich boards (LOCATION, DATE, TIME) around town.

    ICO will have been tweeting and facebooking regularly throughout the year about plans and progress, guests, exhibitor profiles, comics they are enjoying, anything to remind people about what’s going on. In the couple of months before this will go into overdrive. ICO will tweet until we are sick of him/her but at least we will know that something is happening.

    ICO will have sent press releases to local radio, listings websites and newspapers, who are always on the lookout for something colourful and interesting, even if that means putting up with the WHAM! POW! headlines and having to have his/her photo taken standing next to a stormtrooper or Pokémon or whatever.

    ICO will have talked to the local comic shop, library, the bookshop, art supplies shop, cafes, other businesses near the venue who will have posters (LOCATION, DATE, TIME) in their windows or flyers (LOCATION, DATE, TIME) by their tills. Maybe they will be providing sponsorship, offering discounts to attendees, hosting events or exhibitions in partnership? Shops like this kind of stuff.

    Similarly, ICO will have contacted the local art college/higher education institution. This might even be the venue, or be hosting a related event itself. The college will have posters (LOCATION, DATE, TIME) and flyers (LOCATION, DATE, TIME) and may even supply volunteers in return for a free table to show off their coursework or a goody bag, or voucher of some kind.

    On the day of the event there might be a stormtrooper or Pokémon or whatever outside the venue under the BIG sign for some locals to take selfies. The stormtrooper or Pokémon or whatever will have just got back from the shopping centre where he handed out flyers (LOCATION, DATE, TIME). Maybe he went to the railway station and did the same.

    Communication

    There will be one catch-all email address. Emails between ICO and exhibitor will be friendly, short, to the point and only as needed. A final reminder will be sent a week before the event with that PDF attached.

    The Venue

    Organisers are going to be restricted by their venue. Health and safety will play their part and often the more affordable the location, the least suitable it is. There’s only so much you can control but ICO will keep these things in mind:

    Exhibitors need space to sit comfortably. They will have bags and boxes. They might have display stands and pop-up banners. These need to be taken into consideration in the layout. Set up a ‘pretend’ exhibitor table and see how much floorspace it actually needs. If there are odd-shaped spaces and corners they should have alternative use: exhibitions, reading areas, kid’s drawing tables. Exhibitors should not be shoe-horned into the space.

    If the venue is split into different rooms then there need to be clear signs and a layout that ensures a flow of visitors to those rooms. Perhaps the connecting corridor is an exhibition space. There should be table plans stuck to the wall at various points.

    At Ideal Con there will be an information point, separate from the ticket office. The person at the information point will know where the toilets are, what time things happen, where the cashpoint is, where extra chairs can be found, if blutack is allowed, if the heating can be turned on/off. It is the ICO’s headquarters during the event.

    ICO will visit the venue many times before the event. He/she will do a walk-through, imagining what it will be like for the exhibitor and the visitor alike. Where are signs needed? Where are the annoying columns? Where are the tricky bits for wheelchairs? Room plans are deceptive, and guesswork is not enough.

    The venue will have free entry, if possible. Exhibitors are happy to pay a higher price for a guaranteed footfall. ETA: Cliodhna Lyons commented via Facebook that free entry is not always a good thing: “you want the numbers in but you also want the right people in”. A token charge will discourage those who are not really interested but not those who are interested/curious.

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    Children

    Children read comics. Some people make comics for children. This should be encouraged. Children are Future Punters. That middle-aged guy with the Dredd t-shirt is going to have a heart attack at some point about some continuity error or something and needs to be replaced. Ideal Con will offer exhibitors the choice to be part of a kid’s zone. There will be drawing tables with comics on them. Some simple workshops with printed handouts. Maybe the library could be involved – many have comic book reading groups.

    Afterwards

    There will be a pub, preferably hired for the event. The after-event pub session is one of the most important aspects for the exhibitor. Ideas are shared. Deals are made. Friendships forged. Acquaintances renewed. No loud music because then we can’t hear each other – dancing comes later. ICO will be sitting in a corner, basking in the glow of a successful event and happy exhibitors.

    Timeline

    • 12 months before: announcement. Website open with booking form. Social media in place;
    • 3 months before: email to exhibitors with table plan;
    • 1 month before: publicity/social media big push;
    • 1 week before: social media goes nuts. Final email to exhibitors;
    • On the day: happy faces.

    That’s my idea anyway for getting the basics right. Panels, interviews, after show parties and the other bells and whistles are only considered once these things are sorted out.

    Thanks for reading all this way! Any suggestions? Comment here or tweet @davidoconnell and I’ll add them in.

  • Fish, the Gherkin and Comics!

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    I’ve been drawing a lot of fish lately. Here’s a quick ink sketch. I do like fish, although they always look a bit worried considering they have a fairly simple life.

    Dinner at the Gherkin

    I’m a London geek and am always keen to visit the city’s iconic locations (as well as the hidden, out-of-the-way places) and there’s nowhere more iconic than 30 St Mary Axe, more commonly know as The Gherkin. The restaurant and bar at the top of the building are not normally open to the public, just the building’s occupants, although they are available for hire. However, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Gherkin’s construction they have been open for bookings for a short spell. I couldn’t resist a visit, having been to the top of the Canary Wharf tower (One Canada Square), the BT Tower and the Shard. It was another landmark to cross off the list.

    The food wasn’t up to much, if I’m honest, but no one was there for the restaurant: it was all about the view. It had been a stormy day so the skies were pretty dramatic.

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    It was great to see all the tall buildings of The City, including the brand new ‘Walkie-Talkie’ at 20 Fenchurch Street, which is also on the list to visit at some point.

    It was a great evening and a spectacular sunset was the perfect finishing touch.

    Upcoming: Comiket

    Saturday August 16th sees the Comiket come around again, and this time it’s being held in the atrium of the British Library, to coincide with the Comics Unmasked exhibition.

    I’m sharing a table with the brilliant Cliodhna Lyons, a table-mate of many comic events past, so it will be a jolly time.

    Bryan Lee O’Malley will be opening the show and doing a book signing too. There should be quite a buzz about the place as his books are super-popular. I think it’s the last weekend of the exhibition as well. Hopefully lots plenty of comic-buying people about!

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    Although I’m going to a couple of comic conventions later in the year, this will be my last time as a table-seller, at least for a year or so. I’ve decided to take a break, for 2015 at least, from being a seller and will be very glad to visit conventions as a buyer for a change (although my wallet won’t thank me!). I reserve the right to change my mind, of course…

    All details for Comiket can be found here.

  • Southwold

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    Last week was holiday time. I haven’t had such a good holiday in years. It was our first attempt at going on holiday with the dog so we didn’t wander too far. We rented a tiny fisherman’s cottage in Southwold, Suffolk, a few hours drive away from London.

    The weather was perfect all week: sunny with a light sea breeze, so just right for lots of walking (and we did LOTS). We even managed a couple of afternoons on the beach too.

    It’s a lovely part of the world – people often think of East Anglia as boring because it’s flat. And it most definitely is that.

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    But it’s wonderfully isolated and hugely atmospheric. Big, windswept skies; smuggler’s creeks hidden by tall, whispering reed beds; soft sun-baked sand dunes; storm-battered shingle bars; salt-bitten fishing boats and drowned towns.

    There were even a few cheap but cheerful robots.

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    Look at those big east country skies! Whoosh!

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    Southwold harbour. Some great fresh fish and seafood to be bought here. A ferryman will row you across the river for 90p! Otherwise it’s a walk up to a disused railway bridge.

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    Lots of interesting things buried in the sand for the dog to sniff.

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    It was our second attempt at introducing the Treacle to the sea, but she didn’t seem that impressed. She was much more excited by the potential of sand for digging. She also had the walkies of her life. We set out early each day for a long walk through the dunes to the harbour and various other parts of the nearby countryside. She’s come back home looking a lot slimmer than when she left.

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    I’d like to think we have too, but there were too many cream teas, home-made cakes, ice creams, good pub food and local beer (Adnams Brewery has its home in Southwold) so I doubt that’s the case.

    Do I look relaxed? Because I was. It was a wonderful week.

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  • The Joy of Events

    I’ve surprised myself that I really enjoy book events – something I didn’t expect when I started out doing them. I work with a great age group that are enthusiastic and full of ideas, and are not afraid to push things a little! [Click on the image to make it bigger.]

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    One such event took place at Oxford’s Bookfeast on Tuesday, as part of their annual schools festival. I did a couple of drawing-and-talking activities in the wonderful surroundings of the Pitt Rivers Museum, hidden at the back of the University’s Natural History Museum. The Pitt Rivers Museum holds a huge collection of anthropology and archaeology from around the world and made for an amazing venue. So many inspirational objects to look at whilst I scribbled away on the flip chart!

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    The kids are also very good at asking very direct questions. These didn’t all come from Tuesday’s audience but are fairly representative of the type of things I get asked [click to make bigger]:

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    I’m always trying to think of ways to improve my presentation and make it more entertaining, and am curious to see what other authors do.

    I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match author Veronica Cosantelli, however, who turned up for her event with her corn snake, named Thisbe, in tow. I tried to take a snap but Thisbe was just too busy to pose – she’d already done a runner in the car park! Gorgeous colours and patterns on her scales. I’m sure she was a hit with the audience.

    As well as Veronica, it was great to meet author Dave Cousins too, and to briefly bump into Tom Gates creator Liz Pichon once again (the audience were very impressed that I’d met her!).

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    Thanks so much to the organisers of Bookfeast for inviting me along for the day, and in particular to volunteers Sue and Mervyn who looked after me so well. As ex-teachers they were great with the kids which is always helpful.

    My co-creator on JAMPIRES (coming soon!), Sarah McIntyrehas written a blog post for event organisers on how to make for a good author visit. There should probably be a companion piece on ‘How to be a good author when on a visit’ – it’s always good to be as prepared as possible!

    MCM Expo

    Speaking of events, I’ll be at the MCM EXPO in London’s EXCEL centre this weekend with loads of comics folk, gamers, movie and anime fans and, of course, those crazy cosplayers.

    I’ve not been to an MCM EXPO in a while and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be camped out in the comics village at table CP6 in my ink+PAPER hat on (not actually a hat) and probably scribbling away on something –  do stop for a chat if you’re there.

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  • Judging Monsters & Unmasking Comics

    Yesterday was a bit of struggle.

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    Firstly, I had to judge the entrants to the Guardian Children’s Books monster drawing competition.

    It was great to see so many exciting and colourful pictures! A lot of thought and hard work had gone into the drawing (and often, the accompanying text) and it looked like the entrants had had a lot fun being creative, which is what I’d hoped. The struggle was in picking a winner. Whenever someone judging a competition says “I wish I could pick them all!” it’s easy to think that they’re not being genuine, but I really, really wish I could. Anyway, a winner has been chosen and will be announced on the Guardian website very soon.

    The second struggle of the day was walking my dog Treacle through the rain to get her hair cut (it grows very quickly, probably something to do with her shih tzu ancestry, I’m told) and then back home though the rain again.

    Result: one wet, sulky dog and one wet, sulky human.

    I think of my dog as being completely daft, but am often surprised by how sensitive she is to body language and mood. She knew ‘Daddy’ was in a bad temper.

    And so, instead of trying to clamber onto my lap or root around in the rubbish looking for food scraps as is her usual way, she just sat, still and quiet until the mood passed. Then back to normal.

    Dogs are great.

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    comics-unmasked

    The last struggle of the day, having got myself warm and dry, was to venture out into the rain again (still sniffling from my stupid cold) to attend the opening reception for the Comics Unmasked exhibition at the British Library. Of course, I’m very glad I did. Subtitled ‘Art & Anarchy in the UK’, the exhibition is co-curated by Adrian Edwards, John Harris Dunning and the brilliant Paul Gravett. It looks at the history of British comics and their wide-ranging style and subject matter, with a focus on those works that challenge social, political and sexual boundaries. Fascinating stuff and beautifully designed by Dave McKean, it’s an amazing-looking, eye-opening exhibition.

    As usual, I was hopeless at getting any photos but here are a few grabs from Twitter to give an idea of the evening. From the British Library’s own feed:

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    Jonathan Ross, broadcaster and comics fan, gave the opening speech. Lawless Nelly is the exhibition mascot, designed by Jamie Hewlett, and apparently named by a BL staffer after Charles Dickens’ mistress!

    From Bridget Hannigan’s feed:

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    Woodrow Phoenix‘s one-of-a-kind super-sized comic ‘She Lives’. A huge piece of work in many senses.

