As the tweet above says, my 2021 Inktober project – where I drew a different protester ever day of the month – led to me putting out my self-published bookSorry For The Inconvenience We Are Trying To Save The World.
This sold faster than any comic I’ve ever made before – I guess it hit the zeitgeist, what with the government clamping down on our right to protest, at the same time as giving us all more to protest about.
It seems this book was what caught the attention of the Workers Gallery in the Rhondda Valleys, South Wales. At the start of this year, they emailed to ask if I would exhibit my protester pictures in August. I was delighted to say yes.
A new comic
And I suggested that, alongside the exhibition, I made a comic. I invited local residents to share their memories and photos of protests, marches, boycotts, strikes and activism.
I was slightly worried that I wouldn’t get any.
This was the wrong thing to worry about.
In fact it soon became apparent that my main issue was going to be politely declining the slightly less interesting stories (which I would have been quite happy drawing) in favour of the very, very many extremely interesting ones.
From the local mayor who ran a pirate radio station and drove a lorry with a smoke-breathing dragon on the back of it; to the Maerdy miner who can never look another Fray Bentos pie in the face; to the septugenarian willing to chain herself to a gate and be arrested in the name of preserving an ancient meadow; to the camp set up at the road to a toxic landfill site that succeeded in getting it closed down… it is clear that the people of the Rhondda protest just as they live and breathe.
When I discovered on Wikipedia that one theory for the meaning of Rhondda is ‘noisy’, I had my book title:
Now to get this book finished
As regular readers of my blog will know, I fit my comics work around a full time job, getting up very early to put in a couple of hours before everyone else is awake.
I will finish it either way, but I will finish it more quickly if I can take some time off work to complete what I reckon is at least another 50 pages and could easily be extended to 100.
If you are a publisher or an agent, please come and talk to me – I’ll be at the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival (LICAF) as part of the Bungaroosh comics collective (tables 7 & 8) – but if you’re not planning on being there this year, I’m also always up for a Zoom call.
I’d like to give you my work-in-progress comic, the first 24 pages of The Noisy Valley, so you can see the potential of this work for yourself.
What’s the plan?
I would like to apply for Arts Council funding under their ‘literature projects‘ category. This requires me to find an agent or publisher interested in being my partner. Funding can cover production and marketing costs, as well as my time in creating the work.
If you think you might be interested – let’s talk.
Buy one, and not only will you have an inspiring furious woman on your wall – you’ll also be helping the gallery.
A sustainable gallery on wheels
The Workers is located in the village of Ynyshir, deep in the Rhondda valleys. As I discovered when I visited, those valleys are divided by stunning, but extremely steep and high hills, meaning that just popping down to the gallery is not an option for everyone, especially if they have mobility issues.
The Workers has a great, sustainable answer though – an electric cargo bike. Once an exhibition has finished its run, they pack the pictures in the back and pedal off to anyone who wants to see it!
Do some good
If you’d like to help support this kind of activity, or indeed, more widely just support a gallery that is providing a much-needed cultural hub to its community, you can purchase the prints here.
And if you’re feeling you’d like to do more for them, the Workers also have a Patreon. You can support their work on an ongoing basis (but stop whenever you like) from just £3.00 a month.
I had such an unforgettable time visiting my exhibition Word on the Street (which still runs until Sept 11) and seeing the gallery for myself. No small part of the pleasure was in finally meeting gallery-runners Gayle and Chris with whom I’d been exchanging emails for months beforehand, getting all the details in place for the exhibition and accompanying activities.
Visting the gallery meant I could see for myself what a cultural hub it is for the local community, and what a friendly atmosphere they’ve fostered there in what used to be the town’s small library.
I won’t go into all the details of what I saw and discovered during my trip, because most of it will go into the comic I’m going to make. Suffice to say that there was much to be inspired by, from the tall green tree-covered heights of the surrounding hills, to the trusting willingness with which both adults and children threw themselves into making a zine.
To some extent, it was a case of having parachuted in to a new place which has its own stories, struggles and ongoing campaigns – such as Save the Northern Meadows which I learned all about from my co-speaker on Thursday night, Cat Lewis – but also that the underlying themes are universal: people wanting to protect what is dear to them; people fighting what threatens their way of life; or calling for a better functioning society.
It feels like protest is everywhere at the moment, from disruptions in the Tory leadership hustings, to massive banner drops from Extinction Rebellion, to people signing up to say they won’t stand for massive hikes in our energy bills. Gotta say, it’s not like me to hit a zeitgeist but I do seem to have accidentally done just that!
I have been so excited about the comic I’ll be making next that I’ve started some trial drawings. I told myself early on that I must not plump for my usual time-consuming style, or this could be another project that takes months if not years to actually see the light.
