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03rd Sep 2014

Probably won’t be a page this week

Unless I can get it drawn and uploaded by the end of the day. I’m a bit knackered. On Friday I was part of the music group (guitar and vocals) at the wedding of our fantastic singing teacher Róisín Magee at Newry Cathedral. Most of it was reasonably straightforward, except Róisín and Conor left the church to the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” – one of my favourite songs, but fiddly to play, and took a lot of practice beforehand to get right. My fingertips are still tender. But we gave Róisín a great send-off, I’m proud and honoured  to have been involved, and we’ll have to call her Mrs McKenna when classes resume in a few weeks time. Here’s a photie of the happy couple nicked from Facebook.

Conor and Róisín cut the cake

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31st Aug 2014

Review: Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick

Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick

I don’t do many reviews, particularly of Irish comics. The Irish comics scene is a tiny cottage industry and everybody knows everybody; a lot of the work is amateurish and unoriginal but it’s hard to be too harsh in your criticism because you want to encourage people and don’t want to hurt their feelings. Fortunately we have Leeann Hamilton who isn’t scared of letting rip when she thinks it’s necessary.

Sometimes, though, the work is far from amateurish or unoriginal, but is hard to review just because it’s bloody hard to describe. Such a work is Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick. I received my copy of the book shortly after the Kickstarter funding campaign closed in September 2013. It’s now just a kick in the arse short of September 2014, and I’m having a go at last.

Anna first came to my attention with her webcomic Between Worlds, a fantasy in a sort-of early modern European setting, notable for its sprawling plot, its emotional intensity and its beautiful digitally-painted colour artwork. Koré, other than the covers, is in black and white, and even the colour covers are sheathed in a slipcover printed in black and white on tracing paper, through which only the bright eyes of the pictured character can be clearly seen. The front cover and its slipcover are at the top of this review; the back cover and its slipcover are below.

Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick - back cover

Eyes are important, women’s bodies are important, and mythic symbolism is important. Koré is an alternative name for the ancient Greek underworld goddess Persephone, and means “maiden” or “daughter”. The snakes suggest the gorgon Medusa, but their juxtaposition on the back cover with medical tubes reminds us that the snake is also a symbol of healing.

Why am I talking about symbols, and things being “important”, rather than telling you what the book’s about? Well, I’m attempting to do both, but it’s not easy. Koré is told almost entirely in images, no words other than the title and a series of titles applied to the characters, or perhaps the same character in different lives, at the end, and while there’s a sequence and a narrative I’m not sure it can really be considered as a story. Will Eisner coined the term “sequential art” many years ago, and that’s what this is. Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics defined comics as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the reader.The sequence of images in Koré certainly produces an aesthetic response, but it’s an impressionistic one that depends on the reader’s response to images, in symbolic as well as narrative terms.

Double page spread from Koré by Anna Fitzpatrick

The impression it creates in me is a strong sense of womanhood, in particular the physicality of womanhood, and womanhood experienced as something assumed, or felt as imposed, not entirely willingly or happily. The figures are drawn androgynously, broad-shouldered, small-breasted and square-jawed, but the persistence of blood as well as vulval and uterine symbols and the anguish and fear of the character(s) is undeniable. The eyeballs in the blood are more difficult to interpret, except perhaps by reference to the goddess Koré as “The All Seeing”, or by how women are judged by how they look creating a paranoid feeling of being under constant observation and scrutiny, but that seems too rational an explanation to be entirely satisfying. I wonder how much of Koré‘s symbolism was determined rationally and how much was a series of subconscious decisions.

Fitzpatrick writes on her Kickstarter page aboutfinding a path through depression in comic form”, and while I’ve had my own struggles with depression I experienced it in male terms, Anna experienced it in female terms, so for me there’s a sense of recognition, but also a gulf in understanding. I’m a man, and I don’t have any sisters, and an awful lot of the experience of growing up female is lost on me, but growing up female seems to me to be the overarching theme of the book.

Koré is a book that demands your attention, requires interpretation, and gives the reader access to a mind not their own (whether or not that other mind is entirely comprehensible), which to me is the highest purpose of art of any sort, and makes Fitzpatrick perhaps the most interesting and challenging artist Irish comics have yet given us. Koré‘s impressionistic, symbolic approach makes an interesting contrast to the work of another challenging Irish artist, John Robbins, which is framed in a more masculine way by its unflinching concrete specificity. But that’s another review that may or may not actually get written.

