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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Halloween Comic (not funny)

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!

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‘Scrappin’ wi’ Scouse’

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. 

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TEAW Update

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.

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The Iron Dice

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.

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Almost There…

‘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!

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