It’s here, yay!

In case anyone was worried, the Protest books arrived yesterday, and they are fine. More than fine actually. I’d even go so far as to say great! I really was beginning to have literal sleepless nights over them, so this is very cheering.

You can see a flick-through, at the chipped nail varnished and multi-silver-ringed hands of my daughter, on Instagram:

The colours are good, the gutters have all worked (*falls over*), nothing’s cut off or in the wrong order. If there’s just one thing I’d alter, it’s probably that the cover still isn’t precisely the brightness/levels I wanted it, but it is better than the proof and to be honest every other thing about it is spot-on, so I am a happy and relieved bunny.

If you find a typo, don’t tell me.

So, this week, my comics work has been:

Figuring out how much to charge

This is a tricky one, based partly on a balance of how much I think it’s worth and how much people are psychologically likely to pay, but of neccessity also taking into account the cost of printing, postage, packaging, and PayPal fees (nearly forgot those).

Getting to grips with packaging

I’d pre-ordered some nice shallow boxes from Kite. The books are 20cm x 20cm and the closest I could find was these, which are 21cm x 24 cm – which works well if people also order the Draw the Line book.

If they don’t, the book rattles around a bit, so I’ve been experimenting with various solutions. My first try was to cut the box down, but that was time consuming and rather unsatisfactory, so now I’m inserting little folded rectanglar cuboids of card to keep everything in place. I guess I could have just wrapped the book in bubble wrap, but this seems slightly nicer.

Setting up a Shop page on my site

Kudos to both WordPress and PayPal for explaining how to put basic payment buttons on a WP site in an easy-to-follow fashion.

These work, although my friend Dave has kindly let me know that the ‘success’ page is broken. Looking briefly at this, it looks like it’s customisable only if you have a business PayPal account, but I’ll dig more into it when I have time – I don’t want every single customer to feel slightly confused as they complete their purchase.

Another realisation: if the title of your book begins with the words ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’, at first sight your shop page is going to look like it’s broken. Gah!

Trying to make sure everyone’s aware the book is available

… which just means lots of mentions on social media and hoping people don’t get too bored of hearing about it. I am trying to intersperse the sales tweets with other stuff! Fortunately I always seem to have spare thoughts rattling around my head, and the cats are sick of hearing them.

It does occur to me that I didn’t include my website or social media handles anywhere in the book, which I usually remember to do. Thankfully my name is quite Googlable so it probably doesn’t matter too much, but I ought to dig out my business cards, and include them in the parcels.

Talking of social media, I took my usual grumbles about time and the impossibility of completing long graphic novel projects onto Twitter this week. I’m not sure why, I was putting on my socks and making the bed and just suddenly felt like airing the topic a bit more to a slightly different audience than you, my dear blog readership.

Some nice advice came in. I’d divide it into the wholly practical (‘get a grant’ or ‘do a little bit each day’) which really just proved to me that I have considered everything obvious without finding the right solution for my particular situation, and the – for want of a better word – spiritual (pondering why we do these nigh-impossible things, if not for financial gain). These were the tweets that provided new food for thought for me.

If you’re interested to read some of the replies, the thread starts here.

I’ve just written a paragraph and then deleted it in case the people involved see it – but dedicated readers of this blog will probably know who I mean when I say: if you send someone a fully worked-through pitch that has taken a few days to put together, and it’s a ‘no’, I wish they’d write to tell you so!

But on the other hand, a really exciting enquiry came my way this week, which I’ll be equally opaque about for now, until details are firmed up. I will just say that I’m pretty certain it’s a direct result of my having reorganised my website to be so clear about the direction of my work and what I want to work on.

It did make me realise that I should perhaps be a bit more welcoming on my commissions page though! I probably have the world’s only ‘Commission Me’ page that actively tells people I’m unlikely to have time to work for them. :)

Have a nice Sunday! Buy my book!

Draw the Line books – limited advance copies in the UK

Street Noise Books’ edition of Draw the Line won’t be officially available in the UK until it launches on 10 March – but I have a limited number of copies that I can ship to UK addresses now. Please visit my new shop to purchase.

(Yes, I’ve set up a shop page! Very rudimentary, and I’m awaiting the first sale so I can check I’ve set PayPal up properly. Don’t let that put you off or anything…)

Draw the Line by Myfanwy Tristram and the DTL artists
Draw the Line

Royalties will continue to go to Choose Love, the charity helping refugees around the world.

I’m also making a special offer for the first five people who buy a copy for a UK school: I will draw a protest placard inside the front cover. You can choose the slogan on the sign, or you can leave it to me to pick one (I’ve had quite a bit of experience lately).

If you are outside the UK, please see this post for more details of where to buy.

Protest, rumbling on

I’m a bit late with this week’s blog post, but in the spirit of ‘never explain, never apologise’, here we go!

Great news this morning, as the Lords reject the anti-protest measures Priti Patel added to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

That’s great on two fronts: one for UK democracy, and one, much more selfishly, for my comic, which will continue to be relevant given that the legislation will continue to be fought out between the Lords and Commons. (I mean, I’m not really that selfish, but it is the best outcome for me, ha ha).

Literally a few minutes ago the Protest book went to print (I’m calling it a book now; it’s managed to rise up the rungs from my initial conception of a zine, through comic, to its actual incarnation as a book. It has a spine, and a lovely matte cover, and because it’s 80 pages long, it is almost a centimetre thick – that’s a book, right?!).

Over on Instagram (where you can also see a grainy video of the proof copy taken in a dimly-lit room), I used a laboured analogy that I’m going to wheel out again now. Bear with me.

Down here in the south, we tend to think of the UK as being mainly England, with Scotland plonked on the top. If you were planning to travel the length of the country, it’s tempting to think you’ve almost finished when you cross the Scottish border. But, as those who live further north know very well, Scotland makes up an entire third of the length of the country.

And that’s what making a comic is like. You think you’ve finished when you’ve drawn the last page, but the print preparation, proofing, colour adjustments and retweaking takes almost as long again. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: if I was one of them there rich comic makers, I’d definitely employ someone to do all of this for me.

My life seems to have been shaped by a years-long battle with RGB and CMYK and I really thought I’d got it this time. Reader, I used Affinity Photo so I could create my files in CMYK. I diligently saved them as CMYK TIFFs. And then like an absolute chump, I exported them ready for print as TIFFS.


So that added a bit of time and worry. I’m really glad I sent off for a proof copy print even if it delayed printing by a week, because I found not only a typo and a spread that hadn’t worked quite right, but that many of the images had a slightly grey cast.

Not massively grey – as my friend Simon pointed out, the kind of muted tones we’re used to seeing under the overcast English skies – but enough that it was the first thing I noticed when I opened the envelope and pulled the proof out.

Simon also lent me what is surely one of the most lovely things on earth – his set of Pantone swatches – and showed me how to use the eyedropper tool to see how colours would actually print out.

Based on this, I’ve tweaked everything to be a bit less cyan and a bit more yellow, and because I can’t just go on getting endless proof copies printed, I’ve called that good. I’m now in that awful period before the comics arrive where I could in theory have accidentally catapulted them into horribly garishness because of the difference between screen and print. Or I could have accidentally reverted back to former versions as I made my tweaks. I don’t think I have, but this is the sort of thing that plays on my mind in the wee small hours.

As I say, I’m not really constitutionally cut out to make comics this way. Maybe I should go back to the old photocopiers… or, more realistically, maybe I should spend a bit more time working out a file naming system so I know exactly which are the most recent versions etc (‘amended amendments’ was my finest file name for this project).

Next time. Next time I will do everything right.

Next up, I need to decide how to sell these online. At the moment I’m tending towards a simple PayPal button on this site.

The exclusivity clause in my contract with The Nib (for my Guerilla Gardening two-pager) has run its course so I’ve added that to the site. I also did manage to get a pitch in for their Cities issue by deadline. Three pitches, actually. Haven’t heard back yet. Maybe I never will? Watch this space.

