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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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02nd Oct 2013

Why there’s no new comic this week

Comic Capers with Davy Francis and Chums

It’s still just about Wednesday, but I’m not going to make my deadline. I know my rate of production has slowed dramatically this year, but I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. This week, though, there’s a good reason.

On Sunday, as part of Belfast’s Belly Laughs Comedy Festival, I’m involved in organising Comic Capers with Davy Francis and Chums, a celebration of comics and cartooning featuring one of Belfast’s not-sung-enough heroes, who sold his first cartoon 40 years ago this year (he was eleven, it was to the East Antrim Times, and he was paid 50p). Since then his loopy dip-pen line has graced titles as varied as the Belfast People’s Comic, “Screw the Bap and Head the Ball” in the Shankill Bulletin, Ximoc, Cicerman, Monster Fun, Oink!, Holy Cross, Seven Deadly Sins, Jim the Elephant, Sancho and Thunderbags. Last week he and I drew caricatures at a charity event, and it’s always a pleasure to watch him draw.

So, to get back to the point, a retrospective of Davy’s career will be the centrepiece of an afternoon event on Sunday 6 October, in the Black Box on Hill Street, from 2pm to 6pm. We’ll also be creating a giant improvised comic strip and holding a workshop for kids, and I’ll be speaking about some early comic strips from the Belfast Telegraph in the 1920s, and introducing you to a forgotten Belfast cartoonist. Other illustrious guests include cartoonists Ian Knox (Whizzer and Chips, Irish News, BBC NI’s Hearts and Minds), Alan Ryan (Faraday the Blob, The Beano), Ann Harrison (Bunsen Bunnies), Brian John Spencer (Slugger O’Toole, Huffington Post) and Patrick Sanders (SCEPTrE, Replay Theatre Company), and standup comics Peter E Davidson and Lorcan McGrane.

Promises to be a fantastic occasion and I hope to see lots of you there. But does mean I’ve had less mental energy to devote to other things, like this week’s Cattle Raid of Cooley.

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11th Sep 2013

More apologies, and TitanCon

No page again this week I’m afraid. I have a job interview today, so I’ve been preparing for that rather than drawing.

The weekend just past I was at TitanCon, a fantasy and science fiction convention in Belfast. Here I am appearing on a panel about Irish myths and history in comics (stolen from Nerdgeist’s review of the con). Left to right, Peadar Ó Guilín, science fiction novelist and panel chairman; William Simpson, comic artist and Game of Thrones storyboard artist; Richmond Clements, writer of the Brian Boru strip in Lightning Strike Presents among many other things; Paul Bolger, filmmaker and writer-artist of Hound, a forthcoming graphic novel about Cú Chulainn; a jug of water; and me.

Comics panel at TitanCon

Rich’s face is slightly obscured by the microphone stand, so here’s a pic I did a while back to show that (a) he’s an even more talented writer than I thought he was, and (b) he’s a time traveller.

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04th Sep 2013

Apologies

Tried to get the page done this evening, so at least if it was late it’d still be within deadline, but it’s just not happening. I know what I want to draw, it just won’t go down right. So it’s time to give up and say it’ll next week.

So, something else. For the last year and a bit I’ve been going to singing classes at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast, and the last couple of weekends we’ve done an intensive workshop in the Accidental Theatre Company‘s rehearsal space, culminating in a recording session on Sunday at the Oh Yeah Music Centre. We all had a bit of solo and a lot of harmony, and I played a bit of guitar. Here’s some of us recuperating in the Spaniard afterwards.

Left to right: Kathleen, who we’re losing to her native Canada now she’s finished her studies at Queen’s, soprano; Julie, soprano; Róisín, our teacher, musical director and inspiration; me, tenor; Piotr, tenor; Brian, whose son is in top local band Cashier No. 9, bass; and Anne, alto. Roll on the return of the regular class!

Singing class

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26th Apr 2013

Comics panel at the Dundalk Book Festival tomorrow

I’m appearing at the Dundalk Book Festival tomorrow as part of a panel on Irish Comics and Graphic Novels, alongside Tommie Kelly, Hilary Lawler, Rob Curley and Al Nolan. It’s at the County Museum, starting at 2.30.

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08th Dec 2012

Belfast Comics Fayre in the Haymarket Arcade tomorrow

Belfast Comics Fayre

Tomorrow, Sunday 9 December 2012, there’ll be a Comic Book and Collectors’ Fayre at Avalon Arts in the Haymarket Arcade at the top of Royal Avenue. Entrance is free, and it runs from 12 noon to 6.30. In attendance will be such luminaries as myself, Andy Luke (who made the above poster), and editor Eoin McAuley, writer Ciaran Marcantonio and artist Daryl Cox from the Dublin-based anthology Lightning Strike Presents, as well as hopefully a few surprise guests. Oh, and I’ll be launching issue 7 of The Cattle Raid of Cooley. Don’t, as the immortal Jim Megaw might say, you miss it.

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15th Nov 2012

The next big thing!

