Probably the best bus ride I’ve ever been on

Titancon is a fan-organised event mixing Game of Thrones with the best of Northern Ireland’s Horror, SF&F literature. From it’s first outing in 2011, they’ve run a Game of Thrones coach tour, chasing down new shooting locations. There’s great camaraderie, too. Organiser Phil Lowles’ habit of assuring passengers “They were only ten minutes away,” formed the basis of a poem I co-wrote with Cat Jones and Stephen de Meulemeester, which has become something of a favourite.


The two coaches have built up some rivalry over the years. This year it boiled right up, including some small trolling by yours truly. I created Twitter accounts for the coaches, and automated tweets where Coach 1 would routinely name-drop it’s direct line to the GoT stars, and Coach 2 would tweet about how it had hit an iceberg.
Over breakfast, I’d bragged to Titancon’s security man Ade Beattie about the twitter stuff. Ade was called out to pick up Miltos Yerolemou (aka Syrio Forel), who was running a little late. As they sought to catch up to us, the pair of them set up an account  for their journey: Coach 3 account.

Meanwhile, I gave Coach 1 people passwords to both twitter accounts so honest updates went out, as well as on personal handles giving us hashtags like #coachinthenorth and #miltosiscoming
Add to the mix, Cat, and Pebble, had decided they would make Coach 1 a sure extension of the Friday/Saturday format. Grabbing the on-board microphone (and one they’d brought with them), they arranged an improv con. The programme included:
Panel: Aragon economics

Crowdsourcing: What ghastly aberration will befall Titancon this year?
(Seals with rocket launchers, parallel universe collapse etc)

Tutorial: Milting
(Came about from a pun on Miltos’ name. It turned out we had an academic specialist on board for an informative talk and Q&A. Milting is fish sperm, sperm poured over eggs and grown in a box; the male dies. This also formed the basis of the sandcastle competition, photos on Werthead’s post below.)

Singalongs:
Popular tunes with the word ‘love’ replaced with ‘bum’. Other replacements included ‘Prostitute’, and ‘Hodor’.
SF Author Paedar O’Guillin teaches us An Poc Ar Buile (The Mad Puck Goat)
The Rains of Castamere – Rehearsals of the Red Wedding Song, for freaking out Coach 2 at the banqueting hall at the end of the day.

Game Quiz:
Google random images and assign as kitten or boobs

Limericks by Coach Poet Laureate:
Coach 1 is the greatest / We’ve songs and literary theatres / But Coach 2 know / Nothing like Jon Snow / Nothing like Barcelona waiters!
Champion blogger Adam Whitehead (aka @Werthead) has collated the best of all the Twitter activity at https://storify.com/Werthead/titancon-2015-coach-trip
Phil Lowles has just announced Titancon’s return for 2016. You can book for this year’s day event, at http://titancon.com/ and be sent an announcement when coach trip seats open later on in the month I imagine.

Too much happening lately

Since last post here, the world lost John Grandidge, a dear friend off exploring the flora and fauna of the after-life, looking out posthumously from future poetry collections of those he influenced; he peeks out from between the panels of my last few years of comics, of which he was an audible fan and supporter. He was my favourite drinking buddy; he warmed my soul when it was cold and weeping. He touched a multitude of people in the same way and he did it with style and love. He told us he’d cancer a few months ago, thinking it was an upset stomach. When it claimed him, it was years ahead of what many of us thought. He was at home with friends and a cat.

I’ve written a lot about John in pro-active grieving, which might find it’s way out, but he’s glimpsed beautifully in verse by Becca Heddle. If you didn’t know him, I’m sorry for your loss.