Print prep and comics doings

I’m sitting in bed with a sore throat, feeling knackered and also cheated, as this is the second time I’ve been ill this month. Several lateral flow tests insist that it’s not covid. At this point, who knows anything? Other than how annoying it is to have limited energy when you just want to be getting things done.

Well, I have slowly been getting some things done. My protest comic is now with the printer.

Cover reveal, cover reveal

Despite my rush to have it out in the world*, I have requested a single sample printing ahead of the first run, due to both my usual nervousness about colours replicating properly, and, this time, because of some particularly tricky placements.

There are a few drawings that run across two pages, and because it’s a fairly long comic it’s to be perfect bound (ie, it’ll have a spine) which means the spreads won’t open flat – some of every page will end up in the glued gutter. So I’ve been prepping those as best I can: it might be my current wooziness, but whenever I thought I’d got it all straight in my head, I realised I hadn’t at all… (fingers crossed) I got there in the end.

The other way in which I made things a bit tricky for myself was in having so many drawings of people who are cut off at the bottom of the image. Fine for Instagram, a bit more difficult on the printed page.

Rather than have their bottom margin floating awkwardly above a white space, I extended each and every drawing so that it bleeds a little lower – so, no matter where the printer’s guillotine falls, there still won’t be a gap.

Testament to digital drawing that you can do this so easily, I suppose.

Extra long torso for print purposes

If I’d been able to plan ahead, I could have drawn all the images onto the page templates ahead of time and saved myself a lot of faffing at the last minute and against the clock; but as usual with my stuff it came about more organically than that. I started it as an Inktober project, only intending to share on Instagram, and gradually came to realise I wanted it in physical form as well.

Still, it’s a learning for next time innit.

What else?

  • I’ve been setting up an LDComics online event to coincide with Draw The Line’s UK publication date in March. You can’t book yet – it’ll be available after they’ve done the February meetup – but I am so very excited.

    I invited five of the Draw the Line artists to join me speaking about comics for making social and political change. Amazingly, they all said yes! So we’ll each speak for 8 minutes and then there’ll be questions from the audience.

    I genuinely can’t wait to hear all of them present their work: it’ll be me talking about Draw the Line and my recent comic. then Siiri Viljakka, Joan Reilly, Beata Sosnowska, Kane Lynch and Kate Evans, each talking about their own very different but really interesting work.
  • Very early days yet, but quite excitingly I’ve also been talking to the Cartoon Museum about the possibility of an in-person event.
  • I’ve been chatting with the local comics group, Cartoon County, about having a collective table at the Lakes festival next year – this will mean that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing in terms of spending the festival sitting behind a table, or getting out to see some of the talks and events, as we’ll be able to take turns.

    The festival has moved from Kendal to neighbouring Bowness for this year, so there’s lots of talk around whether to book accommodation in Kendal and whether that’s going to be inconvenient and require extra early starts in the mornings; and whether we might miss out on evening events, etc.
  • I read Red Winter by Anneli Furmark. I don’t always seem to be able to do this with comics – maybe it’s my sickbed status – but I lingered over and enjoyed every single frame, and really found myself immersed in this world of a Swedish winter in the 70s, with perpetual darkness.

    This was an example of a graphic novel where I didn’t know anything about it, or its creator, before picking it up, but was drawn to the colours, art style and topic. I have often been disappointed by this approach before, but this time it all came together and I revelled in every page.
  • I also read Notes from An Island, which is very short but equally transporting. I found particular resonances in the thoughts about ageing and the sad limitations it brings; while simultaneously enjoying Tove Jansson’s usual sideways and pointed accounts of the daily ups and downs. It was nice to consider the challenges and joys of living on a small island in an unwelcoming stretch of sea. among storms and gales, picking up whatever lost cargoes the waves would toss onto the beaches. The daily considerations just seemed so much more basic and surmountable with common sense than those in my own life! Both books are recommended for an escape.
  • I’ve got 4 days to turn in a pitch to the Nib so that’s it for now. Better overcome this stupid weariness and get my thoughts together.

* It’s basically going to be out of date as soon as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill passes through Parliament, which is looking to be within the next two weeks… “No, no, not out of date“, as my friend Michi kindly reminds me, “A record of history while it’s in the making“.

It is the new year

…and I am experiencing the unfamiliar sensation of having finished a comic.

No, don’t get excited, of course it’s not Satin and Tat. I’ve finished the far smaller project of my protest comic, which I have been working at day and night in the hope of having it available while the pertinent legislation is going through Parliament this month.

Kill The Bill protest by Myfanwy Tristram

Well, I say I’ve finished it – I’ve got the final two pages to go, and I’ll probably tweak some lettering, having decided that my own handwriting gives less of an impression of lovable quirkiness and more one of amateurish scruffiness.

But I’ve printed it all out on my home printer and had that moment of muted pride (who among us can allow proper, unalloyed pride these days? Not me, apparently) where, suddenly, there it is. Having seen it in all its 84-page glory I can now see why it’s taken quite so much effort, even given the fact that many of the pages feature just a single image.

I’d been pleased to have the Christmas break from work to spend time on it, but my original estimate that I’d be able to pootle away for a couple of hours here and there proved quite wrong, and I ended up pulling some serious 11-hour days at my desk. Not quite what I imagine when I wish I could spend more time on my comics!

I’ve requested a quote on printing costs and am now awaiting the bad news around Brexit/Covid/supply chain issues and rising prices with trepidation. Don’t tell my printer, but if it’s really expensive I think I’m going to get it done, even if I have to sell it at a tiny, or no, margin. I just really want it out in the world.

Looking ahead to the new year

I’m quite a fan of resolutions: they seem to work well for me as a motivator, at least to kickstart me on things. But while I’d like to say I’ll finish Satin and Tat that’s actually not too likely, and in fact is in direct contravention of my other ambitions for the year:

  • To be published more
  • To give the UK launch of Draw the Line proper attention, and
  • To somehow, at the same time, spend fewer hours at my desk.

I was on page 66 of Satin and Tat when I started regular blogging on June 26. I haven’t even touched it recently thanks to the protest comic, but last time I looked I was on page 81.

That’s 15 pages in 6 months, albeit interrupted by various other projects, but… I mean, really.

What have I achieved?

On a perhaps more celebratory note, let’s look back at what I have actually managed in 2021.

  • I contributed a strip to the Nib
  • I had Draw the Line accepted by Street Noise Books, spent quite a bit of time on edits and saw it launch in North America
  • I completed (my own version of) Inktober, then conceived and drew the protest comic
  • I presented at one in-person conference, one online conference and was interviewed for one video project
  • I completely redesigned my website, stating more clearly who I am and what I want to do. I don’t really subscribe to the ‘ask the universe’ belief system but I do see the sense in at least setting out clearly what I’d like to work on, so I have somewhere to direct the people who might make it happen.
  • I published 25 blog posts: at the beginning of the year, I was finishing off documenting Draw the LIne’s path to self-publishing, little to know that Street Noise would pick it up and publish it professionally. Then in June I made the decision to make a fast and furious post each week to chart my progress, and I… mostly did that.
    Yeah there were a few gaps, but I don’t think my readership anxiously awaits my weekly output, or even notices if one is missing (do shout if I am misrepresenting you!)
    In these posts I’ve shared inspirations and links and the successes/publications of others as well as my own progress and frustrations, and I hope they are of some worth.

In summary

I thought that ending with a list of achievements would be quite a positive way to wrap up, but I can’t say I am feeling hugely enthusaistic about launching into the new year. What with covid, the climate emergency and a government determined to make things ever worse for those in need, it’s hard to raise a smile. At least I feel that this may put me well in step with the majority of society at the moment.

But I will say that I do appreciate everything that my work in comics gives me, despite the many woes it also brings. And I do appreciate you for reading. I wish you the very best for 2022.

In the circumstances.

Turns out my entire ability to draw rests on a single pen

I’ve mislaid my Surface pen. Argh!

Isn’t it just a symbol of the current age that I am entirely in thrall to one small pen, and that without it I am unable to draw?