That said, it’s been very hard to resist falling into old ways. I’ve had to deliberately restrain myself from fiddly detail, and am thinking about ink or pencil crayon line drawings overlaid with digital washes to save time. Initially I thought I might just do line drawings without colour, or try patch areas of flat colour, but those monumental green hills everywhere put paid to that. If I can’t convey that lushness, I have failed to represent a massive part of the experience of being in Ynyshir.
So I might just do some pages of more sketchy line drawings, but let myself go wild with colour for the landscapes. In some ways it is quicker to fall back on what I know – digital drawing – but with a concerted effort to stay away from the small fiddly details. Anyway here are some of my initial experiments.
If you’re local to the area (interpret that widely – anywhere in Wales and across the border, around Bristol etc and beyond…) – and you’d like me to include your memories of protest in my comic, you can either pop into the gallery and share them there, or fill in this form, thanks!
After months of emails going back and forth, poster designing, conversations about printing, plotting and planning the accompanying activities… Word on the Street opens at the Workers Gallery next week.
And here’s the poster translated into Welsh. As the events are part funded by the local council (for which I am very grateful), the Welsh language version is a requirement – just one of the ways in which legislation is keeping the language alive, I guess.
Here are details of the talk, workshop and my plans for a comic based on memories and stories from visitors:
The talk also features Cardiff artist Cat Lewis who has been instrumental in a campaign to save Cardiff’s Northern Meadows. Between us, I hope that we’ll have some really interesting things to say about using art practice for change.
I can’t wait to hear more about her work – and I can’t wait to meet Gayle and Chris, the driving forces behind the Workers Gallery, after all this time planning by email! It does sound like a remarkable place and I’m keen to learn all about it.
Anyway. If you’re anywhere near Rhondda Valley from 4 Aug to 11 Sept, I hope you’ll drop in!
I’ll be talking about comics and protest, no doubt looping in Draw the Line, my Protest book, and some of the many other brilliant artists doing protest comics;
I’ll be collecting local people’s stories and photos of times they protested, and turning them into a comic;
And I’ll be running a couple of zine-making workshops.
I thought I’d better put in a bit of practice for the last of those, as it’s a long time since I’ve made anything that can accurately be described as a zine. By their very nature zines are meant to be quick, immediate and more about the message than the aesthetic.
I’ve now made three little practice zines, two on A4 paper, which end up being really teeny tiny A7 size; and one starting with A3, which comes out as A6.
(Short digression: the really small ones took me right back to my childhood, reminding me of some tiny treasured storybooks my mum and her schoolmates made back in her childhood in the ’40s. She kept them in a shallow box, of the type you might get a shirt packaged in, and only let me handle them under strict parental supervision – and rightly so, they were exquisite and would have been easily damaged by grubby mitts.
She told me back then that they ran a little lending library from their school desks. I recall being enchanted at this idea – it might even have been one of the ingredients that got me so hooked on comics making? – and also being very impressed with the drawings which, to my young eye, looked extremely professional. I’ll have to ask if I can see them again next time I visit, and see whether the drawings still look so polished now I’m an adult.)
For all I understand the zine/punk aesthetic, I have to put my hands up and admit that I found it very hard to resist polishing even my trial runs up a bit: basically, habits are hard to break.
I drew them in pencil, then inked, then scanned in and added fake-o letratone. I also used my knowledge of image editing programmes to move each page around a bit so it was central when printed – mostly things that aren’t necessarily available to the complete newbie. So I probably ought to at least try making one without any of this, since I’ll be asking people to do the same!
But anyway, I now have a few examples that I can take to Wales with me, and I might also print out a few to take to comic and zine festivals. It’ll be nice to have something that I can sell for a few pence, for people who don’t necessarily want to shell out for a whole book.
Also, a short note about my ‘car culture sucks’ zine: I’ve always disliked the way cars have taken over our cities and make life difficult for pedestrians and cyclists, not to mention the way they pollute the air, and their carbon emissions contribute to the climate crisis.
However, while you can get the basics across in an 8-page zine, there’s not much space for detail or nuance (I guess, look to Woodrow Phoenix’s Crash Course for that), and even at the time of producing it I thought ‘well, I’m just trying things out, it doesn’t have to be wonderful’.
This week, I got the news that my best friend from university days was run over and has lost the use of her legs. All she was doing was walking to her local corner shop. My zine feels all the less adequate now (and I’m all the more infuriated and disgusted by car culture).
Another friend posted “Hopefully one day people will stop shrugging their shoulders about car ‘accidents’ – 1,800 people are killed on the roads each year – amazing that this is acceptable and more people aren’t angry about it”, and I couldn’t agree more.
Anyway. If this, or anything else, gives you the impetus to make zines, here, have my worksheets. Feel free to copy these and use them in any non-commercial way you see fit.
