We Shall Not Be Stapled

Shout it in the streets. Get down to the Orange band and tell them too. Tell your friends carrying messages over the border.

The Comic Book Guys have been immensely supportive of Axel America. I’m delighted to be featuring in this cosy spot lunchtime launch. There’s a raft of old and new material (see here) including pieces by myself, and an unseen Sir Reginald piece from 2006.

I’ve been working on the launch of my exciting Patreon project and my new book, Ignacz the Watch Thief. The campaign starts on Tuesday 9th at http://patreon.com/andyluke – there’s little there, but you can bookmark it.

Before that, I’ll be appearing at the Enniskillen Comic Fest this weekend. On Saturday morning, hosting a ‘Breaking Into Comics’ panel featuring Colin Mathieson (Accent UK), Jenika Ioffreda (Midnight Tea), Ciaran Marcantonio (Neon Skies) and Grainne McEntee (Bubbles O’Seven: Simian Agent) From there, I can mostly be found at the Sector House 13 table. They’ll be selling a zine edited by Laurence McKenna and Peter Duncan…well, it’s a glossy zine, with a strip beautifully painted by Ryan Brown, and marvellously written by Laurence, a feel much like The Shield, which is a perfect tone for a Mega City One Judges story. I’ve a prose-poem in there. I’m Likin’ It. Actually, that’s the name of the story. It’s good.

 

The Name of This Band Is…

Righty-oh naughty blank page, off to Kingpin’s wall with you. Sector House 13 Dredd story written, poems – check. Patreon project on in three weeks. New novels coming. Lots of readers. New comic, at 44 pages or more, 33 laid down. No idea of the title – polling Facebook / Twitter next week. It’s an anthology, many different writers, thus far confirmed:

Danny Pongo – Titanic Theme Park, What we too, and Madeley Feeds Africa.
Dek Baker and Richard Barr – Wee Hard Man
Mark McCann – The Game is Rigged
John Robbins – Real Irish Avengers, The Belt
Laura Reich – Gus
Ben Stone – Sir Reginald
Dan Lester – Bush Dream

I will be drawing from my own writing my too. Hands hurt but  enjoying working with different creatives: one big comics hurrah. It debuts at the Enniskillen Comics Fest on May 6th, cost £3-£5. If you’d like to pre-order I’ll post it UK for £3.50 or digitally for £1.25. Paypal drew. luke@gmail with a note.

Meantime I’ll leave you with some excerpts of the thing to come, whatever it’s called. Words by Lester, Pongo and Robbins.

Off to the White House

Or rather The Green Room…

green-room_bigger2

Of The Black Box, Belfast.

posteraxa2blackbox

That’s this Monday, just around from the Duke of York where I’ll be tasting beer after.

The books have arrived, big chunky things. Michael at Northern Visions TV assures me he’ll be getting through it before we shoot on Friday for two shows: Focal Point (news), and Novel Ideas. 

the call

Tomorrow, I’ll be in Dublin to talk to sellers, meet some pals and attend the launch of The Call, a new novel by Peadar Ó Guilín. He’ll be in Easons with Oisín McGann and a group of fans and pals. (Link: FB event) It’s published by Scholastic/Fickling and is a children’s book about child abduction (!) by the Sidhe faeries. [More about that on Publisher’s Weekly]

The Axel America Election Tour has begun, kicking off with the folks at Downbelow, a podcast about Babylon 5. A double episode on Secrets of the Soul (dismissed), and Day of the Dead (applauded). I took a while to warm, fighting the prevailing opinion on the first episode, but I was roundly welcomed and it put me in a good mood to start. (Thanks Ian for the on-air sale!)

Next day, the first of the email interviews with Pro Media Mag, and talking to Seemi about comics and the making of The Invisible Artist show. I really enjoyed this one and you can find it linked with the others on the Axel America page

The weekend began with a night out at Sector 13, a local group of ‘mature’ comics readers and cosplayers. I was picked up by Peter Duncan of great British comics blog Splank!, and we hooked up with social Laurence McKenna, Paddy Brown (soon appearing in Hawaiian shirts), the jovial Ryan Brown, the omnipresent stoic Bruce Logan, teller of tales Glenn Fabry and Ishtar, an author visiting Glenn from Brighton. It was a night of fine craic and welcoming faces and I’d recommend it for folks in the area. More setting up and more interviews. Writers Community is a local site with an interview. Alan asked me questions where I’ve gone into the mechanics and politics of the book, and given some advice on writing.

Old friend Ciaran Flanagan phoned me up on Sunday for a segment on the ComicCityCast and it was a delightful lapse into casual (but excitable) chat about the origins of the book and where it is now. On Monday, US blog Literary Links got in touch to ask about Axel’s showbiz links and the creative lifestyle.

Today, it’s more attempts to bribe journalists and bloggers with a free lunch, and some house tidying so when publisher Andrew arrives on Monday, he isn’t sleeping in a hammock of cobwebs. Keep an eye to @TheAxelAmerica – there’s things I’ll announce there that have blown our socks off.

Oh, just time to mention http://www.outsidergames.com/jennifer-wilde/Jennifer Wilde - Stephen Downey

Me old pal Stephen Downey is working on a game based off the beloved comic, created with Rob Curley and Maura McHugh. For those unfamiliar, Jennifer Wilde follows a French artist and Oscar’s ghost as they solve mysteries in London, Paris and New York.

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

A N.Irish comedy writer walks into a Media Festival.

A fellow writer asked me last year, what’s all this got to do with me? We’d sat through talk after talk of production companies, the same each of BMF’s seven years. I was the least bit suspicious.