Yes, sure I can pick up real paper and a real pen, but that isn’t a great deal of help when I’m half way through two digital projects.

I’ve spent a large part of the weekend with my hand down the back of sofas, under the bed and in dressing gown pockets, wondering if I absently stuck it in my dungarees pouch, or tossed it into the recycling, or kicked it into the gap between the floorboards… no sign of it yet, though I have uncovered six times my own bodyweight in dust and mouldy biscuit crumbs.

Image by Myfanwy Tristram: a man holding up a placard that says: if you're not livid, you're not listening.

I’m fortunate in two respects: I can afford to buy a new one without noticing it too much; and I’m not actually working to any sort of deadline at the moment.

In fact, I was rather in the doldrums about my artwork. Yes, I had the excuse that I needed to be doing a lot of promotional activity around the launch of Draw the Line, but truth to tell I was also feeling very down in the dumps about my ongoing work. So it’s just possible this was a subliminal act of self-sabotage. Either way, it made me ask whether I valued my art practice enough to shell out £89 on it.

It turns out that, deep in my soul, I do.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and, unable to actually progress either of my comics, I turned to updating my website, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages. For a long time, the blog has been front and centre, when really what it required was some static pages explaining my work. And now it has that.

It was fiddly, but not as bad as I’d feared, and… I am really quite pleased with the result, which makes a stronger statement about who I am and what I am trying to do with my artwork. Please do check it out if you have a moment.

And actually, you know what cheers you up when you are feeling despondent about your artwork? Looking through it all, remembering what you’ve achieved and restating your purpose, which, happily, is what you have to do when you revamp your website.

Putting things aside, all the way down

I’m now three levels deep in terms of stopping one comics project so another can take priority. I put Satin and Tat aside to make a comic about protest. I’ve now put the comic on protest aside because Draw The Line‘s publication date is this Tuesday, and there’s a ton of both promotion and admin to do.

Talking of promotion! Here’s how to buy it.

At least all these time-consuming and fiddly tasks should ease off a bit once the book’s launched. That said, because of supply chain issues we’re actually having a second official publication day for the UK/Europe in March, and that gives me the opportunity to arrange some sort of launch party and hopefully some appearances at comics festivals, etc, all of which will keep me busy.

Our publisher, Street Noise Books, has invited me to take over their Instagram on launch day, so despite lying here in my PJs, laid down with a cold, I’ve been preparing a bunch of images and graphics for that (I’d written pre-preparing, but… that’s already what preparing means, isn’t it). It’s not the most innovative takeover you’ll ever see but it is, at least, done. And of course, what better moment to decide to try your hand at a completely new form of expression – in this case, basic animation – than when you’re working to a tight deadline like this?

I also quickly dashed off a new self-portrait.

Given my limited energy levels, I’ll keep this week’s update brief, but here are a few recent sources of inspiration/enthusiasm-feeding:

  • A small new gallery has opened up a short walk from my house, and they were showing the 2018 documentary Vivienne Westwood film. Because of my interest in punk clothes, fashion and history, and because I wanted to case out the gallery for vague future plans, I thought I’d go, and I was glad I did. It’s a great film, with lots to ponder on about women and how they age, and how they are expected to age. Quite apart from that, you can look at a load of lovely clothes, and hold your breath as Westwood wobbles off on a pushbike into London traffic. Apparently she hated this movie (and you can kind of see why).
  • From the comfort of my own home, I watched the Mothers of the Revolution, about the women of Greenham Common. It was good and I learned a lot and I’m really glad the accounts of women who were there were recorded for posterity – but it still wasn’t the documentary I think I would have made (and also seems to have been created largely by men).
  • All day today it’s been the LD Comics festival – I’ve still got it playing in the background, as they’re soon to announce the winner of their prize. I haven’t entered this year but it’s always worth paying attention to, and a lot of the comics in the longlist look interesting; what a shame we can’t go and read them all like you can when they run the day in person. The main inspiration here seems to be hearing from lots of people how long it took them to finish their projects and how it was worth carrying on.
  • Also, it needs restating that LDComics is an amazing, inclusive community that is doing SO MUCH for comics.
  • Another thing someone mentioned in chat was how useful they found it to have a small cadre of close comics friends, which is something I’ve definietly found invaluable. This person has a more structured format than we do, though: her group meets up to actually read each others’ work in progress regularly, and discuss it. I’d almost like to do that, if I was sure I had picked the right people to be giving feedback.

Draw The Line books are here

I was just about to start blogging when there was a ring at the doorbell. A Sunday parcel delivery? Unusual…

And oh, look!

Street Noise Books have shipped me the preview copies of the Draw The Line book. First thoughts? It looks great… really great! (Click the image above to see a video.)

The cover has that smooth yet matte coating, and the internal pages are on a good weight paperstock. I couldn’t be happier with the look and feel.

It’s priced really affordably as well, so I have no hesitation in saying that you should go and buy copies for all your friends and family. I’d be so delighted if we sold so many that we end up making a mahoosive donation to Choose Love (and has free shipping until tomorrow).

In other news, I have realised that I won’t be able to get my protest zine out in time for selling it at Christmas. This realisation hit when I started laying out some page designs in a desultory fashion and felt like I was rushing it and making bad decisions.

Why is it that I love to draw so much, but hate literally every other part of the comics making process? You’d assume that so-called ‘visual’ people should be good at stuff like design, layout and print prep but they just make me miserable. If I ever lucked out and became a rich illustrator, I’d definitely pay an assistant to do all that for me.

Anyway, I suppose it’s a weight off my mind to have given myself more time. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to try to maximise my comic-making profits to survive – one benefit of illustration being a side hustle for me. Well, not even a hustle really, just a side thing I do. To excess.

If Draw The Line hasn’t fulfilled all your gifting needs, the artist Emma Carlisle has put together a list of things to buy for the artists in your life. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a single one of the things she mentions, and in fact many of them would inspire me to get back to non-digital drawing. Mmm, holding a bit of charcoal and dragging it against a rough-grained bit of paper. Paradise.

One thing she doesn’t include on the list is her own artwork, which is gorgeous and would definitely have a place under my tree.

The actual concrete effect of my reading Emma’s post on Friday was that, having some time to kill before meeting a friend in town yesterday, I popped into our local art shop and bought a bunch of stuff for my daughter’s stocking. This was a moderately passive aggressive move with the aim that she’ll stop nicking my art materials.

Additional tip: Affinity software is 30% off for Black Friday. Dan Berry recommended this to me as a Photoshop substitute when I was despairing over my lack of Surfacebook/Photoshop compatibility, and it’s been a grand substitute. Apart from anything else it’s the one piece of affordable software I’ve found which allows you to save images as CMYK as well as RGB/other profiles. Best of all, it’s a one-off fee, unlike Adobe and their cursed creative cloud subscription model. And it has a thriving ecosystem of people making brushes and filters that you can purchase as add-ons. It’s good.

Draw The Line: out December 7!

Draw The Line

Can I get some jingle bells? Lords a’leapin’ perhaps? And a deeply satisfied ‘Ho ho ho’…

Yes, I know it’s early, but it’s very much time to get into the holiday spirit because Draw The Line, published by Street Noise books, will be available from 7 December – and it’s just the thing for all your trickiest gift recipients, especially those who love comics and love the planet we live on.

You can preorder it now and the great news is that your purchase will immediately make the world a better place by helping refugees, as we’ll continue to donate all profits the charity Choose Love.

Draw the Line will be available from all good bookshops: naturally, if you’re already in the mindset of changing the world, you’ll probably want to avoid the big one beginning with A.

In the UK, you can find your local independent…

View original post 218 more words

Protest, continued

Feels like everyone in the UK comics world is at the massive Thought Bubble comics festival in Harrogate this week. I’m slightly envious and at the same time glad not to have another big trip right now. Wouldn’t it be nice if LICAF and TBubs were further apart in the year?