Koré is available from Anna’s Etsy store, for US$16.50, which currently works out at UK£10.21, or €12.89, a snip for such a handsome 74-page graphic novel.

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20th Aug 2014

No page today

Completely failed to get any work done on the comic yesterday. Other things to do. As consolation, how about me singing the old Big Star song “Thirteen”?

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30th Jul 2014

Summer holiday skip week

There’ll be no page this week. Don’t know if it’s the heat or the hay fever or what, but my brain is shut and this weeks installment is sitting in there refusing to come out. As some consolation, here’s the great illustrator Victor Ambrus’s rendition of Cú Chulainn from Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1963 retelling The Hound of Ulster. I’ve been indulging my passion from the illustrators of British children’s books of the 60s and 70s, artists like Ambrus, Margery Gill, and my first love among illustrators Charles Keeping, at the Today’s Inspiration Group on Facebook. If you’re on Facebook and like good drawing, have a browse – there are so many amazing illustrators to learn about.

The Hound of Ulster by Rosemary Sutcliff, cover illustration by Victor Ambrus

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04th Jun 2014

The Cattle Raid of Cooley – skip week, but new issue

There’ll be no update this week. It’s turning out to be something of a difficult week in a number of ways, and I’m afraid I haven’t been able to focus my mind on the comic.

However, assuming my head hasn’t completely imploded in the meantime, I will have a table at the MCM Belfast Comic Con at the King’s Hall Pavilions this weekend, and on sale for the first time will be The Cattle Raid of Cooley issue 9 (cover art below).

The Cattle Raid of Cooley issue 9

 

Look for me in the Comic Village section. The Con will also feature dealer stalls and video games and cosplayers and guests from Red Dwarf, Primeval and Game of Thrones and all that kind of thing. I was disappointed Hannah Spearritt didn’t stop by my table at the Dublin event, but she’s a guest again, and you never know.

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12th Mar 2014

The Comics Journal reviews The Cattle Raid of Cooley alongside About a Bull

Shaenon Garrity, The Comics Journal‘s webcomic specialist, has written a very nice review of The Cattle Raid of Cooley, alongside another webcomic adapting the same story, MK Reed’s About a Bull. I’ve often said that the Táin is big enough, gnarled enough and complicated enough to stand multiple interpretations, and Shaenon agrees, saying “In different hands, the same material can be a stark historical novel about bromantic battles between men or a sly tragicomedy about women asserting their power.” Her review is perceptive, and reassures me that a lot of what I’m trying to do is working.

You really should look at About a Bull, by the way. MK’s version is way funnier than mine, and the variety in the art – aside from MK’s own storybook style on the main story, flashbacks are drawn by different artists – is a nice interpretation given how patchwork and variable in style the original text is. She covers some of the same ground as I have, but in different ways, and she includes stories I haven’t. And as mine is (slowly) approaching a conclusion, hers is just getting started – four chapters in, they haven’t left Cruachan and Cú Chulainn has yet to make an appearance, so it’s set to run for a good while yet.

About a Bull: Ailill and Medb by MK Reed

About a Bull: Ailill and Maeve by MK Reed

About a Bull: Rucht and Friuch by Caroline Kelsey

About a Bull: Rucht and Friuch by Caroline Kelsey

About a Bull: Nes and Cathbad by Hilary Florido

About a Bull: Nes and Cathbad by Hilary Florido

About a Bull: Fergus and Nes by Hilary Florido

About a Bull: Fergus and Nes by Matt Wiegle

About a Bull: Macha by Farel Dalrymple

About a Bull: Macha by Farel Dalrymple

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01st Mar 2014

Going to MCM Comic Con in Dublin in April

MCM Ireland Comic ConNews! I’ll be at the MCM Ireland Comic Con at the RDS in Dublin on 12-13 April as an exhibitor. When I first enquired about a Comic Village table they’d sold out, but they had a cancellation and I must have been next on the list. So that’ll be cool.

There’ll be another MCM Comic Con in the King’s Hall in Belfast in June. Tables aren’t open for booking yet, but I hope I’ll be able to get one when they are. The 2D Comics Festival in Derry is apparently not happening this year, which is a shame, but hopefully these shows will go some way to filling the vacuum.