    From innovative comic-maker Douglas Noble’s feed:

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    One of the nice things about the exhibition is the inclusion of screens displaying digital comics of various genres. Douglas’ work is particularly interesting and thought-provoking. I’ve being enjoying his current Parakoe series very much.

    Lastly, one picture of mine! I was delighted to see the inclusion of ink+PAPER, the comics anthology that I created and edit, amongst the exhibits. It was open at the comic created by Katriona Chapman, detailing her experiences with flat-sharing and the state of the housing market. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and Katriona’s first ever comic, so I’m thrilled it’s being displayed.

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    If you’d like to see Katriona’s comic in full you can get your own copy (issue #4) right here. I’ll also be selling ink+PAPER at the Alternative Press Takeover in just over a week’s time.

    Details of the Comics Unmasked exhibition can be found here. There is also a series of events and workshops associated with it – I’m looking forward to seeing a personal hero, Posy Simmonds, chatting with Steve Bell in a couple of months.

  • Ideas

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    I drew this comic to illustrate my attempts at allowing myself some free-thinking R&D time: time to develop those random ideas that pop up (usually just before I fall asleep, or when I’m wide awake at 4am) and see if I can make something more substantial from them.

    Over a year ago, I wrote a post about time management and I thought I should update on my progress on this tricky topic, for my own records and anyone else that might be interested in an admittedly dry subject! I got quite a response from that post so it must be a common challenge. Long, dull post alert!

    The general idea was to avoid work swamping other aspects of life through proper planning and use of the many tools and techniques available. There would always be times when a work situation would take priority but the hope was that this could be minimised with a bit of organisation. There were not supposed to be too many hard and fast rules, it was more about trying to find a framework to use as a reference.

    I’ll recap all the tools I wrote about in January 2013 and how effective they’ve proven to be since.

    Hardware:

    PC and Android smartphone: the foundation of everything! Making use of Cloud-based software means I’ve got rid of my written to-do list and paper diary. I take meeting notes in a notebook as this is still quicker than anything else, but I transfer them to some kind of electronic form immediately afterwards.

    As well as the PC/phone combo, I also make a lot of use of my iPad for work. It’s portable but doesn’t suffer as much as a phone from clumsy typing. Useful for going through my emails in bed with an early morning coffee, or doing a bit of work over cake in a wifi-friendly cafe! I’ve also used it (with a bluetooth keyboard) on a long train journey to do some proper document writing. A very handy gadget indeed.

    The other bit of new ‘hardware’ is… my dog. Having something completely dependent on you means that your time is not your own any more. My dog has to be let out in the morning, fed, walked, groomed (and cuddled). These are obligations that I can’t ignore. But whilst these obligations take up time they have had an unexpected side-effect of making me more organised. As she has her own routine, I’ve developed a routine around her – always good for getting things done. I get up much earlier than I used to and get much more admin done in the mornings than before, a time when I’m not at my best creatively. I’m not sure I’d recommend anyone get a dog for time management purposes, but it’s interesting how these things work out!

     

    My dog - not bothered about time management at all.
    My dog – not bothered about time management at all.

    Software:

    Google mail/calendar: I’m still completely hooked into these. There’s an email button on Facebook events pages (a source of quite bit of social stuff) that means I can insert them into my calendar easily.

    Trello: project management software. I’ve not used this at all as I’ve found other tools that can do a similar job in a slightly less complicated way (OneNote, below). Still could be useful given the right project.

    Evernote: a personal database. I’ve replaced this with Microsoft OneNote because I bought a copy of Office and it came with it. Whilst not as pretty as Evernote it does the same job and has become essential for work. Each project (e.g., a book) has its own section in the database with subsections for research notes, inspirational images, publication schedule, marketing ideas and, inevitably, to-do lists. Accessible on all devices via the Cloud, as everything must be now. I love using this: it’s where all my ideas go.

    A new thing for me is Pinterest. Complementing OneNote, this is a popular image organising/scrapbooking website (and app). I’ve mixed feelings about Pinterest (and Tumblr) in that they encourage the idea that images on the web don’t belong to anybody, but the upside is that I’ve discovered so much great stuff and brilliant artists.

