New GN project underway, with an Arts Council grant!

I’m delighted to announce that we have funding from the Arts Council for another project together. In a complete departure from our previous ones, this new collaboration is neither biographical nor historically distant. It deals instead with the here and now of environmental degradation that threatens us all.

The recent flooding disasters loom in the North of England as a loving relationship unfolds between two young women. The story follows the everyday experiences of ordinary people, while engaging with pollution, climate change, moorland mismanagement and the disruption, misery and loss that these things bring. Along the way it also reflects on lifestyle choices – including what’s in the food we eat, how it’s grown, how it’s packaged – and the impact of these kinds of choice on the world around us. The characters are fictitious; what’s happening around them is, sadly, all too real.

So the next book, Rain, engages with environmental issues and their impact. At over 150 pages, it will published by Jonathan Cape, probably in late 2019.

The 16th Arras Book Fair: Colères du Présent on 1st May

We’ve recently returned from a unique French book fair that takes place on the 1st of May every year in Pas de Calais’ capital, Arras. It’s the second time we’ve been invited, this time on the strength of the French edition of The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia; Louise Michel La Vierge Rouge. We were signing copies for several hours in one of the publishers’ marquees in the Grand’Place, one of the two large cobbled squares in the city centre. The other, the Place des Héros, is overlooked by their fine city hall, its distinctive belfry housing a carillon that rings out prettily every half an hour.

Another BD guest who was kept busy in there was Julie Minoh. She’s the creator of the award-winning Le bleu est une couleur chaude (the English title is Blue is the warmest colour, presumably after the film, though it first appeared as Blue Angel).

She’s delightful.







In the adjacent Grand’Place there were lots of stalls like these:

A couple of days previously, we’d been signing at the Librairie les lisières, an independent bookshop in nearby Roubaix. We we were also interviewed there about Louise Michel La Vierge Rouge. Afterwards we were taken to see a column close by with a likeness of Louise Michel on it. She’s represented mourning the passing of Louise Auguste Blanqui, the French socialist, revolutionary theorist and activist, who was a major influence on her. Below is an illustration from a 1881 newspaper, possibly American, purporting to show her delivering an oration at his funeral. She may well have done so. The only other mention of it that I’ve been able to find is a similar illustration from Le Monde Illustré, located in the Musée de l’histoire vivante in Montreuil, Paris (thanks to my cousin Martin Crookston for directing me to it).

Barcelona Comics Fair 2017

A fortnight ago we were in Barcelona for the 35th International Comics Fair. This annual event seems to get bigger each year, expanding into more and more of the massive Fira complex by the Plaza de España. Here’s a write-up (if you can’t read the Spanish, you can always look at some of the photos). One of our fellow creators at the fair was Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT, 3 Story), pictured below on the right:
Here’s Bryan with Laureano of Asterberri, after a Grandville signing:
And here we are, busy signing at La Cúpola’s booth:
There’s a paperback edition just out of La niña de sus ojos, the Spanish version of Dotter of her Father’s Eyes. As you can see, it has a beautiful new cover using a different selection of interior artwork from the initial hardback.

Another guest creator present whom Bryan was delighted to meet was Juan Dîaz Canales (Blacksad).

And it was a great pleasure to catch up with José Muñoz (Alack Sinner). I first got to know José in 2013, when he was a guest at the inaugural Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal. Bryan’s known him for much longer.

The cavernous exhibition hall housed exhibitions of Will Eisner’s work and of Lucky Luke, along with the work of Milton Caniff and numerous others. Photos taken before the crowds poured in:
Kim Jung Gi was in there attracting the crowds with live drawing twice daily.
We had a little time free for some sightseeing, taking in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, the grandiose museum of art close to the Fira. We also went to look at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, now under construction again.
And we were very glad we weren’t with this tour:
Laureano laid on a big dinner at the Bodega Monumental. We spent our last evening in Barcelona in the delightful company of Sharlene Kindt, Matt, Laureano and, to Bryan’s right, David Rubin (Ether). Behind David are two other Spanish artists whose names I don’t know. Cheers, Laureano!
Finally, here’s a parting gift that Bryan’s sketched for the ever-obliging staff in the hotel restaurant. The lobster sketch was inspired by a Grandville page that you can check out on his website here.

Francospheres of Resistance and Revolution – podcasts

On Monday (3rd April 2017) Bryan and I had the pleasure of participating in this academic conference at the University of London’s Institute of Modern Languages Research. The conference as a whole explored articulations of resistance and revolution in a range of French contexts. We shared a plenary session in the afternoon with Paul Mason, which addressed the life of women in the aftermath of the Paris Commune of 1871and their deportation to New Caledonia. Through the specific case study of Louise Michel, the plenary explored how such revolutionary moments emancipate and politicise women even though the endgame is one of failure.

Paul outlined his new play, Divine Chaos of Starry Things, about Louise Michel’s time in the French penal colony in New Caledonia, finishing with a sample read-though with two of the principal actors. The play opens on 30th April at White Bear Theatre in London and runs until 9th May. We followed, in conversation with Charles Forsdick about The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia. Both talks are available as podcasts at the Backdoor Broadcasting Company here.

We shared a broadcast with Paul last year, on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking, which is still available to listen here.

