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!
Rated as ‘near perfection’ by French readers and critics, Régis Loisel’s Peter Pan is a sumptuous and, by all accounts, beautifully scripted bande dessinee prequel of J.M. Barrie’s story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Far from a cute Disney rendering of Peter’s early life, Loisel presents a dark, adult narrative that subjects the lad’s innocent flightiness to the trials and traumas of a Neverland whose underbelly is plagued by evil and ugliness. Clochette (Tinkerbell) is something of a scheming vamp and Hook is a decidedly troubled man, while Neverland has never been more forbidding… apparently.
Like so many examples of the best of bande dessinee, the collected edition of Loisel’s Peter Pan is currently only available in French. As someone who would happily trade his entire superhero collection for an English version of L’Aigle sans Orteils, it saddens me that we can count on one hand how few of these superb examples of the comic art have been translated, if only because the Yanks could learn a thing or two from them. But John Anderson, that adventurous man at Soaring Penguin Press, is sticking head and shoulders over the fiscal cliff to raise the £8,000 needed to translate and publish Loisel’s masterpiece. Please support the venture here, and tell every comics fan you know to join in and dig deep.
From rough to finished art – incredible.
Early sketches of some principal characters for the WWI short story, ‘The Iron Dice’
As every village, city and country affected by the so-called Great War gears up to remember the centenary next year, I find myself co-editing an indie compilation of comics stories, writing at least one of them and drawing the ten page opener. (Like I haven’t got enough to do!) In monitoring preparations in my home town of Nottingham, where the Sherwood Foresters are the local regiment and air ace Albert Ball the local hero, I find it amazing to discover so few folk have any idea why the world descended into armed conflict in August 1914. At best, “Some Duke got killed somewhere in Austria, yeh?” At worst, “It was the Germans what wanted to invade us.”
So I’m delighted that my opening short story imaginatively tackles the reasons Europe stumbled into war. It’s taken some doing, but I’ve unpicked the whys and wherefores, presenting them in the simplest possible terms, at the same time drawing parallels with today’s manoeuvrings around the Eurozone crisis. I put the principals in the dock and examine the miscalculations that lead to The Great Blunder of the first world war.
If any budding writer or ‘toonist has an overpowering urge to contribute to this collection of fact-based stories, drop us a line with two ideas (no longer than two paragraphs, please) – your fave rave and a back-up idea.
I’m no big poetry reader, but have two books to draw to your attention, two from totally different ends of the emotional spectrum. Born to Giggle is a chuckle-stuffed collection of hilarious verses from some of the best children’s poets on the block, including John Hegley, Jill Townsend and Brian Patten. Heavily illustrated by some of the best cartoonists in the gutter (moi included), it’s been produced to support Save the Children, so is an all-round winner to buy for your favourite brat.
Grime Kerbstone Psalms is a whole other ballgame, and actually does come out of the gutters once occupied by first-time published poet, Miggy Angel (to whom John Cooper Clarke wrote, ‘I like your style’). Miggy chronicles the world of ‘pavement tramps’ and ‘cobble-stone kids’, of fried brains and seeping abscesses, but never ceases to find hope and simmering creativity in that dark disenfranchised world. It’s heavy going, thoroughly rewarding and, I suspect, what poetry was invented for.