Draw the Line: the Unbound years

This is a series of blog posts documenting Draw The Line, a project that brought together over 100 cartoonists from around the world, each depicting a positive political action. This is part five.

  • You can find part one, documenting the final product, here
  • then part two, which explains how the project was born
  • part three describes how we wrangled such a big group of artists
  • and part four talks about the launch of our website.

Now comes a more difficult section to write: this covers a move that resulted in a much longer delay than we’d intended in getting the book out into the world, and which was ultimately the wrong decision for this project.

The pitch

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’d spoken to another artist who’d just signed up with Unbound, to ask her whether she thought it would be a good fit for us, and she was broadly positive.

By coincidence, shortly after that, Unbound’s graphic novels specialist came down to talk to our local comics group, Cartoon County, about how the whole set-up worked.

Unbound describes itself as a unique hybrid between crowdfunders like Kickstarter, and traditional publishing houses, giving authors the benefits of both.

In subsequent years I’ve seen several more small publishers switch to the same model, and in fact this specialist has now left to set up their own (smaller and graphic novels-only) publishing house, which also works by crowdfunding.

But at this point, the whole concept was pretty new. It had been conceived and funded by one of the people behind the TV show QI, who had invested in good developers to make a web platform with all the functionality needed to promote and sell books in this innovative way.

What really appealed to me was that once the book was funded, Unbound would be doing all the heavy lifting of getting the printing organised, marketing it at comics fairs and into bookshops (“our titles go into the catalogues that shops like Waterstones pick their stock from”, they told me), and shipping it out.

All this would have required a steep learning curve and a completely new set of skills for me, and I’d been worrying about how we’d manage these logistics, so having the professionals take over that side was a weight off my mind.

Signing on the dotted line

Shop Local by Lucy Knisley
Shop Local by Lucy Knisley

Unbound’s Graphic Novels editor and I met up in a coffee shop the day after their talk in Brighton, to discuss their taking on Draw The Line. They were enthusiastic and it felt like a great fit: they’d do some maths and then get me the contract to sign.

Unbound works to an algorithm to figure out how much needs to be raised before your book is published: as you’d imagine, this takes into account the size of the book, the number of pages, and the number of copies to be produced. I asked that we also allow for a free copy for every participating artist, which may have been an error in terms of pushing the target higher, but which reflected a promise which we’d made to the artists from the beginning.

Of course, Unbound also make their own profit from each book, as any publishing house would – this, too is factored into the algorithm and is added to the target.

In return for their slice of the profits, they provided a page on their website (again, much like a Kickstarter page) with all the rewards laid out on it and a full description of the project, the ability to send out updates to all pledgers, and a backend where authors could see useful stats like the sum still to be raised, who had pledged how much, and where (down to the level of the precise tweet) people had arrived at the page from before making a pledge.

And so, we agreed the tier levels and the target needing to be raised, and our page went live.

During that initial chat, I was told the average sum that customers pledged on Unbound, based on a spread between those that pledge the lowest and those that go all out for the big tier rewards. It was a reassuring figure that allowed me to do some quick calculations to figure out our feasibility.

Because, remember that we had over 100 artists involved in the project. With every artist acting as a promoter for the book, we worked out that if each could bring just 2 or 3 pledges from their friends and family, not to mention the pledgers I assumed we’d gain from general marketing activities, those browsing the Unbound site, etc – well, we’d meet our target in no time.

Rewards all round

The price for the basic hardback first edition book was set at £20, with an eBook thrown in and the chance to have your name included in the back, as one of the people who helped bring it into being.

We were in a great position of being able to ask artists to provide extras, like comics, bespoke or original artwork, workshops and talks that you could add a few quid to your pledge for. There were bundles of multiple volumes for bookclubs and schools, etc, and comedian Joanna Neary even offered to perform a stand-up gig at the occasion of your choice.

Draw The Line artwork

We also added cheaper tiers, with add-ons such as bookplates and prints; and there was always the option of the eBook for a tenner, as well. So in theory, there was something for pretty much every purse.

Telling the world

Our rudimentary marketing machine went into action. We pushed the project on social media, wrote blog posts, and I gave talks anywhere that would have me, including podcasts, comic blogs, our local Sunday Assembly, LDComics, and a sprinkling of salons across the south coast.

We printed out hundreds of flyers and sent them to any of our artists who were willing to distribute them in their local area; at one point I even made badges for anyone brave enough to wear the message ‘ask me about Draw The Line‘ across their chest.

Ask me about Draw The Line

As with most crowdfunding campaigns, we went off to a strong start. Some extraordinarily generous pledges were made (we honoured these prime donors by printing their names more prominently in the back of the eventual book); and ingenious ways were found of adding to the coffers.

For example, Nye Wright made his own comic and donated proceeds; Rachael House ran a workshop in Helsinki and her fees came to us; and a wonderful lady in Hastings, upon hearing about the Raging Grannies, promptly set up her own chapter of this loose but outrageous affiliation of wayward women, then invited friends to a series of seven-course rainbow dinners (each course was a different colour of the spectrum) with a pledge being the entry fee.

Rachael Ball - Raging Grannies
Raging Grannies by Rachael Ball

But unfortunately, when it came to my own talks and interviews, they all had one thing in common: they would always be well received; people would always come up afterwards to say how much they liked the project; they would take a flyer… and it would result in, on average, somewhere between 0 and 1 pledges.

For anyone reading this and hoping to learn how to do it better: of course, the better route would have been to collect all these people’s email addresses so that we could have sent out regular updates to them, and we did start doing this eventually (but to only small effect).

Still – I was undaunted, because, as I say, we had this enormous network of artists to help share the crowdfunder.

Join The Party by Freya Harrison

Tumbleweed

That’s when I learned another important truth, though. Artists (in the main) like to make artwork, but they don’t necessarily want to be involved with a long, long marketing campaign.

As with every other aspect of the project, there were artists who were very keen and went above and beyond in their efforts to help spread the word; and continued to do so doggedly. And there were others who, quite understandably, having submitted their artwork and shared it on social media, moved on to their next project. Let me stress again that this is entirely reasonable and I am not criticising them for having other priorities!

One aspect of Unbound that differs from Kickstarter or any of the other crowdfunding platforms is that it does not set an end date on its fundraising. I don’t know what would have happened if we’d had a much shorter, much more intense, defined period – it is, after all, well known that lots of people make pledges only when the end is in sight. Psychologically this makes sense: it’s now or never, and you could miss out if you don’t pledge then and there; plus, when the end date is on the horizon, the book is going to be in your hands in a defined amount of time.

Anyway, once the first burst of pledges was over, that was it. Silence. Months went by when we’d see only a single pledge, or none at all.

It began to weigh heavy on my mind that we’d accepted payment from those early pledgers – in some cases, really quite substantial sums of money – and we hadn’t delivered them anything in return. I kept trying, kept giving talks, kept tweeting and Instagramming, but it was an uphill struggle when there was so little payback.

Each Monday, I’d get an automated email from Unbound to tell me how much we’d raised that week. Often, it was £0.

Clearly, I’m not a decisive person. This state of affairs ran on for two years before I finally thought, ‘that’s enough’. About which, more in the next post.

Footnote

I want to be clear that I’m not criticising Unbound or their model in this post: I am saying that it didn’t work for Draw The Line, and setting out the reasons why.

Draw the Line: online launch

This is part 4 of the Draw The Line story: you can find part one here, then part two and part three.

So, at the end of the last post, we were just getting artwork in from the 100+ artists who had each illustrated whichever political action they had been allocated. My inbox was bulging and everything was looking great.

During this period, Karrie Fransman had suggested that we concentrate on a digital launch before thinking about a physical printed book: that way, she reasoned, the project could have more impact more immediately, as images and links could be shared quickly and easily through social media, etc. This seemed sensible, so that’s what we agreed to do.

Around this time, Karrie also designed the Draw The Line logo of a fist clutching a pencil, which we were able to use for our site banner and as an avatar across social media.

Incidentally, Karrie’s own artwork contribution, on the theme of welcoming refugees, was one of the ones which got a lot of admiration all round:

Put Out A Welcome Mat by Karrie Fransman

Building the website

Copywriting came as no problem to me, as that’s what I do all day long at work; and we’d already crafted all the action titles and descriptions when sending out the artists’ briefs, so in fact there was very little writing left still to do.

Thanks to my day job, I also have just enough experience to set up a WordPress site and apply templates, etc, but unfortunately that’s really as far as it goes. You could say it was a case of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.

This is an area where we definitely could have ended up with a better result by calling in a developer or designer – I did ask my colleague Martin Wright for help at this point, and he did what he could, but by then we’d made a few decisions in terms of hosting and design that made it difficult for him to do more that tweak.

