Tuesday, 26 November 2013

2014 First Graphic Novel Competition – Myriad Editions

Winner of the 2012 First Graphic Novel Competition

Myriad Editions has launched its 2014 First Graphic Novel Competition (FGNC) for unpublished graphic novelists resident in the UK. 

The FGNC looks for 15-30 pages of a graphic work-in-progress, fiction or non-fiction, and the winner has the opportunity for their book to be developed with and published by Myriad Editions. New for 2014, the winner will be invited to have a week’s working retreat at the studio of a writer’s house in France.

Information and guidelines for the competition is available on the Myriad Editions website. The winning entry will be chosen purely on the strength and promise of the art and writing by a panel of judges:
Andy Oliver, critic and blogger, Broken Frontier
Corinne Pearlman, Creative Director, Myriad Editions
Woodrow Phoenix, author of graphic essay Rumble Strip and co-editor of Nelson 
Meg Rosoff, author of How I Live Now, Picture Me Gone and other novels 
Nicola Streeten, author of graphic memoir Billy, Me & You 
Plus one other judge, to be confirmed

Corinne Pearlman says: the inaugural 2012 competition was so strong that Myriad is publishing both the winner and three shortlisted authors”.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Comics For Everyone - a Thought Bubble Festival panel hosted by Matt Badham

Matt Badham writes:
Thought Bubble is my favourite comics convention and so I'm very pleased to be hosting a panel there on Sunday 24th November at 10.40am. 
The panel is called 'Comics For Everyone' and I think it's going to be great. Here's its description from the Thought Bubble website:
We here at Thought Bubble believe that comics should be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their age, and that great kids' comics should be read by everyone! So if you're a young comic fan, or one who never grew up, and want to hear about some great stories to read, please come along and get the low-down from some of the best creators out there!
Well, I don't know about you but that's sounds to me like THE. BEST. PANEL. EVER! 
(I might be slightly biased…) 
Especially as those aforementioned creators are Neill Cameron, Meredith Gran, Nathan Fox, Roger Langridge and Maris Wicks. 
(Seriously, make sure you check out their work even if you don't make the panel. It's fab.) 
I hope to see you (yes, you!) on Sunday for what I think is going to be a fascinating panel, at which you'll get tons and tons of recommendations of groovy comics to read. (What could be better than that?) Please come along. It's gonna be a blast (as is the whole convention)! 
Matt blogs about comics and you can also follow him on Twitter.

The Thought Bubble Festival is "the UK’s largest event of its kind – an annual celebration of sequential art in all its forms, including everything from superhero comics to independent and small-press artists and writers". Find out more on the Thought Bubble website.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Comic Genius - a blog post by Dawn Finch

Click here to read a post by children's librarian and writer, Dawn Finch, on why comics are good for children. I couldn't put it better myself so I am not going to try!

Go to Dawn's website to find out more about her and her writing: www.deefinch.moonfruit.com

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Billy, Me and You - a graphic novel memoir by Nicola Streeten

Sometimes achingly sad, at other times funny and ultimately uplifting, Nicola Streeten's book tackles the complexities of grief: how we manage grief ourselves and how we deal with it in others. 

Billy, Me and You is an account of Nicola and her husband's lives immediately after the sudden death of their two-year-old son, Billy. Though the drawings are based on diaries written 13 years before they have a rawness and immediacy that is very affecting. The sparse design of the book sits lightly on the story but cleverly holds it all together. I find the juxtaposition of the tiny empty pushchair against the big black letters of the title on the front cover extremely moving. Pages seemingly ripped from a diary contain reflective drawings and text, apparently created in more recent times, that help us understand what has gone before.

The humour comes from Nicola's ability to stand back from situations and to see the absurdity in her own and other people's actions. Though she sometimes inwardly rages against the words or behaviour of others she recognises the difficulties that others face in reaching out to her and is always compassionate.

This is also a account of the strength of Nicola's relationship with her husband and the various ways they support each other through their shock and grief. There can be no happy ending to a story like this - nothing can take away their loss - but I was left feeling optimistic and uplifted by the unshakeable trust and bond that Nicola and her husband have with each other.

