Thursday, 29 November 2012

Usagi Yojimbo

One of the benefits of the new job is a rather nice commute which allows me time to either: kick back and doze; kick back and listen to the ipod while looking at the lovely scenery; or to kick back and get back in the reading habit again. Because the prolonged period of depression/ unemployment has had something of a serious knock on effect on my reading habits, it's been a while since I devoured a lot of books so I'm taking reading quite gently. So I've been reading a lot of graphic novels/ collections this last week or so as that seemed a nice compromise.

Today's book was volume seven of the mid nineties Fantagraphics reprints of Stan Sakai's "Usagi Yojimbo". I bought a handful of issues back in my first flurry of non UK comic buying because of Sakai's links to "Groo the Wanderer". "Groo" was my first non Fleetway/ DC Thompson love, a giddy, silly, witty and madly inventive romp of a book. I adored it for the stories, the jokes, the puns, the stunning art and also the mad attention to detail Aragones poured into everything. Not only did he pop in the infamous secret message into every issue (in the first issue I bought, the first appearance of Pal and Drumm, I believe the message is decorating the wall of a room in binary. I'd never have known this but just the fact it was there stunned me as a thirteen year old) but he also drew the creative team somewhere in each issue. In the poster below Aragones (artist and writer), Mark Evanier (sort of translator/ joke refiner), Tom Luth (colourist - sorry, have to do the British spelling. Seems wrong not to) and Stan Sakai (letterer) are hidden in the top left, in the tree.

As someone who always loved the scale and scope of fictional worlds, this was some sort of perfection to me. And as such I picked up "Usagi Yojimbo" because of the Sakai connection and because the general idea - wanderer in some sort of strange new land - didn't seem a million miles away from what Groo was doing. But I went no further, because there's so many back issues of the comic and I've never known exactly how self contained the world was. The reason why I picked up this volume was because it was cheap enough for me not to care too much if I'd missed too much in the previous six.

Thankfully it doesn't seem to matter at all. It's actually a far more enjoyable comic for me as an adult than it was as a kid. I definitely appreciated it back then, even though I didn't quite understand why it couldn't be as funny as Groo, but now it seems a lot more emotionally powerful. There's a sort of strange melancholy to it all, a sadness to the story, that seems entirely more adult than you'd expect from a comic with a samurai bunny in it. Mortality is often just one step around the corner and almost every story in this volume addresses loss in some way. If anything the fact that it's a bunch of animals paying very strict attention to ancient Japanese codes of morality gives it a lovely distancing effect - you focus on the narrative and the inter character relations a lot more, because the character design seems so initially jarring you just have to either accept or reject the concept of animals doing samurai things. You don't keep questioning it as you go along. I accepted it, and as such focused on the stories.

Which are, frankly, beautiful. Sakai has a really lovely eye for the poignancy of a story and can really tease a lot out of a simple story, which gives it a nice fable like tone perfectly in keeping with the genre. I think he particularly loves to imbue minor characters with more depth than other comic writers would, so even a couple of soldiers guarding a building chatting about what they have for dinner seem a bit more real when they suddenly die. It's kind of a shame that for my generation Usagi Yojimbo was kind of known peripherally as some sort of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles connected thing, because of a couple of guest appearances in the comic and show - there's a lot more to it than simply anthropomorphic warrior animals. Although there is a lot of Groo here in this world (kind of inevitable really, although in a drastically different tone obviously), there's a lot more seriousness of intent in what Sakai is trying to do. In many What it most reminded me of was Jeff Smith's masterpiece "Bone", but somehow slightly better because rather than one grand narrative, it's more episodic and thusly allows you more time to see how the characters relate to events. You see more about what makes them who they are without being info dumped on from a great height. And it's that subtlety which I really love. Definitely going to get more of these I think.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

still ill...

...and the wife is somewhat ill-er. so normal service is still to resume.. please enjoy this picture of surly people take from 1960s promotional in-house magazines i found in the archive of the company i worked for in loughborough. if you know any of them, please do let us know...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


am recovering from a cold which has turned, annoyingly, into a rattly cough. bah! in the meantime, i'll remind everybody about the new etsy shop and post a picture of a chubby boy with a chick on his head. as you do... normal service will resume soon i hope!

Monday, 26 November 2012

A Peculiar Letter

So I've received a most peculiar letter in the post. See if you can make heads or tales of it...

What could it all be about?

More on this soon...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

updates, updates, updates...

what's this? a quick weekend update? that so rarely happens! oh my!

anyway - two things. first of all i have an etsy shop at long, long last - off you go! purchase things please!

secondly - anyone want to give me some advice about how to make the blog here look a little prettier? it needs tarting up and i'm not sure of the best way to do it...

and finally.. have a hadron:

tomorrow - the proper launch of issue four - "lower piphill"! EXCITING!

Friday, 23 November 2012

final quick blurbage for the week

the end of my first week of work after... quite some time off! hopefully now i've dusted down some of the whole working again cogs of my brain, it'll be easier for me to get through a day without just wanting to go to bed once i get home so hopefully there'll be a bit more new content here next week rather than treading water. also, hopefully, the full blurb about lower piphill will be here over the weekend... 

next week i also aim to finally get the etsy shop up and running again and tidied up so people can buy some of the existing nonsense and buy any future nonsense. i'm trying to make it all pretty at the moment and hopefully a nice place to meander before spending any cash

and finally - before i pop another couple of pictures i did for "thought bubble" on the blog - a reminder to anyone who reads this from the west yorkshire/ lancashire area and especially those near calderdale: i'm working on setting up some kind of drink/ draw/ doodle/ comics thing in the area. i met a fair few people last week but anyone else who may know people who know people - GET IN TOUCH. one of the people, louise, who i met at the weekend, gave me a lift in on sunday and runs this wonderful looking thing in leeds called "laydeez do comics". if i had any money or free time at the moment, i'd be there in a shot

in the meantime: more tat and doodles! hurrah!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

more quick stuff: hadron special!

i'm still to get that strange package from the stranger lower piphill up for you here, but i still have some other things that i possibly planned to sell at thought bubble to share with you here... so have some hadrons!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

more quick updates

i have received an odd package from somewhere called lower piphill which i will share with you sometime before the weekend. some of you may find it of interest. in the meantime, here's some more stuff i did for thought bubble but didn't sell...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

thought bubble fun!

so! thought bubble then - first of all, the view from our table...

and another, this time with a pile of piphill parcels... what COULD be in there? maybe there are some clues elsewhere online?

me, posing...

me, deep in thought, with a good front view of the mysterious and SOON ON SALE piphill parcels... and a rather overlong advert to try and shift my crappy comics to the right of the desk...

me and a hadron pal...

and finally, the wonderful sam parfitt (whose wool skills are amazing) who joined me for the weekend as cheerleader, assistant and confidence builder... all hail!

ludicrously, i have already had my idea for next year... and it's AMAZING!

Monday, 19 November 2012

quick entry

because of my frankly unbelievably odd new job at a football club... here's some pictures from a small place called lower piphill...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

hello to anyone i met at thought bubble!

lots of business cards and flyers were given out so if anyone has found me for the first time - welcome! there's lots of stuff in the archives, including a long first bit of an ongoing story which i'll be posting up manageable links to soon...

i'll also have some more stuff about my views on how great my first thought bubble as a seller was, and more new pictures and whatnot coming up this week. in the mean time have a poke about and enjoy yourselves!

an unfortunate incident with kate beaton

thirteen years ago, i did a rare and foolish thing: approached someone whose work i admired. it was at the bowlie weekender of belle and sebastian in camber sands, and the compere was duglas t stewart of the bmx bandits. i love the bmx bandits and consider their single "little hands" a masterpiece - and told stewart so. well, almost... i said instead "i love your band! i think "little hands" is THE SECOND GREATEST SINGLE OF ALL TIME!" - which is true, i do ("tally ho!" by the clean, is the first if you're interested because it's amazing). he gave me a most puzzled look and, frankly bemused, said "thank you... but you know 'one of the greatest ever singles' would have probably been better". i became mortified and he then obviously felt guilty and said lovely things about my rutles' t shirt... but the moment became stuck as "the time i made an arse of myself in front of a hero"

time passes. i almost said things to wayne coyne of the flaming lips at a smog gig, but just before i did so someone else came up to him said "OMIGODYOUAMAZING" and vomited on his shoes. he was lovely about it, but somehow enjoying the music of bill callahan with him after this traumatic incident seemed considerably... classier somehow?

today, at thought bubble, i decided to go and get a book signed by the frankly overwhelmingly talented kate beaton of "hark, a vagrant" because i am always in awe of how she can wring the simplest gags out of the most obscure historical moments... and also because she's a great cartoonist. she signed the book - and did a lovely tintin in it for me - and i was nervous and that alone would have been fine. but i then decided to give her one of MY comics... choosing the hadro mega-pack...

if you've seen the hadron mega-pack you'll know that in the "history of the hadron" supplement, there is a certificate of ownership for the cardboard cut out one that comes with it... and you write in a name for it as well as your own name... and so i usually give them silly names like "zardoz" or "boggins" or "vorhaus"

but i had a mental block with kate beaton. i meant to call it "mungo" but thought... that's a bit boring. why not change that a bit? so i changed it to... mongo

i called the hadron mongo. and not for the life of me, until i told sam and sarah and tansy when i get home, did i consider the fact that it might at all be offensive. i meant to call it mungo but thought that too obvious and in a panic changed the wrong letter. and now she probably thinks she has a weird comic by a weird man who decides to call their toy he gives her the name of an epithet for the disabled...

i am officially an idiot


still not all that bad as me and sam met the best cosplayer ever, a girl dressed as tessla, complete with drawn on moustache and a big wave in her hair which was her "tessla curl". now THAT is class...

have some more normal hadrons to make up for my idiocy...

Saturday, 17 November 2012

thought bubble day one

a year ago today, i came back as a punter from my first ever "thought bubble" and remember thinking how lovely it was... so friendly and accessible to every level of comic fandom. and i decided "i need to try that"... so i did!

it's been a crazy few weeks for me in common swings' world - waiting for news on a job, having an important medical appointment cancelled at short notice and most importantly trying to get the fourth issue of "the common swings" ready in time for this weekend. and i managed it! and even though i didn't sell a huge amount of anything today, i think what i got instead was even better - encouragement, advice, ideas, friendliness and the slowly dawning realisation that the first time i ever do anything like this (so, today in essence) is in every way going to be the toughest. thank you everyone who came by today and made it so much fun - please come back tomorrow and BUY MORE STUFF!

if not, the etsy shop should be tidied up and put online next week... so keep your eyes out for that soon!

also: there is movement towards the creation of some kind of comic's group in calderdale after the enthusiasm of people today. at the minute there is a very small facebook community called "calder valley scribblers" so if anyone i saw today wants to join please feel free to do so!

now for "the killing" and SLEEP! see people tomorrow hopefully! have my wife and a hadron until then...

Friday, 16 November 2012

Thought Bubble...

This is Mrs. Swings here- Chris is on the floor stapling copies of the comics together and swearing at his stapler, while I enjoy the satisfaction of having finished with my own reasonably less stressful labours.

The Hadrons are excited too about meeting their new owners tomorrow! There are seven kicking about the house right now, but if folks take to them then I will try to bring some more to life in time for Sunday.

In the meantime, this thoughtful Hadron is contemplating the world outside....

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Post Cosmo #3: Bunny McSniff and Bruiser McGann

The post-Cosmo project I'm most looking forward to, in a weird way, is Bunny McSniff and Bruiser McGann. Ever since the Hadrons had the best response from people of all the stuff I've done because, to be honest, it's the least niche, I've found myself longing to go back to the world of children's picture books. I've said before that one of the things that finally got me to taking mini comics seriously again and cartooning was seeing an episode of Vern and Lettuce and boggling at the utter joy and enthusiasm there was in Sarah McIntryre's art. It was not a long leap from there to suddenly really appreciating children's picture books and I honestly believe that the best books by Judith Kerr or Wanda Gag or the James Marshall George and Martha books are as good as any bit of sequential art of storytelling out there. And the masterpiece that is "The Story of Horace", which - irrespective of genre - is simply one of the funniest books ever written by anyone. Ever. Period.

So in many ways Bunny McSniff/ Bruiser McGann is a children's picture book, although it may be a little too... dark for that at the moment. It started as a way of initially amusing Sarah every night with one set of pictures and then horrifying her with the comedy of the next. The vague idea is that McSniff and McGann are best friends meant for each other, but who have never met and who simply suffer at the hands of their uncaring current "best friends", the caddish Bunny Huggles and Vincenzo O'Snapdragon. The book is a series of unfortunate nearly meets for the two of them, and a series of disappointments at the hand of the cads (with occasional moments of unplanned "revenge" such as the one above where a well meaning Bunny McSniff tries to amuse a horribly hungover O'Snapdragon who cancelled on a night out to the opera with McSniff to go drink cocktails with Bunny Huggles). The problem is I don't really know how to bring the narrative together at the moment... but on the way to it I'm having tremendous fun.

It also allows me to bring in a few future simpler ideas in the back door such as Bollo Jigsby, the Sweet Shop Monkey and the Amazing Alphonse and Fat Man Tubby, by using them in crowd scenes. Plus, the most attractive thing for me is that it's a simple redemption narrative (with a comeuppance for the cads) with no outre fripperies to distract me like everything else I write. I'm also aiming to play around with Photoshop colouring for it too... so it's a nice simple one to do and I look forward to finally finishing the thing. Soon. I hope.

Monday, 12 November 2012

pre-thought bubble panics!

no entry today, as i've been trying to get stuff done for thought bubble - even though i've had months to work on this, i've not done all my printing yet and am going off me nut a bit trying to juggle printing with finishing "piphill". piphill is actually looking pretty good at the moment, apart from the printed bits, and i'll probably JUST ABOUT be done in time... but good lord, i'm looking forward to sleeping properly after next week...

anyway. here's a bit of fancy shmany time wasting internet meme favourite records nonsense to keep you busy until the next proper entry... pip pip til then!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Post Cosmo #2: The Thursday Night League

About three years ago I read a wonderful book called "The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril" by Paul Malmont, which pits a bunch of American pulp writers such as William "The Shadow" Gibson, Lester "Doc Savage" Dent, H P Lovecraft (or the ghost thereof), L. Ron Hubbard, Louis L'Amour, E E "Doc" Smith and Chester Himes against the sort of foe you'd usually meet in their stories. It's a lovely tribute to the genre, very entertaining and sweetly protective of the creators and their work. As I read it, I postulated what the British equivalent would have been and came to one conclusion quite quickly - the heroes would not be heroic go getters, but they'd mostly be retired teachers and vicars, semi-invalids or writers with private incomes. They'd be rather wonderfully second rate rather than the top level heroics of Malmont's book... and already the idea of it seemed hugely entertaining to me.

Also about three years ago, I reread one of the classic crime novels of all time, Anthony Berkeley's "The Poisoned Chocolates Case" in which Berkeley's hero, the enjoyably snide and arrogant crime writer Roger Sherringham, is part of a "Crimes Circle" of crime writers, retired judges, academics and other experts who sit around and try and solve cases the police are struggling with. It's a high watermark of British crime writing, as each of the members of the circle in turn come up with yet more complicated and plausible solutions to the crime, and yet again I was rather taken with swapping the fictional members of the Crimes Circle with members of the Detection Club, the organisation set partially set up by Berkeley himself and whose members have  included pretty much every crime writer of note in the UK (and Agatha Christie).

So could I match the two of these strands up and write a book about the real Detection Club solving crime? Well... no. Because where's the fun in that. Instead I've created the 1930s world of the Crime Club, which is an analogue of the Detection Club and full of annoying, arrogant, successful published crime writers, and the second leaguers who churn out the pulpish stuff for boys' magazines and library published crime fiction. More Sexton Blake than Inspector French, if you like. And that idea led me to the creation of the Thursday Night League: fourteen Northern crime, sci fi, pulp and children's writers who struggle to find avenues for their not exactly top class books and moan to each other about it on a weekly basis.

 "The Bombardier's Eyes" was started as my NANOWRIMO attempt two years ago and soon ballooned to ridiculous proportions. I've always wanted to write elegant crime novels in the vein of John Dickson Carr, but I don't frankly have the brain for it. So instead I wrote a big, fat, silly romp - all however many thousand words of the thing which now sits on my shelf in an unedited, still with closing chapters to finish state. And my  current idea is to whittle that beast down into something a little leaner but still just as silly.

My idea for this editing job is to publish the chapters in serial form. Mainly this is because the writers who make up the league would have been doing much the same thing themselves. I want to create facsimile/ pastiches of golden age pulp journals - replete with advertisements and small ads, in the manner of the back pages of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - for each chapter and publish them on a bimonthly rate. Then when that's done edit it all again into something approximating one coherent narrative. And then work on the next TNL book...

So sometime next year, I'll get my editing hat out, try and work out the plots which got so confused last time I tried to fathom out the book and knock out about fifteen issues of "The Bombardier's Eyes" for the pulpish pleasure of the world out there. Wish me luck with the plan!

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 ...