Everything is teeth…

During the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August I was fortunate enough to be asked to chair a talk with author Evie Wyld (who made the famous and influential Granta Best Young Writers list – putting her among the company of authors like Salman Rushdie, A L Kennedy, Iain Banks and more) and artist Joe Sumner to discuss their graphic novel debut, Everything Is Teeth, here’s my review of the book:

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015 - Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner 03
(Joe Sumner and Evie Wyld signing after our Edinburgh International Book Festival chat)

Everything is Teeth,

Evie Wyld, Joe Sumner,

Jonathan Cape


Evie Wyld’s name may already be familiar to a number of you, as she has already carved out a spot for herself in the hugely respected Granta list of best young writers, always a good indicator of strong, new talent, as well as winning the prestigious Miles Franklin award for her novel, All The Birds Singing (which I heartily recommend). And like more than a few prose writers before her, she’s been drawn (no pun intended) to the graphic medium, working with artist Joe Sumner to create what I have to say is a very, very satisfying work. In fact it becomes more satisfying. I found with re-reading – this is a very atmospheric book with layers that reward second or third reads to allow those different elements to slowly permeate.

On the one level you could take this as an unusual, quirky memoir of a sort of childhood fascination – or obsession – with sharks, acquired over the course of family visits to relatives in New South Wales, Australia, and indeed Wyld and Sumner perfectly capture that strange mixture of sheer fascination and dread that any of us can have for certain things, especially as children. Young Evie hears the stories from her Aussie relatives, for whom the hunting and killing of sharks is a common occurrence, and we do see her witness some scenes involving the killing of these remarkable animals (rather distressing – hopefully a less common sight these days with many shark species being protected). In some ways you could almost view this as similar to the way children (and indeed adults too, if we are honest, just look at our continued fascination with horror tales), have that bizarre, contrasting fascination with monsters while being scared and repelled by them, and that irrational, illogical feeling that they can be anywhere, not just in their natural environment, but anywhere, waiting to pounce if we let our guard down. “My mommy said there are no monsters, no real monsters, but there are,” said Newt in Aliens. Monsters with sharp teeth take many forms to the young, impressionable mind and, as Newt and Evie both know, they can be very real…


For most kids this will come in the form of monsters in fairy tales, or the always popular bogeyman under the bed, but here, for young Evie, the monster is based on a real – and highly dangerous – creature. Although in her child’s world the reality of these astonishing and ancient predators mixes with her imagination and becomes symbolic of the young girl’s fears about the mysterious world around, her, especially that of the grown-ups like her mother and father, expressions and symbols of her worries and fears that she is too young to fully grasp but is starting to understand do happen, such as loss, injury and death, much as traditional fairy tales are often a way of introducing young minds to, let’s be honest, fairly terrifying concepts (that we could die, or that we could lose a parent), and that there are dangers out there that we have to be wary of, except here, instead of the dark forest of fairy tales with wolves and iron-toothed witches, it’s the endlessly mysterious depths of our ocean world and the perfectly evolved creatures which move through it, unseen, like a monster hiding in the dark, until it strikes…

But there is so much more going on here than just a youngster who sometimes worries that she has to keep her feet up on the sofa in case a hidden shark comes past the rug, or that one may somehow have gotten into the swimming pool (I remember a similar, irrational yet still real fear after seeing Jaws as a kid). The sharks here aren’t just a subject of fascination and fear, but also become metaphorical elements as her young mind tries to process what happens in the adult world around her, especially mortality and loss, this filter allowing this aspect of the story to come across quite slowly and gently, building across the length of the book, stoking and evoking a sympathetic emotional resonance in the reader that is truly satisfying.


It’s not the images that come first when I think of the parts of my childhood spent in Australia. Or even the people. It’s the sounds – the butcher birds and the magpies that lived amongst us on the back veranda...”

Both art and text work beautifully together here – with fairly short lines allied to several large, single page scenes of art right at the opening, working together to establish a beautifully atmospheric and evocative sense of place. Sumner’s opening pages of art – coastal waters, a solitary fin in the expanse, nearby coast, trees, very Australian looking farm architecture, another of a mangrove inlet, or the metal windmill at the back of the farm drilling for groundwater – all conjure up a feeling of the place, even for someone like me who knows it only through many film and television viewings. Wyld’s text similarly imbues this sensation into the reader – I could hear those oh-so distinctive bird sounds in my head as I read, the sense of oppressive heat almost real. Perhaps she sings a songline as she writes it, to weave that ancient Aboriginal feel for the land into the words. It’s a beautiful piece of writing, and I’ve found Wyld’s prose work to be similarly atmospheric and evocative of mood and place, and in this work it is so wonderfully complimented by Sumner’s art. The choice of large, single panel pages at the start, which somehow help the text in conveying that feeling of slowness, the languid nature of the far too hot climate, while also mirroring the way memory works, especially our earliest memories, more about sensation than about narrative, impressions of heat, sun, water, the people around us, the smells, the sounds.


Sumner chooses to depict Evie and her family in a fairly cartoony, deceptively simple fashion, which is very effective, especially in conjunction with the sharks, which, by contrast, are drawn in a highly detailed, realistic manner (I’m guessing a lot of research time for Sumner on that), although he changes his style for a few spots for effect, such as showing the family watching – perhaps inevitably – Jaws on the television, intercut with some panels depicting famous scenes from that original movie blockbuster, drawn in a more realistic style, the actor’s characters instantly recognisable. He even mixes the two styles during this scene, that incredibly famous “dolly zoom” of Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody on the beach being conflated with the face of the cartoony, big-nosed image of her father, while another panel juxtaposes young Evie and her dad with the on-screen father and son moment in Jaws (the charming scene where his wee boy is copying everything his dad does). Young Evie’s imagination, which sees the possibility of the shark stalking anywhere, also turns up some fantastical but memorable images – being driven across the outback in a Ute, imagining a shark following them, floating alone in the air, glimpsed in the wing mirror, or stalking her through the tall cane crop, accompanying her down the street. Magical-realism or child’s fears and imagination, or perhaps both, but they make for some imagery that remains in your head long after reading.

It’s all beautifully, movingly crafted by both writer and artist, carrying a combination of fears, doubts, hopes, nostalgic longings and familial love against the slow arc of a child growing up and becoming more aware of the world and events around her (but the sharks, they’re still there, waiting in the darkness, waiting to strike when we’re ill and vulnerable, ready to take a bite, just like life will often do), and the sense of time and place is so palpable that it’s practically tactile, stimulating the reader’s own senses by proxy. It’s a work to read, then slowly re-read and let yourself become immersed into it like a cool pool on a hot day. Just be careful of the predators in those depths…


this review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet Blog

Comics fun at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Over the last week or so of August I was busy enjoying the Edinburgh International Book Festival, both as an audience member and as a participant again (I was asked to chair a couple of the Stripped events in the festival’s comics strand). There was more on than I could fit in, especially as I was busy preparing for the two talks I was involved in (reading away and trying to think up some different questions and knowing full well chances of asking an author something they’ve not been asked many times already are slim, but still we persevere…).

