Friday, 10 December 2010

wonderful things!

so! you may be pleased to know that if you've bought a copy of ANY of the common swings recently, then the money has gone to a very good cause

from this shop i treated myself to two sets of cigarette cards - the literary pets above and the military monkeys below, and TRUST ME these are two of the most incredibly beautiful objects i have ever owned. they are almost completely the dictionary definition of aspirational for me. the attention to detail and love in these things are incredibly. i cannot recommend them enough

more when i wake up and feel properly better over the weekend (oh! and the nanowrimo has reached over 100,000 words! WOO HOO!)

Thursday, 2 December 2010

review of the year: children's books

my first list is children's books of the year - particularly children's picture books. this year as i've slowly developed my style of art, i've been creating a massive folder of reference images on the laptop at home. these are for inspiration and for ideas and i've noticed increasingly they're from children's picture books. i've never really considered children's picture books since i've, well, stopped being a child although i must admit i have always had a soft spot for the art. a few have made their way into my consciousness, like jane hissey's gorgeous little bear books and "not now bernard" but other than that it's just been something i assumed wasn't really my sort of area to be bothered about

until i found a copy of "george and martha encore" late last year. something about james marshall's ability to mix simple illustrations with genuinely *hilarious* stories really appealed to me and so i ended up forking out last christmas for "george and martha: the complete stories of two best friends" which is the complete output and is page for page some of the funniest stuff you could imagine. i think it's the fact marshall really does focus on the two hippos as friends - with their own particular foibles, in jokes and fall outs - that makes it work. the best story by far is one where george decides to ruin martha's dinner by telling her an "icky story". she repeatedly warns him against doing so, but he refuses to listen. she then tells him an even *worse* story which results in... oh i won't spoil it, but suffice to say it's one of the funniest single pages of a book i've ever seen. it's a thing of supreme beauty...

another christmas favourite of last year, is a bit more like a children's book rather than a picture book although it is illustrated with some of the most *gorgeous* art imaginable (and even then it's a little... rich for many children in some ways). this is "the bears' famous invasion of sicily" by dino buzzati. i'd stumbled across a couple of pages of art from this book and fell madly in love with them. and the book is *incredible* telling of a campaign by the sicilian bears against the humans who have kidnapped the son of king of the bears (and also because the winter has knocked out their food supply). unfortunately it all goes a bit pear shaped and corrupt before the seemingly utopian bear kingdom is revealed for what it really is... it's a lovely book, very funny and full of rich, mad ideas. get the copy with the lemony snicket introduction as well as it really captures the tone of the book magnificently. oh! and NEVER FORGET the glorious, glorious pictures

next up, something a bit more mordern with sarah mcintyre's "vern and lettuce". there's an argument to be made that this is the artist and writer that sort of tipped me off to giving mini comics a go again. this is because she used to have "vern and lettuce" serialised in the guardian's digest version of the lamented DFC comic at roughly the same time that audrey niffenegger's deeply tiresome "night bookmobile" was being printed in the review. one was leaden, obvious and predictable and the other... had anarchic small bunnies and a slightly overly worried sheep in it. i knew which i preferred immediately. she's been doing a lot of vaguely conventional children's books for a while now, but my heart really belongs to "vern and lettuce" because it's sweet, funny and brilliantly inventive. her blog - on livejournal no less - is also brilliant and i'm always very tempted to send her a copy of the hadrons as a sort of fan letter, but i probably never will. she's a genius though...

a bit of a classic this time. i've been slowly appreciating more and more the work of beatrix potter, ever since i stumbled a book called "the art of beatrix potter" and realised what an astonishing draughtsman she was. i mean her skills as an artist are second to none, and realising that i went back to the originals and slowly began to appreciate them more and more. but it's "ginger and pickles" that won me over to considering her as a bona fide genius. it's basically potter does satire, with the titular cat and dog running a small village shop (lots of potter cameos from classic characters from this point) which is extremely succesful purely because it's run on credit. then they try and call that credit in (pickles needs a dog licence you see) and everyone is loathe to pay up. it culminates in a change in career for said dog and cat and possibly one of the funniest single lines in the english language: "And when Mr. John Dormouse was complained to, he stayed in bed, and would say nothing but "very snug;" which is not the way to carry on a retail business." a work of genius and available here

