ETA: One Blackfriars is a new residential tower on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. It’s unfinished but will be about fifty stories tall when complete. Apartments will cost from £1-23 million. The views along the Thames are worth quite a bit in their own right.
It’s a gorgeous-looking book. Above is author Katherina giving a speech with editor Kate Davies (left) of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
Molly Jamieson and Emily Talbot from United Agents, with authors Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Sarah McIntyre.
An interior of the book (click for a bigger version) – so much work! It’s amazing. Congrats, Katerina!
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.
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 paragraphschapters. 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!
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:
Argh! Half a year gone and I haven’t achieved nearly enough, including blog posts. Here’s few things that have been going on:
The first book of this series came out in April. It can sometimes be a bit confusing working on a set of books that are being published at relatively short intervals. Whilst book one was appearing in the shops I was working on the illustrations for book two and simultaneously working on the cover for book three! I keep getting the books mixed up in my head. Here’s a rough pencil-version of an illustration from book two, with the CT gang on the hunt for mischievous creature!
Creature Teacher writer Sam Watkins had a very busy launch event at Thomas A Becket School in Worthing in May. She spent the whole day doing short events with children from years 1 and 3 – I think she was losing her voice by the end of it all.
I joined her for the afternoon sessions to do a bit of drawing whilst she read from the book. It was a lot of fun but quite exhausting! It was the first time Sam and I had actually met (she is lovely, thank goodness!). Sam even made some swirly biscuits to match the book cover design. I can personally vouch for how tasty they were.
Here’s a pic of us at the end-of-day signing (we didn’t play the bongos, alas). Not sure who took this photo – apologies for pinching it.
Our visit even made it into the Worthing Herald. Oh, the heady heights of fame. Here’s a clipping from Sam’s Twitter feed:
(You can read the online version here.)
We ran a competition at the school to design a cover for a Creature Teacher book – you can see all the entries at the CT website here. I love how much energy there is in all the drawings, but then it is a very energetic book!
More recently, Sam and I visited Brighton Waterstones for a drawing and reading session. Everyone got to design their own Creature Teachers, drawing or doing a bit of collage. Here’s some photos from Sam’s Twitter:
It’s great doing events with someone else – you get to bounce ideas off each other, as well as providing a bit of support. Sam and I will be doing more events together at some point soon.
Monster & Chips
I was thrilled to see Whitchurch School in Hampshire have been reading Monster and Chips as part of their Year 4 book group. You can read all about it here. The readers have been creating their own monsters and even making up their own ‘delicious’ menu:
- Bashed Beetleburger AND CHIPS
- Slimy Slug Surprise with antennae eyes
- Eyeball soup with slug slime chips
- Bogey burger gravy AND CHIPS
- Smelly cabbage soup with poo plop croutons
- Earwax tart
Poo plop croutons! Tasty. I hope you enjoy the rest of the book – I love seeing people’s reactions to it. Thanks to librarian and book evangelist Jo for the tip-off!
Sarah has been very busy – and successful – with her Pictures Mean Business Campaign, trying to get more recognition for book illustrators in their contribution to a book’s success. You can find out more here, or follow the #PicturesMeanBusiness hashtag on Twitter.
Sarah has a new picture book out in June: Dinosaur Police! I saw the print proofs for it a while back and it’s her best book yet – absolutely brilliant!
Red Alert! How will Dinoville’s police squad catch Trevor the T-Rex, who’s at the pizza factory, gobbling up all the pizzas meant for the town fair? Inspector Sarah Tops and Seargeant Stig O’Saurus are on the case!
This Book is Funny!
I’ve blogged previously about Alex Milway‘s initiative to promote funny books for children. He’s been sending out thousands of stickers to schools and libraries so they can help their readers find the books they love.
Alex has also produced a couple (so far) of podcasts full of comedy sketches, readings and interviews. I’ve written a bit material for him for a future recording featuring Fuzzby and Barry from Monster & Chips. Need a laugh? Then follow Alex’s Soundcloud for guaranteed chuckles.
Out and about
I try to get away from my desk when I can. Whilst in Brighton for the Waterstones shindig I popped along to the Brighton Illustration Fair, part of the town’s fringe festival.
Lots of lovely things to see, but I was very much taken with the drawing activity they had: rotating towers of cardboard boxes that you could draw on in a heads-and-tails fashion. Worth bearing in mind for a future event.
Nunhead Cemetery is an old Victorian graveyard near where I live. It was abandoned for years before the local council took it over and in the intervening years nature completely overran it, turning it into some kind of gothic film set.