    Twitter/Facebook: I probably use these less and less, interestingly, which has been great for clawing back time. A quick scan of the feeds a few times a day to keep in touch with what everyone’s doing and that’s about it. I still use them for plugging my work (which I’m trying not to feel guilty about) but the informal discussion/chat side of things has never felt natural to me so I’ve pretty much given up on that. I still don’t know what the ideal is for social networking vs. productivity.

    Finally, a quick mention of Photoshop actions, where you can record and save your keystrokes for repetitive tasks. I use these a lot, particularly for book and comic work where many (if not hundreds) of pages have the same layer structure and settings, and to prep black and white art for colouring. I know some experienced Photoshop users who have never made use of these and it would save them a lot of time and tedium.

    Other ideas:

    Wall calendar: I have a year planner stuck to my wall for a quick at-a-glance view of the year. I’ve not made as much use of this as I thought I would, to the point where I didn’t bother buying one for 2014 and made my own instead. Still good for a quick snapshot of the year for events and deadlines.

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    Methods:

    Email use: I use the five sentences rule as much as I can and it really works. Email inbox is officially under control! I’ve not being very good at restricting my email time to specific periods but that’s not so much an issue as I feel like I have email sorted at the moment.

    Calendar/to-do list: I tried to get rid of my to-do list by putting tasks in the calendar and thus time-boxing them. This was successful for a while, then the to-do lists started creeping back in. It was the same problem that I’d always had of under-estimating time needed to do particular things and not completing them in the designated time limit.

    Consequently, I now use the calendar for recording how much time I spend on a task for future reference, e.g. the number of hours spent on 100 illustrations for a 200 page chapter book, a task I’ve had to do more than once and hopefully will get to do more of in the future! I also work out daily targets for a piece of work. For a basic example, if I need to do 100 illustrations in 6 weeks, that means I have to do 100/(6 weeks x 5 working days) = approx 4 illos every working day. If I meet the daily target it makes me less panicky about the final deadline, plus I’ve allowed contingency by not including the weekends as work time so there’s a safety net as well.

    As for the to-do lists, I try to keep them short and specific, with a list for the day and a list of medium term priorities. I keep these in OneNote. NO POST-IT NOTES ALLOWED!

    I think my time management has improved a lot in the last year but it’s still a struggle. One thing I’ve found is that those tasks that fall by the wayside (housework, home decorating) do so not because I don’t have time but because I don’t want to do them at all. It’s important to be honest with yourself as to why you’re not doing something and not blame it on lack of time by default. There may be other ways to deal with it – pass it on to someone else, perhaps?

    Free day: something I’m experimenting with recently (and going back to today’s comic) is allowing myself a ‘free day’ a week to work on whatever idea is bugging me at the current time or just have some non-work drawing/writing fun, regardless of a deadline or not. It sounds very decadent, but I’ve so many ideas I’m worried will never see the light of day just because they are having to wait their turn and are constantly getting pushed to the back of the queue by other priorities. The next day I go back to scheduled work and the idea/fun has to wait until the next week’s free day. This way I get to do some enjoyable R&D stuff and still feel like I’m keeping everything bubbling along at the same time. It’s as close to multi-tasking as I’ll ever get.

    I’ve made an entry in my calendar (POW!) to write another update on my time management in a year’s time. Meanwhile, the struggle continues…

  • Whitstable

    Taking advantage of the spring sunshine, we zipped along surprisingly quiet roads for a day at Whitstable on the Kent coast yesterday.  The countryside was looking particularly fecund as we drove along – lots of flowering fruit trees and fields of shocking yellow oilseed. Whitstable was fairly quiet when we arrived but soon began to bustle.

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    It was a multi-purpose visit. We were taking the new car for a test run (it worked), trying out some seafood (fishfinger sandwiches – yum!), doing a bit of walking, some book research and also to introduce the dog to the sea (she was not impressed). Lots of colours and textures and things of interest to look at (for us and the dog).

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    I thought Whitstable sounded like a good name for a character so drew a comic-ette featuring him:

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    Upcoming:

    What else am I up to? I’m doing a couple of school events as part of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival just after Easter, after which I’m rushing straight to the airport to fly to Amsterdam for its first ever King’s Day – I’m expecting some Dutch-style craziness if the previous Queen’s Days were anything to go by.