The keynote this year was from Wayne Garvie. It was inspiring. Wayne spoke about the quality of ‘reality tv’ against scripted material. Praising scripts, he warned scripted quality was eonomically un-sustainable. In this, an opportunity for new voices, who might take advantage of the lessons of low-budget shows (and film), produced outside the institutional framework. He said we should be brass-necked about who to pitch to, we should target the big guys, for whom one commission would keep our wheels turning. Northern Ireland’s remoteness was a disadvantage, for here we could work outside the London bubble.

Wayne’s optimism empowered the room. In the Q&A Wayne admitted bringing our own people in, was a necessity for keeping vision and feasibility intact. I’m all for jobs for mates, but don’t the BBC have full-time staff, best trained in production?

‘Why is no comedy from Northern Ireland commissioned? Are we just not funny?’

That was the subtitle of an afternoon panel. I’d already been to it, in a dream, earlier that week. I woke myself up asking questions.

For years, NI TV Comedy productions have come from the Hole in the Wall Gang (HITWG), with quality sinking deeper since their debut twenty years ago. Think below-par Father Ted, Mrs. Brown’s Boys… “parochial”, remarked someone in the audience. That’s all that has been commissioned. The host of this panel was to be Tim McGarry, front-man for the HITWG; brave choice for a panel.

On the stage were comedy commissioners from the BBC, Channel 4 and RTE, with two folk from the Belfast Comedy Writers Group (BCWG). The BBC’s Chris Sussman I’m not sure I liked, but certainly respected his frankness, suggested no new NI comedy was produced, because nothing he’d come across was quite good enough. He’d looked. Claire Childs, co-founder of the BCWG protested, saying she’d sent him several works from different people and had heard they hadn’t been looked at. (One aspect of the BCWG is to share scripts, read them aloud in front of a large group, and provide feedback in criticism and praise) Just as the host put a pass on this, a voice interrupted from the second row.

“I have two million followers for my comedy channel on Youtube, two million on Facebook and Twitter, how come my work is being ignored? You have an audience for this stuff, yet you just look over it.”

The rant continued, despite calls to shut up, and the request of a commissioner two rows front to meet him after. Now, we’ve all heard this. BCWG members had, with a similar rant/no listen at a prior meet. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. It was conceivable, just maybe, this bloke was a member of Loyalists Against Democracy, the online comedy outlet that enjoyed global acclaim in 2012, re-branding fundamentalist’s FLEG. Maybe this guy was one of the anonymous members of LAD, the comedy circle which brought joy and amusement to people trapped behind the lines while riots erupted over Belfast? My business was ruined that year, a number of friends were terrorised during hijackings and blockades, and I wouldn’t have to look too far to find others in the same place. Point being, comedy has a business in Northern Ireland. It’s Maslow’s sixth need. It keeps us company, gives us the strength to go on. We’re now in a bullshit war on Syria. Trawling through Casetteboy’s archives doesn’t stop the massacre or the reprisals, but the escape into poking fun at tyrants serves to compassionately hold our hand and readjust our brain as we travel further down the rabbit hole.

 NI comedy has to be given populist voice. LAD surely have racked up those two million hits. Shouldn’t commissioners be going to them? As the man asked, “why jump through hoops to get noticed if you already have a strong following?” Anyone who has commissioned work knows there are less hoops if you have that power.

Tim McGarry’s hosting style, when faced with such fireworks, was to use his eejit-Irish affectation to move quickly on. I empathise. However for all the palaver, there was a sense Tim was the elephant in the corner. Tim’s been employed as a writer/actor for ten or so years at the Beeb, and as a producer on one of his series for the Beeb. Last year’s Number 2s, was a Hole In The Wall Gang (HITWG) sitcom for TV, from radio. A below sub-par Thick Of It based at Stormont, Number 2s was wholly panned by non-critics too. According to one source, HITWG recur in debate at Belfast Comedy group-meets: have they monopolised BBC in-roads? Are they bringing down standards we can recover from? Do HITWG project a notion that the North-irish are just not funny? The same people asking, respect McGarry for his decades of plugging away, which is why no-one got volatile with him in the same way the commissioners got it.

The BBC Comedy commissioner expanded on the production company theme. Paraphrasing, writers are not likely to be commissioned by the BBC without having gone through a company, without having a group around them. I am unsure if that’s true. There was a call-out (in January?) from the BBC Writers Room, for new Northern Irish sitcom scripts. I put up an innovative, amusing piece with legs on. I read scripts by colleagues that were very good. The short-lists were announced hush-hush.

In the pub the evening of Day 1 of the festival, I was told the result of that call-out was the commissioning of Number 2s. It’s not the first time open call outs for fresh work has brought in ‘the gang’. Selecting industry veterans as new voices defeats the purpose surely? Certainly there’s enough history for the BBC to see HITWG as a safe choice, but the writers who took months preparing for the BBC’s call out have bills to pay, families to look after and time they cannot waste.

CLARIFICATION:
The BBC Craic Off challenge finalist for this year was Jeff Hare, link to his blogging about the  experience on the BBC website.

For the most part, writing is a solitary desk job. I would like the luxury to form networks of lighting and sound-men, actors and stage-hands, but it’s not convenient. The third row ranter ended his spiel with, “Do you know why I get ignored by the commissioners? Because I use the word ‘cunt’”. A laughable response we think, but what gets commissioned relates to the language you use. Number 2s (like all of HITWG output), fights Stormont’s parliament of pantomime with pantomime, a limp-wristed fey giving in to the schoolyard bully with drag-dress and a silly dance. Whether Northern Ireland on the box speaks of our own exclusive divides, or just as any-place (you could be here), it’s time we were treated to something more than he’s-behind-you.

The Belfast Comedy Writers captured the panel on video. Worth a watch before the shit all stinks.