Onto cheerier things. This year I will be selling comics at the Lakes Festival again. I’ll be sharing not just with my usual tablemate Zara Slattery, but with a whole bunch of Brighton artists. Yes, we’ve gotten organised. We’re a collective now.
If you’re a comics artist, I can’t recommend this enough: the power of a group is so much more than the sum of its parts. Not least, someone else to look after the table while I go and see the talks I want to!
It’s at a brand new location this year, which should be interesting, and will enable me to actually see a lake when travelling up to the Lake District, something that’s not been a given in previous years.
We’ve got our own website – seemed sensible now that we’re applying for stuff . Perhaps you’d like to follow the blog there as well? It won’t be updated as often as my own, but hey, what is there to lose?
I’ve been meaning to blog about this for ages – but fortunately the Queen of England realised how behind with blogging all her subjects were, and decreed that we should all have a four day weekend to catch up.
Here’s the exciting news: my first ever solo exhibition, and it’s at a remarkable place called the Workers Gallery in Rhondda Valley, Wales.
As if this wasn’t enough to look forward to, I’ll be visiting the gallery in the first couple of days of the exhibition to:
1. Talk about the book and the Draw the Line project, with a wider theme of how to bring about change through comics;
2. Run a zine workshop, showing how you can easily make ‘quick and dirty’ comics that get a point across
3. Most excitingly of all, from my point of view anyway — gather memories, photos and thoughts about protest from local residents, which I’ll make into a comic after my visit.
I’m so thrilled by this last one for a few reasons: it’s exactly the kind of comic I want to be making, wrapping together as it does a bit of social history and first-person stories which I’ll put into a sketch diary type format. It’s also an opportunity to draw more around protest, which is a well that definitely hasn’t run dry for me.
That said, it’s a bit of a leap into the unknown, which in itself is thrilling, if nervewracking: what if no-one has any stories to share? I think I’ll be ok no matter what, and am always happy making a comic about a trip, the people I meet and everything I learn about the area.
I was so pleased to be approached by the Workers, and over the past few months, co-owner Gayle and I have been emailing back and forth with ideas that have gradually become more concrete. Every email seems to bring more evidence of what a remarkable institution it is in the small community of Ynyshir, with talk of an electric cargo bike taking books and comics round to rural residents who might not easily be able to pop in, an inspiring roster of past exhibitions and a feel that it’s a real hive of activity in a place that very much benefits from having such a lively cultural centre.
Right now there’s a comics exhibition on, ‘All Is Not Well‘ – experiemental comics about care, with Cardiff University. This picture from the Workers’ Twitter makes me wish I could go and have a look around right now!
So that’s my big news, and something I’m massively looking forward to. Today I have been playing around making zines, because if I’m going to be showing other people how to make them I’d darn well better know what I’m doing!
No doubt I’ll have more to share on the subject soon, not to mention lots more to say about the exhibition as it gets ever nearer.
I took the day off work yesterday, dropped our elderly cat off at the vet for a dental operation, and scooted off to jump on a train to London, arriving only slightly late for a very interesting appointment at the Cartoon Museum.
A few weeks ago, I’d heard that a researcher was looking for comic artists to take part in an unusual project. Intrigued, I answered that call, and as it turns out, so did Zara Slattery, Woodrow Phoenix and Gareth Brookes, all of whom were sitting round a table with tea and biscuits when I apologetically stepped into the room and took my seat.
Also in the room were the researcher Dimitris Asimakoulas from the University of Surrey’s Centre for Translation Studies, Cartoon Museum curator Emma Stirling-Middleton, and ‘audio description expert’ Veronika Hyks. What would follow was a couple of hours of intensive discussion, and it was an absolute joy.
Dimitris is trying to discover whether the visual artform of comics can be made more accessible to blind and partially sighted audiences. As he put it in his original callout, “this will be a small project investigating the hypothesis that comic books have the capacity to affect the lives of diverse, non-elite audiences; taking this a bit further, I believe it is high time museums included descriptions for comic art that help blind or visually impaired audiences appreciate it (thus bringing them closer to museums and the art itself)”.
He’d sent us examples of audio descriptions of TV programmes as a starting point, and I’d arrived assuming that this was the idea we’d also be exploring for comics: could our work be made more accessible if there was a soundtrack describing it, frame by frame, in a gallery? In fact, the discussion, and the potential approaches we considered, were much broader in the end.
We answered some practical questions, like: what do we think people notice in our work when they are reading it? I had taken in this page as my example:
The question made me realise that as an artist, you might spend a long time drawing background details like pots and pans and plates; but some details are slightly more important to the piece than others. Like, some details are just there to make it clear it’s a kitchen – and an audio description could convey your hours of detailed drawing with the single word “kitchen” or perhaps slightly more detail (a well worn kitchen, a messy kitchen, a cluttered kitchen…); other details dotted through the book are trying to anchor it in a distinct time and place (in this case, Devon in the eighties). How much of this a reader would consciously take in depends, of course, on the individual: their knowledge of the world, their attention to detail; their willingness to stop and ponder.