That’s not to say it was a complete disaster: the Draw The Line website is functional. It’s still live at www.drawthelinecomics.com so you can see it for yourself. I use WordPress every day at work, so the big benefit for me was that I know its interface well, and there was no learning curve required for me in terms of building and editing the site.

The template we chose allowed me to arrange the actions within categories, all of which can be seen on the homepage – the set-up I’d always envisioned. The images within each category act like a slideshow, and the banner is different on each page load.

But there are some obvious flaws as a result of such choices: each page, and especially that homepage, is slow to load; and that template also had the effect that it’s hard to link to any one specific image within the category pages.

Draw The Line homepage
Draw The Line homepage

As with so many aspects of the Draw The Line project, I was happy to spend a bit of time on it, but didn’t want it to become an enormous time-sink on top of my other responsibilities, so we’ve never gone in to try and fix those flaws.

Telling everyone about it

Despite all I say above, it was (and is!) a functioning website, allowing us to show off all the illustrations in one place, and have an official launch.

The collaborative nature of the project came into play again, as different group members helped write and translate a press release, and crowdsource a list of journalists to send it to – journalists from every country represented among our cohort of artists.

We set up accounts on Instagram, Twitter and a public-facing Facebook page (in addition to the private group for participating artists) and let everyone know the project was open for business.

Don’t forget the book!

Meanwhile, what had happened to the plan of a kickstarted book? Well, our ambitions had grown rather, once we began to see the quality of the work we’d gathered together. We wondered whether it might be better to try and have the book published professionally: this would mean that it would travel further, be available more widely, and ultimately empower more people to take action.

And around this time, we heard about a publishing set-up called Unbound. One of our artists, Wallis Eates, had recently signed with them for one of her books, and it sounded good. They were a hybrid between a kickstarter, and a traditional publishing house: books were crowdfunded by people pledging for copies ahead of printing, but after the target sum had been reached, Unbound would do all the things a standard publishing house does: it’d arrange printing, distribution and marketing, and the book would be offered on Amazon as well as available for sale in bricks and mortar bookshops.

This sounded like a great option for us: after all, we’d already been planning the kickstarter part; but now we’d also have all the benefits that came from a professional publisher.

Well, that’s what we thought, but it didn’t go entirely to plan, and I’ll be writing a bit more about that in the next post.

Draw The Line: the brief

This is the third post in a series of – oh, I don’t know, maybe five or six?

We’ve already looked at the end product of the Draw The Line project and how the idea began. In this post I’ll try to cover the practicalities involved in managing a remote art project with more than 100 participants.

Attend meetings by Emily Haworth-Booth

An international list of artists

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that, thanks to Karrie and the power of social media, we now had a long list of artists who were willing to get involved.

We’d invited them to join a dedicated Facebook group and I also asked everyone to add their name, email address and a link to any web presence to a Google spreadsheet, so I could easily communicate with everyone en masse. Eventually I would import this to Mailchimp, which is free to use if your list of recipients is low enough, and use that to send out mass email updates.

During this stage, I occasionally had to pinch myself as I looked at who was coming on board: many were artists I really looked up to and had never imagined I would be working with. Among them were some pretty big names of the comics world, like Dave McKean, Steven Appleby, Kate Charlesworth, Lucy Knisley, Fumio Obata and Hunt Emerson.

There were also many people I knew well, both from the closeknit Brighton comics scene (Zara Slattery, Michi Mathias, Simon Russell, Daniel Locke, Joe Decie, Hannah Berry, Nye Wright, to name but a few) and the wider but equally networked UK small press community (Katriona Chapman, Una, Rachael Ball, Rachael House, Dave Crane, Karen Rubins, Woodrow Phoenix and more).

Then, thanks to my contacts with the Finnish Femicomix organisation (which itself had come about from the fortuitous friendship with Siiri Viljakka) there was a good representation from Finland (where, in case you didn’t know, small press comics are thriving); this was by far the biggest country represented but we also had artists in Australia, USA, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Canada and beyond. At this stage I don’t think I knew how many nationalities we spanned: one side-effect of working online in this way is that people didn’t necessarily mention where they were located, and it took a Facebook post explicitly asking the question to discover that we were spread across 16 different countries.

Then of course there were also plenty of artists I’d not heard of before, and it was a pleasure to discover all their work and various styles.

An inclusive project

Everyone was welcome to take part. We weren’t going to invite artists to submit a piece and then decide whether or not to include their work: the project was inclusive, and if an artist was going to give up their time, we would accept their submission.

As you’ll remember from yesterday’s post, we already had the list of actions that the artists were going to depict. The next step was to allocate them.

We could have done this randomly, but it seemed more sensible to look at each artist’s website or social media, and try to match them to the action we thought was best suited to their style or subject matter.

Some of these pairings worked so well that I now understand how proud casting directors must be when they feel they’ve chosen just the right actors for each role in a production.

For example, Katriona Chapman, who had just published her first book Follow Me In about travelling around Mexico, was given the action about the ‘Border Angels’ who leave water and supplies for migrants crossing into the States.

Carry Water by Katriona Chapman

Steven Appleby did great things with ‘Be yourself’ which played into some of his self-identified obsessions of identity and public perception:

Be Yourself by Steven Appleby

Lengthy instructions

Once we’d made these pairings, we sent each artist a long and detailed brief by email.

This took a little time: while 95% of each mail could be copy and pasted, we also had to include the details specific to each recipient.

In retrospect there was perhaps a bit too much information in these mails, but they did at least cover all bases! Here’s what we included:

  • The title of the action the artist had been allocated (eg, Plant Radical Roots or Question Sources)
  • The text that would accompany their illustration (usually a couple of sentences that explained what the action was, and why it was a good one to do — you can see them all in situ on the Draw The Line website)
  • A reference number that would help us keep track of the action, what the caption was and where it fitted in to the project — we asked artists to name their image with this number, plus their name
  • Specifications for the format, size and dimensions — and Simon made a graphic to show where the bleed margins needed to be
  • A deadline (that, top tip, was a week or two before the actual deadline)
  • A request that people provide their work in both CMYK and RGB versions (because we were foreseeing using them on both a website and the print book)
  • A suggestion that any text was added as a separate layer (so if we ever translated the project for future foreign versions, it would be easier)
  • Links to any reference sources we had identified during our research phase, where relevant (for example, if the action was about signing a petition, we’d link to articles about petitions which had actually brought about change, or a piece about how to ensure your petiton got wider take-up)
  • Some links to inspiring examples, which we listed like this:

If your action is suitable, ie it has several steps or dimensions, you may choose to create a ‘how to’ strip. Here’s a good example by the comic artist Cordelia.

Or you may wish to make a humorous illustration/strip based on the action, like this one by Jorge Cham.

Maybe you’ll use the theme to make a political comment. Here are some examples by female cartoonists from North Africa and here’s another by Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle.

If your action includes a case study, you could use that to make a reportage strip (and we’d then remove it from the accompanying text). You may want to research it a little more before you begin. Fumio Obata is a great example of a comic artist working in this tradition.

You could make an infographic if that’s your bag, like this one by Falara.

Or perhaps you’d like to create a single, meaningful illustration, like this one by Jeannie Phan on the benefits of mentoring or this by Veronica Lawlor depicting a demonstration.

Some other details

A few other things it may be worth mentioning:

  • We asked everyone to confirm they’d received the brief, which turned out to be a useful way of keeping track of how many firmly committed artists we actually had.
  • We told artists to add their name to their work, so that even if it was copied and shared outside the context of Draw The Line, their attribution would never be lost.
  • We requested that all artwork be suitable for kids, because many of the actions were child-friendly (in fact, we had a whole category that was labelled as such), and besides, it would be nice not to exclude that audience. Children were likely to be as worried as we adults about the state of the world, we reasoned!
  • At this stage we also reiterated the need for non-partisan pieces of work.
  • I kept track of absolutely everything on one giant spreadsheet that listed the actions, the artists, whether or not they’d received the brief, submitted their artwork, etc.

The collaborative nature of the project continued: I think some artists were surprised to be asked their opinions about key points, while others found it a natural way to work.

The set-up was loose enough to include a whole range of approaches, though: some artists just wanted to be told what to do, submit their work and be done, while others were quite passionate about the whole idea and keen to join in every discussion point. Both attitudes were absolutely fine and caused no problem to our progress.

The briefing email suggested that artists could discuss their action in the Facebook group if they weren’t sure how to illustrate it and needed inspiration. People could also ask for help if they were unsure how to meet the formatting requirements. And while we didn’t really want the extra work of artists asking us if they could pick a different action instead of the one they’d been allocated, we said it was fine if people wanted to arrange a swap between themselves.