I can't finish this post without mentioning the afterword. It brings the story up to date and includes a funny account of how Nicola Streeten met Sarah Lightman and Laydeez do Comics came into being.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Comics are my Rock and Roll - a documentary by Daniel James Baldwin

Just a screen shot - click here to see the real thing.
At the time of writing this post the documentary is still under production. There is a Kickstarter campaign currently achieving £1,350 of the £3,000 required to finish the film. Daniel James Baldwin says:
There is one last push needed to finish the film, which will probably have a final run time of c. 30 mins. The money pledged to me will be used for the final processes the film needs to go through that will transform the look and feel of it, making it broadcast quality: Grading the colour (c. £1000) mixing the sound (c. £1000), creating a website for the film (c. £500) and finally, paying for the submission of the film to as many festivals as possible in a bid to try and get it shown alongside other great documentaries on cinema screens (no matter how small or parochial!) around the world. This costs around £20 per submission.
I haven't met anyone involved in the documentary and have not yet been to an Alternative Press event but I was taken by Daniel's statement below as I think it encapsulates a lot of what is going on in the world of comics:
[The documentary is] about something that's popular the world over (self-publishing) and not popular enough (doing things for love, not money).
Making money seems to be a by-product (if any money is made at all) rather than an incentive for comics creators. Perhaps many of them dream of making enough to live on as this would enable them to give up their day jobs and devote more time to their creations but lack of financial gain does not stop them putting together their stories. There is something wonderful about this.

Do help Daniel achieve his funding if you can. As little as £3 will get you a pdf of a comic telling the story of how the documentary was made, the treats for pledging more are even better - £30 gets you the opportunity to go to a private screening!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Bongcheon-Dong Ghost - a webcomic

Given the time of year it seems appropriate to draw your attention to a webcomic that will chill your spine.

Don't you love the set-up? All the best ghost stories require a health warning and are based on the truth. Brace yourself then click this link and enjoy.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Raising a Reader - CBLDF

In recent years I have had a number of conversations with other parents regarding whether or not children should be allowed to read comics. Some parents feel that comics are not "proper reading" and that they may damage the child's ability to learn to read. However, because of what I felt I had gained from reading comics as a child, I have always encouraged my daughter - now 10 years old - to read them as well as books.

An American organisation, CBLDF, has put together a free booklet "Raising a Reader" on this subject that you can read online or download. Here is their description of it:

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is proud to offer “Raising a Reader! How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love To Read!,” a resource for parents & educators about the learning benefits of comics! This new resource is written by Dr. Meryl Jaffe, with an introduction by three-time Newbery Award honoree Jennifer L. Holm (Babymouse, Squish) and art by Eisner Award winner Raina Telgemeier (Smile, Drama) and Eisner Award nominee Matthew Holm (Babymouse, Squish). Raising A Reader! was made possible by a grant from the Gaiman Foundation.

Whether or not you agree with the booklet it is an interesting read - it goes some way towards explaining how comics work and why they are such a powerful form of storytelling. In fact I would recommend this booklet for anyone - whether you are a parent or not.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Sequential art blogs, websites, webcomics and more...

I am writing this post to draw your attention to the links on the right hand side of my blog. I may not have been blogging much lately but I have been reading a lot of online stuff and have linked to the sequential art blogs, websites, groups and webcomics I have particularly liked. Enjoy! (And do come back to check for more - I regularly update my lists.)

Monday, 10 June 2013

Nina Burrowes - The Cartooning Psychologist

Since becoming a parent I have had a lot of contact with doctors, hospital consultants and psychologists. This is because of my daughter's various conditions and difficulties (nothing that is life threatening, just complicated). There are many appointments of course but there are also phone calls and exchanges of letters, reports and emails to discuss her progress. In order to make sure that she has the assessments and treatments she needs I have had to learn to communicate effectively with the people who are expert in her problems and to try not to be in awe of them.

Though she is not involved in my daughter's treatment, cartooning practitioners like Nina Burrowes help all patients and their families by providing a glimpse of the thoughts and feelings behind the professional exteriors, reminding us that they too are human. I've taken the title for this post from Nina's website - she is just that - a "cartooning psychologist".

