Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Three Cartoons That Never Quite Worked...

Caustic Soda Outsourcing


Rabbit porn


Give Me Readers Not Visitors

It feels like another day of living life in lead underpants and with clipped heels. Everything seems to be running so slow: the web, the weather, and even the news. The only thing predictably regular is the arrival of people looking for 3d porn, news about Angelina Jolie’s tattoos, and pictures of Rod Stewart’s mole. Can you imagine how depressing it is to realise that those three things comprise 95% of your blog traffic?

Even if this blog has had plenty of visitors there have only been a few true readers this morning. So to those of you who are readers and have made it back: a sincere thank you. Because, otherwise, there’s something utterly dispiriting about posting something new to a blog and returning three hours later to discover that not a single pair of interested eyes have even looked at it. You begin suspecting problems in the ether but end up reaching for the bottle of ether… Just one reader makes a huge difference.

I write this blog for readers, you sometimes imaginary souls who want to come back and to follow what I write or draw. Visitors, on the other hand, arrive looking for an answer to their search. They don’t want to befriend me or know who I am. They want a cartoon depicting ‘cheese mutilations’. They want to know ‘how tall is Tom Cruise’ or ‘who was the smallest dwarf’, both of which incidentally are the same question asked two different ways. Visitors want to be entertained and the moment you fail to entertain them, they move on. They don’t want you to be a real person, who has good days and bad days and days when you work hard but things just don’t go right.

I dwell on this as I see my webstats crawl. I’m also having one of those days when I’m stuck between projects. I work out of confidence and anger and neither feel particularly strong today. I started to doodle a Ron & Russell Mael strip expressing my profound disappointment that they’re not coming back to play Manchester. I don’t know if I have the enthusiasm to finish it. Then I have my ‘Real Things People Say’ strip which I’d intended to submit to a competition. I need to finish the backgrounds but the fact that it had zero hits and zero feedback from either readers or visitors makes me feel like that too would be a mistake. Perhaps I should send the Putin strip or the Elephant in the Room… Perhaps I should try something else or just give up trying.

Late last night, I thought I’d do something different and try the Steadman approach to drawing a cartoon. I did less preparation, less cross hatching, and tried to be less restrained as I threw ink around the page. I even made use of my mouth atomizer and I think finally understood how to use it. I was quite pleased with the result but that optimism too dissipated once I’d posted it here where it almost died an ignominious death. At least a few of you looked at it.

This afternoon, I need to sit down and put in some hours of hard work. I write this blog for readers not visitors. I hope one day there will be more of you but you are such rare people. Each one of you is worth ten thousand indifferent souls. I’m lucky to call you readers.

George Osborne takes to Twitter!

George Osborne takes to twitter!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Where did Johnny Depp go?

fearRewatching ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ last night, I reflected on how there are great actors and there are great stars yet there are very few great acting stars but that Johnny Depp is the brightest of that few.

In fact, I would go on to say that it’s hard to think of any screen presence of the last fifty years who matches Depp in acting range and star quality. Hoffman made some memorable movies, brought life to strange roles, but his star was never as bright as Depp’s. Brad Pitt is a great movie star but even acting at his best he has never brought such personality to his roles. He’s a big star but he’s no acting great. River Phoenix was in the same mould as Depp and might have offered a challenge had drugs not robbed us of his talent. At a stretch, the closest to Depp I can think of is Richard Burton but he perhaps owed too much of his star quality to Elizabeth Taylor and his acting legacy suffered from choosing too many poor roles and sad creep of alcoholism.

Yet even should you find an actor with the same range and quality, they’re probably missing that third ingredient which Depp brings to his roles and that’s a force of likability like no other.

All of which makes it sad that in recent years, the old Johnny Depp seems to have disappeared. There’s a shadow on our screens that looks and sounds like Depp but has been turned into a marionette by corporate America. He is the Disney puppet, the A list bank note that the billionaires cash in at the booth where the public buy their tickets. When his star was at its brightest, after the second or third Pirates of the Caribbean, it was rumoured that Depp wouldn’t return at Captain Jack. I rejoiced at the news but it never happened. After a couple of films that performed weakly at the box office, he’s came back as Captain Jack. Now he’s lined up to make Pirates 5, perhaps time to ask: where has the real Johnny Depp gone?

I remember discovering Johnny Depp for the first time when I saw Edward Scissorhands, a film so unusual that I thought the future of Hollywood would be so different. It was small in scale but big in ideas. Everything about the film was perfect but holding it all together was an actor who was not simply likable. He was lovable. He was the alienated kid who deserved everybody’s friendship. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that it’s that likability that Depp possesses in streaks. I think of his sublime performance in ‘Ed Wood’, making an unsympathetic character so very sympathetic. His finest moment was playing Raoul Duke in ‘Fear and Loathing’, his comic turn holding the deliberately wild mess together. Yet he has often done the same in lesser films where I grew to like his quirk, his lack of gravitas, the off centre kilter he brought to every role he played. Yet the quality of his résumé is easy to underappreciate: he was great for Polanski in ‘The Ninth Gate’ and as J.M. Barrie in ‘Finding Neverland’. ‘From Hell’ is a great adaptation of the graphic novel and then there’s ‘Donnie Brasco’, ‘Sleepy Hollow’, and the majestic ‘Sweeney Todd’.

Two of those remind us that he has always remained loyal to Burton but the under-funny ‘Dark Shadows’ was a missed open goal, a great premise but they needed somebody who could write witty one liners to cast an eye over the inadequate script. It was a reminder that somewhere Depp stopped being Depp. ‘The Tourist’ was a waste of all talents involved and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was good but uninspired.

Yet looking down his list of films in this way, you begin to realise that Depp hasn’t gone as missing as much as we might have at first thought. Except for two years, 2010 and 2012, he has usually produced something of interest every year. If anything, this slight lapse has meant that he has simply become too synonymous with one movie franchise. In recent years, he still made ‘The Rum Diary’, based on the Thompson novel and perhaps closer to Depp’s heart. His new film, ‘The Lone Ranger’, looks loud, quirky, perhaps interesting (I’ve yet to see it), even if it seems to sit fat and heavy in the mainstream.

I think a lot rests on his next two films. He’s currently filming ‘Transcendence’, the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, better known as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer. Then Depp is making ‘Mortdecai’ with David Koepp, who previously directed him in the underrated ‘Secret Window’ in 2004 (a great movie if you love movies about writers). These two films are chance to remind us of the old Depp before the next Pirates movie and then a rumoured sequel to 'Alice in Wonderland'.

For Depp fans, this is a key moment. I want the old Depp to come back and surprise me. I would like to see him work for Woody Allen or Scorsese, filmmakers that would let him inhabit a character in the way that became his trademark. I know that interesting Depp is still around. Perhaps his Keith Richards documentary will be the restart of his directorial career, prematurely abandoned after his one effort at the helm, 'The Brave'. That Depp took time to help make the Ralph Steadman documentary which is due out sometime this year. Perhaps these are signs that Depp is currently that rare thing in any profession: a person who can choose his destiny. If $20 million roles means that he can play games in the margins, then there might be something to be said about continuing with the Pirates films. But at the moment, I’m waiting to see that Depp re-emerge. He’s been a little too quiet recently and he’s been sorely missed.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

What Jane Austen Can Teach Us About Charlie Brooker

BrookerSomebody around here has bought a clown’s horn. I keep hearing eeeee-hhoooonk every 15 minutes or so. However, I’ll press on, even if it does feel like some surreal criticism aimed my way after a night of torrential rains and furious cross-hatching.

I worked a long day drawing on Saturday. I finished two cartoon strips (three panels each) which I’ll eventually post here. I’ve agreed to draw them (and more) for the Liverpool fanzine, Red All Over The Land. I don’t know how many I’ll manage over the course of the coming season but we’ll see…

Honk! I can see this is going to drive me crazy…

This morning I noticed there’s been plenty of talk in the papers about ‘the world’s most savage TV critic’ Charlie Brooker. I don’t read his stuff but my sympathy is firmly with him if the reports are true that he’s trying to get Guardian bosses to turn off the comments beneath his articles. Of course, I understand the criticism aimed at him by those who believe in free speech. Free speech is one of the supposedly immutably good things in the world loved by people who also believe in the cleanliness of Bono’s underwear and the curative effect of Richard Branson’s chin whiskers. But elsewhere, free speech isn’t making as good a case for itself. Caroline Criado-Perez, the journalist who campaigned to get Jane Austen’s face on our banknotes, is now receiving threats of rape via Twitter. This time (rightly) there is no talk about free speech yet both stories highlight a difficult dichotomy that exists when people voice their opinions.

