University of Nottingham workshop

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Have just completed my first gig as the university’s School of English Honorary Assistant Professor of Comics. It went extremely well, I’m told, with my efforts garnering such embarrassing endorsements as “brilliant” and “wonderful.” The stories the students devised quite staggered me with their variety and precision, each one containing elements that could only be envisaged in comics form. They have now taken them away to complete in their own time and in their own way.

Bearing in mind several do not have the drawing skills to do their narrative full justice, it was exciting that they didn’t flinch from making a bold fist of their stick illustrations. By September we hope to have a small but perfectly formed on-line anthology of their work.

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Dawn of the Unread Hardcopy

This gallery contains 10 photos.

As the interactive digital comic experience, Dawn of the Unread, moves towards closure bearing accolades from such as the Guardian University Awards (it's a long story involving Trent University), it is good to hear that in a couple of months … Continue reading
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TEAW Eisner Award Nominations


Character sketches for the French platoon in Steve Martin's 'Allies of Reason' story for TEAW.

Character sketches for the French platoon in Steve Martin’s ‘Allies of Reason’ story for TEAW.

There is a telling irony that my most successful comics book to date, in terms of sales, is the one book that will not earn me a bent nickel. With all the contributor’s fees going to MSF for their battle against ebola (see earlier posts), all co-editor Jonathan Clode and myself have to show for 18 months hard graft on To End All Wars is a single copy of the finished anthology and a shedload of experience that reminds us to run a thousand miles from any invitation to repeat such an undertaking… unless it comes dangling a banker’s bonus before it. Now a sharp blow to the body has been inflicted by the announcement that our humble compendium has been nominated for not one but two Eisner Awards – Best Anthology and Best Reality-Based Work.

eisnerawards_logo_12Naturally we are delighted for all those amazing contributors who worked their pinkies to the bone on a project they clearly believed in and, we hope, found immense satisfaction in being a part of. We have already expressed our undying gratitude to one and all, and I would love to think we will walk away with one or t’other award on their behalf. If the judges knew the full story of the ethos behind the project and everybody’s struggle to bring TEAW to fruition, I would have no doubts about it, but I ain’t holding my breath. Sadly the world of professional comics does not embrace rank amateurs and relative beginners, which most of us were, but it is nice to know our combined efforts have been noticed.

If you enjoyed our efforts and are in any way connected with comics, you are eligible to vote in the Eisners at

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Alan Sillitoe Memorial Anthology

Moves are afoot to keep Nottingham’s celebrated author Alan Sillitoe in the public eye by publishing an anthology of writing by other esteemed local authors reflecting on the city, the man and the importance of his work. I never met Alan, but everything I’ve heard since becoming involved in this project points to him being immensely generous towards fledgling writers and utterly scurrilous with regard to the establishment, authority and the publishing industry. He was also a dogged smoker, only giving up in the final years of his life.

So when asked if I would contribute something to the anthology it seemed a no-brainer to pose Alan in a Nottingham bar (the most famous being The Trip to Jerusalem) toting for a light and surrounded by local characters. When it came to the design of the image, it also made some kind of sense to produce a kind of homage to Manet’s famous painting, though I stress the homage begins and ends with the dynamics of the design. For example, the deeper meaning of Manet’s bowl of oranges (apparently underlining that the woman behind the bar is a prostitute) is tempered by changing them to Bramley apples, first grown in Southwell, Nottinghamshire and named after the local butcher!

It is my understanding that this anthology and other proposed initiatives around Sillitoe’s Nottingham legacy is all part of a move to try and get a statue erected to him, which would be a nice fillip for those pursuing the city’s bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature.

(The other characters seen in the mirror behind Alan are, left to right, busker ‘the xylophone man’, writer and activist Ray Gosling, playwright Stephen Lowe, poet/musician Dave Turner, author DH Lawrence, independent publisher Ross Bradshaw, Forest manager Brian Clough, pub-trader ‘the cockles man’, poet Lord Byron and songwriter Wayne Evans.)