on similar lines, but not quite a children's book, is the classic "a dog day: or the angel in the house" by walter emmanuel and cecil aldin which is basically "a diary of a nobody" with a dog. it's a spectacular bit of work, hilariously funny (witness the amount of times the dog claims to be "off his food") and really resonates with anyone with even the remotest fondness for pups. too many highlights to mention, but this is the sort of genius we're up against: "2.00 to 3.15 - Attempt to kill fur rug in back room. No good. 3.15 to 3.45 - Sulked. 3.46. Small boy comes in, and strokes me. I snap at him. I will not be every one's plaything." etc etc. it's a brilliant bit of lovingly observed comedy and, again, available here

another classic writer now, one wanda gag. i stumbled across "the funny thing" in the local antique shop and was immediately taken with 1. the title, 2. the author and 3. the artwork. and it never fails to keep up to the heady standards of those three things. bobo, the hero, lives in the mountains and jollies his day by making food for passing animals. suddenly the funny thing arrives and claims to only eat dolls. bobo thusly sets about trying to trick it into a brand new diet. it's a brilliant book, a classic example of trying to get a simple message (picky eating) into something alltogether more hilarious and creative. you never once feel you're being lectured at, but instead you're being witness to an ever escalating series of mad ideas. "the ABC bunny" is pretty great too

one more classic writer and that's judith kerr. i was always going to love the wife of nigel kneale wasn't i? and it's hard to pick just one book out of the output. probably "the tiger who came to tea" is the best of the lot, and "goodbye, mog" the most affecting (probably the best single representation of mortality in a children's book ever) but my favourite is the first: "mog the forgetful cat". i think this is because it sets up so beautifully what's to come - mog wanting an easy life, mog prone to idle dream sequences, mog eventually (and frequently by accident) becoming the hero. mog is such an expressive creation and the family are beautifully observed. i unequivocally adore all these books and cannot recommend them enough

a more modern classic now which gets in because 1. it's about jazz and 2. it's got a big monkey in it. there's definitely a slight suspicion with me about some modern children's writers that they're frustrated graphic artists going for an easy penny and selecting their most appropriately child like work and then working some rather twee narrative around the pictures. this book could be VERY close to that with it's big, modern, chunky artwork but ed vere's "mr big" works so well because it's so full of lovely, warm, slightly melancholy comedy and secondly has a great, not too cheesy or flippant moral at the end. basically mr big is a gorilla who is very lonely and can only express this through his jazz trumpeting. needless to say everyone who is scared of him in daily life feels *very* differently about him through his music. it's a lovely piece of work and the art is spectacularly unique. i can imagine dozens of rip offs of this quite easily, but the original is so good it will always stand out as a work of art

and finally? "anno's journey" by mitsumasa anno. i picked this up on saturday having vaguely remembered looking at it when i worked in lincoln and - dear god! it's a thing of serene, almost zen like beauty. it's like a tremendously slow moving, historical "where's wally" with various historical characters tucked away in the corners of these beautifully designed pages. anno wordlessly crawls through historical europe and it's such a gorgeous, gorgeous journey. these pictures are stunningly draughted and, again, you can imagine so many cheap rip offs of this style none of which could even come close to the supreme, peaceful beauty on these pages

can you tell i want to write children's picture books very badly?

Monday, 8 November 2010

they're ready! issue three - in three handy formats:

£2:50 for bogstandard black and white

£5:00 for full colour with extra added spangly bonuses

and the lulu edition too. if you opt for lulu PLEASE email me and i'll send you your extra freebies from the colour deluxe edition


Friday, 29 October 2010

hadrons VERY SOON!


1. delayed slightly because i've been sick, got better, spent that time finishing off the hadrons... and then got sick again (thanks sinusitis) HOWEVER...