Nina writes about learning to draw on her website and there are also three chapters of her work in progress On Being Me. She is currently developing a new project - a book based on her research report that "tells the story of a group of women who have experienced rape and sexual abuse". Nina is currently raising money via crowdfunding to finance the book which "will be a great resource to other survivors of abuse". To find out more about this book and to donate click here. Nina is also looking for six illustrators for the book click here for more information about this.

Nina is one of a growing number of doctors, psychologists and patients using comics and cartoons as a means of discussing healthcare and professional practice. More information is available on the Graphic Medicine website.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Comica conversation - Jaime Hernandez and Woodrow Phoenix

Ti-Girls: Espectra and Angel
Though I have been reading comics ever since I was big enough to pick one up (see my biography for proof of this) there are huge gaps in my knowledge. I had heard of Love & Rockets by the Hernandez brothers before and knew that it was held in high regard but never actually read any of it. Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez have been creating comics for 30 years so I've got a lot of catching up to do.

Last night Woodrow Phoenix did a wonderful job of interviewing Jaime Hernandez as part of the launch of BD & Comics Passion being held at Institut Français in London (30 May - 2 June 2013).

Woodrow Phoenix is a fan of Jaime's work and highly knowledgeable about it, his gentle questioning helped novices like me to understand the importance of Jaime Hernandez's comics and the ground-breaking characters he created. A bonus was that Woodrow and Jaime both came across as funny, charming and mutually respectful. It was one of the best interviews I have seen.

For this post I will concentrate on Jaime Hernandez's Ti-Girls stories. The Ti-Girls are a group of female super heroes that are not in the usual mould - many different body types and ages are joyfully represented here. Jaime draws women in a way that is rarely seen but I wish there were more of it, every bump and bulge is lovingly celebrated and the women are full of life and humour. Each character moves and stands in her own way, these are fully realised personalities that almost seem ready to step off the page. I like all the Ti-Girl characters but perhaps my current favourite is Xochitl/Espectra (see image above), I have been trying to work out what her super hero costume is made out of - it almost looks knitted but I think it might be Crimplene. It is this kind of attention to detail that makes Jaime's work so wonderful.

Not all of Jaime's stories are about superheroes but they all seem to be full of fantastic characters. I might have to build another bookshelf to accommodate all the books of his that I want to buy.

For more information about Jaime Hernandez and his books go to his publisher's website Fantagraphics.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Phoenix - a weekly comic for children

a display of issues of The Phoenix comic

I usually pick up copies of The Phoenix at Comica Comikets. During the recent Free Comic Book Day my 10 year old daughter won a five week subscription and we have just received the first of this in the lovely envelope you see on the left.

The stories in The Phoenix are wide ranging in style, complexity and tone. For example, in this weeks issue there is Gary's Garden by Gary Northfield (in which a caterpillar learns to be more tolerant of his brother), Corpse Talk by Adam Murphy (Archimedes is dug up from his grave to talk about his life) and the last episode of the brilliant adventure story The Pirates of Pangaea by Neill Cameron and Daniel Hartwell.

My daughter has learning difficulties, she can read text but struggles with meaning. She can't manage all of the stories in The Phoenix at the moment but seems to enjoy the simpler, less text heavy ones. Reading comics appears to be helping her communication, this morning she used speech balloons in a drawing to tell us how she was feeling. Perhaps reading comics helps to reinforce the highly visual style of communication and teaching at her special needs school, for instance her teachers use Makaton picture symbols along with text to reinforce meaning.

Over on the Phoenix website you can read a free sample issue online. It is a great comic for kids, one of the many things I like about it, besides the high standard of the stories, is that it has no advertising at all. 

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Free Comic Book Day - worldwide event

Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) is a worldwide event that happens on the first Saturday in May every year. The clue is in the name really, you turn up at a participating comic shop and you take away some free comics.

This year it was on May 4 and I took my 10 year old daughter for her first visit to Gosh! Comics in Soho, London. She has heard me speak of Gosh! before but it became clear that she had underestimated the wonderfulness of the place. "I love it here" she said at one point, looking like she wanted to move in - this from a child who generally dislikes shops of any kind.

