Saturday, 31 December 2011

more oz!

first things first, a hearty thank you to matthew dick over at exquisite things for including me at number nine in his comics of the year. i used to work with matt in a soul crushingly awful job in lincoln and he was one of the saving graces of the job. i don't think i've been in any kind of top ten before in my life, other than perhaps top ten feckless librarians or hoarders of tat...

anyway. one final bit of oz fun for you... i'm going to try and do more posts like this just to keep this blog bubbling over and get me back in the important habit of updating regularly. so without further ado...

the emerald city of oz

look at me! i'm doing one of those fancy illustration blog entries - alright, i admit i'm cheating and going straight to rather than sweating through scanning my own items, but still... while i looked for raw material for "piphill" i stumbled across these glorious images by john r neill for "the emerald city of oz". because we brits don't really know oz or baum that well beyond the judy garland film, this stuff is all new to me. but it's also all beautiful... enjoy! more neill later!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

bulldog jack

coming at some point next year, "the bombardier's eyes" will start being serialised in monthly (or so) installments. and to get people in the mood for it, here's possibly one of the finest bits of 1930s british b-movie nonsense ever made. jack and claude hulbert take over from an indisposed bulldog drummond to fight the nefarious villain played by ralph richardson, and defend the girl played by fay wray. it has two spectacularly good set pieces which are entirely the sort of thing which i try to permeate throughout my writing and drawing: a skirmish in the british museum and the ending sequence which, if cinema history was in any way fair, would be considered as highly as the best of hitchcock. it's a london underground chase scene which entirely captured my imagination as a child and is still every bit as good today. pacey, pithy, witty, silly and thrilling: entirely what i want to capture in what i do. a classic. please do watch it

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


i hope to have something up later today or tomorrow to keep on with this regular blog updating malarkey, but in the meantime two lovely things have come of the gorey/ neumeyer book review. firstly the publisher messaged me to say how pleased they were by how much i enjoyed it and then today... and i can scarcely believe this... peter f neumeyer himself sent me an email saying he was "deeply touched". wow! this is like sarah mcintyre slight return! this has made my week.... if not month!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Cat Getting Out of a Bag by Jeffrey Brown

The best review of "Cat Getting Out of a Bag and Other Observations" by Jeffrey Brown from “Big Deal Lucille” on "I currently have 2 cats, lovingly referred to as "my boys". They are quite spoiled and healthy, physically and emotionally. In fact, one cat accidentally got outside recently, and not due to my neglect. I was so distraught I called in sick to work, cried most of the day, and did everything I could think of to find him. I hit the jackpot and found him 24 hours later. I've had cats all my life and I always will. I still think this book stinks, yes stinks. And I do believe the author of this book states he has no cats, but has known a few. Just because I don't agree with your glowing review, don't assume I'm not capable of being a cat lover. The world is not that simple. I'll give my cats an extra kiss tonight just for you."

So anyway, now we have a cat at home. I grew up cats but I also grew up with something of a nascent mad cat lady: my sister. She currently has either five or six (I forget) including the only cat I have ever met with severe psychological needs. this cat would get up at three or four at the morning, mewl plaintively and drag a fritz the cat toy around with her that represented her lost litter she gave birth to when very young. She’d also sneeze a lot and leave a worrying brown/ grey stain on the wall but that's another story for another day. even a cat loving friend of mine when she asked to see this cat, to see if it was as bad as I’d made out, said of the photo "I can't see the cat - is it behind that lumpen, misshapen bag in the foreground?" without realising said bag was said cat. Anyway. I was stuck with this cat for six months or so and it kind of... put me off. But lately my wife and I have met some strange, crazed local felines who've changed both our minds on matters feline - and so we've ended up with Cluedo, a six month old bag of energy who is currently leaping into the air trying to conquer a ball of my wife's wool.

