Friday, 19 September 2014

How To Make Awesome Comics - Previews and Reviews


I thought I'd post a few pages of How To Make Awesome Comics here, to give people a taste of the book, and talk a little bit about the thinking that went into it. It's broken into six chapters (plus appendices), the idea being to give a complete step-by-step introduction to all aspects of the comics-making process, in a way that is hopefully approachable, non-terrifying and entirely non-"THIS is how you have to do it!"

Chapter One contains some introductory lessons to warm up and, y'know, BREAK DOWN RESISTANCE. The general message being - have a go! Do it. The lesson I always try to get across in workshops is: don't worry if you think you can't draw, or if some unhelpful person's told you you're no good at it. If you can draw a stick figure, you can draw comics. FACT.




Chapter Two dives right into the fun part, the Coming-Up-With-Ideas part; again, this is all based on what I do in workshops, giving kids just some really easy starting points for stories, to rule out that initial "but I haven't got any ideaaas" reluctance you often find.


Chapter Three gets into a little bit of Comics Theory, covering how the basics of how comics work as well as the slightly wider question of What Is Funny, Anyway? It's kind of my abbreviated take on both Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Aristotle's Poetics - did that sound pompous enough, or should I go on? There are fart jokes.

Chapter Four then goes into the actual How To Draw stuff, using lessons on drawing Robots, Pirates, Dinosaurs and suchlike to (again, hopefully) communicate some of the fundamentals of figure construction and cartooning.

Chapter Five gets into the real nuts-and-bolts of storytelling, how stories work, all that jazz. I started doing this kind of stuff partly as a kind of parody of the absurd reductiveness of all those 'How Stories Work' manuals, from Robert McKee to Joseph Campbell to, I guess, Aristotle again. But I've genuinely found  - and again, it's all from doing workshops - that giving kids this tight basic framework of obviously-kind-of-ridiculous rules to push against is a great way of getting them over those initial hurdles and to the point of having created and finished something.

Chapter Six pulls it all together and is basically an attempt to convince readers how easy it is, nowadays, to actually put something out; to collate and print and publish your own comic. And how fun that can be.

And then you have a bunch of appendices that teach you the really important stuff like how to draw different moustaches, and missile launchers, and that.


Those are what the 'lessons' are concerned with - the other side of the book, and one of the things that was the most challenging in terms of putting it all together, was making sure that those fairly informationally dense strips were balanced out throughout with lots of space - space for the reader's own imagination to spark off, to go off on their own tangents, to put down the book and go off and draw their own comics instead. So we've got a lot of this sort of thing:




Just to reiterate - for parents / teachers / anyone who simply prefers not to scribble all over their nice new book (which apparently is some people) all the exercises / Art Monkey Challenges from the book are available to download and print off from the Phoenix website - along with a whole bunch more, besides.

I've seen some lovely reviews of the book here and there, but really the best part so far is hearing from parents who've got in touch and said that their kids have read it and just gone nuts for making their own comics. That's really the best review I could hope for, right there. 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

How To Make Awesome Comics is OUT TODAY!


Available in all good bookstores as of today is my new book, HOW TO MAKE AWESOME COMICS! An educational and instructive manual for persons of all ages on every aspect of the comics-making process, with extended ruminations on the nature and origins of creativity plus NUMEROUS fart jokes and a WHOLE PAGE THAT TELLS YOU HOW TO DRAW PENGUINS. Buy it for every child you know, and also for any you don't, and also for yourself. THANK YOU.

Here are some places you can grab a copy:
And if they don't have it, ask them to order it! (ISBN: 978-1-910200-03-2)



And hey, parents, librarians, teachers and readers all: you can download printable versions of all the activities in the book, and many other worksheets and fun comics-based activities besides, from here:  http://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/awesome/

Let the drawing-filled summer holidays commence!



Seeing as I'm here, here are a few ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS! Look, it's my blog, I'm allowed to go on a bit. I'd like to thank the following people, without whom the book would NOT EXIST!

Sarah McIntyre! A tireless force for spreading the comics word, I'd particularly like to thank Sarah because it was she who dragged me along to do my first school visit - something that frankly terrified me, but I figured if things got hairy I could at least throw Sarah to the feral children and make my escape while she fought them off. ANYWAY, as it turned out, it was actually completely amazing, and kind of ended up changing my whole approach to comics and my career; a huge amount of this book comes out of ideas I've developed in my workshops, seeing first hand the excitement and creativity that comics generate with kids.


(Sarah McIntyre, seen here HATLESS AND IN FIGHTING MOOD.)