But first an aside: I’ve always detested Jane Austen’s novels. I had to study ‘Manfield Park’ for my English A level and, at university, we read a novel of hers every week during the first term (alongside all the other books we were studying). For six weeks, I was reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Mansfield Park’ (again!), ‘Emma’, ‘Northanger Abbey’ and then ‘Persuasion’. I got through them all but whilst I understood her gentle wit and I admired her prose, she was just a writer whose world didn’t sit easily with my grim working class outlook. It was like being in the company of a journalist who deliberately turns their attention away from the big issues of the day to discuss the rate at which grass grows. There aren’t many English writers whose face I wouldn’t prefer adorning our bank notes.

But how valid is my criticism?

This is the age of the internet so every response is valid (say its supporters). It is the assumption that any act of criticism is of equal importance to any act of creation. I’ve never bought into that myself and it’s partly the reason why I quit academia. I could never buy into concept of failed writers (which many academics are and I would have been myself) opining about successful writers. Nothing filled me with more hostility that witnessing some poindexter standing at the front of a lecture theatre affirming Orwell’s greatness as if Orwell needed the affirmation of a humourless freak in a black turtle neck and sandals.

In the real world, the remarks often aimed at J.K. Rowling by hacks, bloggers and literary pundits are generally about as meaningful as any snide criticism we might make aim at Jane Austen. The best critics (indeed, the only critics I try to read) produce secondary acts of creation in response to their subject. The great Clive James writes criticism infinitely better than the subjects of his criticism rightly deserved. James Wood, one of our best critics, writes as well about great literature as great literature itself speaks about our lives. Martin Amis too is a blisteringly fabulous critic; much better, I would say, than he is a novelist.

To put that differently: there is no value in my writing ‘I think Jane Austen is shit’ but there is slightly more value in my writing ‘Jane Austen gave Julian Fellowes a good career’ or ‘Jane Austen is the Jeremy Clarkson of the veiled aside’ but even these are obviously not a patch on what Austen herself might have written. And I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make. If we want to go on the attack, we must raise our game.

Mark Twain probably came the closest when he said: ‘Every time I read “Pride and Prejudice,” I want to dig [Austen] up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.’

Now that is worth immortalising on our bank notes! Criticism is the act of heckling in written form. Every comedian can talk about the perfect heckle and I think they would recall them with a certain pride. Sometimes comments beneath articles can be better than the article itself. In those instances, a person has raised their game, produced something of value, and that is to be welcomed and cherished.

Yet if people can’t raise their game to Charlie Brooker’s level, then he has a right to ask for the comments to be disabled. Jane Austen belongs in my pocket until that moment I can put some suitable criticism into words as well formed and enduring as her own. In fact, the more Jane Austens in my pocket, the better…

The comments, as ever, are open and hecklers welcome.

Friday, 26 July 2013

It's A Sparks Show: Episode 7





Sparks have filled my morning. First of all, I see that my original Sparks Show cartoon strip has been published (right) and can be found in French music magazine New Noise along with an interview with Ron and Russell Mael.

Less good news comes with the news that Sparks won’t be playing Manchester on their next tour. The UK dates have been announced and they’re limiting themselves to Glasgow, Bristol, and a few nights in London, meaning that despite my best efforts, Manchester won’t see them and, more importantly, I won’t see them. So bitterly disappointed...

Despite the absolute silence and zero feedback about my current work-in-progress (surely it’s not that bad or perhaps it is!), I’m posting the last of my Sparks strips. I didn’t post this before because I didn’t think it quite worked. Now I know that Sparks aren’t coming to Manchester, I realise that none of my strips worked how I intended so I might as well post this last one today… Naturally, click the image to view it full size.





Thursday, 25 July 2013

Real Things People Say Sitting When Outside Wilko: Part 2

Trying to put the frustration of the Private Eye cartoon out of my mind, I've spent the afternoon inking this. Still a work in progress but now closer to the end than the beginning.

My big accomplishment today was thinking of an ending. This morning, I biked into town to take photographs around our local Wilko so I might have some reference material when drawing in the backgrounds. Not that it was needed. It was all brickwork, plastic fascias and mobility scooters. However, I'd also gone there to listen to people talking. I hoped something might inspire me to draw the last two frames, which I sat staring at deep into the night without inspiration. This morning, sitting outside Wilko for a few moments, I did talk to a local (about the weather), at which point I realised that I was sitting saying real things outside Wilko. When I got home, I drew myself into the final frame which seemed right and summed up my mood for this dismal day.

So my heart sinks looking at a Private Eye cartoon

Spirits are so low today I’m finding it really difficult to get going. I’m wondering why I even bother drawing cartoons. In a way, it feels like my creativity is continually stifled. I started out, a number of years ago, writing novels and I would have had one published – a light-hearted satirical skit loosely based on Jacob Rees Mogg – if the publisher hadn’t been gobbled up by Harper Collins. I still write novels and have 90,000 unfinished words sitting here on this computer. Except I know there’s so little chance of getting anything published that I might as well dump the manuscript in the local canal, myself with it…

So I reduced the scale on my ambition. I wrote spoof letters and had one book published. I have a second book finished, even better than the first, but I can’t find a publisher interested...

So I reduced the scale of my ambitions again. I started to draw cartoons and comic strips, thinking if I condense my wit, I might have more chances to be published and earn some small income. Yet even that is proving fruitless. I submit cartoons to Private Eye and every one has been rejected.

It’s depressing but, as Tom Waits would say: ‘that’s the business we’re in’. Rejection is a chance to revise and edit. As Nietzsche puts it: 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' When I met Steadman, he said 'rework your failures'. Rejection should make me question my work. Are my cartoons funny enough? Are they drawn well enough? How can I improve? I ask myself all those questions daily. I struggle through doubt, confusion, and monstrous self-loathing. Why can’t I just find myself a humdrum job and be happy?

Yet the spirits are never more batter than when something like this happens.

Yesterday I bought Private Eye and I saw this cartoon on page 13.

pebin


And this is what I submitted to Private Eye back in the New Year when it was quickly rejected.

Bin


It’s the same joke done different ways, different styles, but that is always bound to happen when cartoonists address the same material and same ugly world. Was mine submitted first or second? I can’t tell. Is it better or worse? I guess it’s for others to judge. Mine is less 'on the nose', as they say, but perhaps too detailed for a single panel gag. All I know is that it again makes me wonder just why the hell I even bother getting up in the morning...

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Real Things People Say Sitting When Outside Wilko: A Work-in-Progress

This is the first time I've ever posted a work-in-progress but the four pages of this strip have turned into such a struggle to finish that I thought I'd give myself a small sense of accomplishment by putting the first two pages (or one A3 sized page) out there.

With this strip, I wanted to draw something funny yet based on real things I've seen or heard. I suppose I hoped by making this about my real life I might imbue the comedy with more relevance than my usual nonsense. I certainly spend too much time locking my bike up outside the local Wilko, so I get to hear snatches of gossip more entertaining taken in isolation than they would be in the context of the original conversation. I would say that the people are based on real people I see but my drawing skills are really to meagre to probably capture the twisted details of those very strange beasts.

Of course, it now strikes me that perhaps not everybody in the UK knows about Wilko or the kind of people who sit outside for hours on end. Perhaps it's a unique situation never repeated in the rest of the country or, for that matter, unique in the entire universe. Super beings probably cross millions of light years to witness such a spectacle, which is why I should probably carry on drawing page 2. It might be the thing I can finally submit to the competition I've been eyeing for the past few weeks.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="613"]Wilko Click to enlarge[/caption]

An Idiot's Guide to Unblocking, Cleaning and Ruining Rotring Isograph Nibs

2015 Update: Dear Isograph user/abuser. The following article will help you unblock your pen. It's the single most popular blog post I've ever written and I'm delighted I could be of use. Before you go, however, please do me the enormous favour and look around my blog. I'm friendly. I rarely bite. I welcome feedback from real people and if that real person is also a fellow cartoonist, then I hope you'll see that this blog is for you.

[caption id="attachment_2536" align="alignright" width="392"]Rotring isograph unblocking Click to embiggen[/caption]

I’m writing this because people keep arriving here after asking Google how to unblock an Isograph. I’m no expert but I do use Isographs on a daily basis and I’ve had to clear blocked nibs more times than is probably good for a man’s blood pressure.

There are probably official instructions out there but this is what I do. First, a word of warning: don’t hold me responsible if you bugger up your nib. That’s really easy to do if you need to expose the core. In fact, it’s so likely that you’d ruin the pen that I’d try every alternative method including prayers to ancient goat gods before I’d remove the innards from the finer Rotring nibs.

