Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Double acts and Greek myths

This post is partly about how Useleus, the strip Wilbur Dawbarn and I created for the Phoenix came about and what led to making the central decisions that shaped its dynamic. We'd talked about making a strip together to pitch to the Phoenix, but it wasn't a serious thought until a lot of bits and pieces fell into place around an idea I had scrawled into a sketchbook. The idea began as little more than a name: 'Useleus'.

One of the things I wanted to do was to build a strip around a double act relationship. This was a reaction against Nuke Noodle, my strip for The Dandy, which was a one-man show. With a double act you can get humour in every page if you set up the right dynamic. You don't need an antagonist or people falling over to create humour, you can find it in every exchange. And of course, when you throw an antagonist in there, you've got two characters to react against. Here's a sequence from one of the Useleus strips. I've selected it not only because it highlights what I'm talking about, but because of the beautiful first panel-Wilbur's got a knack for melding goofy characters and evocative locations wonderfully.
The Minotaur is such a wonderful creation-an iconic creature, I had to nab him for this strip. The only problem with the Minotaur is that he's a berserk killer monster who lives in a labyrinth-not much to work with. Here's how it went... I had Useleus' name and so his character had to follow from that- although I didn't have his age-and what I felt was needed as a foil was a sensible stick-in-the-mud type. Whilst researching Greek myths I stumbled upon the story of Chiron, a centaur who was Achilles' teacher and then everything fell into place. I made Useleus into Achilles' younger brother, a constant disappointment to his father but from a line of heroes and thus having hero pretentions of his own, and I made the Minotaur into his teacher. Reversing the character of the Minotaur leant him more humour, and gave him a mysterious backstory that I could play with. 

Incidentally, it wasn't until I'd seen how Wilbur worked with the characters in the first one or two episodes that I felt I saw the characters completely clearly, and could nail them in subsequent scripts. That's what happens with comic strips, they develop and mature and characters evolve. 

In Useleus I found I could have a grand scheme-what becomes of Useleus and how does the Minotaur get his fearsome reputation? To hint at that, I decided to make the introductory narration come from a much older Minotaur, retelling the tales to add to the strip the feel of a legend.

And lastly we went from the Minotaur to plain 'Minotaur'. In the mythology his name is Asterion, but Wilbur felt it sounded too much like Asterix, so we went with just Minotaur-which rather nicely simplified things as it happens.

Speaking of Asterix, here's my top 5 comic double acts. Feel free to write 'What about Calvin and Hobbes!' in the comments section. 

1. Asterix and Obelix.

Can't beat 'em; the perfect combination, physically, intellectually, everythingly. The genius of Asterix is manyfold but one of the greatest things about it is how authentic the relationship feels. Witness the way they get screaming angry at each other, sulk and then embrace in tears. In Asterix and the Banquet, only the fifth book in the series, Obelix can confidentally say:

And we believe him 100%.

2. Loady McGee and Sinus O'Gynus (adults only, kids-don't think of googling them)

The world's most disgusting loser and his nerd pal. Loady frequently betrays and often kills Sinus in the most horrible way possible. Johnny Ryan's creations are mesmerisingly hideous, but somehow also feel like a saturday morning cartoon. 

3. Thompson and Thomson.

Another genius creation and totally breaks the mould of double acts by having two identikit characters. Would it have worked if Hergé had had only one Thompson? Nah. One person falling down the stairs is not that funny, but when two people who look exactly the same do it either in unison or one after the other, it's always funny. 

4. Twain & Einstein

Micheal Kupperman's bizarre pulp story-style teaming of these two because they look vaguely alike is one of the funniest things on earth. 

5. Zubrick and Pogeybait (also adults only)

A personal favourite of mine. Check out early issues of Daniel Clowes' Eightball for these two ugly, moronic losers. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Poetry Corner

I wrote a silly children's poem a few years ago called 'Iʼve got an egg-shaped planet in my Grandadʼs hat.' It's a bit rough around the edges, but I present it to you now for your edification. 

