The Floating Hand Chapter 2 now available

Hello hello hello,

In rousing news, the latest chapter of my 1920s Western crime serial - The Floating Hand - is now available to read. For those wishing for a refresher, or who are new to the story, chapter one is here.

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This brings The Floating Hand to 45 pages, which I estimate to be approximately halfway through, if just a little under. Additionally, this will be the last free-to-read chapter available online. The complete edition will be out in print later in the year. This is the way I'll likely do things as I begin to develop longer stories - the one shots, generally speaking, will always be available to read online for free, and there will be sizeable previews of long-form works so you can see if it's for you.

I'm pleased with how it's shaping up so far, and I hope you enjoy the second chapter.

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In other news, I will be appearing as a guest at Incredible Comics in Swindon on July 7th for their Small Press Day in store event. I'll be there with four other creators, where I will be selling books, signing books, drawing Death Roulettes, you name it.

Thanks,

John

Cardiff Independent Comic Expo 2018 Recap, Plus How To Design The Worst Roller Banner In Comics Today

I’d heard good things about Cardiff Independent Comic Expo (CICE) in years gone by, and when I saw applications had opened, it seemed like an obvious one to attend; close to home, well-regarded, and focused primarily on indie comics. After having some success and learning some valuable lessons at True Believers in February, my wife and I rolled up to the Mercure Hotel to see if we couldn’t improve on the work we’d done at Cheltenham, armed with a few extra tricks.

 Cardiff Independent Comic Expo 2018's poster.

Cardiff Independent Comic Expo 2018's poster.

After being wristbanded and checked in, we were guided to our (pre-clothed!) table around the corner from the centre aisle. As neighbours, we had Vince Hunt and Tony Esmond from The Awesome Comics Podcast (with their comic, Awesome Comics) (awesome). I was very glad to see them; they’re good lads, and Tony was the first person to review my work on his website (and later on Down The Tubes). Tony further extended his good graces by interviewing me for the podcast, there on the convention floor; I don’t remember a great deal of what I said, other than I took the opportunity once again to screech about KC Green’s Gunshow, which is my default deflection when it comes time to talk about my comics. That will be out on Monday, I think, so if I’ve properly shown my arse on the podcast I won’t know about it until then.

We set up, and we waited. In terms of passing trade, the first two hours were a little nerve-wracking; there were people, but generally the same two dozen or so people doing loops of the floor – one cosplayer seemed to be doing a continuous loop from about 10am to about 5pm. By about 12pm, my wife had, herself, begun doing laps. In the back of my mind, I hoped against hope that the people of Cardiff were just saving the convention until after lunch, but I knew the truth; they had turned their backs. Turned their backs, the lot of them. Here I was, a hometown son, back from the west with my comics inspired by the city that raised me, and these vile turncoats had snubbed their noses, letting out wicked raspy chuckles as they were off doing something else. This couldn’t just be lunch; it was a pointed message.

Turns out it was just lunch, as after 1pm it was chock-a-block and we were dealing with customers pretty much non-stop from 1pm until about 5pm. I think that was the busiest we’ve ever been, and everybody who came to the table was very nice, so if you did stop by, thank you.

Sales

Sales were better than I could have hoped, frankly. I attribute this to three things:

-       A very, very slight uptick in name recognition. In the time since True Believers I’ve made a bit more of an effort to get my work in front of people, and that seems to have paid off. True Believers was a venture into the unknown, in that literally nobody knew who I was. This time, approximately three people knew who I was. In pure percentage terms, that is an increase of infinity percent.

-       Death Roulette seemed to pick up largely by word of mouth; a few people came to the table asking for it specifically, having seen somebody else’s.  

-       The bumper pack we decided to offer this time around, and were consciously mentioning to anyone who seemed interested. The selling price of all five comics came to £12, and Death Roulette on its own was £5; however, we decided to offer all five comics, plus a print, plus a badge, plus Death Roulette, for £10. It was an easy upsell to anybody considering a comic or Death Roulette on its own, and I don’t mind throwing in Death Roulette as essentially a free sweetener in exchange for getting the comics into people’s hands. I’m going to be sat there anyway, I may as well be doing something - plus, I do enjoy doing them, and seeing their reactions.

It was mainly – definitely, undoubtedly – because of the bumper pack.

As a result of these three things (and again, mainly the bumper pack), we managed to get just over fifty comics out, and did 14 Death Roulettes. We saw a slight dent on return compared to what each of these would have made individually, but frankly, they simply wouldn’t have sold individually in those numbers. The bumper pack is here to stay, and I fully intend to offer it out in future (it will have to be adjusted as more comics come out, obviously, and as the one-shots make up a smaller percentage of the table stock, but I’m sure we’ll figure something out).

