Catch up! Illustrating heroism for the London Museum

Continuing with my, long coming, round up of my illustrated shenanigans before the end of the year, I wanted to end with a little insight into what was arguably my favourite project of 2016.

Since joining forces with my wonderful agent towards the end of last year, I’ve been working on a number of projects within the field of publishing. Jodie (aka, SuperAgent) is a literary agent, so specialises in the field of kid book illustration, which is my unquestionable passion. So that works quite well. The only down side of the scenario, is that everything moves SO SLOWLY! I’m desperate to share all the odds and ends I’ve been up to, but have been totally sworn to secrecy by the lords of the Publishing World.

That was, until Summer this year, when Jodie was thrown a total curveball of a job. The London Museum had been donated a medal by the family of a wonderfully brave member of the bomb disposal unit in the early 1940s. The curators at the LM wanted to display it in a new part of their wartime exhibit in their Docklands site. Along with the medal, the family had letters, photos and journal entries from the man himself, Mr Richard Moore.

In an ongoing attempt to reach out to all ages, the Museum were after a comic illustrator to translate the transcript of the journal into a short, quickly absorbed, illustrated story. The journal was so rich with detail and powerfully human, they feared the full effect of Moore’s experience would be lost if it were to be displayed as text. We all know attention spans are short these days . Furthermore, they wanted it done and dusted within a couple of months! Finally a quickfire job!

Aware of my past flirtings with the comics scene, Jodie sent them my comic portfolio and BAM! Back into the comics fray I did go!

And WHAT a fab experience it was! It was unbelievably humbling to be trusted with a gig like this, not only because it was the first time my comic work has gone pro, but also for the richness of the subject matter!

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It’s always a challenge to take a long piece of writing and edit it down into manageable chunks, LET ALONE when you have to factor in imagery. But then to have the added pressure of capturing the bravery, fear and reality of a REAL man in such extreme situations is a whole other ball game. I’m always moved, grateful and, actually – a touch surprised, when anyone wants my illustrations to represent their work in some manner, but to be trusted with a part of a real person’s history is utterly humbling.

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In the research stages, I drew directly from photographs to get a loose idea of facial structure of the men. Then I could later work from these drawings, developing the faces in my drawing style.

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I started by tackling the words. I knew I wanted Moore himself to narrate and therefore the text in the comic should come directly from the journal. I took the bulk of the narrative and broke it into sections, removing any scenes that didn’t move the story along, while trying to keep in as much detail and life as I could from Moore’s entries. Small, human details were important to maintain the relationships of the disposal unit, but some experiences felt repetitive, especially regarding the number of bombs they units disarmed.

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This was a pretty nerve wracking task. I felt entirely impertinent, erasing anything at all, but the guys at the Museum were supportive and honest. They provided me with as much historical material as they could (they’re very clever, knowledgeable chaps you know)  and after a few meetings, we had the bulk of the narrative sorted.

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I’d wanted to book end the comic with one of Moore’s original letters to the wife of his friend and mentor. Not only does this frame the 6 page story nicely, adding come comfortable closure, but it really emphasises the relationship between the two men – a vital component of the journal.

Once this structure was developed, I started to work out how to split this narrative over the six page limit the Museum had stipulated. This is my favourite part of making comics, because I think the flow of a narrative is the most vital part of telling a story and holding an audience. I changed the structure for the final two pages to highlight the chaos of the events, where previously the artwork had fit within a fairly straightforward grid format.

This is also where I develop any motifs, graphical cues or repeated visual themes that might help in the telling of the story.

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The final artwork is beginning to develop based on my many, many drafts!
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Original sketches from the final spread. I like to draw all over everything then arrange the composition on screen in a digital collage.

 

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Draft of the first page.

Once I’d worked and reworked the storyboard into it’s finished – yet still loose and ugly -state, I could focus on characters, artwork and colours. I like to work with a limited palette, and allow the colours to communicate the mood, adjusting the dominant colour based on the events in the story.

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I drew pages and pages of faces to get the characters right. Taking breaks to draw rabbits. Obviously.

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Interestingly, while I’m an illustrator, the illustration component of a project like this is probably the fastest part. I think visual storytelling is so much more than the image itself.

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Draft prior to real characterisation…

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The final page.

The George Cross exhibition opened in September.

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The photo above my comic is the real Richard Moore receiving the medal. So there’s no leeway on my characterisation!
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The medal sits in a glass display unit in the wall.