2. i am now 98% finished with the hadron issues. i say 98% advisedly because i have noticed that the final draft is missing one sentence and has a few tiny formatting problems to correct. ONCE DONE then "on the hadron" is finally complete. it'll come in three editions - the simple black and white issue with colour covers (about £2), the deluxe edition in full colour with FREE second issue, "hadrons of history", a cut out cardboard toy hadron, a certificate of hadron ownership AND a bookplate. this will go for about a fiver. then there'll be the spangly lulu edition which will need a new cover doing and a certain bit of creative thought concerning how to get the "hadrons of history" issue incorporated into it. i'll let you all know as and when

whatever happens they should be ready to go by the middle of next week and the lulu edition somewhat later than that

3. this will then free me up for the NEXT couple of projects. the next issue proper is going to be "the sad story of bunny mcsniff and the terrible tale of bruiser mcgann" which will be a sort of - kind of - mentalist version of a kid's book. sort of a bit on the black side until the sudden, euphoric denouement. or that's the plan. but that will be december... probably

4. because november is nanowrimo time. and this year i'm trying to one up "boodle up" from 2005 and actually FINISH the thing. it will be called "the thursday night league volume one: the bombardier's eyes" and is a sort of tribute/ pastiche of pulp british sci fi and crime writers from the first half of the 20th century. as such the plan is that once i finish the nanowrimo - and take a month off for "bunny mcsniff" - i will start to edit and release "the bombardier's eyes" in twelve, monthly supplements "as they did in the old days". i'll illustrate it copiously AND put in odd supplemental details like essays from issues of magazines like "book and magazine collector" and "the fortean times" about characters from the story. ie make it worth your while to buy it on a monthly basis

but 5. this means - do people want to read the nanowrimo as i go along with it? do you want a blog just for it so you can read and comment as i go along? or it's own livejournal like i did with "boodle up"? any thoughts? if you just want me to forward bits as and when i go along then i'm happy to do that too

finally 6. this all keeps me nicely distracted from possibly the worst dip yet in my father's health. seriously. the conversation i had with him today was... utterly the most heart wrenching conversation i've ever had. really not very nice at all

ah well. hopefully better times next update. hope all are well

Thursday, 21 October 2010

VERY imminent hadrons

hadrons will be ready *next* week. the extra supplement for the purchasers of the "deluxe edition" - "hadrons of history" - is finished, and now i need to go back and tweak the main book itself and... think of an ending. i may actually now have an ending now, but it's a bit silly and odd and tricky to pull off. i also need to work on the cut out and make hadron as well for the deluxe edition. and then - i'm done! i can get ready for nanowrimo AND "bunny mcsniff"

in the meantime, here are some of the book covers - in the manner of "i evader fish" - that i've papered the endspapers of "hadrons of history" with. they've come out a little small in that volume, so this is an advance showing and an attempt to rectify tininess in the finished article


Monday, 18 October 2010

the city of beautiful nonsense - part one

well gosh, this is one of those proper blog entries that people do with archival images and EVERYTHING

on my way to tarting up the supplement to issue three of "the common swings" (ready in the next week or so! keep your eyes peeled), i've been doing some research for victorian/ edwardian book illustration and - miracle of miracles! - i stumbled across a great favourite of mine... "the city of beautiful nonsense" by e temple thurston. it's not a great book if i'm fair. the first part of the book has some lovely moments, but it soon sort of fritters away into sentimentality and whimsy. but it's still a gorgeous book, mainly for the illustrations. i picked the book up for the title but the images - oh my! i ended up buying huge stacks of thurston books after this hoping to find equally lovely illustrations (by emile verpilleux it appears) but sadly not! ah well...

anyway rambling aside - here's the first batch of images...

Friday, 1 October 2010

hadron update!

hadrons are coming on nicely - probably by the middle or end of october it'll be ready. it's coming in three different issues:

1. budget black and white bogstandard version

2. deluxe colour version, which will come with free stuff like cut out hadrons, a certificate of ownership and recently discovered historical hadron gubbins

3. the usual lulu version for the fops among you all

in the meantime, here's what will become - hopefully - the bookplate for the deluxe edition, a weirdy montage and collage of doodles from my sketchbooks i've thrown together as an experiment. i'm quietly chuffed with it, even if the blu-tac was coming off during the photocopying process:

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Common Swings Department of Cryptozoology and Study of Wee Sleekit Cowrin Tim'rous Beasties Present...

after our summer break, here comes what comes next...

i'm still bringing stuff together and fiddling with the text and how it looks, but the common swings issue... well i guess it's issue three even though TECHNICALLY i still haven't done issue two yet... anyway. the next issue should be ready next month just in time for me to foolishly commit myself to a month of nanowrimo madness in november. so - yeah. here's a preview!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

And we're back...

and so are the hadrons. my pretty rubbishy response at the bradford mini zine fair knocked me down, but i'm back to hadron fighting weight. and here's a little taster...