Burials still take place there, but the council have wisely left most of the cemetery untouched. I think some bits are ‘managed’ to encourage some bio-diversity. It must be heaven for foxes, judging from the number I’ve seen there. You have to be careful in some parts in case you fall into an ivy-covered tomb!
I’ve been there several times (it’s good for dog-walking) but they had an open day in May, providing tours for those interested. I prefer to wander and soak up the peaceful/melancholy atmosphere (depending on your mood!).
I’ve also made a couple of visits to the recently opened Sky Garden. It’a worth a trip if you’re able, as it’s free (though you have to book) and has one of the best views in London, in my opinion, plus added tree ferns.
I’ve had a horrible cold with a nasty cough that’s kept me in bed for a bit. Yuck. It’s stopped me from getting out and about and doing things but I’m finally catching up. First up: DOUGHBOTS!
In the book, Joe and the monsters create a robot made from bread – a doughbot! – and the book group members even had a go at making their own versions. You can read all about it and have a look at all the photos here – there are instructions on how to make your own, if you fancy it (I recommend adding some tuna and mayonnaise and erm… recycling the doughbot parts afterwards).
I’ve pinched this photo to show all the doughbots lined up – aren’t they crumbily menacing? I’m particularly loving the hair extensions. Thanks so much, everyone! It’s great to see a school library being so actively used – do have a look at some of their book reviews and other goings on. It looks like a lot of fun.
What else has been going on?
Webcomicker Evan Dahm announced Goblin Week was going to take place at the end of January. It’s a week where people draw or do other creative stuff regarding goblins because… well, I’ve no idea to be honest, but it sounds like a fun way of getting the creative juices flowing. Here are the pics I drew:
(Click on any of the pics to make them bigger.)
I’m not the only creative person in my family – my Mum is an excellent knitter. She’s one of those knitters whose needles go all blurry when she’s working, she’s that fast! My childhood collection of Action Men were always warm through the winter, thanks to their mum-knitted balaclavas. Anyway, a Jampires knitting pattern was obviously going to be a done deal, and Mum revealed the finished item the other weekend:
Bless him! I’m very pleased to have a Jampire of my very own. I have to keep him on a high shelf, as the dog has taken a fancy to him and he’ll end up buried in the back yard!
Here’s another wonderful Jampire made by Joy – thanks to Martin Hand for bringing that to our attention. This chap was made for his daughter Katie’s birthday (picture pinched from Martin’s Twitter stream):
If you’re interested in behind the scenes stuff in the children’s book publishing world, my co-author on Jampires, Sarah McIntyre, has written a couple of interesting articles on the way illustrators are perceived as being something slightly ‘lesser’ than writers, particularly relevant to the creation of Jampires which we very much co-wrote/illustrated.
Here’s the first article: Why I hate the Word ‘Author’, and she’s recently written about how the problem seems to be ingrained in the publishing world’s very own reference systems: The Real Reason Illustrators Keep Getting Overlooked. Some excellent points made and well worth a read.
Lastly, last night I took the aforementioned dog along to the launch of Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz‘s new picture book I Am Henry Finch at my local bookshop, Review. I always think of Alexis and Viv as two people who have as much book DNA as human – they just seem to ‘get’ how books should be made. I think the key thing is they just focus on creating good books and don’t worry about target markets or any of that nonsense. As as result they produce work that is innovative, thought-provoking, funny and just downright beautiful, and Henry Finch is no exception. I loved it. You can see some of the insides at the link above. Using fingerprints for the finches was inspired. Treacle approves:
I’m probably going to be staying off the internet for the remainder of the year, what with Christmas busy-ness and so on, so here’s a quick catch-up post. I’ve had a few computer issues recently so haven’t been able to update as much as I would like, particularly about November’s Thought Bubble Comic Festival up in Leeds.
Sarah wrote a magnificently comprehensive post about the weekend (you’re better off reading that than any account I could write) and what I really like about it is how she gets across how much fun the weekend was.
Particularly because of the help we had from Matt Badham and Molly Bruton in manning the tables (see the photo I’ve pinched from Sarah).They were great company and marvellous sales-people, and it really made a difference having their help. I’m not planning on doing any comic conventions next year so this was a lovely event on which to end 2014.
Speaking of Jampires, if you’re a crafty type and looking for last-minute gifts ideas, why not knit someone their very own Jampire? Graffiti knitter Lauren O’Farrell has conjured up a pattern to make a woolly version of our little jammy dodgers. I guess you could use whatever colour wool you like depending on your favourite flavour of jam. My mum’s a bit of a knitter so I’m hoping she’ll make me one!