She was given some comics in the bag you see in the photo and then became engrossed in creating her own comic (something about an evil snake, electricity and a girl) on the "Draw with the Artists" table leaving me free to browse the free comics laid out on benches - one of my best finds was a little comic book called Airship by David O'Connell and Sarah McIntyre. Along with the freebies I couldn't resist buying NoBrow 6 and my daughter bought a comic from the huge selection in the downstairs part of the shop.

I guess I am like most parents, I'd love to be able to share my interests with my daughter but don't want to push her too hard in any direction. I have to be particularly careful because she has learning difficulties and can easily become overwhelmed. The real delight for me during FCBD this year was not that we got free stuff, though that was great, but that for the first time my daughter showed a real interest in comics - both as creator and reader. I think the artists she drew with, the atmosphere of the day and of the shop all combined together to work a little bit of magic on her.

The delights of FCBD did not end on Saturday. I've just found out that my daughter has won a 5 week subscription to the wonderful Phoenix Comic - we are both very happy about this and I promise that I will wait my turn to read them.

Information about Free Comic Book Days can be found on www.freecomicbookday.com and you can find out more about Gosh! on their website www.goshlondon.com. Details about the Phoenix Comic are here www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Tiny Pencil - an anthology of pencil art edited by Amber Hsu and Katriona Chapman

Tiny Pencil held the launch of their first issue into the woods we go at Gosh! comics and it truly felt like those of us fortunate enough to be there were witnessing the beginning of something very special.

Tiny Pencil is an anthology of pencil art put together by founders and editors Amber Hsu and Katriona Chapman. Amber and Katriona are both talented artists, their work appears in the first issue along with a diverse selection of art from equally wonderful creators. From their submission guidelines: "We like work that is unusual, atmospheric, funny, weird, dark, evocative, fantastical, and we like work that tells a story. We are also big fans of comics and think they look really cool when they are done in pencil."

The anthology is beautifully designed and printed. The artwork is mainly greyscale with just a tiny hint of colour here and there. A true celebration of the possibilities of the pencil. In their own words "Celebrating all things graphite, Tiny Pencil is an anthology artzine and forum devoted to the lead arts." It is to be published twice a year and copies can be bought online.

Note for pencil artists: the launch of Tiny Pencil was sponsored by Derwent Pencils who had flyers about their fab new competition the Derwent Art Prize. The deadline is July 1 2013 and it is open to anyone over 18 anywhere in the world. Quick, grab your pencils and get scribbling!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Comica Comiket Spring 2013 - London

More books to add to my collection - thanks Comica Comiket!
Comica Comiket seems to get bigger and better each time I go. Today it was held in four large rooms at Central St Martins College of Art and Design and the whole place was absolutely buzzing with people. If you haven't been before it is definitely worth a visit, it is a wonderful opportunity to buy comics and books directly from the creators who, if you ask nicely, will sign their work and if they are not too busy are happy to chat about it as well.

Today the majority of exhibitors seemed to be creators but there was also a good turn out of specialist graphic novel publishers such as NoBrow, SelfMadeHero, Blank Slate, Avery Hill and Soaring Penguin Press. It was great to be able to chat to some of the editors and directors manning the tables and to experience their enthusiasm for the books they publish. You can see from my photo that I also stopped off at the table for The Phoenix Comic, I always try to buy their latest issue whenever I get the opportunity - it is packed full of great stuff and the family behind it have a real commitment to comics.

Comiket is part of the Comica Festival - there are other graphic novel and comic related events on their programme. Go to www.comicafestival.com for details.

Below is quite a comprehensive video of the day, I think they managed to film all the tables!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

London Book Fair 2013

London Book Fair (LBF) is an annual book-publishing trade fair held in Earls Court. There aren't many opportunities to buy books at this event - unless you want to order them by the box load - neither are there, as I had to explain to my daughter, any fairground rides.

My understanding is that the International Rights Centre is really the beating heart of LBF. It is on the second level, is restricted to "appointments only" and is where most of the deals are made. Apparently it is quite a sight - a huge room full of publishing people in meetings - but I have never been up there.

