The National Health Service, sharp vision and the death of Tinkerbell

This website is basically for news about books, for promotion of festival appearances and such like, so I don’t normally post about non-professional matters. However, I’m making an exception here with my recent experiences as an NHS outpatient. In the current climate of talking-down the NHS, we hear horror stories in the media about poor care, sad stories about long waiting lists and so on. Whenever I’m in contact with one of their services, I’m always overcome with a strange sense of dissonance between those stories and my own first-hand experiences. While I’m not exactly in a position to comment on the truth or otherwise of such media-circulated stories, I can offer my own.

I’ve had a cataract that’s been dimming vision in my right eye for some years now. At my latest (free at the point of use NHS) eye test in early November, the optician decided it was sufficiently advanced for referral. Less than two weeks later I went for a preliminary assessment by a consultant at Sunderland Eye Infirmary, at which I was booked in for ultrasound cataract surgery at the end of the month. At both of these appointments, I’d barely walked through the door and the cheery nursing staff were busily checking documentation and prepping me with various eye drops. The procedure was ultrasound removal (bizarre!) of the cataract-clouded lens and fitting with a new artificial one. It generally takes around fifteen minutes. Unfortunately there was a complication, meaning it took considerably longer (a toe-curling forty minutes or so). As the new lens was being inserted, they noticed a small tear in the lens sac and the lens had to be withdrawn. That was on Wednesday 30th. I was immediately scheduled for another appointment the following day. With thoughts of ‘NHS waiting list shock’ headlines hovering in my mind, I had a day’s anxiety about spending long months with severely impaired vision. But I needn’t have worried. At that appointment, the consultant arranged for me to have follow-up surgery for the replacement lens – on the 6th of December. On that occasion I had to wait all of ten minutes before the prepping began and I was in and out of the theatre in about twenty minutes.

With these recent close encounters of mine with the NHS, I’ve been struck throughout by the informal courtesy, good humour and calm of the working environment in the infirmary, both among staff and towards patients. And, as you will have gathered, by the absence of long waiting lists, delays and poor treatment. Sunderland Eye Infirmary is excellent, it really is.

But what’s all this about Tinkerbell? Well, an eye without a lens is a very strange thing indeed. Light hitting the retina is, obviously, entirely unfocused. What surprised me though was the way every tiny source of light – stand-by, fairy light or whatever it might be – was transformed into a sparkling, undulating disc, the size of a small coin, for all the world like Tinkerbell (as in a JM Barrie stage production, I mean, not Disney – pah!)  So between those two operations, I spent about a week surrounded by hundreds of bloody Tinkerbells. Glad to see the back of her, to be honest. Pretty, though.

4th Lakes International Comic Art Festival

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24-hour comic in progess. “Shh. They’re concentrating”

comicartcoeliferatlasBryan was one of the artists lined up to work on this year’s 24 Hour Comic Marathon project, set to begin at 3pm on Thursday 13th. So our festival experience started early. This year a single story had been written by Alex Paknadel and Dan Watters and 12 artists had each been assigned two pages to illustrate. The resulting Coelifer Atlas was printed and launched the same weekend, proceeds going to the charity OCD Action. You can find details and availability both from Lakes International Comic Art Festival Books and from Page 45.

On Thursday evening we were present for the finnish-exhibitionwelcoming dinner for invited festival guests. It began with an informal reception in Kendal College’s newly reopened Wildman Gallery. The gallery is currently exhibiting Silence/Hiljaisuus, an exhibition of original graphic novel art by Hanneriina Moisseinen from Finland.

The exhibition opened on 12th October and runs until 12th November. It’s well worth a look if you’re in Kendal. There are details of this and the other festival exhibitions here. One I was really sorry to miss while I was in Kendal was the exhibition of Five Bridges: Stories of the Flood, put together by Mike Medaglia, LIsa Woynarkski and Farokh Soltani. It features five different stories of people who endured the severe flooding in Kendal in December 2015, when the River Kent breached its banks, inundating the town and closing its five bridges. The exhibition is in the Kendal Museum and runs until 19th November.
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badratOn Friday we had the pleasure of taking Bryan Lee O’Malley and his partner Mary to lunch. It was their first time in the UK and we were keen to introduce them to some of our beautiful countryside. So, with that and a little comics tourism in mind, we drove over to the Mason’s Arms, Strawberry Bank – a location in Bryan’s classic Tale of One Bad Rat.

