Sunday, 5 May 2013


I was at the brilliant inaugural Oxford Children's Comics Festival - organised by those fine feathered fellows at The Phoenix - yesterday and, after doing a really fun workshop in the morning (which I'll blog about separately later), I spent most of the day overseeing and facilitating and generally helping out at a GIANT COMICS JAM, which ended up being just a hugely fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Let's see how it happened!

These are the giant portable walls provided by our magnificent hosts at The Story Museum! My first job in the morning was to draw panels on these and turn them into AWESOME GIANT COMICS PAGES!

Here's Simon Swift artist Zak Simmonds-Hurn being drafted in to help finish panelling up the pages after I had to dash off to do my workshop. Look at him go, without the aid of a stepladder or anything.
And so it began! I drew the first panel, setting the scene for our tale with an idea suggested by a young Phoenix fan named Tom who'd been in my workshop. Pirate School! Carrrrrn't go wrong with that.

And the first brave artist I roped in to taking a turn drawing a panel was the aforementionedly brilliant Zak Simmonds-Hurn! For health and safety reasons I thought it was probably best if only grown-up comics creators - and in particular, nice ones who I deemed unlikely to sue me in the event of being crushed under an oversized comics page - did the top tier of panels.

And here's Zak at work, being watched by an adoring crowd while they munch on their Plixx and Tyrannosaurus-flavoured pizzas from The Secret Pizza Society! Which looked amazing and which sold out before I managed to get one NOT THAT I AM BITTER.

And there's Zak's panel complete! Setting up our story with an INTRIGUING MYSTERY!

With the stepladder safely stowed away, I was very keen for some of the young festivalgoers to start joining in! I was really keen for the Giant Comics Jam to be a mix of Professional Cartoonists and budding junior artists, and first to step up was young Phoenix reader Benedict! Who, I later learned, was the very chap who suggested the whole idea of having a Children's Comics Festival in Oxford in the first place! To which, given what a brilliant day I for one had, I can only say a hearty GOOD IDEA THERE, BENEDICT.

Next up was Rob Deas - creator of the fantastic Troy Trailblazer, which I understand is returning soon to the Phoenix for a whopping epic-sized new run!

Panel 5! And next up was young festivalgoer Alice - who I have to say, threw an action-packed exciting turn into the story just when it needed one with the revelation that "THEY'RE ATTACKING! ACTION STATIONS!" But WHO was attacking...?

That was up to Nico here to decide! And in a nice pull-the-camera-back long shot he established that it was in fact THE NAVY and that a BIG EXCITING BATTLE was about to take place!

And with a big exciting Pirates vs Navy battle to draw - and a really REALLY giant panel to fill it with, who should happen along but the wonderful Sarah McIntyre - illustrator of amongst many other marvellous things, the new picture book SUPERKID which officially launched yesterday!

Here's Sarah bringing herself up to speed on the Story So Far and weighing her artistic options.

(And here, for your reading pleasure, IS the Story So far...)

McIntyre dives in! I have to say, I gave Sarah one of the toughest jobs of the whole thing, with a lot of space to fill and potentially a lot of Stuff going on in it. I felt reasonably sure she'd be up to it.

And so indeed it proved. Just amazing, and hugely fun for all of us there to watch Sarah at work on this big canvas, just grabbing the pen and going for it and drawing a legitimately brilliant giant panel of comics in about 10 seconds flat.

What can I say, she's rather enormously talented.

I helped draw the ships.

Speaking of people who are rather enormously talented, here's Jordan Vigay - who we met at the Phoenix table back at Thought Bubble last year and who has since published several issues of his own fantastic comic, The Red Crow! And again, I will blog more about that a bit later!

Here's Jordan getting started! Pirate / Mermaid tensions are running high and the Navy are on the horizon. WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT IN THIS ALREADY TENSE SITUATION?

A Dirty Great Bomb, that's what!

I find it hard to express how much I love the sudden appearance of a dirty great bomb, with "DIRTY GREAT BOMB" written on the side.

Now THAT, my friends, is cartooning.

Here's Jordan with his finished panel, receiving a much-deserved round of applause!

And next up was Action Comics Artist Jamie Littler, creator of the wonderful Cogg & Sprokit in the Phoenix - and some other rather-exciting new things coming up in the future. Shown here hanging precariously off the side of a rather wobbly stepladder in order to throw in one little extra background gag involving a crab, such is his DEDICATION to making awesome comics.

