Saturday, 27 February 2021

A Macc-Pow Memory

My thanks to Kevin Lyons for this photo he took of me back in 2019 at the Macc-Pow! event in Macclesfield. I was sketching on a blank Doctor Who cover at the time. The event was superbly run by Marc Jackson and his wife Jane. You can read more about it at this old post of mine here:

I attended various comic conventions all over the UK (and Norway) for exactly 40 years! I miss them and the friends I knew there but the shows will return when it's safe to do so.  

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Facing the Future

Brickman from ELEPHANTMEN comic, 2007.

The solitude of this pandemic certainly gives us time to ponder the world and our place in it. The comics industry is completely different to how it was back in 1983 when I started out. Back then there were still plenty of comics on the newsstand from IPC, and D.C. Thomson. Even Marvel UK, who gave me my first break,  were producing home grown strips. 

There are far less periodical comics now but the graphic novel market has grown. This has meant a shift from weekly strips that were owned by the publishers to stand alone books where the creators retain the rights. Just like "proper" books, with proper contracts and royalties! Sounds great! However, this also means that a different approach is needed to break into that market.

Time was when you'd send off a few pages to a comics publisher and if they liked your style they'd either assign you to take over an existing strip or they'd provide a script for a new character they'd come up with. In my case I usually wrote my own material and created my own characters, so I came up with Tom Thug and Pete and his Pimple for example. Once you were commissioned you'd be sure of a long run for the strip for the next few years at least for whatever set page rate they provided. Other than an occasional tweak to the scripts, the editors would let you get on with it. It was good, steady work and a reliable income.

These days, a freelancer may have to learn how to pitch an entire graphic novel, and negotiate a deal. It's no longer enough to be a creator. You now have to be a sales person as well, pitching a convincing story like a modern day Don Draper from Mad Men. 

I must admit the new world that cartoonists now find themselves in is still a learning curve for me. Many artists now do workshops too. I admire anyone who can do that but it's just not me I'm afraid. I've always been happy to meet readers and fellow creators and do panel discussions at cons, but standing up in front of a classroom and doing a workshop isn't something I'm comfortable with. Most of us in comics tended to be a bit introverted. Now we're expected to be performers. It's a different mindset. 

Thankfully there are still a few comics around to contribute to although making a living that way is getting harder and more competitive. I've never been a competitive person. One of the things I liked about comics was that there used to be plenty of work around and it'd be evenly distributed to contributors. Now there are less comics and more and more new creators coming in each year, meaning less work for all. Not that I begrudge any of the creators of course. We were all newcomers once and that's how it goes. 

In four years time I'll be eligible for state pension. Will I carry on working? Of course! I love creating comics. It's part of who I am. Also, it won't be easy just living off a state pension, assuming it even still exists in 2025, so I can't afford to retire. As long as some publishers want to employ me, I'll keep going, health permitting. 

This has been quite a ramble at 2.45 in the morning. The pandemic has taken its toll over the last year but I'm off to bed soon to hopefully start afresh tomorrow. I currently have enough work on until the end of March, so that's something to be grateful for. Hopefully there'll be more work to come. As with the pandemic all we can do is take one day at a time and keep going. 

Saturday, 20 February 2021

The DARK NEWT (Dandy, 2012)

It was an honour to become an artist on The Dandy in its final years. The Dandy had been the first comic I had regularly (back in 1964) so it was a personal thrill to be part of the comic's long history. 

The strips I did regularly for The Dandy were Postman Prat and Kid Cops, which ran on and off from 2010 to 2012. (Postman Prat still appears in The Dandy Annual from time to time.) Those characters had been created by the Dandy staff but in 2012 I had the opportunity to create a character myself. The Dark Newt was the result.

This six part series saw Bruce Newt become a superhero to fight crime... in the local pond. In this chapter I've selected, he decides he needs a secret base. Hope you like it!

You can see another chapter at this post of mine from a few years ago:

A few thoughts

The above photo of me and a Dalek was taken at the Brighton Comics Expo in November 2005. Tom Spilsbury of Doctor Who Magazine is in the background, voicing the Dalek to say "Cheeeese!" for the camera.

Today, comic cons are still on hold of course so that means the comics community is still fractured. Many of us keep in touch online though, through social media, video calls, and even the old fashioned phonecall. 

Conventions will start to resume when it's safe to do so. There are no firm plans at the moment, and personally I feel that until more people have been vaccinated and the infection rate is much lower than it is right now, then I won't be going anywhere. I'm confident that convention organisers will try all they can to make the venues safe but the whole layout of events will have to be changed. Social distancing between guests and also between visitors... frankly it doesn't sound like it'd be a lot of fun until we're all vaccinated and the infection/death figures are way down.

Before the pandemic I'd enjoy travelling all over the country by train to various events and staying in numerous hotels. How sanitised will trains and hotel rooms be in the future? Even getting to an event will need careful consideration.

I know some people see that as "living in fear". I choose to see it as living responsibly and trying to survive. I miss my friends very much but holding fire for another year is better than losing them forever. With over two million people dead from Covid we can't rush back into any form of normality yet. 

We'll get there, but let's take it steady. Be safe and take care. 

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Fred Frankenstein's Folly (1993)

As I mentioned here last week, Rebellion are publishing an brand new Monster Fun Halloween Spooktacular in September and I'm very happy to be one of the contributors. It isn't the first time I've contributed to Monster Fun. Although the original weekly comic had ended before I worked in comics I did contribute to the combined Buster and Monster Fun Holiday Specials during the 1990s. 

Here's one of the pages I did for the Buster and Monster Fun Holiday Special 1993. I was a regular contributor for Buster with Tom Thug and The Vampire Brats and they'd appear in the specials as well but Fred Frankenstein's Folly was a one-off strip that I created. I thought I'd experiment with the art, and decided to use coloured outlines in places instead of the usual black. The result? Well... frankly it didn't turn out too well and it would have looked far better if I'd stuck to using black lines. It wasn't an experiment I'd repeat, - a bit like Fred's own experiment!  

It works a little better if it's desaturated, but it's still not what I was aiming for...

I guess the page turned out to be my folly, but you live and learn. I'm still pleased with the script though, and happy that I got to do a twist-in-the-tale horror comic story! I think the punchline still stands up 28 years later so I hope you like it!

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

The Prisoner (2006)

Being an admirer of the classic 1967 TV series The Prisoner I've referenced the show a few times in my strips over the years. I've also provided artwork for charity auctions held by Prisoner fans. One such instance was 15 years ago at the event PM2006, held at Portmeiron, North Wales, where most of the outdoor locations for The Prisoner had been filmed.

Back in 2006, as you may recall, there were rumours and speculations about a new Prisoner TV series, and who might be cast in the role of Number Six, so I thought I'd do a cartoon about that. In the end, as we now know, the series didn't appear until 2009 and it wasn't a patch on the original. 

Anyway, I enjoyed drawing this cartoon and it was amongst the items auctioned off to raise money for the Ty Golbaith Children's Hospice. You can read all about the event at The Unmutual website here:

Monday, 15 February 2021

When Pigs Fly! (2013)

A few years ago The Beano kept me busy not only with strips but also the occasional activity page. Here's one I did in 2013 called When Pigs Fly! I was really pleased with this one because not only did it give me another opportunity to draw Dennis the Menace it was also totally daft, - and we all know the daftest comics make the best comics!