Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Nelson - British Comic Award winner!

The original colour rough I did for Nelson from Woodrow's type rough back in December 2010.

Last month Nelson won the first British Comic Award for best book and I want to congratulate and thank everyone who contributed to the book. I would have liked to do that when Woodrow and I picked up the award, but it's a long list and it would have taken quite a while. Here goes. Thanks and congratulations to Kenny Penman (our publisher) Woodrow Phoenix (my co-editor)Paul Grist, Ellen Lindner, Jamie Smart, Gary Northfield, Sarah McIntyre, Suzy Varty, Sean Longcroft, Warwick Johnson–Cadwell, Luke Pearson, Paul Harrison–Davies, Katie Green, Paul Peart–Smith, Glyn Dillon, I.N.J.Culbard, John Allison, Philip Bond, D’Israeli, Simone Lia, Darryl Cunningham, Jonathan Edwards, Ade Salmon, Kate Charlesworth, Warren Pleece, Kristyna Baczynski, HarveyJames, Rian Hughes, Sean Phillips & Pete Doree, Kate Brown, Simon Gane, Jon McNaught, Adam Cadwell, Faz Choudhury, JAKe, Jeremy Day, Dan McDaid, Roger Langridge, Will Morris, Dave Shelton, Carol Swain, Hunt Emerson, Duncan Fegredo, Philippa Rice, Josceline Fenton, Garen Ewing, Tom Humberstone , Dan Berry,Alice Duke, Posy Simmonds, Laura Howell, Andi Watson, and Dave Taylor (the contributors) and Bridget Hannigan, Kayla Hillier, Martin Steenton and Geri Ford (for everything from pulling the project together, proofing and colouring to publishing it). 

I also have to thank my partner, Rachael, whose conversation with her sister inspired the final chapter of Nelson at a time when I had no idea how to end the book and who, on our first 'proper' date, took me to the Nelson in Blandford Forum. Coincidence or fate, don't know that I believe in either. She had no knowledge of the book and on that day as we sat there getting drunk in the beer garden with the rough script notes under a pint glass to stop them blowing away I knew this was just meant to be. And I had an idea for a single image prelude to the story that was eventually drawn by Paul Grist and which is now hanging on mine and Rachael's wall with the date of that drink at the Nelson written underneath. 

 Summer 2011 in London, the whiff of riots and Murdoch in the air.

Nelson started life at Thought Bubble festival in 2010 when I realised that what makes the British comic scene of today is its diversity and harmony. Perhaps it's the nature of the Thought Bubble that it levels things and makes there appear to be no headline acts or star turns just a panoply of creative talents in the same room. Maybe it was a trick of the light and we all exist in cliques with our own agendas, I think Nelson says otherwise. At Thought Bubble 2011 we launched the book and everywhere I looked people were walking around with it under their arms. So it felt right that if Nelson was to win an award it should be at Thought Bubble 2012.

There's been some discussion since those first British Comic Awards about agendas and cliques and sexism. Primarily a few creators, Nelsonites among them, questioned whether there were enough women on the shortlist, no one covered themselves in any glory as bruised egos produced curt responses, which is the nature of Twitter based debates among friends. Unfortunately The New Statesman, which has an agenda to expose 'sexism in nerd culture', leapt on the debate and hitched it to this agenda. I have no problem with such an agenda, I'm not sure what nerd culture is, but if there's sexism at play I of course want it exposed for what it is. I say unfortunately because I would have been overjoyed for the New Statesman to do a piece on The British Comic Awards and from my perspective Nelson embraces so many positive issues that I have in common with them that it would have been great promotion for British comics' creators. 

What's done is done. I hope the Awards committee are open to criticism and are aware of all forms of bias that may influence voting, but I say that with no proof that this wasn't already the case. I'm sorry if anyone came away from the awards with these concerns, I came away dazzled by seeing so many wonderful British comics flickering before my eyes on the big screen. 

I just realised that the awards were almost clean sweep for Nelsonites. We did try and get Raymond Briggs into Nelson at one point (he took the lifetime achievement award).

 Josceline Fenton took the Emerging talent award

 John Allison took the best comic award for Bad Machinery

 and Luke Pearson took the Young Peoples Award for Hilda and the Midnight Giant.

 The shortlists included graphic novels, web comics, short form, long form, adaptations, factual books, fiction, humour, kids books, observational, sci fi, romance, hight art, low art, experimentation, traditional comics... a broad range that demonstrates how far British Comics have come in a few short years. I feel excited and privileged to be making comics during the most creative time there has been in British comics in my memory. This is the time to be making comics in Britain, this is the time to be reading British comics!

Monday, 15 October 2012

The British Comic Awards

I was reading the FPI blog piece about The British Comic Awards first ever shortlist (because I'm on the list and I wanted to see if anyone had anything nice or horrible to say about me, it's what we do) and I came across a mini-tirade from an ardent 2000ad blogger about the absence of 2000ad from the shortlist. There followed a long and impassioned description of the many talents and wonderful stories that have appeared in that comic. The chap was clearly very angry about this because he is a 2000ad fan. And then it struck me that there was something about the list and the omission of 2000ad that was quite positive.

(I feel like a drunk in a minefield writing about awards where I'm nominated.)

Here come the sweeping generalisations...

There's a connection between the five books nominated, something they share that 2000ad doesn't. And something born out by the fact that it was a '2000ad fan' who leapt forward. When I started Don Quixote I wanted to make a book that might be read by people outside the comics' world,  and it was around this time my then wife pointed out that she had no idea who was speaking in these caption things in a comic I handed her. "Well, it's either the thoughts of a character, a first person author or a third person author or..." Why should she know? She doesn't read many, if any, comics.

So I put in that bit where the voice from the cell, the author's voice, pops up in a caption and tells you that's what he's doing. I could do this in Quixote because the whole book is full of these kind of metafictions anyway. There's nothing wrong with a book being difficult to read, often the most rewarding books are, but I didn't want mine to be off-putting purely because of modern conventions in the medium.

This idea was very important to Woodrow and I when we were editing Nelson, we wanted a book that could walk and talk on its own in any company, not something that was a foreigner the moment it stepped outside of a comic shop. This has been born out by the reaction we've had from people who haven't read a comic since they were a child in the 80s/70s/60s etc.

I don't have a copy of Goliath or Science Tales yet, but I'm very familiar with the work of these two authors and admire both. What they share is clarity. Darryl's Psychiatric tales is a book I gave to people not because they liked comics, but because I knew it would touch them deeply and inform them. It didn't matter whether they read comics. Equally Tom's work is all about instantaneous reading, his strips are fast to read than words. Anyone who encounters them receives the messages sent.

Then there's Luke, whose Hilda book has been read and loved by me and my daughter. It's a kids book. This doesn't mean it doesn't warrant the same accolades as an adult comic (actually I'm not sure whether Quixote also counts as all ages given that many kids have read it). My daughter knows that comics can offer more than three pages of filler in a merchandise tie-in, she has read Hilda and has high expectations of comics. Good.

Well, there's the connection between the five nominees. So where does 2000ad fit in, you ask. 2000ad, for the purposes of this blog post, represents a different relationship between comic and reader, the traditional relationship - comic and fan. Comics are a nerdy fan world, and that's fine. 2000ad has given me some of my best experiences reading comics. 2000ad has been THE comics industry in the UK for many years, but it is almost totally 2000ad fans making comics for 2000ad fans and it is in a sense a celebration of itself. What these awards highlight is not, as our afore mentioned 2000ad blogger claimed, a leaning towards 'indie' it's a leaning towards new readers. Without them we're dead.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Mick McMahon - Demon Artist

Tim Pilcher just asked me if was ever influenced by Mick McMahon, it shocked me so much I thought he might have been taking the piss. I think this is probably a good excuse to make Mick blush once more and print the article I wrote for Vworp! Vworp! magazine a couple of years back where some of my good friends from Doctor Who comics explain why Mick's one and only Doctor Who strip is the best thing since sliced bread.

(Excuse the cod McMahon illo, I did this before I got to know Mick and the caricature isn't the best. Oh, and DWM means Doctor Who Magazine).

The Demon Artist

By Rob Davis

If you ask the DWM artists for their favourite DWM comic strip chances are they will pick Junkyard Demon. (For the record I did ask a collection of my fellow artists including Dan McDaid, Martin Geraghty, Ade Salmon, Sean Longcroft, Roger Langridge and Paul Grist.) So why would we pick a two part oddity like this over the many wonderful epics on offer? It’s a great little idea by Steve Parkhouse. Prefiguring Rob Shearman’s 2005 classic, Dalek, it’s about a battered, inert monster of supreme powers collected amongst the universe’s flotsam that comes to life with the arrival of the Doctor. 

“Parkhouse on top form,” says Sean Longcroft, “an amiable and redoubtable pair of space barrow boys and their windmill-powered robot share our sense of awe as a Cyberman awakes from its lengthy sleep. ‘One Cyberman could stop an army!’ The Doctor informs us, but the immediate threat he poses is to a perfectly charming afternoon of hot chocolate, small sherries and er… hand bellows. The conflict between the fantastically monstrous and the cosily common is one of the hallmark strengths of Doctor Who, a genre Parkhouse nailed right from the off.”
“A story that strong could have been daubed in crayon and it would still be effective,” observes DWM’s own Muppeteer, Roger Langridge. 
He’s right, whoever had drawn it, this would have been a great strip, but due to some bizarre happenstance it fell into the lap of the UK’s most innovative comic artist approaching the peak of his powers. And we were blessed with something unique in Doctor Who.

“Demon really opens up the Universe of comics Who,” says Dan McDaid, “Gibbons, Wagner and Mills pushed Tom Baker's Doctor to the edge of madness, but McMahon takes him right over that edge, into the an inky, super-charged space full of bristling moustaches, ramshackle battleships and junkheaps which walk like men. I love Gibbons to bits, but it's hard to beat the sudden shock of McMahon's potent linework: erratic, spontaneous, instinctive - instantly gripping.”

Ade Salmon adds, “I love how McMahon brings his 2000AD Dreddview to the Dr Who mythos!  Buyulla's inks also play a large part here , delicately spinning web lines between chunking great granite blocks of black. Mick would have inked the heavy blacks before connecting with the linework and Adolfo does a decent imitation here. I also like McMahon's storytelling, plenty of panels ( up to 12!) pushing the story forwards yet taking moments to concentrate on some nice design work.”

In case you haven’t got the message Mick is what they call ‘an artist’s artist’. Explaining why is not easy - talking about art is like dancing about architecture, to paraphrase Declan McManus. Shall we dance?

Some artists see their role as representing reality – a kind of consensus reality that says we can all agree the world looks like this so therefore the story is believable, nothing wrong with that. There’s been some great comic art done by people trying to achieve that kind of ‘consensus reality’, but I’ve always been enticed by comics that let me see the world through another set of eyes. And first glimpse of Mick’s world tells you this is something shockingly different. The world seen through his eyes is no less believable, but reintroduces you to reality as something shockingly new and awe inspiring. That’s not to say it’s fantasy, it is grittily real. In fact there are very few artists who give us a reality as solid as Mick McMahon, despite its amplified and abstracted forms.
The Jigsaw puzzle of blacks in his work are so well placed that, as Roger points out, “you could take away the thin lines, just leaving the solid blacks and it would still be coherent!”

These aren’t just wonderfully rendered objects though - what of the familiar characters now filtered through the McMahon mangler? 

“Likeness is important in a licensed comic,” Dan explains, “but in Junkyard Demon McMahon offers us something more - a bristling, lively caricature of the Fourth Doctor, a gangling mass of a man with iron-wool hair, who meditates among plush cushions and throws spanners around like there's no tomorrow. 
The Doctor, the Tardis, the Cyberman are all familiar and recognisable and yet utterly unique and completely McMahon's own.”

“Awkward, caricatured, outlandish, yet totally believable,” is how Martin Geraghty describes him. But is it Tom Baker? I don’t think it is. I was glad my first Doctor Who strips featured David Tennant because I felt he’d made himself into something of a cartoon (he had a silhouette, a quirky hairdo and converse pumps) and that made my job so much easier. The Tennant I drew was for the most part a cartoon. Mick’s Doctor is like that, he’s the Doctor that Tom Baker created not a drawing of Tom Baker in a costume. 

So what about the villain? “Mick's cyberman is bloody brilliant!” That’s what Ade thinks and anyone who wants to argue with that is liable to get a spanner lobbed at them.

Ade goes on, “His Cyber-Controller is dense with floral decoration, his intrusive Cyber-intruder grows and warps as his menace increases. Where Gibbons had brought solidity, integrity and grace to the world of Who, McMahon brings anarchy, energy, movement. And it's this spirit, this restless creativity, which I hope has found its way into my own work.”

Ah, yes the influence thing. As Roger observes, “McMahon’s influence in the UK is as great as that of Jack Kirby in the US.”  And his influence on Roger? “From him I get idea that your job as a cartoonist is to take this job and put your own stamp on it, make it as much your own as you can without actually breaking it.” For Paul Grist McMahon’s influence is in his relentless invention,
“one of the most impressive things is he doesn't stand still.  McMahon always seems to be trying something new something different, and then once he's got that, incorporates it into his style and moves on to try something else.” And like the rest of us Paul is “still looking at McMahon’s old Judge Dredds and trying to figure out how to get that kind of energy into my work.”

Sean and I have been best mates since childhood, we grew up slavishly copying Mick’s work. And even as grown up professional comic artists the problem for those of us heavily influenced by Mick’s work (and this includes some of the biggest names in British comics) is trying not to end up just aping his style(s). 
I asked Sean how Mick’s work had influenced him, “Looking at my drawing of a cloth faced Cyberman in the Fangs Of Time, I'd have to say almost completely! Oops!” Truth is, Sean, Ade and I have all fallen victim to the temptation to just ape McMahon’s style in the past, as Sean adds though, “the aspects of his work it'd be wiser to try and emulate would be his love of form and line, his prioritisation of clear storytelling over showing off, and of course his tireless creativity.” 
Mick brought all that to bear on Junkyard Demon and with Adolfo Buyulla’s faithful inks and Steve Parkhouse’s mad script we have a comic strip to just gawp at in wonder.

Link to typically modest Mick's blog featuring Junkyard Demon here.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

What to expect...

 This is the first of a couple of blogs I'll do about what you can expect from the second Volume of Don Quixote. First of all there's the cover (above) which is dark. Doug from SelfmadeHero hates this cover because he says it's hard to sell black or white covers. In future I'll try to make his job easier (see the cover to the US Complete Quixote at the bottom of this post)

Why did I do that cover? Well, I'm a storyteller not a designer or marketing man and so I can't help but think about covers as symbolising  something about the book itself. In this case the relationship between  Quixote and the world is summed up pretty well: he is connected to the real world, tenuously, by the rope and he is making a leap of faith into the unknown that is idiotic and courageous in equal measure. When I drew it it reminded me of those images of spacemen in orbit that always look like embryonic babies, all very 2001 (The Kubrick version not the 9/11 Kylie Minogue version). That babies/death/infinity thing is the way to sell a funny book I decided.

In Volume Two Quixote looks much the same. He had to. In comics we rely on a recognisable silhouette (or distinctive features or colouring) because like letter recognition to a child it is essential for reading. Comics are there to be read, comics where you spend ages working out what's going on in the lovely intricate pictures and wondering who is who are never a smooth read.

Here are those silhouettes at work, a couple of scribbles setting off on another adventure. Yes, once again this book is about those two idiots riding their useless mounts along dusty roads in the baking sun.

The difference here is that things are a bit darker. The book ends in death. He pops up throughout the book like signposts, or omens or whatever.

Darker book. Darker cover. And as with any book about death... hilarity ensues.

There are campfires in Volume Two. They were very popular in Volume One and setting aside their primal significance in the art of storytelling  they allow me to draw some shadows.
I like drawing shadows. But when I started drawing Quixote I knew I'd be colouring it as well, so made a decision to draw the lines and use two or three tone flat colour for the shadows. It's better for me to be able to draw for the colour rather than use the colour as some kind of fanciness that I frilly the picture up with after it's done.

Couple of splashes of sunlight on a swarthy face tells us so much. Alas there are moments in Volume Two where the colour goes a bit hallucinatory. The symbolism of having Quixote fight this chap (pictured below) is as mind-boggling as his suit of armour suggests.

But generally I still try to keep the colour simple, picking out the shapes the reader needs to identify at speed and bringing a temperature and hue that reflects the time of day or mood or whatever.

 So, plenty of fun and japes (and death) to come in Volume Two, plus Lions and Weddings and puppet shows, spanked arses, cat scratches and caves. Deep dark caves.

More on what to expect from Volume Two in the next blog post, but for now here's that dark cover to The Complete Don Quixote which will be released in the US next may through Abrams. Link to the SMH catalogue here:  http://issuu.com/selfmadehero/docs/smh_usa_springcatalogue_issuu

Monday, 11 June 2012

Old vector art

Had a clearout and found a disk containing my earliest experiments with vector art in Illustrator. These are from 1999-2001. Had no idea what I was doing, but some of these are fun images. Includes my first book cover job from 2001 doing covers for old ladies' romance novels.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Phoenix Comic with Amber Eyes.

When I dropped out of art college it was with a clear aim - I wanted to make comics for kids, comics as startlingly original and inspiring as the ones I grew up reading. Sadly that publishing world was dying by the time I got there, opportunities were thin on the ground and getting thinner. In the 20 odd years that have elapsed since then I've given up that dream as the world of comics has drifted away from what should be its prime readership with most of the opportunities to create comics for kids revolving around merchandise projects.

Things are changing though. Kids love comics, it's instinctive for them to read stories on paper where words and pictures live together. The flag ship for this resurgence in UK comics is The Phoenix comic. It isn't tied in to any TV, Movie, game or toy franchise, it doesn't come in a bag with a toy on the front and minimum reading content within, it is quite simply a collection of stories for kids to read. What a zany idea!

Anyway, I desperately wanted to do something for Ben Sharpe, the editor, and I was really pleased when I realised I could squeeze in this little four page one-off story written by Ben Haggarty.

Whether you're reading this as a creator, a reader or a parent I suggest we get behind this thing and see if we can't make the next generation of readers as inspired as I was by reading comics.

Subscribe to The Phoenix and find out more about it here.

Friday, 17 February 2012


This is the end result of my trip to Russia last October. I was invited by the Respect project to talk about comics, listen to, and take part in, discussions on human rights and the problems in Russia, then make a comic for Russian kids that might help. A big ask. But this is a scheme where these 'pocket comics' are given away in their thousands so that's a lot of lottery tickets.

Attitudes to gypsies in Russia are pretty horrible, and share some similarities with attitudes here. As part of the project I met with a local gypsy community leader, Yan, we got on remarkably well, and my lean grasp of Romany even meant we could exchange a few sentiments in the jib (language). This story is a mix of my experiences, stories I've picked up and observations of prejudice in Russia.

I'm not great at black and white politicking, my writing is usually a bit surreal, I think. For this I just wanted to do something simple that left all the thinking with the reader. If any Russian kid changes their mind after reading this it will be their thinking that has achieved that, no instruction from me.

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