And next at the plate was young comics superstar Zoom Rockman! Like Jordan, Zoom had his own table at the festival, selling copies of his own self-published comic The Zoom! Zoom's an incredibly talented young man, and I can't tell you how great it was to see these guys at the festival - not just there as punters, but active participants, making their own brilliant comics and putting them out into the world.

Sorry, I'm starting to sound evangelical. But when I was their age I drew comics that were read by my Mum and my little brother, so I think what Zoom and Jordan are doing is just phenomenal, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

Here's a wider shot of Zoom at work! But how would he manage to continue a story in which all the principal characters had apparently just been blown up by a DIRTY GREAT BOMB?

By introducing some VIKINGS! Of course. That's Comics 101, guys. And next up to follow on the story was another great Phoenix artist, Laura Ellen Anderson - creator of the nefarious Evil Emperor Penguin! (one of my son Logan's particular favourites, I have to say. He is a PENGUIN WHO IS EVIL, come on.)

Working on the next panel was our first parent-child collaboration, with the young artist Nora seen here in creative talks with her Mum Adeline.
And here's Nora at work. And man, Nora busted out some ACTION! Icebergs calving! Giant tidal waves! A crab sliding down an ice-slide and going 'WEE!"


Here's Adeline and Nora with their finished panel, and again, getting a pleasingly massive round of applause from the spectators.

And who was left to pick up pieces of a giant apocalyptic iceberg explosion? Luckily for all of us, Matt Baxter, who managed singlehandedly with his contribution to bring years of Pirate-Viking enmity to a peaceable solution.

One panel left! And a completely insane story involving a diverse cast of bizarre characters to try and bring to some kind of satisfactory conclusion. Time to call Adam Murphy - illustrator, comics educator and creator of the entirely brilliant Corpse Talk in the Phoenix.

I very much like this shot of Adam pondering what on Earth to draw and stroking his chin in true artistly fashion.

And he's off! A crowd gathers, unable to quite believe that he's going to actually pull this off.

A crowd that includes a man dressed as a dinosaur.

(That's actually the illustrator Tom Plant, who was at the festival running a workshop on Making Monsters. And dressed for the occasion!)

And he's only gone and done it! Tying it all back to the start, getting every single character in and ending on an amusing joke about crabs. THAT, you guys, is why Adam Murphy makes the big bucks.

Here's one of me standing next to the finished comic! Like I made it or something.


And here for your reading enjoyment is the complete strip! Photos nicked from Sarah's excellent write-up of the festival, over on her blog!

Huge thanks to everyone who took part - I genuinely had no idea if it was going to even remotely work, and you guys all made it super fun! Let's all do it again soon!

EDIT: Here's a couple of extra bonus photos! First, here for the sake of completeness is a shot of me drawing my bit, courtesy of Zak! Cheers dude!

And HERE for sake of rarity and just because I really like it is a picture Sarah took of me and Di.

Together! In the same place and everything! Shortly after prompting actual SHRIEKS with a Public Display of Affection that completely freaked Sarah out because she didn't realise Di was Di but thought she was the pizza lady.

Possibly you had to be there.


  1. Oh WOW! That is the best blow-by-blow of a Comics Jam I have ever read!!! :D Triple lashings of AWESOMESAUCE!!!!!

  2. How does this fit into “Pirates v Vikings v Mermmaids v Crabs” continuity…? Is it an imaginary story, an elseworlds tale, or will we now always have to have Pirates, Vikings, mermaids and crabs getting along…?

    Other than that, great job - look like fun was had!

  3. Jock123: this is OFFICIAL Pirate viking Mermaid Crab Continuity! This is CANON right here!

    Sarah: aw, cheers - I wanted to try and do justice to everyone who pitched in, I was so blown away by everyone's efforts.

    PS have updated to include mention of your "snogging the pizza lady" freakout because it was pretty much the funniest thing that has ever happened.

  4. Thanks so much for this hilarious write-up, Neill! We had an amazing time, and Nora's produced three more comics since the festival yesterday. There's NO TURNING BACK!!
    With fond memories of an amazing day,

  5. No-one managed to squeeze in a polygon joke?

  6. Adeline: that's so brilliant to hear! Go Nora! Look forward to seeing her work in the Phoenix one day :D

    Julian: that joke was indeed made by (nerdy, grown-up) audience members (such as myself), but oddly none of the kids decided to run with it...