And so the audio descriptor has a fine tuned task ahead of them: they can’t describe everything, because that would end up being very tedious for the person receiving their ‘aid’. The descriptor must attempt to convey the important details and perhaps somehow also get across the general atmosphere; the essence of what makes one strip different from another.
I think we ended up agreeing that while a blind or partially-sighted person can’t fully see a comic strip, they can be given an experience of it. This experience, however, might be something quite different or separate from the original strip. But given that every reader takes something different from a comic, that need not be a problem. Maybe it’s just a new piece of art in the world, related to the original, but something else in itself.
My own work was probably the most straightforward of that of the four artists taking part; and there was still plenty to discuss, from the changes in colour palettes in Satin and Tat‘s two timelines, to the sound effects, speech and thought bubbles, to the style of drawing, the characters’ expressions, and so on.
The others’ work opened up even more discussion. Zara deliberately chose to use different media for the different points of view in Coma – she spoke about a broken charcoal line talking of a certain fragility, for example, and the contrast of a bright white page after a spell of darker ones. She was also quite thoughtful about how one experiences leafing through a book, leaping in to the story, and how it is usually a private experience that you pace for yourself – it could be gobbled up in a day or consumed at a slow pace over a month or two.
Woodrow’s work is complex and graphic, but the page he brought in, from Rumblestrip, almost had a route mapped out on it and we wondered about that being made into a traceable road for a finger. He also mentioned that some of Schultz’s Peanuts books were manufactured with raised images and braille text for blind readers.
Finally, Gareth’s work was possibly the most pertinent out of all of ours: he’s known as an experimenter with form and over the years has produced comics that, while ending up as smooth images on the printed page, begin as very tactile media such as embroidery, scraped back wax crayon and pyrography. Plus, his book A Thousand Coloured Castles actually deals with macular degeneration. But, lovely though it is to trace a finger over embroidery thread to discover a figure, would the artist want their original artwork made grubby in this way? And would the reader even be able to follow a story just from touch?
Were we to create work knowing from the very start that it was for a blind or partially-sighted audience, I think we would all have made something very different, but it was fascinating to discuss ways we could make our existing stuff more accessible – and perhaps slightly shameful that we’d never even thought of doing so before.
In the next phases of the research, Veronika will be writing up descriptions of our exceprts and running them by us to see if we think they convey everything necessary; Emma will be looking into the practicalities of mounting accessible exhibitions; and Dimitris will be connecting with blind and partially-sighted people to find out more about how they would like to experience comics.
Anyway, the time flew: it was a real treat to be chewing over comics and how they are both created and consumed, and it cheered me up no end. I almost wished we could have talked for another couple of hours… but I had a disgruntled cat, minus three or four teeth, waiting for me at home.
It’s two months since I posted anything, and I’m feeling a bit like I’ve lost my thread.
It’s been a funny old time. I wouldn’t say that motivation has entirely left me, just that I haven’t had the energy to keep up with my art practice on top of everything else. For ages there, I was quite happily filling every spare moment, busy as a bee, drawing and working and reading and watching films and exercising and eating sensibly – and then, I wasn’t. I am like a passive observer, watching these things slip one by one, rather than someone who knows what activities makes her happy and pursues them. It’s all very odd.
On examination, there are some quite understandable reasons for this state of ennui – for starters, it took a bit of effort to launch the Street Noise version of Draw the Line (thank you Cartoon Museum, and thank you LD Comics (you can watch that one on YouTube), and thanks so much, all the wonderful artists who joined me).
Then, soon after, I and my family, like much of the nation apparently came down with covid. It was, thankfully, mild – but that was definitely at least a week in which I didn’t do anything, let alone artwork.
Plus, we had our kitchen ripped out and a new one put in, and then a new floor (if this makes us sound immensely rich and privileged – well, I will hold my hands up to privileged, a bit, but we’re not exactly rolling in it; we inherited a small amount of money after a death in the family, and we’re using it to attend to some long-needed renovations).
While the work was going on, we packed up everything that used to be in the lower ground floor and stuffed it into the small room I use as an office, where I usually draw, write and do my day job. There were pieces of furniture, hundreds of books, billions of pots and pans, the contents of our kitchen cabinets and years’ worth of accumlated cruft, all in towers of plastic boxes.
We left a narrow path to my desk, but I ended up doing my dayjob mainly from the bedroom upstairs, where it was also quieter.
A more tenacious artist might have carried on from this soft perch, but I found it hard enough putting in a nine to five thirty from bed (it is surprisingly hard on the hips).