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015 - busy Charlotte Square Gardens 02As chance would have it most of the comics-related events I was at all fell within a few days of each other, starting with chairing and event with Karrie Fransman and Rob Davis. This was a very satisfying one for me to be asked to chair, I have to say, since I’ve followed Rob and Karrie’s work for some time. Both authors introduced their latest works, Karrie with the fascinating, multi-voiced approach of Death of the Artist, and Rob with the wonderful mixture of grounded realism and the fantastical in the Motherless Oven. Rob explained a bit more about the level of metaphor and symbolism in The Motherless Oven, and the way the comics medium allowed him to also make some of these metaphors visual, something prose couldn’t do (which isn’t to say there hasn’t been some very effective use of metaphor in prose and verse, of course, but comics does have that added extra trick of the visual). Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015 - Karrie Fransman and Rob Davis

I thought Motherless Oven worked as it was, but also felt with the elaborate world-building for this alternative world that Rob had put into it, that it was open to other tales in this setting, and he confirmed this was the case, that he had actually planned more with SelfMadeHero, although with the fairly sensible proviso that they would see how the first book was received (fortunately it was very well received), so we should be seeing more, I’m glad to say. Karrie explained about the multi-author approach to Death of the Artist, as five former college chums now in their thirties try to recapture a bit of their energetic youth and art. I was already familiar with the concept – look away if you don’t want to know something major about this book! – that in fact all five authors here, telling the same story from different angles, in different styles, are all actually Karrie, the author essentially being her own choir as well as conductor. I didn’t know, however, that the “friends” in the photo-comic chapter are actually all actors, with a clever bit of Photoshop used to de-age them all for their supposed college-time snaps. It turned into a three-way conversation and we could easily have carried on longer.

The following day I was again on chairing duties, this time with a writer and artist I hadn’t met before, Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner. Joe is an illustrator, model-maker and sculptor, now adding comics artist to his quiver, and he talked about how the whole approach o the art came about slowly, some ideas started then junked to be begun once more as he learned effectively on the job – being an artist is one thing, but there’s a lot more to comics artwork than simply drawing the art. He and Evie had known each other for years and they worked on this project between their own main jobs – something many comickers can empathise with, I am sure – and in fact this process took place over several years, so they had time for writer and artist, both fairly new to the comics game, to refine what they wanted to do, the shape of the story and the art changing significantly over the period of their collaboration until it took the form it does in the finished book, Everything is Teeth. We discussed Joe’s different art styles – the cartoony style for young Evie and her family, a very realistic approach for the sharks themselves, and the fantasy/fairy tale aspects of the work as the sharks become not just real-world scary creatures but take on a symbolic role similar to that of monsters in fairy tales.

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015 - Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner 03Evie also noted that in writing for comics as opposed to her prose work she really had to boil down the words – something she and many other writers will do in prose anyway, of course, starting with a rough work and then editing and pruning, but with comics requiring far less text there was much more work in distilling the choice of what words she would permit herself to use and where (I think they both did a remarkable job, the prose and art works beautifully for both story and a strong sense of place). It was an engrossing talk with two creators already with a solid creative track record in others fields (Joe’s aforementioned arts work and Evie who has a number of literary awards for her fascinating prose novels and made the influential Granta Best Young British Novelist list) as they collaborated on their first comics work project (and yes, they did enjoy it and they are considering another collaboration, quite possibly something tilted towards horror, preferably the creepy, chilling kind of horror, which I like the sound of). It was terrific to meet them and I look forward to them producing more comics work in the future – my recent review of Everything is Teeth is here, and I highly recommend this fascinating book (and also recommend picking up Evie’s two prose novels, which are very immersive).

Another day, another comics event, and another double-header, this time a shared theme of comics and politics as Teddy Jamieson talked with Martin Rowson – surely one of our best political cartoon satirists? -and Jean-Pierre Filiu, former French diplomat, historian and academic, who worked with acclaimed European creator Davide B (Epileptic) on the first two volumes of Best of Enemies (a third is planned), a look at American interaction and intervention in the Middle East, going right back to the 1800s and some history many will never have heard of (and you have to love the cleverness of a book which mixes the oldest written tale, appropriately from the Middle East, Gilgamesh, with actual words used by George Bush to justify his ill-conceived foreign adventures). Filiu also talked with much admiration about the work of Joe Sacco (an author Rowson also professed much respect for), and I was rather satisfied when he mentioned that he not only admires Sacco’s works, especially Footnotes in Gaza, that he uses it in his lectures and classes. He also spoke of the quality of research Sacco carried out – not only with multiple first person interviews but then trying to source documentation to validate what the eyewitness testimony claimed. Filiu’s insights into the region are remarkable and one of his simplest recommendations was also one of the most effective, that world leaders should know something of the history of the region before getting involved. He was ultimately optimistic that eventually – who knows when, though – the region would solve its problems, with or without the West (or these days perhaps the East). Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015 - Jean-Pierre Filiu & Martin Rowson 02

Rowson, making another return visit to the festival, was on exceptionally fine form, discussing his latest book, The Coalition, covering what he refers to as the worst government in his lifetime. Well, he was after he dealt with a phone call – his phone rang just as the event was starting, and turned out to be his daughter calling to remind him to switch off his phone before the event! His loathing for some of these politicians was evident in both his talk and in the artwork he was showing, as he explained how he visualised the previous administration, such as the luckless Nick Clegg (as Pinocchio, the boy who wanted to be a real politician, and being made of wood he could use him for all sorts of other visual metaphors – broken up as a wheel, sawdust, used as a broomhandle), or shiny-faced PM Cameron as Little Lord Fauntelroy.

The language turned bluer than a a conservative’s rosette on several occasions – those of you who have heard Rowson talk about his craft and the politicians he covers will not be surprised to hear he flayed them, and indeed he sees that as his task, to scour these public figures and hold them to account. His satire was also turned on those who report on the politicians, notably controversial BBC former head politics reporter Nick Robinson, who had by coincidence had been at the festival days earlier and used it and a newspaper article to attack politicians he felt had a go at him for perceived bias in his supposedly neutral coverage (a major talking point here in Scotland during the Independence Referendum) – interestingly Rowson had created a cartoon about this possible bias in his reporting work and showed us the cartoon (which got a fair cheer from the mostly Scottish audience, I noticed). And even more interestingly he noted that Robinson reacted to this cartoon by telling him he had been “unfair”. Unfair?! Rowson exclaimed. He’s had many subjects of his satire contact him to swear at him, threaten him or tell him he is talentless, but, he added, Robinson is the only one ever to say he had been “unfair” to him, and left us to make of that what we would.

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On the last day of the festival I finally got to meet one of my favourite of the current crop of new British comics talent, and indeed a creator who, several years ago, used to be our very own cartoonist in virtual residence here on the blog for some time, Darryl Cunningham (no, I’m not sure how it had gone this long without me actually meeting him in person either). Darryl had been invited to join Swedish writer Katrine Marçal (author of the deliciously titled Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner), Darryl discussing some of what he discovered in his huge amount of research for the brilliant Supercrash, a comics investigation into the causes and effects of the shattering 2008 global financial meltdown, while Katrine’s work took a more gendered view, economics with a female perspective, very interesting.