I’ve been a fan of Jeffrey Brown for some time now. I have been since I accidentally knocked into a copy of "Clumsy" in Forbidden Planet, Nottingham, and it fell on top of me. I kind of thought that I should take this as some sort of sign and bought the thing. And it ushered for me the first wave of my renewed interest in comics, particularly in this hitherto unknown format called mini comics. Something about Brown's balance between self-pity and self-ridicule (I picked up "be a man" at the same time I picked up "clumsy", which helped a lot) appealed to me where people like Chris Ware and Craig Thompson’s similar wallowing didn't (beautiful but whiny and self-important). I’ve been very loyal to his output since, but have left the cat ones out of my collection because, being catless, it didn't seem so relevant to me.

And now (Cluedo, should you be interested, is sat atop the telly and is idly batting at the head of Jeff Stelling, as well she should) I have a cat. So I thought it's as good a time as any to get hold of a copy of one of the cat books. And it is, rather predictably, brilliant. There has always been two sides to Jeffrey Brown. First there's the painfully self-lacerating, self-mocking autobiographical cartoonist who takes fragments of frequently staggeringly awkward moments in his life to weave together a greater whole. And then there's the tongue in cheek mocker of that sort of pomposity, especially of his *own* pomposity. That part also is the brilliant comic mind behind "big head" (which works, like "mega change bots", because Brown knows how ridiculous the real stuff is) and "I am trying to be small". And the cat book is the marriage between the two. As the other, better Amazon reviews point out - it's definitely no “Garfield” or “Simon’s Cat” (whatever their various merits may be). This is in every way what it says on the title page. Observations. But when is it anything but that with Brown?

And how good is it? Well, for a start the art is as great as it always is with Brown. Maybe it's because Brown is part of the pantheon of comic creators I’d like to one day compare myself to, but I’ve been looking at his art of ages now and am still amazed by how easy he makes something actually technically quite complicated seem. He’s an excellent draughtsman and his art has a spontaneity that only really works because of the scruffiness of his art but it's a scruffiness that belies a lot (and I do mean *a lot*) of technical skill. This book needs to show a cat in action and have it be recognisably a cat. There’s a lot of motion in the book and whereas my attempts to draw Cluedo have rather needed her to remain static, he's managed to knock off a lot of very accurate cat in motion comics at probably great speed. The real trick to Brown’s art is that his scruffiness is purely a stylistic decision. Like his most obviously similar peer, James Kochalka, it’s the best way to show immediacy and intimacy and build a rapport with the reader. The stilted beauty of a Chris Ware I find deeply alienating as if it’s a world dipped in aspic. You don’t get that with Brown.

And the content? Let’s look at some evidence.

Okay. Cluedo does that. A lot.

She also does this, especially at night.

She did this the first time she saw me draw (and still does) and does it to Sarah when knitting too.

And she also, sort of, does this most of the rest of the time.

So this is where me and Big Deal Lucille sort of part company. For her cats are obviously more than just furry, food guzzling scruff bags who are as affectionate and caring as they are stand offish and stubborn. They’ve been elevated to another level of being where sentimentality has taken hold. Probably the simple fact that there’s a strip in this book about cat litter trays will immediately alienate Big Deal Lucille. She doesn’t want to think of that aspect of her cat’s life. Meanwhile Brown will continue to deal with cats as he does with everything else – as fragments of a wider story.

I have a weird fixation with “You’ve Been Framed!” during my most depressed periods. Not for me worries about people falling over cakes or throwing children into greenhouses - no. My worry is about the tumultuousness of my life in comparison with the moments caught on camera that otherwise would never be seen: a family holiday here, a barbeque there, a Sunday dinner, a stroll in the wind… moments of such banality for most of the time but for them precious snapshots of a wider story. That’s what depresses me – seeing people just living and living happily. And this book has a similar sort of appeal (as does most of Jeffrey Brown’s work). It’s about the moments in between the big moments. Life in microcosm. Unlike James Kochalka's more whimsical (but equally wonderful) "Peanut Butter and Jeremy" books, this is literally just a collection of observations. But sometimes all you want in life is to watch the simple, uncomplicated joy of a small bag of energy fascinated by the usually boring realities of a plastic bag. And that’s why this book is such a gem.

Friday, 9 December 2011

"floating worlds: the letters of edward gorey and peter f neumeyer"

The last time I got a review copy of an Edward Gorey book from librarything, I went on a bit too much about my Gorey-less childhood and how bereft I felt growing up without this incredible talent when my wife, bless her, did. So this means that, no, I didn’t grow up with him as part of my life but it did mean that when I did discover him properly in my mid-twenties I truly appreciated this peculiar, wayward genius that I had found. And I’m proud that the UK has slowly begun to grasp his peculiar – and frequently very British – sense of humour to the collective British heart.

This volume is a collection of letters between Gorey and a collaborator on a series of children’s books, called Peter F Neumeyer. It’s not only fascinating in the way it opens a hitherto unknown window into part of Gorey’s life, but also because the very nature of the friendship between the two men sort of begins to take on Gorey-esque proportions when you look at it closely. But my theory is that once you’ve been touched by the genius of Gorey, you start to look for clues to the central enigma of this curious man even where this is none to find. You look for connections when fundamentally there aren’t any. Yes, Neumeyer’s children’s book was on a housefly (it was called “Donald and…”) and Gorey loved all animals so much (the introduction by Neumeyer pretty much starts with a quotation from one of ‘Ted’s’ letters which says “I am really more and more tolerant to all insect life as life goes on”) that it seems a marriage made in heaven. And then there’s the curious first meeting between the two men: stony silence from Gorey during a day on Neumeyer’s editor’s boat that was only broken by Gorey’s spectacular failure to get out of a dinghy on to dry land. They bonded pretty much in casualty. The thing is, you can imagine a Gorey-esque story which goes along similar lines, but it’s not a very Gorey-esque set up. A bit more like Wodehouse actually. You end up looking for the Gorey in these things, always hunting for possible clues.

But if we’re guilty of reading too much into events in these letters, the correspondence that the meeting ignited is a feast of clues and possible ways into the Gorey enigma. Over a particularly heated period in 1969 this artist and writer and his new found friend the academic bonded over philosophy, art and literature. The book is a catalogue of pointers towards what makes Gorey Gorey, and is also riddled with particular hints as to what made the man tick. And just when you think you’re onto something – like perhaps the Kit Williams’ “Masquerade” books – you suddenly realise the jig is up and Gorey begins to go silent and enigmatic as the letters peter out. It’s one of those rare occasions where a series of letters basically has a form of narrative arc.

So. The book itself…

The best books of letters out there – I’m thinking of Chandler and Wodehouse primarily – are the sort you dip into. Frequently they’re grouped together by theme or correspondent. This book is different because it’s primarily the whole friendship from beginning to end – envelopes included. For the Gorey fan those envelopes are almost worth purchasing the book for in itself. They’re works of art in themselves and its kind of humbling to see Gorey could knock off things this lovely just for letters.

The subjects covered: every time you dip in something new and fascinating takes your fancy. Just a cursory look at the index should give you some idea of the range of subjects covered… Edward Ardizzone. Barbarella. Jorge Luis Borges. Walter de la Mare. Thomas Hardy. Hermann Hesse. Kafka. Flann O’Brien. It’s a quite literary conversation this: high art, cinema, literature, theatre, music. It would be fascinating to see what other correspondences with people who weren’t, say, English academics would be like. I know for a fact Gorey was a massive fan of Doctor Who so a more low art correspondence would be equally as fascinating. Gorey seems like a massive polymath… but then again didn’t the books themselves tell you something of that? Surely part of the enigma of the man is the wealth of peculiar sources that became mingled into this heady of stews.

It’s also a bit unfair that Neumeyer, in any other circumstances, would be a fascinating man in his own right. Fair game of him to take the back seat for Gorey. This is his book and part of the joy is that Neumeyer, whether he did it consciously or not, teases the best out of Gorey. Maybe that’s why Gorey goes silent in the end (there I go myself, looking for clues and patterns where there aren’t any) as he realises how open he’s being and how unlike him it is. I could quote it endlessly and given the time I probably would and each time the essay would be on a different subject: and that seems quite right too.

And then just when you begin to think you’ve worked out the clues, or have gone along with the cliché that there are clues to somehow find, towards the end Gorey starts to almost disappear. The letters are still beautiful, but more enigmatic and distant. They almost remind me of those annoyingly precious “Griffin and Sabine” by Nick Bantock but obviously not so precious. Postcards mostly with tickets and ephemera taped to them. The writing itself becomes spare and fragile, almost like haikus… considering Gorey’s love of Japanese art (which he goes on about repeatedly and at length, with great passion, in the letters) this could almost be deliberate.

A few final thoughts on the volume sent to me by Pomegranate books. Firstly it came in a WHOPPING box which was packaged in so much tape it took about twenty minutes for me to dig into. And when I finally get the book out after all that anticipation… it’s beautiful. Truly beautiful. A lovely, hefty, lovingly illustrated and designed book which – like their single volume Gorey reissues – really the master deserves. And more than just that, even the Pomegranate catalogue is a lovely thing to behold… AND there’s another Gorey postcard. Are they trying to bribe a good review out of me? If so it worked. I’ve had some good books through librarything. I’ve had some bad books through librarything. I’ve had some occasional great books through librarything. This? This was worth me becoming a member alone. It’s gorgeous and glorious and I’ll treasure it forever.

A masterpiece? Yes. Definitely. I cannot recommend it enough.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

more pre-piphill

"st axiom at hillier's gate (unknown): c. 1385, st. axiom-by-the-marsh, lower piphill

here the hairy guild of boatswains conspire to kill the saint at prayer. note the presence of axiom's constant companion ulrich, the holy chimp. a fourteenth century addition to the story of the saint, ulrich is in always steadfast, faithful and hairy. the hairy are as blessed by axiom as the hairless are. as the saint remarked in a letter to his accolyte, fritz weishenct, "the true love of the lord is hair blind"

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

piphill precursors

and a little nod of the hat that i haven't in fact forgotten about "the eyes of mr pepper"...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Thought Bubble Thoughts Three

That I'm writing my final thoughts on Thought Bubble during something of a low mental ebb seems quite fitting. Again and again during the day I was faced by people who basically repeated the same mantra: there is no simple way at doing this, you all have to keep on and on until you get somewhere. Initially it won't be a big shift but that shift will become something else. Logic tells me that this then means that everyone has struggled and everyone has had to battle on with their creations. So this means that i am now, during a self indulgent pity fest about how my meager offerings will never take on, only doing what the other people who have "arrived" in some way have also gone through. They may have not had depression or some of the crap going on in my brain of late, but they've still battled on.

I need to remember that. I need to remember that mostly I'm writing these blog entries to crystalise these things. To remember that I can bloody *do* this and that there is no magic bullet.


One of the best things for me about Thought Bubble is that it's a very inclusive festival. By this I mean that isn't just a narrow mainstream comics based event. There are plenty of people - and cosplayers! - who are there to see that and there's no shame about that at all. I wish I'd had something for Pete Milligan to sign for example, and my local comic shop - 2Tone - are always inspirational to me in finding new stuff in the Marvel/ DC etc worlds. But the comics' world has moved on from that - in fact when I was a kid I was probably closer to where comics are now than I realised. I moved away from comics because it seemed limiting - but now my love for Punch cartoonists and people like Ionicus, Fougasse, Ronald Searle etc is entirely chiming in with what Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly put out (although I do wish they'd do more British stuff - a Ken Reid book, can you IMAGINE?). And my abiding love of children's book artists... all of this is entirely there in comics now. And there at Thought Bubble.

So if you wanted to meet Pete Milligan or D'Israeli or Gail Simone you could. If like me, you're a bit more excited at the prospect of meeting someone like Bryan Talbot (would liked to have met him, but queue was too long) or Roger Langridge (who my god, wild wolves would not have dragged me away from: I got him to sign a volume of "Knuckles the Malevolent Nun" and was as impressed by the art as I was the fact he was a peer of Chris Knox - imagine that! CHRIS KNOX!) you can do that to. Then there are the children's book people as well.

It's a fact that the long winded route to me arriving at "The Common Swings" finally coming out was stumbling across Sarah McIntyre's "Vern and Lettuce" in the Guardian's mini versions of the DFC. Here was such wit, skill and joy that I suddenly felt energised at the idea of drawing again. None of my stuff is anything near the league of McIntyre's (and as far as bloggers go, she's pretty much best practice for what can be achieved) but her books always make me want to try. It's probably quite interesting that the closest to being star struck was when I got "You Can't Eat a Princess!" signed by her (and her co-writer Gillian Rogerson). I rambled on about the pride of a blog comment from last year from her when I praised "Vern and Lettuce" and made a bit of a fool of myself, but still... it was a handy reminder of what can be done in the comics' field. She's something of a polymath and the joy in her mini-comics is entirely there in her kids' books. It's entirely one of the reasons I threw myself into childrens' books with such passion last year and kind of have veered off into those worlds with the Hadrons and the eventually upcoming Bunny McSniff.

And that enthusiasm was matched by her fellow DFC writers the Etherington brothers. I picked up "Baggage" to get signed by them because an idle stop off at their stall had revealed the two of them to be the sweetest, nicest, most encouraging people I could have dreamt of meeting. Now I've read "Baggage" I can entirely say that my five year old self is all the poorer for never having had this book. Much as I think Sarah McIntyre is slightly closer to my own tastes, the detail and anarchy and comedy in every single page of that book would have exploded my tiny brain. I've always erred towards the more is more school of drawing since my childhood love of a good Leo Baxendale double spread or a bit of Tom Patterson nonsense and I think this book sort of guides me into seeing the best way into matching enthusiasm into result. It's an incredible, incredible book - so much fun! - and Lorenzo was particularly lovely, explaining how easy it is to pick up things like Photoshop from Youtube. See? Another person who has "arrived" reminding me how much of the journey to finishing something is down to absolute persistence.

In the main hall of Thought Bubble, the small press people were smattered about. It was good to see how the panelists stuff was being sold, and yes a lot of what I was doing was seeing how other people sold their wares. It was good to see Philippa Rice's diorama after it was spoken in hushed tones of admiration by almost everyone on a panel during the day, for example. But the best of all of them? Timothy Winchester.

Almost every panelist, when asked who they thought did conventions better than anyone said "Timothy Winchester". Now I knew his comics reasonably well - I follow his blog - and liked them, but not in the way I love, say, Banal Pig's comics. But where the Banal Pig stall seemed somewhat... subdued, Timothy Winchester was, as everyone heralded him, one of the most whirling of all dervishes you could ever imagine. All panelists said "watch him - he never stops. He engages you in conversation, he gives you flyers even if you don't buy comics. He's friendly and warm and interested in people and it's completely contagious". And my god were they right. Almost entirely the most single handedly exciting figure I saw in the whole day, I still am not the biggest fan of his comics but as a comics' creator? He made me feel at ease and welcome on his stall and I'd even promised to do something for his Angela Lansbury week (which I've entirely failed to do - hence one of the reasons I've been at a low ebb) because he seemed so enthusiastic and warm. And sort of, kind of, wise...

Because his advice? Simply: "keep at it. Do it regularly. Get a scanner. Post it. Get yourself known. Get yourself out there. It's scary but we've all done it."

Which is probably in one sentence far more succint and pithy than the whole of these three days of rambling could ever be.

So yeah, in essence - Thought Bubble. Loved it. I'll be there next year. All I can try and do is be there in some sort of creative capacity. I better bloody be, or this sort of low ebb will be an even bigger stick to beat myself with... but that's another story for another day.

I'm done now. Goodnight all.

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 ...