The first ticketed event was Asterix vs Tintin: Clash of the Toon Titans on Friday evening. Team Tintin and the Asterixers engaged in entertainingly spirited (verging on downright scurrilous) debate, with that Hannah Berry ably presiding over the proceedings. Then the audience voted. And Asterix won. By one vote. One. I demand a recount!

The event was supported by Lancaster University and their new Visiting Professor in Graphic Fiction and Comic Art, Benoit Peeters, was leading the pro-Tintin team. It was great to hear about the university’s commitment to the festival from Professor Simon Guy, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Lancaster University, especially as I’m an alumna of the University myself. (For those who are interested in this sort of thing, I did the first ever PhD on Critical Discourse Analysis, the practical element of which focused on the now defunct girls’ comic/magazine, Jackie.)
asterix-vs-tintinasterix-vs-tintin-2The same evening, Dave Gibbons handed over the position of Comics Laureate to his successor, Charlie Adlard. This is the second biennial appointment of a distinguished comics creator in recognition of their outstanding achievement in the medium. The new UK Comics Laureate will take over in February 2017.

I’m delighted and deeply honoured to be appointed as the Comics Laureate. The power of comics to encourage learning and develop literacy shouldn’t be underestimated. Comics can connect with people who may never pick up a normal book and really help encourage a love of reading. I see this as a great opportunity to bring the wonder of comics to a wider audience.

Charlie Adlard

laureate-speechOn Saturday evening we were invited by the wonderful Corinne Pearlman of Myriad Editions to join them in the Warehouse Café to celebrate the 2012 and 2014 winners and successes of their First Graphic Novel Competition. Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier editor-in-chief and one of the 2014 judges, enthuses here about the competition and the superb opportunity it offers. With enthusiastic help from past entrants, winners and judges, he expains why the competition is so important to the whole comics community and to the health of publishing itself. At the same event Julie Tait, our awesome festival organiser, announced the winners of the Beatrix Potter Reimagined Competition. The standard was amazing.potter-winner

There was so much going on at the festival, that I managed to attend a fraction of what I would have liked to see. For instance, I missed Dave McKean’s Black Dog event again, as it clashed with my own slot on Red Virgin on the Sunday. Back in May I missed the Black Dog launch in Kendal, as it coincided with Wonderlands in Sunderland.

We got widespread media coverage, including BBC Arts. Here are reports on this year’s festival from the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, with announcements for 2017, from Page 45 and Comics Work Book. I didn’t take any photos in the Comics Clock Tower this year, but I did browse the tables a couple of times and bought a card or two from one Eleanor Hollindrake. Nice cards, Eleanor!

Charlie Adlard,Joe Kelly, Ken Nimura, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, Luke McGarry, Emma Vieceli, Lynette Adlard, Steve McGarry

Left to right: Charlie Adlard,Joe Kelly, Ken Nimura, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, Luke McGarry, Emma Vieceli, Lynette Adlard, Steve McGarry

Gilbert Shelton, Kate Charlesworth, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, Yomi Ayemi

Gilbert Shelton, Kate Charlesworth, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, Yomi Ayemi

Last chat with Gilbert in the hotel

Last chat with Gilbert in the hotel

September-October update

salonstripa-guestThe past few weeks have been non-stop. Since our Edinburgh Festival weekend at the end of August, we’ve been at festivals in four other countries. I’ve posted about our trip in September to Avilés in Spain already. From 29th September to 2nd October we were in the sunny Serbian capital of Belgrade as guests at Salon Stripa. Our main event there was an on-stage interview, with Žika, our Serbian publisher (on the left in the photo below) and Alex, festival organiser (on the right), taking turns with questions and translation. Here’s some coverage on the Modesty Comics blog.
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It was our first time in the Balkans and we were unsure what to expect, though we knew we wanted to visit Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Museum.nikola-tesla-museuminside-museum

As well as going to the museum (which turned out to be very close to our hotel) and doing some sightseeing around the Belgrade Fortress, we were pleased to be taken on a Food & Culture Tour of the city, which included some potted history of the region. Belgrade, it seems, has always been poised between East and West. The Fortress sits above the confluence of the Sava and the Danube. You can read a little about its turbulent history here.
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We did quite a few media interviews, for TV and the press. Here‘s a write-up of one of them (it is, of course, in Serbian).