Satin and Tat still languishes with zero progress having been made, while I use up all my drawing time on the Protest zine. I’m beginning to wonder if I need to stop calling it a zine at this point and start thinking of it as a comic, and here’s why:

As with these blog posts, I told myself the only way I could devote time to another comic project was to make it quick and dirty. Inktober meant that I already had the content; surely all I needed to do was chuck the images onto a rough layout and get the thing copied and printed up?

But it seems that when it comes to making comics, I just don’t work that way. First, I reasoned that as I’d shared all the images on my Instagram as I drew them, that I should make the number up to 50 and include some ‘never seen before’ content, otherwise, who’d want to pay for the thing? Fine – I drew another 19 pictures of people holding placards, and got that done.

Then I wanted to include some thoughts about protest in general: the reason I’d embarked on this theme in the first place is that legislation is currently going through Parliament that’s designed to crack down on the citizens’ right to protest. I want to show that this right is important, has been effective in shaping our laws, and can be of benefit to the country as a whole.

Fine: scrawl it all down, you’d think? But oh no, then I thought ‘well if I’m a comic artist, all that should be conveyed in the medium of comics. Uhoh: that’s when it starts to become more of a time sink.

Buuuuut… if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly, right? And once I started looking into the protests that I remember forming part of my childhood: CND vigils, the Greenham Common encampment, Section 28 and student loan marches — I was back on my favourite beat: at the intersection between autobio and social history.

So. It’s still not going to be the thick volume I could easily turn it into at this point – I am going to restrain myself and try very hard not to make it have to say everything I have ever felt or thought or researched and discovered about protest between the 70s and now.

But, I guess it is going to be a less slapdash thing than I first conceived. And, unlike Satin and Tat, it should be finished and out in the world at some point in the near future.

While looking for reference photos from those CND marches and vigils of my childhood. I fell down an interesting rabbit hole. My hometown’s local branch of CND is still running, and on their website they’ve published some of the minutes from their earliest meetings. I started scanning to see if I could find my Mum’s name – she’s been their longtime membership secretary and was treasurer at some point I believe. I couldn’t see it, but I did see so many names that were an everyday part of conversation around the table all through my teen years, and addresses of houses up and down our street.

I saw the organisaton – and my mum’s friendship group – as I’ve never seen it before: a bunch of neighbours in their 30s and 40s who felt so strongly about the threat of nuclear weapons that they gave up their spare time to agitate and organise.

These minutes were typewritten, with corrections in biro; there’s a wider newsletter for the county branch as well which seems to have been typeset by a putative cartoonist, with hand lettered comic titles and little speech balloons and cariacatures in the margins.

There’s talk of delivering leaflets door to door; of fundraising discos where you had to pop into the local bookshop to purchase a paper ticket; of cassette tapes and machines, and video players that could be loaned out (you had to provide your own TV and ‘for the sake of the audience, obviously the bigger the TV screen better’).

This was so that as many people as possible could see the The War Game, a 1966 TV programme which was clearly seen as a great persuader, but which it was noted in 1981, “the audience felt to be rather dated now. By way of answer we are considering joining forces with Bristol CND to buy Jonathan Dimblebly’s film “The Bomb” – an exciting prospect”.

Minutes were a way of passing on messages between branches: that a doctor in one town was keen to meet other medical professionals with an interest in banning the bomb; and between members: phone numbers and addresses of the contacts in various working groups scattered across the city; or a plea for an unwanted heater they might use in their shop.

Anyway – not to go on too long, but it was an interesting reminder of the sheer amount of work you had to do to organise before email and the internet. To call back to Satin and Tat, I’ve made the main character’s mum a CND membership secretary too, and she is occasionally seen with big sheets of stamps, a pile of leaflets, and envelopes to lick.

OK, that’s enough for this week. Back to drawing.

What’s happening this week?

Today was the last day of Inktober. In as much as it is a challenge, I guess I aced it? It was good to post something every day, plus, Instagram likes that too so I saw my follower numbers and engagement etc go up, for what it’s worth.

The downside, of course, is that time spent on Inktober was time away from Satin and Tat, but what can you do?

Now my plan is to draw another 19 placards to bring the number up to 50 and offer some pictures I haven’t already shared (there sure are plenty more meaningful and/or witty slogans in my collection to choose from), add some extra content around protest, and get it printed up as a low-cost pamphlet/zine.

Will I be able to do all that before Christmas? Because that sounds like an excellent stocking stuffer to me. Since I was sharing the pics mainly on Instagram, I’m going to look into selling via their marketplace features for the first time.

Check out my pencils: in some cases I like these as much as, or more than, the finished coloured pics.

I’m continuing to nurture my interest in fashion history, a realisation about myself that really only came out of starting to depict 80s fashions and hairstyles in Satin and Tat. My most recent reminder came in the form of a post from @fatfashionhistory on Instagram talking about how few ‘plus size’ garments are held in fashion museum collections.

I briefly thought about entering this year’s Observer/Cape graphic short story contest – something of a white whale for me, as longterm readers of this blog may remember. I started working up an idea but realised it was going to be a massive time sink on something that’s always proven to be fruitless for me in the past so… once again I’m shelving it and thinking maybe next year.

An interesting invitation to speak about Draw The Line came by email this week. As the event will probably be during my normal working hours, it prompted me to think through a few questions, like: how much of my own time and expense do I want to spend on spreading the word about the project? It’d possibly involve taking a day off work and travelling up to London, and while it might be reasonable to ask for travel expenses, asking them to make up a day’s pay would be less so (it’s not like the place where I’d be speaking is a money-making enterprise itself).

On the other hand, I do want as many people to know about Draw the Line as possible, and if it results in more sales of the book that means more money ultimately going to help refugees. It’s a privilege to be able to ‘donate’ money in the form of time and effort, far more than I would be able to justify diverting from my own meagre funds, but I guess there’s a balance to be struck somewhere.

Anyway, it might be possible to speak virtually, which would answer many of these questions.

All the comics I bought at the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2021

This is the collection of comics I brought back from LICAF, including quite a few freebies and aademic reportts from the conference day. High points are definitely the comics by Cathy Brett (oh to have her drawing skills), Peter Morey’s Endswell series, and Jenny Robins’ Biscuits, Assorted – which I’ve known about for ages, so have no excuse for having left it so long to purchase.

Elsewhere I clearly still need to refine my selection process, or maybe just calm down a bit and stop treating comic festivals like a supermarket sweep :). I’ve already read some of these and decided not to use up precious shelf space on them, donating them instead to our neighbourhood bookswap library.

That’s not a disaster; it’s useful to read comics that don’t work as well as those that do – you still learn from them. The Kurt Cobain one I picked up in the Kendal Oxfam bookshop, thinking it’d have some parallels to Satin and Tat since it deals with suicide and a famous rockstar. It was ok, but I didn’t really care for it.

Others are worth keeping not because they’re perfect but because they still have something. A graphic novel is of course a book of two parts, and it’s common for the visual style to be wonderful but the narrative lacking, or vice versa. Or more subtly: the subject matter can be rich and thought provoking, but somehow not have reached its full potential.

Progress on Satin and Tat is still slow. I did at least start working on it again and have done about half of page 81. It’s a night scene so I’m getting to employ a favourite technique of covering the whole thing in darkness and then erasing highlights. On the other hand, there’s a car front and centre, and I hate cars, so that’s a bit less fun.

The Nib, Comics Up Close, Kendal and Inktober – whew!

Having not blogged for a couple of weeks, I now of course have far too much to catch up on, so, as before, I’ve set my half hour timer and will type until it’s time to stop, and the rest will have to wait until next week.

First, the big news is that I can go public about my strip in The Nib. Long-time readers may recall that I made a pledge to keep pitching to them until they accepted something. An excellent plan which proved entirely redundant when they accepted my very first pitch.

My whistlestop history of guerilla gardening fills two pages in the Dispatches section: turns out that, once I’d started researching the subject, there was enough to have gone on several pages more, but I crammed in what I could.

An image by Myfanwy Tristram, showing the 'Hav Pa En Nat' or 'garden in a night' in Copenhagen.

