Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

It is an extremely rare concert where the conductor positively encourages the audience to take photographs, particularly at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall. According to the Hallé’s percussionist, Riccardo Lorenzo Parmigiani, ours rates as one of the greatest concert halls on the planet when it comes to acoustics and sound quality, streaks ahead of the Royal Festival Hall in London and every other in this country. Having toured the world with the Birmingham-based orchestra, Ric believes our RCH sits up there with Hans Scharoun’s 2,440-seat Berlin Philharmonie, though you will be hard pressed to find mention of it in any ‘Best of’ listings, possibly because Nottingham is on nobody’s map of cultural hot spots and the external building is drab in the extreme.

This particular concert was a selection of American pieces played with foot-tapping gusto by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and was a sponsorship event on behalf of three cancer charities. The programme included Leonard Bernstein’s wonderful Symphonic Dances for West Side Story, a piece that calls for nine percussionists and everybody and anybody finger clicking. 

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Nuts ‘n’ Bolts of DOTU

The Dawn of the Unread project is all about promoting libraries and reading, so now that Brick’s contribution is live and kickin’ (see previous blog), it might interest readers to checkout where I chose to set my interiors. While there are excellent new and refurbished local repositories (particularly West Bridgford and Worksop Libraries), I preferred to flog over to Wales to photograph the stunningly beautiful Llandudno Library. Financed by Conwy Borough Council and the Welsh Assembly’s Libraries for Life scheme, the make-over was done in consultation with Opening the Book, a design service whose modus operandi is very much about fitting the library to the needs of the reader-explorer rather than the staff or local authority’s obligations. First visited in the course of presenting a workshop and talk (see earlier blog), Llandudno’s is a library that blows the stereotypical fusty old image of dark corners, dark shelving and dark regiments of catalogued spines out of the water. No doubt a bugger to keep clean, the neutrality of the white and the wonderful innovation of tilted shelving (which can also be seen at Worksop) entice the explorer into the rows and layers of alluring spines much as the glass jars of coloured candy used to in sweet shops (yep, I’m that old). And gone is the rigid Dewey Decimal Classification system, replaced by a reader-centred stacking system that demands more user interaction of the staff and makes the whole experience of visiting the library more like an adventure.

And just for consistency, the final split image of our hero striding into the wilds is actually Nant Ffrancon pass near Snowdon, Nottinghamshire being a tad thin on mountains.

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Read Brick’s ‘Dawn of the Unread’ contribution

It’s been a bit of a technological hike for the back-room boy, Paul Fillingham of Thinkamigo, who has transposed my work for the app and web, but My Long Walk With Slav has finally gone public. Paul’s done a sterling job (as has colourist Jessica Parry) which has involved him totally rebuilding everything I produced for the embeds and resetting all my comic lettering (presumably because he didn’t like my BrickHand font!). F’sure, it’s lost a lot of the rough edges I strive for in my work, but the Unread people know their audience better than me.

Still not totally clear how this ambitious project works in the broader context of promoting libraries, but you can enjoy the full interactive experience here and below is the vid they produced of Brick talking about the work. For some reason, when referring to the shelves of books and DVDs that infest my working environment, they chose to film the rack with the least number of books, but hey… it strikes a blow on behalf of libraries!


8:54 mins on the background to the scripting of ‘My Long Walk With Slav’.

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TEAW in the Independent

Nice trailer for our World War One anthology, To End All Wars, in today’s Independent newspaper. Unfortunately (maybe) the journalist’s angle is to dig Gove in the ribs, but hey.

Can also be read on-line at here, where there is also a chance to read the whole of the Coward’s War story. It seems to have initiated some fairly acerbic comments and arguments, which can’t be bad.

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TEAW Crosses the Channel

In France, comics are called bande dessinée and they are huge. Railway station bookshops devote at least twice as much shelf space to graphic novels as W.H. Smith in the UK give over to prose novels. On a recent trip to Ypres, my co-editor on To End All Wars, Jonathan Clode, discovered local museums displaying racks of comics books about WW1 in their shops, including French translations of Charley’s War. By comparison, he couldn’t find a single title at our Imperial War Museum, not even the uniquely British Charley’s War.

France further boasts a sub-species of journalists and critics who work exclusively within the bande dessinée world. They have their own professional Association des Critiques et Journalistes de Bande Dessinée, with a website that provides critical appreciation of the flood of work that issues from the nation’s creators, a list of their year-on-year most highly rated top fifty titles, and presents coveted annual awards. So it was no surprise to find the French streaks ahead of any British critical comics arena in wanting to interview us about the forthcoming anthology. ACBD asked just three questions, one with a twist, and you can read the English version of our answers here.