I’ve also been down to Devon to continue the long and frustrating process of working out how best to support my elderly parents. I’m back now, the office is empty again, and the lower ground floor is much improved… all I need to do is get my routines back.
It feels like this is going to take a bit more mental work than I would have expected – for a good long while there I was happily (maybe a bit smugly?) entrenched in my regular comics-making sessions before work each day – but that now seems less achievable. Perhaps it was the break in routine, perhaps it’s that I’m increasingly old, menopausal, tired, worrying about aching joints and with a lot on my plate elsewhere.
At the same time, I really miss drawing and everything that goes with it.
We are beasts, and in returning our books to the shelves, have done that obnoxious thing of arranging them by colour.
Packing up practically every book we own and then unpacking them again at least gave me a good oversight of what comics and graphic novels I own (and allowed me to chuck out a few that don’t deserve my longterm affection).
Deep in the archives were my own comics and anthologies I’d contributed to, from the early 90s. This will at least help me fill in a few dates and holes in my CV.
One of them was Holly Girl in Sapling Town, I think the first full length comic I ever drew, for a Candian imprint called Oh…Her Comic Quarterly. Looking back, I can’t remember how I landed the gig, given that this was pre-internet, or at least pre- me having any idea of what the internet was or how to access it. I assume it was something to do with Erica Smith’s Girlfrenzy, which was – unthinkably for someone with my own narrow horizons – distributed to various outlets in N America.
Holly Girl has surfaced in various house tidying sessions over the years and I’ve always shoved it embarrasedly back onto the shelf, remembering the slapdash way in which I’d worked, and how I’d been working out the plot as I’d gone along – I was expecting to be thoroughly ashamed of it.
In fact I was quite pleasantly surprised. I mean, I’m not saying it’s brilliant (it isn’t), but parts of it made me laugh, and I’m quite taken aback by my own drawing style at that time – complex, with lots of detail, with my still-persisting but misguided belief that if people can see you’ve put the work in, surely they must see more value in it.
It kind of reminded me of Zoe Thorogood’s Impending Blindness of Billie Scott – made by a young artist, tussling with plots and line drawing, taking a world view despite not having been in the world for terribly long, and coming up with something a bit unique. So I can be kinder to my younger self.
Also in the pile were old Sofa comics, put together by a collective of Brighton comic artists who had a couple of joint exhibitions in the 90s, again largely thanks to the organisational skills and energy of Erica Smith.
I suppose it’s good to have these things and remind myself of how long I’ve been identifying as a comics artist. and that I was fairly confident in what my style was back then (maybe more than I am now?)
Echoes and pre-echoes
One thing that took me aback about Holly Girl was that it utilises the same plot point that I used nearly thirty years later in Satin and Tat, where an older person (albeit a gay woman in this case) realises they’ve been dallying with someone underage.
Being in Devon was similarly instructive about how much less original my work is than I’d thought. I took my 17 year old daughter to my parents’ house and she had a root around in my old bedroom. I had thought that my belongings were long disposed of, but deep within all the boxes of my parent’s own book collection (yes, we seemingly have a genetic predisposition) my daughter discovered a stack of posters from the 80s, and I found an old essay I had written for a competition.
In Satin and Tat, Ella buys Alex a big poster: it’s a chunk of the plot (because apparently, these days, I do actually work out the entire plot before putting stylus to screen).
When I was scripting, I thought, well, as Bowie is a recurring theme, let’s make it a Bowie poster; then I looked up which album would have been current to the time and I settled on a Modern Love era poster. I depicted Ella carrying it along this one street.
Well, among the tear-out Smash Hits centrefolds of the Human League, David Slyvian, Roxy Music, and the Cure (now asynchronously on my daughter’s own bedroom walls) was, in fact, a giant Bowie poster. And it was a Modern Love one, and we rolled it up to take it back with us and then we had to carry it along that same street.
I don’t actually remember owning this poster (unlike the equally giant Iggy Pop one which was, and still is, pinned to my bedroom’s ceiling) and while it’s not exactly a coincidence – Satin and Tat is set in that era and based on my own interests – it did feel a bit correlative.
Then the essay – well, I don’t think it distinguished me with any awards at the time. But there were more echoes: it had an awful lot in common with my 2019 Longreads piece, Cut From the Same Cloth.
(Today I would have put the word ‘made’ on the end of that final sentence.)
Basically I’ve come to realise that one doesn’t have new ideas, you just rehash the same basic components of your psyche, again and again.
Anyway, in summary: I haven’t been drawing, but I have been back in Devon, immersed in the Satin and Tat era. And I have been feeling sorry for myself.
But enough self-indulgence. All this aside, I have actually got an exciting event on the horizon: my first ever solo exhibition. And that deserves a post of its own.