dedicaces2-copyTwo nights at home, then we were off again. This time to Paris, to promote the French edition of Red Virgin: Louise Michel, La Vierge Rouge. The book’s reception has been excellent. We have some hugely enthusiastic reviews, on Sceneario, BoDoï and the radio station Europe 1, among others, though the review on the radio seems to be most excited about the Jules Verne/Nautilus connection in one of the book’s endnotes. We did a signing in a great BD shop in Bastille and met some lovely people. It isn’t a toy and tuck shop, as you might think from the photo below (and, no, we didn’t touch any of that junk food on the table).
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While we were in Paris we also had a couple of interesting informal meetings with journalists. One, Florence Bellet, works for the anarchist radio station Radio Libertaire and gave us a copy of a book she’s written radio-libertaireabout her great-grandfather, who was a teenager in Paris during the shortlived Commune of 1871. Another, Yücel Göktürk, was a Turkish Kurd with an impressive knowledge of literature in English who was amazed, he said, at the Samuel Beckett epigram in Red Virgin. Apparently it has huge resonance in Turkey right now. ‘FAIL AGAIN, FAIL BETTER’ is a current Turkish catchphrase, borne aloft on banners. Also, he wondered, did I have a particular model for utopia in mind? Was it by any chance Kurdistan? It’s well worth being reminded that readers will always bring their own context to books and, in doing so, enrich them beyond measure.

Still in Paris, we had time for a visit to the Grand Palais for the Hergé exhibition that’s on.
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vive-la-paix
Next, off by train to Blois for an event at a history festival, Les rendez-vous de l’histoire. This is a long-running festival in Blois that’s now in its 19th year. Louise Michel la Vierge Rouge is published by La Librairie Vuibert, a history imprint, not a BD publisher as such. with-michelleperrotThey’d arranged a dual on-stage interview with Nicolas Carreau, a national newspaper reporter, and emeritus professor Michelle Perrot, who is not only a highly esteemed pioneering feminist historian in France but also extremely knowledgeable about Louise Michel and the Paris Commune. They are both, fortunately, also delightful people and hugely positive about our book. In fact, we learned at lunch later that Michelle Perrot had searched out Sally Heathcote Suffragette and loved that too.
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The event itself went extremely well, with simultaneous translation through headphones for the audience (just like United Nations!). We found the questions from onstage and the audience clear enough to respond to without having to wait for translation, I’m pleased to say, which kept it moving. Usually translation slows things down a lot.

With Grégory from La Librairie Vuibert

With Grégory from La Librairie Vuibert

In the courtyard of the chateau in Blois

In the courtyard of the chateau in Blois

Blois rooftops

Blois rooftops

That’s all for now. Next post: back home in England for the 4th Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Back soon!

Avilés Comics Festival

aviles-posterRecently back from the Jornadas Internationales de Cómic in Avilés, a small, friendly Spanish festival in Asturias that’s now in its 21st year. With the hotel and everything else located in the peaceful old town centre, we had a very tranquil and picturesque place to wander about in for a few days, as you can see from the photos below. Especially once the rain stopped and we were finally blessed with some sunshine. We missed the flooding. I was glad about that.
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aviles-streetNot as wet as our last visit to the north coast of Spain, though.
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Our main event was an on-stage interview with Germán Menéndez, with the help, as always, of Diego García’s prodigious translation skills. The first hour covered the wide range of Bryan’s work over the years. Then I joined in for a second hour, when discussion moved on to our recent graphic-novel collaborations.
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‘El matrimonio Talbot’ did interviews with various journalists too. Here’s a link to one write-up (in Spanish).
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I also appeared on a panel on ‘Conquering Spaces: Women in the Comics World’ with Chloé Cruchaudet and Sonia Pulido, chaired by Rebeca Fernández Alonso.
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The long, late lunches and late, late dinners were spent getting to know some of the other guests and, of course, the organisers. Here we are with fellow guests (left to right) Rodney Ramos (USA), Mario Alberti (Italy) and George Perez (USA).
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And here with organisers Jorge Ivan Argiz (left) and Germán (right), with Diego (centre):
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And with Jorge again and Rocío Arroca. We were in an old cidrería. In the tile picture in the background, you can just about make out the traditional arms-length cider pouring going on:
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Unfortunately the Spanish edition of The Red Virgin, La Virgen Roja, wasn’t out until the following week. The 4th reprint of Sally Heathcote Sufragista was delayed too, so that the book stalls only had a handful of copies. Lots of the Spanish Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, though: La niña de sus ojos. A range of Spanish editions of Bryan’s work too.books