 Here's one of my favourites from this convention's class of Death Roulettes (thank you Dunk).

Here's one of my favourites from this convention's class of Death Roulettes (thank you Dunk).

You can’t measure the success of these events in sales, of course. I got my work in front of a lot of new people, met a lot of pleasant and interesting people, and I finally, finally, got to debut my roller banner.

Let’s Talk About The Fucking Banner Then

I’ve done a couple of conventions now (by which I mean I have done two conventions), and attending these events is a learning curve. How much are you meant to talk to the other artists? At what point – as a prospective customer’s gaze is approaching the end of one table and the beginning of yours – is it appropriate to make verbal contact? When’s the best time to eat? You pick up a lot as you go along.

At True Believers – the first time I had ever been to an event like this, in any capacity – I learned a lot about convention standards. My table looked largely the same as most of the others, spare the occasional fancy display or strip of accented tablecloth. The one thing I was missing – the one glaring omission, the one item notable by its absence, was a roller banner.

If you’ve ever been to a comic convention, or similar event (craft fair, wedding expo, trade show etc.), you likely know what these are – roller banners are inexpensive large-format posters that you roll out of a compact tube and put on a big stick. They’re usually around two metres tall by just under a metre wide, and act as convenient large-format signage.

Friends, allow me to be honest and say that I have never, ever liked roller banners. My workplace uses them routinely for large public-facing initiatives and policy changes, and through my various jobs and interests throughout the years, I have seen a lot of roller banners. I understand their obvious utility, and recognise the many reasons they have become so ubiquitous on the indie comics circuit, but I dislike them immensely. This prejudice was in no way alleviated by my first half hour at True Believers, during which I observed somebody set up their banner, only for it to be irreparably punctured by somebody setting up their own roller banner; a stray supporting pole went clean through the middle, leaving a sizeable, frayed hole.

However, of the advice I received after True Believers, the common denominator was obvious – as my name was at table height, it was too easily obscured and it wasn’t immediately obvious who I was. Only one thing for it. I was going to have to buy a fucking roller banner.

Design

When thinking on the banner, I decided that the “standard” expo banner – often decorated with example artwork and big, friendly fonts – was not going to work. Not for me, at least. I’ve seen it done perfectly well by many artists, who have obviously gone to painstaking lengths to make the banner representative of their best work. This approach works well for those with a running series (Joe Glass’ The Pride, or Swansea Comic Collective’s Copperopolis, for instance) but would not work for me; I don’t really have a franchise, a stable of characters that an audience would recognise.

So having discarded a traditional banner out of hand, I was left to explore other options. The first thought was to make one that looked categorically, top-to-bottom unprofessional; iStock Photo watermarks over the background, the “hosted by Tripod” placeholder image in place of crucial art, low resolution headshot photograph, mouse pointer visible, printer’s guideline art still cropped in, the works. But the problem with making a deliberately bad banner is that it is still a bad banner; even if it’s bad, it still has to read well.

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So if you can’t make a banner that is comically poorly produced, the only option remaining is to make one that is comically overproduced. Emboldened by the iconic Glamour Shots by Deb scene in Napoleon Dynamite (and by evergreen inspiration Brian “Limmy” Limond, who regularly posts mockingly smug, self-absorbed portraits, his face radiant with self-satisfaction), I decided that the best solution was, in fact, to make something that – on first glance – looked sincere and slick, but also hard to look at and repulsive. I also wanted it to be largely unclear what business it was advertising.

I asked my wife if she would be willing to assist with this, and fortunately she said yes, as part of the idea was to put on just enough makeup to make passers-by wonder, “Jesus, is he wearing makeup?”. She deftly applied concealer, foundation, blush, and a little highlighter, then tried in vain to backcomb my dry, dead, flat hair (it didn’t work). We’re both big RuPaul’s Drag Race fans in this house, so she did a great job of making me look just unsettling enough.

I sat down in the fading spring light, Lauren was given the Portrait setting on my iPhone camera, and we took as many photos as we could.

Result

 The finished product.

The finished product.

My friends had a range of reactions to the roller banner (which I used on Twitter to generate hype for the roller banner unveiling).

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 I did wonder, have I gone too far? Is it too perfect? Is the combination of soft focus, make-up, gold embossed lettering (and a gold embossed signature for fuck's sake) just too much? 

Once it was installed, people generally got it. We kept an informal tally of any disapproving looks it attracted at CICE (eight), because a secondary function of the roller banner was to act as a defacto filter. If you look at that roller banner – this roller banner:

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- and took it on face value, you likely wouldn’t enjoy the comics either. 