I’ve been tagged by Tommie Kelly in a kind of self-promotion chain letter for comic creators. The idea is, we all answer the same list of questions, and then tag three more creators to do the same. And if you break the chain, no doubt something mildly annoying happens to you, like an onion falling on your head or something. The questions, and my answers, are as follows:

What is the working title of your book?
It has an actual title, The Cattle Raid of Cooley.

What genre does your book fall under?
I suppose historical fantasy would sum it best.

Give a brief synopsis of your book:
Ireland, the Iron Age. The kingdom of Connacht launches a winter invasion of the kingdom of Ulster to steal Ulster’s prize stud bull. The only Ulsterman available to defend his kingdom is Cú Chulainn, a talented but untested teenage rookie border guard, who holds them up by challenging them to a series of single combats. He’s the only one available partly because it’s winter and the Ulster army has been stood down, and partly because a couple of deities want to put him to the test. He will come out of his ordeal changed.

Where did the idea for the book come from?
It’s a very old story from Irish mythology that’s very rich in characters and ideas, is a bit of a mess so is very open to interpretation, and is not just from Ireland but from the north, so adapting it appealed to me greatly. It took at least eight years from deciding I wanted to do it to getting to the point where I felt I understood it well enough and was confident enough in my ability to do it justice.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Fergus, Cú Chulainn’s foster-father who’s now fighting for Connacht, is partly based on Sean Connery, but Sean might be a bit too old to play him now. He’s the only one I had an actor in mind for. He’s an old-fashioned macho man starting to go to seed. For Cú Chulainn you’d need to cast a talented, athletic teenage actor who can do tough, arrogant and also vulnerable, and allow a couple of years for filming, because although the story takes place over a single winter he grows up visibly over the course of it. For Medb, the queen of Connacht, you’d need someone very earthily sexy, hands-on and old enough to have teenage children. Láeg, Cú Chulainn’s charioteer, should be played by someone with a talent for deadpan humour. They would ideally all be from the parts of Ireland their characters are from – Medb and Ailill from the west, Cú Chulainn, Láeg and Fergus from the north, so they can do the right accents. Can’t think of any actual names though.

TAG:
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN: Andy LukeRol Hirst, Leeann Hamilton

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02nd Nov 2012

Vote for me!

The second annual Irish Comic News awards are upon us. I neglected to promote the nomination stage, but the nominations are in and you can now cast your votes.

Normally I rail against “hall of fame” awards, especially since they’re always given to people who are still active rather than someone with a whole career of achievement behind them. But The Cattle Raid of Cooley is nominated for the Hall of Fame (comic) award, so I won’t say any of that, or rant about the folly of nominating a book that isn’t even finished for such an award, and instead urge you to vote for it. My ego needs the stroking.

Other nominations I have some connection with: The Irish Comics Wiki, which I write for, is nominated for Best Irish Comic Related Blog/Website, and Lightning Strike Presents, for which I’ve done some lettering, is nominated for Best Irish Indy Comic. You may wish to vote for these, or you may wish to vote for other nominees. But I’d urge you to vote – the more votes, the more representative the results.

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29th Sep 2012

Recent things

A few things I probably ought to draw your attention to. A couple of weeks ago I appeared, being interviewed by Ciaran Flanagan, on the 2D Festival Podcast episode 11. We had a nice long chat about my work, the Ulster Cycle, improvisational comics,  Hergé and so on, which went on so long that the standard questions Ciaran asks all his guests had to be cut.

One question whose loss I think is a shame is my favourite individual comic ever, which is an issue of Stinz by Donna Barr. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Stinz is a series set in an alternative world reminiscent of the early 20th century, the principal point of difference from our world being that there’s a community of centaurs in rural Germany. Stinz Löwhard is one of these “half-horses”, as they’re known. There are stories of his youth, and stories when he’s a mature farmer and mayor of his community, and there are stories of him as a young man when he joined the army and went to war. “On A Pale Horse” is one of those. The war’s just started, and Stinz and his comrades, just out of basic training, none of them having fired a shot in anger, are on their way to the front, when the unit’s horses get sick and have to be put down. It makes me cry every time I read it – it’s the It’s a Wonderful Life of comics. And Donna has been putting her comics online, so you can read it for free at this link. Here’s a sample:

Stinz: On a Pale Horse

The other thing I’ve been doing lately is appearing at TitanCon, the science fiction, fantasy and in particular Game of Thrones convention at the Europa Hotel last Saturday. I and PJ Holden assisted with The Magnificent One Day Comic Book Factory, run by Andy Luke (who’s also done an interview with Ciaran on the 2D Cast), in which participants created a comic from scratch over the course of an hour, which was then printed up as a limited edition and and sold in aid of Action Cancer. It went really well I thought. Here’s the two pages I did for it. Bit of nonsense, made up as I went, but came out all right.

The Magnificent One Day Comics Factory page 1

The Magnificent One Day Comics Factory page 2

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23rd Jul 2012

Monkey punch dinosaur…

Adam Ford asked me to do a drawing for his Tumblr blog, Monkey Punch Dinosaur, which involves, as you might imagine, pictures of monkeys punching dinosaurs. Although some of them are apes. Which is of course cheating. Anyway, here’s mine:

Monkey Punch Dinosaur

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