There’s a lot of reasons why this project is close to my heart. It’s my first comic to have been written for use in a professional context, it was my first attempt at a biographical piece and it was written on a tight deadline.

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But more than all of these things, it marks a really interesting transition of the nature of learning material. We all have seen the rise in popularity in comics, with small press talent and events rising up to challenge the big guns of Marvel, DC and the like, but for a prolific, historical museum to turn to the graphic novel, really marks a widespread understanding of the communication potential of the format. And I’m proud to have been a teeny, tiny piece of this movement.

The Story of the George Cross is a permanent part of the Museum’s Docklands site. The press release for the opening is here.

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For more of an insight into my working process on the work, check out this wonderful review and interview about the work with the brilliant Broken Frontier comics community site.

And if you do HAPPEN to be in East London with a spare minute or two, do have a look. Richard Moore’s story is a magnificent example of true heroism in times of incomprehensible difficulty. Regardless of my involvement with the project, he deserves a slice of your time. His story puts an awful lot into perspective and I am humbled to have been privy to his words.

All images of The comic Dear Mrs Ryan belong to the Museum of London. All shots behind the scenes are property of Rebecca Bagley.
Photographs taken by Rebecca Bagley, Jodie Hodges and Andy Oliver. Cheers for everything guys.
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Catch up! Zines and things the Bristol way!

Continuing with my mass recap of the past few months, I needed to throw in a holla to the comics world! I’ve been doing lots of things recently, and early October not only kept me busy getting inspired, but also saw me taking a jaunt back into the comics world. I’d fallen out of conventioning and whatnot, concentrating mainly on the publishing shebang BUT when you hear about an indie zine fest pretty much on your doorstep…well I figured why not?

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The standard, late night of a hand made sesh.

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The BCZF was a ball. It was everything I’d enjoyed about conventions to begin with; passionate people from all walks of life getting together and sharing what they make. There were students, seasoned pros, newbies and hobbyists and everyone stopped to have a natter. I met ARMFULS of friendly folk and saw even more jaw dropping artistry.

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The venue was ace. It was an old fire station so I felt like I’d fallen out of Ghostbusters (the original. Let’s not talk about the new one.)

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My Table. It’s always so neat looking right at the start…

A bunch of my old mates from the early days of London zine-ing were kicking about to catch up with (special mentions have to go to the incredibly talented Rozi HathawayRozi Hathaway, Ed Chevertone and Aisling Marray; TEAM EXTOIRDINAIRE and, as ever, the wonderful Andy Oliver of Broken Frontier who has the nose of a frickin’ bloodhound when it comes to new, comic talent!) But I also had the joy of adding more shiny, new names to my ever evolving list of inspiring people I’ve been lucky enough to get to know.

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Huge thanks again to Lee, who not only makes awesome, authentically oldschool zines, but who put up with my mad natterings the whole day like a REAL sport (and they really were quite mad.)fest4

So yeah, my return to the convention scene was ace. My work has transformed a lot since the old days, but people were as welcoming of my new stuff as I could have hoped for.

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Last minute scoring, folding, packing and swearing aside, zine fairs will always hold a place in my heart and I would ALWAYS encourage curious artists to give them a whirl.

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Book Club Review – Footpath Flowers

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Author: JonArno Lawson

Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publisher: Walker Books

Those of you who have touched base on this blog before, may remember my comparatively recent, tentative steps into social media and the resulting fun I was having finding my feet on Twitter. Well this weeks review is a refreshing wildcard, courtesy of this digital exploration. Basically I won a thing! Horray!

Yep the Gods of the internet randomiser were kind to me, and have landed me (via the very good -incredibly generous- people at the review site; PictureBooksBlogger) today’s lovely little number from Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith; Footpath Flowers.

I was delighted to win, having spied the quirky, inked artwork somewhere on the web before and found then that I was immediately drawn to it’s comic-book esque format.

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A keen observer and participant of both the indie comic and picture book scenes myself, I’m always intrigued to see the style of comics that make it into the hands of the mainstream UK publishers. In recent years comics have well and truly risen from niche market or weekly funnies, right up to the ranks of ‘established art form’ and I’m delighted to see how often they’re now employed within the children’s market to tell all manner of stories; not simply those featuring pants and tights.