Ben Sharpe! Our original editor on the Phoenix, who commissioned Professor Panels and Art Monkey in the first place and was utterly invaluable in figuring out the tone and approach for the strip. I think without Ben's steady hand I'd have gone a lot more sarcastic and facetious and generally it wouldn't actually have worked nearly as well for the actual intended audience. 

Paul Duffield! who worked with me tirelessly on the design and layout of the book, putting in efforts above and beyond the call of duty when he really could have been off drawing mind-bogglingly amazing comics instead. (Paul's fingerprints are all over the finished book, and it looks *beautiful* as a result. He even drew the pencil shavings on the cover!)

And of course, all Ficklings everywhere but most particularly of all David Fickling, who I could thank here for a solid hour for all he's done for publishing in this country, for comics, and for me personally. And it would still not be enough.


(The man himself, photo courtesy Jo Cotterill)

Is that enough self-indulgent gushing now? I think it probably is. PLEASE BUY MY BOOK?



And hey look! Some OTHER awesome comics out today: Gary's Garden by Gary Northfield and Long Gone Don by the Etherington Brothers - spectacularly, embarassingly talented fellow all. That is quite the library of AMAZING COMICS FOR CHILDREN starting to build up, right?



Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Awesome Comics: MADE


I recently spent the week doing something new; teaching a weeklong course at the Story Museum in Oxford, that venerable institution (it's only been there a little while but it is PRETTY VENERABLE) where I am currently cartoonist-in-residence. The course was titled Make Awesome Comics; it was for kids aged 7-12, and the idea was to try and give them a bit of an introduction to all aspects of making comics; from coming up with ideas to writing stories to drawing and lettering - featuring lessons along the way from Guest Lecturers and International Comics Superstars Kate Brown and Gary Northfield - all the way through to printing and self-publishing their own comic by the end of the week. 

And we did! And I am now exhausted.

Our classroom! I had a CLASSROOM.

Some recommended reading materials.


Those kids like The Phoenix. Those kids liked the Phoenix A LOT.

It was hard work, but also a preposterous amount of fun, and I learned a lot from the whole experience. I'm still processing a lot of it, but I had to boil it down into a few key lessons - and I guess I knew these already, but this really hammered them home - it'd be:
  • that the imagination and creativity of children is endlessly potent, amazing and hilarious
  • that comics are an incredibly effective way of allowing kids to harness, express and develop that creativity, and finally
  • that whatever we as a society are paying teachers to deal with those monsters  **charming little scamps** on a daily basis, it is NOT ENOUGH.


I jest! They were a lovely bunch. And they really did come out with some great stuff. TO  WIT:


One of the most amazing parts for me was how the entire class knuckled down when it was time to Actually Make The Thing, writing and drawing and entire 32-page comic in a single day. And here it is, their comic that they made... THE AWESOMEST COMIC!


I helped a bit, putting it all together and getting it print-ready, but it's 100% all their own work. 


There's some genuinely hilarious stuff in there; we're just looking into the logistics of it all and then we might put some of it up online, because frankly it DESERVES TO BE READ.

Anyway, yeah. Ludicrously hard work at times, but the moment we had at the end of the week when we held a little 'graduation ceremony' and they all got to come up and get a certficate and a copy of their comic that they made, handed to them by David Fickling... that was pretty great, and it felt like a great way to bring the book into the world.

Here are some photos from the party! (There's loads more, and an exclusive preview of the book, over on the David Fickling Books blog!)


 Addressing the troops! (Photo: Diane Cameron)


L-R: David Fickling, the incredible Kate Sayer from the Story Museum who was invaluable all week and without whose assistance I think I may have ACTUALLY DIED, The Awesomest Comic, me. (Photo by Diane Cameron)


Me, demonstrating my powers of EXTREME SHININESS to my class (photo by Susie Day)


The brilliant Susie Day and Sally Nicholls and OH WHAT'S THAT THEY'VE GOT THERE? (Photo by Jo Cotterill)



David Fickling, awesome book. (Photo by Jo Cotterill)

Oh, my new book? My new book, which comes out tomorrow? DID I NOT MENTION THAT I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT TOMORROW?


Friday, 11 July 2014

Big Library Comics



I recently spent a week at Church Cowley St James school, just up the road here in Oxford, working on a project with all the kids in Years 4 and 5 to create a giant mural comic to adorn the wall of their library building. And look, we did it! 