Most of the time, I get the nib working by shaking it. This is the key with the Isographs: they work because there’s a small weighted inner core, the end of which you can usually see poking out of the tip of the nib. If you look at diagram D, that’s the exposed inner core of the nib on the left. The image shows the core from the really thick 1.00 pen so you can imagine how thin these cores get on the finer pens. Again: I’ve removed that core just to show you but don’t try it yourself on your favourite 0.25mm Rotring unless everything else fails and you’re really happy to buy a new nib!

So, start off by giving the blocked pen a good shake. I often try to get a bit of whip like action into my wrist and shake it in the direction of the barrel. Wiping the end helps as does dipping the end in some clean water. Most of the time, that’s enough to get thing going again. In fact most days this is how I begin work: by shaking the pen until I can draw a good line.

If the pen is still blocked, I move to stage 2. If I leave the Rotring unused for any length of time, I’ll have to go through Stage 2, or sometimes I’ll do it after a couple of months when it starts to become too much of a chore getting the pen going each day.

Stage 2 involves removing the barrel, taking off the ink reservoir and giving the nib a thorough clean. I bought a cheap Ultrasonic Cleaner from Maplin for this purpose. It was in the sale and cost me about £30. Unfortunately, the bloody thing stopped working after about a month and I’ll be taking it back (if I can find the bloody receipt) but it did a fantastic job on the nibs for the time it was working. So if you’re really keen about unblocking your nibs, I’d recommend an ultrasonic cleaner, though preferably one that doesn’t break after a month’s use.

With or without the ultrasonic cleaner, you need to get all the hardened and thick ink from the outside of the nib. Remove the collar (the part indicated in diagram A). If it’s stuck, you can knock out the centre of the lid and use the resulting tube to twist and remove it. However, I can usually pull it off with my fingers. Now use a damp tissue and clean all the gunk from the spiraled groove and remove any hardened ink from the top of the nip. With that done, run the whole nib under a tap and then immerse it in some warm water with a little bit of detergent for about 10 minutes or so (or give it three or four minutes in your ultrasonic cleaner). Then rinse it out, all the time giving it a good shake to get the insides rattling again. Word of warning: this is messy. I usually end up with ink all over the kitchen walls.

I can’t stress how important it is to keep shaking the nib. That’s the key with the Isograph: if it’s got a clean rattle, then it probably draws clean lines. That weighted core inside the nib needs to be loosened up before you get your pen working again.

If you still can’t get it rattling, move to stage 3 and may the Lord have mercy on your soul...

This is where you can destroy your nib and you have to be cautious. I wouldn’t advise doing this with the very fine nibs. If you look on the back side of the nib (diagram B), you’ll see a groove. You can use that to unscrew the cover from the nib (diagram C) and you then expose the end of the weighted core. Don’t take that core out unless you’re really desperate to spend money on a new nib! On the finer pens, it’s as fine as a hair and you probably won’t be able to slide it back in without bending and therefore destroying it. And you can ruin it so easily. The smallest I’ve ever removed is on my standard .35mm pen but I wouldn’t like to try it on anything finer. In fact, I did destroy a .25mm Rotring the very first time I removed a core.

Anyway, if you remove the cover, you can either rinse the insides very carefully with water, making sure not to wash out the weighted core. If you do decide to remove the core you can give everything a good clean for the absolutely best results. However, on the really fine pens, the chance of getting the core back in is so very small. Again, an ultrasonic bath gets rid of the crud really easily.

Reassemble the pen and hopefully it will be full of water. I can tell if the pen is working again by drawing on a tissue. If the pen is rattling well and you can draw with water on your piece of tissue, then you’ve successfully cleaned your pen. Reattach the ink reserve (filled with ink, of course) and try to draw something that will earn you a fortune which you can then share any kind but poor souls who took time out of their day to help you in your moment of trouble.

Good luck! And if you found this blog post useful, it has probably saved you a whole lot of time and money. If so, please consider showing your appreciation by supporting this blog with a donation. Alternatively don't. I mean, this post has been up here since 2013 and it has been read thousands upon thousands of times. And do you know how many donations I've received to say thanks? None. That's right. None! It's enough to make a man give up and join some kind of Rotring pen cult where bare chested women sit around all day blowing the ink out of blocked pen nibs... I'd do it too if I had the money, which I don't.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Too Many Spoofers...

I posted a non-royal cartoon today because it fitted my contrary mood. I'm also running desperately low on these small one panel cartoons. I drew a sheet of six last week and I've now used them all.

I guess I should draw some royal baby cartoons but Private Eye’s headline ‘Woman has baby’ pretty much sums up my attitude to the news. Yet there was a time when I’d be all over this royal event, producing every conceivable Photoshopped joke, perhaps even writing a spoof 30,000 word book or drawing a series of cartoons. I would have used Twitter, created a spoof account, to voice the baby’s first thoughts about the world.

The fact that I’m not doing any of that, except for one five minute Photoshop last night, is a sign of how things have changed. Everybody is spoofing, usually with lamentable results and for no real purpose. Celebrities have no reason to fear the spoof because to be spoofed successfully is to find your fame more deeply engrained in the public consciousness.

The fake royal accounts actually enhance the status of the monarchy and no longer diminish it (though the royals do a good job of doing that themselves). Spoofs can make real people seem more likable by reducing them to identifiable traits in the way that Spitting Image often worked against its own agenda. Thatcher’s puppet started out as an attack on her policies and ended up by associating her with a series of stereotypes which actually had plenty of purchase among certain sections of the voting public.

So, I won’t be spoofing the royals today. My mind is in the real world, working on a new comic strip about a peculiar group of people I’ve been observing in my local town. I’ve almost finished the first page which I’ll post later today or sometime tomorrow.

Children's Entertainers of Yesteryear

Much Loved

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Big Dog: The Vladamir Putin Comic Strip

It’s a surprisingly quiet Sunday morning in the real world but not quite so quiet online. There's a little something I wrote for The Pangolin over there and I’ve also managed to finish my latest comic strip, which I’m posting here. I think it’s an improvement over my last attempt but not good enough to submit to any competition. Comedy never wins anything and I don’t think this would even make any shortlist. Looking over it, I can see that I strayed into my preferred territory of slightly strange humour which won’t be shared by many people. I need to write something more heartfelt, lacking humour, and with some strong emotional message. Perhaps I’ll try to get the gothic tale written and drawn that I mentioned last week. I tried but go nowhere and drew this instead… Perhaps I just don’t have it in me to be sincere and serious (see my Elephant in the Room strip for an explanation why). All I know is that this feels like a lot of work just to throw away on a Sunday morning blog post.

Naturally, click the images to make them readable...

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="476"]Putin1 Click image to enlarge[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="479"]Putin 2 Click image to enlarge[/caption]

Saturday, 20 July 2013

A Lousy Cartoon For A Lousy Saturday

ButtockLift

 

I don’t know why I even bother blogging or working in the summer months. The traffic is so slow I begin to wonder if the internet is trying to pass a kidney stone. Even if every visitor to this blog is welcomed with open arms they usually brush me aside to ask directions to the pornography or pictures of Angelina Jolie’s tattoos.

I’m also not going to sit here for much longer. Not today. I was enjoying the calm of the morning, admiring the brilliance of the trailer for Bill Plympton’s new film when the noise began. The screaming, the splashing, the screaming, the splashing, the complaining, the crying, the screaming, the splashing, the roar of approval from granddad, the screaming, the splashing, the screaming, the splashing…

It’s hard to think. I might as well push on. No bugger will read this anyway. Let it be the stream of my consciousness as I sit here a moment longer and endure the infantile banter… I put on the hot cups of my headphones and listen to some classical music, which I rarely do since I can’t listen to music and write. Lyrics get in my head and their rhythms break the rhythms of my writing. Classical music is better but not perfect. I’m listening to Handel’s Sarabande from the Barry Lyndon soundtrack but the screams still break though. Handel never had to compete against kids doped on sugar and devolved DNA.

There is a simple explanation as to why this happens. My neighbours on one side are complete and utter bastards. From the other side, we never hear a thing. In fact, every other neighbour is quiet, their children quiet, the friends and relatives quiet. But my immediate neighbours, they are just that kind of selfish bastards indifferent to what other people think or feel. They are the perfect embodiment of white van man created by the Thatcher years: low skilled but highly waged, with money to burn on every crass entertainment produced in China for B&Q and Homebase. They buy into every crazy and fad. They are the people who will destroy the world with their unending need for material goods. Their five cars have turned their once lush verge into a patch of soil and covertly spread gravel. They park across the pavement and make people walk in the road. I used to enjoy looking at the stars until they plastered their garden with solar lamps and then installed a small mock Victorian street lamp that burns through the night. They have more money than sense and… and now the noise gets louder and I feel myself getting angry but I won’t get angry. I could stick my head out the window and blow a baleful blast of rage but I don’t do that. People like us don’t do that. We want a quiet life without any squabbles between neighbours. We turn the music louder until we can barely hear ourselves think. We grit out teeth and mutter between ourselves that people like this ruin the world and have they no consideration for other people.

‘Grandma!’

‘Grandma!’

‘Grandma!’

Have I ever mentioned that these kids don’t even live around here? We just get their noise.

I’ll get no work done today unless I go to the local library which might be my only option.

I hate the summer. Summer belongs to my neighbours, snout lizards of the lowest order of cretin.

 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Red Alert! Condition Critical!

Red Alert

Stewart Lee's Usual Friday Morning Rant

As a fan of great comedy writing, I tend to hang on every word of Stewart Lee’s agitprop, which is why I feel so bright and savage this Friday morning. I lay in bed chucking over Lee’s latest policy statement about the place of writers in stand-up and, by the time I’d finished, Lee's feisty words had certainly got the blood pumping. It contains some fruity insights, a few slices of Bacon, and only one disappointing nugget in the form of his denial that he took a ‘sideswipe’ at Michael McIntyre. It’s a great way to begin the day but an even better way to spend your morning is to watch the hour long lecture that accompanies the piece. It’s very highly recommended for anybody interested in writing processes, comedy, or stand up. It reminds me again why Lee is one of the good guys and I'm even more committed to finding the money to buy a ticket for his Liverpool show even if I have to steal a swimming pool from a neighbour's garden and flog it at the local flea market.



Meanwhile back in the land of the failing comedy writers: last night I endured another episode in the long-running sitcom, ‘Neighbours in the aforementioned swimming pool’. The latest ran two hours and included the classic line: ‘Grandma! Do a backflip!’ Sadly, no backflips were attempted because I didn’t hear that other classic line: ‘Grandma! Why are you being admitted into a spinal trauma unit?’

About 2am this morning, I finished drawing the main lines of my latest strip, which I hope to submit to a competition in the coming days. My previous strip was full of heartfelt biography but probably didn't hold together, whereas this new strip is outright satire and has a more coherent narrative and some bits that might make people laugh. Or I hope it does, once I get all the crosshatching finished which is what I should be doing right now…

Almost Dangerous Hobbies

Almost Dangerous Hobbies

Thursday, 18 July 2013

I Should Have Asked Kenneth Branagh…

Big news! The neighbour’s inflatable pool/urinal disappeared last night!

I gazed out the window at eight o’clock and saw a patch of dead grass which, to my eyes, looked as wonderful as any green patch of Eden. I went to bed happy and slept blissfully until I awoke this morning to a dim grumbling. At first, I suspected peptic troubles but then noticed that the noise was coming from somewhere about 25 feet below my lower intestine.

I peeled myself from my bed and padded over to the window. I threw open my curtains on a scene that would have made lesser men drop a third testicle. The pool was back and an electric pump was inflating it to an Olympic size. I swear this pool is getting bigger by the day! If I didn’t know better, I’d even say that the swine next door had gone out and bought a new one. They’re putting serious investment into their inflatables too. A huge dolphin meant to be ridden is now floating on the pristine waters of The Lake. This is going to be a long hot summer, about as relaxing as a crisis in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, I’m suffering with the heat. I’m currently working on a new cartoon strip which is progressing well. It’s funnier than my last one (or I hope it is) and with two of the four pages already done, there’s only two more to be pencilled in today whilst cricket it on in the background and I await the arrival of ‘Hell’s Klaxon’ aka next door’s grandchild.

It’s a strange business all around… I noticed that Kenneth Branagh was answering questions over at The Guardian. He’s currently in the area, appearing in Macbeth at the Manchester Festival. I racked my brains to think of something intelligent to ask but, in the end, I gave up and got two replies for my troubles. Despite my pretensions otherwise, I guess I’m as much a sucker for the aroma of celebrity as anybody… I now wish I’d sent him a Stan letter…

However his tip regarding ways to keep dogs cool in summer is proving very helpful. Not for any dog but for me. I’ve now got a commemorative tea towel (Rhyl variety) draped over my neck and it is definitely keeping me cool. I should have asked him about ways to take out an inflatable swimming pool from a distance of 25 feet. He seems a bright bloke. I have the feeling he might have known the answer.

The Proud Father Cartoon

Neck tattoos

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Summer Fun Cartoon

Swimming UrinalYesterday's discussion with Barman got me thinking about the hygiene properties of swimming pools and it occurred to me that we'd probably think differently about sticking kids in these fungal pits if we described them exactly how they are.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Magpies

Sleep has been coming easily but staying asleep has been more of a struggle. If it’s not the clammy warmth that wakes me, it’s the squealing kids in their swimming pool. This morning, however, it was the magpies at six o’clock.

It appears to be a good year for those black and white villains. They are everywhere. A family have made a nest in the huge conifer in the land behind the house. From there, they’re launching all manner of devious scheme on the neighbourhood. The small bird population seems to have entirely disappeared and three times in the last week magpies have actually come into the house, leaving me to try my best to usher them out as they smash, scream, and shit their way around the room. The ugly little brutes clearly think they’re in a territorial dispute they’ll win. And I’m not so sure they won’t.

The problem with magpies is that despite my outward appearance of a rational man, I am prone to the occasional lapse into superstition. I can’t see a magpie without feeling the urge to salute the little bugger. I suppose it’s a traditional thing in these parts to salute and to say ‘Good morning, General, and say hello to the missus…’ I don’t know why I do it but I feel like I’ll have bad luck if I don’t. Then again, after years of saluting them, my luck still seems abnormally bad.

I’m conflicted, therefore, when they break into the house. I’ll usually panic, salute, mutter some ancient sayings, whilst also waving a cushion around my head as I try to usher them out through the back door. Waking me at dawn is probably their version of psychological warfare. They clearly learned a thing or two from the tricks the CIA played to get General Noriega out of the Vatican’s embassy in Panama. They probably think it will affect my ability to respond the next time they try to invade. And they will try again and they might succeed. Tomorrow, this blog might be written by a magpie and some might think that’s not a bad idea.

Miss Real UK

It’s hot outside and perfect bikini weather, so here’s a cartoon I drew a long time ago but never posted, possibly because I wasn't sure that hot blooded men out there wouldn't overrun the website eager to discover her name.

Miss Real UK

Monday, 15 July 2013

Genius Wanted For Nefarious Scheme: Enquire Within

Are you genius? Good. Evil genius? Even better! I need your help…

I’m in the market for that superior type of mental custard that was always found on ‘The Great Egg Race’, the fabulous BBC2 show of my youth where you genius types made egg chariots with household objects and rubber bands.

Here’s your challenge. It’s a 20 foot swimming pool in blue rubber, approximately 20 feet from my bedroom window and not much further away from where I do my work. During the day, it’s occupied by one psychologically flawed child who will scream until she gets her own way. Since she also has some deep seated paranoia that will probably help her in her future career as a tyrant in a third world banana republic or an ex-Soviet caucus, she spends her day screaming and shouting and making demands and ordering the occasional putsch.

The key fact here is: without the pool, the child wouldn’t come around to her grandparents and she’d be somewhere else, out of my earshot. With the pool, I’m developing a twitch at the sound of splashing water.

Now, listen up. We are now five days from the school holidays and this problem is becoming a clear and present danger to my mental health. A hole needs to appear in one or more walls of the pool and keep reappearing until the neighbours stop inflating the bloody thing.

At night, the pool is left unsupervised. I can provide schematics if needed. I was thinking a powerful hand laser might make a hole but that would be expensive unless anybody out there (preferably the US military) can lend me one for the next six weeks. Alternatively, I thought I could use a long rod with a nail attached but I might get caught. A remote control vehicle with a pin stuck to the front would be great except the pool is behind a locked gate. Could I buy an air rifle? Would I need a license and would ‘making holes in children’s swimming pools’ be an acceptable reason for wanting to own one? What about some clever arrangement of mirrors redirecting the sun? No, you fool! This operation has to be carried out under the cloak of darkness, possibly involving a stealth helicopter and Seal Team Six…

Is there some waterborne fungus that eats rubber? Some sonic ray I could aim to puncture the pool? I’m just throwing ideas out there…. What about loud noises, electromagnetic coils and the lost writings of Nikola Tesla? Perhaps some kind of snake drill that could go under the fence and puncture the pool from below?

Darts crafted in ice! Ooh, I like that idea. Make a mould of some regulation pub darts, fill with water, freeze, and throw the buggers over the fence as midnight strikes… The evidence would disappear with the first sun of the day.

Or is that too Edgar Allen Poe?

Could I train a bat to attack?