'The Bar at The Trip' by Brick

‘The Bar at The Trip’ by Brick

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Charlie Hebdo

imgres-4Having met them at French and Irish cartoon festivals, I knew two of the cartoonists assassinated in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, not well but enough to feel the pain. Any encounter with the French cartoonists was invariably a roller coaster of sharp wit and rollicking humour, but I had a particular affinity with them because of my passion for cycling (Le Tour) and rugby (Six Nations), neither of which the Scottish had made much of an impression on at that time, something my French colleagues persistently rubbed in… in the nicest possible way.

I followed the unfolding horror in real time, acutely aware that Cabu and Wolinski knew they were marked men and tempting fate with every issue of a paper that wore it’s origins in the revolt of May ’68 with uncompromising pride. Unlike British cartoonists, they talked about their public role as fools of court with a passion and commitment that maybe could only come from individuals whose nation had been through a real Revolution, in 1789, and Terror, four years later. Unlike Private Eye or Punch, Charlie Hebdo was vehemently left wing and totally unapologetic for being blatantly so. In part, it was also incredibly silly, thoroughly juvenile and hilariously irresponsible, with now tragic consequences.

imgres-3The assassination of political cartoonists is nothing new. Arab cartoonist Naji al-Ali, famous for including the ‘little man’ Handala in all his work, was shot in London in July 1987 and died five weeks later. Though he was probably rubbed out by Mossad, Naji was even-handed, equally vociferous at ripping into the Palestinian authorities as the Zionists. Kenya, Russia (then the USSR), Malaysia, Rwanda, Iran and many other less than democratic countries have sacrificed truth-sayers, and many many more wielders of the mighty pen in democratic states have and continue to receive death threats for their work. During the Second World War, Hitler effectively took out a contract on David Low, editorial cartoonist for the Evening Standard, and Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard will be living in fear for a lot longer than Salman Rushdie, if indeed he makes it to a natural death.

The response to events in Paris from cartoonists around the world has been strident but, as with most atrocities, variable in the extreme. It is difficult to know what to say about any outrage that everybody of sound mind unreservedly condemns. This was well illustrated by many of the post-9/11 cartoons that either drowned in their own sentimentality or said nothing beyond metaphorically laying a wreath. Martyn Turner of the Irish Times depicted the Twin Towers as a bar chart, comparing the thousands killed on American soil by terrorists with the much larger towers of the hundreds of thousands American Forces have killed on foreign soil, and received threats for pointing out that truth.

imgres-2Jan 08 15 Je Suis CharlieSome of the ‘toons that succeeded for me are illustrated. They fall into either the ‘fuck off’ gut response from the likes of Dave Brown of The Independent and Gado in Kenya, or ones that took analysis of the situation further, like Latuff’s in the Middle East Monitor. (In fact, during the so-called War on Terror, Arab cartoonists have often been far more perceptive and searing than those in the West, and Al Jazeera has been forthright in collecting and publishing them without editorialising.) The least successful have been either the ones that attempted to make fools of the terrorists, as with Steve Bell’s offering in The Guardian, or pulled out the ol’ sword v pen cliché to manipulate; a sure sign of cartoonist’s block.

6a0105369e6edf970b01bb07d5137e970d-800wiB6wFfiaIcAAIgpAWhen they are about to bury friends of yours, it is emotionally hard to believe the pen is mightier though, of course, the intellect understands that the ideas etched in ink are far more powerful and potentially fatal than the bullets lodged in blood.

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Lakes International Comic Arts Festival

Team TEAW at The Lakes – (back row) Dan Hill, Selina Lock, Brick, Stuart Richards, Robert Brown (front row) Kate Charlesworth, Jonathan Clode, Jessica Martin, Jenny Linn-Cole

Belgian creator Ivan Petrus at work on the streets of Kendal painting a WW1 British tank for auction on behalf of the festival.










Woodrow Phoenix presenting his and the world’s largest comic book.