    Then on May 10th I’ll have table at the Alternative Press Takeover at the Bishopsgate Institute. I’ve been to many alternative press shows in the past few years and you can’t beat them for the diversity of material on display. Certainly some of the most inspiring small press events I’ve been to. Do come along – it’s free to get in!

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    Aside from that, I’m working on a few picture books, some illustration work and some new writing projects – plenty to keep me busy. Oh and don’t forget that the Monster & Chips drawing competition on The Guardian website is ongoing until April 29th – have a go at drawing your own monster and win prizes!

  • The Big Write at the Discover Children’s Story Centre

    There were Secret Agent shenanigans at the Discover Children’s Story Centre last weekend – was everyone exactly who they seemed?

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    What exactly was going on?

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    Have no fear – it was just a bunch of comic illustrators being nutty as usual. That’s Secret Agents Richy K. Chandler, Laura Ellen Anderson and Jamie Littler (whose photo I’ve pinched) up top, and escapees Sarah McIntyre (another victim of photo theft) and me below. All part of Discover’s Big Write Festival!

    The Centre has an amazing interactive exhibition running throughout the summer, taking the form of a secret agent academy. It really is fun, and quite challenging too – definitely worth a visit just for that.

    However, at the weekend there were loads of other activities as well, with author and illustrator visits and a comic making workshop, which it was my pleasure to organise. It was secret agent-themed too!

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    I made a poster for it and some other artwork you can see below. I also created some activity sheets for visitors: a character design page, a colouring sheet and a comic/book cover. You can download printable versions of all of these from my activities page.

    Here are some ideas-and-inspiration posters I created for the workshop space:

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    And I also made some bunting with a secret code displayed on it, so special messages around the room could be decoded. You can see it in this photo hanging above the  busy secret agent workshoppers:

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    Speaking of busy, here’s Agent Littler doing some live-drawing (photo by Richy). Check out Richy’s blog for more photos of Saturday.

    On Sunday we were joined by Sarah, and the super-talented and funny Gary Northfield and Alex Milway. It was quite unseasonably sunny, so we relocated to Discover’s fantastic garden for our comic-making.

    As usual I didn’t think to take photos but Sarah has written a lovely comprehensive report on her blog. Loads of photos from inside the Centre too!

    Thanks so much to all the brilliant illustrators who came and helped me with this event, and to the Discover Centre for being such wonderful hosts and looking after us all. If you came along, I hope you enjoyed yourself – congratulations, you are officially Secret Agent Comic-makers!

  • Codename: COMIC MAKER!

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    As part of their Big Write festival, the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford have asked me to organise a drop-in comics workshop on the weekend of 15th-16th March. To tie-in with their amazing Secret Agents interactive exhibition we’re making it Spy-themed! Come along to Codename: COMIC MAKER!

    Special Agents Sarah McIntyre, Gary Northfield, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jamie Littler, Richy K Chandler, Alex Milway (and me) will be on hand to guide you – those who dare – on a mission to create their own Secret Agent comic.

    They’ll also be signing books and comics on sale in the Centre’s brilliant book shop. It’s just one of the fantastic activities taking place that weekend – the place will be choc-full of book illustrators and writers. All the details can be found here. Hope to see you there!

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    Jampires via mail

    Speaking of Sarah McIntyre reminds me that the printer’s proof of our picture book, JAMPIRES, arrived in the post the other day.

    It’s out in September from David Fickling Books – lots more about that in the future.

    Also in the post were a couple of advance copies of MONSTER & CHIPS: Food Fright! It’s out a bit sooner: March 27th! I’ve put as much information as I can on the Food Fright book page and will keep it updated when I have more.

    World Book Day

    Finally, tomorrow is World Book Day (in the UK!). I shall be doing my bit by paying a visit to the Chicken and Frog Bookshop in Brentwood, Essex on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be there from 4pm – come along for some drawing fun. Here’s a photo from the shop’s Instagram account – looks like they’re ready for me!

  • Comic Creators at Work!

    Workshops

    The lovely people at the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford ran a Story Party at The Mill in Walthamstow last Saturday.

    The Mill is a community centre (though it’s much, much more than that – see their website for details) which Discover took over for a day of story making, and they asked me to help with a drop-in comic-making table. I made some comic templates (which you can download from here) and took along a bunch of copies of the wonderful Phoenix comic for some inspiration. I had some friendly competition from a table devoted to biscuit-making and decorating!

    There was a map theme to the event, so I’d made a treasure map-style comic, which seemed to go down well. Other brave souls were quite happy to create their own comics without any assistance. I posted below photos of just a very few of the brilliant comics created on the day. There was so much good stuff it was very difficult to choose which to show!

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    As well as biscuits and comics there was a story-telling monster yurt(!) and some poetry reading too. Discover are holding another Story Party this Saturday at the Paradox Centre in Chingford – do come along!

    I’ll being writing about another exciting Discover Centre event that I’m taking part in very soon.

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    W.A.S.P. Week

    Speaking of comics, this week sees the return of W.A.S.P., the Webcomic Artist Swap Project! Masterminded by Richy K. Chandler, the event lets various webcomic creators loose on each others comics! It’s a lot of fun for us and also give readers the chance to discover new comics. This year, it was my privilege to work on a very beautiful comic – it’ll appear this Friday, so watch the W.A.S.P. website for details! And there will be a special guest on the recently resurrected Tozo on Wednesday.

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  • Battling Boy!

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    Deadlines done and dusted, I escaped into the real world last night to go and see Comica Festival director Paul Gravett interview US comic artist Paul Pope, who had been visiting Europe for the Angoulême festival. I love the fluid and inky brush technique he uses (contrarily, I’ve drawn my fan-art of his character Battling Boy with a pen, but only because it’s new and I’m trying it out).

    It was a fascinating talk, as Pope is a candid speaker with an uncompromising attitude to his art. He spoke of the his time working with a Japanese manga producer and their terrifyingly strict corporate approach to producing comics, and his rejection of working for the big mainstream US comic publishers in favour of  book publishers who tend to be more experimental in the type of material they’ll publish. He also talked about his experiences of working with the film industry (a Battling Boy film is apparently in the works) and how writing the screenplay at the same time as writing the comic could  potentially affected the course of the book. He did a bit of live-drawing too, which was fun to watch. He is obviously someone who loves what they do and it was a pretty inspirational evening – lots of thought-provoking stuff for the journey home.

  • Thought Bubble 2013

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    It’s the biggest comic convention of the year at Leeds this weekend! The super-spectacular Thought Bubble is back and I’ll happily be seated at Table 61 in the New Dock Hall for the whole of Saturday and Sunday.

    For sale I’ll have Monster & Chips books, ink+PAPER (with NEW issue #4!), Tozo, Christmas cards, notebooks and a new selection of prints (including Mr & Mrs Vampire and family above) – and I’ll be making little mini-artworks at my table too. Hope to see you there!

  • Autumn Comiket

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    Last Saturday was the Autumn Comiket at Central St Martins College of Art. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a comic convention so I was looking forward to it.

    Here’s a pic of my table with my new display stand. Very useful for hiding from potential customers! I was sharing a table with Paul Ashley Brown, who I’d not met before but who was excellent company during quite a long day.

    I was asked to take part in the Drawing Parade, doing a bit of live drawing on the big screen. It was quite nerve-wracking but I think it came out ok.

    I was supposed to supply a sound-track of music that I listen to when I’m drawing. However, I don’t listen to music when I work so I suggested the first thing that came into my head: the Scissor Sisters. Not sure how appreciative the audience were!

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    Here’s me in action (pic borrowed from Is Right Cartoons @isrightcartoons on Twitter). Here’s how the drawing turned out:

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    Comics prodigy Zoom Rockman and elder statesman Gary Northfield did a comics jam together which was a lot of fun. Also live drawing were Katie Green, Kripa Joshi, Dan BerryTakayo AkiyamaIsabel GreenbergJingxuan HuGinny & Penelope SkinnerOscar ZarateIlyaMetaphrogAlex PottsGareth Brookes (live embroidery!) and Krent Able.

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    As usual, socializing is part and parcel of the day. Great to talk to Broken Frontier reviewer Andy Oliver and Keara Stewart, Tanya Meditzky and Lando in the pub afterwards. The next Comiket is going to be in the British Library, no less! Looking forward to it.