Are the Mythbusters available?

What about a hedgehog thrown over the fence? Nobody would suspect a thing and, if they did, we could blame it on freak atmospherics…

So, I wanted four t-shirts from eBay...

Slightly delayed today. I wanted to buy four t-shirts from eBay.

In theory it was simple. I go on eBay and find some cheap Fruit of the Loom. They might be knockoffs but I don’t care. I bought some last year and they've been fantastic. Never shrunk in the wash, heavy quality, and cleaned well until I decided to weather-proof the bike shed the other day and my blue shirt became mottled with Oak stain.

So, I pick out four new shirts and head to the checkout. Proceed to pay via Paypal.

Only, bugger it! I can’t remember my email address and password.

Forget it, I think: I’ll just pay by credit card. So I enter my details. Only, it won’t let me pay with my credit card because it seems to know that I have a Paypal account. I hardly use my Paypal account but never mind… I press ‘Forgot password’.

They promise to send me an email.

Over to Thunderbird. Wait for email. Email arrives so I click the email link and enter a new password.

Now try to log in.

Password don’t work.

Click ‘forgot password’. Thunderbird. Click link. New password.

Log in. This time is works! Hurrah! I can almost taste my new shirts...

Except my credit card is out of date. I said I hardly ever use my Paypal account and that just proves it.

Okay. Down two flights of stair, find my wallet and get my new card. Back up two flights of stairs. Enter details. Submit.

Oh, I have the date wrong. My fault. Enter it again.

Success. New shirts here I come!

Only Paypal now inform me that ‘your account is limited’…

Why the hell is it limited? Go to the resolution centre. They want me to send proof that I’m me.

Christ. I only want to buy four cheap t-shirts off eBay…

So, now I have to go downstairs again (two flights), find some documentation with my name and address on it. Back upstairs to scan it. Save it as a Jpeg. Upload it.

Now it’s in process.

Only it now says that I also need to send them a bank statement. Except my bank is now paperless…

Downstairs again and I finally find a credit card statement… Upstairs again I scan it, save it, upload it…

Again, it’s in process and there’s no idea how long this will take. I click on the Resolve button and it now suggests that they'll need some kind of photo-id…

'Sod it,' I cried and threw down my mouse.

In the end, I gave up, biked into town and bought two new shirts in a shop. In fact, I’m wearing one now and I didn't even have to remember a single password.

And that’s the thing I’m finding increasingly with online shopping. When it started and we didn’t have all the security checks, things were genuinely easier. Online shopping was the future. Yet slowly the whole thing has become so complicated that it’s sometimes impossible to pass the rigorous security checks to prove that you are who you claim you are. Too often I find myself sitting here getting hot and frustrated whilst shouting down the phone to some poor bugger in an Indian call centre trying to explain that I don’t have a passport or a driving license… Or I find that I have to retrieve passwords for email accounts I no longer use but which I’d used to register for some online account for which I’ve long since lost the password. The whole thing turns into an enormous Gordian knot and what seemed like a simple task of buying four cheap t-shirts on eBay takes on the equivalent of some NSA operation to hack some Chinese database.

In fact, the only people who seem to know how to buy things over the internet using my credit card are the Russian mafia types who have the technical knowledge to hack my accounts and discover all my passwords. I wonder how I'd get in touch with them. Perhaps they could order me some shirts...

The Outdoor Pub Karaoke Cartoon

Outdoor Pub Karaoke in the Summer

 

Forgive the quality of this cartoon. I scribbled it in my notebook at around 10.30 last night after spending the entire evening listening to bad pub singers from about half a mile away. The theme of the night seemed to be Slim Whitman, some Abba, and plenty of Queen.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Elephant in the Room

Traffic is so slow in these summer months that there’s didn't seem any point in my posting anything particularly good today. Yet at the same time, it means that I can post anything I like and nobody will bother reading it.

I didn’t intend to post this at all but I thought I’d put it out there for a limited time only. Perhaps I’ll get feedback which will help me on my next attempt at one of these longer strips. It was an experiment in doing something different and I had originally intended to enter it into a competition. As you’ll see, it doesn’t work. It's a glorious failure. The Ron & Russell Mael comic within the comic doesn’t have a strong enough reason to be there. I couldn’t find the right words to explain why I fall into fiction, or, if I had the right words, I didn’t have enough space to fit them. I suppose the strip began as my figuring out why I’m so cynical towards art and why I choose to write comedy. That explanation was the thing I eventually couldn’t fit in the finished strip. However, it’s another lesson learned and will help my next strip, which will probably be some kind of dark gothic tale which is currently rattling around in a shapeless form inside my brain.

Of course, click to enlarge both images...



Saturday, 13 July 2013

Best Neighbours In The World

After a hot and uncomfortable night’s sleep, there’s nothing that raises the spirits more than waking up at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning knowing that you have the Best Neighbours in the World.

The problem with bad neighbours is that you don't even know that they're there. They’d probably still be asleep, having one of those horrible ‘lies in’ that fools enjoy when the ugly end of the week is done. The Best Neighbours in the World don’t need rest. They are up bright an early and aren’t so selfish that they won’t share this fact with you. They talk loudly on the mobile phones or scream at the tops of their voices beneath your bedroom window just to make sure you know that it’s eight o’clock.

You see the Best Neighbours in the World now have put a rubber swimming pool beneath my bedroom window. The Best Neighbours in the World also have the Best Grandchildren in the world to stay over on a Friday night so they can also be up bright and early and fill my life with their innocent song!

‘Grandma! The dog's weeing in the pool!’ echoes over the neighbourhood whilst all the Worst Neighbours in the World are still asleep.

Then the Best Granddad in the World starts the electric pump to top up the swimming pool’s air.

‘Leave it alone until I’m done!’ he shouts, his voice rolling through the peaceful pastures like an empty vessel which, as the saying goes, makes the most sound.

A squeal of delight that might just be the Best Squeal of Delight in the World penetrates the last of my dreams as the first grandchild hits the cold water.

There’s more screaming and arguments and loud chatter. A fight ensues. Cold water is thrown. There’s a temper tantrum and then a demonstration of the Best Parenting in the world (tip: it involves shouting) as the normal chaos is restored.

By about 8.45 I realise that having worked deep into the night, I have no excuse to stay in bed. I've had my six hours so I get up. The Best Neighbours in the World are still in the garden. The Best Grandkids are still shouting, laughing, screaming, provoking the dog…

It’s 9am and I’m dressed and in the kitchen. I make my breakfast and open the doors to let some fresh air into the house. And that’s when I realise that all is quiet. Because they’re the Best Neighbours in the World, they know when their job is done. They’ve now gone inside. No doubt they’ll soon be off out. Every weekend they do this. Noise from 7.30 until about 9. And I never learn my lesson…

But what’s this? I realise, again, that I have misjudged the Best Neighbours in the World. They’re in the garden again. The screaming has started. I’m at my desk, ready to work, and I had been worrying that today might have been one of those horribly quiet days when the only noise comes from the Test Match on the TV. Instead, today will be a day of children screaming, dogs barking, power tools, crap music on the radio, arguments and then a barbecue possibly with the Best Relatives in the World! Oh, you people out there don’t know how unlucky you are. The Best Neighbours in the World will make this day so memorable but that’s why they’re the best!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Julia from the Cheshire Area

Her name was Julia and she was blonde. I also knew she was half-crazy. I’d found that appealing at first. Julia was dangerous in a way rarely found in the girls of Cheshire. Dating her was like licking the edge of a rusty Albanian or drinking cloudy liquids in Swansea. She was the kind of woman that comes along once in a man’s lifetime and it’s best to savour the experience so long as you’ve had the right shots.

We’d met in a Salford bar, played verbal ping pong as we waited for our cocktails to arrive. She was charming, humorous, and so nimble that she could scratch her own buttocks with both ears. Yet there was something else. If I made a joke, she would tightly grab my knee. I didn’t mind her being so forward but I wondered did she really have to grab it between her teeth. Then she suggested that we go back to her place to ‘boil some bunnies’. What could I say? I’m just a single northern bloke and Julia was from the Cheshire area. This was our first date and she was already suggesting we play out the third act of Fatal Attraction. I knew I was in for an adventure. We might make for a dangerous couple and  end up like Bonnie and Clyde, or at least, Bunny and Clyde, played out against the backdrop of the Sandbach Services…

Or perhaps not.

I’ve never met a mad blonde bunny boiler from the Cheshire area and don't know anybody called Julia, yet sometimes a search term stands out in the web statistics that you just have to respond...

I mean: what kind of depraved back story caused a man to go to Google at 17.21 today and type the following?

‘Have any other single northern blokes dated a blonde bunny boiler Julia from Cheshire area’.