In other news, I’ll be appearing in Max and Ivan’s comedy show at the MAC in Belfast tonight! They needed some local singers for a musical segment, so eight of us from Róisín Magee’s singing classes at the Crescent Arts Centre have been drafted in. Looking forward to that.

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27th Feb 2014

The Cattle Raid of Cooley issue 8 now on sale!

The eighth issue of The Cattle Raid of Cooley (cover art below) is now available to buy from my Comicsy bookshop for £3.50. I’ve rejigged the way it calculates postage, so it should save you a bit of money if you’re buying multiple comics. I’ve also included options to buy all eight issues as a set, or all eight issues plus the prequel graphic novel Ness as a set, for a reduced price. I’m also gradually making digital download versions you can buy for £1.50 an issue, but they’re not all up yet. So if you appreciate what I’m doing here, I’d appreciate it if you’d support me by buying my books.

The Cattle Raid of Cooley issue 8

 

Some people who have said nice things about my work:

  • “Great work” – David Lloyd
  • “I love your work. It’s so loose, and the red works so well” – Donna Barr
  • “If Lorenzo Mattotti did Irish mythology” – John Robbins
  • “An outstanding body of work” – Rabble.ie
  • “[The] drawing style is sketchily naturalistic … particularly excelling at the nature scenes … It also gives the story a sense of versimilitude, like everything is happening in the moment” – Gavin Burrows
  • “captures the time very well, both in his art and story, this is no polished recounting of history, but a tale full of earthy reality, full of the dirt of ancient lands and the blood of ancient races” – Richard Bruton, Forbidden Planet International
  • “[A] brilliant adaptation of the epic Irish legend Táin Bó Cúailnge … a violent, visceral and darkly comic tale and Brown’s interpretation doesn’t leave much to the imagination; the single-colour artwork, raw and frenetic, is reminiscent of Eddie Campbell’s work on From Hell and the story is well-crafted with an obvious passion for the subject matter” – Look Left
  • “wonderful translation of ancient Irish legends … exciting and amusing … beautifully rendered action … that proves why Patrick’s decision to retell these old stories in comic book form was such an excellent idea” – Rol Hirst
  • “In a hundred years, I reckon Paddy Brown will be remembered as one of Ireland’s finest cartoonists. His Cattle Raid of Cooley  calls to the reader to glide around the pages and take in the detail, but to go when he says … a pseudo-sensory experience” – Andy Luke
  • “It’s as if writer-artist Patrick Brown found a window looking into the past, and he decided to smash it climb on through. Here is a thoroughly modern form of Irish storytelling that makes the past very much the present” – Malachy Coney
  • “Finally a comic from Northern Ireland that can be read adywhere – Patrick Brown weaves a wonderful tapestry of rich characters, intertwining centuries-old legends with 21st-century artwork to die for. Wonderful!” – Davy Francis
  • “[Ness is] A wonderful period graphic novel … Primitive but gripping” – Rich Johnston

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01st Jan 2014

It’s 2014!

And as it turns out, this Wednesday is New Year’s Day. Whose idea was that? If Julius Caesar or Pope Gregory the whateverth who made the calendar had thought it through, they would have realised that meant me missing two weeks in a row of The Cattle Raid of Cooley. So, normal service will be resumed next week when I’m back at my day job and can remember what day of the week it is.

So, 2013, eh? What was all that about?

An interesting year in a number of ways. My house needed extensive renovation – one of those annoying things where you get someone in to deal with a minor problem, and they find a bigger problem underlying it, so you get someone in to deal with that and they find an even bigger problem underlying that, and so on until you practically have to rebuild the house from the foundations up. So that was a bit stressful, and it meant I spent probably half the year at my mum’s. Which explains why my posting schedule was a bit erratic, but I couldn’t tell you that at the time, because what kind of idiot advertises the fact that their house is unoccupied on the internet?