Outside the school stood a Ron and a Ruth,
As an Eric revealed a terrible truth,
“I havenʼt created my project for Science!”
“I suppose I could bring a kitchen appliance.”

Ruth, who was clever and good and annoying,
Claimed, (in a way that was soul destroying),
“I have built a volcano from tissues and glue!”
“It rumbles and bubbles and spews out shampoo!”

“Itʼs so realistic, youʼll scamper away,”
“Your pants will fall down, youʼll move to Bombay!”
“Big deal,” said Ron, “I can beat that.”
“Iʼve got an egg-shaped planet in my Grandadʼs hat.”

“Itʼs got sixteen moons of different sizes.”
“It will definitely win all of the prizes.”
“When I show my project to Mr. McThing,”
“Heʼll bow down on his knees and proclaim me the King.”

“On my planet are mountains and rivers,”
“As a classroom project, it really delivers.”
“The mountains are orange and purple and green,”
“One of themʼs hairy and itʼs name is Francine.”

“The rivers have faces and hands and moustaches,”
“The clouds are so clever they have to wear glasses.”
“There are many species of animals there,”
“Thereʼs a kind of giraffe with the head of a bear.”

“There are monsters with teeth coming out of their heads,”
“And a big fat bird with upside-down legs.”
“There are people too, but theyʼre not like us,”
“Their houses can walk and they sleep on the bus.”

“Their faces are bigger than the rest of their body,”
“In the winter they hum a relaxing melody.”
“The tune makes the trees, which are yellows and reds,”
“Chop themselves down and convert into beds.”

“The rainbows are lazy and lie on the ground,”
“They snore with a high-pitched, wobbly sound.”
“I once saw a lion with six legs and no face,”
“Get caught by a hamster after a chase.”

“The hamsters are vicious on this particular land,”
“Theyʼre massive and smelly and ought to be banned.”
“Down at the bottom of one special valley,”
“Lives the King who will form my great big finale.”

“This boss of the people, whoʼs name is Dunbar,”
“Rides around with a swan on top of a car.”
“The swan (who goes by the name of Dagnabbit),”
“Thinks like a swan, but looks like a rabbit!”

“All this I have spied through my big telescope,”
“I look in the thick end and out through some soap.”
Ruth looked at Eric, Eric at Ruth,
They didnʼt believe that this was the truth.

Ron noted their unenthusiastic reaction,
And came up with a plan of positive action.
“Iʼll bring it tomorrow and then you will see.”
“If Iʼm lying use me as a comfy settee.”

“But if in fact Iʼm telling the truth,”
“Then Iʼll sit on you, Eric, and then on you, Ruth.”
The three friends agreed that this was quite fair,
And they all hoped they wouldnʼt have to act like a chair.

The very next morning, inside the school gates,
Three children arrived who were very good mates.
One with a volcano, one with a freezer,
And one with no nothing, an unhappy geezer.

Once in the classroom, Mr. McWhoʼs-He,
Said, “Out with your projects. I must have a look-see.”
“Ron,” Said the teacher, with tears in his eyes,
“You have no creation? Iʼm very surprised.”

“I did make a planet, with rivers and moons,”
“With dancing leopards and purple baboons.”
“I kept it inside my Grandfatherʼs hat,”
“I thought it was safe to leave it like that.”

“The problem you see, is a hound I call Janet,”
“Mister, that dog has eaten my planet!”
“Detention, detention!” Cried the teacher quite loud,
“I wonʼt hear this nonsense in front of a crowd.”

At lunchtime, relaxing, were Eric and Ruth,
And under them lay a miserable youth.
“I really did make that wonderful land,”
“It was egg-shaped and could fit in the palm of my hand.”

“There were forests that flew, with trees like kebabs,”
“Marble-cake lobsters and battenburg crabs.”
“But Janet ensured that the planet is over,”
“And now Iʼm condemned to act as your sofa.”

“Quiet down you! Sofas canʼt talk.”
“Weʼve had enough of your whinging, weʼll go for a walk.”
And as Ruth and Eric strolled off and left Ron,
Ruth noticed a tiny white dot by the pond.

“Wait, whatʼs that thing? Oh drat, now itʼs gone,”
“It looked like a rabbit that thinks like a swan.”

Illustration by Evgenia Barinova

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Black Ideas

I was sitting in a pub one day and got talking to a French chap about comics and how much they mean to me. The subject of Asterix came up and he hit me with an opinion that totally floored me: Uderzo was a hack who copied his style! Apparently there was another Belgian artist, André Franquin, who was the originator of that style. He wasn't someone I'd ever heard of so I did some research and found that the truth was a little different to that accusation, but I'm thankful anyway to that guy for turning me onto this amazing artist. Franquin, of whom Hergé said, 'Compared to him, I'm a poor draftsman' was an incredibly influential artist and creator of two of the most recognised characters in French comics: Marsupilami, a Marsupial/monkey thing and Gaston Lagaffe, the scruffy inventor kid.

As Franquin's style developed, more and more movement lines appeared and he imbued each frame with an incredible kind of fluidity that you can see above. One of Franquin's contemporaries was Morris (Maurice de Bevere, creator of Lucky Luke), and both were tutored by Jijé (Joseph Gillian). Along with another artist known as Will (Willy Maltaite), these four went on to dominate French comics. They are known as 'The Gang of Four' and the style they developed is called the Marcinelle School. Among these four, Franquin was most influential, which led to a large number of artists heavily influenced by his style. Of the second generation of the Marcinelle School were Peyo (Pierre Culliford, creator of the Smurfs) and a certain artist called Albert Uderzo. 

How is it possible that ALL these geniuses were Belgian? It's quite amazing. 

Franquin suffered from depression and in 1977 his work shifted towards a much bleaker series which he called 'Idees Noires'. Although still clearly humourous, these short black and white strips came from a darker place. They feature encounters with death and nightmarish creatures, the horrors of modern society; rampant capitalism and militarism for example, and the end of humanity. I find these cartoons fascinating. They are of course beautifully drawn, and unfortunately a lot of them are not particularly funny, but the place they come from is so stark and so singular a vision; it's quite unique and yet firmly in the tradition of humour strips in french comics. It's also worth noting that this stuff appeared in a kids comics! 

I've translated three strips as best I can. The first is a simple joke about suicide, highlighting Franquin's incredible draftsmanship. The second is a comment on the consequences of being one of those doing the policing in society. The third is a sci-fi story, about a criminal and his punishment. (sorry about the blurred final panel). Hope you like them as much as me. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Asterix and the misfiring book

There's a huge issue taking up most of the airtime, column inches and bandwidth of every media outlet in the world right now, as I'm sure you know. The issue is this: Why is the new Asterix book not that good? Well I've decided to add my own 'thoughts' to the mix, although they can only loosely be categorised as that.

The book certainly feels authentic, as the new writer has chosen as his topic a new tribe, ripe with silly customs to lampoon and silly names to play with. Yet unlike the Spanish, who Goscinny brilliantly wrote as a group of haughty, arrogant matadors, the Picts don't have much discernible personality at all. Instead, John-Yves Ferri dwells on tartan and body paint with endless jokes about different colours. It sort of works, but not very well, but what really doesn't is lead Pict Macaroon's tendency to speak every now and again in Scottish verse, written in a celtic font. I've no idea what this device adds to the story. It certainly isn't funny. Maybe it is in French.

The first half of the book I quite enjoyed, and it sets up the story rather well. There's some good jokes about 'pictograms', tossing the caber, freezing people in ice and the usual array of amusing names (my favourite being the Pictish druid Macrobiotix). There's the women of the Gaulish village fawning over the frozen Pict, the Roman census guy (Although why the village which isn't part of the Roman Empire would let him count them I don't know) and there's Nessie, but none of these elements really come together later to create a good second half.

The big fight at the end with the Picts and Romans falls rather flat, and is just not as good as the earlier fight with the pirates. The census guy doesn't really get a big finish and as for Nessie...she's just not utilised as well as she could be. There was a bad decision made along the way in Asterix and the Picts and that was to leave Dogmatix at home. Imagine Dogmatix and Nessie getting on each other's nerves or fancying each other. Massive comedic potential missed and for no reason at all! It's just another weird thing about this book. 
There's also a bit where Asterix and Obelix shout at each other and then it's immediately forgotten. Why? Is it just a tip of the hat to those sequences in other books? The thing is, Goscinny used those moments to move the story along and deepen Obelix and Asterix's relationship. Even more baffling is this frame below where the drunken roman suddenly calls Maccabaeus the Pict chief by another name. Does he drunkenly mistake him for someone else? Is it a joke? Why does he say 'our priest'? Did they just want to slip in a joke that plays on the name McVicar? This frame is going to keep me awake at nights.

But the artwork, by Belanos! It is pitch perfect. Dider Conrad has done quite a remarkable impression of Uderzo. There are images that are perhaps slightly cuter or more Disneyfied, but overall it's a hell of an achievement.

So, in summary, this book doesn't really add anything of significance to the Asterix canon. It's a good attempt and I'm looking forward to Ferri upping his game for the next one. Perhaps it's a question of momentum-the more your write the better you become at it. Of course the elephant in the room with Asterix will always be René Goscinny. The guy was a genius and I doubt anyone can do Asterix better than he. Uderzo certainly couldn't-but at least with his solo books he was pushing Asterix in new directions. This feels like familar territory that Goscinny had already mined for every juicy laugh he could.

Friday, October 18, 2013

More Burp

Since I last posted episodes of Burp from the pages of Oink, I've had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy Banks, the creative mastermind behind the strip and what a nice chap he is. He told me a little about working for Oink, his creative process and an interesting thing about round furry things.. I'm thinking of sending him a few questions about the strip, so look out for that (if he says yes, of course).

Here we see the strip's themes continuing to mature: First up we have Burp posing as President Reagan's brain repairman. 'Is the brain there please?' asks Burp,  'I can neither deny nor confirm the brain's presence' says the brain's spokesman. Next we have a dark, dark tale: the first appearance of Keith the animate teddy bear. This one has to be read to be believed. Also Burp in colour and Burp with some food spilled on the page (sorry about that, although it's somehow appropriate).

And as an extra treat, the Burp episodes from the first Oink annual and summer special. You'll notice that the contrast in the sophistication of the stories with the teddy bear episode etc and these stories is quite stark.

In my next post Burp moves to two pages, and by gosh it gets good. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Change of pace

Here's a panel from a secret project hopefully coming soon.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The longest running character no-one's heard of.

Ask someone which Beano characters they know and I reckon they'll say Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids. Ask for a few more and you'll probably get Billy Whizz, and Roger the Dodger. All these strips have been appearing continuously since at least the 60's. There's one other character who has appeared continuously since 1975, can you name him?

Yeah, 'course you can. It's Ball Boy. Created by Billy Whizz artist Malcolm Judge, he's been drawn and written by a handful of people over the last (almost) 40 years. Yikes. He's actually 20 days older than me, and I try not to dwell on my impending 40th birthday. The thing that always struck me about Ball Boy from the time I was young was that despite reading countless strips, I had no real idea about Ball Boy's character other than that he's obsessed with footie. Is he good at football, or is he bad at football? Is he selfish and scheming, or is he gregarious and helpful? Is he naughty or a do-gooder? Clearly something has been lost since he was created. Even his curious haircut has morphed into something a bit more acceptable.

John Dallas' Ball Boy. 

Dave Eastbury's version.

I first started thinking of a different version of Ball Boy a year or so ago, and produced a sketch in a sort of Leo Baxendale/Tom Paterson style. I was just practicing my Beano artist styles at the time (which is helpful in getting work) so I hadn't fleshed out any idea for a new direction for the strip, but I sent it to the editor anyway. Well, it transpired that a new approach for the character must have been in mind for the revamped 75th anniversary Beano, because not so long ago the editor asked me to have a crack at him.
You can see how my sketch was very close to Dave Eastbury's version.

So, when I was given the go-ahead there were a few things that needed working on. The look of the character was one, but more important was to give him a personality. I also decided to expand the cast of characters. One of the problems with writing my last Beano strip 'Big Time Charlie' was that he was just sort of talking to himself; He has no foil to inspire jokes. I decided to make Ball Boy an arrogant idiot, a parody of the perception of footballers, who are in actual fact well read, intellectual characters with the souls of poets and vocabularies to match. Ball Boy now believes himself to be as important as a premiership footballer, often confusing reality with this fantasy. To help him along his best friend Benji has been transformed into his put-upon agent, there's a kid reporter out to get a soundbite called Jeff, there's two sofa-bound pundits called Alan and Alan, there's his Dad, and soon you will see the first appearance of Ball Boy's brand-new arch nemesis. Stay tuned for that one. 

So to his appearance. I decided very early on to junk a retro-style design for two reasons. First, I thought that would be a bit incongruous with my new approach-he needed to have more of a modern footballer's look. Hence the earring, the pink boots, the ludicrous mullet. (Mullets are always worn by archly ironic berks or fashion-incompetent eastern europeans so they are always amusing). Second, if you draw in a style that's more natural, rather than ghosting a style, the drawing can be more fluid because you're creating the model as you go along. In other words, it's quicker. 

A couple of early sketches: 

In the first one you can see he looks way too old. I though the character would work more logically as an arrogant teenager, but it becomes more surreal (and therefore funnier) when he's of the traditional indeterminate Beano age. 

I decided that these ones were a little too knowing and mischievous. What I needed was to make him more absurd and daft and to that end I gave him less of a square jaw and a much longer nose. That way he also gets a good silhouette, markedly different from the other regular Beano characters. This is the final design: 

So there you have it. So far the strip seems to be popular, and I think that's because my love of football and the absurdities that go along with it come through. The new look is perhaps not so popular with people because they like the Beano characters to remain as they are, but as Ball Boy was never a much-loved character I think I was right to take such liberties with him. 

Oh, and just so you know, he's GOOD at football. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

VAT on tat

When I go to a big newsagent or to my local supermarket I exhibit symptoms of a strange disease common to cartoonists, where we search for the magazines that feature our work even though we have no intention of buying them. As usual, I was greeted with a catastrophe. Can you spot the Beano in this display?

It is there, I assure you. Look for the screaming man. 

See it now? This is the 75th anniversary issue of the Beano by the way, and this was actually a good day, but what's to blame for this mess? It's fairly obvious: bags stuffed with plastic toys and thin, flimsy magazines which lack the required tensile strength to prevent flopping about and tumbling onto lower shelves. (And the busy hands and devil-may-care attitude of kiddies). 

Now, if you are not a regular peruser of kids comics like me, you'd probably think that comics for kids are in rude health, but the reality is as different as this shelf is to a helicopter gunship. There are strictly only two comics in this display: The Beano, (incidentally the cheapest publication here at £2.50, 50p higher than it's regular price) and The Simpsons (£2.99 and I have no idea if it features new stories by British artists-I am guessing not). Many of the others feature a page or even three of comics, but most are wall-to-wall features, puzzles, screen shots of TV animations and the like. All good stuff I'm sure, which people work hard on to produce, but how much enjoyment do children actually get from these things? Some of these mags are literally five minutes of entertainment and at £3.99 in some cases that represents enormously bad value. There's a reason these magazines do not print many comics and that is that comics are more expensive to produce. These magazines are purely about profit making, but the profit making is based on attacking buyers by having the jazziest cover and the snazziest free gift. Is it any wonder that these magazines are bagged so that kids and parents cannot examine the contents? 

Now, I am not being an idealist here, companies should be attempting to make the biggest profit possible, but to do so they should be competing on CONTENT, not free gifts and that's why I think there needs to be a change, and wouldn't you know, I think that I may have the answer.

The VAT rules state: 

6.7 Promotional items in magazines
If you link a cover-mounted item such as a sachet of perfume or a CD to a magazine, you can treat it as zero-rated if the following conditions are met:
 • you do not make a separate charge for it, and
 • issues with cover mounted items are sold at the same price as those that do not, and
 • the cost to you of the cover mounted item or items included in any individual issue does not exceed:
- 20% of the total cost to you of the combined supply (excluding VAT), and
- £1 (excluding VAT).

So the plastic toys attached to the magazine which are generally made in the far east, must cost less than £1 to avoid VAT (I suspect that they cost significantly less than that), and they also keep the cover price artificially high: issues without toys must be priced the same as those with. If VAT were charged, this would add a certain amount to the costs of the cover mounted toys. Whether magazines would raise cover prices or look to absorb the costs or simply stop cover mounting is a question I can't answer. It would vary according to the business plans of individual magazines I'd imagine. A 20% charge on the plastic toys is not going to raise costs significantly however; we are talking a maximum of 20 pence, so perhaps we should think a little more deeply about what these magazines really are.

If you've ever seen children looking through the shelves, you will notice that they make immediate visual appraisal at the point of sale. They generally don’t stop to consider the content, and bagging means that often children can’t flick through the mag anyway. Here's an anecdotal case that demonstrates just that:

My girlfriend's 7 year-old niece came to visit us recently and I decided to test out some of my thoughts about these publications. A note of caution: She is quite a reader, so perhaps that skews this experiment somewhat. First of all I gave her the Beano, which she'd never read before and she sat down and read the whole thing, picking out some of her favourite bits. She asked for more comics, so I gave her the 32 page Nuke Noodle comic, free with Dennis and Gnasher magazine this month (plug, plug).

She absorbed most of that, so I gave her Gary Northfield's collection of Derek the Sheep and she liked that even better. All in all, she was occupied for quite a while. Later we went to the newsagent where I let her pick out a magazine. After examining the covers, feeling the bags and checking the free gifts, she settled on a copy of Girl Talk for £3.99, with Moshi Monsters stickers and Love Heart Jewellery (which I spent the afternoon mending and re-mending as the plastic chains repeatedly broke!) The actual magazine is 34 pages of glossy celebrity-based features and fashion stuff. She's had a look, and perhaps she'll return to it, but I doubt it. Either the magazine is too old for her, or she's just not that interested.

It's my contention that these are no longer magazines with toys attached, but toys with a magazine attached. What other product do we buy not for the product itself but for something else? For the thing it comes with, not the thing itself? Perhaps a copy of a newspaper to get a cheaper bottle of water at WHSmiths, but that's the only thing I can think of (and that's a scam to increase circulation figures). On top of that, if we saw the same sorts of toys in a pound shop, we'd probably turn our noses up at them, viewing (correctly) that they were cheap and nasty, yet we spend £4 on them if they are bagged up nicely with a few glossy A4 pages? Madness. Damn you, pester power!

I believe the whole thing should have VAT charged on it: 20% on the whole £4. It's a toy, or a bundle of toys and should be taxed as such. No toys, no VAT-journals and periodicals are zero rated.

Some calculations put together by a finance whizz:

Although these figures are based on a little guesswork, it can be clearly seen that to maintain profits, the cover price would have to be raised.

