Photo courtesy of North Wales Library Service.
“If you want to learn how to draw, you first have to learn how to see.”
Recently back from a series of gigs in North Wales promoting good health, good reading and good libraries. In fact quite remarkable libraries, particularly the newly refurbished one in Llandudno. When was the last time you saw shiny white curved shelves in a library, tilted so browsers don’t need to stoop low to read spines? Over £400,000 and a load of consultation with Opening the Book went into doing up the place (and it’s worth checking some photos on-line). Even in my brief visit, it was evident the library was forcefully re-establishing its position as an indispensable community resource.
Between delivering a cartooning workshop, a talk about ‘Depresso’ and one about wilderness from the travel writing side of me, I got to meet a ‘bibliotherapist’, and well you might ask, “What in hell’s name… ?” After listening to her expound on the intricacies and subtleties of her ‘profession’ for the length of a full AngloWelsh breakfast I can only surmise that bibliotherapists a) get a kick from the smugness of having read more books than the lesser being sat in front of them and b) need to get a job as a librarian, because they do what they do, recommend books.
The Evans family Bible with the name of Ellis Humphrey Evans (Hedd Wyn) third from the top. To the right, the brass ‘medal’ insultingly presented to the families of those who were murdered in WW1 by the insanities of politicians and military commanders on both sides.
Also got a chance to swing by Hedd Wyn’s family farmhouse in the hills round Trawsfynydd. Hedd is the Welsh war poet who wasn’t a War Poet but whose story has been graphically brought to life by my mucker on the WW1 anthology, Jonathan Clode, and his artist, Catherine Pape. Hedd was killed at Passchendaele and postumously awarded The Black Chair at that year’s Eistenddfod. Saw the chair (remarkable piece of craftsmanship… by a Belgium refugee) but didn’t realise he had previously won four other bardic chairs. You couldn’t swing a cat in the parlour for black chairs! And got to meet his descendant, legend in his own lifetime, Gerard Evans MBE. Gerard isn’t a great lover of the English, but forced himself to accept the Empire medal for services to keeping the name of Hedd alive. Refusing invites to Buck Palace and even Cardiff, he had it bestowed on him at the door of the farmhouse. The man has style, and a roving hand, according to the librarian who accompanied me.
I don’t generally flag up web comics, but seeing as how it is Halloween and this short story made me jump out of my skin… Do not go there if you are of a nervous disposition!
New to the writing credits of Brick’s alter ego, John Stuart Clark, is a short story based on his years as a ‘tatter’ working the yarn factories, garages and back-knockings of Nottingham. It appears in the third anthology of themed writing published by Five Leaves Publishing, a series that has garnered much praise in the columns of the TLS. Also on board are such literary heavyweights as IMPAC winner Jon McGregor, crime writer John Harvey, chair of the Crime Writers Association Danuta Reah, and dramatist Michael Eaton.
Scrappin’ wi’ Scouse tells the story of the legendary antics of the city’s arch scrounger, William Holloway, and the free-ranging scrapmen who operated at the margins of legality back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Barely three months before the deadline for finished art, editors Jonathan Clode and myself have completed editorial work on all the scripts to be included in TO END ALL WARS: The WW1 Graphic Anthology – 26 in total. It’s been a mammoth task and a huge learning experience that has undoubtedly improved our personal writing skills, not to mention our powers of diplomacy. Out there in Ireland, Finland, Malta, Japan, Scotland, Wales and England, there is a platoon of writers who have worked their socks off for this publication, and we are deeply indebted to every last one of them, even the two who gave us grief.
At present, artists in the UK, USA, Spain, Italy and Ireland are burning candles to provide us with roughs (for picture editing) and final artwork, ably supported by their authors, who are scouring the web for picture references on their behalf. The final deadline for our publishers (Soaring Penguin Press) is 1st January, 2014, so expect coronaries to start kicking in around the middle of December, but to find out more about this seminal project, try the TEAW website.
As publishers beat a rapid advance to the doors of the WW1 anthology, ‘To End All Wars’, those contributors that can are being asked to double-time on producing sample pages of finished art. This is page 12 from 14 of ‘The Iron Dice’ by Brick, a story that puts the Kaiser, Tsar, Emperor, Archduke and Lord Grey on trial at The Hague for the crime of starting the war. Their inquisitor is Svejk, the eponymous hero of ’The Good Soldier…’, whose story is incomplete in the book. Here he re-emerges as a more sombre character, maimed and battered by the war, and not a little long-sighted. The court is staffed by victims of the war, and the public gallery is occupied by a flow of casualties.
Beneath it are Sarah Jones’ pencil thumbnails for ‘Die and Become’, a story I’ve written about the German artist Otto Dix and his incredible Der Krieg series of etchings. Based on his horrific experiences at both fronts and the Spring Offensive, they far outstrip anything produced by official war artists, and stand head and shoulders above Goya’s Disasters of War. Dix suffered serial attacks of PTSD after the war, and Sarah’s visualisation of one of these horrific attacks is shaping up to be a visual treat. In my story, the episode acts as a link between a glimpse of Dix’s life in the trenches and life as a struggling artist in the 1920s.
‘The Letter’ by Brick – one of the interleaf images
Our WWI anthology, ‘To End All Wars’, is all-but done, in terms of the collection of stories. We have 24 either completed or on the way, and have the joy of finding the Pleece Brothers biting our hands off to fill the final slot. 12 stories are presently with illustrators working on thumbnails, so we wait with baited breath to see early results. Two treatments have crossed my desk thus far, both amazing.
Recruiting ‘names’ for the intervening single illustrations progresses slowly. We have half a dozen signed up but haven’t really applied a great deal of effort in that direction. There is still plenty of time, but what we’ve received thus far is impressive. People are really grasping where we are coming from with this anthology and relishing the work. Those that don’t or feel they are ‘too big’ to face the ignominy of being edited fall by the wayside. Interestingly, all of those are professionals!
After dinner, the crockery’s removed and the drawing begins…
This is NOT a Photoshop job!
Generally considered another success, this year’s festival (19th – 21st April) was the tenth and broke with tradition by flowing into Sunday, a day the town struggles to attract visitors (if only because public transport adamantly refuses to operate on ye olde day of rest). It stuck with tradition by inviting along a flock of gag, editorial, corporate and strip ‘toonists and illustrators who spent the evenings crying into their wines, beers and gins about the parlous state of the print medium. Strangely confusing the art with the media that carries and occasionally pays for it, the maudlin cry seemed to be ‘Cartooning is dead, long live…’ etc. While the public were blissfully unaware of the hanging black cloud and no doubt hugely entertained by the live cartooning and free caricatures, the contrast with the verve and excitement among practitioners at comix events was startling for a cross-over ‘toonist like myself.
Delivering a two-day workshop on producing mini-comics, I found myself stuck on an island adrift from the mainland of the event working my socks of with a small but perfectly formed group of eager learners. While well supported by festival helpers, not one of the great and the good visited us to encourage the next generation of ‘toonists, which was a shame. Aside from seeing what we were up to, they missed out on visiting the grave of Ebenezer Scrooge!
Just in case anybody out there believes the rubbish about how highly respected Mrs T. was around the world, check out this from Kenyan cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa. It would be nice if they wheeled out for her funeral all the cadavers of the nasty bits of work she supported during her reign, such as Pinochet, Ceausescu, Botha, Mobutu, Reagan, even Mugabe (having first shot him).
During my travels in the 80′s and 90′s, the only country where I found whole-hearted support for the woman was in Hungary, a country that still believes the vicious myths of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are an undisputed fact!
A blast from the 1980s, scanned from the Peace News anthology, ‘Too Much Pressure’.
Hard to admit, but I owe Margaret Thatcher a debt of gratitude. Her rise to power and my total abhorrence of the threat posed by her strident politics gave me no option in the late Seventies but to become a political cartoonist. My first professional commissions came in 1979, the year she became Prime Minister. I couldn’t draw very well and was pretty ignorant about British politics, but my background, where I lived and the people I mixed with imbued me with a feel for ensuing events that found me able to articulate the outrage before it was expressed on the streets. Just how far she was prepared to go to dismantle Britain’s nationalised industries, chip away at the welfare state, and destroy the power of the unions I don’t think any of us could have predicted.
I live in the heart of what was the East Midlands coalfields. When Thatcher went to war on the NUM, I joined the picket lines and assisting with relief for miners families, but I was also the editorial cartoonist on The Chad, the Mansfield newspaper. You would imagine the local paper would be supportive of the miners and their families, given they accounted for a large portion of sales, but no. Then owned by the Linneys, a powerful local dynasty (still) who also controlled a huge print works and chain of stationers, it seems the word came from on high that Chairman Linney was less than impressed by the cartoons in his rag. They appeared to be somewhat biased against the police state, which is what the East Midlands felt like during the strike, what with units being bussed in from all over the country and raging street battles outside pits like Ollerton. The cartoon that finally got me sacked is featured, and even then seemed strikingly innocuous.
As for Prime Minister Thatcher, I remain outraged by what she did to this country and the legacy she’s inflicted on youngsters in decimated and isolated mining communities like Harworth, where today drug and alcohol abuse, and demotivation are the villager’s biggest headache. For all that and much more, Thatcher was also the last charismatic political leader in Britain who had a vision, a far cry from the grey, corrupt, corporate and incompetent toadies we’ve been saddled with ever since.
Old Nick won’t know what’s hit him!