There has to be a film script in this...

Boots

Boots flasher


A cartoon based, as they say, on a real life event.


You can probably tell that after nearly two months of blogging every single day, I’m finally running out of cartoons. I need to embark on one of my marathon cartooning sessions to give myself some breathing space. However, I’m still deep in comic strip country trying to finish my competition entry. It’s not gone as smoothly as I’d hoped and I’m weighing up whether I need to ditch my third page entirely and rewrite the rest of it.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

When The Animals Start Crossing Over

TomNookI went to punch the man at the Tesco cheese counter in his mush this morning. When I say ‘went’, I don’t mean I set out intending to assault the poor man over his best cheddar. I mean I arrived at the delicatessen and for one strange twisted moment I thought he was a Japanese raccoon dog.

That was the moment I realised I’ve been playing too much ‘Animal Crossing’ on the 3DS. It wasn’t the carpal tunnel syndrome I’ve been suffering after days spent using the small controls in my big clumsy paws. It wasn’t even that fact that I’ve been doing all my shopping thinking in terms of bells. But the moment the small rotund man in the apron turned to me and I saw the sallow lie of his eyes, his slightly upturned snout, I felt like I was looking at Tom Nook himself. As you can probably guess, he’s not my favourite person at the moment. I’m into Nook the Crook for a cool quarter of a mill and he won’t speak to me until I’ve settled the debt.

I find these moments when computer games cross over into the real world happening to me more often than they used to. In the early days of gaming, it was hard to associate the real world with anything you experienced in the virtual. I don’t remember having these weird experiences back when 3D objects were jagged white lines and sprites just vague blocks of colour. It was first person shooters that started to warp my perceptions of the everyday. I first noticed the phenomenon after long sessions playing ‘Doom’. Walking past any industrial yard or road works, if I saw a pile of barrels I would mentally reach for my shotgun to blow them up. It happened again after playing too much ‘Burnout Revenge’. I couldn’t be in a car moving at high speed without the urge to use the crash barriers as a way of keeping me on the road whilst cornering. As for the urge to stick the nose of the car into anybody foolish enough to get in my way, well the temptation is almost too much to resist. The ‘Grand Theft Auto’ games were a long hard struggle to stay out of prison given my constant urges to car jack and ‘Portal 2’ was one long battle to avoid jumping from high places.

More recently, these moments have been happening all the time. Just yesterda

y I saw a butterfly. I’ve never chased a butterfly in my life but I gasped and skipped after it once I realised it was one that Blathers hasn’t got in his collection. Luckily, after a couple of steps, sense prevailed and I tried to look disinterested but, by then, it was too late. Everybody in the rugby scrum knew I had a passion for butterflies and I might never live that down.

‘Animal Crossing’ in 3D is a game that’s intended to ingrate seamlessly with your life but I’m not sure it should be this seamless. I wake up first thing in the morning thinking my debt woes are behind me because I have 200,000 bells in the bank. Can’t make that credit card payment this month? I’ll just spend my morn

ing fishing and I’ll sell the Hammerhead Shark I know I’m sure to catch. I’m also disappointed to learn that the next door cat won’t give me something for the old wardrobe I’m trying to offload in exchange for a pear wardrobe.

As games mature, it becomes easier to confuse the separation between your real and imaginary life. As excited as I am by the prospect of Oculus Rift hitting the mainstream, there’s something about fully immersing myself into those worlds that worries me. Gaming is a powerful drug and wrapping your senses entirely in a fictional experience is something for which the human species has yet to properly adapt. ‘Animal Crossing’ might be very similar to the game on the original DS but 3D adds that degree of reality which makes a huge difference. It’s the difference between imagining and

believing.

I used to mock the friend who first introduced me to ‘Animal Crossing’ simply because she would write real letters to the characters in the game. ‘You know, the computing power in a DS means that it can’t actually process and understand your real language,’ I would say. ‘Those long letters are just meaningless gabble to the game engine. Just hit a load of keys randomly and it will think it makes sense.’

‘No, that’s not right,’ she would protest and I would laugh.

Only, I don’t laugh now. Not since I told Bill the Duck to finish every conversation with his new catchphrase ‘arses’. The word has spread like a virus through the entire village and there are now ‘arses’ everywhere. It was a hard lesson to learn and I now know

Billtheduck

I should never have misjudged the cleverness of Nintendo engineers. Now I’m playing the game with proper intent. I know it’s morally wrong to make a duck say ‘arses’, both in this world and that word. That’s assuming I can even tell the difference anymore and I’m not sure I can. Arses.

This was a piece I wrote very quickly in response to a job advert for video game related articles for a start-up games magazine. I never heard a thing, which probably tells me something about the article or the start-up games magazine.

The Shed

If I didn't blog much yesterday, it's because I was putting up a sodding bike shed...

The parts have been sitting in the garden for a week and we’ve been glaring at each other all weekend muttering vague threats. I didn’t buy the bike shed. It’s not my bike shed. I wouldn’t want a bike shed. However, it fell to me to put the bloody thing up and, since I was having an otherwise crappy day, I thought I might as well write off Monday by doing this long overdue task.

There’s nothing like putting up a shed in hot weather, especially when the instruction leaflet is written according the rule book issued by the Institute of the Vague and Thereabouts. None of the pieces had labels or names so it was a matter of interpreting rather than following the instructions. The biggest problem I faced was that once I’d erected all four walls, I discovered that to open the doors I needed a key. Where was the key? After about half-an-hour’s search, I discovered that the key was stapled to the inside of the doors. That’s on the inside of the shed I’d just erected. Cue my having to crawl under the shed whilst propping it at an angle on the wheelie bin…

Thankfully, the shed is now constructed with only two pieces of wood left over. I’ll be damned if I know where they go or what they’re for but I guess I’ll discover that when the bloody thing collapses.

However, it was a good day’s work and with only the following injuries:

  • One large claw hammer mark on left knuckle.

  • Small dent in side of head where I walked into the roof.

  • Right toes bruised after dropping roof on my foot.

  • Left elbow badly grazed.

  • Splinter in right index finger.

  • Numerous patches of irritated skin from the highly poisonous wood preservative.


I have to say that for a man who failed woodwork at school (I accidentally nailed my mug rack to the desk so when the teacher came to inspect it, he could actually lift it up) I think the shed looks as good as a shed should look when it’s held together with about two and a half thousand nails. Not to buy some anti-tamper screws and install some lethal security measures to stop the bikes getting nicked by the local Griffs and weirdos.

Shed

The Modern Art Cartoon

Saatchi

Monday, 8 July 2013

Thank You, Mystery Visitor From Colchester

To the person who came to this blog after searching for ‘Stan Madeley’ via Google, can I just say ‘thank you’… I don’t know who you are or why you looked for my nom de plume but it always delights me when people are interested in the man I played every day for about two years.

My mind creates all kinds of imaginary scenarios as to why ‘Stan Madeley’ has just come into somebody’s life and why he came back into mine. Did you discover the book of the ‘UK’s Top Richard Madeley lookalike’ in some second-hand bookshop and wondered if you can get your 50p back? Did you receive one of Stan’s recent letters and you wonder if it’s safe to reply? (It is. The worst thing I’d ever do it write back or send you a pair of new socks). Or perhaps you’re looking for a different ‘Stan Madeley’ and found my Stan Madeley by accident, in which case, I have to withdraw my offer of free socks.

Whatever the truth, that one search cheered me up on a blistering hot and difficult day, which I’ll soon be writing about in glorious detail complete with a photograph of the shed I’ve just built…

Yes. That’s right. I spent my day building a shed.

The Long Wait Is Over!

Wimbledon

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Sport

The mercury is rising and my fan is popping in its bearing as it struggles to push enough air through this cramped attic room. Today’s watchword will be ‘endure’ hoping that this heat doesn't dry the reptile blood in my veins. It will be tolerable so long as the neighbours don’t have yet another barbecue. It’s probably too much to hope for. They’re red toothed meat eaters with raptor claws. Peering through the knots in the fence is like gazing into a cannibal apocalypse but with fewer manners and more HP sauce.

I also refuse to get my hopes up about the Men’s Wimbledon final. We’re now deep into wasp season, when we expect heat rash, parasites, and national disappointment. Any sportsperson I sit down to watch will usually fail so I’ll try not to watch the final in order to give Andy Murray a fighting chance. I just wish other people were equally superstitious. I see David Cameron is weaseling himself into the game. If Murray loses, people will say it’s the curse of Cameron. If Murray wins, people will say that Cameron is making political capital by being associated with sporting success. Not that I suppose it means much in the grand scheme of things. The Royal Box has been filled with so much villainy this week and the sight of James Corden pumping his fists into the air was enough to put me off tennis forever.

