Took a bit of drawing time today to do this for Tauriq Moosa, who, when asked for a drawing topic request, tweeted back with “the beauty of two different minds creating a single thing of beauty (ie comics :)”…To be fair, I think he didn’t think he was actually picking a drawing topic – either that, or he’s a little bit evil. After pondering what on earth to do with that, I decided to just go with something about collaboration, so here we go! Happy collaborative thoughts sent your way, Tauriq!
What I’ll have with me: First and foremost, Atomic Sheep! I’ll have copies for sale at a convention special price, and will sketch inside for you, so you should definitely come and pick up a copy! ^_~ I’ll also have the last handful of copies of Now and Then with me…I’m not sure I’ll be reprinting these in the near future, so if you’d like to snag a copy of this beauty, now’s the time! I’ll also have From, minicomic Candy Bag, and limited numbers of fine art prints, including this one.
Sketches? Yes! I’ll be offering quick A5 sketches – just £5 for a general topic (eg), £10 for portraits! If you’d like something more involved though, stop by and ask…I may very well be able to fit it in!
See you there! 🙂
Having wrapped up a few jobs recently, I thought I’d post some peeks at what sort of things I’ve been up to!
Slain was a small/medium job involving not-too-many pages that got going almost a year ago. So as often happens, time goes by and it ends up being a bit of a nice surprise when something like this shows up in the mail:
I just realized that, while I’ve mentioned it, I’ve not yet done a blog post on my new minicomic, Now and Then! Let’s fix that!
Here are some pics, along with excerpts from the author’s note at the back of the book:
“This story was a way of poking at a few things that interest me. Before moving to England, all the places I’d lived were – in their current post-colonial forms – very young nations. Here I’m constantly amazed by the physical, tangible history I see on a daily basis. Old textile mills, churches with stone walls that date back to 1200-and-something, beautiful shop buildings slowly decaying from neglect…”
“…It’s so easy to think of past generations as some other species, inhabiting period dramas, not as breathing people who lived and felt just as we do, despite the different context…”
You can find an absolutely lovely review of Now and Then by the wonderful Page 45 here! They have signed-and-sketched-in copies available 🙂
Last Monday I headed down to London to talk about my work, including Now and Then, at the wonderful Laydeez Do Comics, which it was my first time visiting! I thoroughly enjoyed it – as an event it has a wonderful community feel, and I was lucky enough to be presenting on the same night as the amazingly Kate Brown and Doug and Emma from the estimable SelfMade Hero. Kate talked about her book Fish and Chocolate (which is brilliant and intriguing) – I especially enjoyed getting an insight into her colour strategy. Richy K Chandler was the guest blogger this month, sketching away all night, so I’ll be sure to post when that goes up on the Laydeez blog!
In closing, pick up a copy of Now and Then, either from Page 45 (in Nottingham or online), Orbital Comics in London, or from me here! It’s printed on lovely off-white recycled paper, and is a generally beautiful book-y object. I am, however, also working on digital versions, and will post again as soon as those are available!
Ok, it’s not quite Friday at time of posting, but we’re just a couple of hours out!
I indulged in some for-fun drawing time tonight. I totally love Jamie McKelvie’s design for the new Captain Marvel series. Tried to get a nice sunrise-y palette. The birds are red-winged blackbirds, because they and Carol have pretty much the same outfit!
I’ve been thinking for a while I’d like to start introducing more actual blogging to this blog. I’ve got some posts planned (hopefully to be posted soon) on nitty-gritty early freelancing tips and resources, and tips for comic writers seeking artists.
Other than that, things come up now and then that I have Thoughts on (uh oh) ((I often keep these to myself because I don’t like to risk drama, so venturing this opinion is a step for me!)). One of these was a little while ago, when some friends had the unpleasant experience of a very harsh review on their small press comics anthology. I think we can all agree that that’s a crappy experience for anyone to have.
Naturally, the comics people around them expressed their dissatisfaction about this, and that makes sense – both out of friendship, and from the standpoint that tact and restraint are good qualities to expect in reviews. Before I go any further I want to make clear that that’s not what I’m talking about at all. Words in reviews should be judiciously chosen and not overly unkind. Let’s just take that as read.
But what I found myself disagreeing (with, it seems, everyone I know!) on, is the role of reviews and what approach they should take to self-published works. I’ve left this gathering dust for a while because my friends were hurt, and making a discussion of it right then felt unkind (and potentially volatile). Hopefully it’s ok to do so now. You can read a post (which takes the opposite view to this one) on the topic by Sephryn Grey here.