But we are delighted that The Lakes International Comic Art Festival has invited us to contribute to this year’s nod to the centenary of the war, which will feature Charley Adlard’s White Death (soon to be republished but in a French language edition), Dutchman Ivan Petrus’ three books on the war and, of course, Charley’s War. TEAW will be providing an illustrated session on editing comics that will feature both editors, plus a writer and an artist who suffered at our hands. We are told we were tough but inspiring editors, so come along and learn something.

Image by Ivan Petrus

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Sherwood Shoe Tree

Spotted on the fringes of Sherwood Forest beside the A57 between Worksop and the junction with the A1. Travelling west, the tree stands 100 meters from the junction next to the second layby and is, of course, a shoe tree. For those devoted to wearing scuffed trainers who are unfamiliar with such an archaic accessory as a shoe tree, below is possibly the Rolls Royce of the species.


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Dawn of the Unread

There is space in my working life for more than To End All Wars, remarkably, among which commissions is a curious project originated by Left Lion’s literature editor, James Walker, entitled Dawn of the Unread. The idea is to produce a dozen or so short on-line comic narratives about local East Midlands figures in literature who will slide into obscurity as they and their stories disappear from the shelves of libraries that are closing down. Something like that…

Not quite having a handle on the premise, I decided to simply do my own thing and tell the story of a book called The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, a gentleman I bumped into in my late twenties and was astonished to find working as a glorified technician at Trent Polytechnic, in Nottingham. His story is about his remarkable escape from the Soviet gulag and subsequent trek across 4,000 miles of mountains, forests and deserts to find freedom in India. My story is about the huge impact Slav’s book had on me when I was a kid.

I also explore the controversy that erupted around the book, particularly after the Peter Weir film that strove hard to disassociate itself from its source, not least by calling itself The Way Back. Was Slav’s book actually a work of fiction? Did anybody escape the gulag and make this remarkable journey across the wilderness? Does it really matter when the book and its author inspired so many to undertake their own incredible journeys?

This mock outdoor magazine cover is the first completed artwork for my contribution to the project. It acts as an embed from the main comic pages, and is the gateway into a handful of short articles exploring issues raised in the comic, as featured on this cover. It will be animated to turn and open, revealing the mock article to readers.

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TEAW cover… sorted!

As Jonathan Clode and myself trundle ever closer to receiving the finished art for the remaining stories in To End All Wars, it is with a sigh of relief that we have finally sent Soaring Penguin Press the cover art, which we are delighted with. Painted by Lizzy Waterhouse, with rain by the ever dependable Neil McClements, our joy is that it doesn’t look like the cover of an archetypal war comic book but rather an anthology of war artists’s work. The content, which wraps round, depicts no human carnage and yet encapsulates the essence of the  materialschlacht of the conflict

(Any other versions of the cover you bump into on the net were simply knocked together for the American pre-publicity.)

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“…plainly a just war.”

From ‘Where Others Follow’, story by Dan Hill, art by Todor Hristov

For those who don’t know, Michael Gove is the Secretary of State for  Education whose job appears to be to dream up reforms to Britain’s blighted education system, then dump them some time after it’s become blindingly obvious to everybody else that his proposal is utterly hair-brained. He fights his corner long enough to display his abject failure to grasp the basic tenents of education, then retreats bruised to his luxury hole in Surrey or London, both of which the tax payer seems to have foot the bill for furnishing.

Having rewritten the history curriculum to give pupils a ‘better grasp of the broad sweep of British history’, Gove has rammed both feet in his mouth by lambasting ‘leftwing’ (which should be two words, Michael) interpretations of WWI, apparently spawned by the television comedy Blackadder, and praising the debacle as ‘plainly a just war’ fought against the ‘ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order.’

Gove further tries to salvage the reputation of military leaders like Field Marshal Haig, known by those who fought and survived it as ‘the butcher of the Somme’, holding him up as ‘a patriotic leader grappling honestly with the new complexities of industrial warfare.’ The idea that the Great War was a ‘series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite’ is nothing more than a left-wing conspiracy to ‘belittle Britain and its leaders’ and that our island nation’s role in the holocaust was marked by ‘nobility and courage.’

Ignoring his weak grasp of the broad sweep of world history, Gove has laid out the table for what we feared would be the tenor of the forthcoming commemorations, as seen by the out-of-touch elite that currently rules the UK with their thinly veiled but ruthless social Darwinism. And that’s why we’ve devoted so much of the past year working hard with our generous contributors to produce the WWI anthology, To End All Wars… because Gove and his cronies are simply wrong! 16.5 million lives were lost directly attributable to a war that need never have been fought, had the unelected leaders of Europe given a toss about anything other than power mongering. Geddit, Michael, you upper class twit!?


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Conwy Gigs

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.

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