I was also delighted when asked about terms like graphic novelist or journalist, Darryl explained he is a cartoonist and he makes comics – albeit ones which regularly require quite massive amounts of research, and he discussed how he set around distilling this research into something he could work with for the book, and which would allow him to get over some frequently complex concepts to readers in an accessible and understandable manner. And given some of what was going on in the financial world, that was no mean feat, but he certainly managed it. It was a very well-attended event and, despite the complexity of some of the subjects both authors, as they had in their books, did a very good job of keeping the conversation on a tack the audience could follow and indeed engage in during the audience Q&A at the end. A very nice ending to my 2015 Book Festival outings, and naturally several more signed editions for my collection…

You can never have enough books…

I suspect fellow bibliophiles and reading addicts will identify with this, I certainly do. After a couple of decades as a bookseller, reviewer, editor and writer I generally accrue more books than I can find time to read (let alone review), and I’m in the fortunate position of regularly being sent interesting new ones to look at. And yet I still love a good browse round a decent bookstore, especially second hand and charity ones, where you never know what you’ll find. Couple of weeks ago, despite having a pile of new and forthcoming books waiting on my attentions (and having several on the go at the same time) I still went off with a chum to rummage through the charity bookstores on Edinburgh’s Southside.

oh look a bookstore
(via Spinning About)

I decided since the bulk of my reading recently has been fiction (prose and graphic novel) I would limit myself to only non-fiction (like that matters when you have piles overflowing the shelves into corners, but hey, whatever justification works, right?). And I ambled off after our bookstore troll to the pub with several books – couple of history works, a pop science book and a collection of poetry. Necessary when you have so many other books waiting? Technically, practically, no. On the level of my reading soul though, yes, of course! And it made me feel better.

Most recently my reading has been focused very much on the books of authors I will be talking to next week when I am again chairing a couple of events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as I read then re-read to try and pick out some relevant questions for the events, but it’s good to vary the reading diet – and for a break – to dip into some other pieces, so I am also taking quick peeks at Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a history of the American West but from the perspective of the Native Americans, a book I have been meaning to read for years, and which I found on the shelves of one of those charity bookstores recently. Which I take as a sign from the literary gods and accordingly grabbed it.

For those interested, the two events I’ll be chairing next weekend as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival are a talk with Karrie Fransman and Rob Davis, both of whom I have followed for years and who are creators who push the ways in which the comics medium can tell a story, and Evie Wyld (one of the Granta best new young writers) and Joe Sumner about their collaboration, Everything is Teeth (I’ll post a review of that on here soon).

More Festival pics

With being so busy and also doing some stuff with the book festival I clean forgot to post some more of my photos from Festival time in Edinburgh

(these performers were from a production of Oliver Twist – presumably an alternative Nazi bondage version of Dickens!)

And of course I shot some at the Book Festival

(Bryan Lee O’Malley signing in the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet a few hours before I talked to him on stage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival)

(from left to right, Kate Charlesworth, Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot at the Book Festival)

(Ken MacLeod and Mike Carey signing after their Book Festival talk – Ken I’ve known for many years, Mike I have known but only online so at last we got to meet in person and have a nice drink and natter after the event)

(Mike Carey again, this time talking comics at the Book Festival with Isabel Greenberg and, on the right, Stuart Kelly)

(Nick Hayes – left – and Reinhard Kleist – on the right – after the talk I chaired with them at the book fest, a very good evening)

(between events it’s nice to sit in Charlotte Square at the book fest in the literary-themed deckchairs)

(night-time at the Edinburgh Book Festival)

(and the traditional 45 minute classic fireworks concert launched from Edinburgh Castle which marks the end of the Edinburgh Festival season. Didn’t go all the way into Princes Street and the crowds, instead took these from bridge over the Union Canal near the regenerated area)

My book festival talk with Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda

Some more events from August’s Edinburgh International Book Festival have been uploaded to the EIBF’s YouTube channel, including the full, hour-long talk I chaired with Arthur C Clarke award winning writer Lauren Beukes and cracking artist Inaki Miranda, talking about their collaboration on Fairest: the Hidden Kingdom for DC’s Vertigo imprint:

Grant Morrison at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Last month as well as reporting on the Edinburgh International Book Festival as I do most years I was on stage for some events, the first of which was chairing a talk with superstar Scottish comics writer Grant Morrison. We discussed his earliest work in Near Myths, an anthology which grew out of the old Edinburgh Science Fiction Bookshop (which would become the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet years later) which was well ahead of its time in trying to create a comics form for adult readers and also featured the first appearances of Luther Arkwright by the great Bryan Talbot – in a lovely moment Grant took the opportunity to pay tribute to Bryan’s place in the medium (Bryan was in the audience at the time and was, I think, rather delighted) – it was nice to see this peer to peer respect from one top creator to another. We discussed his Batman and Superman works, his plans for reworking Wonder Woman and the return to Seaguy, before throwing open the second half to questions from the audience, who were eager to ask Grant their own questions (and he was looking forward to the chance to interact with his readers, so we tried to give a good chunk of our hour to the audience Q&A).

I’m not mad at being in front of the camera, I prefer being behind the lens, but it was a fun event and from folks I bumped into over the rest of the Book Festival it seemed to have gone fairly well as they told me they enjoyed it, which was a relief as that was my very first time chairing an event at the Book Fest. I have done plenty of events with authors in my bookselling career of course, but it’s been years since I had to do an on-stage event and doing it with a major name, at the world’s biggest literary festival, well, that’s a hell of a way to get back into the saddle! But it was fun to do it as part of the huge Stripped segment of comics themed events at the Book Festival:

My video interviews from the Book Festival

During my very busy period at the Stripped comics strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in addition to chairing a couple of the author events this year I was also delighted to pose the questions for a couple of their series of short video interviews with authors, including this one I did with Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda shortly before chairing their event (which was great fun) – don’t worry, you don’t see me in either as I am safely behind the camera (which I prefer) and indeed as they edited it to mostly the author’s responses you barely hear me, but was nice to be asked to do a couple and fun to do. I talked to Lauren and Inaki about their collaboration (this was the first time they met in person) as well as their next projects:

And I also got to ask Neil Gaiman some questions, which was great – hard to believe it’s been around twenty years since I first did an author event with Neil in my old bookstore. Our slot got bumped by another interview team but Neil noticed this and very kindly arranged to fit us in after the next item on his very busy schedule, and so we got to stand in late summer sunshine in Charlotte Square and I got to ask Neil about his returning to the Sandman, working with JH Williams III and how it felt, having grown up like most of us our age watching Doctor Who, to walk onto the TARDIS set knowing they were filming a story you wrote, and how much more receptive the people now at the BBC are towards his work:

