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.
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.
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!
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.
I’ve just come back from a holiday (more about that tomorrow) to find that The Guardian have posted some of the entries to the Monster & Chips competition that ran a while ago.
And here’s the winner: congratulations to Luke Westall! I chose his character, Itsi, as I thought Luke had shown the best imagination in both his drawing and in the things he had written about his character. There was a lot about Itsi’s personality and how he would fit into the world of monsters: I could just see him in a Monster & Chips story. Also, sabre-tooth cats are very cool.
Part of Luke’s prize was a drawing of Itsi by me, so here’s my version:
Huge thanks to The Guardian for hosting the competition! You can see a whole load of other entrants here.
Here’s another bit of Monster & Chips artwork sent to me recently – a great picture of Joe, chips and all, drawn by Tomos Rees. Tomos’ mum and dad are old friends of mine – apparently he likes to draw every night before bedtime. I wish I could be that organised!
I’ll be at the London Film & Comic Convention in a couple of weeks. It’s not an event I’ve been to before and I’m really looking forward to it.
As well as all the comics folks there will be all sorts of film types making personal appearances: Princess Leia, a couple of Doctor Whos and a few of the cast of Games of Thrones that are still alive (and some that are not)!
And there is a YA Literature Convention being run in parallel, curated by the current Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman. Should be a lot of fun!
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.]
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!
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]:
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.
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 McIntyre, has 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!
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.
Yesterday was a bit of struggle.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
It’s been a busy few days with a bit of wandering around but I’m back home and suffering silently (NOT REALLY) with a nasty cold. Here’s what’s been happening:
Also known as the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, it’s a relatively recent addition to the literary festival circuit. However, that hasn’t stopped it being ambitious in its programme as well as beautifully organised – and all in a lovely setting up in the Cotswolds.
I was there as part of the Schools Programme, visiting Kingham and Chadlington Primary Schools for some monster drawing workshops! Here’s a pic of me in action that I’ve stolen from the Twitter feed of the wonderful HarperCollins publicist Becca Palmer (@BeePea91) who was super-efficient in getting me out into the wilds of Oxfordshire and back again, safe and sound.
The children came up with some brilliant ideas (no surprises there, from my experience with these events) but also asked some very direct questions about writing and creating books – some budding authors there, I think. Either way, it was a lot of fun!
Here’s a pic (also stolen from the Twitter feed of @ChipLitFest themselves) of some of the other authors attending the Schools Programme at a superb dinner organised by the festival team at The Chequers:
Thanks so much to everyone behind the scenes at the festival: drivers, selling volunteers, food makers and wonderful bookshop Jaffe & Neale for hosting our lovely Green Room. It all made for a brilliant time!
After the festival I dashed off to Heathrow airport to catch the last flight of the day to Amsterdam. I lived there for a couple of years and absolutely love it. It’s been four years since I’ve been back, but as soon as I stepped off the ‘plane everything felt very familiar and I was very much at home. It was the weekend of the first King’s Day so all the locals were in a party mood, filling the city with a relaxed but convivial atmosphere.
Saturday had the perfect weather for wandering around old haunts, looking for bargains in the tax and licence-free flea-market that’s permitted just for the day, and also for general people-watching. Everyone wears the national colour of orange so the streets and canals have a vibrant and jolly feel to them.
It was also a chance to spot the Dutch edition of Monster & Chips or De Monster-Snackbar, as it’s called, out in the wild. Excitingly, it was on display in the five-storey Scheltema bookshop on Koningsplein.
De Monster-Snackbar looks great in this hardback edition. It’s published by Veltman-Jeugd and translated by Sandra Hessels. There were lots of fabulous picture books on sale, so I picked up a few of those as souvenirs too.
Coincidentally my friend Dirk spotted De Monster-Snackbar in SpeelBoek in Amersfoort at the same time! Thanks, Dirk.
Now it’s time to get back to work, if I can shake off the sniffles! Lots to do. I’m working on some picture books and doing some writing too, for picture books and ‘young fiction’ (ages 7-10).
Added to that, I started a novel a while back and am keen to get it finished in the next year or so – will have to fit that in somewhere.
Some events: I’ve mentioned the Alt Press Takeover in a previous post. I’ve also got myself a table at the MCM Expo at the end of May which is usually pretty crazy. It’s a while since I’ve been to an Expo so I’m really looking forward to that.
Before then, I’m in Oxford at the Bookfeast for more monster shenanigans. See you there?
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.
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).
I thought Whitstable sounded like a good name for a character so drew a comic-ette featuring him:
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!
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!
There were Secret Agent shenanigans at the Discover Children’s Story Centre last weekend – was everyone exactly who they seemed?
What exactly was going on?
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!
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:
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:
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!
I celebrated World Book Day a bit later than the official day (last Thursday) but last Saturday was a lot of fun, nonetheless!
I was the guest of the brilliant Natasha and Jim, who run Chicken & Frog, the only independent children’s book shop in Brentwood, and who provide the warmest welcome in Essex!
It’s a great little shop – a real treasure trove of wonderful books.
Not only that, they run a creative writing club, as well as other tuition services. The back of the shop is set up for writing, drawing and other activities – a fantastic local resource. Do go and say hello (and buy some books) if you’re in the neighbourhood!
It was straight down to business, drawing and creating monsters (with help from some very keen artists and story-makers). Jim & Natasha have kindly let me borrow some of their photos for this report: look how colourful and cosy the shop is!
We made an epic battle between the sometimes evil/sometimes good Dr Frankenspring (and his radioactive shrinking sandwich) and the jelly-like Turkey Bocotpus, whose appetite seemed to get him into trouble. Then it was into the workshop room for some individual monster-making activities. There were some monstrously inventive work going on.
You can download the monster-making sheets from my activities page, if you want to have a go yourself. I’ll be adding more printable things to it soon, so keep an eye on it.
Huge thanks to Chicken & Frog for looking after me – I had a lovely time!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
Here’s me in action (pic borrowed from Is Right Cartoons @isrightcartoons on Twitter). Here’s how the drawing turned out:
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 Berry, Takayo Akiyama, Isabel Greenberg, Jingxuan Hu, Ginny & Penelope Skinner, Oscar Zarate, Ilya, Metaphrog, Alex Potts, Gareth Brookes (live embroidery!) and Krent Able.
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.
Some more ink sketches – the end is in sight! These are from days 11-14.
The Gentle Author’s London Album Launch
I’m a London-nerd and a history-nerd, so the Spitalfields Life blog is pretty much essential reading as far as I’m concerned. A great mixture of stories and pictures capturing the London of today, and the London that is vanishing or has already vanished.
The launch of the Gentle Author‘s latest book, The Gentle Author’s London Album, took place last week at the appropriate venue of Christ Church, Spitalfields. It was great to have a chance to meet the mysterious person behind this fantastic blog; I love the way it documents the ordinary life of the city, ordinary but not without its quirks. We have some family connections of our own in Spitalfields and the G.A. was able to enlighten us about some interesting leads for investigating further.
You can read the G.A.’s own account of the launch here. My bonce even makes it into a couple of the photos. Nice to run into illustrator Noelle Davies-Brock there too.
New in the shop
I’ve some notebooks with freaky creature covers designed by me on sale in the shop. A6-sized, they’re filled with blank pages for drawing or writing, or both (if you’re me). They’ll be available at the Comiket and Thought Bubble too. Great stocking fillers!
The manuscript for MONSTER & CHIPS: Food Fright (or MC3 for short) has been handed in, and so I’m taking the opportunity of a brief break to catch up with various things before I’m plunged into rewrites and illustrations.
If you follow Sarah McIntyre or me on Twitter, you might have seen this announcement last week. Our long-in-the-making picture book, JAMPIRES, was on show at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It looks brilliant (though I would say that!) and I can’t wait to be able to properly be able to show it off to the world. It comes out in October 2014 – more on that nearer the time.
JAMPIRES started out as a ‘comics jam’ between Sarah and myself, where we took it in turns to improvise a story in comic form. I’ve been doing a bit of this in some recent workshops I’ve run at festivals and at schools. It’s such a great (and fast) way of putting a story together, with the pictorial elements (from my experience so far) being much better at generating ideas and stimulating the imagination of the participants than words alone. Here’s a lovely bit of imagination from a recent workshop:
Any pictures that get sent to me from workshops will go in a gallery at the Monster & Chips website! I’ll let you know when that’s ready. You can also download the template and send your character to me. I’d love to see what you come up with!
It’s the return of the one-and-only Webcomic Artist Swap Project!
Masterminded by the estimable Richy Chandler, W.A.S.P. is where webcomics creators do the illustration duties on each other’s comics for an episode. I took part last time (even though my comic Tozo was taking a break) and drew a strip for his comic Lucy the Octopus.
But now Tozo is back and I’m really looking forward to seeing how someone else handles him! Richy is recruiting new artists for the next W.AS.P. event – contact him NOW if you’d like to take part: all details at this link.
Richy’s also recently been posting about some of the comics workshops he’s been running. Some great ideas here, which look to be producing some great results too!
Finally, there are a couple of comic conventions coming up next month: the fabulous Thought Bubble in Leeds on 23-24th November, but firstly the Autumn Comiket in London on November 2nd. I’ve a table at both events and am very honoured to have been asked to do some live drawing too as part of their Drawing Parade. It’s completely FREE to enter, so do come along!
Superman, the Hulk and Wolverine looked a little out of place amongst all the old masters but it was the young masters and mistresses whose art was important yesterday!
I took part in a couple of events at possibly the grandest venue I’ve ever worked in: the Holburne Museum in Bath. Originally a hotel that formed the entrance to some eighteenth-century pleasure gardens, the building is now an art museum. It’s made quite a few appearances in period films, and ‘Great British Bake-Off’ viewers will have recently seen it in a featurette about Sally Lunn buns!
I was there to take part in the Big Draw 2013, conducting a superhero draw-along with a very keen crowd of artists, some of whom had even turned up in their favourite superhero outfits! We got through quite a few superheroes in a short space of time, but everyone kept up and those difficult superhero action poses proved to be no trouble to anybody, as far as I could see. I can report that old-style pants-outside-trousers superheroes were much more in favour than the current fashion for pants-less superheroes!
Next came a monster-themed comic making workshop that was part of the Bath Children’s Literature Festival. I’d been very fortunate to briefly meet David Almond, author of Skellig and the festival’s Guest Artistic Director, that morning who was looking tired but happy after a successful festival fortnight. The workshop took place in the Holburne’s Gardener’s Lodge, now an education centre. Workshoppers learnt about character design and basic story-telling techniques and also how to make a quick minicomic. I never fail to be impressed by the imagination of the creators who come to these events – I think I probably learn as much as they do!
Thanks so much to the Festival and the Holburne Museum for being such welcoming and helpful hosts – I really enjoyed myself! Also, apologies for walking off with the museum keys – I hope they get back to you safely! Huge thanks as well to HarperCollins publicist Mary Byrne for looking after me for the day, and smoothing a woolly-headed illustrator’s path! Follow Mary on Twitter: @marysbookstuff
Photos pinched from Mary’s and the Bath Festival‘s Twitter streams.