Edinburgh International Book Festival 2018

I’ve just been enjoying a couple of weeks at the world’s largest literary festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, seeing a number of fascinating author events and also being fortunate enough to chair several comics and science fiction events too, from Young Adult science fiction and graphic novels to graphic non-fiction covering science, gender and history, as well as taking in two very famous, gifted but different artists, Mr Alan Lee, and Scotland’s own Frank Quitely.

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The comics folks were out in force on the first day of the book festival, with the Edinburgh Comic Art Festival gang organising a free comics fair for small press and Indy creators in the hotel right across the road from the main festival in Charlotte Square, which was a very nice touch, giving the small press comickers a chance to shine at such a huge lit fest, in the middle of a city buzzing as the Fringe and International Festival were also going on and it feels like half the planet has packed into our ancient volcanic city to enjoy the biggest arts and culture bash in the world, a terrific place for our fellow comickers to strut their funky stuff.

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The opening day also saw the regular lovely old Spiegeltent being used for more events, with a talk involving BHP Comics’ Sha Nazir and Heather Palmer and 404 Ink’s Laura Jones discussing We Shall Fight Until We Win, an all-woman creator anthology celebrating the centenary year of (some) women in the UK getting the vote, with a female figure from each decade of that century explored by the different writers and artists. Both Indy Scottish presses, BHP and 404 Ink, had collaborated on this, and in a remarkably brief timescale – much of the writing, drawing and editing was achieved within a couple of months. Larger publishers would probably still be going over contracts at that point, but small publishers can be swifter and more nimble on this kind of turnaround, as the panel explained. The audience was pleasingly mixed, as far as I could see, comics readers but also a lot of regular book festival goers who had come along partly out of interest in the subject and also perhaps to help support local publishers.

I had the most people I’ve ever had on stage at any event I’ve chaired at the festival for a SelfMadeHero evening, which included John Harris Dunning and Michael Kennedy talking about the amazing Tumult and Javi Rey discussing his beautiful graphic adaptation of Jesus Carassco’s Out in the Open. Javi’s English was fine for one on one chats but on stage we had an interpreter, Carolina, so all in all there were five of us packed onto the small stage (Carolina is also an Indy publisher as well as interpreter, and she brought that to the proceedings too).

Both books were very different, but there was a lot of common ground too, especially in the way the two different artists had used light and colour, and rather nicely it ended up being one of those events where instead of just me asking questions the comickers all started commenting on each other’s answers and asking each other questions too. There was a lovely flow between Michael’s art and John’s writing in Tumult, the art achieving the difficult task of showing the same woman but hinting at the different personalities which manifest in her, while Javi chose to adapt the novel into comics by dropping most of the words, letting the art – including some stunning, Sergio Leone-esque landscapes – carry the story, more an interpretation than adaptation. Interestingly he told us the publisher in Spain approached him and asked him to adapt the hugely successful novel into comics form. At the post-event signing Javi produced his watercolours box and proceeded to paint colour art for every person who signed. I can’t recommend Tumult and Out in the Open highly enough, two of the most fascinating and beautifully crafted graphic novels I’ve read this year.

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I was delighted to see Darryl Cunningham, returning to the book festival (he was here previously for Supercrash), bringing his quite excellent Graphic Science from Myriad Editions (reviewed here) to the festival. He had been put on with computer scientist Ursula Martin, who had written on one of the woman pioneers of computer science, the great Ada Lovelace, which proved a good match as Darryl’s graphic work explores several scientists who are less well known and respected than they should be because of gender, class, income or colour, and it was a good reminder of the power of intellect and learning, for the individual of any kind, and the positive effects their work, if they are given the chance, can have on a wider society. I was also cheered when Darryl was introduced as writing graphic non fiction but in his talk he said some of the terms like that applied to creators were clumsy, and he said he simply thinks of himself as a cartoonist. I was very proud to hear him use the “C” word.

