graphic novels

Warning: timeshift approaching

Preparing to leap into 2018 with renewed vigour and a sense of purpose (no, really) I thought I’d wrap up the year with some random observations, mainly springing from Christmas.

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OneMonkey’s parents kindly bought me a couple of graphic novels for Christmas: Grandville Force Majeure, and Blacksad. The Grandville novel is the final volume of Bryan Talbot’s fantastic series about a badger who’s a detective in an England where France won the Napoleonic wars, and I’d been looking forward to it immensely (I read it the day after I got it, and it was tense, thrilling, and a fabulous end). I think OneMonkey’s parents have bought me all five of the Grandville novels, and before that they supplied a few volumes of Cerebus the Aardvark (which kickstarted my love of comics, as detailed here in 2010) so maybe there was a need to fill the gap, or maybe the lass in the Newcastle Travelling Man was particularly enthusiastic, anyway they hit upon Blacksad. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it’s from Spain, sounds good, and is about a detective (spot the theme?) who’s a cat. OneMonkey immediately noticed the abc of anthropomorphic lead characters in his parents’ gifts (aardvark, badger, cat) so I’m intrigued to know where I might go from here. Any good ones about dragons kicking about?

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I got a couple of other books for Christmas (the Mike Savage one has graphs in, that’ll keep me happy for a while), some notebooks, a beautifully distracting Moomin diary to keep on my desk and write deadlines in, and a pen and pencil set from The Nephew (who I didn’t see until a couple of days after I took the photo). Not many books were exchanged in our house on Christmas Day this year, though we gave The Nephew three: two as presents and one I’d finished with and thought he might like (Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow). And come to think of it I bought three for Big Brother and my dad gave him a Robert Rankin novel I was returning to the Library of Mum and Dad (basically he didn’t have anywhere to put it and Big Brother was sitting next to him on the sofa). So some of us did ok for reading material.

I’m yet to count up how many books I’ve read this year, but not as many as in 2016 I think. That could be the lack of a commute beginning to show, or it could be related to the number of story submissions I’ve made this year (again, not counted up yet but a huge increase on 2016). The final submission of the year was made this afternoon, now I’m going to get my reading and writing back in balance by settling down with a cup of tea, the last mince pie, and a half-read copy of Brasyl by Ian McDonald.

Wishing you all a peaceful 2018 filled with all the books you want to read, all the creative endeavours you’ve got the energy for, and a liberal sprinkling of quiet contentment.

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Sally Heathcote Suffragette

Bryan and Mary Talbot were at last year’s Ilkley literature festival talking about this graphic novel, and since then it’s been part of the Read Regional promotion in northern libraries. Particularly with the forthcoming suffragette film focusing people’s attention on the subject at the moment, Sally Heathcote Suffragette deserves a wide audience.

Cover of Sally Heathcote Suffragette by Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot, Kate Charlesworth

As you’d expect given who produced it (Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot, and Kate Charlesworth) it’s a high quality affair, with beautifully detailed artwork. I’m almost sorry that I borrowed it from the library, as there are some pages in particular I’d love to keep. The colours are generally muted, except for the purple and green of the WSPU, and the flaming ginger of Sally’s hair, that allows her to be spotted easily in a crowd. The background is full of authentic reproductions of railway posters, advertising boards and the like, and the era is conjured magnificently.

I found myself thinking early on ‘That Mrs Pankhurst is a right piece of work’ and I can’t say my opinion changed. The character of Sally is a good one to see the development of the story through, but I didn’t have much sympathy for Sally myself, as she gets involved in violence and destruction, and goes along with the absolute outrage at the idea of working men possibly getting the vote (that’s the trouble with groups that want the advancement of one section of society, rather than improvements for all). If you have a Northern and/or working class chip prepare to get it exercised, with Londoners patronising Sally for being from Lancashire and middle class women patronising her for being poor. Also, whether this was the intention or not, as it starts and ends with Sally as an old lady it did make me stop and think about the invisibility of the old, who knows what extraordinary things they did before they were so frail.

There are notes and a timeline at the back to really propel you into the history but I learnt a lot from the story itself (Sylvia Pankhurst’s split from her mother and Christabel for instance). Coincidentally, I read it in the week of the centenary of Keir Hardie’s death (thus getting a reminder of his involvement with trying to expand the franchise), and immediately before I started on Selina Todd’s The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010 (which covers both female and working male suffrage in the first chapter) so it all slotted into place nicely.

Sixth annual International Illustrator Appreciation Day

Whose word-enhancing art are you going to appreciate today? Five years ago I tried to boost the profile of artists quietly providing book covers and magazine illustrations. In the last few days, by coincidence, I’ve had my attention drawn to this vote for artwork (suitable for a future book cover) at Spark. Hard to choose, but I particularly liked Monsters and Marvels by Luke Spooner, Snake Bones by Rodrica Cogle, and The Carrot is Mightier Than the Sword by Sean Greenberg.

It’s also been a week for comics exposure, what with Dave Gibbons being created Comics Laureate in the cause of literacy, so in case it’s not your usual medium why not check out some freely available volumes? There’s The Only Living Boy at NoiseTrade, and a whole graphic novel list at Free Online Novels (including 2 written by me, with fabulous art by Mark Pexton, which you can get here).

