A tale of bile and flurry, told by an eejit, signifying anything

Caution: This post involves people you might like acting dislike-ably, and it will upset before it gets better.

I’ve kept quiet about this a long time: three years. At the tail end of 2012 I posted an article on Irish Comic News, an opinion piece relating to the ICN Awards, then in their second year. The piece was deliberately provocative in addressing the negativities of such awards. It took to task the attitude of vanity arts culture, and did so with an undercurrent of slap-dash satire.

Perhaps the editor was right to pull it. It was constructed within a few hours after the better piece I’d written the year before went missing. I got the news it had been pulled in the same short email that instructed my future blogging required approval. Well, now, I completed my journalist training waay back in 92 and had been blogging about comics since 2000. There was hardly a wealth of real journalism at the site. Besides, I told the publisher, he was taking this way too seriously. Two emails later and Andy Luke is “no longer welcome at ICN”.



Well, I was angry, and I honestly feared for the mental health of this bloke. I spoke with mutual friends, asking them to chat with him, look out for him. Maybe the damage can be repaired, I thought. I was told in the same conversation, “I’m sure there were faults on both sides” or “I don’t want to get in the middle of this”. One (wisely) asked me in the week after not to write about it. That, was more or less it. As far as I know I was mentioned only once again on ICN, possibly to do with a wash-out comics festival I had a hand in, as ruined by Belfast’s pro-flag Unionist community.

I did a few pieces for DownTheTubes and BleedingCool, but the enthusiasm wasn’t there anymore. It was a few months later I really felt the bite of the ICN blacklisting. Yes, that’s what it was. I had gone self-employed, wanting to earn money making comics, and I’d just done ‘Absence’ and ‘The Invisible Artist’. It was my own fault my business plan didn’t work, I didn’t produce for the market as I should have, but “no longer welcome” saw what comics work I did create go unpublicised by that site. I’m thankful for the opportunities offered me by Avalon Arts, Titancon and the Arts & Disability Forum working with me on comics in that time, along with those who wrote about it: DTT, BC and the wonderful people at the FPI weblog and Broken Frontier. The Hold The Phones re-release came out at just the same time Alex Jones and Piers Morgan went head-to-head, and for a few hours Richard’s cover for the comic topped Google. Still, I’d lost a valued friendship and had to watch many of my friends rave about his ICN. Aided by the paranoia depression brings on, I felt more socially and professionally ostracised…too strong maybe…divided, from the Irish comics community. I made the odd veiled internet snipe about Cyanogen iodide (ICN), and got angry with some people not to blame, but largely held my tongue hoping things might be walked back. Who wants to be the guy shitting in the punchbowl? What good would it have accomplished?

At the same time I was running the Black Panel but the main ‘news’ door to promoting these comics, the site I helped build, was closed to me. Market laws in Belfast became so restrictive, business dried up. I left “comics”, and wrote prose, finding an incredible freedom denied by comics. I read my short stories publicly. I completed my first rough draft of a novel. Having the door slammed in my face was a total kunt move but I led myself to adapt.

Last week I was reminded of my LAST (!) foray into comics. Back in 2013, Belfast City Council awarded sole trader grant money which allowed Ruairi Coleman a little amount to draw ‘Bottomley’ for ‘To End All Wars’. The book, edited by Jonathan Clode and Brick and published by Soaring Penguin has been nominated for two Eisner awards in Best Reality Based Work and Best Anthology. These are the Cannes of comics, one of the higher accolades. They’re voted on by pros; just being nominated is a big deal. The tale Ruairi and John and I created is one among thirty compelling pieces. It richly deserves to win and I won’t be surprised if it does.

In the year after I left, all but two ICN founders stepped down. In 2014 (having heard nothing), I asked the publisher ‘if I am no longer welcome at ICN, would you remove my work?’. All that was needed was an apology, perhaps some small explanation. But this was “done”, and the following week, he stepped down.

Having mental health problems is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is not a badge of pride either. If that publisher couldn’t grow up, he was right to move on.

I wish ICN…well, I have no feelings really. They can’t be held accountable for dickheadery of publishers past. Visited the site twice for news since I was fired. I don’t even know if they’ve reported the Eisner nominations. I’ve written a brilliant graphic novel which I’m adapting into a screenplay for Channel 4’s Coming Up submissions, and it looks…brilliant.

Well, my voice is back, my health is emergency-free, and I’m making a concerted effort to return to writing. There’s little to announce in new projects. Oh, there’s TitanCon. Yes, TitanCon is back this year, after feeling it was pretty much the last one in 2014. Phil has planned Joe Abercrombie for popular author guest, and Pat Cadigan, Ian McDonald and Peadar O Guilin are all making a return. I’m planning to pitch Phil (working title) ‘GameofThronesy, GameofThronesy, GameofThronesy’, a comic condensed theatrical which I scripted last year. Next job is recruiting a few actors, and the buoyant Pebble is already up for it, which bodes well.

I guess the big news is that I’ve settled on going self-employed as an author come July 1st. ‘Don’t quit your day job’, they say, but my day job is working to claim my next JSA benefit, so I think I qualify as an exception.

rockford - writers pay

It’s mostly back-end stuff at present: reading a bunch of Wagner librettos to re-write the book-ends of my graphic novella and the re-pitch, and re-writing the ending on my piece for the Belfast Writers Group anthology. I do have some travel writing in the can, three monologues (a triologue?), and a series of camp pulp thriller ebooks to call on.

Of Belfast Writers Group, they get a lovely write-up courtesy of Donald Swain at Culture Hub Magazine, and interview with our facilitator Lynda into the bustle of it all.


No blogging lately. I’m beginning Week 5 with laryngitis. It began unassumingly; three cigarettes near the rain, one bed-sheet less for a sleep-over, under-funded Ulsterbus, and then Bam! Cough, Hack, Phlegm, Cough, cough, full-on bastarding cold: a resumption of the bronchitis that left me bed-ridden most of December.

Prior to that I’d been tying up final accounts on The Black Panel, the Irish comics market set up by Paddy Brown. Nothing happened with it in two years and it had become another weight on my neck. As I sorted through payments and returns, I transcended negative feelings about Irish comix. Though Paddy and I were responsible for our achievements and shortcomings, the aims, as I saw them, sprang from my time with London Underground Comics, when Oli Smith and our gang made the work of selling comics, art; something fresh, something zeitgeist.

With that mood and mission I travelled to Dublin, deciding the ailments of the last two days weren’t going to upset the comics cart. I even wrote John (Robbins) a rhyme:

In Exchequer Street Central Hotel
Where the girls aren’t from the ghetto
You might set your eyes on Sweaty Andy Luke
He wheels comics with bone marrow, through aisles wide and boxes narrow
Crying Small Press, Mini-Comics, to be away by Five-Oh-Oh

Five Oh-Oh, Five Oh-no
A meal with Gar Shanley
Paddy Lynch’s birthday party
Forget it, lets just go

Except come the day, I wasn’t singing. No, I’d lost my voice. I grew comfortable with it later but then, I was startled at being only a robot Cookie Monster away from sounding like a telephone sex pest. Additionally, the diseased monkey virus I was spreading might necessitate Translink open a new line called Ebola. As happy fates would have it, Paddy Lynch bailed on me for lack of a sitter, meaning his children are safe.

I hope I can vouch for Gar, John, Richard (Barr) or the staff and serviced at Café Bliss at Montague Street. I was struggling to breathe through our meal. My choking sounded like boking, vomiting that is, only from a cough out of control. The Health Police weren’t called and I enjoyed two of their Vita-C Flu Buster speciality smoothies.

There was a good chat about creativity and business, and Gar’s recent film work.

(Aside: the Black Panel returns were difficult. A number of comixers didn’t want stock back and said I should do the second thing I wanted to do with it. I don’t know what that is yet. Maybe something involving Free Comic Book Day? Answers through an e-code)

On return to Belfast, I spent much of the next fortnight in bed. For all the meds I’ve been on, the fever pretty much broke when my parents took me out for the day. Further improvements came when Sarah took me out to an Idlewild gig, camped over with Chinese takeaway and Naked Gun, then took us on a drive-round the following day, including a trip to the foot of Black Mountain. I’m okay with being a lonely person, peace made, but add some illmess and I’m terrified. A few friends breaking the solitude…well, if you’ve a friend in illmess, take the time to visit; ten minutes even, say you wanna come over.

Yesterday the doctor said I’ve two weeks to find my voice or I’m off for scans and scopes. He cautioned me against pushing myself to be heard by other people.

Save Uranus. End. Cue Ad.

First writer’s retreat

Last September, I hurried together a trip to Rathlin. As per the objective, it was cheap, (£60 a head OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAall inclusive), and didn’t mean me stressing over a big group or cancellations. The six of us came from Belfast Writers Group, people I’d got to know over two years, and could depend on. The location was inspiring and the prepared content would be self-fuelled, in the barcamp ethos of everybody brings something. As it was only Alex prepared a presentation, the rest of us either ran out of time, or decided to ad lib. (An earlier draft of my plan made used of a timetabled plan for teaching, readings, private writing, group discussion and time set aside for leisure)

In many ways, the beautiful location worked against the order of things. Rathlin is wild and flourishing, enormous through it’s limits. It was short-sighted thinking this heart-winning location could coop six creatives in a bungalow. It took much buckling down to get us each to write one short piece from a set stimulus point. Once we’d done that,we agreed, post Doctor Who, to entertain one another with an evening lock-in, the compositions and a bottle of wine. There were alternate takes on my breakfast breakdown, observations of the beautiful environment and eerie descriptions of local myth. It was worth resisting the charms of the local pub to allow us to bond beyond friendships, as creatives working and evolving in a singular space.

1200px-Rathlin_Island_Northern_Ireland_17Rathlin Island Northern Ireland 17” by Brian O’NeillOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

(In defence of the pub, it gave inspiration for three of the tales in our canon. We got there after the group-session, and it was one of the prettiest night-skies I’ve ever seen)

On the logistical side of things, plans changed as they do. Lynda, our un-official leader, chef and driver had to drop out at short notice. Holly volunteers to provide wheels and everyone can take turns at breakfast and lunch prep. My food shop plan needed help, so Holly wheeled in there too.

We weren’t dependent on Lynda to fill a bunk as one person slept in over-flow accommodation. Alex signed up a few days before. A few people had dietary concerns. These posed little problem,  required I do an hour or two of research, which, in a perfect would be just common altruism.

I got a lot from this weekend, and am indebted to Holly, Alex, Ellie, Bruce and Philip for making it happen. Also for the inspiration, the Midwinter Comics Retreat crowd, led by the painfully missed wunderkind Debra Boyask.

Leaning Over Rathlin - by Ellie Rose McKee

Leaning Over Rathlin – by Ellie Rose McKee

I want to do another one of these soon. It’s proving a bit of a chore finding venues to accommodate more than six while keeping a low price. I think these things are worth chasing though, particularly in a time of mass unemployment.

If you’d like to be part of a N. Ireland Spring creator’s retreat, drop me a line. It’s safer than Facebook to use the comments function below.

And you can read the piece I wrote on Rathlin, an alternate take of the weekend at Skypen.

…Evening of Swing Has Been Cancelled

The gallery launch I blogged about for Feb 7th is cancelled. I am not a member of the ABC Collective. Half the group have left. I’m really in a position not to say why. I don’t even know if it’s still together.

Something of a pity.

I consider the local gallery art scene, like most, sewn up by cliques. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are part of these. Some of the best artists too, afforded promotion by the established and protection against the elements.

So when a gallery opens up that doesn’t select only from a fine art degree background, of their own people, it was something of a challenge to this artist to pull his weight. I was thinking about how I was looking forward to being in a clique and knowing of the problems of that, getting through it.

Inclusivity, as it turned out, need not have been a problem.

Half the galleries in the city are run entirely by volunteers. I first noticed this back in 2010 when I ran into a director of a major gallery, waiting at the Jobcentre to sign on, same as me. If they’re not threatened with getting their dole cut, there are many gallery directors who are self-employed, lucky to see an allowance equivalent. Only thread-bare funding is available for essential running costs, which elitist lizards seem intent on vacuuming into their bulbous mouths.

Just because those creatures can’t be artists, doesn’t mean we can’t try to practice the lifestyle anywhere.

Bubble Shore - MDG Boston

Above: Bubble Shore, by MDG Boston



Seeking aspects of my exclamation mark, heyhey, lets-go, sugar-boy schtick? Up-front El of Textfilms has commissioned a comic from me, to hang in Patsy’s Parlour bar, Ormeau Road from….oooh, 20th February. My comics work made BleedingCool twice this month, once for To End All Wars (top graphic novel list), and for Baillie’s Colchester Tapestry. And there’s a new short story published by Jay Faulkner’s withpaintedwords.com ‘Sea Legs’ is a bit of a departure from my usual style and I’ve gotten some great feedback so far. It’s based on that photo up above, by MDG Boston. Go and read that; it’s free.

It’s art.

So, a new Belfast artist collective…

Based out of an un-used but functional building on the Holywood Road, there are eight of us; a crew of writers, photographers, painters, poets, puppeteers and a musician. The core group have circled around one another for a year or two, pulling up chairs at the same open mics or at Dominique’s Bohemian Tales Café Club; so all should go according to plan, of some kind.


29 Holywood Road, BT4 is a two-storey building that’s been vacant since 1998, the same time I began my practice it happens. The rental bill-board advertised a rent free period which is agreeable as the building is roomy, central and in good condition, once cloths and paint started licking it. This month we removed glass, rubble, wood from a large attic workshop, danced as the first sparks of electricity brought heat, kettle and computer to life, run spray and hot cloth over kitchen and bathroom and had one of those boring General Meetings: after a morning of sultana and cherry debauchery I may have wound up as secretary/admin/website guy. The first draft of this was typed at my own desk in the office I share with Dominique.



I put up a Soundcloud interview with Dominique Hoffman a few months ago. Bohemian Tales is the story of an every-man living in the upheaval of Prague, 1967-68. The book has aspects of Euro literary café culture. In a marriage of social-creative event and book promotion, Dom’s monthly Bo Tales Café Club seeks to evoke the spirit of that. ABC is her baby, and the collective are the baby’s family.


She and muso/writer Jim McClean have been arranging plasticine models, frames and toy trains around the place.


On February 7tht we have our first public event, the Café Club. I’m sure we’re not ready yet, but it’s beginning to look the part.


We’re getting there.

birthday invite

You are Cordial Juicily Invited…

Birthdays are a funny thing. I retain a child-like anticipation, but they often fail me like pron. This year seems to be a mutant strain, the aforementioned squib being particularly dry. I’ve been blessed in that Dominique Hoffman is running her Bohemian Tales Café Club; a particularly unique book tour that incorporates all the ingredients of her novel of the same name. Namely, the European literary café; free international tea, cakes, poetry and prose readings. It’s a splash of culture in Northern Ireland’s grey mono-culture eyebrow-meeting splodge. To celebrate Christmas, Dominique (and Crafty Emma Gilles) are running an Arts Fayre which will post Bohemian Tales beyond the exclusive in-the-loopers.

Crafty Manor, Maple Leaf, 41-43 Park Avenue, East Belfast BT4 1PU

It’ll also bring out the work of the new CE Arts Collective which I’ve been invited to join, along with Andy ‘The Hat’ Ward, Jim ‘Comic Nomad Many Hats’ McClean, David Davies, apparently having unusual names is a prerequisite.  David and Andy will perform poetry, Jim will have plasticine and puppets, I’ll have comics and cards, it should be a good afternoon. No, it will be a great afternoon. 11:30-3.

After the post-con home-load, I’ll be opening doors to nearby apartment for a bit of chilling, and we may take a trip to Horatio Todd’s. Then for 9pm, it’s back to Crafty Manor for an event Emma and chums have put together. Honky Tonk #2 boasts some films, live music, a dj set and a cheap bar and you can pay in advance through Eventbrite. Those who know of Emma and Crafty’s work will probably tell us that a fantastic night is in store. I guess I’ll be doing more than alright this year.


birthday invite

(Click to enlarge)

In other news, there’s been a lull in writing due to illness, but it’s not stopped me from working up some new material.

Next March sees the release of Belfast Writer’s Group anthology, which I can’t recall the name of, but it’s got to do with mythological beings. For that I’ve stitched together the long-awaited Spide: The Lost Tribes which bears little resemblance to it’s parents. Those who looked at second drafts two years ago can expect a free copy of the tale on request, in the format of choice. I’m also working up Flesh Mob, a tale I wrote for Uproar Comics in 2012 and was rejected, and revised for Borderline Press in 2013, before the artist stiffed me, and conned the publishers into doing the same.  Skip a year, better luck. Studio NI should have it to you in 2015 as part of their ten year celebration anthology Tense Situations.

I’m toying with a massive over-haul of this site; less pro portfolio, more good old blogging for the sake of it. Check back between now and Christmas, and if you can’t wait, follow me on twitter.com/andrewluke

Next up is a preview of my 24 hour comic and something for the season.