My reason for going to London Book Fair 2013 is what happens on the unrestricted (as long as you buy an entry ticket) ground floor level - according to the LBF website directory there were 1,864 companies exhibiting their wares this year. 

Of course you can go to bookshops or libraries to see books and this is the best way to look at them, but in these situations they are normally grouped by genre, age group or author. For me, seeing books grouped together by publisher in dedicated stands designed to tempt large scale buyers at London Book Fair, is fascinating - what books do they put up front, what looming author mug-shots are on their huge display boards and so on. 

This year I toured LBF with the intention of gauging, in a random and completely unscientific way, how much impact graphic novels and comic books are making in the world of mainstream UK book publishing. It has seemed to me that there is a growing interest and enthusiasm for sequential art in books in this country but I wondered if I had gained this impression via the heightened awareness that comes from having more contact with fellow enthusiasts rather than from any wider change.

A few years ago London Book Fair had a "focus" on graphic novels. This turned out to be a tiny café/seating/meeting area and a couple of exhibitors bundled together in a corner.

Superficially, from my observations as I poodled around the major stands, it did not seem to be much better this year. Though I know that many big publishing houses have a graphic novel or two on their lists this was not immediately obvious in their displays.

Digging a bit deeper into the aisles I found the stand for SelfMadeHero - an independent publishing house dedicated to graphic novels. Sam, who was manning the stand, has agreed to chat with me about their books at another time so I will write more about SelfMadeHero in a future post but I will mention here that he seemed optimistic about the market for graphic novels and certainly both the SelfMadeHero stand at London Book Fair and their range of books seems to be steadily growing - it was quite impressive to see their display.

I did not find any other UK based graphic novel publishers with their own stands however I did find a couple of stands where some graphic novel and comic book publishers were represented within a group. At the stand for Turnaround Publishing Services (an independent supplier to the book trade) I was told that they were entering more and more into the graphic novel and comic book market by forming connections with specialist publishing houses. This, I was told, was because of a growing demand for this kind of book. Turnaround Publishing Services had a number of publishers within its stand including Knockabout, Panini and Cinebook with many graphic novels and comic books on prominent display.

The second stand that caught my eye was the one for Bounce Marketing (a specialist sales and marketing agency for children's book publishers). Its display included a range of books by Graphic Novel Publishing House NoBrow's new imprint for children Flying Eye Books.

Based on my limited observations and conversations during my visit UK graphic novels and comics do seem to have a slightly increased presence at London Book Fair and there are signs of a growing interest in this kind of book. This makes me very happy.

I should say that I noticed a good number of graphic novels on the Bureau International de l'Edition Française (BIEF) stand at London Book Fair - the BIEF is responsible for the international promotion of French books - and there were graphic novels on other non-UK stands. Plus the market focus was on Turkey and there were many beautiful Turkish books on display.

If you are interested in graphic novels and comic books I recommend going to Comica Comiket. It is on this Saturday  (20th April) held at, for the first time, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. I am told that it will be bigger and better than ever!

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Britten & Brülightly - a graphic novel by Hannah Berry

It was interesting to see the impact on the crowd when Hannah Berry quietly walked into the room at a Laydeez do Comics event and took a seat at the back. A trail of whispers followed her - Hannah Berry, Hannah Berry - I wonder if she knew the effect she had on everyone? Clearly she is held in high regard by comic and graphic novel creators (Laydeez do Comics attracts many of these people) and rightly so.

Britten & Brülightly is a wonderful read: quirky, dark and mysterious. The point of view of the illustrations swoops around the action and pokes into shady corners like a film noir camera and this style suits the murder / blackmail / revenge plot perfectly. Having said that I can't remember any film in that genre with anyone quite like Brülightly - I think it is worth getting hold of a copy of this book just to find out about this unusual character.

I must admit that I got a little lost in the storyline of Britten & Brülightly occasionally but it didn't matter, the strength of the imagery and characterization pull you through.

For a small taste of Hannah Berry's work go to her blog to download the first part of her new graphic novel Adamtine for free.

Breaking news! Britten & Brülightly #2 is underway. Go to Hannah's blog to read the synopsis.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Psychiatric Tales - a graphic novel by Darryl Cunningham

This book made me cry and on the back is described as harrowing so perhaps it has the same effect on others. You know that thing where an unexpected kindness can hit you quite hard, that is how it got to me.

As you might guess from the title the book is about mental illness - both from the perspective of the author's experiences as a psychiatric nurse and then later his own struggles. It is written with deep compassion and humanity. Simply told, each sentence is carefully crafted with drawings that powerfully reinforce the text.

I guess that whether or how this book might affect you will depend on your life experiences.

In October last year one of my cousins committed suicide. We are a family that stays in contact - I regularly receive news from or about everyone through to second or third cousins and beyond.

However I did not know this cousin particularly well. He was very close to a couple of family members but was reserved with most of the rest of us and had lived overseas for many years.

At the time it was difficult to explain how deeply his suicide affected me and I ended up feeling that I did not have the right to be upset. But then I read this sentence in Psychiatric Tales "the effects of suicide ripple outwards" and it goes on to describe how it intimately affects others - friends, family and strangers. It felt like I had been given permission to feel bad and I think this is something I needed to do.

As you can see the chapter on suicide affected me the most but all of the chapters are powerful and moving. It is an honest and compassionate book, I think that many people would benefit from reading it. It is also a wonderful example of the art of the graphic novel, I think part of its power lies in its form.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Graphic Novels everything you need to know - a guide by Paul Gravett

The front cover image is from Caricature by Daniel Clowes

Paul Gravett is, along with Peter Stanbury and Megan Donnolley, part of "team Comica". Each year in November they organize a series of events in London featuring local and international comic and graphic novel creators (in 2012 they had Aline and Robert Crumb). Plus there is their wonderful Comiket - a great opportunity to buy books and meet the creators of comics and graphic novels. Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury are also co-founders of Escape Books

Paul Gravett is well placed to give an overview of graphic novels. He has written a number of books on this subject but Graphic Novels everything you need to know is probably a good place to start if you are new to this world. It is full of sample pages from a wide variety of creators along with Paul's informative descriptions and notes. It is a lovely book to leaf through and should give plenty of ideas about further reading.

You may like to visit Paul's blog, the Comica Festival website and to see the full list of Paul's books on this subject.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Most Beautiful Dog in the World - a webcomic by Scott McCloud

I have been dipping into Scott McCloud's website today. As you would expect (if you have read his books on making comics) it is packed full of information and creativity. It also includes some of his webcomics.

The Right Number is an "online graphic novella" that I found a little difficult to read because every panel zooms out from the centre of the previous panel in quite a dynamic and disconcerting way. Having said that it is definitely worth a look to see what he has done with the webcomic format. Zot, another of his webcomics, is a little more traditional – apparently dating back to Scott's early online webcomic experiments.

My favourite section of the website so far is Morning Improv. Scott says on his website: "From mid-2001 to mid-2002, and again from mid-2003 to mid-2004, I spent an hour or two each morning, seven days a week, making improvisational comics, nearly all based on reader suggestions. Each improv was drawn in a different style. Some were funny. Many were weird. Most seemed to end in death." There are 26 comics in Morning Improv. I haven't read them all but the one I have enjoyed most so far is The Most Beautiful Dog in the World.

The Most Beautiful Dog in the World is very simple in its storyline and execution. Scott has chosen to draw it in a black line style of illustration that harks back to 1950s, or perhaps earlier, America. I won't give away the story but for me one of the characters behaves as you would expect from the way he is drawn and the other transcends the character conventions of the era suggested by the style and the story set-up. I think that is what makes it so subtle, clever and funny. Plus it is a little bit silly and a little bit surreal - it made me laugh out loud.

If you visit Scott McCloud's website let me know if you discover any other webcomic gems.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Graphic Medicine - conferences and more

Once you start mooching around in the world of graphic novels and comics it is amazing what you find. I had no idea that many medics are using comics and graphic novels in their research, their academic papers and to explore their clinical practice. So much so that it has become a genre in itself.