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Frank Quitely gave a great late night talk at the festival, taking his recent Drawings + Sketches art book published by Glasgow-based BHP Comics as the basis of the evening. Frank had pages of his work from the Drawings book on screen, and he and chairperson Stuart Kelly used those as a good way to explore not just Frank’s impressive body of work, from Broons parody The Greens in Electric Soup many years ago in Glasgow to major works from US publishers such as We3 with Grant Morrison and Jupiter’s Legacy with Mark Millar. The fact this covered everything, from the roughest doodles and sketches to variations in ideas for characters, costumes, layouts, all the way to the finished works, gave the large audience a terrific insight into the creative process.

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Frank was also generous with his praise for others, such as the writers he has worked with, the importance of work largely unseen by readers proved by editors and others behind the scenes, and discussing some of the other creators whose work he hugely admires. Dave Gibbons was one artist Frank singled out for praise, mentioning how every so often he likes to take out Watchmen and have a look at some specific scenes, to see just how Dave planned and drew them, except, he added with a smile, the story is so well done that he soon finds himself reading away, lost in it, before remembering he was meant to be studying Dave’s art and layouts from a technical point of view. Despite it being a late evening event the turnout was good and there was a solid line for the signing session afterwards (props to the bloke who arrived clutching a branded bag from the sadly now defunct Plan B Books in Glasgow).

I was very pleased to see Jean-Pierre Filiu returning to the festival this year. Jean-Pierre, a former French diplomat, now writer, lecturer and historian, wrote the absorbing trilogy of graphic history/politics books The Best of Enemies, a history of US-Middle East relations from the very creation of the American Republic in the late 1700s to the modern era. The series offers a fascinating insight into this complex history of competing influences and alliances, wrapped up in some truly astonishing artwork by one of France’s greatest comickers, David B.

Last time he was here Jean-Pierre explained there would be a gap between book two and three as the demands of the complex artwork had exhausted David B, and he required a break. The third volume was published in English by SelfMadeHero earlier this year (see my review here), and was one I was eagerly awaiting. Jean-Pierre commented how the third volume, covering the most recent years, was in many ways the hardest to do, principally because this was a period he had personally experienced (he was actually in Baghdad one evening as Allied airstrikes hit it, a planned outing to a classical concert changed to a cellar after the venue was hit by a Tomahawk missile), and how much harder it was to maintain balance and not become too emotionally entangled.

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He also explained the final pages, wordless images of a wide selection of men and women from across the Middle East, Arab, Israeli, young, old, all just looking out of the page at us, looking directly at us as if to say “what will you do? How will you help make this better? We’re just people like you and want to live with our families in safety and prosperity”. Fascinating and extremely compelling, and not a little emotional too.

I had the pleasure of chairing some events in the Children’s Programme this year too; I’ve chaired author events many times before at the festival, but this was the first time I worked on the kid’s programme events, and it really was fun. I had a terrific chat about YA science fiction with Barbados writer Karen Lord (who has one of the brightest and bestest smiles I’ve ever seen) about The Galaxy Game, a follow-up to The Best of All Possible Worlds, and Paul Magrs (who many of you will know for his Doctor Who and Big Finish tales) who was there with the third part of his Lora Trilogy, The Heart of Mars, following a young teenage girl’s journey to save her family and friends across a future, terraformed Mars.

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While both books were very different they had a lot in common, both with complex and well-realised societies with rich traditions and customs, and both, I found as I read, avoided the “omniscient narrator” and gave the reader only the same information as the main characters, which had the effect of placing us right there in the journey with them, learning right alongside them, this process immersing us more into the book and cultures and also empathising more with the characters.

The theme of this year’s book festival was freedom, and Gutter Magazine had produced The Freedom Papers, a collection of personal essays on what freedom means to different people, by over fifty writers from around the world, including Karen and Paul, and instead of reading from their own books they both read their essays. Given some dozen important authors (many from African and Middle Eastern countries) were blocked by the incompetent, Kafka-esque Home Office from obtaining their visas to visit the book festival, this discussion on freedom was all too relevant to those of us at the festival – freedom of movement is important, denying it can be, in effect, a form of censorship, and for a government to stop so many lauded writers from entering the UK to its largest celebration of the written word was utterly shameful and hardly does much to enhance the UK’s reputation of being open to the world.