You can subscribe to the print edition of the Nib here if you’d like to see my piece. I recommend doing this if you can afford to, first because it’s a selection of always interesting and sometimes beautiful comics coming through your letterbox every few months; and second because it’s one of the few publications that I’m aware of which is actively providing a platform and adequate pay for comic artists.

Personally I don’t get as much from their digital subscription; probably because as a Brit I don’t always get all the political references, and the longform first person stories I really enjoy are more diluted by the one and four frame gags in the daily mailout.

I am now back from Kendal, the third in a series of four back-to-back excursions which certainly broke the lockdown stay-at-home habit with a bang. For the record, I was down in Devon helping my elderly parents, then at my work retreat near Glastonbury, then at the Lakes International Comics Arts festival (and the Comics Up Close conference that preceded it) in the Lake District and finally – having just had time to plonk my suitcase down and greet the cats – up in London watching the press/opening night of my husband’s West End play.

Ha ha, imagine just typing ‘my husband’s West End play’ like that. It was amazing, and life continues to be very surprising, but this is a blog about comics so I’m not going to go into it here. Sorry!

The conference was small but broadly interesting. Some, but not all, of the talks can be seen on the Lakes’ YouTube channel; despite my colossal dislike of watching myself, I am kind of sorry that mine isn’t among them. Neither is the absolute stand-out speaker in my opinion: Olivier Kugler.

As we know, I’ve been a Kugler fangirl for quite a while thanks to his Escaping Wars and Waves book. Here he was presenting the Great British Fish and Chips project, an absolute dream of a concept where he examined every element of this supposedly ‘British’ staple, finding it to be a Jewish dish which depends upon fish from the Faroe Islands, lemon from Turkey, potatoes chipped in the Belgian style, and shops run by migrants from first Cypriot immigrants and then Chinese – all of which he tracked down, interviewing fishermen, fish market stall holders, shopkeepers customers etc etc.

Olivier Kugler

I absolutely loved what I saw and was sorry to learn it isn’t a book, as I would have been yelling ‘take my money’ while throwing tenners at any table offering such a publication. Instead it is a traveling display which has been at Turner Contemporary in Margate, Canterbury Cathedral and various schools. It’s such a clever way of smuggling a point about the value and richness of immigration into a book that a proud patriot might pick up expecting a paean to all that is British.

Another interesting session looked at a project to scrape the Instagram API and catalogue comics giving information (or disinformation) about COVID before putting them all into a massive taxonomy for future studies.

The next day, the festival ‘proper’ began, mostly centred around Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre. We were conveniently staying in the hostel which actually abuts this sprawling greystone building so our only logistical problem was deciding which of several clashing sessions to choose to attend.

I shared a tiny room with Michi Mathias and just down the corridor were the Myriad Books crew: Zara Slattery, Jenny Robins, Sabba Khan and Hannah Eaton. I’ve been to the Lakes a couple of times before, but this was definitely the first time when I felt as if there was a friendly someone I knew at every turn. Alex Fitch from Brighton’s comics meetup Cartoon County was there too, doing some of the interviewing duties, plus a wealth of faces I’ve met and chatted to at previous LICAFs.

I attended a session on Repressive Regimes, featuring both Darryl Cunningham (live in the room) and the Chinese writer Wang Ning (beamed in onto a giant screen, along with his translator). The latter has compiled an anthology of comics exploring China’s one child policy, and I found the talk very interesting. Since China’s way of life is predicated on younger people looking after their elders, of course China now has a problem of too few carers; but the specific problem the book is highlighting is that of those families who do have a child but lose them to an illness or accident, leaving them with no safety net in their later years.

There were so many details of the policy that I’d been unaware of, so it was very educational; afterwards I went to seek out the book and made the first of several probably inadvisable purchases (inadvisable in terms of my bank balance, the weight of my luggage on the way home, and the shelf space in our house, that is). Meanwhile Darryl was presenting his new book about Putin.

Another highlight was seeing the work of several Czech artists who’d been given exhibition space; I also watched them being interviewed and saw them participate in a ‘live draw’. It seems the Czechs have a certain droll sense of humour and I like it! I will say that during a session about residency swaps (where each artist had been sent to a foreign city for a month to explore their comics art) I began to feel old; probably too old to apply for or be accepted by such a programme, since the participants were such bright young things. Probably my own insecurities coming out there, though.

I watched the video interview with Jeff Lemire on the big screen but skipped my husband’s fave, Simon Hanselmann, as he really isn’t my sort of thing. It sounds like I made the right decision as I had reports back that I almost certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

The Myriad artists each took the mic in a joint session, each giving a very good account of how ‘culture, class and belonging’ fits into their work, and, apparently, boosting their sales in the process. That night there was also an open mic, hosted by Oliver East, for comic artists to read their stuff, which is how I ended up buying Pete Morey‘s ‘Endswell’ trilogy – which turned out to be even more layered and compelling than I’d thought, so that was a good idea.

The alarm’s just gone off so I’ll stop there other than to say I’m proud to have managed to keep up with my daily Inktober illustrations even despite the amount of travelling I’ve done this month – it’s involved drawing in hotel lobbies, on trains and in the hostel bunk bed, and also some canny stocking up of images where I could. Only eight to go now. You can see them all on my Instagram should you so desire.

Running around

A real hit-and-run post this week, as I’m busy packing. Actually my suitcase was already half packed, because last week I went down to sort a few things out for my elderly parents in Devon; having come home to briefly touch base, I’m off to Somerset for a three day work retreat, and from there will travel immediately up to Kendal for the Lakes International Comics Art Festival.

I don’t know, you spend lockdown barely leaving the house, and then everything comes at once.

I’ll be at LICAF a day early, as I’m speaking at the academic conference that takes place on the Friday. Comics Up Close, it’s called, although somehow I don’t seem to be able to remember whether it’s that, or Comics Close Up, for more than a few minutes at a time.

If you’re around, do come – it’s open to anyone with a ticket for the main LICAF festival. I’ll be on at 12:20, right after one of my personal comics heroes, Olivier Kugler (whose work, as it happens, I often cite as an influence when I’m presenting about Draw The Line).

I believe it’s also going to be accessible remotely – but don’t quote me on that; I can’t find any details.

Progress report

In all of this, I’ve made zero progress on Satin and Tat, nor do I expect to next week, the first half of which will be packed with work meetings and the second with comics activities. I did take my portable hard drive and photos of my thumbnails down to Devon with me, but even while doing so I knew it was very unlikely I’d have either the mental space or the energy to work on it.

One thing I did do is pick up a biography of David Bowie from the Oxfam Bookshop in Exeter, which at least felt like background research material (what do you mean I’ve already written the script for Satin and Tat and drawn half of it? I’m sure I can shoehorn some more detail in…)

However I did manage to churn out my Inktober pics each day. Tonight I’m going to try to get ahead a bit, so I have some in hand while I’m otherwise occupied.

Inktober: protest placards

I’m enjoying drawing these.

Today it occurred to me that they might be useful for groups campaigning against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently going through parliament and aims to restrict the right to protest in the UK. After all, they show a variety of people protesting for important causes, in a peaceful and often witty and intelligent way.

I’m happy to share high res versions with such groups if they get in touch, and I’ve also decided to make them all into a zine/comic book once October is over.

So yep, probably won’t be blogging next week, but the week after I’ll presumably have things to say about the artists I’ve seen, and maybe the comics I’ve bought, at LICAF.

Comics thoughts, tweets and links

Tweet life

I lived on Twitter quite a bit this week.

First, while waiting at the opticians for an eye test, I happened to see playwright Molly Naylor tweeting about the new book she authored for Lizzy Stewart to illustrate.

I love Lizzy’s style: she came and talked at our local comics meetup Cartoon County once, and I bought her book Walking Distance.

On an impulse, I ordered Lights, Planets, People right from the opticians. Apple Pay makes it so easy. Too easy perhaps?

Well, the book arrived a few days later and it turned out to be a very good decision. I love the style of drawing, and overall I found it a more satisfying book than Walking Distance, as the addition of a playwright as author has resulted in a clever narrative structure with subtle interplays of plotting.