These are cynical thoughts for such a sunny Sunday morning but I’m finding my interest in sport lessens the more it becomes part of the great edifice we've erected in this country to celebrate the crass and imbecilic of celebrity culture. I was standing on Warrington Bank Quay station yesterday waiting for the London train. On the other platform were glossy backlit ads for the coming football season. I felt completely indifferent to the prospect.

Previous years I've been hooked on reading about transfer dealings at Liverpool and looking forward to the season. This year I can’t find the enthusiasm to bother. The last few seasons have almost totally killed my passion for the sport. First Fernando Torres jumped ship to Chelsea, which felt bad but I reconciled it with the £50 million Liverpool got for his sale and the fact that he’d been struggling all season. Yet, this year, Luis Suarez’s media games have totally soured it for me. All season he professes loyalty to the club, despite doing some pretty dumb things on the pitch that have tested even the loyalist supporter, but then, as soon as the season is over, he’s acting like the cheapest trull turning tricks on some street corner in downtown Madrid.

Footballers profess loyalty but it is hypocritical crabshit intended to sell shirts. Players and managers: they’re all mercenary. Even players local to their club can be lured away if the money is good enough. Supporting a team is no longer about supporting a history, a community or an ideal. It’s about supporting a financial position, a business contract, an arbitrary arrangement agreed between individuals whose motivations are 180 degrees different to what you as a support expect. Many fans tattoo their club crest on an arm or leg. Players should tattoo the symbol for the euro, pound or dollar.

Tennis seems to be nobler than that but perhaps it’s no better. For one fortnight in July we hear how Wimbledon is a special place but we forget that these players are touring all year and visiting many ‘special’ places. To spectators it’s a romantic ideal, a passionate competition, a unique distraction. To the players it is the current stop on the World Tour. Platitudes are said and excuses made. Surprises happen but they’re all part of the script. We go for the sport but we’re sold an event. We support an individual but we’re really funding a brand.

Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray? Head or Adidas?

I’m crossing my fingers for Murray and for that vestige of hope that still lingers that sport is still bigger than the spin.

The Live Comedy Cartoon

LiveComedy

Saturday, 6 July 2013

So, I Actually Met Ralph Steadman...




The travel tablets were a month out of date but I knocked one back at the Pendolino’s first roll. I’m not sure if anything that happened thereafter was real. It didn’t feel real. It felt like how I'd imagined my ideal visit to the Cartoon Museum would go, except in my imagination I wasn’t such a monumentally dull and mumbling arse.

The 8.20am train was only half full, testament to the ridiculously high prices they ask for these weekend trains to London. I’d been given the ticket but the £77 return price still made me wince and thankful that I hadn’t had to pay.

We arrived just after 11. Arriving at Euston always feels like a craven way of entering the city, as though you've crept under the floorboards. I emerged from the dark concrete basement into the heat and the madness.

As soon as I step out of Euston, I’m faced by a tall man crying biblical prophecy. I guess there’s no hour in London that isn’t enjoyed by the God freaks or the drugged madmen with wild eyes. At the first pelican crossing, two cars jumped the red light nearly taking pedestrians with them. I remind myself that I'm a long way from home. I pull down my baseball hat and start walking. A line of Boris bikes was the second thing that grabbed my eye. They are a brilliant idea on TV but seen at street level they are insanity given pedals. Soon all manner of human beings are lurching around me, indifferent to danger as they weave through the traffic. I imagine taxi drivers loathe them. As a cyclist, I loathe them. As a coward, I also choose to walk.

I intended to take my time before going to the Cartoon Museum but resting in Bloomsbury Square Gardens made me feel too perverted. The whole of the city seemed to be going without their damn clothes. Four shapely blondes lay out on the grass right in front of where I’d sat. They were wearing bikinis which they’d occasionally unstrap to help get an all over tan. ‘Don’t look, you dirty old bugger,’ I mumble to myself. ‘We’re here for higher things…’

Five minutes later, I walked into the Cartoon Museum and paid five pounds at the front desk to see those higher things.

‘Are you here for the exhibition or the signing?’ asked the pleasant girl handing me my change.

‘The Steadman exhibition,’ I said. ‘Why? Who’s signing?’

She gave me a puzzled look. ‘Steadman, of course.’

My first thought was “Hell! That’s ruined my day!”

‘Hell,’ I said, my nerves immediately betraying me. ‘That’s ruined my day.’

And, in a way, it was true. I’d travelled to London just to look at his pictures. I wanted to be studious, writing down keen-eyed observations. Now I couldn’t do that with the same intent because I'd already turned into a bumbling wreck, walking into walls like that little midget robot in Blade Runner. Obviously I couldn't turn down this opportunity. I would have to meet Steadman and, in my experience, that would mean making a complete arse of myself.

The museum lady gave me one of those smiles as if to say ‘clearly mad’ and waved me through.



In the next room, I saw a figure sitting on a bench. His back was towards me but his hair, the shape of his head, and his waistcoat were all immediately recognizable, as was the rumble of his voice, like an underground train passing through the bowels of hell. I snapped one picture (right) and then hid. The hallucination was too grand for my mind to comprehend. I’d expected to be in the company of pictures drawn by a great hand. I didn’t expect to be in the company of that great hand.

Steadman quickly disappeared into a room where he was apparently doing an interview, posing for photographs, signing books for staff…

Meanwhile, I became absorbed in the exhibition which was everything I hoped for and a little more.

If the museum itself was about as big as I’d expected (that is: quite small) it was immediately apparent that I was in the company of original work. A very few of the exhibits were prints but the majority were originals, patched with whiteout. That was the first thing I noticed. Steadman’s whiteout remains very white even when the paper has yellowed. The descriptions beside the images suggest that he uses white acrylic. First tip of the day and possibly a good one: try using white acrylic. He uses far more whiteout than I’d imagined, not so much fixing mistakes (though there are plenty of changes of direction) but sometimes just refining a line or adding highlights to a dense patch of crosshatching.

Despite my thinking his work at large scale would be quite coarse, I was very struck by how delicate even his strongest lines are. In fact, that was the one of the main discoveries I take away from the exhibit and the same thought carried over when I was later standing looking at Martin Rowson’s illustrations for his Gulliver book (the other highlight of my day). In fact, much as I’ve always been a Rowson fan, his couple of panels of original work have encouraged me to buy his books the next time I have money.

But back to Steadman… Only by seeing Steadman’s work at first hand do you understand some of the techniques. The size of the page is itself something to behold, with him drawing on A1 sheets. Up close, you see the marks of the craftsman. Sometimes it's as simple as the pin holes where he’s used a compass. Many places the crosshatching lines has obviously been drawn with a ruler. He uses quite a fine nib at times (not a croquill but not one I could recognize immediately, perhaps a Gillott). I do know that I’ll be ditching the heavy duty nib I’ve been using recently. My lines look clumsy in comparison. In other pictures, you can see where he’s used a felt tip pen to create the mesh of fencing.

I can’t say there was one stand-out part of the exhibit because it was all sublime. His modern work was as good as anything from the 1970s and earlier, and it was fascinating to see the sheer originality of his thought. I was particularly struck by some work he’d done with Polaroid film, manipulating the warm ink before it hardened to the finished image. Having worked using Photoshop to produce similar effects, it was humbling seeing how he'd been doing the same before Photoshop even existed.

I was also astonished to see how he’d used Gray’s Anatomy for the famous Hunter S. Thompson portrait and others. I’d heard him talking about it in countless documentaries but, seeing the finished result was surprising. Parts taken from Gray's Anatomy just seemed to naturally fit the portrait.

I’d walked around the exhibit about half a dozen times before I went back to front desk and shop. I’d been told Steadman would sign two pieces: one exhibition catalogue and one other item. Fans were already turning up with old copies of his books and more collectable items. Obviously, not knowing he’d be there, I hadn’t brought anything to sign so I had to go and buy something. I was tempted to pick Freud, one of my favourites, but it was far too pricey. A copy of Alice was second choice and affordable at only £12.

As I’m browsing in the shop, Ralph Steadman's wife arrives. I recognised her immediately. I smiled as she walked past but she too was soon gone to the room where all the important things were happening.

I buy my books, chat again to the pleasant girl at the counter and I ask if she could point out the curator. I thought I was asking for the curator who had emailed me a few weeks ago to inform me that the exhibition would eventually move to Halifax. I was directed to woman standing close by who looked at me as though she should know me. I thanked her for the email she sent. 'What email?' she asked. I explained I wrote a blog where I’d mentioned that I’d never be able to afford to attend the exhibition. She didn’t know me and quickly disappeared into a room. Auspicious beginning, I thought, feeling about an inch high. Suddenly I felt bad about what I could say to Steadman.

I wait the rest of my time looking at the second floor exhibit. Not so much there to get my attention. I’d hoped to see more single panel cartoons but the display was mostly (I think) comic strips. There was one Peanuts strip drawn by Charles Schultz that made me smile. Not the strip but the fact that he clearly just drew two horizontal lines, boxed them off, and then used tippex to produce gaps between the boxes. Simply, rough, and probably the way to go.

I spend much of my time on the second floor just looking at the Martin Rowson panels. I think there were two or three and they were stomach knottingly good. Had the floor below not been filled with original Steadman, it would have been the best part of the day and alone worth the 400 mile round journey.

Around 12.30 we were told to queue and I found myself sixth in line. Six. Bad number. My least favourite number. I never do anything involving the number six if I can help it. Never leave a book on a page with a six in the page number. It’s a strange habit I’ve got into…

At 1pm, we’re led in. Steadman is at the front of the room. I want a photo but the curator arrives and looks unhappy with one person snapping pics so I keep the camera in my pocket. Slowly Steadman starts work, signing something for the guy first in line. Then number two. Number three. Somebody had clearly gone into the shop and bought on the £400 prints to have it signed. I felt slightly ashamed holding the £12 Alice in my hands.

Number four. Number five.

Suddenly, I’m walking up to Ralph Steadman. I’m lost for words.

He asked my name. ‘David,’ I said. ‘For me.’

‘Oh, I know a David who used to send chemicals from up North.’

‘Ah,’ I mumbled. ‘I’m actually the David who once sent you a book’.

A mixture of my nervous mumbling and Lancashire accept probably got in the way. I tried to mention I wrote to him in my pseudonym of Stan Madeley and about my book of spoof letters but I was tripping over everything I wanted to say. I mention that I try to draw cartoons though I don’t get things published.

‘I used to do lots for The New Yorker,’ he finally said, latching onto something he could talk about until this lumbering mess was out of his way. ‘I’d get tired of them asking me to make changes. It was impossible.’

‘At least it was work,’ I reply.

He nodded. ‘True,’ he said, though without much conviction. He was earning from cartoons when he was much younger than me. His bugbears are clearly of a higher realm.

‘Don’t give up’ he said. I said that I wouldn’t but the words rang false as I said them.

‘Rejected cartoons,’ he said. ‘Work them up. Improve them!’

More good advice which I’ll try.

‘Private Eye probably don’t look at them,’ I sighed. He shrugged.

‘Never pencil in first. Always ink!’ was more advice. I knew it already from hour upon hour of listening to his interviews. I’ve tried it but I usually just make a mess.

‘Try the internet,’ was his other advice. I tried to explain about my blog but I’m not doing well. He did his usual thing, drawing doodles on the page, signing his name, throwing ink at my books. (‘When I try that, it usually goes over the curtains,’ I quipped but I think he missed it). Soon it was over.

‘Make sure the ink doesn’t run,’ he advises as I turn to leave. ‘It can run but it can’t hide.’ I hear his laughter diminish behind me. Far too short a time to be in his presence. Like fate again tempting me with a vision of a better life filled with interesting people... It was probably what it feels like meeting the Pope only this meant more to me than meeting any representative of God on this earth.

The truth is: had I know he was signing, I wouldn’t have gone. There’s a horrible reality lurking behind any wish to stand in line to meet a person you admire. I’ve never done it before and, except for fate arranging this today, I wouldn’t do it again. I wanted to talk to him without feeling such a northern prat with aching feet, too little food on my stomach, holes in my five year old boots. I had so many questions about tricks, how he crosshatches, materials he uses, how he turns something his mind into something on the page, or, rather how he turns accidents on the page into something that is so satisfying to the mind. Standing like a gormless fool, cap in hand… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain but I guess it made my lack of success feel all the more acute.

I escaped balancing my two signed books and waited for the ink to dry. Downstairs, there were others like me trying to protect their scrawls and get them to dry quickly. I resorted to using a copy of the Beano to dry it, the symbolism of which was deep and mysterious. A child's comic drying a man's work...

As I waited, I started to talk to a pleasant and very knowledgeable guy who was working as the museum’s official greeter. He points to another cartoonist whose work I’ll now have to look up. He also mentioned the name of a publisher I would check out if I could remember the name. I thought he said ‘low down’ but I’m probably wrong. I tell him that I came all the way from outside Liverpool just to see the exhibit and hadn’t expected Steadman to be there. He imagines I live in the scenic countryside. I explain that north of Birmingham, almost the entire NW quarter of the UK is urban sprawl and chemical plants. We agree there are nice parts but that I don’t live near them. Yet leaving London, I realise that I do live in the countryside. Not great countryside but parts of it are green.

‘Get work for the local council,’ he advised. ‘Cartoonists can get lots of work turning local information into easy to follow cartoons.’

‘You mean like Bob comes to terms with bereavement?’

‘Yes,’ he chuckles.

I should probably have loitered in London longer but I wasn’t there to sightsee. And what could beat meeting Ralph Steadman, even for a minute or so? My legs were tired after three hours standing and walking, my back aching from my heavy rucksack. The heat was also that kind of heat that only seems to find in cities. It comes up from the ground as much as down from the sun. The crowds were everywhere. No escape from them.

The guy in charge of the Pendolino’s shop should have his own radio show. He couldn’t stop. I plug myself into music (Sparks Live in Europe, yet again). Then we're off. We pass through parts of the country I know by reputation but have never visited. The train crawls through Bletchley. The station looks like control bunkers from WW2. I wonder if this is where the codes were cracked. Somewhere in these sidings. Alan Turing probably conceived his death by poisoned apple.

I look out at the motorway and see somebody driving an open top red Ferrari with a blonde in the next seat. He looks like Tom Selleck. I, however, have two signed books by Ralph Steadman in my bag.

I'm not saying I wouldn't swap them for the Ferrari and blonde. However, for just a split second, it occurred to me that I might not.





Steadman @ Steadman @ 77





Sitting in the Nero at Euston Station waiting for my train home. A short visit to London but as exhausting as it was amazingly lucky. Of all the days I could have visited the Cartoon Museum, I chose the day that Ralph Steadman was actually doing a signing.

I was shocked when I arrived and spotted the back of a man (black waistcoat) who I immediately recognised as the great man himself. Originally not planning on buying anything, I quickly bought a copy of the exhibition programme and a copy of Alice. I was sixth in line and managed to exchange a few words plus get two books signed. I'm in a bit of a daze. I have no better photographs of my meeting Steadman. Nobody was taking photos except some official snapper. Besides, I was barely able to hold myself together. First time I've met a hero.

I wish I could say I was at my sparkling best but probably a mixture of nerves and my accent meant that he probably didn't understand half of what I said.

When I'm home, I'll post more pictures and write something about the actual exhibition. My back and ankles are killing and the heat is too much. Have to dash for my train.

Steadman@77

Well, I'm on my way, posting this from a train speeding through yellow fields from technology that probably won't hold up in this swinish weather. If I can work out how to post photographs, I'll post a few updates about my day. Hopefully I'll be arriving in London around 11am. The temperature is climbing and I'm dressed for bear.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Friday

Fate continues to test me. It looked at first like I’d found some good luck. I’ve been given a return ticket to London for tomorrow. A friend had been intending to travel for a conference but now won’t be using it. That means I can get to London on the train within two hours. The Cartoon Museum is a good but walkable stride from Euston and the Ralph Steadman exhibition is still on. However, with sickness in the family, I don’t think I can use it. I’ll have another day to decide but it’s hard to see my being able to go. My bad luck continues to defy logic or reason.

I’ve also never known internet traffic to dry up at is did yesterday, continuing into this morning. It almost makes me almost thankful that I’ve got nothing exciting to post except the previous old cartoon. Perhaps Google have changed their search algorithm or Sparks fans have just decided that they’ve had enough cartoon strips. Already today, traffic is about a quarter of what I’d usually expect. Is it the warm weather? Are the perverts on holiday?

Well, no, that can’t be true. Yesterday I had a visitor looking for ‘English armpit sex stories’ which baffled me. Why English? Are our armpits sexier than the armpits of other nations? The searcher was from the Philippines but the visitors I want to talk always come from the Philippines. It’s Fate again laughing at me as I again have to figure out how to spell ‘Philippines’. Note to self: spend an hour memorising the spelling of Philippines. Come on. How difficult can it be? Philip and two p’s.

No job hunt news. With sickness in the house, I’m too distracted and busy. However, I have started work on something for a competition I’ve decided to enter. I’ve never won a thing in my life so I don’t expect to win anything now but it’s good to have some focus when everything else is dragging me here and there.