Dig Deeper by Rakel Stammer

What to expect

Here are some of the things we learned during this phase, which, if you’re planning something similar, you might benefit from knowing in advance:

  • Even if they say they will, people don’t always come through (because people are human, and have other commitments, or things crop up, or… in some cases, people are just flaky). Some who said they’d like to take part initially, replied when they saw the brief to say they were dropping out. Others didn’t reply at all, or did confirm but then never submitted work.
    As noted in the last post, we weren’t paying anyone, so we couldn’t really complain about this.
    I’m not sure what the advice is here, other than, perhaps, to accept more artists than you want to eventually get work from?
  • People don’t always read long lists of instructions (some people do! I guess it depends on one’s character). This meant that we received some images that were the wrong dimensions, loads without the artists’ names included, and lots of questions we’d already answered in the original brief.
    One way to try and avoid this would be to send a short email instead. This could list the various points as titles which then linked to fuller instructions on a web page.
  • Even if people do read your instructions, you have to be super clear. For example, I knew what I was envisioning for each page: there would be text below the image to describe an action, with the illustration or comic strip accompanying it — but I can’t have described it as clearly as I might have, because lots of artists replied to ask whether they were expected to integrate the writing into their artwork.
  • Not everyone uses Facebook (in fact, the sanest people probably don’t), and even if everyone did, there’s no guarantee that everyone will see an important message you post there. But email wasn’t infallible either: it could go into spam or just get lost in people’s overswamped inboxes. I used to use a mixture of methods to get attention: for example I’d sometimes tag artists in Facebook posts if they hadn’t replied to an important email.

Creative Commons licenses

We decided early on that, by participating, the artists would be agreeing to make their work available under a non-commercial Creative Commons license. This means that:

  • the artist would retain the copyright, so they owned and could reuse the image in any way they liked in the future;
  • but at the same time, the image was free for anyone else to use in any way, so long as they weren’t going to be making money out of it.
    This means, for example, that any campaign or charity, or indeed individual, could pick up the images and use them in leaflets or posters without payment, boosting the positive effect that the project could have and providing quality artwork to often cash-strapped causes.
    After the website went live, we did indeed hear from campaigns large and small (notably, among them, the Fawcett Society) who asked for permission to use them. No permission was required, but it was nice to know where they were being shared. And this was a good vindication of our decision to have artists sign their work, so that their names were carried through to these other contexts.

Deadline day

As the deadline approached, each morning I’d open up my email and find one or more illustrations submitted by the artists. This part was pure joy!

It was the first point at which I could see the whole nebulous idea really beginning to take shape. Each time a picture arrived, I’d reply to let the artist know we’d received it safely, and then save it in Google Drive, since they tended to be quite large and would use up a lot of space on my hard drive.

Build A Wall of Kindness by Jaime Huxtable

That’s it for today

So, in summary: everything we did at this stage was fairly straightforward, and while it was a bit time-consuming, that was to be expected. There was, however, some extra work I hadn’t foreseen here, which was:

  • When people dropped out, responding to them, removing them from the central spreadsheet and perhaps allocating their action to someone else;
  • Replying to artists to clarify points they were unsure about, or to ask them to alter their submission to adhere to the guidelines;
  • Chasing people who didn’t reply to the initial brief, to check whether they still wanted to be involved.

Draw The Line: the beginning

Yesterday I started blogging the story of Draw The Line by describing the end product: our beautiful book. Now let’s go right back to the beginning, and look at how the project came about in the first place.

This is a story I’ve told a lot over the past four years, in various blog posts and in talks I’ve given, but I’m going to note it all down here just so that the whole account can be found in one place.

In the dark and lonely hours

So, I always begin by saying that drawing comics can be a lonely business, especially if you do it the way I do. I have to fit my comics in around a full time job, as well as parenting, and for me that’s meant getting up before anyone else in the house, to squeeze in 90 minutes of uninterrupted drawing time before I start work.

In the winter time, it’s dark and quiet, and I usually have the radio on to keep me company. Only trouble was, at the end of 2016 Radio 4 was no comfort, especially first thing in the morning when the day’s headlines were rolling out.

There was Ebola in Africa. Trump was on his way to being elected, and the term ‘fake news’ (plus the worrying global shift in what counted as a trusted source) was beginning to catch on. Here in the UK, the country was divided almost 50/50 over whether we should leave the European Union, and our Parliament was engaging in even more barefaced chicanery than usual.

Image: ‘Question the Narrative’ by Landis Blair

It didn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you were on, it was indisputable that the world was becoming polarised, and that small people like me – a mere cartoonist! — were feeling powerless to do anything about it.

A germ of an idea

Well, two days after Trump won the 2016 US election, I went out for a run, and an idea came to me. What if, I thought, I gathered together a few of my comic-drawing friends, and we each drew something that ordinary people can do if they want to make political change.

I should mention that this idea didn’t just come out of nowhere. That job I mentioned, the one that I switch to at 9:00 each morning after my early drawing session? It’s with the NGO mySociety, a charity that provides the digital tools to help people be active citizens.

I do their communications and marketing, so all day long in one form or another I’m banging on about how everyone can contact their MP, or follow the daily activity in Parliament, or put in an FOI request to a public authority.

Image: Know What’s On The Agenda by Sarah Mirk

Now, at this stage, I was thinking very small. I reckoned I could find maybe five or six friends, and we could draw a few illustrations each, make a comic to sell at festivals and maybe crowdfund it. I went onto Facebook and posted to see if anyone fancied joining in.

Facebook does Facebook

Much as I dislike many aspects of Facebook, this is where I have to admit it did something only Facebook can do. Someone mentioned that they’d also seen another friend, Karrie Fransman, posting to say she felt as if comic artists should be doing something, but she didn’t know what. Could they tag her in?

Karrie is an established graphic novelist and this turned out to be a huge gamechanger, as not only did she want to take part, but she offered to dip into her bulging address book of contacts to see if anyone else would like to, as well. Karrie’s published books, spoken at events around the world, collaborated with many artists, and seemed to know everyone.

So she put the word out among her grapevine. And then those people invited their friends, and in no time more than 100 artists had provisionally agreed to join in. I remember opening up my email each morning during this period and being astonished at some of the big names who had signed up, some of them my own comics heroes, along with many many less-known but equally willing artists from the worldwide small press comics scene.

My modest idea had taken on a life of its own.

Image: Give mindfully by Dave McKean

Gather your team

Facebook came through for us again when I set up a private group where all we artists could discuss the project. And here, methods I’d learned from work came in handy.

First, I took note of the most enthusiastic group members: the ones answering other people’s questions before I got to them, the ones generating posts of their own, throwing out new ideas. At work, this is historically the way we’ve identified potential volunteers that help us administer our FOI site, and the same method worked equally well here. I asked Karrie, along with Kristen Nyberg, Zara Slattery and Graeme McGregor to join the admin team.

That’s my first tip, for anyone following along and hoping to learn how to manage a big anthology project: even if you think you can do it all yourself, having others on your team gives you invaluable moral support; and you’ll always have someone to sense-check decisions and help hone your messaging and project guidelines.

Image: Sign, Seal, Deliver by Nicholas Sputnik Miller

It’s probably also worth noting that I did also ask a few other people, who declined — and that even a couple of these people who were keen at the beginning quite understandably dropped out later to be replaced by others. I mention this because it speaks of a wider truth about any project: not everything will go to plan; and sometimes you will need to be flexible.

How to collaborate

The second thing I took from my work was the entire ethos of the project, which was that we — all 100+ of us — would make decisions together.

This wasn’t as daunting as it might sound. Tools I am very familiar with from my day job — Google Docs and Sheets, allowed us to work together across timezones and with everyone having an equal chance to chip in.

I’ve just taken a look at our Google Drive to refresh my memory and found this – the first version of our game plan. Looking at it now, I think what you can see is that even a collaborative project needs someone leading it, albeit gently. That person needs to have a clear vision and to keep reiterating it. They can set deadlines, sketch out milestones, and still let the group have a voice or make all the big decisions.

Either way, the first step, as detailed on that document, was to list the political actions we’d be illustrating. I could easily have reeled off a number of obvious ones on my own (and indeed I had done, in that original Facebook post): write to your MP, go on a march, sign a petition… but by harnessing the ideas of everyone on the group, we ended up with a far more extensive and imaginative list of actions than I would have compiled by myself; we easily got to 100, whereupon we stopped updating that particular document, though I think we kept adding more to a subsequent spreadsheet as they became required.

Resolutely neutral

One other approach I borrowed from my job, and the reason we had to abandon some of the ideas people added to the list, was the idea of non-partisanship. At mySociety, our charitable status dictates that the tools we provide must be available for everyone. Draw The Line would adhere to the same principle.