Stripped: comics at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

stripped comics edinburgh international book festival banner

Well, it’s been one hell of a weekend here in Edinburgh for the comic creators, publishers and readers. I’ve been along to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for many years, and in the last few years I’ve been covering some very fine graphic novel events. This year, however, was on a totally different scale with the Stripped strand of comics related events, from workshops for younger readers (whipping Gary Northfield into the venue full of excited young readers then locking him in with paper and pencils) to events with up and coming younger talent (from Gareth Brookes to Will Morris to Gillen and McKelvie), top-level home-grown talent (Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Bryan Talbot) to some of the most acclaimed comics creators from round the world (Joe Sacco, Chris Ware, Rutu Modan and more). The events went from workshops to talks to quick interviews, live Twitter sessions and great events in the Spiegeltent such as a live draw and a ‘literary death match’ which included many of the writers and artists in Charlotte Square, including Neil Gaiman, Paul Cornell and Emma Vieceli. And not forgetting a two day mini comic fair that gave a brilliant stage (in a handsome historic setting, no less) to our vibrant small press creators. Then we also had the very first 9th Art Award (scooped by one of our former Commentary guests Stephen Collins for The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil). What a weekend…

While we had some Stripped events earlier in the Book Festival (which you must remember is a huge event in the world literary calender – over two weeks of events and over eight hundred authors, there really is nothing else quite on this scale), most notably the events with Joe Sacco and Chris Ware, who had individual events and then a cracking double-header event which was a pleasure to see (my report is here on the blog and the entire event, plus some short interviews, is now available to watch in video form – see here), the main concentration of Stripped events was planned around a long weekend, from Friday through to this Monday. I’ve been there for that whole busy but wonderful weekend and my head is still whirling a little bit from it and the intensity. As regular readers know I usually write up individual posts on each of the graphic novel events at the Book Fest, but frankly this year’s scale and sheer busy nature makes that impractical (besides which a team of comickers such as our own Nicola Love, DTT’s Jeremy Briggs, Edward Ross and Metaphrog have been filing reports and interviews which you can check out here) and if I tried to do so I would still be writing by the time my few days off to recover had passed! So this year instead I’m just going to post a report on my whole Book Festival/Stripped experience over that weekend and what I think it says about our medium and how it being perceived right now. Apologies if that means it sometimes becomes a little rambling, but I will bung in plenty of photos too!

Edward Ross & Will Morris at Edinburgh Book Fest 2013 01
(Edward Ross and Will Morris during their talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival, pic from my Flickr)

The first gig of the busy weekend for me was with Blank Slate Books alumni Will Morris, discussing his beautiful The Silver Darlings on stage with local creator Edward Ross (creator of, among others, the fine Filmish series I’ve reported on here before) and Dundee-based academic Doctor Chris Murray (in his trademark radioactive glow shirt). Will talked of his early comics reading and influences (unsurprisingly Chris Ware’s name came up several times from both the boys during this part of the conversation), while Edward noted that, like quite a few of us he read comics when younger then drifted away in late teens and early 20s, before being introduced to creators who hooked the adult reader in him back to the medium, eventually leading him to start dabbling with his own comics, using his love of films to inspire what would become Filmish. I’ve hugely enjoyed the very different work of both creators and it was a pleasure to see such up and coming talent on stage at such a major event.

My weekend then went into overdrive, after sitting in the audience and enjoying listening to Ed and Will discuss their work, then meeting a bunch of comickers in the author’s tent. And yes, being allowed access to the sacred enclosure of the author’s yurt is exactly as exciting as you are imagining it is. I count myself very fortunate that over my years in the book trade I’ve got to meet a whole range of authors and artists, and it’s one of the nicest perks of the job, especially as most I’ve met are very lovely people, very friendly to chat away to (I’m sure many of you have experienced the same when getting to chat to creators when getting your books signed) and we’ve been lucky that those contacts have often lead to us getting some of those creators on to guest here on the blog so everyone gets a taster. So I’m not unused to meeting authors, but holy drokk, this was on a ridiculous scale in such a small space! Every visit to the author’s yurt you would bump into several more comickers, then some more. Quite a few I knew already, there were more I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time (such as Robbie Morrison and Jim Murray, there with their excellent Drowntown). And then on a warm late summer evening Grant Morrison strolls into the scene. Yes, it was one of those weekends where things like that just happened (go on, those of you who were there, how often between events as you relaxed in the gardens of Charlotte Square did you spot favourite creators wandering about? It’s a great festival pastime!).

Edinburgh book festival 2013 - SuperSarah, Bryan Talbot & Emma Vieceli
(Bryan Talbot with ‘SuperSarah’ McIntyre and Emma Vieceli)

Bryan Talbot, of course, goes way back with Grant, the pair of them being an integral part of one of the early attempts to create something new in comics for a mature readership (in some ways well ahead of its time), with Near Myths, which came out of the old Edinburgh Science Fiction Bookshop, which became the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet (our very own Kenny was often to be found in that old specialist emporium as the ‘Saturday boy’), and he was kind enough to introduce us properly. Less than an hour later and I’m walking onto a stage in a packed theatre with Grant… Yes, first time I’ve been asked to chair an event at the Book Festival and the first one was with one of the biggest names in the medium. So, no pressure there at all, eh?

You might imagine being asked to chair an event like that creates a mixture of pleasure, delight, stress and worry, and you’d be bang on. It’s a fairly daunting thing to do, especially with such a noted author; I’m no stranger to doing on-stage events with authors, but it’s been a while and what a spot to get back into the saddle. But while it is a little overwhelming to talk to such an acclaimed writer in front of a crowd I am also aware that despite the pressure that brings in some ways it makes it easier, because Grant is a professional, very experienced at such events and he genuinely loves getting a chance to relax and talk with his readers. So once we’d had a short chat we went straight to the Q&A with the audience, something I know he was keen to get to and certainly the crowd was desperate to get their questions in before the hour ran out. Before the audience Q&A though we briefly talked about his earliest work – since we were sitting in an Edinburgh venue it seemed appropriate to talk a little about Near Myths being put together in the same city several decades before. Grant, very nicely, made a point of also talking about how this was also where Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright first appeared and then paid tribute to Bryan as one of the great pillars of the British comics scene (to a great round of applause for a delighted Bryan who was in the audience); a lovely wee moment of respect from one top creator to another.

We also touched on his upcoming work such as Multiversity (several issues, each with different artists working with him), returning to Seaguy and of course since he had raised the subject himself in previous Book Festival visits, I had to ask him about his plans for Wonder Woman, and how he wants to take some of what her creator put in there (including that highly sexual element) to do her justice in a new form. But I think it was the audience Q&A which was the highlight of the evening for most in the audience, and I suspect we could have been there for several hours and still not got through everyone who wanted to ask a question. As in previous years at the Fest Grant was signing away for hours afterwards, taking time to chat to each person in turn. Sitting at one of the table nearby, just outside the signing tent, every few minutes I would see two or three fans walk out, clutching their just-signed books. Almost without fail I’d see them walk out, pause, excitedly open their books and show the signed pages to their friend, all of them with huge smiles as they exited; it was rather nice to see this repeat itself every few minutes, watching very, very happy, content readers happily holding their freshly signed books. That’s one of the simple pleasures of doing book events and signing sessions, seeing how it delights readers, and you know what, it’s a simple pleasure I never get tired of seeing.

