Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Silent Traveller

One of the benefits of having two good second hand bookshops in my town is that I know the areas of expertise of both shop owners... and even better those two areas overlap entirely into mine. Border books is obsessed with obsolete popular culture, so if I want to find old crime, old ghost stories and especially old children's books (particularly of the hoary old Billy Bunter school) I'm entirely spoilt for choice. As for art books though, it's a slightly disinterested pile of books stuffed willy nilly into a shelf between the two ground floor book rooms. And within that only the ones with sort of ties to Punch or Vanity Fair or the like are priced properly. Everything else is a sort of vain rummage for anything of interest.

Lyalls on the other hand is run by an artist. She either subsidises her art with her book selling or vice versa, depending on how well she's doing in either field at the time. She knows her stuff which means, yes, you have to pay on the nose for what you find... but dear god she also can spot a good purchase from a mile off. And today's? "The Silent Traveller in Oxford" and "The Silent Traveller in London" by writer/ artist Chiang Yee. I've never heard of the man and my heart skips with the thrill of the hunt to know that he was reasonably prolific. The books are a combination of travelogue and art - lovely full page watercolours (some of the ones in "Oxford" are *gorgeous*) and small pen and ink studies - and are entirely lovely things to behold.

I've always intended to look more at Chinese and Japanese art a bit more closely. Some of the blogs I follow frequently post artists whose names I always intend to follow up but, good lord, I literally have volumes of artists and books and comics and children's writers to follow up *at some point*. It's nice to wander into a shop and immediately see a possible new area of obsession almost waiting for me. I'm going to be poring over these volumes for some time I think...

Thought Bubble Thoughts Two

Second day of this blogging regularly lark and it's still not coming any easier to me. Plug on, Chris, plug on...

So. Thought Bubble again. I won’t get to the general convention hoo ha until tomorrow. The main reason I went to the festival in the first place was because of the panels. There were about five I had earmarked of possible use for me, but in the end I whittled this down to three… the first called “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Self-Publishing”, the second “Paper/ Science” and the third “Comic Economics”. Whether by accident or design, the structure of the panels basically meant you had the first lot of panellists being well established but still definitely mini-comic people, the second those who have made more a name for themselves in the field and are on the cusp of “proper” success and the third those who are have arrived at some degree of critical or popular success.

The first session had some really interesting and useful points about the first steps of getting yourself known. Things like getting your work out there, how to deal with the whole online/ physical comics dichotomy, tips about printing, how to transport your products to events etc etc. All really useful, but slightly tarnished by the fact that about one third down the page of my notes there appears this sentence, variations of which turn up throughout my jottings for the panel: “the Fetish Man bloke is a complete tool”. This turns out to be one Dr Geof Banyard. Please note that name. In the brochure he’s understandably down as Geoff but no, his webpage confirms he is entirely a Geof. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to say anything about his work which is probably fantastic if you like that sort of thing, and he did indeed say some very useful things (in fact I made an effort to write down one statement about cock ups that I really liked: “accept what it is as part of the process” and wrote next to it a good point from the tool and underlined it twice). But you could have probably not created a person more likely to cheese me off than a man who thinks it appropriate to knock an f off of his name for shits and giggles. The other four panellists – Hugh “Shug” Raine (a Leeds mini comic person I’d not previously known of, but whose hourly comics I later picked up and really enjoyed), Hexjibber (not really to my taste, but precisely the right side of wacky) and the two people I was most interested in, Steve Tanner (who’s a small press creator of more mainstream content) and Katie Green (who’s responsible for Green Bean and in my mind some sort of genius, which probably shows my bias from the off) – had stuff to say , but none were quite as loud as the big fella in the stupid shirt and bleached weird hair. It’s a taste thing, but I really, really struggled with this man far more than I really ought to have done. Maybe my intolerance levels need to be addressed once the depression and autism are dealt with. Actually, scrub that. Not maybe. Definitely.