My daughter and I triumphed over railway engineering works and long diversions yesterday and made it to London to see the musical I’d given her tickets for as a birthday gift.
The show was Dear Evan Hansen, and I went in knowing nothing about it. The plot turned out to revolve around a highschool suicide and the effects it has on friends and family – a bit more pertinent to me than I’d anticipated.
And of course, when in London, you have to visit comic shops, and before the show we popped into Gosh!, where I picked up Skim. And as it so happens, Skim‘s plot also revolves around a teen suicide and the effects it has on classmates.
Both gave me plenty to think about, given that my work in progress Satin and Tat also deals with a suicide from my own teenage years.
Of course, everyone will come to the same topic from different angles, but all the same, there are questions that you can apply universally. How much reverence do you give the subject? How upset will your characters to be, and how much do you want your audience to empathise with them? How do you generate that empathy? Are there deeper things to say than ‘it’s sad’, and are there intersecting plotlines wrapped around your main one? Etc, etc.
I suppose you could argue that a musical is more likely to tug at the heartstrings, having all the tricks of music and voice and lights and grand gestures at its disposal, and indeed I did find myself shedding a wee tear at certain points, something that definitely didn’t happen while I was reading Skim.
There again, Skim lingered less on the emotional after effects of the death and more on the complications of teen friendships. It was still super-adept – both the drawings and the entwining plot-lines. That’s no surprise; This One Summer is still one of the graphic novels I regard most highly, and I knew I’d be in good hands with the Tamaki cousins.
I should give a shout out to Gosh!, who continue to support small press creators with a large section dedicated to their work right by the shop’s front door. They kindly agreed to take some copies of my Protest books to sell, so if you’re a Londoner, maybe pop by and save yourself the postage fees.
My daughter and I had a good long talk as we walked around central London, and one thing she said – in relation to her ambitions around working in theatre or TV – was how easy she found it to envisage stories in the form of storyboards. I wondered whether this is because there have always been comics and graphic novels around, and she’s read them as much as she’s read written books.
Also in happy news, I was contacted by the Workers Gallery in Porth, South Wales, who have asked me to exhibit my protest illustrations this summer. This feels like a great example of how you never know where just sitting down and drawing a comic will take you. I had very small plans for this comic, but I’m so glad that it seems to be making waves.
We’re in conversation at the moment and both sides are getting excited about a multitude of possibilities for associated activities and workshops and talks! Between us we’ve had so many good ideas and I really hope we can bring some of them to fruition.
I’m off work this week, so hoping to think through a few logistics, and also to get my thoughts together for the two upcoming Draw the Line launch events, at the Cartoon Museum and at LDComics (details coming v soon).
I’ve also unexpectedly got an illustration commission to work on at short notice, AND I need to clear everything out of our lower ground level of our house as we are having a new floor and a long-awaited new kitchen put in. So it’s not exactly going to be a week off… well, let’s just hope it’s true that a change is as good as a rest.
What’s really happening is that we’re about a month out from the UK publication of the Draw The Line book, so we’ve started publicising the two launch events: one actual, and then one virtual – which is nice because it means that even if you’re nowhere near London, you can still come to the online one.
I’m actually quite excited, not least by the fact that I seem to be able to just ask line-ups of incredible artists to appear on a panel with me, and every single one of them then says ‘yes’. The great thing about this strategy is that I get a better than front row seat to listen to the comic artists I most want to hear from.
So I’ll talk about the virtual one in a few days once the bumph is all out in public, and here are the details of the IRL event (Thurs March 10 at the Cartoon Museum in London) :
Did you know comics can change the world? Come and join us for the launch of Draw The Line from Street Noise Books. This ‘toolkit for activism’ suggests more than 100 ways to make the world a better place, each illustrated by a comic artist.
We’ll hear from Myfanwy Tristram, co-ordinator of this global project; Hannah Berry, ex Comics Laureate and creator of Livestock and Adamtine; Woodrow Phoenix, author of Rumblestrip and sequel Crash Course; Jaime Huxtable, artist on Such, Such Were the Joys; and Daniel Locke whose Out of Nothing creates a better understanding of the science that shapes our lives.
The panel will be in conversation with Alex Fitch of Resonance FM, and recorded for his show Panel Borders.
It’s in a smallish room, and covid restrictions mean that numbers are even more limited than usual, so numbers really are limited and I’d advise you not to delay buying your ticket if you’d like to attend.
Oh, and one more thing – the £10 ticket price includes a copy of the book, which is a tremendous bargain given that it’s less than the RRP. Hope to see you there!
In other news, I’m still chipping away at Satin and Tat, still on the same double page spread as last week, which does (if I say so myself) look rather cheeringly excellent. As it’s a diversion all about vinyl and cassettes, I’ve been drawing album covers that I remember from my own eighties collection (from reference photos; my memory isn’t that good).