So what would happen if VAT was charged on this toy/magazine hybrid? Retail culture at point of sale is so ingrained that it’s impossible to say what a massive change like this would mean. The aim is for companies to junk the bag and the toys and force them to treat their products like magazines and comics once more. What I want is for content to be king.

I am considering starting a campaign to ask the Government to change these rules and I really can't see a downside for them. They have been actively looking for new things to stick VAT on, and to improve the situation for families (granted this is a tiny thing, but if your two kids are demanding a 3 or 4 quid mag each during the weekly shop, you'd hope they'd be getting some quality merchandise for that price, wouldn't you?). Ignoring the fact that this is an obvious pipe-dream, I'd say it's also a gamble, because publishers could simply crank up the cover price and preserve the status quo, but I think that these magazines are already at the limit of affordability.

What I'd like from readers of this blog post is their comments, suggestions, thoughts and corrections. I really believe this could work and ultimately we could end up seeing more proper comics for kids on the shelves. More comics is better for you because you probably love them like me, it's better for the british comic industry as young comic readers graduate to older comics and it's certainly better for me, because I write and draw them for a living.

To twitter! #vatontat

Monday, July 1, 2013

Let's have some more Burp

Here's the next few episodes of Burp. At this point, Burp was fully formed and was already astonishing in terms of ideas, odd story ideas, plot twists and of course disgusting humour. We meet Kid Kidney and Dr Devious, Burp's superhero and evil genius internal organs, Burp sings the disembodied organ blues, grows his arm a bit too long and moves the earth... This stuff is classic kids comic material, but soon Burp would become so much more...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The weakly strip

I picked up a copy of the Beano last week which is not something I always do, but it had four things by me in it and I thought it would be worth keeping for posterity. Although my Lord Snooty feature works pretty well, my new strip Big Time Charlie reads terribly. It's a pretty thin story about school food and the ending doesn't work. I quickly threw the Beano down, disgusted with myself. I've written lots of weak stuff before of course, but this one really feels like it was phoned in. It made me think of my favourite writers and how they managed to maintain the consistent quality of jokes and ideas in a strip despite the extreme limitations of the form: Set the story up, making sure conflict is involved. Let the characters respond to the situation as their personalities dictate, cram as many jokes in there, have as satisfying an ending as possible, preferably a funny one, avoiding a terrible pun. All in a maximum of about 12 or 13 frames.

So it strikes me that at the moment Charlie's personality is not fully formed and I am finding that limiting a character to a suburban setting is not my natural milieu. Nuke Noodle, the time travelling wrestler was a joy to write because he was the exact opposite of those things. Strong personality (stupid, arrogant, violent) and I had all of time and space to set it in. Think of a character from history, do a little research, introduce Nuke, sprinkle in some horrific beatings and my secret ingredients: a complete curve ball somewhere in the plot, and ridiculous turns of phrase ("It exploded like a bad shoe.") Done.

Charlie, hopefully, will improve as he goes. In the next few episodes I have explored a few different approaches to telling Charlie's adventures, and I have found a very surreal form of clumsiness is emerging again and again. In time we shall see whether these strips lead to Charlie having an extended stay in the Beano, or being another character that couldn't hold his own amongst their classic pantheon. I'm being pretentious now, so I know it's time to stop writing.

Oh, and there might be some news for Nuke fans soon....

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Had a lovely weekend drawing my Big Board at the Shrewsbury Cartoon Festival. Here's a photo of me drawing it with a pen by Geoff Ward. 
I attacked the board with acrylic paint and gave myself a bad back. The other guys seem to have gone at it in a more sensible way, but as this was my first time I wanted to make a bit of a splash. Next year (if I'm asked) I think I'll do something with a bit more movement. Not really dynamic enough this one. Come next April and meet me and bring some copies of The Beano and The Phoenix to sign. It's a great laugh and there's lots of cartoon related goodness to nourish you. 

The caption says, "I have travelled here from the terrifying post-apocalyptic future where we fight an unceasing war against nightmarish insectoid aliens....Can I have a hug?"