Lakes International Comic Art Festival, Kendal

comicartThe full programme for the 4th Lakes International Comic Art Festival is now online and available to download here. It’s fabulous, packed with an enormous range of events. Tickets are now on sale, so now’s the time to take a good look at what’s on. As in previous years, it takes place in October in in Kendal, in the the south of the beautiful English Lake District. This year it runs from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th.

I’ll be appearing with Bryan to talk about The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia. We’ll be in the Council Chambers in the Comics Clock Tower (aka Town Hall) with Paul Gravett on the Sunday at 2.30 and we’ll be signing outside the Chambers afterwards.

beatrix-potter-reimagined-logoIn the run-up to the festival we have some judging to do for the Beatrix Potter Reimagined competition. All the submissions will be included in a Beatrix Potter Reimagined exhibition at Kendal Library, from 7th to 28th October, sitting alongside some fabulous BP reimagined artworks by Charlie Adlard, Duncan Fegredo, Hannah Berry and Luke McGarry. The winners of the competition will be announced during the festival.

Meanwhile we seem to have only just returned from the Edinburgh International Book Festival and we’re off to the Avilés Comics Festival in Spain. It’s all go at Talbot Towers, I tell you!

Here’s a short report on Edinburgh from Joe Gordon, who chaired our session there.
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Bryan y Mary Talbot y Kate Charlesworth - Sally Heathcote, sufraOn the trip to Avilés that’s coming up we’ll be promoting the Spanish edition of Red Virgin. It’s published in Spain later this month, alongside a fourth printing of the award-winning Sally Heathcote Sufragista, the Spanish edition of Sally Heathcote Suffragette. Both are published by Ediciones La Cúpola in Barcelona.
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Brewery Arts Centre

Brewery Arts Centre

Brewery Arts Centre

Comics Clock Tower (aka Kendal Town Hall)

Comics Clock Tower (aka Kendal Town Hall)

Foreign language editions in the pipeline…

ViergeRougeTitleLogo2We seem to be finding gainful employment for translators all over the place! The French edition of The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia is released in September from Editions Vuibert. The publishers asked Bryan to recreate the lovely woodcut-style title lettering for its French title: Louise Michel, La Vierge Rouge. In the UK, Louise Michel is almost unheard of. Apparently, in France, a lot of people will recognise the name – there is a metro station and a Parisian square named after her – but she’s still, on the whole, a mysterious revolutionary figure. The Spanish Edition, La Virgen Roja, published by Ediciones La Cúpola, is out in October.

On other fronts, the Portuguese edition of Bryan’s The Tale of One Bad Rat has just been published by Levoir. Grandville Mon Amour will shortly appear in the Czech Republic, Grandville Bête Noire and Grandville Noel in Serbia and Sally Heathcote Suffragette in Sweden. This month also sees the 4th printing of the multiple-award winning Spanish edition of Sally Heathcote: SuCoversfragista.

Later this month we are guests at the Edinburgh International Book Festival where, on the 27th August at 12.30, we’ll be talking about The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia with Joe Gordon.
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FrontCover

Here I Stand

CoverA new teen anthology from Amnesty International, Here I Stand will be published by Walker Books on 4th August 2016 and available here.

At a time when we are seeing a nightmarish surge in hate crimes, this anthology is, unfortunately, all too relevant.
Nicky Parker, Amnesty International

This thought-provoking collection brings together twenty-five leading writers and illustrators. Their stories and poems are poignant, challenging, heartbreaking, angry and haunting. They cover important and relevant issues likely to resonate with teenagers today, such as bullying, race hatred, child sex abuse, freedom of speech, identity and gang honour. All of them touch upon the importance of having the courage to speak up against injustice.

Deed Not Words panelsBryan and I have once again teamed up with Sally Heathcote Suffragette co-creator Kate Charlesworth to create a 6-page strip for the anthology. Deeds Not Words concerns the real-life suffragette Lady Constance Lytton who, some may remember, had a brief cameo appearance in Sally Heathcote Suffragette. Deeds Not Words is produced in the same style that we used for the graphic novel.