Second, I pored over this thread about tracking down the original cost of Kurt Cobain’s cardigan. It’s from 2019, and I can’t remember how it was redelivered into my Twitter feed; perhaps by its author who seems to be promoting a followup book.

A satisfying thread, though, anyway, for people interested in pop culture and recent fashion history.

Third, this lovely and surprising picture by Hien Pham which uses light to make an oft-ignored body type look attractive, lovable, heroic even. Also worth nothing that, unusually, the face is entirely in shade, with the light highlighting the hands’ action. Masterful!

Cover reveal

Draw The Line comes out with Street Noise Books in November, and I guess the publicity machine starts revving up just about now. They posted on Instagram and Twitter (please feel free to give those an extra share or RT, thanks!) with the big cover reveal, which riffs on Karrie Fransman’s original logo for the project.

Graphic memoir progress

Well, that was a lot of stuff about comics with no mention of how far I’ve progressed with Satin and Tat.

I haven’t really progressed this week; I’ve had one of my frequent crises of confidence and stepped back for a little bit. The problem with working on a longform comic work like this (or perhaps I should say one of the many problems) is that when you’ve worked on it for ages, it’s very hard to see it with fresh eyes.

My worries about it are seemingly endless. Is it too vacuous, the topic too inconsequential? Do I actually have things to say that are worth hearing? Has the drawing style noticeably changed as I progress (yes)? Is my drawing even good enough?

I’ve written before about how half of the art of drawing a longform comic is the ability to ignore concerns and plough on regardless, but where does that line begin? If one ignored all concerns, the risk of putting out something completely rubbish would be high.

Anyway, my attempted solution is to print pages out on my home printer and glue them together into a dummy volume, which I hope will help me see it with new eyes. I’m never going to be able to experience it as someone completely new to it (unless I follow my dad’s recent rapid decline into dementia, I guess), but this feels like it might help.

And then the fear is… what if I see it with newish eyes, and it’s crap? :)

The shark hits the West End

Currently more exciting than my own artistic endeavours are my husband’s. A play he cowrote has been picked up by Sonia Friedman productions — actually, was picked up a couple of years ago, given a green light and then of course suffered the same fate as all entertainment ventures during lockdowns 1 & 2. But it’s now back and will be opening in a West End theatre a week tomorrow.

As the opening date becomes nearer, thrilling things have begun to happen – like posters springing up in the London Underground, appearances in broadsheet newspapers’ lists of the ‘plays not to miss’, and the theatre displaying his name in big letters.

For the purposes of this blog, which of course is all about my currently far less exciting and successful creative journey, I will say that it is a welcome reminder that success comes when the right pieces fall into place, in this case after decades of less heralded ventures.

And of course, I’m very glad for Joe as well.

Inktober’s been cancelled

We all know that, don’t we?

All the same, it can be useful to give yourself a challenge and so I am drawing every day this month. Not in actual ink. I should, and would like to, return to ‘real’ media for a bit, but this month I am travelling a lot and even keeping up with the daily drawing digitally is going to be a stretch, without trying not to spill a pot of ink all over the train.

Anyway, I’ve chosen my own theme: I’m drawing some of my favourite protest banners.

So far I’ve remembered exactly what happens every time I try Inktober: the first few pictures are rubbish (and a few subsequent ones are too) but you don’t have time to redraw them because it’s just supposed to be a quick exercise, not take up your entire drawing time for the day.

But at the same time it is a good discipline to share them anyway and try not to care. And then, once the whole thing is done, all the drawings together always look so much better than they each do singly.

Having completed only two pics, what I’ve enjoyed so far is looking at (and replicating) the impassioned wording on the signs.

Usually these are just made out of flattened cardboard boxes and marker pen. People have a sense of what lettering and fonts do, even if they don’t always have the expertise to apply it, so you see the words needing emphasis are slightly bigger, or italic, or a different colour, even while the spacing is misjudged or the letterforms are squished. Replicating these is as much fun as drawing the people holding them.

Anyway, as you might have guessed, I’m not overly proud of my first two drawings but if you want to see them and follow along with the rest of the month, maybe give me a follow on Insta.

Artquest and fashion drawing history

It was the Artquest ‘Social and political change’ salon on Thursday night – three hours of online meetup, which is quite a task for someone who tends to get up at 6:30, draw on a tablet for two hours and then do a full day’s work in front of a screen like I do.

The session featured enthusiastic speakers from Artquest itself, a presentation from Elizabeth Gleave of the Land Art Agency, and then two group feedback sessions.

Artquest is an Arts Council funded charity that forges connections between artists, and in this case there were around 15 of us, working across various practices, all self-identified as working on art for social or political change.

I hadn’t known exactly what to expect, but it turns out to be a peer mentoring set-up. Artquest is very keen on the benefits for artists of regular meetups, to discuss problems, share ideas and opportunities and feed back on one another’s progress.

I’m in two minds on whether or not I should continue. The first thing I noticed was that I was the only illustrator – everyone else’s artwork seems to either be heavily conceptual, either in visual, performance or plastic arts. They also seem to all be full time career artists, though of course it’s hard to know that for sure just from how they present themselves on their websites etc.

That’s not necessarily a reason not to carry on, but it did make me feel a bit out of place. I mean, I can make a strong argument that it’s my day job that feeds into the political and social change aspects of my work; and hey, I went to art school and have an MA to prove it, but still, I’m just not 100% sure this is for me.

The other thing is that it’s clearly a difficult task to put 15 people on a Zoom call together and immediately ask them to start sharing intimacies and insecurities. Artquest did really well at keeping energy high throughout, but who knows whether the group will cohere and grow any further.

Long story short – I joined with the hope it might encourage me to see new ways of weaving political and social activism into my work. I suppose it might achieve that aim. I wasn’t particularly looking for the support of a peer mentoring group, though I do believe the Artquest facilitators when they point out the various benefits. As always time is an issue. But I’ll stick with it for now and see where it goes.

Work on Satin and Tat (decidedly not a political work) is going well – I’m two thirds through page 78 and enjoying it greatly. Last week I was just finishing off page 76. Page 77 went smoothly too, so it feels like I’m on a roll, which makes a nice change from angsting over every detail.

I saw notice of this exhibition this week: Drawing on Style at the Gray MCA gallery in London. I’d never heard of this place, but apparently it is “the leading international art gallery in the specialist art field of original fashion illustration focusing on the original artworks by the 20th century masters and a small select field of contemporary masters.”

The show is only running until 26 Sept, however, so sadly I doubt I’m going to be able to make it up there. You can enjoy some of the pictures on the Guardian website, though.

Antonio Lopez, 1966
Robert Melendez, 1969.

Inspirations and Comics up Close

Podcasts are a great accompaniment to drawing – you can enjoy them without having to look away from the page – and sometimes they can even inform your work.

This week I listened to a long chat with Wayne Hussey, who as a member of Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and Dead or Alive was one of the pillars of the 80s goth scene, on Post Punk podcast.

He seems like a nice guy, and anecdotes about the various musical figures of the era are surely good research material; but mainly the whole thing reminded me that despite my rather lazily describing Satin and Tat as being about my time as ‘a teen goth’ I was never deep into all the proper goth music as represented by The Mission, with its grandiose swirling synths, themes of death and passion, and a surfeit of crushed velvet.

The Cure and Siouxsie were more my scene, and, as my book attempts to explain, there were a variety of other musical influences, from the Smiths to the Velvet Underground to Bowie, that I found just as exciting.

For me, half of the allure of the goth scene was about wanting to look different. The big hair was something I definitely did have in common with them (Wayne Hussey’s anecdote about a band mate being sick into his backcombed barnet was rather entertaining), but when it came to clothes, I certainly wasn’t sticking to strictly black lace and velveteen.

We were pretty inventive, before the age of mail order goth outfits, and drawing the clothes I remember is one of the great joys of the project.

