<em>That was the year that was</em>, or How I stopped worrying and learned to call myself a cartoonist!

29 December 2016

Amongst the many wonderful encounters that made this year's Nottingham Comic Con such a memorable and invigorating day, was getting to meet cartoonist, illustrator, comics educator and podcaster, Dan Berry whose interview show Make It Then Tell Everybody has been a staple in my podcatcher of choice for well over a year now. One of the first questions Dan asks his guests, who are all creators from the world of small press and indie comics, is a deceptively simple one, What do you call yourself? Comic book artist? Cartoonist? Illustrator? Up until very recently, the question would always illicit the same imagined response in my head, a kind of snobbish shudder at the mere mention of the word... cartoonist, and I thought this might be a good time time to try and unravel some of the possible reasons why.

I guess I've always kind of thought that cartoonists draw funny pictures. Much like the fictional Kalo in Seth's It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken, cartoonists draw the kind of single-panel gag cartoons that appear in magazines like The New Yorker or probably nearer to my frame of reference growing up, The Far Side, or else classic three-panel comic strips that would appear in newspapers, like Dik Browne's Hagar the Horrible, probably the strip I read most as a kid. In fact if you'd asked me when I was younger to name three cartoonists, I'd have probably only been able to name Browne, Charles Schultz and then later Gary Trudeau, even tho I still couldn't tell you what's going on in most episodes of Doonesbury, the politics and cultural references often flying so far over my head all I kept coming back for was Trudeau's exquisitely clean lines. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not an idiot, even young me knew that Schulz was a genius and Peanuts was even the first comic I bought for myself in those litte Corgi paperback editions, but in the mental hierarchy of cultural production that I was building in my brain, cartooning was what happened in funny books and kids comics like The Beano or The Dandy or Viz - full disclosure, I've never had much time for any of that stuff, but hey, we can't all be perfect - and anyway, what I wanted to do was become a comic book artist, like Todd McFarlane or Albert Uderzo. These guys were professionals, and by that what I mean is, they were specialists, responsible for the art while Peter David and Rene Goscinny handled the writing, a division of labour that meant that each half of the creative team played to their considerable strengths and the products of their collaboration were touched by that little spark of alchemical magic that happens when a creative partnership clicks.

And yes, I am fully aware that I am guilty here of conflating a couple of different complaints at once, an objection to cartooning as being both not-serious in its subject matter, a snobbishness about gag strips and humour mags, and not-serious-enough in it's approach to the artistic question of craft. I mean, just compare the draughting chops on display here:

Browne, 1987 and Uderzo, 1966

No doubt, Albert Uderzo gives good boat, but I really dig that Dik Browne cartoon, the look on Lucky Eddie's face, the spray and wash chopped up by the oars and the motion lines around Hagar's waving arms and how that all contrasts with those four stately curves propelling the duck forward, beak to the sky. Now Asterix was and always will be, my jam, and it has been a gateway for me this year to finding the work of Tillieux, Franquin, Peyo and others in which a similiarly kinetic, cartoonish visual style was used to tell genre stories in recogniseably modern settings, complete with well-cut suits and chrome-plated cars. In as much as The Sheep And The Wolves leans heavily on lessons learnt poring over panels from Gil Jourdan, Spirou and Fantasio and even Benny Breakiron, the other big influences that I've been looking to are the serial newspaper strips of Roy Crane, John Spranger and Gus Arriola, visual storytellers that combined the roles of writer and artist, penciler and inker, letterer and layouts, the whole comics kit and caboodle and who would have been, you have to imagine, utterly bemused were you to ask them what they call themselves, as tho there might be anything else you'd rather be in this world than simply... a cartoonist!

Happy New Year Folks!

Nottingham Comic Con 2016, or Def Con (Part) Deux!

30 October 2016

"bleary eyed blokes"

After having to get up earlier than we'd anticipated, The Sheep And The Wolves Roadshow - consisting of myself and Patreon supporter Dave Robertson - hit the A-roads for Nottingham. We were greeted by the friendly faces of the yellow shirted volunteers and soon had our table looking pretty spruce, complete with crochet table mascot made by the talented @kellerkraftuk! Podcaster, comics reviewer and all-round diamond geezer Tony Esmond swung by to say hi and snap our mugs for this great round-up of the con he blogged this morning, which I recommend you read if you missed out on the day.

"your starter for ten"

At midday I took part in a great panel with Chris Imber and Sally Jane Thompson and we had a lot of fun answering questions from host Alex Martin, Tony and the audience. My favourite question was "which TV show would I like to turn into a comic?" No hesitation. Columbo!

"shifting product"

I had a great time talking to people about my comic and the thrill of handing over a physical copy of your own comic book to a perfect stranger in exchange for shiny coins of the realm is almost giddy-making! We sold a lot more than I expected to and even had some interesting conversations with people about possible future projects. I learned a lot about what works and what doesn't in terms of setting up your stall and promoting your wares and I'm really excited to do more cons. So much so in fact that as soon as I got back last night, the first thing I did was sign up for a table at the True Believers Comic Festival in February!

All in all a great day, and I can't wait to go back again next year!

Nottingham Comic Con 2016, or Def Con (Part) One!

27 October 2016

"box of delights..."

After what's been a hectic week of drawing, inking, scanning and page-setting, I finally managed to get a pdf off to the folks at inky little fingers and now after only a short wait, what should arrive on my doorstep but a consignment of box-fresh comic books all ready for sale at Nottingham Comic Con this Saturday.

"lovingly hand cut like the best crisps"

I'm going to have two versions of the book for sale, one will be the standard price of £3 and there's also going to be a bumper pack that will contain a postcard and these hand-made stickers for £5. Now I'm just waiting for the vinyl pop-up banner to be delivered and that will be everything.

If you are coming along to Nottingham then you'll be able to find me all day at Table L52 on the lower level and from 12-12.30 I'll be on a panel with Chris Imber and Sally Jane Thompson on Creating Your Own comics compered by the incomparable Tony Esmond of The Awesome Comics Podcast. Check back here in a couple of days for Part Two in which I let you know how it all went!

Nick Prolix (@nickprolix) is a writer, artist and cartoonist living in the Fens.

Shows 2019

  • BAM!, 13th July
    Komedia, Bath
  • The Lakes, 11th - 13th October
    Kendal, Lake District
  • Nottingham Comic Convention, 19th October
    NTU events and conferencing, Nottingham
  • Thought Bubble, 9th - 10th November
    Harrogate Convention Centre, Harrogate

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