So if you've been considering a roller banner but aren't sure if they're for you, I can recommend making one like this, as long as it's on brand for you. We had a lot of fun making this, and a lot of people have gotten a really good laugh out of it, none more than me.

In Conclusion

- CICE 2018 was tremendous fun, and - if they'll have us - we'd love to come back.
- It was very heartening to see the number of people willing to take a punt on an unknown artist, especially considering there was a lot of very, very good talent nearby. If you came by our table, thanks.
- The banner whipped ass and I will be designing a new one every year and they will get progressively worse.

Thanks,

John

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BALD now available

Greetings friends,

Goodness, doesn't True Believers seem like such a long time ago? I know it does at this end, but with only six weeks gone (and with the Cardiff Independent Comic Expo just around the corner on June 2nd) I've been hard at work. True grind. Red "100" emoji.

Work continues on The Floating Hand, my 80-page magnum opus about the rustling innovations of 1920s New Mexico, but in the meantime I decided to bless your timelines with something completely new.

Ladies and gentlemen:

Bald.

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Bald is 28 pages long and details the story of the baldest man who ever lived.

I'm happy with this one. I feel it's the culmination of everything I learned from Night Watch, Hell, and Gang Culture rolled up into one.

I hope you enjoy it. There'll be a process blog soon similar to the one I did for Night Watch, because I've got to fill this website with something.

Blessings to you all,

John

Notes On A Dynasty: How To Win A Scarecrow Contest Three Years In A Row

Notes On A Dynasty

How To Win A Scarecrow Contest Three Years In A Row

While this website is essentially a home for my comic-making and illustrative efforts, I have been dabbling with (pioneering?) another art form for the past three years, one that has gone without mention on this site despite it being the medium in which I have been most decorated and celebrated. After asking on Twitter whether there would be interest in a discussion on the matter, I have decided to recap my time as one half of my home village’s undefeated scarecrow building team in the annual village scarecrow contest, 2015-2017.

The contest began in 2015, and since then my father and I have won every accolade available to us with a series of scarecrows that might actually be my finest body of work to date, in any medium. My father and I have retired from scarecrow building now, as we have little left to prove and have no desire to “salt the earth” of scarecrow building in the village. As such, I have no reservations discussing our winning techniques and design choices here, as I cannot imagine us re-entering the contest for the foreseeable future; my hope is that this entry will go some way to helping those of you that may be thinking about entering the high-stakes world of competitive scarecrow-building, so that you may make successes of your own.

With that said, I present to you the first ever career retrospective of the undefeated Tucker Family scarecrow building enterprise. I also include our sure-fire tips for winning a local scarecrow contest, plus some insight into our decision-making.

2015 – The Intruder

The inaugural village scarecrow contest was held in 2015, and all in the village were invited to create an entry and submit it for community judging. The bar was then, as it is now, relatively easy to clear – as long as the structure was a minimum of two feet tall (no maximum was specified, although we’ll come to that) and free-standing, it was allowed.

With no benchmark against which to compare, no previous contests to peruse, we were unsure of both the scope of our abilities and those of our competitors. Would we be bringing a knife to a gunfight? No way of knowing. The other competitors were, understandably, keeping their cards close to their chest in regards to strategy – as were we. Normally cordial friends among the village grew secretive and tight-lipped; garages and sheds that were typically left open on a summer’s day were now permanently closed.

With no expectation or reputation, we decided on a simple model – a six foot tall traditional scarecrow. We (mainly my father) constructed the basic frame; a 2x4 plank with a broomstick at a perpendicular cross, the plank providing the central torso frame and the broom acting as arms. We then dressed and stuffed the model, but were still no closer to deciding on its main features or its USP (unique selling point). We were equally adrift as to what we would use for the head (the only item we had that seemed even remotely feasible was a partially deflated non-regulation sized basketball, which seemed too small in proportion to the frame).

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We then decided to add a twist; the scarecrow’s head was modelled to look like that of a crow, which solved the dilemma of what to use for its head - the basketball proved perfect for this; it was wrapped in shredded bin bag, to give the illusion of feathers, with a halved foam golf ball for eyes and a gold party hat as a beak. Poking out of the model’s dungaree pockets was a childishly-scrawled “to do” list of the crow’s motives. With this, we had provided our scarecrow with an enjoyable and rich backstory; a crow that has assumed a scarecrow’s disguise in order to infiltrate a nearby farm, and relieve the farmer of his precious crop. Perhaps the model had been scaled up from its crow-sized original, perhaps it was a Trojan horse-style contraption to be assembled under cover of darkness by the more dextrous birds. This we left for the observers to decide. This one design choice immediately transformed the entry - where previously some areas may have looked unpolished or loosely-hemmed, these could now (in storyline) be passed off as the work of crows who didn't know what they were doing (we would reap the benefits of a cohesive narrative in later years too).

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We installed the model, entered it into the “11+ individual” age category, and visited the other models; we were glad that we had seemed to pitch the model about right; there was nothing overly theatrical, nor was the standard so low that it would have been beneath our dignity to continue. And before anybody accuses us of steamrollering a children’s scarecrow contest, 11+ had no upper cap and due to the demographic of the village, was largely contested between hyper-competitive men of my father’s generation (the true child competition was in the <11 category, though – far be it from me to suggest impropriety of any kind – some of them did seem a little too polished to have been completed by two year olds). There were other categories – under and over 11 group (typically populated by the playgroup and local businesses respectively) - but the over 11 individual category was predominantly being fought out by retirement-age men and their large adult sons. I was, in this case, my father’s large adult son as we wrought havoc in a category ostensibly fashioned for young children and teenagers.

 "This was a contest for children!"

"This was a contest for children!"

The result came in, and we had been named both best in category and best overall. We bagged a WH Smith voucher and some Roses, and celebrated in good spirits, satisfied we had done a good day’s work. We jokingly said we would have to begin work on next year’s, though that joke soon turned into the opposite of a joke (or ‘not a joke’) when the reverend confirmed that the contest would return in 2016 due to overwhelming popularity. Work began on 2016’s entry a few months later.

2016 – Tin Beake

We were not allowed long to enjoy our victory. With the announcement that next October would see a return – essentially a rematch – we began to think about what to do in 2016. We had won the double in year one, and we assumed that those who had left empty-handed would be at home, plotting a sensational marriage of carpentry and theatre, in an attempt to secure a small box of Roses and a gift voucher for themselves. We were reminded of the Wayne Gretzky quote regarding skating to where the puck is going to be, rather than where it is, and decided that if we were concerned about escalation, we too would have to escalate.

There were a few ideas for 2016 leading into the spring. Then-presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was the first idea that came to mind, but was scrapped out of hand – initially because it was such an obvious choice that we suspected we would have direct competition (and would immediately hamstring ourselves at the ballots). My father had experienced problems in this area previously; at a fancy dress party in the village in the 1980s, he had attended as (a bearded, but otherwise perfect) Boy George, a cultural flashpoint at the time. When time came to announce the winning costume (it was a competitive village even then), the announcer read out “Boy George”, only for a vastly inferior Boy George to presume victory and take the title (my mother, who remains infuriated by this after she spent all afternoon doing my father’s make-up, has photographic proof to back up this anecdote; a photograph of my father’s well-constructed and accessorised Boy George, and another photo taken later – from a distance - of the pretender to his crown, the camera visibly shaking with rage). For this reason, we generally discarded our first thought every year, for fear that it would be somebody else's first thought too.

As far as Trump was concerned, time only served to confirm our decision, as - by the October - we would have been presenting an effigy of a sex-offending racist in a church yard. Not cool. We wanted something topical, but were hard-pressed to find a topical figure who was both instantly recognisable across all demographics and not a widely-accepted hate symbol (as you may remember, 2016 was a fraught time).

My father eventually hit upon that year’s idea – “Tin Beake” (his pun), a play on Tim Peake, the British astronaut who was serving on the ISS early in 2016 and famously ran the London Marathon while aboard. We decided this was a positive figure with enough cultural cache to warrant building the model around.

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We took the frame from the previous year’s entry and extended it outwards, so it resembled a longer capital T, and dressed it in a giant disposable hazmat suit. We took the crow’s head from last year and wrapped it in foil, replacing the golf balls for googly eyes and spraying the beak silver to give a futuristic, reflective space helmet vibe. A length of pipe insulation went from the "helmet" into the suit, serving two functions (first to give the illusion of breathing apparatus, secondly to keep the model's largely unsupported head up throughout). Additionally, we attached a “rocket pack” to the back, made from two short lengths of large silver pipe insulation and attached glittery stars from its base on sticks (taken from a party table decoration) to give the impression of thrust and boost from the rockets.

 One of the only clear photos of the rocket booster.

One of the only clear photos of the rocket booster.

During installation, we wondered how we were to give the impression that the space scarecrow was floating; we decided to take a pitch beneath the tree (also worth noting, the scarecrow contest takes place inside the church grounds, which is also a particularly old graveyard – while newer graves remain untroubled in the rear field, understandably cordoned off during the frivolity, those who had the misfortune to die in the 18th and 19th century must have their graves surrounded by scarecrows once a year). We hung our model from a sturdy branch with several lengths of wire, giving it a gentle bounce and sway in the breeze, which helped to sell the illusion of floating.