The Moon of Endine: free sci-fi werewolf comic

I don’t always put the comic/graphic novel stuff on this blog but it occurred to me that readers here might be missing out because they ‘don’t read comics’. Mark Pexton’s art is (in my biased opinion) pretty special at times, and if you’ve enjoyed any of my sci-fi or fantasy stories you might like the one about werewolves on a frontier planet. So try our comic The Moon of Endine which (like we did for Boys Don’t Cry) we’re now making available online for free under creative commons license CC BY-NC-ND, though you can still buy the print copy over at our comicsy shop or at Forbidden Planet and Travelling Man in Leeds. You can download the pdf if you like, or just sit and page through it here (it opens up a full page when you click on it)…

Free ebook release of my first graphic novel

The death of books and traditional publishing is a hot topic at the moment, and while I firmly believe that print books will be around for a good many years yet, I do also think it’s time to admit there’s more of a mix than there used to be. Readers of this blog (as opposed to my other one) might not be aware of my graphic novel/comics output, self-published but that’s not as unusual for comics as it is for mainstream fiction. In further experimental fashion we (me, the artist Mark Pexton, and OneMonkey who does all the technical stuff) decided to make a pdf copy of the first graphic novel, Boys Don’t Cry, available for free (under creative commons license CC BY-NC-ND) here. This is an enticing picture of the cover:

Boys Don't Cry front cover

And here’s what the back cover says:

Teenage boys aren’t known for sharing their fears and emotions, so if you’re the father or sister of one, how do you know how he’s coping with his mum’s death?

Fifteen year old Hunter isn’t entirely sure himself, and even if he could put any of it into words, he no longer knows who to say it to.

So if zero pence sounds like a good price to pay for the beautifully-drawn saga of a bereaved teenage goth in Edinburgh, feel free to peruse and comment – part of the reason for doing this is to reach a wider audience; there’s only so many people willing to buy an 80-page graphic novel by relative unknowns and I’d prefer to have more people read it. Particularly those that might not normally think of themselves as graphic novel audience material.

Creative Commons License
Boys Don’t Cry by Jacqueline Saville, Mark Pexton, Andrew Woods is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Rex Libris: I, Librarian by James Turner

I couldn’t resist a graphic novel with a title like that, and when I pulled it from the library shelf the art-deco artwork sealed it for me (though actually the interior art style is nothing like that, more like early 90s computer graphics). The introduction by Dave Sim helped, too (if you’ve read the Ostragoth blog you’ll know he single-handedly got me into comics as something that went beyond The Beano).

Rex Libris was a librarian at the great library of Alexandria, and is still going strong in the present-day. He’s a good librarian, he likes discipline and order. And if that means chasing overdue books across the galaxy and fighting evil warlords, that’s what he’ll do. Since he feels that librarians don’t always get the credit they’re due, he’s chosen to break the code of silence and describe his life and adventures via a series of comics.

You can read this graphic novel (which collects the first five comics) as an entertaining adventure story with enjoyably ludicrous plots, but you can also appreciate a dose of satire and a handful of classical and literary references if you feel like it. On the whole I liked it, but I confess I didn’t understand why Rex occasionally said ‘dat’ and ‘dis’ instead of ‘that’ and ‘this’ (I couldn’t see any pattern to it and it seemed a little out of character), and a few instances of spelling mistakes, repeated or missing words in the captions/dialogue jumped out at me. I will be looking out for further volumes though.

Script focus

Halfway through Script Frenzy – yes, I have a one-track mind at the moment. This month so far has been a revelation, and I hope it’s been as good for you if you’re participating in the 100-page challenge. I’ve discovered, for one thing, that I’m more visual than I used to be – the graphic novel script I spent the first 10 days writing came much easier than the radio script I’ve now embarked on, whereas I used to write radio scripts for my own, friend T’s, and Big Brother’s entertainment quite often when I was a kid. Now I’m finding that while dialogue’s flowing (as it often does when I’m writing prose), it’s not always conveying the whole scene and I realise a couple of scenes later that the audience couldn’t possibly know some key fact that I’m building on, and I have to go back and rewrite.

Productivity is the other big discovery. For no other reason than that I’ve said I would, I’m sitting down to write every day, maybe only for half an hour, and I’m focused on one project. In ten days I wrote a graphic novel. Ten days! Of course it’ll take Mark much longer than that to draw it, even if he didn’t have the inconveniences of daily life to distract him, but that’s quite an achievement for me. The thing about that script is that it doesn’t need to be polished – no-one else needs to see it and I know because of the way we work that it will get discussed and adapted as we go along. The radio script is another matter, and would need serious redrafting once April’s over. However, I’ve got 20 pages of it already and I’m enjoying the challenge and the revisiting of a long-neglected format.

That’s the essence of Script Frenzy, I guess – it’s making me feel good. I can see the pages stacking up and I’ve got an excuse to write in a form I don’t normally use these days, it’s stretching my capabilities but there’s no deadline pressure, in the sense that I don’t have to use or even show anyone the script when it’s done. If you’re not taking part in Script Frenzy, and aren’t planning on NaNoWriMo (I’m planning a detective novel for that – another project that’s slightly outside my normal field), I highly recommend setting yourself a fun challenge in the near future. A sketch every day for a fortnight; a fresh photo (different angles, macro, black and white) of the garden every weekend of the summer; a poem every Sunday lunchtime in May; or anything else that takes your fancy. You may remind yourself of forgotten talents, or discover new ones, and you will almost certainly have a great time. Feel free to let me know how you get on.