Category Archives: events

DIY? Because comics, that’s why

There’s a new exhibition, Comics: Explore and Create Comic Art at Seven Stories. It’s the work of many comics artist-writers, collectors, and curators. And includes a DIY comic I made, for you. Yes, you.

Here’s a look at the DIY comic. I do not apologise that in most of photos I took, children had already drawn on it. Because that’s the point. You use a DIY comic as a nudge to make your own comic.

One side guides you round the world of comics, with have-a-go activities about setting, character design, art style, panel structure and storytelling.

The other side has blank panels, waiting for you to make your own comic using tips and techniques from the exhibition. And your own ideas.

Two of my favourite pieces in the exhibition are work-in-progress, probably-not-intended-to-be-shared things:  one of Adam Murphy‘s post-it process books, and one of Nigel Auchterlounie‘s cut’n’stick drafts. I’m so glad they’re there, alongside finished artwork. The first time I visited the Cartoon Museum I proper gawped at how many fixes and repairs were visible in some of the original artwork in their collection – part of the real and messy process of making things, but usually invisible in the finished work.  Even more so when working digitally. In the spirit of such honesty, here’s a close-up of one of the many tipp-ex and whoops-better-glue-over-that-bit fixes from my DIY comic:

This exhibition is kinda a big deal. It’s the first time Seven Stories: The National Centre For Children’s Books has developed an exhibition about comics.  It’s good to see national organisations getting involved in comics, particularly with a focus on getting more kids making more comics.

It’s also cheering to see a mix of older and current comics creators, working in a mix of traditional and digital media. There’s no one way to make comics. Hopefully this’ll help more kids (and grown-up kids) figure out their own ways to make their own comics.

BONUS: Yes, those are Comic Swap compilations in with other comics to read. Aww yeah.

Newcastle Chronicle writeup with exhibition photos:

Down The Tubes summary of what’s in the exhibition:

Seven Stories exhibitions page:

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I’m launching two new comics but have still succumbed to the annual scramble to pack some other stuff for my Thought Bubble stall. 

Reminder: new comics are Junk and Departures.

Other stuff is:

  • Portfolio. These are mini-assortments of original drawings, printmaking experiments, and cool bits of paper, chopped and sewn up as books. Each one different. Affordable one-offs are a good thing, and it may well be an idea to revisit in future. There are 8 in this run, £5 each.

  • Hand-bound upcycled geometric hipster artisanal mini books. You know the patterned insides of envelopes? I made some (lots and lots) into little books. It was good sewing practice and good stress relief. I’m like totally over hipster-ness and the plague of colouring books, so I gave them a pretentious name. There’s a bowlful of ’em, £1 each. 

A few prints (linocuts and etchings)  too.

Older comics and books are:

  • Trails 
  • Andalusia 
  • Celebrity Homes 
  • UNpearABLE.

The other half of my table will be full of free Applied Comics Etc (including Newcastle Science Comic) delights: 

  • print versions of comics (comics + research/archives collaborations) from this year and recent years
  • zine-y version of a presentation I gave at BCCS this year, on 3 projects using comics as a method 
  • Newcastle Science Comic stickers 
  • the world’s most beautiful business cards.

Limited quantities of free printed copies, free digital versions online, lots of chat and opinions.

More opinions to be had by asking me (and John Swogger, and Ian Horton) about Applied Comics Network, as we’re planning a planning meeting about future plans there. 

This Sat-Sun 5-6 November 2016, Leeds Royal Armouries, New Dock Hall, heading towards the back right corner. See you there innit. 

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Notes on notes.

This week I handed in an essay and also made progress setting up 2 new comics. I’ve been thinking about notes, so here are some notes on notes.

My personal notes seem to be one of three, maybe four, things. Here comes a list:

1. on post-its then typed then annotated, if I’m reading a heavy academic book.

I’m about a year into my part-time PhD in Education, focusing on comics and values and Britishness. Overall it’s great. Sometimes it’s particularly hard. It’s already improved my thinking about the comics I want to make and help others make, which is a large part of why I chose to do it. At this stage I’m reading A Lot. Taking notes in this way helps me digest and remember what I’m reading, and also means I type (write) my opinions and arguments on what I’m reading. So reading and thinking and writing aren’t separate processes. Mind, we’ll see how that goes as it creeps closer to my 2022 (yup, 2022. Part-time takes for-ev-er) completion date.

2. messy and doodley and with pictures, if I’m trying to link things I’ve read (eg to write an essay or plan a comic).

I enjoy planning the content and the form of a thing. Then the actual making or writing of that thing has its ups and downs, then finalising the thing is enjoyable too. My essay plans and comic/project plans are fairly similar. Lots of arrows to show connections between bits and development of ideas, and a mix of words and pictures. Lots of abbreviations. If I need to show these plans to people, it’s typically either with me to talk it through or alongside a more formal version, as evidence of process. Not on their own. Essay, academic, and project plans are just about always carried out. There are a fair few comic plans that are in sketchbooks in boxes – either until time and skills and interest allow, or because in the planning I concluded that they’re not so hot.

3. increasingly minimal, if I’m taking notes on someone else’s talk and will probably show other people the notes afterwards.

Other people’s talks are tricky. Unless the speaker requests otherwise, I think it’s good to make and share notes.  I’m cautious not to share too much, particularly if it’s a ‘work  in progress’ talk. I prefer drawing-writing during a talk and sharing afterwards, rather than trying to livetweet comments. I like drawings that reflect the content of the talk rather than drawing a portrait of the speaker, though crediting the speaker by name is important. I’ve had good and bad experiences of people making notes on talks I’ve given (good: people follow up with questions afterwards, bad: they’ve misreported the facts of the work I’ve done, never mind different interpretations of arguments). Being nominated the Official Notetaker for an event can be a beast as there are so many possible interpretations of what’s been said – try to be neutral, switching off academic brain? report my own take on it? draw cute things and hope for retweets? – but can be worthwhile both personally and for the event community (attendees, organisers, people who couldn’t make it) too.

There are also sketchbook pages, doodles, and diary comics that are probably notes, but more in the sense of remembering things I’ve seen and trying out ideas than trying to understand and share specific content. Though that’s a blurred line. These notes matter too, and they take whatever form I darn well please.

So yeah. Whether text, text and pictures, or mostly pictures, notes are good. Now I need to revisit plans for my next chunk of PhD reading, and get some proofs printed for new comics. That’s good too.

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Big heavy suitcase o’comics.


See that?  That’s roughly what my Thought Bubble stall will look like. Featuring:

* Andalusia: an augmented summer holiday sketchbook (£3; optional extra content online or using free Aurasma app)
* Diner devotional (£10)
UNpearABLE (£2.50 one way, £10 another way)
* Trails: a book about travel, history, and being a slug (£8, with free linocut)
* Pancho & Lefty: a lefthanded comic (swaps only)
* Celebrity Homes: a book of words and pictures of awesome houses and the legendary people who lived in them (£8).

I’ll also have some unmounted prints (hard ground etchings, and letterpress). I haven’t come up with a specific convention offer, so it’ll be something like ‘hey you’ve either bought loads drom me over the years or are buying multiple books today – would you like a print?’

Well, that’s half of it anyway. Here’s what the Applied Comics Etc half of the stall will look like.


These are all collaborative projects. Featuring:

* Gertrude Bell: Archaeologist, writer, explorer (free digital-online-hyperlinked comics; free printed preview)
* Spineless: The Newcastle Science Comic (free 16-page newsprint comic; also free to read online) + free exhibition postcards
* True War Stories No.1: Thomas Baker Brown (free 12-page printed comic; also free downloadable resources online)
* Draw More Comics: The Thomas Baker Brown WWI comics anthology (anthology of high school students’ comics, £5 cost price).
*examples of our ‘Etc’ work: Comics event scrapbook with Newcastle, Gateshead,  and Stockton libraries,  and Get Your Facts Right research protocol.

See the Applied Comics Etc website for details and full credits for comics creatirs and other collaborators. And/or, stop by and chat – table 96, New Dock Hall, Leeds.

Oh, and really good business cards too.

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Bunting marketing


I made bunting for use at comics workshops and events. It’s home-made and welcoming. It’s part of developing Applied Comics Etc as an organisation that’s participative and professional, about people enjoying making comics, not a corporate behemoth making business. It’s also made me pay far too much attention to other people’s marketing materials. So here’s a blog post on how to make heavy-duty bunting, mixed with thoughts on bearable marketing.


Bunting is colourful, flexible to fit different event spaces, and inherently daft. It’s not yet another pull-up banner stand. A few artists use these effectively, but they’re rare exceptions in a plastic forests of high-resolution single images and bad corporate design.


But is there still bunting to bunt? I thought that, as a world, we’d agreed that the great bunting overload of 2012-ish was finally over and it’s safe to go back to uncool village fete bunting. Alas, no. Since making some 45 metres of home-sewn bunting, I see mass-produced corporate bunting is everywhere. Mass-produced, yet clinging to homey concepts. This bothers me.


There’s a lingering trend for big businesses to use cutesy, naive-ish art styles for branding and marketing. Sometimes through big advertising agencies, sometimes through young illustrators. There’s a worrying trend for individuals and small organisations to mimic the branding practices of big businesses, rather than making their own decisions.

Cut the PVC into flags. Some cuts need a craft knife, steel rule, and cutting mat; others need scissors. Some flags are logo-shaped, others are triangles cut from comics pages with lots of overlapping

Cut the PVC into flags. Some cuts need a craft knife, steel rule, and cutting mat; others need scissors. Some flags are logo-shaped, others are triangles cut from comics pages with lots of overlapping. Artwork credits are at the bottom of this blog post.

I care about working with people and information, with a business side to facilitate this. Not the other way round.



So far this means working with different comics creators and subject specialists for specific projects. It means learning from each project, and doing each project differently. The comics we’ve made through Applied Comics Etc and Newcastle Science Comic are all different sizes, art styles, paper types, bindings, and print runs. And working out what this means for digital comics. It’s good news for good comics. It’s a headache for distribution and planning, but right now I wouldn’t have it any other way.



It means doing it ourselves and being proud of it. Homemade bunting is the way to go.



See for more on Spineless: The Newcastle Science Comic. The comics on the triangular bunting flags are by our awesome team of Spineless artists:

The Newcastle Science Comic logo was designed by Paul Thompson, who’s recently curated an exhibition called Invisible Beasts – worth a look, like.

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Double plus good.

Happy bewildered face

I like totally talked about my book UNpearABLE at the BALTIC Artist’s Book Market on 11th July 2015, and now the video recording’s up on their archive BALTIC+. That’s a photo of my drawing of my happy-bewildered face, up there all huge on the big screen when setting up for my talk.

I was glad to talk and am glad to be in the archive.  My talk was about the similarity and difference of taking essentially the same work to both artist’s book markets alongside small press publishers, and to comics conventions alongside small press publishers.  The same phrase crops up in both worlds, see, though they’re very different environments.

My art-y work is spread thin at the moment, as am I.  Comics and art-y books are still a thing.  Collaborative comics projects through Applied Comics Etc are still very much a thing, with three comics on the way this summer.  Clever stuff to do with comics is as co-host of Applied Comics Network, and my PhD – which is cracking on nicely at the moment, lots of reading and the start of some writing.  My new job has so far involved drawing, web design, and animation (using web-based tools, not from scratch), as well as education and language research tasks.  When I talk – informally or as a presentation/workshop – about any one of these strands, the others at least get a mention too.  And I like that.

If you’re inclined to buy a book, here’s a link to my Comicsy shop.  If you’re inclined to read the comics, scroll back through my Tumblr. 

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This here is a blog post after the Comics Unconference in Glasgow on 28th February 2015. It has photos from my trip to Scotland Street School Museum the day after, because learning and that.


The Unconference started with a big paper and post it notes brain dump of what people wanted to talk about, then hands up voting to decide which topics were most popular so would be in the first two parallel sessions.


Unsurprisingly, I went for the ‘comics & education’ session. Damon Herd and Naomi Jacobs were facilitating. They asked if anyone wanted to start off with a presentation, so I did. I reused my Graphic Medicine (Baltimore 2014) slides about ‘Asteroid Belter’, skipping through to focus on examples of what comics creators and scientists got out of their collaborations. SPOILER: they both learned from each other. [To the people who asked for my slides: I’m going to do a narrated version, the slides themselves aren’t the full presentation] Discussion then meandered: it wasn’t a Q&A about this one project, it became more of a discussion, which I liked. There were good points well made about:

  • how research communication and public engagement outputs can also be teaching resources
  • how the cost of comics is prohibitive in comparison to publishers’ deals for 30 copies of, say, Hamlet, making it hard to teach comics as literature in schools
  •‘s ABCD Any Body Can Draw approach to encouraging people to make comics, especially 4-panel comics (start, middle, middle, end).


Next, and again unsurprisingly, I went for the ‘autobiography and comics’ session. There was no one presentation to get us started, but a show of hands found that a lorra lorra people round the table made and/or read autobio comics. Then:

  • Jef Lewis talked about her diary comics as a way of processing stuff
  • Andrew Godfrey talked about the Graphic Medicine approach to performance and autobiography, and “the fallacy of impartial text”
  • Hattie Kennedy was all up in the performance of identity as a comics creator, and whether readers of autobio comics tend to give these texts more of a chance than autobio prose
  • This headed into a discussion of ‘torture porn’ literature written/ghostwritten by people who were abused or experienced other bad things, ghostwriting more generally
  • Then on to the importance of autobio comics being created in the moment not later, whether to help the creator process events or as a record made whilst doing/travelling/being – not as perfect drawing board or Photoshop’d drawings later.

It was only at the end that we talked about different sorts of autobio and examples of wholly or partially fictional stories presented as autobio or through barely-fictionalised avatars (it’s not me, it’s this guy). It was a shame that this session was on at the same time as the ‘zines’ session as there’s potential for a lot of shared ground, but the magic of Twitter #comicsunconf15 helped keep in touch with the other room.

Lunch was a reassuring Subway meal deal (I tried going in search of more exotic treats but it was raining).
In the first afternoon session I like totally broadened my horizons by going to the ‘digital comics’ session. There’s a possibility of digital comics projects through Applied Comics Etc in the not too distant future – no offense to the ‘comics and health’ panel, but all my Graphic Medicine-related experience went into the ‘comics and education’ session.
The digital comics session started with an awesome presentation by David Sweeney from Glasgow School of Art:

  • we’ve had scanned comics (print first then digital), now on to digital first comics (then maybe collected in print) and digital native comics (designed specifically for online reading)
  • Comixology’s ‘guides view’ feature controls how much of the comics page the reader sees on screen at any given time. Sometimes this works (Batman 2.0 was made with this in mind) sometimes not (Watchmen’s glorious page layouts are unsatisfying when seen one panel at a time); Margaret Mackey 2007 wrote about the importance of the stability of the page for reading (like, the page as a unit, not about reading on a bumpy Metro^)
  • this addition of the Comixology guided view adds another layer to who is involved in making and reading comics. Sweeney showed how Walter Benjamin’s 1936 work ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ and Steven Shapiro’s 1997 ‘Doom Patrols’ can help understand how that works
  • Thrillbent/Insufferable won’t let their comics be read on Comixology guided view. They have other ways of deciding when panels are/not visible to the reader
  • some talk of comics by Emily Carrol and how they use web technology
  • apparently Philip K Dick predicted the emergence of motion (moving) comics, reckoning these would be the lowest form of entertainment
  • Homestuck is a digital native comic that makes use of hyperlinks, browser features, Flash, and other web stuff
  • visual novel games are big in Japan, there’s one about pigeon dating, and they’re sort of comics and choose-your-own-adventure stories combined
  • there’s research at Glasgow School of Art into comics and Oculus Rift and other virtual reality technology.

Next session was ‘how comics work’, a narrow call between that an ‘WTF is comics studies?’. This turned out to be mostly about structure in comics:

  • ‘Gasoline Alley’ as an example of using the whole page for one image, with panels and narrative embedded within this
  • brief mention of comics designed to be read in different sequences, or no set sequence: Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, Chris Ware, Karen Rubins
  • Woodrow Phoenix’s work: ‘Rumblestrip’ with no human characters and lots of text, well-received by non comics readers; ‘She Lives’ as a physically not and heavy comic read in groups, no text, the page turner might answer questions but is otherwise silent – different and similar to school carpet reading time/Jackanory
  • this one time, Marvel and DC comics banned the use of thought bubbles. We (and Roger Sabin) think the use of speech bubbles has been around since long long ago, then became increasingly prevalent in c.20th comics
  • we found Google images of what looks like an EXPO building in the shape of speech bubbles with Chinese text projected (?) onto them (alas, only a mock up)
  • Eddie Campbell has lamented that so few comics now start with a speech bubble outside a window, as it can be an effective way to draw readers in to the story with suspense over who said what
  • Dieter Roth’s 1998 video installation ‘Solo Scenes’ presented a series of short videos of him bumbling about his art studio, shown as a panel-type grid on a video wall. Sometimes he disappears from one panel to appear in another
  • Grayson Perry’s work The Vanity Of Small Differences, drawing on Hogarth and history paintings and political cartooning traditions
  • an art exhibition (Dave McKean’s ‘The Rut’) which included a mask to look through, with the eye line leading the viewer to the next artwork: sequential art without being comics?
  • some awesome comics graffiti from ancient Pompeii (two figures captioned ‘I wish I were kissing someone else’) and art from early Mexico with coloured lines representing that talking is happening without saying what the words are.


The fourth session was a non-parallel session on ‘diversity?’. The question mark reflect the morning planning session’s discussion on whether we needed a session on diversity (race, gender, age, sexuality, dis/ability…) as much of this would come up on other sessions. The decision was that if we were discussing whether we needed it, we needed it.
The session began with a presentation from Kelly Kanayama on examples of stereotyped Asian and African female characters in comics (mostly superhero comics, 1950s+). There were many. Ari Silverman then told us about Diversity Crosscheck, a service on Tumblr where comics creators wanting to write about specific diversity issues can reach out to volunteers for advice based on their experiences. I was frustrated that the discussion didn’t really move beyond a frame of reference of (old) mainstream comics, as this isn’t my field of comics knowledge. Maybe I was spoilt by the earlier education and autobio sessions, but in fairness the digital comics session did cover a wider range of comics. It was also a shame that only a small number of people were involved in this ‘diversity?’ discussion: too many people for a group discussion? a case for more intervention from moderators? an opportunity in future to agree areas of discussion at the start of the session, not to deny free-flowing discussion but to make sure the discussion is as inclusive as possible?

The final session was DEECAP, Dundee Comic Art Performance. This was fun and silly and worthwhile. There’s data projection of a comic and the creator of said comic talks/sings/acts/raps along with it. Damon Herd did stuff about teabags and guising, Andrew Godfrey made Damon into a taxi driver, David Robertson was Fred Egg Comics. M Contraband Esquire (aka Hope) rapped about copyright law, Kat Lombard Cook did a comic, and Paddy Johnson played guitar. I didn’t entirely know what to make of it all but I kinda liked it.

That, for me, is true of this Comics Unconference overall. I think it was a welcoming event, and worthwhile. I found it different to academic conferences in the following ways:

  • the people. A good number of familiar faces from Comics Forum and Graphic Medicine, and a number of first-time-scholarly-comics-eventers. The teachers and student teachers contributed a lot to discussions
  • the reference points. I was slightly longing for heavy-duty conference presentations that set out people’s theoretical approaches and research methods. Some of this is undoubtedly because I’m in the very early days of my PhD. Some of it’s because comics studies is such an interdisciplinary field that I need to know more about people’s approaches before really understanding their work. Without this I found that whilst some discussions went well others felt patchy
  • the structure. Sessions that started with presentations – not as monologues, but as jumping off points for discussion – seemed to have a stronger start than discussion-only sessions. Sessions with strong moderators seemed to get most people in the group talking together. I missed abstracts as a way of having a better idea what to expect from a session.

All this is of course my take on an inherently collaborative event and was of course balanced by the immense value of spending a day talking withpeople about comics. I think the day length was about right. I’m glad I went – thanks, Comics Unconference 2015!



^I wrote this blog post on a bumpy Metro.

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