JG, John, Leonard Rat, Grandidge, John Wood Dragon, Jackfirecat – probably not all the names.
Poet, artist, cleverclogs.
Approaching fast, long-legged stride, black coat flapping, sweeping you up with a surprising hug.
Expressive hands full of knots and angles, drawing thoughts in the air.
Skewering pretension, dissecting hypocrisy – ach, rrr – cutting through the crap.
Delighted swift turn of the head and dart of a smile aimed just at you.
Red Shift; Little, Big; Possession; Robert Graves.
Doing everything with all of him, glint in his eyes, walking moors, riverbanks, hills.
Glorious in spleen, generous with love, hating sentimentality.
Energy, spark, fire.
New conversations, not repeats – ‘No, we’ve done that one.’
Yes, Genesis, Brand X, Billy Bragg, Prince, the Stranglers.
Snakeshead fritillaries.
Notes in Elvish; gifts of poems, drawings, time, jokes, joy.
Suddenly standing, black bag to his shoulder, ‘Bye’ – and he’s gone.

Less than a week later, I’m at the hand-fasting of Margaret Dalzell and Richard Barr; Richard being my nearest and dearest. It was at the beautiful Ballygally Castle and an informal gathering of old friends. Sarah and I, no we’re not a couple, stayed at Cairnview Bed and Breakfast, with Adam, and I heartily recommend it to anyone  visiting the place, just on the coast outside Larne. Adam and Sarah looked after me above and beyond the call. Margaret was full of empathy and humour, so much so I had to laugh behind plants when she’d make jokes about people right in front of us. Richard, who hates being the centre of attention, handled it as the professional gentleman I’ve always known him to be, even taking time out to share his latest thoughts on our novel, and suggest a few web researches.

Richard and Margaret.

Oh, and they both looked wonderful.

Then to Enniskillen, which is where Sarah’s from, and the town’s first comics festival. There I met the brilliant five-man committee and after some painting polystyrene shaped rockets. I’d a lovely chat in the pub with Hunt Emerson, Laura Howell and my boyhood idol, Lew Stringer, with Hunt making us laugh with his Frank Miller cover versions. On Friday, we’d a screening of Judge Minty, introduced and summarised by Mr. Michael Carroll, very entertaining. I’d a pub chat with lovely Sue Grant, struck up a friendship with Enniskillen horror writer Andrew Gallagher and wowed at the appearance of Pieter Bell, who I’ve known over twenty years, but rarely seen outside a comic shop. “What? Is there something going on here?” he asked. “No seriously, we just came from the caravan. What’s going on?”

Photographer: Do you think you could flirt a little bit? No, not you, Kitty. I mean, Andy.

Photographer: Do you think you could flirt a little bit? No, not you, Kitty. I mean Andy.

Saturday morning was unloading of comics from the old Black Panel distro, which creators had donated to the event; then preparing to host a morning self-publishing panel featuring Jenika Ioffreda, Una Gallagher, Danny McLaughlin and Austin Flanagan. The main venue was in McArthur Hall, actually a church hall, a real part-of-a-church hall, (ie the comics fest was in a church), and the panels were in the nearby library. I set out in good time, and fell badly down several stairs. The pain was brutal. It cleared up Sunday but I have a massive ankle swelling, though can get about. The panel was small press + first event of the day = poorly attended, but we made up for it by inviting the audience to join us and make a roundtable. Those arriving early for the 2000AD panel were just a little envious on finding Una Gallagher holding court on tales of families aural tradition of storytelling.

Glenn Matchett made this video for the panel, on writing for comics.

And a few hours later, my big turn: Alan Grant and an audience with.  I’d met Sue and Alan on Thursday night, shortly after we arrived. (Sidenote: The guests came from the airport via a party bus, which had disco lights and a dancer’s pole.)  The three of us (who had not met before), were shattered, awkward small talk shared between ciggy puffs. On Friday, Alan and I kept missing one another; resting or walking or taking smoke breaks at different times.  Sue was absolutely lovely and among other things, talked about the comics festival in their home village, which I’d love to get to.

I mean, just look at that guest list.

I mean, just look at that guest list.

Moniaive Comics Festival programme: packed!

Moniaive Comics Festival programme: packed!

So, Alan and I got to chat a few hours before we were due at the library, and the rapport picked up right away. A massive relief, because I was more nervous than I knew.  On the panel, I went through half my pre-written questions on Anarky, deadlines, research, philosophy and got gratefully off-track talking about living with John Wagner, writing horror and romance. The audience were wonderful, filling up the room with questions about 2000AD’s Strontium Dog and Ace Trucking, The Bogie Man, Lobo, and afterwards a number of people came and shook my hand saying what a great job I’d done. Alan was very generous with his experience and his time – we sat twenty minutes late, and considered sitting on but I didn’t want us locked in the library.