So it’s fitting that I’m also enjoying some fashion history podcasts, most recently Dressed: the history of fashion. This morning while mopping the floors, I was listening to an episode on clothing for protest, ticking off two of my interests with one fell swoop.

Similarly, I loved this video in which one woman (Morgan Donner) recreates a haircut from every decade since the 1500s. She does eventually reach the 80s, and it was a useful reminder to see the shape of the ‘big perm that was so popular amongst my sixth form classmates.

Fashion history, sigh! If I ever get Arts Council funding and want to tie in some outreach events, or if I ever finish Satin and Tat and can think about a launch event, the UK’s fashion museums would be ideal.

Lastly, inspiration came in a rather tangential form from Nick Cave’s musical collaborator Warren Ellis, who has produced one of the most surprising books I’ve ever read.

In it, he describes pocketing a piece of chewing gum that Nina Simone took from her mouth and stuck to the piano before a concert, and goes on to explore the terrible weight of being a custodian of something at once so insignificant but with such immense personal meaning. He refuses to consider it as anything less than monumentally important, taking his duties to a laborious extreme.

I suppose what I took from this book is that if you pursue an idea – no matter how ludicrous – to its end, others are compelled to come along with you. And that meaning can be found anywhere. These are both useful beliefs in the face of trying to complete a lengthy graphic novel about a period of one’s own life.

Comics Up Close

This week I learned that my submission for the Comics Up Close conference was successful, so I’ll be traveling up to the Lakes Comics festival a day early to take part in this academic conference.

The theme is ‘Comics Can Change The World – how comics are delivering positive change in education and society’ and I will be focusing on the tangible impacts that the Draw The Line project engendered.

With that in mind, if you’re reading this and were actually inspired by Draw The Line to take a specific action or even to set up your own project – please do let me know. I’d love some more examples to include!


Last week I was finishing up page 75 and this week I am on the final frame of page 76.

To do list: Now that I’m blogging every week, the website really needs rearranging so that it’s not just a mass of posts on the homepage. I know what to do but do I have the time to do it? Sigh.

I suspect that ‘time’ is the most used word across this entire blog. And with that in mind, I’d better go and do some more drawing.

Perfection is the enemy of progress

What you take from any piece of writing is probably an indication of where your head is at when you’re reading it, and when I saw a review of Guy Delisle’s new graphic novel in the Comics Journal this week, it’s telling that the phrase to jump out at me was:

there’s not a page or a panel that you would likely see pulled out of context as a work of beauty.

I’ve enjoyed Delisle’s work, and always thought of him as an adept professional, I’m sure not least because of Pyongyang. This was the first of his books that I read, and it focuses on his job in animation – he talks a bit about how to make characters expressive and so on, which definitely makes it sound like he knows what he’s doing.

I just enjoyed his books; I never really stopped to think about whether or not the work was beautiful, although there are graphic novels that I definitely treasure for that quality. If a book can be beautiful and carry a meaningful story, that’s the holy grail for me, like The Nao of Brown, for example, or Just So Happens, or This One Summerthe trio of books I always trot out as my top three. They not be perfect, but they’re closer to perfect than many.

One of the reasons that Satin and Tat is taking so long is that I want it to be as visually appealing as I can make it. Or maybe I mean visually adept. I want it to convey as much through imagery as it does through the action.

I’m sure there’s also a part of me that wants it to show that I ‘can draw’, and I wonder if that part will ever go away.

Anyway, this week, although I had to take a couple of days off both from my day job and from drawing, thanks to a nasty cold, I finally managed to finish page 74 on Friday.

I’d come to think of it as the page that would never end, so it is a relief to see the back of it and move on to some pages which bring different/new challenges. No page is without a challenge. Is that what keeps this pursuit interesting?

As I moved on to page 75, I was partly working from an exploratory reference sketch I made right at the beginning of this process, and partly from the mock-up book I made when I thumbnailed the whole story.

Here’s a photo of my desk:

And here’s more of a closeup of those sketches:

Sketch by Myfanwy Tristram

I worked away on the page, and when I was almost finished, I looked at my drawing of Alex and thought that I had definitely lost something between the sketches and the finished piece. To be exact, there is something in the way the bloke is holding his head in the sketch that conveys pain and weariness, that somehow went missing between the two. (It’s also just a better picture, but that often seems to happen when I go from paper based sketch to digital version).

The question was, how much did I care about it? Enough to erase the figure of Alex and draw him again?

Eh… probably not.

Sometimes, during this whole process of drawing, I have decided that a picture just isn’t as good as it could be, and when I redraw it, it’s always tons better.

Sometimes I say to myself that it will do for now, and tell myself I’ll revisit it when I’ve finished all the other pages, as presumably by then I’ll be able to see whether it’s standing out as screamingly appalling or whether I barely notice whatever I was disliking about it.

Does every frame need to be perfect?

This train of thought made me look up the phrase ‘perfect is the enemy of good’. I was unsure whether the last word was in fact ‘done’ rather than ‘good’, which I’ve often heard bandied about in work contexts. I’ve always taken the meaning to be that if you worry too much about things being perfect, you’ll never get them finished.

Apparently that thought is better conveyed by a Winston Churchill quote: Perfection is the enemy of progress.

The Wikipedia page on the phrase muses on a few more manifestations of the same concept, like the 80:20 rule: it commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort. Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient.

It also quotes from King Lear: striving to better, oft we mar what’s well. This is definitely true of artwork.

And then, finally: economist George Stigler says that “If you never miss a plane, you’re spending too much time at the airport.

I am definitely spending too much time at the airport. The airport… of drawing.

Something that gives me rather guilty encouragement is the number of published graphic novels where the drawing is awful. That’s not to even say the actual novels themselves are awful: it’s definitely true that crude drawings can still carry an excellent story.

Meanwhile, Satin and Tat is taking so long that my drawing skills are improving while I go along. Like many, I suspect, I didn’t even know what I couldn’t do until I got better at doing it.

In other comics news, my daughter brought home a second hand copy of a Peanuts paperback, in the same vintage Coronet edition I used to have as a kid.

“I’m going to start saying ‘rats‘ when I’m annoyed”, she told me. To my mind, this is an entirely positive development.

I’ve been accepted on the Artquest Activism and Social Change Salon. Since I know little more about it than what I’m hoping it will be, it’s a bit of a leap in the dark. Each of the 3 hour sessions is in the evening, and involves being online after I’ll already have done a full working day of just that, so it’d better be worthwhile! I’ll report back after the 16th.

I do know that the first session features a talk from these people, which is certainly promising.

And I pitched three ideas to the Nib‘s food issue. Two of my pitches relate to stories I’ve heard through work. It’s a bit of an ambition to make artwork around the more human interest side of my job, so I kind of hope one of them will be accepted. The third is good too though!

I should definitely draw all the idea I pitch that don’t get picked up and turn them into a zine. One day.

Roughs to pencils to inks to colour

Page 74 of Satin and Tat is the page that will never be finished, clearly – I’m still part way through it. You can see why this project is taking a while. This week the delay was mainly because I got the word through about my commissioned piece: they were happy with the inks and I could progress to the final step, the colours.

Accordingly, I spent most of last week on that, then had my usual tizz around colour profiles (will this ever not happen), and sent it off last night.

Having fretted over the whole script-to-roughs-to-pencils-to-inks-to-colours process (see recent blog posts in which I moan that this isn’t quite how I work) I have to admit that of course, the whole thing has ended up looking far more polished and professional than my usual work.

That feels nice, but I would also say it’s less ‘me’ – which rather unfortunately implies that the essential ‘me’ factor is untidiness and a chaotic working process. But never mind that, I shall take a moment to be pleased with myself for following instructions and getting it in two days before deadline.

I can’t share it until it’s published, under the terms of my contract, so I will have to dig out an old picture to accompany this blog post.

Having had so much time to ponder this approach, which is clearly the ‘industry’ way that has been honed through the years for maximum efficiency (and, for the big publishers, to allow teams to work on a strip, with one person doing line and another the colour, a third the lettering, etc) I realise that one advantage is, there’s very little room for everything to be derailed at the last moment.