As a decorative touch, I had also purchased a six-pack of Halloween decorations; small crows, made with polysterene and realistically feathered to resemble the real thing. To them, we attached cut-off plastic bottles to imitate space helmets.

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We also remembered that we had failed to make use of the provided billboard space accompanying our scarecrow the previous year; knowing we would have a roughly A2-sized piece of wood on which we could affix things, we decided to include a dummy report on the village’s “Space Race” of the 1960s, essentially providing our lunar scarecrow with a backstory. I wrote up a quick account of the village’s space programme, photoshopping my father and I into the pictures – casting us as the village’s lunar scientist and his Soviet rival, respectively. The document was emblazoned with the logo for the village’s fictitious space administration, as was the space-scarecrow’s suit.

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 The two pages of additional story that accompanied the 2016 entry, "Tin Beake".

The two pages of additional story that accompanied the 2016 entry, "Tin Beake".

A slam dunk, obviously. An all-time career maker. A cheery wave at the stands after a shutout game. While we had noticed that the standard, in general, had stepped up in our category since the previous year, we bagged another double for Tin Beake (best overall, best individual 11+), giving us the vaunted “double double”. Another two certificates, another box of Roses, and another year to plan what to do next.

2017 – King Crow

 After bagging two consecutive doubles – and by now, an undefeated streak to actively defend – we were far more conscious of escalation than we had been in the previous year. While 2015 had been, in many ways, a lucky win, we had obviously taken a big step up in 2016; going from scrappy start-up to much-vilified dynasty, akin to Manchester United or the New York Yankees. We could not, at this point, go back to the simple A-frame scarecrow of 2015; we had escalated. I was haunted by visions of turning up in 2017 with an elaborate diorama piece, only to jostle for position with other equally elaborate dioramas, as our previously vanquished rivals cackled spitefully at our pedestrian showing.

We decided, then, that 2017 would have to go big or go home. After a little discussion, we decided late in 2016 to go for something so large in scale that it would essentially be impossible to ignore or overshadow. We considered a few options, but we came back to one of our original suggestions (that, thinking back, may even have been considered for 2016, but rebuffed because of the scale of construction) – King Kong.

 The original sketch for 2017, dated October 3rd 2016; one week after the 2016 competition. Much of what was to come is present in this drawing.

The original sketch for 2017, dated October 3rd 2016; one week after the 2016 competition. Much of what was to come is present in this drawing.

The attractive element of the King Kong idea was that we would not actually have to construct a much larger scarecrow – we could (and indeed did) use the same model that we had in the previous two years, but make it seem much bigger by attaching it to something that would boost its scale and give the impression that it was far larger. The idea of a King Kong scarecrow atop a skyscraper was born, and in the summer, construction and testing began.

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From the original sketch, my father was responsible for the vast majority of the construction, including the absolutely astonishing skyscraper, which he made with MDF sheets on a hardwood frame, spray-painted with windows from a stencil (the frame was spiked into the ground with a central pole, to which the scarecrow model was attached). My father and I are both well clear of 6’3” tall, so the photo should give you some impression of how tall the unit was.

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My contribution consisted of dressing the scarecrow, sculpting the basketball with wads of torn plastic bag and gaffer tape to give it the brow of an angry ape, adding the manacles and chains, constructing the crows in biplanes, and modelling a blonde-haired crow in a dress (again, torn plastic bag) to act as a Faye Wray substitute.

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Having seen the benefit that we experienced in the previous year from having a backstory to read, I was also tasked with writing the explanatory piece to accompany the installation. Rather than treating the model as a replica of a real event, this time I decided to go one further and describe the installation as an era-authentic prop from the village’s failed foray into film-making. The piece, and its accompanying poster, is reprinted here for the first time (I once again recast my father and I as fictionalised figures in the tale).

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 Not to toot my own horn, but this was – hands down – the best work I ever did for any of our entries. Not only was it the work I was proudest of – telling the most cohesive story of any of our entries – but, believe it or not, it actually hoodwinked a fair number of people, despite its outlandish premise. While most took it for the good-natured joke it was, some asked my father if there was any truth to the story; another asked with full sincerity if we had any more production photographs from the village’s film industry of the 1930s, disappointed this chapter of village history had escaped their notice. Even a village historian was unsure of the truth-to-fiction ratio in the paperwork. I cannot account for this, personally - it does loosely resemble the "history of the village" columns that populate the monthly village newsletters on slow months (one month's newsletter - which takes the form of a 30-page A4 photocopied zine about the village - once had a cover story asking if anyone else had seen the improbably large swarm of bees by the main road a few weeks prior to publication). The uncertainty around this was the biggest compliment I had received at any of the scarecrow contests to date, and another little hint that maybe this was the one on which to bow out. 

King Crow’s accompanying backstory left such an impression that even the organisers – when filling out the certificates – titled the piece “Carville Tucker’s King Crow”. Carville Tucker had been invented on my iPhone’s “Notes” app in a bleary-eyed fog after a long day at work; a week later, he was being actively discussed, researched, and commended for his bold foresight.

Needless to say, we picked up our third double (best overall, best 11+ individual), and in doing so cemented for ourselves a place in the village scarecrow building hall-of-fame. A wave of relief crashed over us, and after some discussion amongst ourselves, we decided to bow out of scarecrow competition for the near future.

When Alexander [the Great] saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds left to conquer.
— Plutarch

Core Design Choices

The demographic of the village electorate ran the gamut; from pre-school age to pensioners, with a fairly even split of and women. With that in mind, a few things that guided our choices every year no matter what we did, and seemed to aid us our path to victory:

  • Everybody has to get it. As much as I would have loved to do a diorama of the 1973 cinematic masterpiece The Sting, there’s probably a single-digit number of people in the village who would get the reference on sight, and two of them are my father and I. While maybe not everybody - particularly the younger ones - knew who Tim Peake was, or was aware of the 1933 King Kong, the concepts - space exploration and King Kong – are universal. They are, essentially, visual short-hand for concepts they’re already familiar with (this advice does not apply to the under 11 categories, which seemed to be dominated by popular culture figures relevant for today’s children – Minions were frequent features of the younger entries, and were often winners).
     
  • As P.T. Barnum once said, there’s something for everyone, and that’s something we tried to embody with our installations; if you’re a small child, you may just like the funny looking astronaut, and if you’re in your 70s or 80s, you may enjoy the mocked-up newspaper sending up the newspapers you would remember from the actual moon landing. In that regard especially, I’m particularly glad we made use of the board space to add additional backstory. These were obviously not meant to be read by very small children; they were there to entertain the adult voters. They also served a secondary function, which I only realised later; they kept families rooted to the spot for a minute or two, so that people waiting to read the board would spend far more time looking at the model than they may have done otherwise, and managed to notice all the small touches (Hay Wray – our small tribute to Faye Wray, in the monster’s hands – and the crows in biplanes, or the lunar crowes around Tin Beake).
     
  • They have to get better, not worse, the longer you look at them. The smaller details we added helped us here, so that the longer you looked, the more new detail you saw, rather than focusing on any areas that were perhaps unpolished or less than perfect (and there were plenty of these every year; it’s incredibly difficult to make these sort of things without some visual imperfections coming through). There’s always a little surprise you can throw in to delight and amuse the eagle-eyed.

In Conclusion

 The village scarecrow contest has grown from a good-natured bit of community fun to a bitterly-contested flex-off between its more practical residents; I like to think my father and I had a small part in that. The village’s older population came largely from practical professions, so a scarecrow contest to a retired population of makers and doers was always going to have the allure of honey to houseflies. The vouchers and prizes accumulated over the course of our career do not even touch the sides of the financial, emotional, and time outlay involved in constructing these monstrosities, but if you’re getting into competitive scarecrow building to make a profit, you’re always going to lose out and frankly shouldn’t even be in the game. You should be in it for the love of it, and also to assert your bloodline’s dominion over the craft of scarecrow building, prop making, and storytelling in your neighbourhood.

I will still, hopefully, attend the 2018 contest; I remain fascinated with the art of scarecrow building, and am always interested to see what choices others have made. While it will be bittersweet to walk amongst the installations as a mere civilian, I am satisfied that our legacy and influence will continue to be felt in that graveyard many contests into the future.

 

 

 

True Believers 2018 Recap

I began making comics and trying to draw “seriously” while at university in Manchester; buoyed by Kate Beaton and KC Green’s disregard for superheroes in spandex in favour of dry historical comedy and absurdist fiction, I began putting out my own comics. It was around this time the idea of appearing at a comic convention first appeared on my radar. I was vaguely aware of the likes of Thought Bubble, in neighbouring Leeds, and a few of the larger operations around my hometown of Cardiff. But back then it seemed impossible; Thought Bubble seemed like something for when I was better at it, which of course back then seemed impossible.

So about six months ago, it looked like I’d finally hit a bit of a stride with the illustrating; for the first time, I felt I had a selection of saleable items either ready or in progress, and enough to fill a convention table without being so embarrassed of their contents that I would spray curious passers-by with insect poison in an attempt to ward them off. While there was nothing to stop me applying to festivals and conventions in the preceding years, I always thought “next year”; “next year” would be the year I would be ready, with a colossal mountain of stock ready to sell. While I was still in Manchester in 2011, I was sure I would apply to Thought Bubble “next year”; I was similar convinced of that in 2012, when “next year” was 2013. I’m sure you see where this is going.

So I decided last year that “next year” would have to be it. It would have to be the “next year” that actually came. So in around October or November – around the time I’d begun work on Night Watch, when I had one full length comic for sale online and not much else – I started applying for conventions. I looked around for a nice convention to debut at, and eventually settled on True Believers, in Cheltenham. From what I could tell, it had a reputation as a friendly, manageable, welcoming convention, so I applied, and was accepted.

In the intervening months, I hammered out as much as I could – I redrew Gang Culture from the ground up, I put Night Watch out, got prints made, the full works – in order to have enough to sell. I was sure that booking onto a convention, and in doing so setting myself a deadline, would work – and it did. November to January was a productive period for me. But eventually, I actually had to pack up the comics and whatnot and actually attend the convention. My wife, ever supportive, accompanied me, and bleary-eyed last Saturday morning, we set off for Cheltenham.

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Fortunately, True Believers was as friendly and welcoming as I had heard – we were welcomed at the gate by colour-coded “agents”, who very kindly offered to bring our items to our table on a trolley from the car. We were dropped off near our table, where we were on a corner with Cardiff artist Sarah Millman, who was very enthusiastic and polite and reassuring about this brave new world of sitting behind a table full of things you’ve made. We set up, and we waited for the doors to open. I was entirely unsure of how it was going to go, but had made peace with the idea that I could go the entire day without selling a single thing – that the idea of attending True Believers was not to make fat bank, or even to recoup the cost of the table, but to get an idea of what to expect and to get my name in front of people. Fortunately, we did make the table deposit back, and a little on top; additionally, True Believers was a great human experience, in that we saw a lot of the good side of people; unbridled enthusiasm, authentic self-expression, and a sense that everyone had gathered to celebrate a commonality. There was no gatekeeping, none of the nastiness that can go hand-in-hand with (ugh) “nerd culture” that I was aware of; the most overtly negative thing I heard all day was about the weather. The vibe of the convention was very positive, I found, and was very glad of it.

The comics I’d brought did not sell in the numbers I had imagined – the prints did better than I expected, but the main source of income for the day was something I had almost left at home; a sketch gimmick called Death Roulette.

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The idea was reasonably simple - £5, spin the wheel, each number corresponds to an improbable mode of death, I draw the participant being killed in that manner, and that way they get a unique souvenir of their day at the racecourse. I ummed and ahhed about whether to bring it – it would, after all, mean being the only table to prominently feature a toy roulette wheel – but it proved more popular than I had imagined. I have dabbled with this sort of thing in the past; back in the days of Chat Roulette when normal people were checking out this novelty service (before it became a never-ending parade of half-hearted pervs lazily tugging at their ill-lit, low-bitrate appendages in plain and uninviting bedding), I used to play a game where I would put a card up offering to draw whatever they asked. I would then either fulfil their request as best I could or – if their request was unpleasant, or I felt it was in bad faith – draw them in a manner that I felt would make them unhappy (one shirtless American teenager asked for “boobs”, so I drew the boobs on him, which made him very cross indeed). You get the idea. I’m alright at drawing stuff on the hop, so I thought what the hell. Maybe one or two people will get a kick out of it. Plus, it takes the indecision out of it, and it’s something you know had to be drawn “live” (as opposed to a sketch of, say, Pregnant Waluigi or whatever, which could have been done ahead of time or whatever).

 The promotional card that stood next to the roulette wheel.

The promotional card that stood next to the roulette wheel.

As I said, maybe one or two. To my surprise, nearly a dozen people took part, and enthusiastically. A further dozen hemmed and hawed about it, circling past the table several times and idly staring at the wheel, but ultimately lost their mettle when it came time to make a choice. Gutless cowards, every one.

Other sources of surprise included, but were not limited to:

-       The number of people who asked if I would be willing to draw their primary school-aged children being senselessly and gruesomely killed, their life snuffed out too soon in archive ink and alcohol markers (needless to say, I declined these requests);

-       The number of people who did not understand the concept of roulette, or had not seen the apparatus for it in the flesh before (these were not just children; some adults seemed puzzled by the equipment, and had queries about its mechanisms).

I won’t share them all, as they’re not really mine to share now, but I know this person has put theirs online (as they kindly tagged me in it) so this was my favourite. Thanks, Ryan.

 Bad luck, Ryan.

Bad luck, Ryan.

The other big surprise of the day arrived while I was hurriedly drawing a death (a queue of cards, believe it or not, had taken shape on my table); my wife tapped me on the shoulder, and I looked up, only to find raconteur, small-press pioneer, best man at my wedding, and certified best bud Paul Capewell stood there, whom I seldom see, what with him living in London. I was beyond grateful of his presence, the show of support, and the massive burger and chips we had after the convention in the Bottle of Sauce (thank you, Bottle of Sauce). Even if the convention had been a total bust, this would have made the trip worthwhile.

 Two lads.

Two lads.

So anyway. That was my first convention. It was as friendly and welcoming as I’d heard, I managed to make a small profit, and I did not imagine that so many people would want a rendering of their own death. Live and learn. The important lesson, that I seem to learn every few months, is that – like many things you can “next year” away – there’s never really a good time to start doing these things and you eventually just have to start. It’ll probably be fine. Everybody who stopped to speak to us at the table was incredibly polite (and often openly, directly complimentary about my art, which was difficult but heartening to hear), and I was genuinely glad to have met everybody who stopped by, whether they bought anything or not. I was also grateful to everybody who seemed challenged by my work, one way or another; particularly the person who picked up a copy of The Taxi to peruse, whose polite smile visibly fell from his face as he got further and further into it. Some people clearly did not enjoy what I had to offer, and that's OK too.

In conclusion, I enjoyed my time at Cheltenham, and I’m confident that my next two conventions will go even better for having done it. I will return to Cheltenham at some point in the future, if they’ll take me.

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My next two appearances will be at the Cardiff Independent Comic Expo in June, and Thought Bubble in September. 

John

The Floating Hand, Chapter 1: Now Available

Well, here we are again.

Chapter one of my new project, The Floating Hand, is now available to read online.

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Set in New Mexico in 1925, The Floating Hand sees Cotton & Agnes Hart - the father-daughter family that owns and operates Hart Farms - face a new kind of cattle rustler.

As you can probably see, this one's going long - chapter one is 21 pages, and I'd say this represents approximately a quarter of the story. Some stretch longer than The Taxi or Night Watch. I'm finishing it at a decent clip and I'm satisfied that it will be wrapped up - with a print edition available - by the summer. 

I've had this idea on the docket for a long time and I'm delighted to begin sharing it with you. I hope you enjoy it.

Your pal,

John

Night Watch now in print

2017, some year right lads? 

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 Potato, a kitten, investigating the print edition of Night Watch.

Potato, a kitten, investigating the print edition of Night Watch.

My 2017 masterpiece, if I do say so, Night Watch, is now available in a delightful print format to buy if you want it. It's 24 pages inside on glorious glossy paper stock with a laminated card cover (if you've had one of my A5 works before - The Taxi, or that other one I had to put on sale because he just can't help himself - you'll know how good this looks and how durable it is).

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Which once again raises the valid question of why you should buy a comic that you can get online for free. That's for you to answer. Maybe you think stuff like this is interesting, maybe you like having extremely handsome printed editions of things on your shelves, but I shall say now what I said when we last dealt with this problem - this is a new age, friends. The era of genre work and superheroes is dead. The time has come for comics about normal people with normal problems, and I don't think anybody has tapped into that feeling better than I have. Get in on the ground floor so you can rub it in your friends' uncultured faces.

It looks very nice, I'm very proud of it, and however you choose to enjoy it I do hope you enjoy it.

Mandatory reminder that I'm at True Believers Comic Festival this February 3rd at Cheltenham Racecourse at table K8. I'll have this with me and other things. Come and say hello.

Your pal,

John

News for 2018: THE FLOATING HAND, Gang Culture... now in print, Extremely Online

Happy new year and that, here's some news:

The Floating Hand

I will be uploading my current project - The Floating Hand - in chapters, starting with chapter one at the end of the month.

 Tentative cover art.

Tentative cover art.

As my work is typically 16-24 pages long, this - which is shaping up to be around twice that, if not a bit longer - is probably best released in instalments so I don't just disappear for three months. Once it's finished I hope to have it available in print this Spring. I'm excited about it, and am sure that those who have enjoyed my previous work will enjoy this also.

Gang Culture in 1950s Swansea: now in print!

I am delighted to reveal that my seminal short story, Gang Culture in 1950s Swansea: An Illustrated Oral History is available to purchase. It's come back looking nice as hell and I'm pleased to offer it through my online shop.

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This - as well as my groundbreaking 2017 horror-comedy The Taxi and the soon-to-be-printed storybook Night Watch - will be available at my table at True Believers on February 3rd.

Extremely Online

It is with a heavy heart I must inform you the Welsh illustrators are at it again.

AKA I'm back on Twitter. Follow me for comic updates, sketches, and the occasional how-to.

Many thanks, see you when The Floating Hand starts.

Your pal,

John