Monday, 21 June 2010

influences and inspiration

it's always nice when you stumble across a cartoonist whose existence has slightly faded - british comics and cartoons are full of people who deserve full on rehabilitation and fantagraphics/ drawn and quarterly styled reprints. in every way the "world wide weirdies" of ken reid are the equal of the much more famous work of basil wolverton, for example

anyway - the most recent example of this had been something called "phoebe and the pigeon people" which was a rather sweet and lovely bit of alternative/ underground comix business from the seventies. it had a nice gentleness to the hipster humour which you usually find missing from the underground of that period. the latest find, though, is nothing short of miraculous. i bring you "reid fleming, world's toughest milkman" by one david boswell. not only does boswell's cartooning definitely appeal to me, the humour from this stubbornly pig headed anti-hero (catchphrase? "78 cents or i piss on your flowers!") is sort of the apex of the "let's repeat the same formula and see what happens" school of writing. and it does it WONDERFULLY. consider me a fan already!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

a preview of a work in progress:

by the way, i simply have NO idea where chess grandmaster flash came from. sorry

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

teaser 2

another teaser to encourage you to buy a copy of "i evade fish". this is my mock up of a cover of william cobbett's political register. cobbett is a fascinating, maddening figure - a contradicting polemicist, whose opinions and deeds seemingly change like the weather. no wonder the similarly mercurial and maddening richard ingrams wrote a recent biography on him

anyway. as part of "i evade fish", i fancied making at least one cobbett joke but wasn't sure what to do with it. the gift was that once i found a copy of "the political register" online, i noticed that this particular edition was printed by one thomas dolby. the rather one note joke then sort of wrote itself

as it happens, the image resolution on this isn't that much better than the version in the issue itself - but you can just about make out most of the text this time. plus it makes it look more beat up like an old edition of the paper. or at least that's what i tell myself

(annoyingly, as a postscript, i simply CANNOT find the copy of the register printed by dolby so am now wondering whether i simply imagined it...)

Monday, 24 May 2010

as a brief tempter to those who have yet to pick up the new issue of the common swings, and also as a help to those who have, this is the full front cover of an issue of the magazine's main rival "the pennywise" starring "fnord the smug methodist"

one of the reasons it's so small and unreadable in the issue is because i didn't think the art was really that great. it was an attempt to do something in the style of the "illustrated chips" or ally soper, but missed by a considerable margin. thought it may be useful to allow people to see it properly though

hope you enjoy!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

inspiration #1

so i''m now gearing up slowly to the drawing of "cosmo mandinsky" and i'm finding myself trying to "set the tone" for the project. usually, when i start with some sort of half arsed novel or other, i spend ages looking for visual references or music to sort of get the tonal sense of the project right. and i think this is pretty much the best way to spend the early planning stages of what, at the moment at any rate, seems to be quite a daunting project: a proper bit of sequential bit of story telling for the first time. i've been sort of splitting the narrative up a bit and thinking of the best visual references for those: photographers like henri cartier-bresson, artists like edward bawden and... well, others that i thought i'd occasionally ramble about hereabouts

i came across the current major tonal influence when listening to music actually. i've always considered brian eno's greatest record to be "before and after science", a view which i understand is something of a minority, mainly because of the way the raucous side of the album suddenly tapers off into the gorgeous, dreamier, hazy pastoral size of "spider and i" and "by this river". as far as i'm concerned, the whole of the second side of the album is one of the most glorious sequences of music i have ever heard and that dreamlike, woozy quality is something i'm trying to articulate in "cosmo mandinsky". not that i can believe for a single second that my third bit of completed work, my first attempt at a narrative bit of sequential art is going to be anywhere near as good as eno at his best, but... you've got to have a sort of target to aim at haven't you?

anyway - and i should point out at this moment that i'm rambling primarily because i've had a smidgeon too much to drink at the moment - listening to this album at work this afternoon reminded me of how gorgeous the inner sleeve art of "before and after science" is. so a bit of pottering about online later, i've utterly and totally fallen in love with the beauties of peter schmidt's watercolours. i'll not be able to approach anything this good for, god, years... but this sort of thing really drives you, you know? drives you to try and improve and strive for a way to articulate something even slightly as beautiful as these haunting, powerful images

anyway, enough of me - here's a couple of bits of brime schmidt stuff. i urge you to scurry to the webpage and read more about this fascinating man...