The feelings of the small pressers I know seemed generally to be that the approach of a review should be dependent on context. And this is what I don’t think I agree with.
Everyone starts somewhere. And the world of self-publishing is indeed where many people start…where, although there are professionals simply putting out work directly to their readers, there are also people early in their comics journey, starting to put their work out there. So the argument goes, self-published works are not all professional, and should not be reviewed in the same way as a professional work.
But the thing is, “professional” can be kind of a slippery term. Do we mean professional as in by someone who has been published by a large publisher? Are we using it in the context of “professional quality work”, or by someone who is earning their living from their work (but even here, we start getting jobs in drips and drabs, and it can take ages to grow to a living)? Another definition though, could be “for sale”. Available for people to buy, with their hard-earned cash, just as they would something from a large publisher.
And for me that’s kind of the thing. I think it would be unfair to review a free webcomic that is not for sale on the same terms, but when you put something up for sale – putting it in front of people with a lot of books to choose from, and asking them to choose it, I think you are making it professional.
I also think you’re making something with wings, in a sense. It could fly off goodness knows where. I know the UK comics scene is a community, and why we choose to buy something directly from someone at an artist table at a con does have relational and contextual elements to it. And that may be the bulk of our sales. But it’s not the only possible way a person may come to this book, once it’s out there, especially if you sell online or at various comic stores. There’s a very good chance that at some point, a reader will come to your book without any reference point of who you are, where you’re at with your comicking, etc. What they see is the book. In that sense it exists relatively autonomously, on its own merits.
And I think that’s what a review is about – telling the (potential?) reader the reviewer’s (hopefully informed and thoughtful) opinion about the comic. A book is to some extent a thing in itself, and I think it’s fine for a reviewer to address it as such. I don’t think they need to research or include any context about where you’re at, unless it’s somehow tied into the fabric of the book. For example, if the point of the book is to showcase new/young/early-career comic artists – and this is made clear in the title and/or foreword – then this is part and package of the book-as-a-thing-in-itself, and should indeed be referenced. Beyond this – while sometimes the background of a creator or work can definitely be illuminating – I don’t think it’s required. I think once you put a book out there, into the world, for sale…it will be read as a thing in itself by some people, and I think it’s important to be cool with that.
So what’s a reviewer to do about small press works, when it’s clear that some works being done early in the creator’s career and maybe are not the very best highest quality thing (as is the case for all of us at some point)?
One approach, mooted by Kenny Penman via twitter (if he doesn’t mind me mentioning!) was to only review things you like. This seems like a pretty good route to take, as a scathing review with nothing good to say isn’t really very useful. Although a purely positive-reviews-only column would to me be more a recommendations column – no bad thing, it’s great to evangelise the comics you love!
I’d perhaps extend it a bit to say just don’t review works you actively dislike, at the risk of being pointlessly negative or being biased by it not being your thing. If you don’t like, but don’t hate something, that sounds fine to me, and you’ll probably have some decent comments on what does and doesn’t work for you in it.
Another thing worth considering could be an occasional special feature. For example, while I’ve been saying “no kid gloves, comics are comics, treat them all professionally”, there’s some obvious situations where this just isn’t right. Like say the person making the comics is 13. In this case, the fact that they’ve actually finished a book, had it printed, and booked a table at a con is flipping amazing, before you’ve even looked at the book. Just taking the book on its own merits, as I’ve been advocating, would be a bit callous even if it is for sale, as a product.
So perhaps a special feature on new creators could be a good idea…a space that’s clearly set up to have different parameters and context than regular reviews, without confusing a clear, neutral approach to works in the regular reviews.
And finally, I like reviews to be fair and consistent. The review that kicked this off was harsh. I know it will have been a horrible read for the artists in question. However, what bothered me as a reader wasn’t the harsh sections… it was a phrase where the reviewer referred to some “nice little artwork”. Now compared to the rest of the review, this was a lovely compliment, but that diminutive really bugged me! If you’re assessing work as you would the work of any professional, then you are bound to treat the artist like that, so it’s worth some extra care to avoid phrases that sound patronising or belittling. Likewise, you’re just assessing that work – and who knows what they’ll produce next time! Never damn future work or careers – that’s not fair or useful in any way. Keep it focussed on that particular work. We’re all on a journey, and who knows what’s ahead!
You need to be comfortable knowing that your works are going out there into the world, and will, like everything, to some extent be judged by those who come across them. I’m not saying this in a “toughen up, wimp!” way (not least because that wouldn’t stand me in good stead when I get harsh reviews of my own!). What I’m leading to is “if there’s anything you’d like the readers to know, make sure you put it in there – in a foreword/afterword/artist’s page/whatever. They may very well come to the book with no context – in a comic shop, on a friend’s bookshelf – so anything you want them to know about you or your journey – where you’re at or where this book is coming from – get it in there! “Speak now or forever hold your peace”, as it were 🙂
Also, it will suck if you get some harsh reviews. Definitely. That sucks. But at least, the reason you’d be getting said review is because you put a comic out there for sale, and people bought it. That’s pretty cool. Yup. 🙂
With time to kill in London, I went over to the always sublime British Library for their Royal Manuscripts exhibition (on until March 13), not inappropriately given the dense decoration of Thompson’s Habibi. For the first section I spend lots of time poring over the details of every book…then I rounded a corner and saw how large the exhibition was! This is a phenomenal gathering of books – so many in fact that by the end I was just casually glancing over them as I walked past as if these incredible art objects were common as mud, my brain and eyes too full to take much more in. If I lived closer, I would probably pay the entry fee twice to spend some more time. Interpretation was excellent as well, with free audio guides for extra info from various experts – the only thing not there that I could have wished for was some information on all those bizarre and fascinating creatures and scenes that get tucked into the borders of so many of these works! You could make a rich and fascinating fantasy world populated with them. My highlights included the first encyclopedia, and a later one which used the alphabetised approach we’re now used to.
Craig Thompson is one of my biggest comic heroes (like many others I’m sure)…or perhaps more specifically than comics, one of my biggest drawing heroes, whose lyrical lines fill me with wonder and enthusiasm about what a line can do – so I was definitely looking forward to this event, especially knowing he’d be spending a bit of time talking about his process on Habibi.
I’m not going to go much into his talk, because Comics Gosh!p (Gosh‘s comics reading group) were there filming, and presumably that will be available at some point. I did take notes to ponder though, peppered with sketches that don’t look much like him due to the lights being off for his powerpoint. You might be able to pick out a few themes – this page is mostly process:
I totally have a thing for hearing about other peoples’ development and work processes, and his seven-year process on Habibi is fascinating and intimidating in its intensity – apparently that time was solely on Habibi, and he didn’t really take any outside work. He’s now working on three projects simultaneously, and I’m curious how he’ll find that compared to the intense-focus approach. It sounds like a fairly linear flow – he mentioned being able to be solely immersed in the drawing stage, figure drawing, backgrounds, etc, when he got there.
I have to admit, his thorough drafts and re-drafts make me a little embarrassed that I rough-drafted a 24-page issue script in a day the day before. But of course, I’ll re-draft it, and the answer to anything about process is “whatever works for you”. For example, I have to work on more than one project or I feel stiff and stale – but not too many, or I have trouble getting into the headspace of a project when switching modes. And in a way, it’s as useful to know “that wouldn’t work for me” as it is to go “hmm, maybe I should try that”. It remains completely fascinating to me to hear about a very different approach.
I’ll wrap up with a bit about the signing he did afterwards. I have a confession to make. I’ve never waited in line for a signing before. No wait, that’s a lie. When I was a teenager I lined up for Yoshitoshi Abe’s signature at an anime con. But in general, while I love getting books signed on a more chatty/casual basis, standing in a line and getting a sig from someone who’s doing one after another feels so anonymous, when the real desire is a connection or chat with the person. (Yet at the same time, I would be elated if I could ever procure enough people who wanted me to sign things to create a line!)
So I don’t really know how these things usually go. However, I would like to anoint Craig a Class Act ™. Instead of sitting behind a table, he pulled up a chair on the same side as him, and did a sketch and chatted with the person while he did it. He was amazingly warm and personable. This was basically a master-class on doing a signing well, and making every reader of your work feel special.
I’ll wrap this up with a thank you to the three people who let me in front of them so I could get my book signed and still make my train – I made it with 2 minutes to spare! O.o Phew! I’ll finish by showing you the lovely sketch I now have in the front of Carnet de Voyage 🙂
Thanks Craig! 😀
This week I’ve had a good amount of time to plug away at Atomic Sheep, the young adult graphic novel I’m working on. It’s changed a fair bit since I started it, and I’m pleased with what it looks like now! Here are a few sample pages so you have an idea what I’m working on!