It’s been a good year, though not as productive as I’d like (but then I always say that). I had two books out in 2014, and will have two books out next year (that I illustrated) with books that I’ve written following on from that.
I still need lots more projects to keep me busy and all the bills paid, and I’ve loads of ideas, but it takes a while for things to happen, and I keep getting caught out by just how slow the publishing world is. You need to have many irons in the fire, all the time, as so many of the ideas you come up with won’t go anywhere.
I’ve been doing loads of writing and have joined an excellent writing group which has helped with that a lot.
Most recently I’ve written a book around this little chap which is one of the projects I hope will find a home somewhere in the new year. I’ve also ideas for picture books, early readers, comics and more. It’s just a case of getting it all down on the page! And that takes time! TIME! Ugh – there’s never enough of the stuff. So that’s what I’m planning to do over Christmas (with a festively-appropriate break, of course): have an Idea Audit, and spend time Getting Things on Paper so I can start 2015 up-and-running and ready to go!
I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and a brilliant New Year.
Yesterday was a bit of a busy one: off to Oxford for a workshop and ‘show’ (look at the purple-y poster I made for it!) at the fabulous Story Museum. It’s an amazing and highly unusual space devoted to story-making and telling, and a real gem amongst all of Oxford’s better known attractions.
I ran a comic-making workshop in the morning with a Hallowe’en-y/monster-y feel. Lots of keen comic-makers were there with loads of ideas – the beginning of a workshop is usually talkative and boisterous.
But the moment they had to get on with making their own comics the whole room descended into such an intense silence that I wished I’d brought some music with me!
And there were some fantastic comics made – we had some time at the end of the workshop for those brave enough to share their comics with everybody. Some were hilarious, some action-packed, some more gentle – I always try to get across that the great thing about comics is how versatile they are as a medium.
I made a handout for the work-shoppers to take away. There’s a PDF version available to download from my activities page if anyone needs a bit of inspiration during half-term.
One work-shopper brought along his collection of Monster & Chips books to be signed. I was so pleased to see how well-worn the covers were! Nice to meet you, Aydin! It was at that moment that Sarah McIntyre arrived for our afternoon event and she snapped me busily scribbling in the books.
Then Sarah and I rushed off to do our JAMPIRES show! Our performance is still a bit wobbly in some places, especially after the last-minute addition of a Jampires song (!), but it all adds to the fun. I need to brush up on my tambourine skills, that’s for sure. Here’s a pic from after it was all over (pinched from Sarah) with some of the audience and their Jampire artwork:
Sarah always manages to look so elegant in her costume whilst I just look a bit of a fool! Thanks to everyone who came along – both events were sell-outs – and huge thanks to the Story Museum for being such great hosts.
Autumn had a gentle start in these parts: September was warm and lovely, and great walking weather for those of us with small, dog-shaped obligations. Now rain and wind threaten business-as-usual and the thermals and waterproofs come out.
I’ve been amazed by the abundance of conkers on the ground but then everything plant-related has had a good year, apparently. We’ve been lucky to have vegetable plot surplus from in-laws, and the community allotment in the park regularly leaves out an assortment of veggies and an honesty box for passer-by to help themselves.
There don’t seem to be many takers for the conkers – they would have been eagerly collected ‘in my day’, when the boy who lived across the road taught me the various methods for strengthening them in preparation for battle. There was a debate over whether this was considered to be cheating or not. I kept my champion 42-er for years until it finally disintegrated into dust, and I can never resist picking up a few of the shinier specimens just in case I receive a call to arms once more.
Although having a dog does have its downsides, I’ve really benefited from being forced to leave my desk for at least an hour or so each day. As well as getting some exercise and an important break from work, I’ve watched the seasons change, heard the gossip from all the other dog-walkers, seen what’s changing in the neighbourhood (new shops opening, seeing who’s having an extension built or garden re-landscaped, and, slightly more randomly, getting to watch the big top of a circus put up in the park).
It’s made me feel more connected to a city where it’s easy to feel isolated, especially if you spend your days hidden away in front of a computer screen.
I’m currently producing the illustrations for the first of two chapter books. I’ve not written these books and it’s been a lot of fun interpreting someone else’s text. The deadline for the first book has been very ‘ambitious’ in publishing-speak (‘insane’ in Dave-speak) but thankfully my Cintiq has really come into its own. I completed fifty greyscale illustrations in seven days – without any stress – and I’m personally pleased with the way they turned out, which is unusual for me. Let’s hope the publisher likes them too! Here’s a sneak peek:
I’ve spotted Jampires in my local Sainsburys, where it’s part of their Hallowe’en seasonal promotion and is reportedly selling well. Jampires isn’t really a Hallowe’en book but I’m not going to complain! To see Jampires sitting so close to Monster & Chips in the same shop was pretty exciting for me. Also, Nectar points!
I watched Stephen Fry give a talk last week at the Festival Hall to plug his latest volume of memoirs. A lot of well-known authors do these big auditorium events for their book launches, including some children’s writers, and I was interested to see how he approached it. He spoke non-stop for over an hour, completely unscripted, which I suspect is not something that troubles him particularly. He is a non-stop anecdote machine – he said his memoir is very gossipy – with each sentence spoken triggering another reminiscence.
It was all very fascinating but a little tiring after a while, a bit like being trapped at a party with a chatty person who keeps talking whilst you nod politely and scan the crowd for an escape. The main thread of the monologue (I think, as there were so many digressions) was about how an early love for the works of Oscar Wilde made him appreciate the power of writing to transport the reader. Something like that. Anyway, we got the book so job done.
The international book fair in Frankfurt is this week, one of the two book fairs of the year that drive the children’s book market. I’m represented in a couple of places, but was very pleased to see my upcoming picture book in the HarperCollins Children’s Books catalogue: When I’m a Monster Like You – illustrated by Francesca Gambatesa.
This is the only image I’ve seen so far and it makes me very excited to see how Francesca’s interpreted the rest of the story! The catalogue says it’s not out until January 2016 which seems like along way off right now but I’m sure it will go quickly. More about this book (and the two others in the series) in the future.
Everyone loves a bit of fan mail – I do particularly! These letters and pictures have come all the way from Monster & Chips readers (and superb artists) Sammi and Olivia in Australia. Love the colours on these – I’ve not used felt tip marker pens in a long time but these make me want to crack open a pack and get colouring.
Meanwhile, Duncan decided to review M&C on camera:
Brilliant! You can see more of his reviews here.
And here’s a recent and intriguing tweet about Jampires:
I wonder if they caught anything?
Social: Comic Launch by Richy Chandler
Finally, my talented and very busy friend Richy Chandler launched not one, but four comics at fabulous comics boutique Gosh! a few days back. He upped the bar for comic launches by performing song interpretations of the stories (take that, Stephen Fry!).
Richy gave a bit of background to the publications in a short interview with Alex Fitch of Panel Borders. They showcase his talents as a writer and artist (and, from what I know of making anthologies, his skill in wrangling comics artists), and his ability to work in several genres.
His teen-focused webcomic Lucy the Octopus has a new print edition. Poor Lucy gets treated miserably by everyone, but actually finds some friends this time (at least, temporarily). The webcomic updates every week here.
Then there is Rosie & Jacinda, a comic that started as a collaboration with artist Zarina Liew. In this bumper edition of the teenage romantic comedy several other artists join Zarina in art duties. It’s a beautiful looking book and a lot of fun to read.
Bang! Crash! Whizz! is a comic-sized children’s book, illustrated by Sally-Anne Hickman.
It’s very funny and the accompanying song that Richy and Sally-Anne performed has been buzzing around my head ever since.
Finally, Tempo Lush Tales, a chunky anthology containing stories from a variety of genres, illustrated in a variety of styles by a number of excellent comic stalwarts.
There’s buying information here, but do pay a visit to Richy’s table if he’s at a comic convention near you, as his table display is always very well thought out and eye-catching.
I’m kicking off a new work project today. Here’s a sneaky peek at one of the characters! I’m using a Cintiq 21UX for this job, which I recently bought second-hand. I’m hoping it will make the process faster. Unfortunately it doesn’t make me a better artist!
This is a Cintiq – it’s a touch screen device that plugs into your computer and acts as a second screen (you can click on the photo to see it a bit bigger). With a stylus you can draw on it just like paper.
On the screen you can see a two page spread from the book I’m illustrating, with the text all ready in place.
The grey box is where the book designer wants the illustration to go. She’s also high-lighted some text in blue that is relevant to the picture. Using the Cintiq I can draw the illustration straight into the page, rather than using paper, pencils and ink and then having to scan the whole thing.
I always get a bit nervous about new projects and have to take a couple of days to get my head around the task and try not to panic about what I’m being asked to do. Sometimes you just have to go for a walk to get your thoughts together.
Treacle and I found some gigantic fungi growing in the local park on our walk yesterday. Bigger than cabbages and twice as ugly!
And on a trip to Sainsbury’s I was very pleased to see they were stocking the re-packaged Monster & Chips for their Reading Scheme. It looks very nice next to all the other books and they’re doing a buy-one-get-one-free offer, if you’re interested!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.