At last Monday's meeting of Laydeez do Comics Dr Muna Al-Jawad gave a presentation about her PhD thesis. This quote is from a blog post about her on the Graphic Medicine website: "She sees comics as a qualitative research method, a way to explore difficult areas of practice". Muna gave a great talk, she is a natural presenter and what she had to say was fascinating. She has a comic alter ego that she uses to explore her clinical practice and how this impacts on her feelings. It was a rare insight into a world that is closed to most of us – unless we work in this environment ourselves of course.

From what I understand there is a lot of interest amongst medics and others in what they call "graphic medicine" – a wide ranging genre that encompasses the experiences, thoughts and emotions of patients and medical practitioners. They have a conference each year and in 2013 it will be in Brighton UK: Ethics Under Cover: Comics, Medicine and Society. Muna mentioned that there is a call for scholarly papers at the moment (deadline 22nd February 2013) visit their website to find out more.

I don't want to talk about my own work on this blog, I will be starting up a companion blog for that, but I feel that I should mention a graphic medicine project I had some involvement with. A few years ago the Royal College of Anaesthetists produced a series of booklets to explain anaesthesia to children. I illustrated and helped to edit the picture book style booklet for young children Rees Bear and scripted the comic for the booklet for school age children Davy the Detective. The doctors I worked with did a great deal of research as to the best way to communicate with children on this subject. It was interesting to find out that other medics have found comics to be an effective means of imparting information.

Laydeez do Comics – forums about Graphic Novels and Comics

The Laydeez behind this group are Sarah Lightman and Nicola Streeten. This is how they describe it: "a unique graphic novel forum with a focus on comic works based on life narrative, the drama of the domestic and the everyday". There are Laydeez forums that meet up in London, Chicago, San Francisco and Leeds - see their website for details http://laydeezdocomics.com

I've been hearing about their London meet-ups for quite a long time but my first experience of the group was last Monday. Visit the Laydeez website for more detail about what happened that night (I believe that there was a guest blogger recording it) and I am going to talk about the speakers - John Miers, David Jesus Vignolli and Dr Muna Al-Jawad - in future posts. But one thing I will mention here is that you don't have to be a lady to go, there were a lot of men at the meeting I went to. Although there is an emphasis, from what I understand, on autobiographical work, anyone with an interest in graphic novels and comics is made very welcome.

If you are thinking of going to one of the London meetings don't forget to book. They are free but fill up quickly, mine was a last minute decision to go and I was only able to do this because of a begging email and a cancellation.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Comics & Sequential Art – a guide by Will Eisner

Will Eisner is one of my favourite graphic novelists. He was born in 1917 and lived in New York until his death in 2005. He was amazingly profilic, you can read about his comics and books on his website www.willeisner.com and I will post about my favourite Will Eisner graphic novel A Family Matter another day.

Comics & Sequential Art is based on a course that Will Eisner taught at New York's School of Visual Art and is a wonderful guide for anyone who, like me, is interested in making comics. It is simple enough for anyone just starting out but I think it would also suit those who are more experienced. The book breaks down Will Eisner's highly individual approach to storytelling and page design, I am a huge fan of the way he would lay out a page of panels – genius! It is also a great opportunity to look at the range of his work and find out more about him as well.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Western Fairy Tales in Manga – a series of blog posts by Sally Poyton

Sally's manga version of herself.

One of the reasons I started this blog was in the hope that it would inspire others to send me information that I had not come across before. After I posted on this subject on Facebook, Sally Poyton left a comment about her love of shōjo manga and the influence on it of western fairytales.

It is probably fair to say that most of us have had some experience of manga – it has become hugely popular in the West in recent years and has a long history in Japan. I am more familiar with anime. When I was growing up in Australia children’s television was full of Japanese cartoons such as Astro Boy and the 2008 movie Ponyo was a recent reminder of the charm of this style of animation.

However, my experience of manga books is embarrassingly lacking. I have read the terrifying manga adaptation of Koji Suzuki's novel The Ring and a few other Japanese manga books but this is a poor effort when you consider the range and diversity of manga books available.