But still, you know… even though Geof with one f (do you see? What a card! Hilarious!) tried his darndest to keep on talking and talking and talking, I still got to hear a bona fide genius in the field talk about her craft. Katie Green was utterly inspiring to say the least. The second session was very much in the same vein but thankfully allows me less room to show how shallow I can be. Here we had Kristyna Baczynski (the artist in residence of the weekend, and a great illustrator in her own right) and Philippa Rice (of “My Cardboard Life” fame and sort of a figure of awe to all panellists during the weekend for her ability to cook any sort of story together with any sort of images seemingly in a matter of minutes. Then we had Tom Humberstone (of Solipsistic Pop, who was possibly a little on the overly earnest side but turned out to be very much the necessary idealist to go against the next panellist’s pragmatist) and Morten F Thomsen (of Oxi Comics, an online e-comics bod who wanted to help alternative comics type make the link to new technology. He was also the sort of de facto antagonist of the session for reasons I’ll come to in a bit). And then we had closest the session came to an irritant, Joe List (of Annotated Weekender fame, and as well as being the quietest speaker I’ve heard in years was sort of slightly too indie kid by numbers for my liking. I had horrible flashbacks to flirting with the outskirts of the Belle and Sebastian Schmindie community over a decade ago with his shambling mannerisms. Not really his fault though that he tended towards being the sort of person just sort of winds me up a lot).

Thomsen was the most interesting figure here. A lot of the time I disagreed with him on almost everything he said, because he’s very much a pragmatist and a businessman at heart. I suppose, like many of the other people in the room, I am sort of a painfully earnest idealist, but boy was I glad he was there. His view is that of a businessman and as such he pushed, needled and gently quizzed the other panellists at every turn about their sort of vaguely unformed anti-technology views. Philippa Rice at one point said she had no problem with advertising on your blog as long as the adverts were sympathetic, and there was a sort of H M Bateman gasp from the purists… and a knowing smile from Thomsen. Let me make myself clear: I didn’t agree with him on a lot of what he said. I am at heart a technophobe and am about the least likely person in Christendom to ever get some sort of Kindle device. But his knack was to clearly and repeatedly ask the panellists why they had similar views to mine. Sometimes they defended themselves articulately and passionately but at other times it was obviously some sort of gut feeling they weren’t so able to express. For what it’s worth, my view is let people have e-books if they want them. Just ensure that the hard copy is somehow even more fun and enjoyable for those book lovers like me. And I suspect Thomsen would be happy with that response. All he wants is to question knee jerk reactions… and it truly helped that he was so charismatic in doing so.

And then on to the final session of the weekend. This included the endearingly sleepy John Allison (who, the session claimed, alongside Philippa Rice is the only person to make a living from their online comics. I like his style, but sometimes his content isn’t quite to the level of his stellar artwork), Howard Hardiman (of Badger and Lengths, who I thought was fascinating and who I must investigate further forthwith), Ellen Lindner (of Whores of Mensa and Strumpet, who was again fascinating and now high up my list of people to investigate) and Emma Vieceli (want a hint here? It rhymes with mascinating if that helps…). The reason why I keep using the word fascinating is because I didn’t know much of the work of any of the three of them but they were so passionate about their work and what they were trying to do that I deeply, deeply wanted to rectify this. Vieceli was the most interesting for me because her love of the form was obvious in all she did, and even though she mostly does Manga style stuff – a genre which with the odd exceptions does precisely nothing for me – I really wanted to read her books. This was the panel where the creators have plugged and plugged away and got to some level of success, or at least success by the form’s standards at any rate.

And how they got there? Well, interestingly almost all the points from all the sessions seem to be variations of the same themes: keep on going; update your blog and use social media; make yourself known to people; have faith in your stuff; network; be realistic in what you do. In essence: just do it. If you’re proud of it, if you think you have a unique voice and aren’t necessarily doing it to make a massive amount of money (the best comment on this was made by Vieceli was “there’s a difference between making a living in comics and making comics your living”). All of them seemed to agree on this final point – just keep at it. If nothing else, you’ll get closer to whatever your goal is the more you do. And if not, you’ll have fun doing it and develop yourself as a person and an artist.