Stripped Mini Comic Fair at Edinburgh Book Fest 2013 06
(Above: Neil Slorance and Stephen Goodall at the Stripped Mini Comic Fair, below: Coll Hamilton and Carolyn Alexander)
Stripped Mini Comic Fair at Edinburgh Book Fest 2013 010

From then on the weekend got busier and busier for me. I did manage to fit in a walk around the Mini Comics Fair though and chat to several of the small press comickers there, including the aforementioned Edward Ross, the Metaphrog crew, Neil Slorance (whose work is fast becoming a favourite with some of our crew), Stephen Goodall, Coll Hamilton and and Carolyn Alexander, Lynsey Hutchinson, Kathryn Briggs and more, and picked myself up a wee selection of comics for later reading. I know the organisers would have liked to have the mini comic bash in the main part of the gardens alongside the rest of the Book Fest, but there simply wasn’t any more room. So they had them directly across the road, just a few paces away, in the most splendid surroundings I have ever seen for a small press fair, being in a historic heritage property directly above the Book Festival’s own offices, a magnificent Georgian town house, all 18th century wood panelling and plasterwork ceilings. I could easily have spent much more time and more money there but there was always something else happening, not to mention the matter of preparing for the next day’s schedule.

Stripped Mini Comic Fair at Edinburgh Book Fest 2013 01
(the Stripped Mini Comics fair in Charlotte Square)
Stripped Mini Comic Fair at Edinburgh Book Fest 2013 02

And that next day was even busier for me, several events to take in, interviews to take part in and the small matter of chairing another event. The day started with Mary and Bryant Talbot talking with Teddy Jamieson, and naturally as well as discussing their previous and upcoming work (Mary’s Sally Heathcote, Suffragette, which looks like it will see print next spring, a fourth and fifth Grandville from Bryan) the subject of their unprecedented win at the Costa literary award, a first for a graphic work, was raised. This was a topic which came up quite a bit when I was chatting to other comickers in between events, it’s really been a boost to a lot of us involved in the medium. After this I had the pleasure of hanging with Arthur C Clarke winning novelist and comics scribe Lauren Beukes and artist Inaki Miranda. The weather gods, for once, had favoured us (which is not always the case at the Edinburgh festivals! Indeed Lauren had come prepared with a new raincoat just in case) and we got to sit outside while planning how the guys wanted to do their talk, which I was chairing. Interestingly this was the first time writer and artist had met in person, their collaboration on the excellent Fairest: Hidden Kingdom story arc was conducted online and through telepathy using crystals found only in a remote series of caves in Lauren’s homeland of South Africa.

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(Bryan and Mary Talbot signing after their talk)

You’d never know this from their rapport though and it was clear the two of them were having a terrific time. Lauren had been there for a couple of days, also taking part in an event discussing her prose work, for which she has garnered (deservedly so) a formidable reputation (her most recent genre-crossing novel, The Shining Girls, partakes of science fiction, crime and horror; it’s disturbing and compelling in equal measures, see James’ recent review of it here), poor Inaki had arrived just that morning and already we were prodding him to get ready, but he was game for it, driven along by endless good natured teasing from Lauren. Regular readers will know Lauren and Inaki from their Director’s Commentary guest post they were kind enough to do for us, and having talked with them before for that and then again more recently ahead of their arrival in Edinburgh we all had that nice feeling that although this was a first meeting for the three of us we also sort of knew each other already, and it made it an absolute delight to work with them, especially as they had a good idea of how they wanted to present their talk (a sort of process talk, a little similar to how they approached their guest Commentary).

Inaki and Lauren at Book Fest
(Inaki Miranda and Lauren Beukes at the Edinburgh Book Festival)
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The talk went very well and took in the mechanics of collaborating between writer and artist when both live in different continents, the approach to characters and story, setting and the role of sexuality and violence in the tale. Lauren was at great pains to use these latter aspects carefully, mindful of the reputation comics get for the way they portray sex, representation of women and violent acts (sadly sometimes criticisms of how comics show these can be quite justified), and the sexuality here was more of the naturally sensual nature of Rapunzel. Some violence in comics can be too ‘consequence free’, Lauren argued, huge superhuman fist-fights that look spectacular but give a cartoony, showy view of physical violence. In one harrowing scene in Fairest Rapunzel is in a fight and she is beaten, extremely badly. Both she and Inaki wanted this to be realistic, to show the horrid brutality of repeatedly striking another person, and they talked us through this scene, with Inaki’s art fragmenting as Rapunzel is repeatedly struck and begins to fade out. They didn’t want to glamorise the violence and I think their depiction was an interesting and mature way to show the scene. During the Q&A with the audience one young woman asked for advice in developing her own work, and both writer and artist offered some very helpful and encouraging suggestions. At the signing afterwords in the on-site bookstore sales must have been very good, because they actually sold out of their volume of Fairest!

The rest of this part of the weekend saw me interviewing for the short video pieces the Book Festival has been posting up on their YouTube Channel (you may already have seen some of them as we’ve been embedding them), including one with Lauren and Inaki and another with some bloke called Neil Gaiman. Worry not, you don’t have to put up with me in the frame as I stood behind the camera crew asking the questions! But it was nice to get to take part in a couple of these events, a whole bunch of Book Festival and comicker folk have contributed to them and more will be appearing online shortly. On a related note I have to say a thank you to Neil, as a snafu over interview schedules meant our spot for the video got bumped, but he overheard and despite his packed schedule made sure to fit us in a little later so we still got it in the can. I managed to get in some questions about the upcoming new Sandman, working with JH Williams III and his Doctor Who work and other recent Neil-themed BBC collaborations, I’m sure the video will be up in the near future and we’ll point you to it, of course.

Neil Gaiman at Edinburgh Book Fest
(Neil Gaiman at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, photos from my Flickr, click for larger ones)

After that for the rest of that evening and the next day I could go back to simply being in the audience and enjoying the events. Hannah Berry had the daunting task of chairing Neil Gaiman’s Sandman talk for Stripped (Neil, as is now almost customary for him each August, was at the Book Festival doing numerous events, including Stripped). It is always a pleasure to hear Neil talking about his work, and for me it was an especial delight to hear him spending an hour discussing the Sandman, my all-time favourite comics series. Poor Hannah was teased mercilessly if playfully by Neil throughout their talk, but it was all very good natured and he was clearly relishing the chance to go back and talk about the Sandman, how he got into comics writing, how the story developed, him learning more as it progressed, and now this return to the Dreaming. The hour passed far too quickly and before the end Neil asked the audience not to applaud for him but to instead give that round of applause to Hannah for being such a good sport through their talk (personally I think she did a great job and so did everyone else I talked to).

The evening for me was finished off with an event I personally wanted to be at very much, the late night Iain Banks tribute. This would have been where the mighty Banksie would have been talking about his new (and sadly final) novel had he been fit enough, but after his shockingly sudden decline and departure to join the Sublimed of his Culture this spring some of his friends and fellow Scots authors – Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and Ken MacLeod – took to the stage in his honour, and Neil Gaiman, busy with a massive signing queue in the tent next door after his Sandman talk, took a few minutes from his signing duties to nip into the theatre to share an anecdote about his younger days at a science fiction convention and a drunken Iain Banks scaling the outside of the Metropole hotel in Brighton. It was a peculiar event, readings from Iain’s older and new work, his friends and fellow writers sharing memories of the man himself and the audience too being included, asked to share their thoughts and memories of Iain. Jura, one of the festival’s sponsors, had kindly arranged for everyone in the audience to be serve a dram of their fine single malt after the event, and his long-time friend Ken MacLeod lead us all in a toast. Sad, sad, sad to think of the Book Festival without Iain’s smiling presence, and yet heartening to see him so warmly remembered, there in spirit.

rest your literary bottom and think
(one of The Guardian’s literary deckchairs which were scattered around the gardens to relax on between events at the Book Fest, this one quoting Consider Phlebas from the late, great Iain M Banks)

A final event for me and another bright and sunny day from the weather gods, I was meeting Inaki to go to the event with Martin Rowson and Rob Davis talking with Stuart Kelly, and in a good bit of timing we found them both already chatting by the author’s yurt, along with Emma Vieceli. This constantly bumping into comics creators was a theme for this entire weekend, every time I was coming or going from events I’d bump into folks – oh look, there’s John Higgins getting ready for a panel, there’s Dan Abnett, I’d cross paths with Garen Ewing or Gary Northfield while there would be a sudden flurry of activity and everyone’s heads would turn to take in Sarah McIntyre passing by in one of her wonderful costumes (I think literary critic and comics fan Stuart Kelly was the only one who came near her with his Riddler costume for one of his talks!). Rob and Martin were discussing adapting literary classic to the comics medium, Martin mostly on his very fine Tristram Shandy and Rob, of course, on his magnificent two volume take on the Cervantes’ immortal Don Quixote.

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(Rob Davis and Martin Rowson (in natty hat) signing after their Stripped event)
Edinburgh Book Festival 2013 - Rob Davis & Martin Rowson 05

It was a fascinating talk, taking in not just how you approach adapting major works of literature but, equally important, why you do it. Both had their own ideas but both agreed very much on the fact that you had to be bringing something different to the work or it was pointless doing it, that you had to be able to retell the story to a new audience, staying true to the original’s theme while still bringing something fresh, a very difficult trick to pull off. Some may think that adapting an existing work is easier than having to script an original from scratch and then illustrate it, but it isn’t, and to be honest I suspect in some ways it may be even more difficult than writing new stories from scratch. Rob had planned some of his approach ahead, scripting it beginning with dialogue, while Martin said that he often didn’t know how he would handle each segment until he started it, he found himself unable to work from a script of storyboard (he said he did try it once but it simply would not work for him and he had to give that project up). It was a great talk, not least because their chair, Stuart Kelly (now out of his Riddler costume after his Batman talk), has a hugely impressive knowledge and appreciation of all sorts of literature which he could use to refer to Rob and Martin’s adaptation.

As you are probably getting from this report (which has, as usual, ended up being far longer than I planned – sorry! So much going on and I know I am still missing huge chunks out…) it was a tremendously busy four days. Some writers and artists I got to chat with for a few moments in passing, some I got to talk to for a bit longer, and there are others I missed getting to speak to altogether. This was a theme I heard from most of those present – there were so many events packed into Stripped that we were all coming and going so frequently, stopping to get a quick break and a drink and snack in the author’s yurt then back out for more, so that pretty much all of us missed some folks entirely and had to make that usual festival or convention dilemma decision of which clashing events we could go to and which we would have to miss out on. But while we all lamented this, I didn’t meet anyone who thought it a particularly bad thing, because, quite frankly, it was caused by a real embarrassment of riches. The Book Festival team – Roland, Janet, Kirsten and the rest, please take a very well deserved bow – had delivered us a huge and varied programme that really was, in effect, a mini comics festival within the main Book Fest.

Another aspect I picked up on talking to authors and artists and publishers between events was how happy most of them were to be there and at the sheer scale of the comics programming the Book Festival gang had put together. Pretty much every comicker I talked to saw this as hugely positive – the world’s biggest literary festival not just including comics (as they had for several years) but shouting about them from the rooftops. This and the Talbots’ Costa win and the media coverage of the Festival that concentrated on the comics strand all combined to give everyone a hugely positive, very optimistic feeling – there was a really great vibe coming out of this, and how many of the comickers thought it showed our beloved medium is being perceived, not just by other comics readers but by publishers, literary organisations, the media and non comics readers who have been tempted in by events like these to start trying some graphic works (just the other day I suggested some graphic novels to a reader on Twitter who had been intrigued after the Stripped events).

Stripped at the Edinburgh Book Festival 02

I’m very much inclined to share this optimistic view, and yes some of that comes from the happy energy of the event, but it was more than that – as I said Bryan and Mary Talbot’s Costa literary award came up often talking to other comickers, and the upcoming Angouleme-style Lakes festival, along with the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s events were all combining to make many comickers feel that there was a real momentum to how the wider reading and publishing world is viewing comics now, and that’s something I think we can all take and build on. Given the pre-eminent position of the Edinburgh Book Fest as the largest lit-fest of its type in the world and the influence that has, I’d be surprised if this didn’t help to open more doors for graphic works at more literary festivals, and hopefully a wider audience. One of the things I loved about Stripped, apart from the diverse nature of the creators (which mirrors the diverse nature of the authors in the main programme each year) is that although Stripped was highlighted to all and even had its own wee programme to draw attention to it, it was still very much a part of the main Book Festival. As with the Talbots’ win at the Costas, there was no ghettoisation going on here, the comics works were treated the same as all the other adult and children’s works at the festival, simply as good books and good reading by interesting creators, and I see that as a good thing.

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(above: another fabulous outfit and headgear from the one and only Sarah McIntyre, here with Gary Northfield, who was fresh from several hours of comics workshops for young readers, below, another shot – how could I resist? – of Sarah’s costume along with Gary and in the hooped top in centre her collaborator, author Philip Reeve)
Edinburgh Book Festival 2013 - more Seawigosaurs

It doesn’t mean we stop having our own conventions, but it does, I hope, mean comics works will play an increasing role in all sorts of literary gatherings and festivals and the wider reading audience that lets creators and publishers have access to. And that has to be a good thing, surely? For the literary festivals too I see this as a good move, widening their audience base – I know many at Stripped had been at previous Book Festival events, but I strongly suspect for quite a few this would have been the thing that got them to venture into Charlotte Square for the first time, and I hope that they will be back (and going to other events there as well). We know that sometimes large cultural events and spaces like lit fests or large galleries can be a little intimidating, leading to that “oh, not for the likes of me” feeling for some folks, and anything that breaks down those barriers and encourages more folks to come is a good thing in my book.

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(some of the graphic novels on sale in the on-site bookstore at the Edinburgh International Book Festival)

The Book Festival has seen another increase in both ticket and book sales this year – I don’t know what part Stripped played in that, but it’s hard not to think it must have helped, especially given the enthusiasm of the comics readers at the Festival and the piles of media attention the Festival crew helped generate that focused on the comics strand. I have no idea if Stripped will return or if it would be quite as huge as this year (so many variables – other parts of publishing demand attention too, after all, plus issues most of us never seen such as availability and costs issues, sponsorship etc) if it does, but I’d be very surprised if future Book Festivals didn’t feature a much larger graphic novel segment than in previous years. All in all, as well as being a hugely enjoyable series of events I think we can see such a large comics presence at the Edinburgh Book Fest as a confirmation of what a lot of us have been saying: it’s a damned good time to be creating and reading comics in the UK right now, and further afield. Here’s to more good comics and more good events…

This report was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog

Chris Ware and Joe Sacco at the Edinburgh Book Fest

A few hours after we had the pleasure of having Joe Sacco and Chris Ware doing a quick signing in our Edinburgh store (see here) I was off to see the pair of them talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Both had given individual talks the preceding evenings at the Book Fest as part of the huge Stripped series of comics events at this year’s Book Festival, and I am told they did so to packed crowds. So on their third night at the world’s biggest literary celebration did that mean they had exhausted the audiences? Nope, it was again packed to the rafters, a huge audience (among them plenty of comickers like Metaphrog, William Goldsmith, Will Morris, Edward Ross, Neil Slorance and our own Nicola among others). The bulk of the Stripped events take place in a huge, solid block of comics goodness over the upcoming bank holiday weekend, so this was my first Stripped gig of the Book Festival, and what a way to kick off this huge celebration of our beloved medium, with a massive, enthusiastic crowd packed into the theatre in the elegant Georgian environs of Charlotte Square and the Herald’s Teddy Jamieson (himself a major comics reader) talking to two of the most internationally acclaimed creators working in comics today. In a further bonus it was even a warm and dry evening (rain being no stranger to Festival crowds in Edinburgh!).

Chris Ware & Joe Sacco at the Edinburgh Book Fest 2013 01
(Joe Sacco (left) and Chris Ware (centre) in conversation with Teddy Jamieson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of the Stripped series, photos from my Flickr, click for the larger versions)

Teddy started off the evening by asking Joe and Chris about their early influences and how they progressed into creating comics for a living. Chris replied that as a youngster he was pretty much addicted to television until he went to college and made a decision to cut most of that out of his life in favour of other things. Joe spent a part of his childhood in Australia, where he told us he was exposed to a lot of British comics in addition to the normal compliment of four colour titles from America, and some of the old British war comics had remained in his mind since then. Chris re-iterated his surprise not only at finding out when younger that you could actually draw for a living, but that he has actually made a living and a successful one from working in comics. He has, like most comics artists I know, also taken illustration commissions for companies to help pay the bills, but he said he regarded that kind of work as a bit like prostitution for the artist, work done purely for pay, with no real deep feel or love for the work you are doing, and he is happy he doesn’t really have to take on anything like that unless it is something he wants to do.

Joe, for his part, told us of drawing as a kid, influenced by his British and American comics reading, his sister also drawing with him in that competitive way siblings sometimes do (causing Chris to comment there are two main types of comics artists, the sibling rivalry driven ones and the ones who grew up alone and the comics were their outlet). Joe commented that he thought at that stage his sister was the better artist, but then she hit that certain age, discovered boys and stopped drawing. Luckily for us Joe kept doodling! On his path to the acclaimed comics as journalism genre that he has largely pioneered to such huge effect, he explained he was working on comics but it wasn’t like one day he suddenly thought right, today I shall combine comics and journalism! He was studying journalism though, and on visiting other countries he naturally did what artists do and drew some of what he saw, more like comics travelogues at that point, as he put it. But as he started to record more of what he learned from people he talked to in these places he started to think on applying lessons learned from studying journalism, and gradually the journalistic approach and the comics medium came together. He also paid tribute to some of the great photojournalists as an influence, but noted while they had to strive to try and sum up a whole story in one dramatic, iconic image, the artist is much more fortunate in that they can simply draw the scene as they wish. And then another and another…

Chris Ware & Joe Sacco at the Edinburgh Book Fest 2013 03

Teddy asked Chris about his approach to the medium, and the sense of space he creates in his work, almost like architecture as comics, as he put it (most notably in his recent and rather magnificent Building Stories), and Chris discussed how he likes to make his scenes something a reader can inhabit (in fact both he and Joe talked about the need for both the creator and then the readers to be able to inhabit the settings and the characters, otherwise they felt they hadn’t done their work correctly). This three dimensional approach to the medium was something he clearly relished being able to craft and share, and he also lavished praise on Joe’s work for also creating that three dimensional feeling of a real space and real people (some of the audience concurred, indeed one man at the Q&A session afterwards had been in Bosnia before and after the war and congratulated Joe on the accuracy of his depictions). This mutual admiration was a hallmark of the evening’s proceedings, with both artists frequently citing each other’s works and what they loved about it. This was not done in some gushing, luvvie-style fest, I hasten to add, but was quite clearly the deep-seated admiration of one accomplished artist for another’s work.

I actually found this aspect of the evening’s talk fascinating – obviously all of us who were present are enthusiastic readers of their work, or we wouldn’t have been there, and we’ve all got out own unique interpretations of their works and what they mean to us, how we view them, how they make us feel, all filtered, as any art form is, through our own experiences, previous readings and knowledge. We all see things a little differently, and artists usually even more so when approaching an appreciation of other art. So there was something quite compelling in finding out a little about how artists of this calibre viewed the work of another creator, of equal stature and acclaim to them but with a very different style and approach to the form. While I am sure I would have loved their individual events in the preceding evenings I think having the pair of them discussing parts of each others works that they each admired so much was a bonus to having both of them on stage at the same time, and was for me the highlight of the discussion.

Chris Ware & Joe Sacco at the Edinburgh Book Fest 2013 02

I came away from the talk into a crowd of fellow comickers, standing in the gardens of Charlotte Square on a balmy summer evening, crowds of book lovers coming and going past us to and from the hundreds of other events taking place this month, like a literary tide washing around us as we all stood around with huge smiles, everyone delighted and happy after such a lovely event. So my first Stripped event of this August, and come the weekend after next I will have a pile to attend (and yes, I will do my best to report on them as usual), and this year I’m actually chairing a couple of events too (one with Grant Morrison and another with Inaki Miranda and Lauren Beukes), so there’s a dubious pleasure for the audiences! And let’s not forget on the 24th and 25th we’ve also got the Small Press comic fair, with a whole bunch of Indy creators on hand with their works at the Book Festival. Those of you in Edinburgh or in easy reach of the city, please do come along and support these events, the better it all goes the more likely we are to see plenty of large-scale comics events in future Book Festivals, but as with any of these sorts of projects it requires organisation, planning, and most of all, support from the readers to truly work. And trust me, Stripped is something all of us who love our medium should be supporting. Watch this space for more Book Festival updates in the very near future. On a related note, if you missed Joe and Chris at the Book Fest or when they were signing in out store yesterday, the Edinburgh FP still has limited supplies of signed book by both of them that you can get your hands on.