But I still managed to do some interesting things. For example:

  • In April I was invited to the Dundalk Book Festival, to appear on a panel about Irish comics with Tommie Kelly, Rob Curley, Hilary Lawler and Alan Nolan, and that was fun.
  • At the end of May/beginning of June I was a guest at the 2D Comics Festival in its new venue, the Millennium Dome Falcon Forum in Derry, which was superb as usual.
  • At the end of June the singing class I go to (Singing for Adults with Róisín Magee at the Crescent Arts Centre) held a cabaret concert which raised over £1000 for the MS Society, in which I sang the Temptations’ “My Girl”, duetted with Gary Fullerton on “Me and My Shadow”, and did backing vocals on other people’s solos. It was brilliant. We were stars.
  • In October, as part of the Belly Laughs Comedy Festival, I organised Comic Capers with Davy Francis and Chums, a retrospective of Davy’s 40 years as a cartoonist. Davy was brilliant, a natural raconteur, and we also had fantastic contributions from Ian Knox, political cartoonist of the Irish News, Alan Ryan of Faraday the Blob and The Beano, Ann Harrison of Bunsen Bunnies, Brian John Spencer, cartoonist from Northern Ireland political website Slugger O’Toole, live caricaturist Colm Campbell and documentary cartoonist Patrick Sanders. Not a huge turnout, and there were some organisational hitches, but everyone who came seemed to enjoy it.

Plans for 2014 include ploughing on with the Cattle Raid, which has started its penultimate chapter; keeping up the singing, and hopefully doing a few open mic nights; and getting the new Belfast Drawers’ Club, or whatever it turns out being called, to include political cartoonists, caricaturists, illustrators and storyboard artists as well as comics artists, up and running. No doubt there will be a few surprises along the way. Hopefully they’ll be nice ones.

So, in conclusion, a very happy new year to all my readers. See yez next Wednesday for the conclusion of Medb’s flashback.

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18th Oct 2013

The Irish Comics Shadow Hall of Fame

I’m a contributor over at Irish Comic News, and currently running is the third annual ICN Awards. This year, rather than do it entirely by public vote, the editorial team has put together an anonymous panel who have come up with the nominations, and put those nominations out for a public vote – and may the best creator win. The Cattle Raid of Cooley is nominated for Best Irish Digital or Web Comic, and you may or may not want to go and vote for it, but please do check out the other nominees as there’s a lot of talent out there, and it deserves recognition.

The only problem I have with the ICN awards is one I have with pretty much all comics awards in the internet age – recentism. There are two Hall of Fame awards, one for individuals and one for comics, and with the exception of Paddy Brennan, DC Thomson adventure strip artist from the 40s to the 70s (see below), they’re all for contemporary artists and publications. If a Hall of Fame is for anything, it’s for recognising the greats of the past. So if you’re going to vote in that category, I’d suggest you vote for Paddy Brennan.

But I’m also going to start what I hope will be a new tradition. Every year from now on, while the ICN Awards shine a light on what’s going on in contemporary Irish comics, I”ll induct five creators into my own Shadow Hall of Fame. Creators you may never have heard of, but who I think you should have. The decisions are entirely my own, so it doesn’t have the authority of a panel or a vote, but I think I know my stuff, so trust me. And this years inductees are:

1. Paddy Brennan.

“The White Witch”, The Topper, 1960s, art by Paddy Brennan

Dubliner Patrick “Paddy” Brennan (dates unknown) started drawing for small British publishers in the late 1940s. One of his characters, Marsman (1948), later appeared in Moore and O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He started working for Dundee comic giants DC Thomson in 1949, drawing adventure strips and literary adaptations for The Beano, The Dandy, The Topper, Bunty, Judy and others until at least the late 1970s, and his work was always robust and dynamic. The illustration above is from “The White Witch”, an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s She, from The Topper in the 60s. Long-running characters he created include The Beano’s “General Jumbo” and Judy’s “Sandra of the Secret Ballet”.