The organisers were brilliant: Stephen Trimble gave me a bed for a night before they put me in the hotel. James Eames took us to his home where his parents treated us to coffee, biccies and chat. Chris Fawcett was funny and cool under pressure with the pub quiz; Mark Kenyon flowed between committments. Organiser Paul Trimble did a lot of heavy lifting but still found time to celebrate 30 years of his Banbridge comic shop, Thunder Road, perhaps the first in Northern Ireland. Oh, and Matthew Gault, a tiny Quentin Blake illustration of good humour and muscular intellect. And sometimes, he drinks way too much.

"But at least he doesn't snore like a chainsaw." Photo by James Eames.

“But at least he doesn’t snore like a chainsaw.” Photo by James Eames.

The event was a great success and I join with the other guests in thanking the organisers for brill treatment. A few more quick snaps.

My new friend, Andrew Gallagher, iron grip author of 'Escape from Fermanagh'

My new friend, Andrew Gallagher, iron grip author of ‘Escape from Fermanagh’

Beer Garden: Andrew Gallagher, Ryan Brown and Glenn Fabry

Beer Garden: Andrew Gallagher, Clint Langley and the debonair aristocats, Ryan Brown and Glenn Fabry

Organisers James Eames and Matthew Gault, and Aaron.

Organisers James Eames and Matthew Gault, and Aaron.

Mark Bromage, Paul Trimble, myself and Pieter Bell.

Mark Bromage, Paul Trimble, myself and Pieter Bell.

I’ve another funeral to attend on Friday, my adorable god-mother’s mother. She passed away this morning. I didn’t know her terribly well, but of course, people I love did.

I wonder if part of growing old is not that you slow down, but that life comes and goes faster and faster. If you read this far, thanks. Love with all the heart while you can.

Enniskillen Comics Fest

I’ve told less than ten people this month, and now I can reveal I’ll be interviewing Alan Grant, the Guest of Honour at the first Enniskillen Comics Festival. Phew! Alan, is of course, a massive influence on comics, having co-written most classic Judge Dredd stories, thirty years, about ten years on the US Batman comics. He’s the author of some of my favourites: The Bogie Man; the House of Daemon, Manix and Doomlord for Eagle. He’s written Lobo and L.E.G.I.O.N. and JLA for DC, but it’s 2000AD for which he’s best known, on Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking, Robo Hunter and Judge Anderson.

Massive, massive honour. I expected to be the last person to be called on, never having been with the Class of ’77 hardcore 2000AD fans. The organisers, gods bless their mad, mad minds, think I’m a unique choice. Well, you could say that. I’m giving this my best and hope to do Alan and yourselves proud.

Closer to my comfort zone is the self-publishing panel I’ve been asked to host. I’ve been on ten of these and hosted a few. This time I’m putting together something with a lot of pizzazz and I’d really like attendees to put their heads through the door. I’m pleased to announce those joining me are Una Gallagher (Two Lives, Faust, Something in the Tae), Austin Flanagan (The Revenants), Jenika Ioffreda (Vampire Freestyle, Midnight Tea), Danny McLaughlin (Zombies Hi, Andrew’s Comic, Revolve Comics.) and…oh, I couldn’t possibly say. We’ll be talking about more than the boring copy-shop slog, we’ll be talking character and story, ghouls and tea. Please come by.

The Enniskillen Comics Fest is the first such event in the town. It’s a free event with an all-ages focus and a wise choice by the Arts Council funding body. It’s on May 6th-7th, at the McArthur Hall, Wesley Street, and Enniskillen Library on Halls Lane, just five minutes walk. Just look at who they’ve got:

All that linkage! No biggie, I had all the info to hand for posting to their Twitter account, which you can search for. My friends at The Comic City podcast are doing a feature on the Fest in the next few days so keep an eye out for that, or visit the #EknComicFest Facebook page for more details.

