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)
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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.

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(above: Janet Smyth announces the children’s programme; below: EIBF director Nick Barley talking at the programme launch)
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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)
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Oxfam Edinburgh Comic Event

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On a very warm, sunny Saturday a whole bunch of comics fans descended on Edinburgh’s McDonald Road Library for the Oxfam Edinburgh Comic Event, a day of enjoyably informal panel discussions, signings, comics sales and, naturally, a trip to the pub. In light of the monstrous events that had happened the day before in Norway the charity event opted to hold a one minute silence before the first discussion commenced, a nice touch that I think everyone welcomed. The first panel was discussing a once incredibly popular genre that now is only a niche, the war comic, with special attention paid to the British war comics, once a massive selling area for publishers, from the numerous digest formats – Commando, Battle Picture Library etc – to the weekly boy’s anthology collections like Warlord and Battle and the few modern combat-action comics still going (notably Garth Ennis’ Battlefields). With most of that previously huge swathe of comics now long gone except for the seemingly immortal Commando Books from DC Thomson (now in 2011 celebrating its 50th anniversary – a pretty remarkable achievement) discussion ranged from the panellist’s first memorable war comics tales to why Commando has survived for so long, largely unchanged too, and if there would be a market for a new war comic (the general consensus was no, that even Ennis’ Battlefields with his star name on it only attracted a niche, adult audience). Long serving Commando editor George Low was to be on the panel but sadly he was too ill to attend (see Down The Tubes here for an interview with George) but another long-serving DC Thomson alumni, Morris Heggie was present along with writer Ferg Handley (himself a Commando regular), Down the Tubes’ Jeremy Briggs, artist Colin MacNeil and artist Gary Erskine.

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(above: first panel of the day discussing the war comic genre, below, Gary Erskine and Morris Heggie, below that Colin MacNeil and Jeremy Briggs – pics from my Flickr)

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Later discussions took in subjects such as censorship (former 2000 AD editor David Bishop, now a screenwriter amongst other roles, talked about some surprising words and notions that writers must avoid before the 9pm watershed when writing for the BBC to avoid ‘offending’ someone), self-censorship versus common sense in writing and editing, encouraging younger readers and the use of comics by teachers and librarians and the role of comics creators in exciting kids imagination and love of reading through comics workshops in schools. Andy Diggle was especially vocal on this subject and mentioned that when his own personal workload and circumstances allowed he’d love to look into how something could be established across the country that librarians and teachers could draw on and I was especially delighted when he bigged up our own Richard Bruton, citing Richard’s sterling work (much documented here on the blog) in building a comics library in his school and in encouraging the kids not only to read but to discuss and share their thoughts about what they are reading (we’ve been very pleased to have some of the kids reviewing their comics right here and look forward to more).

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(above: two Thargs for the price of one with Andy Diggle and David Bishop; below Andy Diggle signing for a fan, pics from my Flickr)

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As well as the panel discussions and Q&As there was a good number of second hand comics on sale, from the dirt cheap to the very collectable, including a silent auction on a set of the first 26 issues of Dez Skinn’s famous Warrior comic (out of my range, sadly, although I did pick myself up a couple of loose back issues of Crisis and Warrior as a wee treat), much of it coming from a very generous donation the Edinburgh Oxfam shops had just the other week from a collector who was emigrating and decided to give them his huge stack of comics, as well as a contribution of titles from the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet. Gary Erskine was sketching throughout, even during the panel discussions, with the proceeds from the sketch commissions all going to Oxfam as well, along with the comics sales and the tickets, so hopefully a good fundraiser for the charity as well as a great day out for comics fans.

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(above, Gary Erskine sketching Captain America for charity, below a close up of Gary’s sketch of the Cap, pics from my Flickr)

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At the end of a highly enjoyable day (well done all the panellists and the Oxfam organisers and indeed the nice staff at McDonald Road Library) pretty much everyone present adjourned to the excellent Mathers pub nearby where the entry ticket got us our own wee reserved space to sit back, enjoy some drinks and snacks and several hours more good-natured and increasingly drunken nattering about comics and all things geek.

This was originally written for the Forbidden Planet International blog


Last weekend was the annual Doors Open Day, when buildings not normally open to the public let people into visit. I’m still sorting a stack of photographs I shot as we tramped all round town, from designer make-overs by local architectural practises in old mews buildings to places like the observatory on Calton Hill and the Royal College of Physicians in the New Town. I’ll post a few more when I get time to sort them out, but I thought I’d kick off with these few shots taken in their two libraries; these are rare 17th century medical volumes, which the College Fellow on duty in the library was kind enough to let me photograph as long as I obviously refrained from using the flash (in stark contrast to the folks at Scottish Heritage who didn’t allow any photography even of the Georgian rooms, which seems extremely backward to me if you are inviting in visitors, especially if you are a public body – bad marks to SH, big thumbs up to the RCP who really made an effort to make visitors welcome and encouraged photo-taking).

(click the pics to see the larger versions on the Woolamaloo Flickr stream)

Apologies for the reflections here, but as the books were under glass there wasn’t really anyway round them – it was either reflections of the lights or stand right over it and get my camera in the reflections, but the quality of the draughtmanship here was far too good not to try taking a pic. These books pre-date the Act of Union between Scotland and England.

Just look at the detail in this anatomical study of the human skeleton and musculature; the cross hatching and shading is amazing. More so when you consider this is around three centuries old and an artist created this by hand and another artist would then have laboriously created a negative inscribed into a copper plate for printing. Books like this, being disseminated all over Europe by groups like the Royal College, are physical artefacts of the birth of the modern era, the move from superstition to reason and science, exploring the natural world and our own physiques to find new wonder even the greatest minds of Classical Antiquity could never have dreamed of. They are also gorgeous works of craftsmanship and art. A modern Gray’s Anatomy (a standard text for most doing medical degrees) may be more informative and accurate, but it lacks the elegance and beauty of this work.