This report was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet Blog

The Edinburgh Book Festival begins

Stripped at the Edinburgh Book Festival 02
Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited again to the launch party for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and this year the world’s biggest literary festival celebrates its thirtieth anniversary. This year there is a huge and very diverse comics strand, Stripped. There have been comics and graphic novel for a good few years and I’ve been along to cover them and report on them, but this is on a vastly larger scale, practically a mini festival within the main festival. There are author talks, workshops, school outreach programmes, events for adults, event for kids, the new Ninth Art Awards and even a free mini-comics event for the small press, Indy self-published comickers to show their wares at this huge event.

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(above: the band entertaining us at the Book Festival’s swish launch party last night in Charlotte Square;below, locally based comics creators Will Morris (left) and Edward Ross (right) at the launch party last night, both of them will be taking part in the author events as part of Stripped)
Edinburgh Book Festival 2012 launch party 02

I’ve helped out a little with contacts and suggestions over the months leading up to the festival, as well as helping them with content celebrating some of the writers and artists who will be attending, with the Forbidden Planet blog sharing some of our guest posts by creators with the Stripped blog, and I am really delighted at the diversity and range of events the organisers like Roland, Janet, Kirsten and others have put together (a huge, huge effort). I’m off to my first event later this week, although the bulk of the comics events I’m going to take place over the weekend at the end of August. As well as covering several of the events I will be chairing a couple of author talks this year and looks like I may be doing an interview or two as well. Been a while since I did an on-stage author event, so hoping my old events mojo is still in there somewhere! Sure it will be fine.

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(above, EIBF director Nick Barley introducing this year’s book fest; below, to mark the 30th anniversary the EIBF’s original director Jenny Brown took to the stage at the launch party)
Edinburgh Book Festival 2012 launch party 05

And of course the rest of the Book Festival carries on around it, with some 800 authors present over a couple of weeks, the place for book lovers. Sadly one of our regular fixtures at the Book Fest, the great Iain Banks, will not be there this year. He hoped to still be strong enough to read from his new – and sadly now final – novel this summer, but even that was denied to him when his condition took him even faster than any of us thought it could, but several of his friends and fellow writers such as Ian Rankin and Ken MacLeod will be standing up for him at that event. There’s also some nice little touches so Iain is still present in spirit at the Book Festival, such as these terrific literary deckchairs their partners at the Guardian have had made up, featuring quotes from Iain’s work.

rest your literary bottom and think

You can read a short interview I did with one of the Book Festival’s organisers, Janet Smyth, about the comics strand Stripped over on the (recently relaunched and rather shiny new-look) Forbidden Planet Blog here.

The Edinburgh Book Fest unveils 2013 programme

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(Susan Rice opening the programme launch of the Edinburgh Book Festival 2013)
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(inside the gorgeous Signet Library)
Edinburgh Book Festival 2013 programme launch 09

I was fortunate enough to be invited again to the launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s programme for this year, once more in the handsome and historic Signet Library in Edinburgh’s Parliament Square in the heart of the Old Town. Over right hundred events, a vast array of authors and artists on all subjects from biography, science and history to fiction, children’s books, music and this year there is a massive strand, Stripped, focusing on the increasingly vibrant international comics scene, with days of events including up and coming new comics talent, major names (Bryan Talbot, Neil Gaiman, Joe Sacco, Chris Ware to name but a few), works for adults and kids as well as workshops and even space for the excellent native small press, self published comickers and the first of the new comics awards. I don’t know any other major literary fiction which has given such a huge emphasis on the graphic arts like this, let alone the world’s biggest public literary festival. There are more details of Stripped over on the Forbidden Planet blog here.

Edinburgh Book Festival 2013 programme launch 03
(above: Janet Smyth announces the children’s programme; below: EIBF director Nick Barley talking at the programme launch)
Edinburgh Book Festival 2013 programme launch 04

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(above:John and Sandra of Glasgow’s Metaphrog, creators of the gorgeous Louis books among others with the Book Fest’s Kirsten Cowie who is overseeing the Stripped segment, below: local comickers Edward Ross and Jeremy Briggs chatting in the Signet Library)
Edinburgh Book Festival 2013 programme launch 07

Edinburgh Book Festival: Grant Morrison

Third and final of the reports I penned on the comics related events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August for the Forbidden Planet blog:

Top comics scribe Grant Morrison returned to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for his second visit following his very successful Book Fest gig last year and again it was an absolutely packed late-night audience. Grant seemed pretty happy to be back and was in very good form, obviously delighting in getting the opportunity to talk directly with some of his readers. Much of the discussion centred around Supergods, his very interesting book which combines a short history of the American superhero comics with autobiographical elements from his own life as a reader and a writer (just out in paperback from Cape).

Edinburgh Book Festival 2012 - Grant Morrison 03
(Grant Morrison at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, pic from my Flickr, click for larger version)

Grant told us that the book originally started as something quite different, but the publishers liked what he had written on the history side of comics and the personal angle, asked him for more of that and the book we now have started to take shape over many months. A history of comics he had been reading all his life as well as writing for decades, how hard could that be, he said, smiling – no need to do a lot of research, know most of that already… And you can guess what’s coming – the more he expanded on chapters on different periods the more he realised he had to mention (can’t miss that comic, that artist…), entailing more words, more research. In fact he said that the finished book represented roughly half of what he had, after much editing, there could have been a lot more and it could have been a different read, although better or not is hard to say, but it gives you an idea of the amount of work he had to put into it. And bear in mind this work was running parallel with his regular comics writing duties, including, of course, some pretty major flagship DC titles. Asked how he managed to juggle these various competing deadlines he smiled and answered a lot of very late nights.

(forthcoming Happy by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, published Image Comics)

Discussion ranged from his childhood comics favourites (like Sheldon Cooper The Flash remains one of his all-time favourites, especially some of the great Carmine Infantino work – can’t blame him for that) through working in his own experiences, such as his world-travelling, into his work, the difference between working on creator-owned material (including his new Image title with Darick Robertson, Happy – which, as he explained, means no money up front for the creators until the work is out there and selling) and future projects. One audience member reminded him that last summer at the Book Fest he mentioned he had been trying to figure out a new approach to Wonder Woman, inspired by the inherit sexuality she had when her original creator William Moulton Martson gave her comics life; he was of the opinion that she lost something after that which the character required and he’s confident that he’s found a way to tap into that sexual identity element without being exploitative. Alas, although at the previous Book Fest he said he hoped to have that by next year (now this year), with all his various projects it has slipped back a bit and is likely to be next year now, but he is writing away on it, you’ll be pleased to hear.

Edinburgh Book Festival 2012 - Grant Morrison 01
(Grant singing for a very, very long line of appreciative fans)

Having managed to get my copy of Supergods signed last year I decided not to wait in the very long line after the event. Last year it was the best part of an hour for me to get to the front and I was not that far back in the line; Grant mentioned that the line was so long last summer that he ended up signing away until 2am (the talk had finished at 10.30pm!), so I do hope he didn’t have to stay quite as long this time! But he does seem to very much enjoy getting to not just sign the books but getting the chance to chat for a few minutes to each of his readers, which I’m sure they all appreciated. Another good comics event at the Book Festival, and there’s more to come this Friday with Bryan Talbot paying a return visit, this time with his wife and collaborator Mary, which I’m very much looking forward to.