Monday, 17 May 2010

lulu "i evade fish" is ready! hurrah!
on the back cover of issue one of "the common swings" i proudly advertised issue 2 - "whatever happened to cosmo mandinsky?" and, i promise, it will be what issue 2 is *properly*. however the second thing to come out under the title "the common swings" is an all together odder beast, a rummer state of affairs known only as "i evade fish"

my thinking for doing this is threefold. firstly, issue one was very much trial and error and done without realising i could access a lot of word packages through work through citrix for free. instead it was a case of printing stuff off, rescanning it, printing it off *again* and rescanning it once more every time a change needed to be made. hence the really faint reproduction of bits of it and why i had to print it all off in colour (so you can read the thing!). now i've done this one in black and white, fiddled with word and photoshop a bit and have been able to do it *so much cheaper*. so part of why i wanted a risk free issue 1.5 was to fiddle with the format a bit, quite literally

secondly, and why it was 1.5, it's a sort of clearing house of silly ideas before the meat of issue 2. it's 1.5 partly because "cosmo" will be issue 2, but partly because it's very much the companion piece to the first issue. the conceit of a magazine that has existed in a hinterland of eccentrics and oddness is run with here, and it's allowed me to indulge in what's basically a slightly stress free world of william cobbett jokes rather than pushing myself in the way "cosmo" will. it's the second thing to be produced because, well, ten years was a long time to wait for the first and i wanted something immediate and more easy for me to produce to keep up the momentum. *now* i know i can produce something in a pretty much three month turn around, i don't have to worry so much about finishing "cosmo". also, i've experimented a bit and can really push myself with the second issue. if that makes any sense (which i doubt!)

and finally... i was showing the first issue to some friends, and one of them (the wife of my old RE teacher of all things!) immediately said, "goodness, it's really like j l carr isn't it?" which - well - pretty much made my year. carr, as many of you may know, was primarily an author, most famously of "how steeple sinderberry won the FA cup", "the harpole report" and - adapted into a pretty okay, but not great film - "a month in the country". after wodehouse, he's probably my favourite author. but he also had a second, far odder career. he printed his own pamphlets and maps and other odd ephemera, selling them from the back of his house. by day he was a headmaster in kettering, and the rest of the time a really passionate producer of self published ephemera. key among these are his little directories and maps, both of which are filled with loving asides and eccentric potted biographies of strange characters and events. i have the yorkshire one - a signed and numbered edition no less! - above my desk in my study/ book dumping area and it's one of my most prized material possessions. anyway, when daphne suddenly saw the link with carr, my heart skipped a beat. truly a bit of praise! a pioneer in self publishing and an unruly genius. see byron rogers' masterly biography for more. anyway. "i evade fish" is very much my tribute to his masterpiece, "carr's dictionary of extraordinary cricketers" even if it isn't worth an ounce of that bit of true genius

"i evade fish" will be available later today from the blog and lulu. i'll keep you posted as to issue two as it progresses too!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

yowser! i actually own the spangly lulu edition now and... it's gorgeous! i can't believe for a single *second* that i was responsible for this thing... madness!

issue 1.5 should be ready by the end of this week. shall keep all posted!

Friday, 7 May 2010

the first draft is done! just need to proof read and tidy up - should be ready by next week! just in time to cheer all up from tory hell!

Monday, 26 April 2010

a review and a preview!

the first review is up! - and it's pretty much doubled the hits for the site when you google "the common swings"

"i evade fish" should be ready in early may. here's a quick preview:

firstly, an extract from the adventures of "carl the splendid horse"

secondly, let's see what's on at the wisbech hippodrome shall we?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

i've always slightly been in awe of artists with notebooks. you see on their blogs all these brilliant, brilliant images cast off seemingly so easily and think when you look at your own page of nonsense... how can they be so effortlessly gifted?

well... i am now offering for the first time pages from my own notebooks which are effortlessly... copied from things on the internet. effortlessly... filled with lame puns and half baked ideas. effortlessly... full of much effort and hopefully belying the fact i've only copied select pages from a bulging notebook the rest of which is frankly all pretty much nonsense. but i hope these bits are fun at any rate... enjoy!

First Show in Two Years!!!

 This Saturday! The old college! Todmorden Folk Festival! I will be selling all the things! Come and buy them and tell your friends!!! (And ...