Just back from my first visit to this snappily titled binge of most things comics-wise that aren’t big time corporate and oozing testosterone. Hugely enjoyable, and great to meet so many contributors to TEAW and bathe in the esteem the anthology has garnered among so many of those I truly respect. Scott McCloud’s talk was extremely entertaining, even educational, and several of the other gigs I gatecrashed were enlightening for a newcomer like myself. Our own TEAW gig on editing played to an unexpectedly packed house and went down well. It was recorded (for some reason) and is streamed on Resonance FM‘s Panel Borders series here.

But I guess the most enjoyable element, as always, was just chewing the cud with other creatives who largely spend their days locked in their own heads producing these weird things called comics. I was billeted with Ivan Petrus from Belgium (of The Neuport Gathering fame) and his pal from the Netherlands, Sytse Algera, who is a street copper seconded as an adviser to the government who writes cop comics for internal use (instructional material) and general consumption. Fascinating. Ivan and myself discovered a shared passion for Leonardo da Vinci, as well as WW1, and he spent Friday night pitching me the entire movie script of a wonderful Leonardo-inspired love fantasy he’s written that sadly will never be made due to the budget limitations on Flemish films.


Festival highlights for me were walking the streets of Kendal checking out the window displays complementing the festival, standing before the largest comic in the world and reading it as Woodrow Phoenix patiently turned the pages, and the hilarious cabaret turn laid on by the Knockabout ‘Fringe’ for Saturday night. What was the name of that fabulously anarchic stand-up?

Many thanks go to those who slaved behind the scenes of the festival, and to all the locals and professionals who were so welcoming. Long may it survive and develop.

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Leonardo’s Bicycle – The Movie

Well, okay, not so much a movie as a flick that illustrates something of where I’m at with the maestro and his controversial doodle. With two chapters to completion, I’m a little nervous about my telling of the convoluted story; whether it’s just too damn nerdy for y’average reader, never mind publisher. Time will tell, but gentle forays like this into the Ken Burns facility of iMovie help to confirm that it is a fascinating and truly bizarre story that needs to be out there. Enjoy…

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‘To End All Wars’ exhibition

There is still time to catch this wonderful exhibition of material from the critically acclaimed WW1 comic book anthology at the Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop, Machynlleth in Wales. Beautifully mounted by the owners of the shop, Diane and Geoff Bailey, it includes original art and enlarged prints of comics pages, along with their preceding thumbnails, plus highly informative annotations. Hopefully Geoff and Di’s hard work will be moving on to libraries in Gwynedd and elsewhere, but the whole so magnificently complements their unique and delightful bookshop, it is worth the trip to see them in their original placing.

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‘Depresso’ revisited

A couple of years since it was first published by Knockabout Comics, there has been renewed interest in this humorous comic book, graphic novel, whatever you want to call it about depression, breakdowns and the harrowing road to recovery. Maybe David Cameron’s impassioned plea to the Scots not to turn their back on England has raised a bit of a debate in restricted circles about ex-public schoolboys, their emotionally deprived childhoods and stumbling expressions of cod emotion as adults. Who knows, but it seemed as good a time as any to complement that debate with a little film about the book.

‘DEPRESSO or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Embrace Being Bonkers’

Knockabout Comics   2010  £12:99 or cheaper

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TEAW – roundup 1

Good to see The Lakes Comic Art Festival employing one of the images from TEAW (in fact, one of mine) in their final promotional poster. Jonathan Clode and myself, along with a couple of our contributors, will be there in Keswick on 18th October talking about the methods and pitfalls of editing comics (as against content managing, which seems to be what most editors do).

And good to hear that the wonderful little exhibition mounted by Diane and Geoff Bailey at their Pen’rallt gallery bookshop in Machynlleth, Wales, has attracted such interest and considerable sales. The Welsh launch at the beginning of August included a reading of The Black Chair, JC’s Hedd Wyn story, performed by actors, no less.

Finally, for those still wondering whether to part with hard-earned dosh for a copy of TEAW to the benefit of MSF, below is a short film featuring some of the brilliant artwork you could come to own.

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