A few people whose blogs I follow seem to have been a bit disillusioned after Thought Bubble – their stuff didn’t sell very well or they realised that they’d got their priorities in the wrong place. They were following others’ leads and not following what they wanted to do themselves. I guess I have to sit down and work out what I’m doing the Common Swings for – and I suspect I already know the answer. It has been, mostly, something of a source of pride that even though I’ve not entirely set the world on fire with my stuff, I’ve got close to getting some of my… how shall I put this… odder ideas down on paper. And the more I do it? The better I get.

And I suspect that is why I should be doing this. More in the final instalment.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Thought Bubble Thoughts One

Once upon a time I used to blog a lot. Not just regularly but at great length on a wide range of subjects. Obviously recent events – dad’s death, my depression worsening a bit, work stress and the recent Asperger’s/ autism diagnosis – have made this a bit trickier than I remember it being. This bloody entry has taken almost a whole week to write, like chipping away at a constantly moving object to get it into some sort of shape I’m happy with. But it’s an important thing to write. I wouldn’t keep badgering away at it if it wasn’t. I’m talking about Thought Bubble.

Thought Bubble was an interesting proposition for me. For someone trying to take his comics/ zines more seriously it should be a no brainer to attend the biggest convention in the country which is also pretty much on my doorstep. But it wasn’t that easy. See, I’m not very good at taking part in things like this and never have been. I’ve had a track record of this since childhood – I think apart from a brief foray as a Seconder in the cubs, I’ve been pretty much on the outskirts of anything ever since. If I had my way I’d probably never turn up to anything – it’s only because I’d never hear the end of it if I didn’t go that I try. And when I try, I tend to make only the tiniest of efforts. The words self-fulfilling and prophecy spring to mind.

Case in point: my last couple of attempts to dabble into the world of mini comics and the comics’ scene have ended… not particularly well. I tend to assume the worst of a situation in advance, that in some way of course I’ll end up not talking to anyone (first attempt: mini comic thing in Preston) or barely selling a thing (second attempt: comics fair in Bradford). Never mind the fact that during the former I never bothered initiating any conversations with anyone or at the second I just dumped a couple of issues of the Common Swings on an anonymous looking group table and legged it to Waterstones to hide for the afternoon. It’s not really a surprise that I only sold two copies of the Common Swings.

That second attempt at Bradford has become something of a stick to beat my own back with. It turns up again and again in justifications as to why I shouldn’t bother doing anything, why I’ll only make a fool of myself again if I try and blah blah blah blah blah. I completely mean it when I say these things, and can conveniently forget such things as, oh, the fact I didn’t stay with my stock or promote it properly or anything. In the same way, I can get maudlin about this blog whilst usefully forgetting how little I have updated it or, you know, only sent out one copy for review of the first issue.

So yeah. Hollow excuses or something. For some reason the wife wasn’t happy with me using them for Thought Bubble so, regretfully, I decided to at least make an effort and go to thing. If nothing else, I’d deliberately set up in my more worrying moods meet ups with my fellow old Lincoln DVLA survivor Matthew and old Livejournal pal Andrew. I kind of had to go after saying I’d meet them. Plus I’d said I’d go to support my local comic shop, the highly esteemed 2Tone Comics of Hebden Bridge. Eventually I found myself in the rather odd position whereby I actually wanted to go to this thing. And then…. And then…

And then I was hit by a nasty bout of insomnia and hand pain the night before so feared I couldn’t go… but despite myself I managed to drag myself out of bed and to Leeds and, bless my hat, I had a grand old time. Seriously. You need to look at the above and realise how unlikely it being a grand old time was… I have a considerable track record of self-scuppering and now had an actual excuse not to go. Yet before I knew it, I was handing over my tenner whilst surrounded by more cosplay types than you could shape King Ottakar’s Sceptre at. I’ve no idea why.

Reasons why it was great… will follow in part two. (And yes, there is a part one to force me to write a part two!)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


been a bit of an odd week - family issues, doctor's appointments and the like - but am slowly getting back to normal. am pushing myself to do a sort of fishing/ exploratory trip to "thought bubble" this weekend to sort of see ways in which i can take this whole common swings way more seriously. and in a similar vein i have updated my lulu shop as a starter... hopefully "mr pepper" will return soon - sorry for all this folks!

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 ...