I’ll be looking for the shōjo manga titles Sally mentions on her blog and reading her posts on this subject in the future. I am also going to trawl my local library for books in other manga genres. Thanks, Sally, for the nudge in manga's direction.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Penguin Leunig – a book of cartoons by Michael Leunig

I bought this copy of The Penguin Leunig in London recently but it was published in Australia in 1974. The condition of the cover gives the impression that the book may have languished for many years in a shop or warehouse and when it first arrived the pages held tightly together as if they had never been parted to be read.

Michael Leunig is an Australian artist and cartoonist, his work is fairly well known there – while growing up in Australia I came across his drawings many times in the major Australian newspapers – but I am not sure that many people outside of Australia have heard of him. As stated on the cover there is an introduction by Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna) in which he says that he hopes the book will bring Leunig to the attention of a wide international audience. Did that happen? I don't know, perhaps someone reading this blog will be able to say. I certainly think Leunig's art deserves more attention.

Leunig's cartoons and sequences are always consistent in their style and immediately recognisable but his subject matter, themes and moods can vary quite dramatically as he illustrates the inner and outer worlds of his characters. I have never been sure what to make of the way he portrays relationships between men and women. Though his couples often connect on a physical level, emotionally they appear disconnected or worse – these cartoons can sometimes seem quite brutal. Then there are the Leunig cartoons that make gentle fun of Australian politics or the Australian way of life. I can't find it in the book or online but I remember a sequence he did of an Australian barbeque – a group of men gradually get drunk while their food burns (I am not doing it justice here, it is funnier than it sounds). But the Leunig sequences and cartoons that I have always loved best usually feature a lonely man, perhaps a duck, or maybe a teapot and maybe even Mr Curly. This strand of Leunig's art is restrained, sensitive and poignant. 
OK, it's not a sequence, but it is so loaded with emotion that it feels like one.

The drawings in The Penguin Leunig range along Leunig's spectrum. Somehow this strange mixture of earthiness, symbolism, humour, sensitivity, occasional violence and poignancy comes together in, what is to me, a particularly Australian way. Is that why he is not so well known elsewhere? I would love to have your comments on this.

If you do not have your own book of Leunig art you can see his work on his website or in a gallery on  The Age newspaper's website.

Leunig's artwork has been used in this blog post with kind permission from his assistant Nicola Germaine and is of course ©Michael Leunig.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Secrets Come Out – a graphic novel in the Aya series by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie. Translation by Helge Dascher.

The design of most of the pages in this book is based a grid of six similarly sized frames (three rows of two) with text contained in speech or thought balloons. Before coming across Aya’s stories I found this format difficult to read. I preferred graphic novels that broke away from this design simply because I found them less densely packed and easier to follow.

Then I discovered one of the Aya books in my local library and was immediately hooked into her world – the characterization and the storytelling is so warm, so strong and so funny it just pulls you along. Something clicked in my head and I’ve never had problems with the gridded format again. I tell you this because I have heard other people talk of the same kind of difficulty and I suggest that, if this applies to you, that you persevere as I did because it will open up a world of wonderful stories for you. I was so completely won over by the first Aya story I read that, when I found my library did not have any of the other books in the series in stock, I immediately bought The Secrets Come Out so as to have another of her stories to read. Besides, sometimes I just need to own lovely things, you know how it is.
Aya’s stories are a wonderful celebration of Ivorian culture. The writer, Marguerite Abouet, was born in Abidjan and moved from Ivory Coast to Paris when she was twelve. Aya’s stories are set in an Ivorian village. They feature many wonderful characters, all highly individual and with their own take on things. Life is not always easy for Aya and has many complications but you can see from the cover of The Secrets Come Out that she is full of spirit, humour and intelligence.
Clément Oubrerie’s pictures capture Marguerite Abouet’s words perfectly. It is a magical creative partnership. Wikipedia claims that they are married and I would like to think that this is true though I haven’t read it elsewhere. Certainly, judging by his drawings, Clément seems to have a great understanding and affection for Ivorian culture and its people. I recommend a visit to his blog to see more of Aya and his other artwork.