Friday

Map

Saturday

(Making) Bottomley – The Brand of Britain

This Friday night, wood, tyres and berries burn in Northireland. The same night, San Diego Comic Con will announce the Eisner Awards, where ‘To End All Wars’ has been nominated, twice.

I’ve felt quite alright about singing my part in the commendation. Although barely ten pages (under 1000 words most likely), I started work on ‘Bottomley – Brand of Britain’ in 2009, when political expenses and public austerity were daily headline news. Even on that trail, I didn’t realise how accurate a reflection of the time Bottomley’s tale was.

Born in 1860, ‘The Chief’ made a stack of cash from hostile takeovers, before moving into the papers. He’s all but forgotten now, but as Pat Mills says, he was a sort of Robert Maxwell of his day. Bottomley launched the Financial Times, and the first UK newspaper called The Sun. He’d be remembered only through his lead paper, ‘John Bull’. You know the icon of the fat hat with the bulldog? That was Horatio Bottomley, art commissioned by Bottomley. That dude was real, ugly.

bottomley on board ship - 1918

The re-telling started as a sub-plot for a graphic novel, but the intensive part-time study called for it to be it’s own piece. Three years later, I was still at it. I’d three drafts together when editors Clode and Clark put out the call for submissions for TEAW, and my script went under another three drafts to tailor it to the collection.

Out of work and out of money, I took a three month Invest NI course to receive a grant, a pittance really, but it would pay the illustrator something. Thankfully, both Ruairi Coleman and letterer John Robbins were on board already. John has been a long time friend, confidante and critic, and he’s probably the best comic book letterer in Ireland.

Ruairi Coleman, I didn’t know quite as well. He were young, always a sure sign of trouble, yet remarkably talented. From the get-go he was everything I hope for in a creative work partner. Ruairi took in the bundles of visual reference I sent, with eagerness, no complaint. He took it on himself to go through a number of articles on Bottomley, and sat through the hour and a half televised 1972 docu-drama featuring Timothy West, with it’s agonising awful cut-aways.

Bottomleys crowds - December 1917

Bottomley’s story is that of the Britain’s major recruiting agent. He sold the war largely through gallons of racism. As editor, publisher and columnist of ‘John Bull’, as well as frequent pieces in The Times, the papers were packed with anti-German sentiment: Germ-huns, bayoneted babies.

Bottomley -witch hunt

The same was true for four years of nationwide speaking tours for which he was handsomely paid. He brought theatre to sacrifice, including a two-part speech in which he staged a mock trial defending Britannia against the Kaiser, dressed as a judge. The photo above is from his earlier performance in Pickwick Papers. Eventually his greed got too much and jail finished him off.

For posterity, here’s a selection of pre-production images by myself and Ruairi Coleman.

Andy Luke - Bottomley - Joining the pieces

Bottomley - andyluke roughs

Bottomley's bobs

Bottomley - The Downfall 2 line pitch

Bottomley05 - Ruairi Coleman thumbs

Bottomley08 - Ruairi Coleman thumbs

BoB-02 - Ruairi Coleman thumbs

You can see more on Ruairi’s blog, and read of his experiences with ”H.B.’

Soaring Penguin Press are taking pre-orders for the soft-cover of ‘To End All Wars’. £1 of every copy sold will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières. 

You can read my newest contribution to an anthology through Kindle. 20% of every copy of the £2 ‘Tense Situations’ collection, goes to Action Cancer.

Publishers boldly enquiring on other creative works of mine, around the Great War, might wish to contact me (link) for a copy of Lord Kitchener’s Shell Crisis board game.

Finally, here’s a select Bottomley bibliography. Because I love you.

Print

Hyman, A. (1972) The Rise and Fall of Horatio Bottomley, Littlehampton Book Services Ltd

Symons, J. (1955) Horatio Bottomley, Cresset Press. Reprinted 2008 by House of Stratus.

Electronic

AndyMinion (Sept 28, 2010) Horatio Bottomley: A Lesson From History. Retreived at http://lancasteruaf.blogspot.com/2010/09/horatio-bottomley-lesson-from-history.html [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

Anon (June 5, 1933) GREAT BRITAIN: Death Of John Bull, Time. Retrieved at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,745621-1,00.html [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

Anon (Date?) Horatio Bottomley – The Soldier’s Friend, in Crimes of the Times: Law and Order After the War. Archived from http://www.aftermathww1.com/horatio1.asp [Accessed: 23rd October 2010]

Cowling, M. (2005) The Importance of Bottomley (Ch. 2, p.45-60), in The Impact of Labour 1920-1924: The Beginning of Modern British Politics, Cambridge University. Retrieved at Google Books.  [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

Lewis, Roy (Date?) Horatio Bottomley – Champagne & Kippers for breakfast. Archived from http://www.villagepublunches.org.uk/sussex-people-profiles/127-swindles.html [Accessed: 23rd October 2010]

Messinger, G. S. (1992) The Wrong Kind of Immorality: Horatio Bottomley (Ch. 13 pp.200-213), in British propaganda and the State in the First World War, Manchester University Press. Retrieved at Google Books. [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

Video

Mr. Bottomley at Yarmouth (1919) Film. UK: British Pathe Archives. Retrieved at http://www.britishpathe.com/video/mr-bottomley-at-yarmouth [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

The Edwardians, Ep. 7: Horatio Bottomley (2009) Film. Directed by Alan Clarke, UK: Acorn DVDs. Originally broadcast 28 Nov, 1972, BBC.

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.

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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.
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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.

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

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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.

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We’re getting there.

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.

Treading the Boards

If you’re near Glasgow this week you can get along to ‘Guide Gods’, were performer Claire Cunningham explores religious narrative and faith through dance, live music, humour and audio interviews with religious leaders, academics, deaf and disabled people, and me.

Guide Gods

Claire’s website has a list of this week’s dates  and according to Composer Derek Nisbet on his Guide Gods blog, the show “is part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme, and will then travel to London’s South Bank Centre and on to Belfast Festival.”

Recently I’ve struck up rather nice working relationships over Open Mic sessions with musician Jim McClean  and actress Lindsey Mitchell. To this end we’re working on a play together, a condensed Game of Thrones play. We’ll be performing the comic act at the Sunflower Festival, TitanCon and are talking of a screening of the play at a well-known Belfast gallery.

Writing this, I’m surprised that my voice is making the transition to theatre. This last year, it’s been all about the writing. Writing prose over, scriptwriting for comics, feels refreshing and liberating. I feel like I can earn some money if I work hard enough. Unlike comics. a beautiful medium, were grossly underpaid workers are slowly subsumed by a culture of silverfish turned woodworm rot.

Ahem…

Writing prose is enough of a departure from scriptwriting to enthuse: I feel like an amateur who can achieve professionalism and a paycheque. Knowing I have a lot to learn is a great feeling. I’ve been encouraged by the Belfast Writers Group and open mic audiences at Skainos and Lindores. Last month, I applied to return to university on a Creative Writing Masters so I can up my practice.

Parting shot to the world of comics (for now), is the short, Bottomley – Brand of Britain. The product of much research, it’s been adapted with care by artist Ruairi Coleman and letterer John Robbins. Here’s how editor Jonathan Clode pitches it:

Horatio Bottomley, patriot and publisher of John Bull, the newspaper of the people. But behind his rousing public speeches and staunch support of the troops hides a conspiracy that would reveal one of the greatest swindles of WW1.


That’s Bottomley’s mistress, Peggy Primrose, in Panel 4, putting her hat back on after it was knocked off in the squash.

The tale appears in To End All Wars, a remarkable 320 page graphic novel with  stories by a number of established underground comixers. It features the return of the  remarkable Steven Martin of WW1 comics series, Terrible Sunrise, as well as Jenny Linn-Cole, The Pleece Brothers, Sean Michael Wilson, Joe Gordon, Selina Lock, Steve Earles, Robert Brown, John Maybury and shedloads of others.

The book is released on July 17. Copies are available for pre-order now on Amazon or, at the same price, direct from publisher John Anderson at Soaring Penguin Press. Costs £18 all inclusive and proceeds go to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders.