Friday 22 August 2008

anne and I were debating once whether childrens' books on the subject of fear were unnecessarily amplifying the problem, creating fears where they may not have occurred naturally. I had just bought wee hayley campbell, age 3, a book titled Scroggy, the monster who was afraid of the dark. It was part of a series, each one a monster with a different fear. Scroggy (every time I bump into Dave Scroggy I can't help thinking of the monster. sorry, old pal) imagined he saw pink monsters lurking in the nighttime shadows. I thought there was an abstracting process at work, in which fear was removed from any real phenomena and could be isolated and discussed as a concept. One evening I was staring out of the window, frowning in the contemplation of some pressing problem, and the little one came up to me and took my hand and said 'There's no pink monsties, Dad.'

At the Page 45 event two weeks back Richard Chaney was showing me Emily Gravett's (no relation to Paul) Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears which he'd just bought for his son. I was so excited about it that he made me a gift of it and I was too absorbed in it to picture the poor wee lad whom I was dispossessing of a memorable and meaningful experience. Thanks, Richard, and I hope another copy comes to the little chap.

This really is a gorgeously illustrated book, full of tricks and devices and contraptions such as a fold-out map of the Isle of Fright. There are holes and chewed corners, and collages with actual stuck on bits. There is even some complicated word play, where phagophobia, the fear of swallowing is given as the fear of being eaten, and whereamiophobia is the fear of getting lost. Each page is titled with a phobia. This vortex of polaroids jointly illustrates both ablutophobia, the fear of bathing, and hydrophobia, the fear of water.

There is some great cartoon malarkey with feathers:

And the whole package ends with a page made to look like it has been torn out and is just hanging on, titled 'Bibliophobia (Fear of books)'
Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears won the Kate Greenaway Medal for 2008.

Alison Bechdel on that moment, when a friend feels obliged to let you know that your book has just been remaindered. "I got an email from someone today letting me know that Fun Home has been remaindered at Daedalus Books, for the bargain price of $5.98. She meant this kindly, so I could inform my readers..."

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Thursday 21 August 2008

i see my pal Sean McKinnon at Bent Books still hasn't put our last set of bookmarks online. From that set, here's my portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer.

I was pleased to meet Baba Brinkman, the Canadian writer/performer who does the rap version of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, at the Brisbane Writers Festival last year while we were both waiting to go onto different panels. He gave an unusual performance on the opening night where he had been requested to thank the festival's eighty sponsors in rap style. I was impressed by his ability to compose a piece of one-off throwaway oratory, though it is probably beyond comprehension outside of the situation for which it was writ. And the naming of sponsors is fraught with complication...


Product placement?

Judged on face value, Shane Meadows' new film is honest, earthy and affecting. Two lonesome teenagers - one British, one Polish - befriend each other on the streets of London. They hang out, get drunk and lope off in doe-eyed pursuit of a foxy French waitress. Half-an-hour in, the Polish dad has an announcement to make. "Today, I went on a fast train through the tunnel, under the sea," he says. "It only takes a couple of hours either way. Not bad, eh?"
Under normal circumstances this remark would sail by unnoticed, but these are not normal circumstances. When one realises that Meadows' movie is entirely funded by Eurostar, it's hard not to hear the line as a sales pitch - a word from our sponsor. The question is, does it undermine the integrity of the film as a whole?
I usually experience this problem from the other end, in those occasional comic book assignments i pick up where depiction of actual real world things, such as a label on a bottle, is forbidden as i found when I put a bottle of Gordon's gin in a scene in Batman and then had to obliterate the label. Most writers would like to be free to name products or commercial entities in dialogue just as people do in real life. I would like a character in my fiction to order a drink by name, just as I do. I have never ever asked for just 'a beer,' or god forbid, 'a whisky'...


For many years, there have been a number of unusual webcams to view over the Net - The “Jenny” cam, The “Watch Corn Grow” cam, The “Fridge” cam, The “Watch Paint Dry” cam and The “Ashtray” webcam. Millions of Internet visitors, over the years, have logged onto these highly popular and slightly whacky cams which have given much enjoyment to many online visitors.
Now starting in March 2008, Internet webcam users will be able to view live, one of the worlds most unusual and riveting ever webcams, The “Watch Whisky Mature” cam.
For the next ten years (3,653 days) sit back and watch this live streaming webcam overlooking a cask of X4 whisky, the world’s strongest whisky, maturing live in the Bonding store at the Bruichladdich Distillery.
(if you didn't ask for a Bruichladdich by name, you'd certainly never get it by accident.)

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Wednesday 20 August 2008

time to have a look at the books I brought home with me from my travels. The first event out of San Diego was that I had to take them all out of my case, as it was overweight, and make them my hand luggage. All twenty lbs of them.

First up, The Mammoth Book of best Crime Comics, edited by my dear old pal Paul Gravett, so you'll get no unprejudiced view from me. In fact I just found, and am stealing, this handsome photo of the wee chap.
Best Crime Comics: I don't enjoy having comics broken up into genres like this, though if I was in Paul's shoes I certainly wouldn't hesitate to get a gig contributing to the 'mammoth book series.' I would say that comic books as a subject in itself is the genre, and anything else is a subdivision of that. In the world of popular fiction it makes more sense to categrorise things by genre, where you have writers devoting entire careers to one idiom, whether it's fantasy or crime or science fiction etc. and you can trace clear lines through time. There isn't as much mixing it up in that domain as there is in our comic book world.

The most notable things: the book is in black and white and Paul had access to some crisp black and white British reprints of a lot of American stuff, for instance the 30 page cockeyed 87th Precinct story that Krigstein illustrated in 1962,

There's a 120 day run of Secret Agent X-9 from near the beginning in 1934 when Hammett was still writing it. One appeal of this selection is to show what action strip cartoons looked like before cinematic style was introduced. Everything is staged at medium distance. It's good tough stuff, though lacking the invention of Hammett's best short stories.

While the book overall is of the type that I usually feel tempted to cut up and rearrange according to my own principles, one other thing I found exciting. A sixteen week run of Mike Hammer Sunday pages from 1953/54. The page for Jan 31 has piqued my curiosity. In his introductory note Paul tells us that the bound and gagged girl in the negligee, being tortured with cigarettes to the feet, attracted moral indignation that led to the title's cancellation. The page he reproduces is different from the version of the same page that appeared in The Comic Century (KSP 1995). I show the upper halves of both (The lower parts are identical). In Paul's version, the black and white, the panel seen in the colour version has been replaced by an enlargement of the final panel of the previous week's instalment and the torture is hidden behind the title box. I would tend to think that an individual newspaper had taken the liberty of making the change except that panel 4 in the altered version (the b&W) doesn't appear at all in the other. Could the syndicate have asked the artist to supply two different versions of the page? Can anybody shed light on the matter?

Paul tells us that a diappointed artist, Ed Robbins, quit the comic strip business. His Hammer boldly anticipates the graphic style and permissiveness of the hard-edged British strips of the sixties, of Holdaway on Modesy Blaise and Horak on James Bond .

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Tuesday 19 August 2008

for the final volume of the Italian run of Bacchus I felt that the cover I used on my own edition lacked presence. We looked for a variant among the assorted covers that I used on my monthly comic book and thought this one from issue #36 might do the job. However, at that time, ten years ago, I wasn't keeping a good digital archive, and I'm missing a reusable file for it. So I took the photocpoy of the version of the image that was used for soliciting the issue in the distributors' catalogues and painted over it.

The best thing I saw at San Diego ths year was Dean Mullaney's advance copy of his huge book on Noel Sickles.
Lief Peng takes a look at it this week here and gives us more info on the great American illustrator here and I'm off to see if I can get a copy on Amazon.

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Monday 18 August 2008

a fellow in Spain posts a sketch I drew for him in Madrid in 2001. With a little darkening of it in photoshop you can see it more clearly. Some artists have a foolproof convention sketch they dash off all the time, and I admit I do too. Then occasionally we go out on a limb and try something risky, and sometimes it works, as it does here.


Sunday 17 August 2008

next I was on a plane to Manchester, England. This part of the trip melted without concern or thought from me. My dad picked me up at the airport and drove the two hours to Poulton le Fylde, a quiant little place in Lancashire. I had dinner and a good nights sleep back in the womb of my family, then Stephen Holland came and got me for the Page 45 event, two weeks ago on August 3rd, in Nottingham. This was the best organised book signing I have ever been involved in. Afterwards I did my set piece in the relaxed surroundings of the Canal House, a pub I'd drink in all the time if it lived near me. I appear to have been photographed from every possible angle there.

D'Israeli's blog, his flickr set, Glenn Carter's pictures, Natalie's Pictures
Thanks, Stephen, it was great to be with you again, and wee Paul Gravett too.

My set piece involves a complicated narrative explaining how an obscene expletive found its way, unbeknown to me, and flying under the watchful eye of both my editor and his proofreader, into a block of small print in The Fate of the Artist. I have the page open in the photo above and am just about to reveal it...