The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October 2015

Clocktower2Last year we did six festivals altogether in October so, when the month rolled around again, just doing two seemed quite laid back by comparison. The 3rd Lakes International Comic Art Festival was a resounding success, with a record 13,900 visitors over the weekend and overwhelmingly positive feedback. Down the Tubes has a range of coverage, including John Freeman’s initial report, Jeremy Briggs on Creators at LICAF2015, Norman Boyd’s First Impressions: A Beginner’s Guide and the Announcement of 2015 Windows Art Winners. I’ve also come across a three-part account by one Leonard Sultana, who seems to have tried his utmost to get to everything: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. See also Jean Rogers’ reflections.

Next year’s festival organisation is already underway and dates have been announced as 14th-16th October 2016. There’s a fundraising auction which will take place live and online from Orbital Comics in London on 24th November 2015. The auction features work donated by Charlie Adlard, Steve Bell, Ian Churchill, Darwyn Cooke, Hunt Emerson, Dave Gibbons, Jamie Hewlett, Stuart Immonen, Sean Phillips, Posy Simmonds, Jeff Smith and Bryan Talbot.

For me, as for the international guests, this year’s festival began with the official welcome event on Thursday evening. This year it took place in the basement of Kendal Museum, where Sean Phillips’ PhonoGraphics exhibition was on display. We were treated to a dinner created by catering students at Kendal College and festival wine and beer were served.
Look, Sean drank it all! Notice the wine labels, designed by Sean and Bryan.

Mason'sArmsOn Friday morning, while the 24-hour comic people were adding finishing touches to their work, we took off for lunch in a picturesque Cumbrian setting with Canadian guests, Darwyn and Marsha Cooke. The pub behind us is the Mason’s Arms, Strawberry Bank, which appears in Bryan’s Tale of One Bad Rat (as the Herdwick Arms). Thanks to Marsha for the photo.

For me the festival proper began with Steve Bell’s talk. To a packed audience, Steve charted the development of If, his political cartoon strip in the Guardian. He finished with the current predicament of Jez-Bi-Wan Corbyn, who had just been put in a sticky situation by Darth Mandelson.
Steve Bell If
RV postcardNext in my schedule was my own talk the following morning, to a good audience in the formal setting of Council Chamber. I finally got to announce my latest collaboration with Bryan, our forthcoming graphic novel, The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, out next May. This book deals with the astounding, larger-than-life feminist revolutionary, Louise Michel, her part in the Paris Commune of 1871 and more. And it looks stunning. Thanks to Mel Gibson for her excellent hosting of the event, as ever.

My afternoon appearance for a round of darts with Knockabout in the Elephant Yard emporium, now I freely admit that was a little less successful. I was just beginning to get the hang of throwing those darts by the end, though…

red_shoes_metaphrog_papercutz_cover-628x670In the afternoon I was back in the Council Chamber, but this time it was for John and Sandra of Metaphrog’s  introduction of their new book, The Red Shoes and other tales. This collection includes a beautiful but dark retelling of Hans Andersen’s Red Shoes.

KarrieFransmanbyMichiMathiasOn Sunday morning I was in the Council Chamber yet again, where this time I had the Death_of_the_Artist_front_coverpleasure of hosting Karrie Fransman’s talk. Karrie was taking us through her work, with particular attention to her latest graphic novel, The Death of the Artist, as well as talking more generally about comics and experimentation. Sketch of Karrie with her busy hands, tweeted later by @MichiMathias!

arkwright-integral-coverAlso on Sunday, I went to hear Bryan in conversation about his Adventures of Luther Arkwright and influences with Peter Kessler. Yes yes, I’ve heard it all before, but this time it was with clips, which made it all rather interesting! Then later we both enjoyed listening to Benoit Peeters talking through his surreal bande-dessinée work with Paul Gravett.
Bryan&YomiThere was the social side too, of course. So many lovely people. We had the pleasure of getting to know Yomi Ayeni of Clockwork Watch, for instance, who’d ventured up to Kendal from London.

Just before the Comics Clocktower closed (and transformed back into Kendal Town Hall) Bryan went around snapping photos. Here’s a few.

Me with Stephen Holland of Page 45

Me with Stephen Holland of Page 45

Roger Langridge and Antony Johnston

Roger Langridge and Antony Johnston

Ben Read, Sara Dunkerton and Matt Gibbs

Ben Read, Sara Dunkerton and Matt Gibbs

Terry Wiley

Terry Wiley

Yomi at the Clockwork Watch table

Yomi at the Clockwork Watch table

Sydney Jordan

Sydney Jordan

Gary Erskine

Gary Erskine


Suffragette film review

suffragettewagonSuffragette is a snapshot of the women’s suffrage movement before the First World War. Its main focus is on its impact on the family life of Maud Watts, laundress, wife and mother. And, believe me, that impact is devastating.

It’s amazing that this film’s only just appeared. With the singular exception of the BBC’s 6-part TV drama Shoulder to Shoulder, the suffragettes have scarcely been given worthy treatment on film, ever. And the TV drama was screened 40 years ago and buried for decades. So it was a particular pleasure to watch Suffragette with its stunning sets and costumes and splendid performances by the cast, including Carey Mulligan as the protagonist Maud. The film makes it very clear indeed that the suffragettes weren’t just middle-class women chaining themselves to railings.

To convey the sheer scale of the women’s suffrage movement in a single, compelling story is no mean feat. Having set about to do just that myself in a graphic novel, I’ve a particular interest in the choices made for the film by writer Abbie Morgan and director Sarah Gavron. The similarities are striking, but not all that surprising. Like the film, Sally Heathcote Suffragette – the graphic novel I co-created with Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot – has a fictional protagonist who moves through history, alongside well documented, very real campaigners for women’s suffrage and wider rights. A lowly figure from the rank and file, she starts as an observer who’s sucked in as events unfold. We see her working conditions and the abuse she has to contend with. We live through her struggles. With a fictional character to explore the historical setting, I could range more freely than if I’d restricted myself to one historical figure and their biography. It made it easier to construct a compelling, focused story too.

page 79 bottomThen there’s the hardcore civil disturbance. Needing a manageable story that’s neither too detailed nor too superficial, the film required careful decisions about what to include. So key scenes represent a wide range of repeated suffragette activities – some window smashing, a rousing rally, police brutality at a demonstration in Parliament Square, a traumatic force-feeding scene – just as they do in Sally Heathcote Suffragette. Film and book also share some iconic elements: the bombing of Lloyd George’s house, the tragic death and funeral of Emily Wilding Davison. In fact, the film movingly incorporates actual footage of the London funeral procession in June 1913.

That’s where the similarities end. Sally Heathcote Suffragette is no snapshot. As I was researching the women’s suffrage movement, what impressed me most was the sheer scale of it, how long it went on, the way it spanned across the country and across social classes. Like the Occupy and anti-austerity movements now, perhaps. I had no idea it was so vast, with so many different factions. Not just the Pankhursts. Not just the Women’s Social and Political Union. Not just London. I felt it was very important to get these things across.

Political activism, radicalization, direct action – these are highly relevant issues for us today. When I saw coverage of Sisters Uncut chanting “Dead women can’t vote!” at the premiere, I cheered them on from the sofa. A hundred years on from the suffragettes, women’s rights are still an issue. The protesters were highlighting domestic violence and the impact of the Government’s austerity cuts on support services.

Suffragette does a fine job of showing us what’s at stake for Maud as an activist. It does so by narrowing its focus closely on one ordinary working woman’s commitment to fighting for women’s rights and its consequences for her. What it doesn’t quite succeed in, for me, is presenting a slice of British social and political history. The fight for the vote was embedded in wider political struggle and the movement was rife with internal dissent. All of which is highly dramatic and engaging. Some inclusion of division and strife within the movement, some critical engagement with its charismatic leading figures would have made for a stronger film, at least for me.

The film is not only narrow in scope but also, for the most part, feels loose in its use of historical material. This is no doubt why I didn’t experience the same sense of shock that Shoulder to Shoulder generated. I only managed to source the TV drama after completing Sally Heathcote Suffragette. When I finally watched it for the first time, some scenes were startlingly similar. We’d used, closely and carefully, exactly the same source material. The most striking example was a scene of demonstration in Parliament Square in November 1910. This event was referred to afterwards as ‘Black Friday’. It was a police riot that lasted six hours; women suffered serious injury and some died from their wounds afterwards. Both TV and graphic-novel episode draw upon the same Times newspaper article, as chilling commentary: ‘Several of the police had their helmets knocked off in carrying out their duty, one was disabled by a kick on the ankle, one was cut on the face by a belt, and one had his hand cut. As a rule they kept their tempers very well, but their method of shoving back the raiders lacked nothing in vigour. They were at any rate kept warm by the exercise’. No mention of police brutality or the protesters’ injuries.

No, the suffragettes really weren’t just middle-class women chaining themselves to railings.
page 150 bottom

Sally Heathcote, Sufragista gains Best Graphic Novel of the Year!

Madrid booksellers logoSpanish Sally’s a winner! The Spanish edition of Sally Heathcote Suffragette has been granted Best Graphic Novel Award for 2015 by the Madrid Booksellers’ Association. The publishers, Ediciones La Cúpula, will be releasing their second edition in December.

The Jury had this to say about the book:

The main character of the story, the redhead Sally Heathcote, represents thousands of women who in the early twentieth century in the United Kingdom planned and launched a struggle for civil rights which were banned to them, including the right to vote, essential to achieve the right to equality.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 13.50.00

New book announcement

carnationLast weekend at the 3rd Lakes International Comic Art Festival I was delighted to introduce my next collaboration with Bryan Talbot, in the rather formal setting of Kendal’s Council Chambers. The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia is (we think) a stunning graphic novel, both visually and in its subject matter. I’m reposting the book announcement here now as subscribers to my blog will no doubt have been puzzled last night to receive a notification attributing it to Paul le Hat. What’s going on here? Well, I’ve been having technical difficulties and Paul (a.k.a. website designer Bad Robot) posted it on my behalf. And here’s a sample panel for good measure:

September update

outsideCartmelFellSeptember draws to a sunny and fruitful close. At least, it does here in Sunderland. So I guess it’s time for another update. At the beginning of the month we enjoyed a five-day break in Hawkshead in the Lake District. Alwyn came over from Manchester for a hugely welcome overnight visit. We really don’t see him often enough these days, so it was lovely having him stay. Before taking him to the Mason’s Arms for lunch, we called at Cartmel Fell church close by.
Bryan&Alwyn in CartmelFell
Alwyn&Mary at CartmelFell2
Alwyn&Mary at MasonsArms
Both locations may be recognisable from The Tale of One Bad Rat. In the graveyard, Bryan and Alwyn were, as ever, using their cameras to collect textures.
Alwyn in graveyard 2
One shot that Bryan took inspired Alwyn to create this evocative tribute to his deeply missed friend Yo:
The following weekend we had a short trip to St Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital, for a book festival talk and exhibition opening (that I’ve mentioned already here).
Bryan in St Peter Port
Castle Cornet
Mary in St Peter Port
We spent a day there sightseeing, taking in Victor Hugo’s very quirky and interesting house. Here’s Bryan in his garden and me in his workplace up in the garret:
Bryan in Hugo's garden
Mary in Hugo's workplace
comicartSo, what’s in store for October? Well, we’re gearing up for the 3rd Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal. I’ve posted about our contributions already here. Bryan’s ‘How I create a graphic novel’ session is now fully booked, but tickets are still available for the other events. I can’t wait to tell all about the next book! I’ll also have the apples 2pleasure of hosting Karrie Fransman’s event on Sunday morning. Finally, at the end of next month we’re doing a talk on Sally Heathcote Suffragette at Sunderland’s City library as part of the Sunderland Literature Festival. It’s on Halloween but, as it’s at lunchtime, we won’t be finishing off with apple-bobbing.

Guernsey Literary Festival

Guernsey logoWell, in just under three weeks, we’re off to Guernsey for two pre- literary festival events. Never been to the Channel Islands before, so we’re looking forward to it very much. Bryan will no doubt be twitchy about leaving his drawing board for more than a few hours, mind. We’re going there for an event on Saturday 12th September called A Life in Graphic Novels at the Guille-Allès Library. They’ve also invited us to the opening of an exhibition in the library later that day on The Art of The Graphic Novel: Adapted & Inspired. In fact, they moved the opening event from the Friday to Saturday,  so that we could attend, which was lovely of them.The exhibition includes some artwork from Bryan’s Alice in Alice in SunderlandSunderland (inspired, of course, by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland), as well as some of Mark Stafford’s pages from The Man Who Laughs (written by David Hine and inspired by Victor Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit).

The Guernsey Literary Festival organisers were no doubt inspired to put on a graphic-novel exhibition by the Hugo connection. Hugo wrote L‘Homme qui rit during his long exile in Guernsey.

So, stealing a quiz question that opens coverage of the exhibition in the Guernsey Press: what’s the link between Guernsey and Batman, eh?

Alice in Cartoonland

Alice in Cartoonland logoLondon’s Cartoon Museum has a new exhibition – Alice in Cartoonland – showcasing a host of diverse Alice-related material. Bryan and I were down there for the opening last Tuesday. There’s some fascinating stuff on display, spanning about 150 years. Well worth a visit. It’s on until 1st November 2015.
Alice talk
There was an event at the museum the following evening – Alice from Wonderland to Sunderland – that involved a brace of Brians, as Bryan Talbot was in conversation with the president of the Lewis Carroll Society, Brian Sibley.
Alice talk 1
If you weren’t there, you missed a treat. After the dinner that followed, Anita O’Brien, director-curator of the museum, presented Brian with an appropriately themed birthday cake.
Pizza Express
Next morning we took a ferry down the Thames as far as Canary Wharf, where the Docklands Museum is located.
on the ferry
on the ferry 1
Bryan, as ever, was collecting photographic reference. Oh look, Inspector Le Brock’s office!
LeBrock's office 1
There’s an exhibition on that I was keen to see called Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom. After an excellent lunch in a restaurant close by, we went into the museum.
Henry's cafe bar
Broom was apparently Britain’s first female press photographer. She started working professionally in 1904, in the early days of the postcard boom. It was her documentation of women’s suffrage rallies and demonstrations that interested me the most; some of the photographs were familiar to me but there are many others that it would have been very useful to have while working on Sally Heathcote Suffragette.
suffragette procession
Home-Makers Demand Votes
MindWhereYouPutYourHookCanary Wharf is a strange place, reminding me of Singapore, all new, shiny and clean and full of finance types. The museum there is great, though; the permanent exhibitions of Docklands and Thames history are well worth a look. And, stevedores, don’t you forget: Mind where you put your hook!

This is Sailortown:
Sailortown 1
Sailortown 2
Sailortown 4
On our way back we stopped for further reference photos. We came upon this rather striking steampunk sculpture called The Navigators located in Hayes Galleria.
TheNavigators in HayesGalleria
TheNavigators in HayesGalleria 1
in the frameBryan’s starting to gear himself up for the fifth and final Grandville book, now that our latest collaboration is completed. He finished the final page of artwork just before we left for London and since we returned home we’ve been finalising the additional material, endpapers etc. I’m bursting to talk about this Arts Council-funded project and will reveal all at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. And after that, of course, on this website!
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge 1

Wonderlands in Sunderland

Wonderlands table 2Wonderlands WWe’ve just had some photos from friends who were visiting while the UK Graphic Novel Expo was going on. It was a month ago, but not too late to share some pictures.

It was indeed wonderful to have so many creators and publishers together for the one-day event and the university’s Cityspace was a great venue for it. The sports hall became a publishers’ hall for the day and that’s where I spent most of it. I shared a long stretch of tables in there with Bryan and Kate. It didn’t seem particularly busy, but by the end of the day we’d done well.
Wonderlands table
If you haven’t already, you might like to check out these two reports  Down the Tubes 1 and Down the Tubes 2 and the full Wonderlands photo gallery .

The day ended with a great evening of fabulous food and company in the Funky Indian. See who you can spot:

Photographs from Simon Powell and from the Wonderlands photo gallery.

Linda, Mary, Kate, Dianne
Bryan & Simon

Back from Munich Comics Festival

Munich talk 2Rathaus 4Munich logoWe flew back from Munich’s Comics Festival last Monday. Bryan and I had both been invited as, not only are the first three Grandville books out in Germany, but Sally Heathcote Suffragette is due out there later this year as well. The G7 summit was the same week, also taking place in Munich. When we arrived on Thursday, it was swarming with police – there were anti-TTIP demonstrations going on.

Turkish restaurantOn Thursday evening Panini Comics took us out to a Turkish restaurant, which was great. Here we are eating al fresco with a merry bunch of artists and Panini people.
Turkish restaurant 2
Most of the festival took place in the Alte Kongresshalle by Bavaria Park, close to the site of the annual Oktoberfest. Bryan was kept busy signing and doing sketches.
Kongresshalle 2
Kongresshalle inside 2Kongresshalle inside 3signing 2
On the Friday, our second day, there was a festival dinner for guests. It was held  in the beer museum, a very old building in the centre. Here we are sitting down for a very meaty feast with Paul Gravett, Audrey Niffenegger, Eddie Campbell and a gallery curator from Salzburg whose name I’ve now forgotten, I’m afraid:
Museum dinner
With lashings of beer too, of course.
Museum dinner 2
U_3728_1A_ECC_IGNORANTEN.IND7On Saturday we did an interview with Silke Merton from RBB Kultur. It’s for radio broadcast later this year when Egmont publishes Sally Heathcote Suffragette in Germany. We were also interviewed by Egmont people, Christopher Bünte and Julia Oelingrath.

Beer garden
The weather was very warm, so it was great sitting under the chestnut trees in the beer garden. Here we are hanging out with Rob Davis, Rufus Daglow, Claire Adams Ferguson, Clint Langley, Jock and some German fans. Prost, everyone!
Beer garden 2
There was some cos-play going on. I thought this spider-woman was rather striking:
spider 3
Though she was very high maintenance and required a dedicated retinue:
spider 4
On Sunday we were ‘in conversation’ with Paul Gravett. It was an informal event and it’s available to view here:

Over the weekend we managed to get to a couple of the other events: Posy Simmonds with a Munich creator, Barbara Yelin, talking about their own work with Paul Gravett and Dennis Kitchen’s talk on Will Eisner at the Jewish Museum.
DennisKitchen talk
The flight home on our last day wasn’t until late afternoon, so we had time to do some sightseeing in the centre of town.
Teresiensweise statueRathauscity gateway
Where we came across this fellow:
boar 3

Handsome, isn’t he?
Grandville books
Munich talk 3

Keel Square, Sunderland

IMG_1746IMG_1740The laying of the flags for the 1st phase of the new Sunderland city square is almost finished. Bryan and I went over to investigate today.

Based on Bryan’s design, the ‘Keel Line’ runs the length of it, listing the ships built on the Wear with accompanying illustrations about Sunderland history. It has a rope border motif that crosses every fifteen flags, creating areas that contain the illustrations. And it’s in granite! Here’s an illustration of Washington Old Hall and George Washington’s family crest, the origin of the stars and stripes, facing one of keelmen hauling coal up the Wear:


And here’s the first iron bridge over the River Wear and Sunderland hero Jack Crawford nailing Admiral Duncan’s colours to the mast during the Battle of Camperdown, 1797:
If you’ve read Alice in Sunderland, you’ll already be familiar with him, and with many of the other subjects illustrated. The square has fountains too:
There are currently hoardings on the site with explanatory text and previews of the illustrations: