The 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.
In 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.
On 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.
A 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.
Bryan 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.
Suffragette 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.
Then 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.
Spanish 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.
September 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.
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.
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).
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:
So, 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 pleasure 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.
We 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.
On 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.
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.
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:
With lashings of beer too, of course.
On 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.
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!
There was some cos-play going on. I thought this spider-woman was rather striking:
Though she was very high maintenance and required a dedicated retinue:
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.
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.
Where we came across this fellow:
As April draws to an end, we’re just over halfway through our tour with Read Regional 2015. We’re delighted that Sally Heathcote Suffragette has been selected for this promotional campaign bringing authors together with readers, especially since it’s the first time a graphic novel has been chosen. I say more about it here and here. We’ve just returned from our fifth event, in Skipton Library:
Last week saw us in sunny Bridlington, where we did our our illustrated talk in North Bridlington Library for about forty 13-year-olds from two local schools. We decided to stop overnight in York to break up our journey there. It was an opportunity for Bryan to take lots of reference photos in the Railway Museum (think steampunk detective thrillers) and just to relax walking around the lovely old city.
Here we are with some of the Year 9s from our Bridlington audience:
And here with Edward, one of the two raffle winners:
And here I am chatting with Ann, one of the librarians, while Bryan sketches in her copy of Sally.
We were also in equally sunny Middlesbrough last week, presenting our illustrated talk for a World Book Night event in Teesside University Library.
For a bit of variety, I thought I’d have a go at throwing my voice. As you can see, here I’m ventriloquising through Bryan while drinking a glass of water:
For each of these events, thanks to the library staff for their friendly welcome and enthusiasm.
Teesside photographs by @TeesUniLib and Thomas Robinson
Skipton photos by @ScaryClaire
Bridlington photos by David Roberts
We had a very pleasant few days in Barcelona last week, where we’d been invited to attend as guests at FICON, the city’s International Comics Fair. With three new books out in Spain, between us we had a lot of promotion to do. The Spanish Sally – Sally Heathcote Suffragista – came out in February, so we were signing copies at the La Cúpola stand, as well as doing two talks and numerous interviews with journalists in the press room. It was good to see that the Spanish Dotter – La Niña de sus Ojos – is still selling well.
Though we didn’t see much apart from the convention centre, it was great to socialise with our hosts as well as with fellow guests. Here we are out to dinner with some of the Astiberri crew and friends.
We’re doing nine illustrated talks altogether on Sally Heathcote Suffragette, as part of the Read Regional 2015 campaign throughout Yorkshire and the North East. Six of them are open to the public and here they are:
7th March 3pm
Part of an International Women’s Day event at Hull Central Library
23rd April 7pm
Part of a World Book Night event at Teesside University
29th April 7.30pm
10th June 6pm
Part of the Crossing the Tees Book Festival
Stockton Central Library
16th June 6.30pm
Newcastle City Library
23rd June 2pm
If you’re in the North of England at all, do come along to one of them.