Also, mix tapes.
Today, the local anarchist co-operatively-owned cafe/bookshop/social centre that’s right by my bus stop was open (as it sporadically is) and I popped in to buy a slice of vegan chocolate & hazelnut cake, and to browse their graphic novel shelves.
I came away with two amazing finds: Diary of a Miscreantby Isy Morgenmuffel (who, I was informed at the bar, was one of the centre’s co-founders), and The Ring by Tiitu Takalo (in the original Finnish but with a photocopied insert translating the dialogue).
Morgenmuffel would appear to have made a longer term commitment than I did to the kind of life I briefly lived when I first moved to Brighton in the early 90s: political action, co-operative living, crusties, hitch-hiking, anti-road protests, special brew and veganism. I found it quite nostalgic to read and look back on those times: but my favourite sequence is when she and her boyfriend travel overland by train and coach all the way from the UK to Korea, stopping off to stay in squats and hang out with anarchists along the way.
I think I’ve mentioned Takalo before as a creator I’m just in awe of. This is another superbly executed story with flawless illustrations. I’m not even remotely interested in boxing but I still lapped this up. Yup, still a hopeless fangirl.
So it turns out that it’s not that useful to name your files things like ‘page 54 new.jpg‘, ‘page 54 April.jpg‘ and ‘page 54 altered.jpg‘, etc, when you’re working on a project spanning several years and which has involved a lot of page revisions, reordering and rejigging.
I’ve returned to Satin and Tat for now – the problems with it still remain: there’s still not enough time and it’s still too big a task, but neither of those things become less true if I abandon it, and I might as well be chipping away while thinking about my next move.
I’ve ordered the second print run of the Protest book, with its ISBN, and when that arrives I’ll be dedicating more time to getting it out there, but for now, rather than twiddle my fingers I’m back to drawing records and punks with purple hair.
Well I say drawing. ANd while I have done a bit, I’ve spent most of my comic creating time today moving completed pages out of a folder named ‘coloured pages’ and into a subfolder named ‘properly numbered pages’.
Satin and Tat exists in various forms:
As a typewritten script
As thumbnailed pages, drawn digitally and in their own folder
As a print-out of those thumbnails, giving me a pleasingly dogeared volume that I feel free to scrawl notes on
As layered files (first PhotoShop, then Affinity) on my hard drive
As finished jpgs on my portable hard drive (up to the pages I’ve completed, of course). Turns out that these should have been TIFFs, you live and learn.
As copies of these finished jpgs, on a Google Drive, in case the worst happens and I lose all my local files
Often – and here’s where we hit the problem – as multiple versions of a single page where I’ve thought ‘I’ll just try doing it this way’ or ‘I’ll just delete that element’, without deleting the earlier version or giving them a coherent file naming structure.
Well, I guess this is how you learn to do better: you see the downsides of the way you’ve been managing things.
One thing that is clear when going through my folders is just how very, very much artwork I have produced thus far. When I say this project has taken an insane amount of time, it’s not just because each page takes so long to draw; it’s because in many cases I’ve been redrawing or rearranging pages, and in some of those cases, multiple times.
This has been a result, to an extent, of learning on the job. Look*, I thought I was doing all the right things (and to an extent I was): character and reference sketches, a full script, (eventually) a full thumbnailed version. But I have also been getting better at drawing throughout the project; and adding new pages to make it flow better or add a deeper point to the plot.
This week I was drawing away on a file named ‘page 81’ when I realised the number didn’t tally with the page numbers in my print-out, which is what prompted the ‘properly numbered pages’ folder. It’s this sort of admin that adds still more hours of work to the project, and doesn’t even result in artwork.
That’s all, really. While I was renaming all my files today, I did think about this tweet and wondered if anyone would do the same for a half-finished comic.
Er, so, well, I seem to have a success on my hands.
I mean, only within the very narrow parameters of my previous self-published comics, but the Protest book has been flying off the shelves. Or more accurately, out of the cardboard box, since I didn’t have time to put them on a shelf before they started selling.
And so it is that within a week of their receipt, I’m ordering a second print run, double the size of the first. Thanks, everybody who bought a copy! And special thanks to those of you who ordered one and then came back to order another one, which feels like a real endorsement.
At this point, I did originally write in detail about all the fairly boring admin stuff I’ve been up to, in the spirit of knowledge-sharing. But it’s so dry that I’ve now moved it to the end of this post, just in case anyone else is treading the same path and my experience might save them some time.
Really exciting times
As well as all the dry stuff, there have been various exciting things happening this week.
I’ve been setting up two events for the Draw The Line UK launch in March. The first will be online and open to anyone, anywhere in the world, via the wonderful LDComics. You can’t book yet (but you could book for their February event, which also looks good, and tick the box to be kept informed about future ones).
Honestly, it’s amazing what you can get set up just by… asking people.
By the way, if you want to feel special, grab a Draw the Line book before the launch: I still have a few available.
Further into the future, but still this year, it looks like I’ll be exhibiting at a small gallery, and possibly selling at both the big comics festivals, the Lakes and Thought Bubble. So, loads and loads to look forward to.
Not all about me
I’ve been mentioning for a while to my daughter, who’s 17, that she should make a zine, and I’d happily sell it along with my own comics. She’s always been reluctant, in that way that kids are when their parents are into something and therefore it’s automatically uncool.
But I think she’s coming round to the idea. As well she ought! One of her main complaints is that she has no-one to talk to about her niche enthusiasms, which is practically the definition of what a zine is for. She’s been asking a bit about the mechanics of comic-making and I’m trying not to jump down her throat with too much information.
Today the winners were announced for the Observer/Cape/Comica prize, something I’ve been pretty obsessed with in earlier years (see blog posts past, in which I would round up every link I could find to people’s entries) but have now largely abandoned as a lost cause.
It was really nice to see fellow Brightonian Tatt Effby given a well-deserved placing. But oh my goodness, I see the Observer hasn’t got any better at displaying full page comic strips online. I am sure the winning entry is excellent, but reading it on a mobile involves enlarging it and pushing the screen from frame to frame, while on a desktop I can’t enlarge it enough for the lettering to be legible. I know, I’m getting old, and my current prescription mean I’m always moving from normal glasses to reading glasses – but I’m sure I’m not alone on this.
On recommendation, I’ve started listening to the Autonomous Creative podcast from Jessica Abel. I will return with more thoughts when I’ve had time to digest it all, but so far my main takeaway is that making comics is so time consuming that an industry is building up around coaching people on how to fit them into your life.
Also that I suspect Spike Trotman, despite her assertions otherwise, is on the brink of a huge crash: her lifestyle sounded entirely unsustainable.
Fairly boring admin stuff
OK, here’s the adminny stuff. This week has been all about toiling over spreadsheets, scanning help pages and filling in registrations, and nothing about drawing comics.
First: I did figure out how to put people back on a ‘thank you’ page after a successful PayPal transaction (for anyone with the same question, it’s in your PayPal account settings, and you don’t need a Business account to implement it).
New shop platform
But, having cracked this, I don’t need it any more. At the recommendation of my friend Michi, I’ve now moved my entire store over to Big Cartel, and have chosen to use Stripe instead (Big Cartel integrates with PayPal or Stripe, but you do need a business account to use PayPal there. It’s free to transform your PayPal into a business account, but I also use my PayPal for personal transactions and I couldn’t be bothered to jump through the hoops to set up a new account so I just went with Stripe).
Big Cartel is free if you have five products or fewer, and I went with it because it allows more flexibility. With the PayPal buttons I had on this site (basic ones, because that’s all that my cheapo WordPress subscription allows) I could only offer one book at a time to one location at a time.
If I wanted people to be able buy two copies of a book, I’d have had to have a button specifically for that – and another for three, or four, or five. If I wanted to charge different prices for those living in different countries, I’d have had to have a button for each postal zone, and so on.
Big Cartel is basic but it does allow you to specify different shipping rates for different buyer locations, and it lets shoppers put items into a basket before calculating shipping as a whole. So, all good (I hope… I haven’t actually had a sale through there yet; I’ve stopped promoting the book for a while in case I sell out before the new print run gets here).
While I’m getting more professional, I’ve taken the plunge and bought some ISBN numbers. It looks like I’ll be selling my book at the Cartoon Museum and at least one other gallery, and an ISBN makes it easier.
The economies of scale for ISBN numbers are a very steep cliff: you can buy one for £89, or ten for £164, or 100 for £369. I figured I might put out another nine books in my lifetime, should I live so long, so I opted for 10. I am spending a lot of money at the moment – we’re also having our kitchen remodelled, at long long last – so it does feel a little reckless, but I am telling myself that it is good to invest in my practice. The cat agrees.
Nielsen will also generate barcodes that you can place on the back of your book so that shops can scan them, but at similarly expensive prices, so I was glad when Simon pointed me towards a free barcode generator.
After a quick chat with my pals, I’ve put the ISBNs under the name of our informal collective, so anyone in the group can buy one from me (ISBNs have to be connected to a publisher, although that can be oneself being a self-publisher).
As I remarked at the time, this is presumably the first step to accidentally finding yourself running a comics publishing house.
Talking of our informal collective: I won’t say anything quite yet, but we have been sitting around a pub table and planning some quite ambitious things. More when those things become more concrete.
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).
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.
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. :)
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…)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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“.
…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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 bookshop.org 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.