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.

Rathlin Island HostelBlog 4: The Island Sometimes Known As Raghery

Week 6

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The sense of camaraderie at McCuaig’s, the sheer craic, and personal investment, coupled with beautiful landscape made my time on Rathlin second to none. Special mentions to the hostel-runners: Fergus and Tania; but especially Sean, Patsy and Rohan, who made me feel like a member of the family. How could I not take another
week? On my final day we spotted blue whales jumping in Mill Bay, right in front of the hostel.

Home 

DVD for Always Sunny in Philadelphia Series 1-2 arrives. Check out the box’s audience warning marks.

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Sean (McFaul) reckoned I’d experience culture shock on return to Belfast. At first, little things; then the rising noise of the traffic, the internalisation of city folk, and a return of claustrophobia. Still, Rathlin’s weather taught me to appreciate the colours and patterns closer to home.

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Enter, Sean Duffield, cartoonist of Paper Tiger Comix, who I’d invited to come from Brighton and be my guest in N. Ireland. Sean had one request.

Week 7

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Belfast to Ballycastle, often it’s needed to change buses at Ballymena. We discovered a small park five minutes from the station with these beautiful Four Seasons statues.

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Sean gets comfortable seal-spotting down at Rue Point, earning the nickname ‘Manimal’.

We take the round-island coach trip.
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Even saw a peregrine falcon at West Lighthouse. It’s a pleasure having Sean D around. His sticking to daily writing exercises provides the perfect context for professional practice myself. Sean is also an awesome cook. There’s not much pub time, as Sean wants to walk e v e r y w h e r e.

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We do make a visit to Yvonne Braithwaite’s Breakwater Arts Studio, hosting Rathlin’s first ever Culture Night. It’s an intimate evening of songs and stories from islanders, handed down through generations, as the sun goes down accompanied by deelish cheeses and warming wines.

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Watershed Cafe Suzie shows us around some caves.
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andy vs sean

And we’re introduced to a healing pool, legend having it that if you bottle this water and give it to a friend, it will clear foot ailments of all descript. Though you can’t use the water on yourself…

healing pool

…No. It really has no effect.

We set sail for home like every visitor to Rathlin, forever changed.

I’ll be returning this weekend (5th December), for a few drinks in the bar. You’re invited to join us.

If you’d like to keep a closer eye on Rathlin, there’s a host of stuff around the web, including the Rathlin Community Page, and the regularly rewarding Friends and Residents of Rathlin page on Facebook.

 

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.

“Is that in Ireland?” Gothic Time Travel to celebrate the 50th Anniversary

This last week I’ve mostly spent in bed. I’ve been beset by a vicious abcess causing the right side of my face to swell. My eye flames. I’ve only begun to regain the strength to  write and I’m doing that now because I’ve a really brilliant product to promote.

Twelve by Horrified Press (140 pages)

Prepare to get lost, as the time-traveler and his assistant venture into dark space.
It’s time for authors from around the world to unofficially pay homage to the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, and unleash their own tales of futuristic terror.

My offering ‘Skin of the Teeth’,  (gulp!) gives us the first glimpse at the time traveler’s relationship with Ireland as he pursues a mystery in the formed deep in Belfast’s sewers, and an enemy floating  in the skies, which leads him to a conspiracy at the birthplace of The Titanic. 

Digital £3.00 http://www.lulu.com/shop/horrified-press/twelve/ebook/product-21278364.html

Print £9.99 http://www.lulu.com/shop/horrified-press/twelve/paperback/product-21242606.html

DRIFTING THROUGH ETERNITYPart of a clockwork with a dial
Mark Slade

THE ROTS
Wol-vriey Jesuito

THE ROGUE PLANET
Gavin Chappell

MIRRORS IN FOG
E.S. Wynn

FLIGHT OF THE DEMETER
Martin Feekins

IN LIGHT OF DARKNESS
Nathan J.D.L. Rowark

TIME TELEVISION
Paul Melhuish

SKIN OF THE TEETH
Andrew Luke

NEANDERTHAL
Todd Nelsen

THE LAST EPOCH
Jason Barney

WIGAN GOTHIC
Matthew R. Davis

MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION
Jay Wilburn

TRAVELER
Gary Murphy

THE CREATURE FROM THE BOG
Angela Pritchett

Thanks to Nerdgeist and Time Warriors for offering publicity but I could really use your help sharing this. Let me or editor nathan.rowark @ live dotco dot uk know if you do. There may be free samples or interviews on offer for those bloggers and journalists who do.