We started out with a couple of days of workshops; getting the kids to come up with ideas for the story and create their own characters, and then we dived in with some giant comics-making! First, I pulled together a load of the ideas and themes into a script. A really, really detailed script:


And then we got the kids to work in groups, taking turns painting a character each on the boards we were using for the comic. For some, I'd sketched in some vague outlines for figure placement and layout, and then let the kids work on top of that:




And then for others I left it much more free form, letting the kids go nuts drawing their own characters, whatever size shape or craziness took their fancy:


And then it was my job to draw the framing sequence and characters, and generally attempt to tie it together into something resembling a story. Here's the finished thing, in place:


And here's the whole story, panel by panel!












I'm insanely delighted with how it all worked out. I had a lot of slightly worryingly unanswered questions in my mind going in, wasn't quite sure how some of it would work / if it would work at all. I had thought about maybe trying a less free form approach - kind of me drawing a strip and then getting the kids to colour it in with a kind of 'paint-by-numbers' approach. But, honestly, that just seemed way less fun. In the end I think the process worked really well; the way the story starts off as any old comic, and then gets weird and colourful, and then gets REALLY REALLY weird and colourful, before snapping back to relative sanity at the end.

Anyway, it was enormously fun to do. I was really impressed with the kids' imaginations and creativity - I mean, that's not really a surprise - but also with the sheer fearlessness of the way they dived straight in, working with these huge acrylic marker pens directly onto this giant canvas. 

Here are headmaster Steve Dew and school librarian Anita Bruce standing next to their new, 1000% MORE AWESOME library wall! Huge thanks to them both, and to all my co-creators, and indeed to everyone at Church Cowley St James who helped make it such a hugely fun thing to do for a week.



Friday, 4 July 2014

This Summer: Learn How To Make Awesome Comics!




Check it out, I made a book! It is called How To Make Awesome Comics and it is about - well, you should pretty much be able to tell what it's about from the title? 

So excited about this book! It's come out looking gorgeous, absolutely everything I'd hoped for. A helpful manual for kids on every aspect of the comics-making process! And also, fart jokes. Basically, every school comics workshop I've done in the last five years, every library event, every festival - THIS is the book I've wished I could give to people. And now it actually exists! Look here it is, actually existing:



And it is FULL of such highbrow discussions of creativity. It collects a load of the early Professor Panels and Art Monkey strips from the Phoenix but more - OH SO MUCH MORE. 

Out August 7th from David Fickling Books. Mark the date! 

Also, for anyone who really REALLY wants to learn How To Make Awesome Comics and JUST CAN'T WAIT (for one week longer): I'll be running a weeklong course during the summer holidays for kids aged 8-12 at The Story Museum in Oxford! A whole week, 28th July - 1st August, in which we will be doing all kinds of fun writing and drawing stuff, and maybe even, if we can find a spare wall, a bit of this sort of thing:



Featuring Guest Lecturer appearances from incomparable comics superdudes Kate Brown and Gary Northfield!  It's COMICS SUMMER CAMP! (Except without the camping. Obviously.) Details at the Story Museum website!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Tamsin and the Deep: Chapter Two





Tamsin and the Deep, the Cornwall-based fantasy mystery adventure series that Kate Brown and I make for the Phoenix, returns tomorrow! Check it out in issue 131, available all over the place, on iPads and by subscription! Look for Kate's *phenomenal* cover, above!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Comics at CBBC Live! BIG Comics.

My esteemed colleague Adam Murphy and I - with able support from Lizzie Payton and Joe Brady of The Phoenix, were recently doing our ambassadorial bit by representing the medium of comics at the CBBC Live event in Newcastle / Gateshead. We ran loads of workshops for kids over three days of the event, worked with countless amazing young artists, and generally had a grand old time. I was doing a bit of this....



...and also a spot of this...

...all in general furtherance of my belief that, you know...




We ALSO took advantage of the kind nature of our hosts, the brilliant Baltic Mill centre for contemporary arts, by basically drawing comics all over their lovely building. And because I am a generous soul, I present them here for you to read!







Here's some festival goers reading the whole thing!


Anyway, that seemed to go quite well, so over the remaining couple of days we decided to have a go at making a REALLY big one. Which I now present here for your enjoyment!






















THE END!

In fairness, I told you it was big. Here's a couple of shots of the whole shebang:



Anyway! Lots of fun to do, and a huge pleasure to work with Adam, spending a couple of days writing the story into ludicrous plot holes and then scarpering, leaving the other to dig their way out of it somehow. 

Did you know Adam has a new book coming out? He does! The first collection of his frankly brilliant strip Corpse Talk from the Phoenix is to be published in paperback form, ooh, any day now, but you can pre-order it already! And you absolutely should, because it looks amazing and is highly educational and very funny and honest and, look, I could spend all day gushing about this one, frankly, when what you should really probably do is just go ahead and...


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