Also on the children’s programme I got to work not only with a pair of Nobrow/Flying Eye creators, Alexis Deacon, there with the first two volumes of his beautifully illustrated YA fantasy graphic novels Geis (pronounced Gesh, as in the old Gaelic term for a form of curse or enchantment), and Joe Todd-Stanton with the second of his Brownstone’s Mythical Collection tales, Marcy and the Riddle of the Sphinx, and The Secret of Black Rock. Joe’s work mixed elements of the classic children’s picture book format with elements of comics to create a delightful hybrid, and boasted some quite gorgeous scenes – in fact Alexis drew attention to a two-page spread by Joe depicting the Egyptian god Ra’s sunboat traversing the sky, all shown in a cutaway fashion, like those lovely Dorling Kindersely books, and the audience of youngsters all agreed with him how beautiful some of those scenes were. It’s always nice when instead of just you as chair asking the authors questions, they interact with each other and discuss each other’s work and processes on stage too, and it becomes more of a natural conversation rather than interview.

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With so many young readers in the audience both Alexis and Joe were happy to discuss how they got into illustration and comics (in Alexis’ case this was his first proper comics works, his previous, award-winning works being picture books, but he had long harboured a desire to do longform comics), and how they create their works, from ideas for a story and little doodles to the finished page. Unsurprisingly many of the youngsters there liked the idea of making their own stories and comics, and they seemed to especially enjoy hearing Joe and Alexis explaining to them about how they go about making their tales and their art.

As part of the Scottish Government’s Year of Young People a group of schoolchildren – calling themselves Codename F – worked with the festival programmers on choosing events, and in fact Alexis and Joe were authors they had specifically asked to have at the festival (you can imagine how delighted they were to learn that!). Three of these youngsters took part in the event with us, talking to us beforehand in the Author’s Yurt, they then introduced the three of us at the start of the event (unusual experience for me, normally I am introducing the author, this time I was being introduced with them!) and they had lined up questions for the audience Q&A segment after our on-stage chat. The kids were so enthused at being part of the book festival, and over the moon at meeting some of the authors they had loved reading, getting to talk to them, getting their books signed (both Alexis and Joe did them lovely wee sketches too), they were absolutely beaming, one youngster telling us that this was the best day of his life. It was wonderfully sweet, even to a cynical old bookseller like me, and quite wonderful to see the children so involved and happy at book events. I think that was one of the nicest events I’ve ever done…

On the last day of the festival on the holiday Monday I had my last event, and boy, what an event to finish on: illustration royalty in the form of the great Alan Lee. HarperCollins are publishing the final JRR Tolkien tale, The Fall of Gondolin, this week and this was the first proper event in the world to celebrate that landmark. Ironically this final publication is the earliest Middle Earth tale – Tolkien himself noted in a letter to a friend that this was the first proper tale in his world that he ever started – begun during a break from the horror of the trenches in the Great War. Tolkien, as he often did, rewrote and changed his story over the years, so much so that although parts have appeared before, the full tale, as seen in this book, was thought unlikely to ever see the light of day. His son Christopher Tolkien painstakingly, forensically reconstructed the full tale from multiple versions and drafts (including one saved from destruction by his mother), and the book comes with copious notes on how he put it together and explaining how it fits into Middle Earth history, which is as compelling as the actual tale.

Who else could illustrate this almost lost tale of the First Age of Middle Earth, millennia before the time of Lord of the Rings, but already setting up ideas and sowing seeds that would come to fruition so much later chronologically, in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion except Alan Lee. An impeccable pedigree of world-class illustration in pencils, inks, charcoals, oil and watercolours and awards from the Kate Greenaway Medal to an Academy Award, he is one of the artists most responsible for how legions of readers worldwide visualise the rich tapestry of Tolkien’s Middle Earth (and of course that is why Peter Jackson asked him to work on the films with him).

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Instead of the usual Q&A session format, Alan had explained he had put together an illustrated talk, and I was happy to forego the time for the Q&A to hear it alongside the packed audience. Alan took us through his work in chronological order, from early works with the great Brian Froud in Faeries to illustrations for Rosemary Sutcliff’s acclaimed children’s takes on the Iliad and Odyssey, the glorious illustrated Mabinogion tales (I still have a copy of that edition, those rich, ancient Celtic myths, source material for much Arthurian lore, married to Alan’s paintings, just enchanting) and of course his many Tolkien works, sharing with us sketches and finished paintings from Lord of the Rings to the Fall of Gondolin, and also his works for the film adaptations with Peter Jackson.

Alan showed us a sequence of works depicting the great city of Gondor, explaining how as well as showing the city from the plains he would then make multiple sketches, effectively tools for himself, taking himself through the streets and buildings so he had a full understanding of how it all connected and worked and looked, inside and out. Part of this found him drawing the different levels and streets as Gandalf rides up to the summit of the city; flicking through these sketches quickly was reminiscent of an animatic used by film-makers to plan a sequence, and indeed Alan added that this eventually went on to be used in the film itself. Alan was also kind enough to include a plethora of sketches and other works which he hasn’t published or shared before, save showing to family or friends, including works from notebooks and sketchbooks he carried with him, and a number of landscapes which he liked to capture in a sketch then would often use later for inspiration for book illustrations, noting Tolkien would have approved given the landscape was such a huge inspiration to him and his writing.

The turnout for this event was huge – sadly we ran out of time and didn’t have space to do the usual audience Q&A session, but everyone agreed it was worth sacrificing those moments to let Alan finish his illustrated talk, and the round of applause for this master wizard of the brushes was enormous and heartfelt. The audience did get a chance to ask him questions at the signing session afterwards, and ye gods, what a line! The queue snaked out of the signing tent, down the walkway then doubled back on itself – by the time I had to leave, a full hour and a half after the end of our event, Alan was still signing for a line of people! Rather nicely I noted that he avoided the chair behind the table provided for the signing, and instead chose to stand in front of it to chat to each reader in turn, right next to them, then sign and sketch for them.

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We all know the “Roads go ever ever on, Over rock and under tree”, but here we were, at the end of our journey through Middle Earth, returned to the very beginning, a long journey Alan has also taken with his achingly beautiful art. Although we didn’t get time for a Q&A on stage I did get to chat to him beforehand as we were getting ready, and I asked him if it had been a bit emotional for him, as an artist, to have followed this long journey through Middle Earth, to end up on the final book and going back to the First Age, and yes, of course it had been. A remarkable journey, made all the better for Alan’s artwork keeping us company along the long road.

And now it’s all over for another year, the Book Festival village will be folded away, the Fringe and International Festival have finished, the thronged streets are suddenly passable once more, and the posters for the multitude of events hang slowly fading from walls and railings like ghosts. Always a peculiar feeling just after the festivals finish, a mixture of relief at reclaiming the city and an ennui at the party being over. Until next year, of course…

Carnival time

Edinburgh is moving into the main part of its busy festival season – the Science Festival has been in April, the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June, July sees the Jazz and Blues Festival, while the start of August gives us the Fringe and International Festival, and later in August the Art Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Busy, busy, busy…. Sadly the days when we used to get the Fringe Cavalcade parade seems to have vanished into history, but in recent years the Jazz and Blues Fest has kicked off with a colourful Carnival which makes up for that:

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After the parade, many of the Carnival performers headed down into Princes Street Gardens, some to have a rest, others decided to put on some more performances for the following crowds, really nice atmosphere:

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Some were more ready to just sit down and all check their phones!

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Meanwhile this dancer seemed just so full of joy at performing in the park on a wee makeshift stage for the crowds, wonderful smile on her face as she danced:

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Fringe time!

It’s Edinburgh, it’s August and that means festival time – the city is bursting at the seams with the Edinburgh International Festival The Art Festival, The Edinburgh International Book Festival and, of course, the world’s largest arts festival, the Fringe.

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And that means me taking a lot of photos, mostly on the Royal Mile, where the performers traditionally congregate to try to build an audience – with hundreds of shows you really have to fight for bums on seats at the Fringe, and a lot of shows often don’t get many while others sell out, so being noticed is all important, with many out in costumes and make-up, others perform small snippets from their shows on the wee stages set up along the Mile, and it’s just packed pretty much wall to wall on the section of the Mile along by the Cathedral. Happy hunting ground for taking pics, first year I have been using the new camera, which is still a bridge camera but with manual zoom and manual focus, which has been a real boon, much quicker and easier than relying on auto-focus, especially in a busy, chaotic street environment with lots of movement of folks.

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As always click the pics to see the larger sized versions over on my Flickr photo stream.

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That manual zoom and focus is proving damned handy for taking quick shots of moving performers, and the larger zoom means I can get in a bit closer for capturing this kind of shot:

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Sometimes masks must be used to protect the innocent…

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Plenty of singing on the Fringe too:

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Not to mention dance:

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And some enchanting smiles

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Watched over by the Fringe Police! You picked the wrong festival to haul ass through, boy!

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And of course there is some clowning around Fringe on the Mile 2016 089

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…

Fringe time

It’s August and it’s festival time here in Edinburgh, the city bursting at the seams as the Fringe and the International Festival kicked off over the weekend, the world’s largest arts festival now in full swing, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the world’s biggest literary fest, starts next weekend (and I will be chairing a couple of events there again this year). Part of the Royal Mile is given over to the Fringe performers – with hundreds of shows it’s no easy task to get audiences, they have to fight for bums on seats, so they strut their stuff on the Mile, many in costume, some doing excerpts from their shows on the mini stages to entice audiences. It’s madly busy – almost literally wall to wall with people across the breadth of that historic thoroughfare – but it’s also a happy hunting ground for me to snap some more photos, and I tend to take a ridiculous amount this month (and the views on my Flickr tend to go mad as well as folks all over look for pics of the festival).

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 01The first pic I shot at this year’s Fringe, actually a couple of days before it officially started, but it was on my way home from work and I thought some performers may be out already (some preview show were running by then), and my first shot was this group of Asian performers posting up their flyers for their show. Just as I lined it up the lovely lady turned around, saw me and gave me a nice big smile and wave, which was a nice way to start my festival season of photos. Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 02

Sushi Tap 2, with their rather eye-catching neon pink costumes, hard to miss, even once the Mile filled up with more people over the weekend!

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 03Korean troupe Maro have brought Leodo: the Paradise to the Fringe Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 06

“Living” statue performer as a cyclist

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Cabaret Farce

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 012Hibiki, a troupe of traditional Japanese drummers – wonderfully kinetic performance Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 013

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John Robertson’s The Dark Room

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Charming performers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Of course all the hurly-burly of the crowds and performers and the summer sunshine can be too much for some – this chap just settled right down on the busy steps of Saint Giles Cathedral and nodded off

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Waking Beauty, a look at fairy tales from a feminine perspective

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 030This musician was singing arias, which rang out beautifully clear even across the din of the busy festival street Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 034

With their black garb and white masks the performers from Baggage were just perfect for a monochrome shot

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 040Taiwanese dancers from Gaze of the Kavaluan Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 036

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 041Actors from Knowledge and the Girl, a reworking of Snow White for a more feminine and sexually mature audience Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 046

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Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 051Pirate gals from According to Arthur – they very kindly offered me a balloon too! Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 055

Singers from The Sweet Nothings, an all-women a cappella singing group

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More pics (and larger formats) over on my Flickr page under this tag for the Fringe pics

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)

Festival time

Orange fish-headed people walking along Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile? Ah yes, it’s time for the Fringe…. And that means I end up taking even more photographs than I usually do! Here’s the batch from the first few days of this year’s Festival:

Isn’t this just one of the best smiles you’ve seen??

Zombies on the streets!

And there is sexy retro sci-fi space-babe action too!

And some folk have a different angle on things…

It’s Monty and the Funtastic Bucket Man!

Masks…

And then their masks came off…

Carnival

The Fringe – the world’s biggest arts festival – and the main Edinburgh Festival and Edinburgh Book Festival start in August, but we’re currently already in the Jazz and Blues Festival, which kicked off last weekend with with a carnival style parade along a packed Princes Street on a very hot day, then down into Princes Street Gardens afterwards where some performers put on shows in the Ross Theatre (open air theatre in the gardens, right below Castle Rock) and others did little bits on the parkland around the theatre too.

I loved this very colourful costume and the lettering round his tuba:

Of course, being Edinburgh as well as exotic musicians and dancers we had a pipe band:

This is how busy the Ross Theatre in the Gardens was after the parade:

Asian performers waiting to go on stage in the Gardens:

Performers relaxing on the grass after the parade

Celtic warrior woman putting on sword fighting display while band plays

Didn’t catch this foreign band’s name, but they were belting it out and really getting the crowd going

More photos from the Fringe

Well, that’s the world’s biggest art festival been and gone for another year, and as usual I snapped a lot of photos around the Fringe, mostly on the Royal Mile where there’s a section put aside especially for performers to gather to promote their shows (with hundreds of events you have to fight to be noticed and get an audience – not unknown for some Fringe shows to end up with just a few people in the audience in some shows, it’s a hard festival on performers and companies). I’ve actually still got a batch more to go up that I’ve not had time to process and upload to my Flickr yet (been busy with the final weekend of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, see my report the other day).

My average views on my Flickr usually go up a lot during the festival season as folks from all over look for pics from this year’s Edinburgh festivals and some of my older ones. Often I get double my normal average views. This year quite a number of times I got triple, taking me to an all time personal best, well over 6000 views in one day. Then the following day that record was smashed again with 7000-plus… Few days later 8000-plus. Topped out at just a smidgen under 10,000 at the high-water mark. Quite why it went so far beyond even the normal higher figures I usually see during the Festival I have no idea, but I’m certainly not arguing and will take ’em! Anyway, here’s a second selection of photos (click for the larger versions on my Flickr)

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(the happiest party on Earth!)

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(Performer from Fringe production of The Tempest – wonder if he is Caliban?)

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(how could you say no to a face like this?! “Dott Cotton, International Idiot”, spotted her several times miming and clowning on the Mile, very good)
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(performers from a production of The Canterbury Tales)
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(some very energetic and enthusiastic dancers)
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(Yes, it is a man dressed as a giant banana, with a mouthful of bananas, lying in a cobbled street in the historic Royal Mile. Must be the Fringe…)

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(Performers from A Note of Dischord, a steampunk tale based on Sydney Padua’s 2D Goggles webcomic)

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(performers from Music Show Wedding, a Fringe production from Korea)
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(actors from a production of Peter Pan)
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(Titus Andronicus, always a rather bloody affair…)

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(more Steampunk fun from A Note of Dischord, kindly posing with their blunderbuss)

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(dancer on the Royal Mile, gazing into her crystal ball)

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(actress from a Fringe production of Macbeth)

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(these young performers from a school in Oklahoma had a show called Shakespearience)
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(young violinist on the Mile, with a practically glowing complexion)

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(performers from A Romance)
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(‘living statue’ lady in front of Saint Giles)

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(rather fit and flexible young ballet dancer performing on one of the small stages on the Mile)

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(tell me the kid at the far left of this row doesn’t look like a young Woody Allen in this pic?)

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(performers from Hungry Bitches)

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(a nearly naked, hairy man in a tutu? Not an unusual sight in Edinburgh during the Festival…)

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(lady and her very friendly puppet friend)

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!).

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(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…

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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.

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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

Edinburgh Canal Festival

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Last weekend was the annual Raft Race and Canal Festival just a few minutes walk from my flat in Edinburgh. I’ve been going since it started just a few years ago on the regenerated Union Canal where it ends around Lochrin Basin in central Edinburgh (although once upon a time I’m told it went a little further than this, crossing the nearby road, around the back of the old Co-Op building (which is why its back wall is curved) and through where the large modern offices of the financial district are to end nearer the West Port (I always assumed West Port meant ‘west gate’, port derived from French for a doorway), but it seems it meant port as in tying up many commercial barges). It started as just the charity raft race a few years back and obviously my camera and I went along to document it, all sorts of wacky boats and rafts taking part in a charity race. It has now grown into the Canal Festival with rides, acts, stalls and of course the raft race. And with the astonishing heat wave of weather it was pretty packed this year – was nice to go along, last year was the only one I have missed, as I was through to help dad every weekend while we waited on his operation, so I couldn’t go. Huge crowds enjoying the music, dancing, races and stalls, some cooling off by dipping their feet in the water while watching the racing.

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Oops – some raft designs didn’t quite cut the mustard and, as they used to say on the Goon Show “”he fallen in da water”. The International Rescue (no, not Thunderbirds, Pete, don’t get all excited, mate) folk were on hand to fish them out with this nifty boat which has a ramp in the bow which hinges down to make it easy to haul people in out of the water:

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They also demonstrated how to help someone out who was in difficulty – contrary to the action scenes in movies and TV you are not meant to dive in yourself, you should try using floats or lifebelts on ropes if available to reach them from the banking:

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If there is a boat in the water ask them to help guide the person in distress (not that he looks very distressed here!) to the bank as well:

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All that kayaking demonstration is thirsty work:

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I’ve seen this handsome traditional rowboat with a fabric hull at several canal fests now:

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There was music, such as this folk group set up by the old Leamington Lift Bridge:

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This band doing some rather good rock and pop covers:

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And this French chap doing some cool pop music en Francais:

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The model boat club had some nice ships, some on display nearby, some powered and actually racing around in the canal:

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Everyone seemed to be having a good time:

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Even thought some found it harder going than they envisaged, they kept going:

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And the ladies from the local belly dancing class got big cheers for their gyrations:

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Pat Mills, Rodge Glass, Nick Hayes & William Goldsmith at the Edinburgh Book Festival

(Pat Mills on the left and Rodge Glass on the right signing after their talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival at the weekend; all pics from my Flickr, click for the larger versions)

The Edinburgh International Book Festival for 2011 came to an end last night and over the final weekend I was lucky enough to catch not one but two final comics-related talks, both of them double headers, with Rodge Glass, author of Dougie’s War, talking with Brit comics godfather Pat Mills about the portrayal of conflict in comics and the aftermath of various effects on the men and women who have to engage in real warfare. This was followed later on Sunday evening with two of Jonathan Cape’s latest alumni, Nick Hayes and William Goldsmith discussing their recently published works.

My Sunday at a soggy but still happily buzzing Book Festival started with the Rodge Glass and Pat Mills event, where the focus was on the depiction not only of warfare in comics but the effects the events and stresses of combat have on real life soldiers, especially after the conflict is over and they find themselves on their own, away from the support network of the comrades in their unit and the infrastructure of the armed forces and back to ‘normal’ on civvy street. Rodge wrote the recent Dougie’s War, the title itself a nod to the influence of Pat’s earlier work (and one of the great classics of British comics) Charley’s War. Where Charley’s War shoved us into the brutality of the mud and blood of trench warfare in the First World War Dougie’s War deals with a contemporary conflict as our protagonist has to deal with his return to everyday life back home after fighting in the dust of Afghanistan, with an admirable focus on having to cope (or failing to cope) with the emotional and mental after-effects from the intense strain of combat situations, seeing and being involved in violence and death.

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And as we know men in general are rather poor at seeking medical help at the best of times, with a proud former soldier, meant to be self reliant and tought, it can be even harder to ask for that help (if it is available) but if they don’t the effects can spiral – it’s a very sad thought that quite a number of veterans in the UK, USA and elsewhere will end up with a broken family, homeless or with a criminal record all from the effects of what they called Shell Shock in the war Pat and Joe Colquhoun so clearly documented and what by the time of Rodge’s book would be known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, soliders who have performed often heroic acts at great peril, unable to reconcile themselves back to normal life afterwards. The pictures on the AV display flicked between the earlier and later comics works and some documentary photographs, from the bizarre electrical and optical devices scientists cobbled together to try and treat Shell Shock in the Great War to modern psychologists who mean the best but usually can’t totally relate to the soldiers they try to help because, simply, they weren’t there… Both Charley’s War and Dougie’s War both took pains not to varnish the truth or to make warfare look glamorous and both have been well received by actual veterans as well as readers and critics.

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In the evening I was at the Jonathan Cape double-header with William Goldsmith and Nick Hayes, both of whom had some very interesting debut works out from Cape this spring, William with the visually unique and fascinating Vignettes of Ystov (there’s also a sample of his style to be found in the Karrie Fransman-inspired Imaginary Cities anthology from the London Print Studio) and Nick with the massive Rime of the Modern Mariner (you can read a Director’s Commentary with Nick talking us though Mariner here on the blog).

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William’s Vignettes of Ystov is a series of interlinked short stories, each only two pages, set in a fictional city with a central/Eastern European feel to it, each story standing on its own but also, as you progress through the work, building connections, weaving up a tapestry until, like the acclaimed Raymond Carver in Short Cuts, the stories of various seemingly unconnected individuals in a big city come together to show the connections we all, often unknowingly, share in a large urban environment, all with a very distinctive, loose art style (William said he experimented with different styles at art school but the final, loose art came to him when he realised he only had a few weeks to his project deadline!) that is, visually, one of the more unusual and unique (not to mention interesting) looking comics works in the UK this year, with the mutliple short stories set in the same city allowing us to take in a large cast of quirky, eccentric and sometimes wonderfully absurd characters (which may be why he said the short story form appealed to him so much, despite the fact that it demands a real economy of storytelling on the part of the creator). I’m happy to report that he is planning further Vignettes in the future.

Nick explained some of how he approached Rime of the Modern Mariner, which, inspired by Colerdige’s original verse, uses clever rhymes with the comics frames to deliver a contemporary take on the classic poem which takes a much more environmental bent. In fact Nick explained that he was originally inspired by reading about some of the horrific messes humans have made of our planet, such as the North Pacific Gyre, a vortex where many worldwide ocean currents converge, which also means it has become a focal point for the garbage we’ve dumped into our seas, mostly especially plastic that refuses to biodegrade but does, as Nick explained, photo degrade, slowly shrinking until small particles of it float in this large mass of plastic and are consumed by marine creatures… and then later in the food chain by those who consume those marine creatures, including humans. It isn’t all doom and gloom, thankfully – Nick takes his repentant mariner on a voyage both literally and metaphorically, which eventually opens his eyes and mind and soul to the natural world, and showcases some fabulous imagery, not least a beautiful depiction of a blue whale. Published in a format similar to a hardback prose novel it is a huge but very satisfying work.

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The event went very well, I’m pleased to say and there was, despite it being late in the evening and rather cool and wet (ah, the joys of the late Scottish summer! But rain is no stranger to Book Fest veterans and doesn’t stop us!) and both writers/artists being fairly new to the scene, with a good line of readers eager to get their books signed (I had to kick myself for leaving home with my books, carefully left on the table near the door so I would remember them, left behind… bugger…) and those readers all having a good chat with the Cape boys. Great night and both books much commended for your reading delight.

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And so ends another year of the world’s biggest book bash, just under 800 authors have graced the graceful Georgian environs of Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square and thousands of book lovers, with folks from the comics community playing their part in the diverse make up of the festival, from talks to comics workshops (in fact I bumped into Metaphrog’s Sandra and John during the Pat Mills signing as they were on their way to run a comics workshop for kids, still obviously delighted at their earlier chairing of a masterclass event with Shaun Tan at the Festival). Again it is great to see such a major literary event embracing the medium so happily, backed up with a good display of graphic novels in the on-site bookstore as well. Many thanks to the organisers and especially to the lovely folks in the press office for sneaking me into the events. You can read reports with photos from the Grant Morrison and the Neil Gaiman talks at the Book Fest earlier on the blog.