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Sidewalk Flowers is a perfect tale to utalise the format of sequential art. Wordless and serene, the book follows a simple journey of a girl and her father. Narration without the fall back of words is no mean feat, yet the simplicity of the tale allows the little nuances and characterisation of Smith’s artwork to really shine, bringing the subtle beauty of Lawson’s tale to life.

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During their stroll, as Dad goes about his business, we see our own Little Red Riding Hood gathering flowers and weeds from all the available avenues of the city setting, distributing them as she deems fit.

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It feels wonderfully reminiscent of my own, and – no doubt – many other, past and present, childhoods; gathering sticks on walks with the family and finding hidden games and treasures in between the act of walking. It captures that childlike focus on the minutia and their, often surprising attentiveness to their surroundings.

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The joy of this childhood freedom is highlighted by the father, who is unaware of his daughter’s growing treasure trove and little acts of kindness; he sees only the tasks at hand – caught up in the world of adult errands and the day to day.

 

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Smith’s art is beautiful. Full stop.

Told from the eye level of our keen-eyed protagonist, the story captures the land of a child’s city through cropped compositions. We don’t know what dad is up to particularly – that’s just boring adult stuff, the real joy is way below eye level.

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This monotone, city setting is a stunning visual juxtaposition to the wild garden Little Red builds as she unearths her surprising bouquet from all around her. The urban palette of black and white with the splash of vibrancy from our little gardener’s jacket begins to fill with the whole inky, spectrum as the bouquet grows and the innocent delight of childhood generosity is distributed around the city.

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The joy of giving breathes life into the monotone city.
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Lucky recipients of the wild flowers of Red’s gatherings. The joy of giving has spread into a full colour world by the time she returns to her own, warm garden.

Now I’ve said it before that I am in no way adverse to the use of digital means in creating children’s books; and art in general. However, I am more than happy to admit that there is something refreshing in Smith’s seemingly unedited art style. Ordinarily a fan of collage and texture, here is nothing but ink, and the scanned traces of the watercolour blotting paper beneath it. It has a traditional charm as a result and feels almost vintage; perhaps in part due to the subject matter causing me to reminisce so much about my own errand-adventures!

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The story is enclosed by a set of beautiful, garden end papers.

Either way, it’s a good reminder of the increasingly artistically-inclusive picture book market. Both traditional and contemporary approaches to art are finding their way into our children’s hands, offering more and more of a comprehensive understanding of imagery. For little eyes still making sense of things, this access to such a expansive and varied gallery within the bookshelf seems pretty exciting to me.

Print is dead? Give over.

But the joy of this book, certainly for me, isn’t as shallow as pretty pictures. As ever in picturebooks, the narrative within the image is the battery of it all and Sidewalk Flowers is a beautiful celebration of discovering just that: the narratives and hidden joys found within the little things.

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For little kids it’s a reaffirmation of the world’s hidden games, and for us, older kids, it’s a reminder to stay observant. Errands are boring. But they don’t have to be, I for one would like to spread a little bit of colour.

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Working for the MAG(azine)

Hello All!

Just an update on a few things I’ve been up to. Firstly, this week an editorial of mine has appeared in the very slick and informative Wisconsin based lifestyle magazine, Isthmus. I have never been to Wisconsin, but it sounds like a pretty fun place. There’s a whole lot of neat arty things going on (and some delicious food if Isthmus is anything to go by!) and I had the pleasure of doodling a little piece to go alongside an article about ‘Play Clubs’.

Never heard of them? Neither had I, go right on ahead and check the article out online (it’s looking real swanky in print too!)

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Play Clubs editorial for Isthmus Magazine

Secondly, and this time a little closer to home, another editorial of mine has been doing the rounds in issue two of Union magazine. For those of you who’ve not yet been introduced, Union is a very nice newcomer to the scene of men’s lifestyle mags. It’s a fascinating mix of journalism and sharp, classy photography and I HIGHLY recommend you find a copy. If nothing else for the production values, the use of spot-UV on the cover is just TASTY.

My piece for this one was a little more grown up and serious than my usual fare, but was certainly a ball to make, and a fascinating article to work to. Go right on ahead and check out this little gem, it’s produced by a team with a real passion to bring journalism back to the forefront of men’s mags, and it really does the job with class.

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Editorial re Russian Rambos in Union Magazine

And Finally, in the world of drawing things and pretending it’s a real job, I have some super great news!

Getting back to my comic book roots, I’ve been making a few shorties recently that have been featuring on my site. Things like this and this and this.

These little fables have not gone unnoticed by those clever and observant folk at Broken Frontier, who’s passion and commitment to finding and championing the best new talent contemporary comics have to offer, still continues to astound me.

In a new feature, begun 2015, the team have picked 6 promising small press comic makers to hone in on and expose for the talent they really are. Last years bastions boast an impressive list from the shores of the UK and I highly suggest you take a peek here.

However, while their work continues to grow from strength to strength, it comes to our attention that is, in fact, now 2016. The new batch have just been released and, guess who is apparently a talent to watch this year?

Well it’s only bloomin’ yours truly isn’t it!

Check out the full collection of marvelous storytellers (and me!) here and why BF claim we may well be worthy of keeping an eye on this year.

And before my ego grows too big to fathom, I would also just like to thank the Broken Frontier team for having such faith in the things I make. I will absolutely do my best not to let you down, so keep your eyes glued to the site for odds and sods and let’s have a productive 2016!

Over and OUT

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New Old Comic for your viewing pleasure!

Me again!

Settle down for story time kids- I have a tale to share!

About a year ago I was gearing up for a convention. I was working full time in the Publishers and literally spending all the hours in between trying to get a zine up and running so I could turn up with some new work. I planned and wrote a bunch of short stories and one off images, all inspired by the Autumn – my absolute favorite time of year.

Anyway, cut a long story short, the convention was cancelled a few weeks before and, as a result, without the push of a heavy deadline, life took over and I never finished the zine.

Sadly, the zine remains unfinished, however a number of the tales in it are still milling about, either in my sketchbook, desktop, or noodle. Unfinished, uncoloured and sad. Aw.

So, I dug one back out this week. I dug it out, I designed it properly and I bloomin’ finished it! (extract below!)

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It’s only short and it’s barely a story, but it’s oddly personal for me: a memory that seems relevant for every autumn I can remember from my tiddly years. The desire to be spoiled with treats on day outs in the cold air with my parents. I was, clearly, a grumpy, greedy – and potentially not that smart – kid and I remember strangely vividly the frustration of being hoisted by my own petard; when saccharine stickiness from autumn delights  stained my fingers and prevented my ice cold fingers from sinking comfortably back into the warmth of my mittens. The excitement of catching sight of that toffee apple and absolute, incomprehensible adoration for my parents when they caved (as I knew they would) and presented it to me. The irritation at their manhandling me with those old, dry tissues; dug out from the bottom of every mum’s pockets, and ultimately, the relief when my freezing cold, begrudgingly cleaned hands returned into my gloves and my foul mood, outwardly projected onto my parents, would quickly subside as warming circulation returned and I settled into the sweet tang of satisfaction.

God, being a kid is really a roller coaster of emotion isn’t it?

That said, the lesson here is that I really bloody love toffee apples. And I recall so happily that sweet tingle on the sides of my lips that I do equate so solidly with times spent with my parents. Luckily, the tenancy for childish projection of my discomfort as frustration towards them, was (I think) shed with age; but that feeling of gratitude and adoration from their original generosity…that seems a little more resilient.

I sit here in the darkened grey of a British afternoon in late September, watching the drizzle set in, as it will fairly solidly, for the next few months and I know the summer is done. And the knowledge that those short, autumn afternoons that bite at your face are sitting pretty just around the corner…well, I may not see my parents much these days, but I can’t help but sink into memories of gratitude; of that sweet tingle on the side of my lips and, ultimately, that same adoration. I smile now, just thinking it.

So, in conclusion to the longest sales pitch in history, check out the brand-spakin’-new addition of a long-overdue-old-comic on the portfolio now and then book an appointment with your dentist. After this much sweet, we’re all going to need it.

Happy Autumn!

Brand Spankin’ New Comic, Unterwegs!

That means ‘on the way’ to us, not German folks.

Which is funny, as that was the name of my last short comic.

Anyhoo, I’ve been doing lots and lots of illustration things recently and a lot less comic things. And it has not gone unnoticed by the lovely, interesting people of the indie comic scene.

So, at the behest of these great people, I am now returning to the realms of comics and thing making a short NEARLY WORDLESS (oh yus) six page comic for your visual consumption.

I don’t want to say too much (I mean, it’s only 6 pages. If I sneeze I’ll have pretty much have given it away) but I thought I’d upload a few odds and ends from the story in progress to whet those appetites.

Enjoy, not long to wait. Plan is to unveil around September time.

Sit tight.

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