2. Marjorie Organ.

Marjorie Organ and her comic strip "Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins", New York Evening Journal, 1902-05

Marjorie Organ and her comic strip “Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins”, New York Evening Journal, 1902-05

The daughter of a wallpaper designer, Marjorie Organ (1886-1930) moved to New York with her family when she was a child. At the tender age of 16 she joined the art room of the New York Evening Journal, working alongside comic strip pioneers Richard Outcault, creator of “The Yellow Kid”, and Rudolph Dirks, creator of “The Katzenjammer Kids”. She drew her own strip, “Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins” (1902-05), about a nervous chap mercilessly strung along by a pair of beautiful young socialites, said to be based on Organ herself and her pal Helen Walsh, who married Dirks. “The Wrangle Sisters” (1904-05) were another pair of fashionable girls-about-town, and other strips she drew had titles like “Strange What a Difference a Mere Man Makes!”, “Girls Will Be Girls”, “The Man Haters’ Club” and “Lady Bountiful”. Her career as a professional cartoonist ended in 1908 when she married painter Paul Henri, after which she effectively became his manager while continuing to paint and draw. She died of cancer in 1930, aged only 44.

3. Charles E. Kelly.

Cartoon from Dublin Opinion by Charles E. Kelly, date unknown

Cartoon from Dublin Opinion by Charles E. Kelly, date unknown

Charles Edward Kelly (1902-1981) is perhaps the most prolific and versatile cartoonist Ireland has ever produced. He started out as a teenage messenger boy in the Irish Civil Service, and in 1922, at the age of twenty he, fellow cartoonist Arthur Booth and writer Tom Collins founded Dublin Opinion, a humorous magazine that quickly became a top seller. After Booth’s death in 1926, he and Collins edited the magazine until it closed in the 1960s. An untrained artist, Kelly taught himself from the work of the leading cartoonists of the day, and drew cartoon after cartoon for the magazine in a bewildering variety of styles, also contributing cartoons and illustrations to The Capuchin Annual, exhibiting his watercolours, and climbing the greasy pole of the Civil Service, where he became Director of Broadcasting and Director of National Savings. He died in 1981. His son Frank Kelly is well-known for playing Father Jack in Father Ted.

4. William St. John Glenn.

"Ballyscunnion" from Dublin Opinon by William St. John Glenn, date unknown

“Ballyscunnion” from Dublin Opinon by William St. John Glenn, date unknown

William St. John Glenn (1904-1974) started contributing cartoons to the Belfast sports paper Ireland’s Saturday Night in his teens. In 1925 he created a comic strip for its parent paper, the Belfast Telegraph, called “Oscar”, that ran until 1936. Oscar was an ugly but witty little man, and his attempts to chat up girls gave Glenn the chance to draw fashionably dressed young women, which he particularly enjoyed. When Glenn married a glamorous young woman called Dorothea, so did Oscar, and from 1936 to 1939 Glenn drew a strip called “Dorothea” for the Daily Mail. Readers were so impressed by his attention to ladies’ fashion they assumed that “Glenn” (as he signed his work) must be female. Meanwhile, from 1938 until the ’60s, he drew a weekly scraperboard cartoon, “Ballyscunnion”, for the Irish humorous magazine Dublin Opinion, in which the exploits of the inhabitants of a fictitious Irish village commented obliquely on national and world politics. He worked for the UK Ministry of Information during the Second World War, and afterwards became head of the Daily Mail‘s cartoons department, where he drew the paper’s long-running funny animal strip “Teddy Tail” and a strip based on The Diary of Samuel Pepys. He retired in 1961, and was elected an Honorary Academician of the Royal Ulster Academy in 1968. He died in 1974, at the age of 70, after a series of operations to remove brain tumours.

5. David Wilson.

David Wilson self-caricature from an ad for shaving soap, date unknown.

David Wilson self-caricature from an ad for shaving soap, date unknown.

David Wilson (1873-1935) was born in Minterburn, County Tyrone, the son of a Presbyterian minister, and grew up in Belfast. After he left school he joined the Northern Bank, taking art classes in the evening, and sold his first cartoon to the Daily Chronicle in 1895. He contributed full-page caricatures to Alf S. Moore’s Belfast-based satirical magazines The Magpie and Nomad’s Weekly, around the turn of the 20th century, his bold brush style, influenced by German Art Nouveau illustration and Japanese prints, superb eye for a caricature and surreal political imagery setting him above his local rivals, and he was soon drawing cartoons for magazines in the UK like Punch, The Graphic and The Passing Show. He moved to London, where he set up the Sphinx Studio in 1908. He also painted theatre posters and, during the First World War, propaganda posters, and illustrated books. From the 1920s on he concentrated more on fine art painting. But he never recovered from his son Jimmy’s suicide in the early 1930s, and died himself in 1935.

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