One thing I always hated about commissions is that period of time between sending off your artwork and hearing back about it: it made me really anxious, probably something that was also born of my own inexperience and the fact that, at that time, my artwork wasn’t actually accomplished enough.

But there’s no room for that here: every step is approved, or requests for corrections are sent through, and you don’t feel silly or like you’ve wasted a load of time going down the wrong route, because adjusting a single step is so much more trivial than if you had sent in the entire finished strip.

I’ve also now been informed that the next call-out for the Nib is live, and as per my plan to keep pitching, I will put in for it. Of course, if I’m successful that will steal still more time from Satin and Tat. Time is always the issue. Thought it’s worth my remembering that they pay, and so there would be some laxity for me to take time off the day job and still be no worse off financially.

I listened to Eleri Harris talking to Dan Berry while colouring this week: Eleri is Deputy Editor at The Nib and was full of good insights. She also made the good point that you can subscribe to the Inkwell, the comic’s subscription program, both to support her and presumably also to provide the funds that pay a whole cohort of comic artists from around the world that they feature in every issue. I’ve been a member for a while and it’s nice to get that chunky magazine through the letterbox every quarter.

The only other piece of comics news I have this week is that through said day job, I found out about an organisation called Artcry, who offer rapid funds to artists responding to events in politics and society. That is, of course, right up my street and my mind did start racing.

The work has to be public and free, and open up dialogue with the audience. I am still pondering.

Telling someone else’s story

Last week I’d started drafting page 74 of Satin and Tat, and this week I’m about four fifths of the way through finishing it.

Not very fast progress, but my excuse is that we’ve got a new kitten – kitten! – and my time has been spent fishing her out of plant pots and saving her from jumping on the cooker. And the teen daughter is starting college, requiring a bit of admin and a bit of moral support. So there’s lots going on, and moreover page 74 is a boring one with lots of tiny details.

I need to figure out a better way of drawing small things: in this case, a specific panel (not the one I’m showing here, but even more crowded) set in a school corridor, seen from quite a distance and full of small figures. I know it’s a matter of elegantly placing blocks of colour and not worrying too much about the detail, but apparently that doesn’t mean I actually do that.

Still, it’s just one page and when I’ve got through this I can move back onto the scenes featuring Alex, thrilling and slightly-older punk rocker, and much more fun to draw than a bunch of girls in school uniforms.

As a side note – it’s interesting/terrifying to see how much the colours differ when I view this page in Affinity Photo on my laptop and in Photoshop Elements on my desktop. Really hope it doesn’t look too lurid on your machine.

An interesting question came up in the chat side bar at the Graphic Medicine conference: not just for me, but for all the artists whose work is based on true stories about other people. How do you reconcile the fact that you’re telling someone else’s story with their right to privacy?

It’s certainly true that Satin and Tat revolves around the suicide of a character based on a real person, and that person still has surviving family and friends in the real world. Of course, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot: should I contact those people before the book is finished, to let them at least know about it? That’s always assuming I could find them: we haven’t kept in touch.

My main thought here is that although real life events were the seed of the story, it has become something else, something at least half fictional. The main character is based on my own experiences, thoughts and feelings, and like me, she was a goth in the 80s and she lived in Devon; like me, she rode a bike and dressed in jumble sale clothes, and then she grew up and got married and had one child and worried too much about what people thought of her.

But she’s also a theatre director, with shorter hair and a much better jawline than me. She lives in a posh converted house in London, with a swanky kitchen (the sort I’d like, but can’t afford); and her husband wears sweatpants, something that’s definitively not true, and will never be true, of my own spouse. He’s obsessively into an obscure band (that doesn’t exist in the real world), called Marshall’s Trousers.

Ella’s teenage friends are based on a conglomeration of people I knew back then, plus a bit of the essence of being an eighties Devonshire goth. Alex’s housemates are generic art school kids. A crucial part of the story is made more dramatic by an event that didn’t really happen.

I guess this is true of most fiction or semi-fictionalised work. It comes down to the fact that you’re attempting to convey your experiences and feelings rather than any truths about specific individuals. It’s not a particularly new train of thought, but it feels like one that it was worth working through.

Tove Jansson, graphic medicine and some small progress

I have finished page 73 of Satin and Tat and have started drafting page 74; halle-flippin’-lujah.

As per my recent posts: I’m drawing on a new platform and it’s been a slight learning curve to get to grips with the various menus and tools; plus despite my high hopes at being able to import them over from Photoshop, the brushes aren’t quite the same. But I’ve got to the point where I’m just like, oh, who cares? Either the change will be small enough that it’s only something I notice, or it’ll have to be a built-in feature of the book that it takes on a whole new aesthetic 70 pages in.

Er, only joking. Sort of.

Basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that any longform art project requires you to be able to look at certain impediments, shrug, and then carry on. Like, none of the panels is perfect – every single one has required me to look at it and think ‘that’ll do’ (some more than others). When seen as a whole I hope they build up to make something that’s more than the sum of their parts.

My font isn’t anywhere near perfect, but I’m sticking with it for now, and anyway it’s on its own layer, so will be easy(ish) to swap out in the future if needs be. The panel sizes aren’t always exactly the same on the page: well, it’s a look. And so on.

I do worry sometimes, though, that some of the decisions I’ve made will compromise the entire book. This week I read a comment on a Facebook comics forum from someone saying their publisher refuses to accept images that are less than 600 dpi, and I’ve been saving all mine as 300. Should I worry?

Yesterday was day one of the Graphic Medicine online conference, and my one-minute video about my work in progress was shown, along with many others from people working either closely or loosely around the topic of mental health (Satin and Tat isn’t just about goths and the 80s; it deals with a bipolar character and the longterm effects of his suicide).

Graphic Medicine must be the friendliest and most supportive community in comics, and that is saying something, given how lovely most comics people are. Everyone showed great interest and put lovely comments in the chat. My favourite was something like “Bowie always makes a great organising principle” – gah, why didn’t I note down the exact wording?! This was in response to my explanation that Bowie is also a theme through the book, which nods to the mental health issues and eventual suicide of his own half brother, as well as bringing the characters together under their mutual admiration for his music.

As confirmation that it’s always worth going out and sharing comics work, I’ve now followed (and been followed by) a flood of new people on Instagram. Making connections that might lead to future conversations, collaborations or just interesting visuals in my Instagram stream has to be a bonus.

I finally watched the movie Tove, which has been on my radar for a few months: I was sorry it didn’t get shown at any of our local cinemas, even the arthouse ones (why?! Brighton would have gobbled it up).

**Mild spoilers ahead.**

It depicts one period in the life of Tove Jansson, the Finnish creator of the Moomins, focusing on her burgeoning sexuality, the development of her career as a cartoonist (against her — and her family’s — assumptions and initial desire to be a fine artist), and some implausibly attractive knitwear.

As with most filmic depictions of artists, of course there’s much lingering on a pencil lead drawing seductively across coarse-grained paper; days in the sunlit studio wrapped in a smock and cocking one’s head at an oil painting in progress; and parties at which the arrival of ‘the artists’ in silly homemade hats ramps up the raucousness level.

As with the Paula Rego exhibition, this sort of thing plays to some deep held desires in me, and if nothing else I did find myself missing ‘real’ art materials rather than the laptop screen. I must find time to pull out my paints again.

I wondered on Facebook whether the studio depicted was in fact Tove’s real one in Helsinki; my friend Johanna Rojola (whom I met via the Feminist Comics Residence, which she organises, along with many other valuable comics initiatives in Helsinki and beyond) confirms that it is indeed, and that apparently although it can be visited, this is by invitation only and currently reserved for the top brass of the arts world.

I was very pleased to have visited the frescoes that are also featured in the movie, and which are given extra meaning by her relationship with the daughter of the commissioning mayor (a detail which I can only assume is also true rather than artistic licence).

But the most affecting part is in the last minute. I will say no more. View it yourself if you haven’t already.