We may have been a bunch of lefty comic artists, impotent and furious at the rise of the extreme right — but every action we depicted would be neutral.

In other words, each action would be a tool that anyone could use if they were unhappy with the status quo, no matter what that status quo was. Right now, they could be used to rail against the prevailing right wing parliaments most of us were living under; but I wanted to be able to imagine a future where governments might have changed hands, and the book would still be just as useful.

As an example: writing to the paper; putting up posters; questioning the news agenda or speaking to someone from outside your bubble… these are actions that are available to us all, no matter what our beliefs.

But ‘hide your local newsagent’s copies of The Daily Mail‘ (a right wing tabloid in the UK) is an action that defined a leftist stance. We would include any of the former, but not the latter.

Image: Go Large by Hunt Emerson

Hand-wringing leftie SJW snowflakes

Before I finish for today, I’ll note two criticisms that came up at this point.

One was generated from within our own ranks, and again, you can see mention of it in that early document: no matter how non-partisan we claimed to be, we were acutely aware of being a mostly white, mostly middle class, majority cis bunch of left wing do-gooders telling the rest of the world how to act to be more like us, or to adhere more to our view of how the world should be. In fact, one artist declined to take part for exactly this reason.

I mean, you can be as non-partisan as you like, but actions like ‘start a community garden’ or ‘welcome migrants’ encapsulate a certain world view that you can’t imagine the hard right embracing (prove me wrong; I’d be happy to see a jackbooted allotmenteer if you know of one) .

Image: Plant Radical Roots by Zara Slattery

If I’m absolutely honest, this is still something I worry about a bit even now, though we did what we could to mitigate it.

And then, who were we to tell others how to treat minority ethnic folk or refugees?

Well firstly, though they were not the majority, there were several people of colour; LGBTQ people, and disabled people amongst the Draw The Line artists.

Then, rather than making any assumptions, we were careful to research each action that we included to ensure that it was approved by the very people we assumed it was helping. If we were suggesting an action to help homeless people, we looked at the websites of charities that worked directly with them; if we were suggesting something to lower one’s carbon footprint, we checked that our assumptions were true (and if something wasn’t clear, we got in touch with relevant organisations by Twitter or email to ask for clarification).

All of this turned out to be useful further down the line, as well: it helped us to compile the ‘Next Steps’ page we’d eventually include on the website, where we link out to sites that give people more information if they’re keen to pursue one of the actions.

Pay the artists

The second criticism came from just one person, but it did make me think quite hard. It was that I should have been paying the artists.

I think this came from a good place: of course I agree with the principle that artists should be paid for their time and skills in general. But when you looked at our project, it simply wouldn’t have been viable if we’d had to pay 100+ artists.

Image: Pay Well by Beth Dawson

The plan was always that any profits from sales (if there even were any) would go to charity, so no-one was making money out of Draw The Line.

If we’d decided to pay all the artists before donating anything at all — well, now we have the final figures we can see. With 113 artists, after the print and shipping costs, each would have received £27.48, and the charity would have received nothing.

(We did promise each artist their own copy of the book, about which more in a future post).

So, if we are resolute that artists must always be paid for their work, I think we’re basically saying that projects like this can’t happen.

I personally wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay the artists before we crowdfunded; and as things turned out they would have been waiting a very long time for that £27.48.

If I’d wanted to pay them a reasonable sum for their images… well, I wouldn’t have been able to without going into debt myself.

The artists all knew the deal from the start, and they participated because they wanted to. In some cases, they more than wanted to: they were desperate to take part, to do something about the political climate. As artists we were doing the thing we knew best.

Plus everyone kept the copyright of their work, of course. But nothing I could say at the time would convince this person that I was acting reasonably. C’est la vie.

The Draw The Line story

Apologies for the grandiose title: I’m not really envisioning this becoming a Netflix miniseries.

However, there is quite a bit to say about the Draw The Line project.

Here we are with a gorgeous book, lots of good reviews, demand for a second print run, and having made a decent donation to a charity that we believe in. Any comic artist would be delighted with all that, and if you make comics yourself, you might be thinking you’d like to do something similar.

But those benefits were quite hard won. It’s been a long and sometimes challenging journey, and I suspect that we could save other people time and effort by sharing what we learned along the way.

What was Draw The Line?

With apologies to longtime readers who know full well what it was, here’s a catch-up for those who don’t: Draw The Line brought together 100+ comic artists, each of whom depicted an action you can take if you are feeling powerless in the current political landscape.

It began life as a website, and we have just now produced a print book containing all the illustrations and actions. Together, as our carefully-honed strapline proclaims, they make up a toolkit for activism.

A long timeline

To give you some idea of the timescale, the idea for Draw The Line emerged in late 2016. It was a response to Trump coming to power, the Brexit vote, the rise of ‘fake news’ and all the other worrying aspects of that year.

The printed book finally arrived through people’s letterboxes just after the Biden win, so to give you a timeline that we can all relate to, the project basically spanned the entire exhausting Trump administration.

While it’s fresh in my mind

I’m going to blog everything I can about the entire process, and it’s probably going to end up being a series of several posts, because there’s a lot to cover.

And so, these posts are for you if you:

  • are considering creating an anthology comic or any other group creative endeavour;
  • would like to do so without actually meeting the contributors (on which, let’s face it, we were somewhat ahead of the lockdown curve);
  • would benefit from answers to questions like, “what’s the cheapest book packaging and can I still be environmentally friendly if I pick it?”, or “what’s the difference between ‘Click and Drop’ and ‘Drop and Go’?”;
  • are curious about running a collaborative, not for profit project where everyone has a say;
  • would like to know all the nitpicky annoying things that make even the simplest project more complicated than you’d have anticipated;
  • or, you hadn’t actually considered any of those things but hey, now you think about it, that all sounds pretty interesting.

Start at the end

I must say that the four-year incubation period was not something that any of us expected. Before I dive into the reasons for that, though, let’s begin at the end. After all, this is the reason we did anything at all.

Draw The Line is now a beautiful, full colour A4 hardback book, containing the work of 113 comic artists from 16 different countries, each depicting a positive action anyone can take if they don’t like the current political landscape.

We saved lives through comics

From the start, we knew that all profits would be going to our chosen charity, Choose Love (originally known as Help Refugees); it was a great moment when we were able to transfer the final sum of £3,106.27 to them (more – much more – about numbers and costs in a subsequent post).

Donation to Choose Love

Choose Love messaged us to say:

Thank you so much for your support. This is the sixth winter since our organisation began and the needs on the ground have never been so great. The emergency context, compounded with COVID-19, lack of global funding awareness and the ever-increasing hostile environment for displaced people means your donation will literally save lives.

Literally save lives? I mean, I can’t deny that that feels pretty good.

To put that sum into context, here’s a graphic from the charity about how they spend donations:

So with our donation, modest though it might seem to some, we’re looking at 621 weeks of fruit and veg, or 310 sleeping bags, or 31 phones, or 8 days at sea.

As someone who longs to help but can’t really spare large amounts of money, to be able to make a donation like this was really gratifying. (And if this inspires you to donate, you can do so here.)

An actual book

It’s not just that, though: there is the pleasure of a job well done. The book has been well-received by those who have it in their hands. Thanks to interior design and layout by Simon Russell, and a cover design by Woodrow Phoenix, it looks professional; and thanks to many rounds of proofing by me and Michi Mathias, the copy is error-free. It’s basically a better physical product than I had ever imagined.

And, most importantly, it does what it promised to do. It is a toolkit for activism. It depicts actions, large and small, that you, or anyone, could take right now if you want to change the world. It labels them so you know what you can do if you’re a kid, or if you can’t spend money, or if you’re an artist, or if you particularly want to help homeless people or disabled people, or women, or minorities (and lots more).

We sold out within days of taking delivery of the print run, and we’ve had congratulatory tweets, photos, emails and DMs from readers, many of whom have been asking whether there are more copies to buy. There aren’t, but we’re keeping a list of those who are interested, in case we go for a second print run (if that’s of interest, you can add your name here).

And who could want for more than that? I can’t deny it feels pretty good.

So, that’s the reason we created Draw The Line in the first place; in the next post I’ll go right back to the beginning, with a bit more about why we started it, how we got so many artists involved, and how we were able to shape the project collaboratively.

I’m also planning to cover the various tools we used; the decision to license all the images under Creative Commons; what did and didn’t work for us in terms of crowdfunding; and logistics and costs of the print run and shipping. If you have any questions about these or any other areas, please do comment below and it’ll help me to include the most useful details. Thanks!

A couple of links again:

Shortlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel competition

My work in progress, Satin and Tat, has been shortlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel prize. Surprised? Not as surprised as me. You should have seen me squawk when I got the email.