Other contributors include John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, poet Jackie Kay, Costa-winners Frances Hardinge and Christie Watson, Carnegie 2016 winner Sarah Crossan, Matt Haig, Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell, AL Kennedy and imprisoned Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
Deeds Not Words text

Reflection and raspberries

Shhh. If we're quiet, Farters-Parters won't get us.

Shhh. If we’re quiet, Farters-Parters won’t get us.

Before the last General Election, Alwyn Talbot and I contributed a 4-page strip to 64 pages of reflection and raspberry blowing published by Disconnected Press. We called it ‘Preparation for Leadership’; the collection was Cross – A Political Satire Anthology.

Amid the omnishambles of the recent referendum, I’ve found myself thinking about it again. It doesn’t relate directly, of course, but it does offer some insights into some of the key players in the whole dismal disaster. ‘Preparation for Leadership’ is a 4-page comic-strip précis of scholarly investigation in the emerging cross-coverdisciplinary field of psychohistory. It was directly inspired by Nick Duffell’s Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion. You can read about both psychohistory and the book on his website here.

As you’ll gather from Alwyn’s amazing online portfolio here, it was was a big departure from his usual approach and it displays an unexpected talent in caricature. The book Cross is still available on the Disconnected Press website for a reduced price of £5. It’s a small independent publisher run by Lizzie and Conor Doyle, who are lovely people!
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Beatrix Potter’s Inspiring Legacy in Kendal Museum

BryanOn Tuesday we went to the launch of an exhibition at the museum in Kendal, Cumbria. Beatrix Potter’s Inspiring Legacy exhibition marks the 150th anniversary of her birth. Rather than focusing on her illustrated children’s books, which are known worldwide, it highlights her lesser-known scientific legacy and her influence on artists today.

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Bryan has loaned the museum original artwork from The Tale of One Bad Rat, inspired by Potter’s books. Seven contemporary local artists are also featured.

Bryan’s pages are displayed next to Beatrix Potter’s work. He’s delighted to be in such good company!
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The exhibition also displays some of Potter’s personal collection of paintings by artists she admired, including Randolph Caldicott, on loan from Kendal Town Council.
Mary
Afterwards we caught up on developments for this year’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival over dinner with Julie Tate, festival organiser, and fellow patron, Sean Phillips. Tickets on sale soon!

Wonderlands in Sunderland and the Bradford litfest

photo by Darryl CunninghamA hectic month has finally come to a close. The weekend before last Bryan and I were guests at the Bradford Literature Festival. For the first time, the festival was running a strand of events devoted to comics, which took place at the University of Bradford. I was on a ‘Comix Creatrix’ panel on the Saturday, in fine company with Kripa Joshi, Corinne Pearlman and Asia Alfasi, chaired by Paul Gravett.

The following day, Bryan and I presented our new book, The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia.

Then last weekend, the University of Sunderland and the Sunderland MAC Trust hosted Wonderlands: the UK Graphic Novel Expo for the second time. And it was splendid ! A lively and busy day, full of talks, panels and workshops, as well as a publishing hall filled with tempting things to browse and buy…
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Disconnected Press
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Mary talkI’ve already posted about our promotional activities for the new book in launch week. I was at it again at Wonderlands, while Bryan did his presentation on Grandville and the Anthropomorphic Tradition. I also had the pleasure to be one of five ‘Real Lives’ panellists, alongside Una, Suzy Varty, Kate Charlesworth and Darryl Cunningham. In an experience not unlike speed-dating (as I imagine it!), we were whizzed along efficiently by our moderator, the excellent Mel Gibson:
Mel panel
Una Suzy panel
To finish the day, all our invited guests were treated to an excellent dinner in the new premises of the Funky Indian. We walked over via Sunderland’s spanking new Keel Square. A community police officer happened to be there and she kindly took some group photos for us:
Keel
The square is the site of the Keel Line commemorating Sunderland’s illustrious shipbuilding history. It was designed by Bryan and I’ve posted about it previously here.
dinner B Steve Bell etc

dinner Una Mary

dinner Doug metaphrog
A huge thank you to the Wonderlands organisers for doing such a fantastic job and making all our visitors so welcome.

Thanks to various people in attendance for use of their photographs.Keel 1
Keel Bryan