Forthcoming events in March and April

We have two events in the Northeast of England coming up in March.

Bryan will be doing his lavishly illustrated talk on Grandville and the Anthropomorphic Tradition again, this time in Newcastle’s Discovery Museum. It’s on Saturday 11th March at 2pm and it’s is well worth attending, if you haven’t already (or even if you have!) The event is part of the Fabricating History exhibition programme, about all things steampunk. Tickets for the talk are just £2 – available here.

Later in the month I’ll be in Sunderland’s Museum & Winter Gardens doing a presentation on Revolutionary Women: Imagining Louise Michel, along with Dr Laura O’Brien, a historian at Northumbria University. It’s on Friday 24th March at 5pm. The event is jointly hosted by Sunderland University, City Library Sunderland and Waterstones Sunderland. It’s free, but ticketed via eventbrite.

Then, in early April, Bryan and I are both in the line-up for a conference on Francospheres of Resistance and Revolution at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London. We will be ‘in conversation’ with Prof Charles Forsdick (Liverpool) about The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia. ‘Exploring articulations of resistance and revolution across different spaces and times’, the conference as a whole ‘seeks papers which enquire in new and innovative ways about radical politics, activism and resistance expressed in French’.

Finally, at the end of the month, we’re off to Northeast France for Colères du Présent, a book festival in Arras, promoting the French edition of Red Virgin: Louise Michel La Vierge Rouge. Details to follow.

HERE I STAND anthology event in London

In and around London on the evening of Friday 3rd February? There’s a free panel event on Amnesty’s anthology Here I Stand: Stories that Speak for Freedom at the London Piccadilly branch of Waterstones. (Bryan, myself and Kate Charlesworth contributed a piece called ‘Deeds not Words!’) We’re unable be there but Nicky Parker from Amnesty will chair, and contributors Sita Brahmachari, Frances Hardinge and AL Kennedy will form the panel. It should be a lively and thought-provoking debate, so please do tell anyone you think might like to go. It will be aimed at teens/Young Adults but will of course still be of interest to adults. There is no charge, but you will need to reserve your place. Details here.

The book gained a lot of attention on publication and the hardback has now been reprinted. Amnesty will be publishing a paperback edition in May. All royalties from the sale of Here I Stand go to Amnesty International, which works to protect human rights all over the world.

Happy New Year from Dotter & Co!

Last month I was contacted by Isabella Ford, a student at Lancaster University. I was delighted to hear that she’d been introduced to Dotter of her Father’s Eyes on her English Literature course there. How times have changed! Comics really are gaining a foothold as a legitimate art form. And about time too!

I knew there were people working at Lancaster who liked the book; they invited me to do a keynote at a conference on literary celebrity a couple of years ago. Nevertheless it’s nice to know I’m on the syllabus now as well!

Isabella runs a careers website for women and she asked to interview me for it. Here’s the result, published yesterday. The website’s called She Works and it’s well worth a look.

All the best for a happy and healthy 2017 and try to keep cheerful in these interesting times. My slogan for last year was “Pessimism of the Intellect; Optimism of the Will”. I can’t remember who coined it, but I think I’ll be using it again this year.

November-December update

In mid November, Bryan and I were in London for an illustrated talk on The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia at Tower Hamlet’s Write Idea Festival. This took place in Whitechapel’s Idea Store (what the more traditionally-minded among us would call a “library”). Kate Evans was on after us, presenting her Red Rosa, and it was good to have the opportunity to catch up with her afterwards. Threads, her current project on refugees, is definitely going to be something to look out for next year. You can see some of it here.

Before our next engagement, which was at a comiccon in Madrid on 3-4 December, I’d an appointment at Sunderland Eye Infirmary for cataract treatment, which I’ve written about already here. Of course, I hadn’t anticipated the complications that meant I was half blind for the whole trip. All fine now, though, and I’m now officially a cyborg! The convention staff looked after us very well and we met some lovely people. Here we are being interviewed for a podcast by La Hora Friki (which I assume means The Freaky Hour):

It was also great to meet up with friends from the Gijón Comics Salon days: Sofía Rodriguez, who now lives in Madrid, and Ramón, who was over for the comic con.

We were back from Spain for a couple of days then off again, this time for a two-day Graphic Brighton Conference. This year’s theme was depictions of war and wartime resistance. Arriving late afternoon, we caught a couple of highly absorbing conference papers, including Dominic Davies'”Drawing Urban Warfare in Leila Abdelrazaq’s Baddawi”  about growing up in the middle of a civil war. Abdelrazaq’s debut graphic novel Baddawi tells the story of her father’s childhood as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon’s Baddawi Refugee Camp during the civil war in Lebanon. Our turn to speak was for a public event that finished the day’s proceedings. We were in discussion with Alex Fitch about Sally Heathcote Suffragette and The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia.

On day two, Bryan did his “How I create a graphic novel” talk to an appreciative audience. It was great to see other presenters too, including the excellent Hannah Berry and Kate Evans (again. I’m not sure who’s stalking whom…).

Two more academic-type events are lined for next year. In March I’ll be talking about Red Virgin at a history seminar at Sunderland University. In April, we’re both at the University of London for a conference in the Institute of Modern Languages. Details of both to follow.

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.