It means a lot, and here’s why:

Since lockdown began, I haven’t been able to draw any comics at all. I know I’m not alone in this phenomenon; I’ve seen others mention that their creativity has been blocked or stifled in various ways by these unusual times, too.

I’ve also seen the opposite: some people putting out absolutely stunning responses to the situation in hand, seemingly (though I am certain it’s not the case) effortlessly. Among them are Ottilie Hainsworth’s brilliant diaries, Lou Theodore’s sketchbooks, Erica Smith’s toilet paper journals, Holly Casio’s Zoom strip and Rachael House’s poster-sized comics.

When lockdown began, I had just started a new, small project. Satin and Tat was taking so long, and I was beginning to feel so unsure of its worth, that I thought I would stop for a bit and consider. Apart from anything else, I was afraid that everyone would forget who I was if I took several years to complete such a big piece of work!

My plan was to turn to getting something else quick and dirty out, so I’d have a comic to sell at this year’s festivals.

But then there weren’t any physical comics festivals, and also, the new comic was predicated on a way of living that wasn’t actually possible any more. The pandemic was such an unknown and lots of people were saying we might never return to normal, and it seemed foolish to be drawing a piece that might turn out to be a quaint historical artifact rather than the truthful look at modern life it was designed to be.

Lockdown has not been particularly easy in this household, for a number of reasons. I can’t say that we’ve suffered as much as those who have lost a loved one to covid-19 — not even nearly as much, it would be sacrilege to suggest as much — but there have been significant stresses, shall we say. Much of what I took for granted about myself: an ability to get up early, put some work in on comics, go for a run at lunch time, do some more drawing after dinner, has disappeared in the face of a number of physical and mental challenges.

Excerpt Excerpt from Satin and Tat by Myfanwy Tristramby Myfanwy Tristram

Any energy I’ve had has needed to go into my parenting, my health, my job, and, it seems, a colossal amount of DIY around the house and garden (hence the mural in my last post). Painting the floor and doing up the garden has been my only creative outlet for the last several weeks (one that my great friend Zara Slattery very kindly described as ‘a bit like drawing, just on a much bigger scale’).

As of now, I haven’t looked at or drawn anything for Satin and Tat since I submitted 30 pages of it, in black and white, to Myriad. Doesn’t matter what happens next. Knowing that a panel of judges have assessed it and taken it through to the shortlist is exactly the confidence boost I need right now.

Thank you, judges and Myriad!

Excerpt from 'Satin and Tat' by Myfanwy Trsitram

My fellow shortlistees are all really interesting as well, so go and check them out:

 

 

Painting a mural

Somewhere near the beginning of the lockdown, I had ten days off work.

We were supposed to be going down to Devon to see my parents, but of course the travel restrictions put paid to that.

Which was a shame, because for the first time in living memory, I’d actually picked a week for the family holiday where the weather was absolutely blissful. Well, it can’t be helped. Instead, stuck at home, I decided to paint a mural on the blank wall just outside our kitchen window.

I have to admit that we haven’t paid our tiny little back yard much attention since we moved into the house a good seven years ago. It barely gets any sun; it’s completely paved over apart from a single flower bed, which was home to an ageing buddleia when we first moved in. The buddleia eventually collapsed with age, and the flower bed, well, it’s more the cats’ toilet than anything else.

But quarantine has given us time, if nothing else. And if not now, then when?

Developing an idea

I had a quick look at some absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful murals on Pinterest, and then started doodling on my laptop and soon came up with a design I liked.

Don’t be like me, though! It’s obvious that it would have been much better to:

  • measure the wall first and work out its exact proportions before starting to draw. In fact, in this digital age, one method would be to take a photo of the wall, and import it into a drawing app as the base layer to draw on top of.
  • check which colour paints were available and design the palette around that (all the more so in this time when every online shop seems to have a lot of stock unavailable).

Still, me being me, and hindsight being 20:20, I didn’t do either of those things. Here’s the drawing I came up with:

mural sketch by Myfanwy Tristram

– which is narrower and taller than the actual wall, and uses digital colours that aren’t necessarily replicable in physical media.

In the end it didn’t matter too much: after all, the only client here was myself, and I am pretty lenient. And also, pretty used to fudging things. Probably because of a result of always being like this.

My friend Karen Rubins had mentioned on a Facebook thread that she recommended Lascaux paints for murals. They’re weather resistant, they flow and mix nicely, and they come in a range of beautiful deep colours. They are a bit pricey, but they’re far more suitable than cheaper acrylics that might work fine on paper but are just the wrong texture and thickness for a wall painting.

Lascaux paintsSo, once I had attempted to match the colours from my sketch to the colours available (or what I optimistically thought I could mix those colours into), I put in an online order and started getting the canvas ready.

Prepping the wall

Lots of the house and garden walls here in Brighton are made of ‘bungaroosh’, one of those weird local words you won’t hear anywhere else, but which you’ll hear a lot once you move here. It basically translates as ‘lumps of flint and brick held together with straw, mortar, and whatever random materials the builder could chuck in’ and it’s the bane of Brightonians’ lives.

If you try to put a nail in the wall, you’ll either make a massive hole in the mortar, Daddy Pig-style, or you’ll hit a hard lump of flint that even a diamond-tipped drill wouldn’t make a dent in.

Tellingly, there’s a quote on the Wikipedia page for bungaroosh:

A common maxim states that much of Brighton “could be demolished with a well-aimed hose”; the supposed extent of this destruction varies between “a third” and “half” depending on the source.

So bear in mind that I think that’s what is behind the render of this piece of wall.

Anyway, while I was waiting for my acrylics to arrive, I first swabbed down the render with a bleach solution. At one point it had been painted white, but over time it had acquired some black marks and general muckiness.

While I was doing this, I noticed that there were quite a few dents and uneven parts, so I braved the socially-distanced queue at Screwfix (which is handily just down the road) and came home with some filler, as well as some primer.

At the foot of the wall, the render was bubbling up a bit and it was clear that there was some damp. The other side of it is the neighbours’ outhouse, so it’s not something I could do much about. As it happened, I found some ‘damp stop’ paint in the shed which warned several times in its small print that it couldn’t prevent damp, just try to cover it up. Call it lockdown recklessness if you will, but I chose the ‘la la la can’t hear you’ path and painted it onto the bottom quarter of the wall anyway, figuring it couldn’t really hurt.

A blank white wall

Tracing the lines

A tip I’d picked up from one of those Pinterest links was to project the design onto the wall, and then use chalk to draw in the lines (another way, that would rely much more on skill and concentration, is to divide your image into a grid and then copy it across by eye).

I’d somehow imagined this would be fairly easy: in fact I had visions of the whole family coming out to the yard after dark and having fun helping me trace the projected image. But real life ain’t like that: my loved ones weren’t interested, and it was hard to position the projector properly, balanced as it was on a sloping shed roof. Turns out that if you just nudge it a fraction of a centimetre, the image veers wildly, over the wall and onto the neighbours’ facades.

And then, because the yard is so small, I couldn’t get far back enough to get the whole image on the wall at once. I had to do half at a time, and then try to match them up. projected mural by Myfanwy Tristram

projected mural by Myfanwy Tristram

In the light of day it turned out it wasn’t too bad, but I did have to resketch the middle portion somewhat. As I’ve already mentioned, fudging is a way of life to me, though, so it could’ve been worse.

Traced lines of a mural by Myfanwy Tristram

The paints arrived!

Cut to several days later when a small box arrived, packed with little bottles of colour. Too little in some cases: the bigger bottles weren’t in stock.

It soon became obvious that:

  • I was going to run out of white really quickly
  • I hadn’t quite got the right colours to mix and make the shade I wanted for the background
  • The fact that the wall is in shadow 100% of the time meant everything had to be lightened up

But apart from that, everything was fine!

I sent off for some more paint from a couple of other suppliers, hoping at least one of them would come through, and meanwhile started on the bits I could do.

I had these lovely big brushes (also from Screwfix) because I’d been painting our stairs indoors:

Big brushes by Myfanwy Tristram

Sidenote – they may be the most beautiful objects I’ve held in my hand for some time, and they’re just sold as cheap(ish) decorators’ brushes. They were excellent for making big bold lines, and for filling in large areas of colour.

The other type of brush I found invaluable was a flat-edged one, so I could get the lines really precise.

Here are the first strokes:

You can see my progress in reverse chronological order on my Instagram, including the wrong background colour I was trying out at first.

Myfanwy Trsitram instagram showing mural progress

I was back at work before the new paint arrived, so it was a couple of weekends later that I mixed together Lascaux light blue and Daler Rowney fluorescent pink and found a really close match to what I wanted!

Mural by Myfanwy Tristram

And there it is. One thing I hadn’t quite anticipated is quite how much it ‘comes in’ to the kitchen: that is, from certain spots, your view through the window is taken up with a huge bird’s head peeping in. Which I quite like, just hadn’t foreseen.

Now we’ll just have to wait and see how long it is before the damp breaks through, and whether it does much damage. It doesn’t really matter – I’ve achieved a long time ambition of painting a mural at least, and I have these photos to prove it.

And I still had a holiday of sorts, because:

  • I spent each day doing something totally new
  • I went somewhere I don’t usually spend much time (my own back yard)
  • I was out in the sunshine, letting conversations (of my neighbours) and new scents (of my neighbours’ cooking) and birdsong (well, the local seagulls) wash over me, often with a nice strong coffee in hand and a good new podcast playing.

And although it took a bit longer than I’d anticipated, there was something very pleasing about making big brush marks on the wall outside, while through the window my husband pottered about in the kitchen, cooking inside. There was even a point at which my daughter joined me and started painting an old bench. The cats came out to explore. Everyone was happily occupied. And that’s kind of the most you ever hope for from a holiday, wherever it is.

 

Panel Show: exhibition report (and Leeds has a zine library)

I did say I would report back from the Panel Show exhibition at Sunnybank Mills in Farsley, and here it is!

Thanks so much to Beth Dawson (whose work is also in the show, and whose comic is available to buy in the gallery shop) for taking me there. It’s a beautiful place — as you’d guess from the name, an old mill, so a huge space with vast windows and tons of light — and the exhibition is spot on. Kudos to Si Smith for all his hard work in curating and managing it.

Sunnybank Mills in Leeds, with Panel Show exhibition up(Click to see any of the images at a larger size)

The best thing about the show was its focus on ‘process’. Most artists had provided not just a finished piece of work, but one, two or three steps within the process of making it: sketches, inks, and then the final page, for example.

Joe Decie's comics at Panel Show exhibitionJoe Decie: three steps for each strip

As a comic artist myself I found it very interesting to see how different people work (and especially those working to ‘proper’ methods for the big comic publishers); I think even those who don’t draw themselves would also find it elucidating to understand what goes into a final page.

Dean Ormston Age of Doom for Dark Horse. Apologies for the terrible picture, but it’s interesting to see the paper this was drawn on with the printed lines to show the bleed area and the placement of the more important central content. In other words, no-one cares if a few snowflakes get cut off the edge of the page, but you don’t want to lose the actual cityscape.

Sara Varon bake saleI was thrilled to see this page from Sara Varon’s Bake Sale, not just because the book was a favourite when my daughter was small, but because this very image of the strip of bacon getting over-excited at a parade was a long-running source of mirth in our household. Well, you try reading a book out loud and then getting to that part, without at least cracking a smile.

You can buy prints of some of the artwork and I must say I was tempted by this one (but then remembered the limited amount of wallspace back home…)

Myfanwy Tristram and Zara Slattery at Panel Show in FarsleyOops, nearly forgot! Here’s my work, hung beside Zara Slattery’s images from her work in progress, Coma Comic.

There’s a big range of different types of comic at Panel Show, from self-published zines, to indie graphic novels, to the Beano and Tank Girl. Basically, you get to read comics for about an hour, and then buy comics in the gift shop, and you really can’t ask for much more than that.

Comics for sale at Sunnybank Mills

While I was in the Leeds area, I also visited their amazing art gallery. It’s free to get in, it has a great collection, contains several panels of a big a tapestry made by the community, and even has an art library in it. People of Leeds, I hope you know how lucky you are!

While poking around to find the tapestry, I also came across the best thing of all — their zine library.

Leeds zine library

I left some Draw The Line postcards there, which (of course) I hope will inspire zine-lovers to pledge for the book.

Draw The Line postcards in Leeds zine library

Well done Leeds, you were a very good city to visit.

 

Talking to students at Leeds Arts University

I still feel slightly odd to have been invited to give a lecture at an actual university: I mean, that’s for legitimate artists, surely?

Aha! Get thee behind me, imposter syndrome! In fact, this was pretty much the subject of my talk. That is to say, at what point in a non-traditional route to a regular creative practice was I comfortable to call myself ‘an artist’… and what does that actually mean?

For a long time, I felt that unless illustration was a full time job, I was a bit of a fraud referring to myself that way. But as time has gone on and I’ve drawn practically every day, I am beginning to realise that there are many other factors that allow you to wear the label of ‘artist’.

Turns out this is a subject that has been on the minds of a few of my Instagram followers too, who requested I record the talk so they could hear it. We did try to, but unfortunately the laptop I was using went a bit odd half way through, so we switched machines and lost the recording at that point.

Not to worry: I’m happy to share the slides and my notes. Getting this talk together resulted in a more coherent understanding of my own path, but with plenty of wider universal truths in the mix as well, which is my favourite recipe for a comic. So I’d also like to draw that some time soon – perhaps just a very rough and quick one so it doesn’t take up too much time – and that way everyone who wants to can see it for themselves.

 

Darryl Cunningham, Robin Ince and Draw The Line in Brighton

Wondering how to cope in an increasingly depressing world? Well, one thing you could do is come and see some people discussing comics which are all about that depressing world.

I’ll be talking about Draw The Line at an event in Brighton on November 3, run by Myriad. But I’m just the support act:  top of the bill is Darryl Cunningham, in conversation with Robin Ince about his newest book Billionaires.

In a nice contrast, once Darryl has thoroughly depressed everyone with his exposé of the super rich elite and the neoliberal capitalist/consumerist system, I’ll be explaining how you can fix things with the positive political actions outlined in the Draw The Line project.

Or, ok, fix things a bit. No guarantees that Draw The Line can make everything better.

An assurance we can make, though, is that this will be a pleasant way to spend a November Sunday afternoon, so book now – tickets are here.

 

Panel show at Sunnybank Mills in Leeds

Just a quick note to say that a page from my graphic memoir-in-progress, Satin and Tat, is on display in the Panel Show exhibition at Sunnybank Mills, Farsley, Leeds.

The show runs until November 10 and also includes work from Darryl Cunningham, Joe Decie, Kate Charlesworth, Katriona Chapman, Luke Pearson, Zara Slattery and many many others worth seeing.

There’s an emphasis on how comic art is created, so along with the other exhibitors, I’ve contributed both a finished page and the pencil drawing that was the first step in the process (click to see these at a larger size).

Page from Satin and Tat by Myfanwy Tristram, showing the audience at a gig
Line layout for a page of 'Satin and Tat' by Myfanwy Tristram

The gallery space looks wonderful, and there’s also a shop selling work from everyone. This includes several of my own comics, prints and cut-out dolls. If you’re at all local, Sunnybank Mills is probably the best place to get these at the moment, as I’ve sent them most of my stock.

If you’re the world’s biggest Myfanwy Tristram fan, you can even buy prints of the artwork. I am not sure this particular page is the most desirable thing to have on a wall though!

I’m planning to see the show myself soon, as I am traveling up that way, and I’ll be sure to take some photos and report back.

Cut From the Same Cloth

I am really pleased to have had my first illustrated essay published on Longreads –  see it in situ here.

Illustrations for this were created in the same way as the drawings I’ve been doing for my graphic memoir-in-progress, Satin and Tat – a pencil crayon sketch, scanned in and then coloured digitally. Still really loving my Surfacebook laptop and the option to draw directly onto the screen in this way.

Longreads

Myfanwy Tristram | Longreads | September 2019 | 14 minutes (3,863 words)

A clatter at the door. A small package plops through our letterbox.

It’s come a long way. I can see that by the sticky labels, foreign postmarks, and scrawled scripts of postal workers around the world.

I text my daughter: 'Your wig has arrived from Japan.' After a moment, I text again: 'A phrase I never thought I’d find myself typing.'

This was never in the parenting manual.

But back to the housework.

I enter my bedroom to find the area around the mirror overrun with her makeup, her dirty laundry in pools on the floor. That girl leaves a trail of destruction.

Admittedly, this is not a remarkable complaint for any mother of a teen. Where mine differs from the grumbles of parents through the ages is that among the detritus to be picked up and put away are:

Wig caps, tossed aside and draped wherever they may landfake eyelashes, like furry caterpillars on the bathroom sinkand the endless, infuriating, discarded colored Band-Aids that I seem to find everywhere - stuck to my work clothes, on the soles of my shoes, under the sofa... even deep in my own bedThis last year has been a revelation as my daughter blossoms into her own, rather extreme, sense of style. Liberated from parental tastes by pocket money and cash earned from neighborhood dog walking, she trawls the thrift shops and returns home triumphant with unusual clothing. She’s 14. Still in need of parental comfort, food, finances, but beginning the process of becoming her own standalone self. And what a self it is.She’s pushing her school’s uniform rules to the limits. "Light" makeup is permitted... but here we have bright red eyeshadow and black lips. Skirt rolled up to be as short as possible. Shoes must be black. Fortunately, Doc Martens are black..once you've gone over the stitching with a Sharpie. Clip-on horns - well, hair clips are allowed. Hair has to be a "natural" color so she dyed it jet black. First day of the hols and out came the bleach and crazy color. The blazer is compulsory, but stays scrunched up in the backpack until she's in the school gates. Tights with "accidental" ripped holes [Close up on eye and nose] Band-Aid "Bean brow" - half shaved off Stickers or painted motifs Tip of the nose colored red (quite cute)Trouble is...I can’t really complain, because at age 14, I was also breaking the school rules.

In fact, when regarding my wayward, outrageously dressed girl, I find myself experiencing a peculiar combination of pride and envy.

Both may be…

View original post 2,384 more words

Brighton Naked Bike Ride poster

I love drawing clothes and fashion, as evidenced by my work in progress Satin and Tat, and much of my previous work including Everything My Daughter Wore…

So it was quite a surprise to find myself working on an illustration where everyone had to be naked! All for a good cause though: the annual Brighton Naked Bike Ride poster.

And I was happy to oblige, given my love of bikes, my belief that we need to challenge car culture, and, clearly, a need for self-punishment given that bikes are notoriously hard to draw (fortunately I’d had a recent bit of practice since the principal character in Satin and Tat gets about by bike).

Here’s the finished design:

Myfanwy Tristram naked bike ride Brighton 2019 poster design

And here it is with a tight crop and the wording added:

Myfanwy Tristram naked bike ride Brighton 2019 poster design

I’m really looking forward to seeing it around town: people have already been sending me photos of where they’ve spotted it.

(Thanks Scotty H, BNBR and Inksplattery)

One challenging aspect of this commission is that the design had to work equally well for an A3 sized poster, and for the tiny business card sized flyers that the ride also creates each year (they’re easy to put onto parked bikes to help spread the word). My first, rational thought was that I should stick with bold shapes, nothing complex, and that if I could design it at the smaller size it would scale up well into the larger one.

As you can see, I then went on to completely ignore my own advice, coming up with a very intricate picture. The crazy thing is, I think it works, even at the tiny size.

It was a real honour to be asked, especially as I’ve had one of the previous artists, Mike Levy‘s own small cards framed and up on my wall for years (click the images to see them bigger).

Mike Levy Naked bike ride Mike Levy Naked bike ride

This might be the first year I actually take part in the Naked Bike Ride. I’ve been an appreciative spectator for many years, but it seems like the right time to take the plunge and actually join in.

I will be taking full advantage of the ‘bare as you dare’ maxim though. In my case, that’s… not very bare.

Satin and Tat: study sketches

Sometimes it seems like the more you learn about how to make comics, the longer it takes.

While working on Satin and Tat, I’ve changed my habits a bit, placing much more emphasis on preparation. Now, before I even put the final strokes to paper (or screen, since it’s mainly digital work), I’m working on character development, research, study sketches and thumbnailing. I can see for myself the positive effects this all has on the final artwork, but if I used to moan that comic drawing is a full time occupation, well now it really is.

I’m lucky in that I find the details of Satin and Tat‘s era endlessly fascinating; well, I suppose I would, given that the Eighties were my teen years. It’s actually a lot of fun to find reference photos of goth hairstyles and makeup, more mainstream fashions, and the bands of the time, not least because I can now see it all in some kind of context rather than it just being the norm as it was when I was 15 and 16.

Here are some of the study sketches I’ve been working from. Click any picture to see it at a larger size.

Skinheads and eighties haircutsCharacter design attempting to show extroversion. Also – rah rah skirt!

Floppy hats, a crusty style of punk, the more dandified Steve Strange look, and t-shirts split down the sides.

Mosh pits at anarchopunk gigs.

Live Aid – attempts to pin down Bob Geldof and David Bowie’s distinctive looks – plus a backing singer.

Some of these are band members and some of them are people street fighting and it’s quite interesting how interchangeable they are.

Draw The Line at Sunday Assembly Brighton

I had the great pleasure of talking about Draw The Line to the Brighton Sunday Assembly last weekend.

As I’ve previously mentioned, Sunday Assembly is a monthly meet up that encourages attendees to “Live better, help often, wonder more”. It’s a bit like a church service in format, only instead of hymns you have pop song karaoke, instead of prayers you have conversation and a few minutes’ silence, and instead of sermons you have people giving talks. People like me.

Also on the bill were Extinction Rebellion, who share many of our messages about going out there and getting things changed (in their case, acting on the climate emergency).

I thought I’d keep it relatively simple, so most of my talk consisted of going over some of the many and varied political actions depicted in the Draw The Line project, but it did seem to go down well and I got lots of invitations to speak at other places afterwards, which has to be some sort of endorsement.

I’m always happy to talk about Draw The Line, first to spread its message that anyone can take a small political action and make the world a better place, and secondly in the hope that people will pledge for the Draw The Line book, helping that message reach ever more folk, and especailly those who may never have thought of themselves as activists.

If you’re interested, you can see my slides here and the rough notes to what I said are here. You’re welcome to adapt them to use in a talk of your own, so long as you include all the links to our website etc… and of course, invite your audience to pledge!

Laydeez Do Comics: award and festival

It’s the Laydeez Do Comics festival this weekend, at the Free Word centre in London. Why not come along?

Laydeez Do Comics is a “women-led but not women-only” organisation with chapters in cities across the UK and beyond. For the past couple of years, they’ve run an award for a graphic work in progress by a female identifying artist, and the festival is a culmination of this year’s award process.

On Sunday, it will be open to the general public so that they can browse all the entries, eat cake, and find out who will be awarded the prize.

I’m proud to say that my own work in progress, working title Satin & Tat, was one of the longlisted works, although it didn’t go on to be shortlisted.

That said, it is very difficult to be anything but grateful for LDC, because they’ve structured the whole award very cleverly to benefit everyone who enters, and not just the winner.

You’re instructed to submit the first twelve pages of your work, both in digital form and as a printed comic. Along with this you must provide your biography and a short summary of the plot. By fulfilling the conditions of entry, you may not realise it, but you are creating everything that would be required were you to pitch your work to a publisher or agent.

And there will be publishers in attendance at the festival – hopefully, publishers on the lookout for new creators to work with.

That’s not all, though: in order to help fund the monetary prize, LDC ran a number of professional development workshops and one-to-one consultations with practising graphic novelists. I went along to a workshop by Karrie Fransman in which she very generously shared her top tips for positioning your work and making it appealing to a publisher.

So now I feel very well equipped to go and give my elevator pitch and share the comic I’ve been working on for over a year, to anyone who might like to hear about it. It does feel like it’s about time it saw the light of day and got some feedback from people outside my own circle of friends and family!

Since creating the comic that I submitted for the award, I’ve continued to refine it, so I’ve actually put together a much fuller pitch package which I’ll be sharing with some publishers soon – ones that seem a good fit for this loss of innocence story that takes place against the background of the goth fashions, music and hairstyles of 1985.

While I was already working away on this graphic novel, I don’t think it would’ve been in anything like such a good state to share without Laydeez Do Comics giving me something to work towards, so great thanks to them.

PS, I should also mention that I’ll have a handful of Satin and Tat zines to sell. These are extra copies of my entry, so they contain the first 12 pages along with a synopsis etc. Talk about a very limited edition: there are only four or five available. As an extra incentive I’ll include a goth cut-out doll and one of the prints of the kimono’d bike rider as well.

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

Satin and tat by Myfanwy Tristram

Retreating to Pulborough

I’ve just spent the weekend with five other comic artists in a remarkable house in the countryside.

The plan was to go somewhere with few distractions, and indeed Michi Mathias, Rich Pettitt, Zara Slattery, Simon Russell, Hannah Eaton and I spent a couple of days with our heads down, ploughing through our different comic projects.

The views outside the window were delightful – walnut trees, green grass and mists up to Chanctonbury Ring — and when we did need a break, a fifteen minute walk through the fields and lanes took us to the local oak-beamed pub.

Meeting the house’s owners and taking a peek at their studios was also a treat: we saw the oils in progress and the wondrous sketchbooks of Chris Aggs RBA, and Patrice, deep in her prolific work for the Phoenix comic.

Chris Aggs in his studio

Mostly we got on with our drawings.

We were all at very different stages of very different comics:

  • Simon was splashing ink about and experimenting with markmaking as he created the rewards for a recent successful Kickstarter.
  • Hannah was creating complex pencil illustrations that are to be gently animated for The Cabinet of Living Cinema.
  • Rich was building up new stocks of his regular web comic Drizzle Cake.
  • Michi was making progress with her adaptation of a Victorian cycling manual.
  • Zara was off on a wild journey of exploration and research into folklore and collective consciousness to feed into her incredible coma comic.
  • And I have reached a stage in Satin and Tat where I was happily making sketches of people, backgrounds and 80s fashion that I’ll be able to refer to as I thumbnail the next few scenes.

We enjoyed a few extra-curricular activities without deviating from comics.

The first evening we watched Stripped. On Sunday, Zara led us in making plasticine heads of our main characters, an excellent idea as you can then have a model you can draw from every angle with no trouble, and add a light source to see where shadows fall.

We watched Rich’s Patreon video, which is a superb example of how to market yourself. We drew each other without looking at the paper. I tested out a forthcoming talk about Draw The Line on a friendly audience. And in between times we cooked and ate.

If you’re an artist of any kind, I can fully recommend doing something like this. It was fairly simple (easy for me to say when Michi did all the arranging and Zara did all the driving, but…): all we required was a location and a means of getting there.

February is off season so it was very affordable between the six of us; we all brought food and ended up with far more than we needed.

And we all felt we benefited, in one way or another, from having people to bounce ideas off, spark new directions, advise on drawings or just provide good company while we engaged in the normally solitary act of drawing.

Zara Slattery, Rich Pettitt, Hannah Eaton, Michi Matthias, Simon Russell and Myfanwy Tristram

Draw The Line: hooray for publicity

Like buses, they all come at once. I’ve had three excellent opportunities to speak about Draw The Line recently, and now you can choose whether to enjoy your update via the medium of print, podcast or in person.

What is Draw The Line, do you ask? Well, you can find out through any of the links below, but the short version is, it’s a project which brings together more than 100 comic artists, each showing a political action anyone can take if they want to make the world a better place. We are currently crowdfunding to publish it as a book.

On air

Panel Borders

Firstly, you can listen to this week’s episode of Panel Borders which broadcast on Resonance FM and is now available in podcast form, titled Comics Activism. It’s split into two parts: in the first section, I chat with presenter Alex Fitch all about Draw The Line, about the connections I made prior to this project with the Finnish comic scene, and about my own work in progress exploring my teen years as a goth down in the rural county of Devon.

In the second part, you can hear an interview with Joe Sacco, king of graphic reportage: it does feel slightly bizarre to be on the same show as such a lauded artist, but I am not complaining!

In print

Then A Place To Hang Your Cape, which as its name suggests, started as a place to discuss the superhero genre but now covers the whole comics scene, has published an interview which you can enjoy here. If you enjoy comics of any kind, there’s plenty more content to enjoy while you’re on the site.

In person

Finally, for those local to Brighton, I will be speaking at Sunday Assembly on March 24th as part of an event themed around Activism. Just five days before Brexit is scheduled to take place, it should be an interesting one!

For those who don’t know, Sunday Assembly is a non-religious monthly gathering which gives you all the community side of church – fellowship, interesting talks, music, charity, cake and tea – but without any religion. The Brighton chapter’s website is here, and you can also follow them on Facebook to be alerted of events before they happen.

I’ll be sharing a number of the Draw The Line images to show some of the more unusual ways you can make political change.

I hope one or more of these updates takes your fancy.

Spreading the word about the project like this helps us attract more pledgers so I’m always keen to hear of any other opportunities. If you know a journalist, publication or event that might be interested, please do let us know on drawthelinecomics@gmail.com. Thanks!

Memories of a teenage goth

I’ve been pretty quiet on here of late, mainly because I’m working away on one massive comics project that will be another several months before it’s ready to share.

I do sometimes post work in progress over at Instagram though, so anyone who follows me there may already know that I’m deeply immersed in my Eighties memories — and in particular, my life as a teenage goth.

Here’s some work in progress (click any image to see it bigger):
Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

Remember crimpers? All bunged up with Elnett hairspray…? I sure do.

But it’s not just set in the past; there are some present-day scenes too, and these have a different colour palette:

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

Satin and tat by Myfanwy Tristram, work in progress

Talking of colour palettes: there was one image, in particular, which people on Instagram seemed to really take to; it’s a dream sequence right at the beginning of the story, when the main character (now middle aged) has been taken right back to her youth. She has a very graphic dream about cycling along the riverbanks in her goth finery.

The first version I drew of this was in these colours:

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

… but I subsequently changed my mind, because I wanted to differentiate more between the past and the present within the story.

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

I’m glad to say that people seem to like them both, and as I won’t have any actual new comics at the Lakes Festival this year I thought I’d offer both colourways as prints. They’ll be nice and affordable because they’re not fancy giclee or anything, just standard digital prints on nice card.

Also as a taster for the forthcoming comic (which SHURELY will be ready for the Lakes NEXT year…), I’m also going to be selling a paper cut-out doll based on all the clothes I wore back then.

So much of my memory of that time is hazy, but I can recall every single item of clothing with crystal clarity. I wanted to share the enjoyment I’ve had as I’ve drawn the leggings, split down the seams and laced back up, or the stripy mohair jumpers that everyone got their grans to knit them, and the pixie boots, oh, the pixie boots.

The dolls come with an extra cartoon (or more of a rant really) on the back — so you’ll have to buy a couple if you want to cut them up. But that’s ok, I’m also planning on making these super-cheap.

If you like these and you won’t be at the Lakes, don’t worry, I proooomise I’ll set up my online shop again after the festival. Just as soon as I’ve stopped having so much fun trawling through old copies of Smash Hits to find authentic hairstyles to draw.

Draw The Line update: catch us at the Lakes festival

Who remembers the Draw The Line project?

For those who need their memories refreshing, Draw The Line brings together more than 100 comic artists, each depicting positive actions that anyone can take to make the world a better place. It started as a website, and now we’re crowdfunding to make it into the most unusual and inspiring book you’ll ever have on your bedside table (pledge from as little as £10 to be part of it, folks!).

All profits go to the charity Help Refugees.

OK, so now we’re all up to speed.

Here’s the latest news about Draw The Line.

A load of the Draw The Line artists will be at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival on October 13 and 14.

Not through any prior organisation of our own, you understand, but more because the Lakes is such a fun, friendly, enjoyable event, with so much going on, that it just seems several of us will be in the same place at the same time.

SO: come to the Lakes for a chance to have a chat with Steven Appleby, Rachael Ball, Hunt Emerson, Kripa Joshi, Simon Russell, Michi Mathias, Karen Rubins, Zara Slattery, and me.

Some of us will be wearing big embarrassing badges

So you’ll know we’re available to answer questions or explain more about Draw The Line, we’re putting sartorial concerns to one side. Just look for these whopping beauties on our lapels:

Ask me about Draw The Line

We’ll likely have leaflets too, so you can get the lowdown even if you don’t fancy a natter.

And some of us will be drawing pictures or selling goodies in support of Draw The Line

If pledging for the actual book is out of your budget, you can still come along and pay a little bit less and get something really unique.

At 3 – 4pm on the Saturday, come by our table to meet Steven Appleby and get an original drawing.

At 2.30- 3.30 on the Sunday, come and get a fat cat drawn by Simon Russell – you make an ink blot and Simon will do the rest!
fat cat by Simon Russell

At pretty much any time (‘cos it’s our table), Zara Slattery and I will be there. Zara’s going to be drawing her Alice character from her ‘Radical Roots’ Draw The Line contribution (click to see it at a larger size), and I’ll have notebooks featuring the hopeful cyclist from my ‘travel cross country’ strip.

Zara Slattery Radical RootsTravel Hopefully by Myfanwy Tristram

Here’s a hastily-scrawled indication as to where we’ll be: basically the room on the left on the ground floor as you go into the Clocktower, same position as always:

Check out the windows

As if that’s not exciting enough, several Draw The Line artists will also be having their strips displayed on the windows trail — so look out for them in the shop displays as you walk through lovely Kendal.

Buy an excellent comic

It feels wrong to be putting this last on the list, because it’s so cool, but this is more to do with the Thought Bubble festival, running in Leeds this weekend as I write.

Aneurin Wright, one of Draw The Line’s artists, raced against time to bring out a comic he could sell at Thought Bubble, with proceeds going to Draw The Line.

He’s taken all the nuggets of wisdom he’s gleaned from comic artists speaking at various events, and put them together with illustrations drawn on the spot, so it’s a great way to enjoy the pictures while also learning more about the art of cartooning.

You can read more about it here, and the only reason I’m putting it right at the end like this is that I don’t know if he’ll have any copies left once Thought Bubble is over. The person to ask about that would be Nye himself. and you can buy it online here!

So… wow, that was a lot of information, wasn’t it? I hope I’ll see some of you in Kendal next month!