First line from this year's winner (Tor Freeman):
It's interesting to see what the competition organisers are looking for nowadays. Last year's winner was a milkman's desire to win his local Tall Milkman competition. This seems, I think, to show that Cape are currently after low-key, heartwarming stories about everyday life. Both stories are also illustrated in a style that's akin to a children's book illustration, making them accessible to a larger age group.
Sample line from last year's winner (Matthew Dooley):
Articles about this announcement have appeared in most of the newspapers and the BBC. The project organisers have also produced a very good video describing their work:
The Guardian has an extensive article describing what the teams found. Unfortunately, in the article one of the team members is quoted as saying:
“What we are sure about is that this big void is there, that it is impressive, and was not expected by any kind of theory,” said Tayoubi.
In fact, the French researcher Jean-Pierre Houdin developed a solid and well-grounded theory, years ago, that predicted that there had to be hidden chambers inside the Great Pyramid.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
It's by Sydney Padua and it's based on her web comic that ran for several years. Padua worked in Hollywood as animator for years before writing the webcomic and it shows; her illustrations are effortless, consistent, accurate and full of expression and life, which (take it from me) takes absolutely donkeys years and a bazillion hours to master. I must note that the book isn't a graphic novel; instead, it is a series of short stories about Ada Lovelace (seen by many as the first computer programmer) and Charles Babbage (seen by many as the inventor of the first computer) in an alternative universe created by Padua in which Lovelace doesn't die young and they both get to make the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine. Along with each page of these stories are a big pile of footnotes, showing how much research Padua has done on the subject.
This might a good moment to compare and contrast the new version with the old one. Here's my original version of the page, drawn in 2013:
I remember being very pleased with it. I felt I'd gone up a level. Now, eighteen months later, I'm trying to work why I honestly thought it was good. I seem to have drawn a child's toy tugboat and tried to pass it off as an ocean-going passenger liner. Also, the buildings on the right seem to be made out of Lego and half the passengers have clothing made from plasticene. The logo and the left-hand crate aren't bad, but that's about it. Ow!
There's definitely an embarrassing side to making progress as a writer or illustrator. In the early stages, you think you're doing great work and you can't understand why you're not being picked up for publication. 'What's wrong with those publishers, why aren't they interested!?' A year-or-so later, after several hundred more hours of practice, you look at the same work again and the reason is painfully clear. D'oh!
Greetings! It's cold here in Blighty but it's beautiful in the sunshine.
The beginning of February is only a week away. I was planning to bring out the second issue of 'Visiting Alien' magazine. Unfortunately, there haven't been enough downloads to justify putting out another issue at the moment; but that's okay, as putting the magazine together and working on its contents has already reaped creative dividends.
While assembling chapter 2 of 'Chloë solves the Universe', I delved a little deeper into the history of the Neumann-Wigner hypothesis. This is the idea, put forward by two brilliant scientists, that our minds must be outside of the physical system and influencing it, in order for ghostly quantum superpositions to turn into real objects like photons and electrons. I discovered that this viewpoint wasn't just the view of two mavericks. It was actually fully or partly supported by a host of famous quantum physicists, astrophysicists and mathematicians. Wolfgang Pauli, John Von Neumann, Max Planck, Arthur Eddington, Erwin Schrödinger, Eugene Wigner and Werner Heisenberg were all of the view that materialism was no longer valid. Quantum physics had effectively killed that belief. Instead, they concluded that reality had to be dependent on the mind, either being a creation of the mind or a separate construction to the mind that the mind actively influenced. They debated about this matter for decades. Like any long-running debate, the views of those involved shifted but for many of them, the mind-first idea became more valid over time, rather than less.
I think it's very surprising that this important debate has never been written about in a popular science book (as far as I know). That may be because popular science books are usually written by senior scientists who are still active in science. The problem with this approach is that it may lend weight to the scientist's views but nowadays, any scientist who espouses a view that isn't materialist is endangering his or her scientific career, whether or not the evidence supports such a view. In recent decades, many senior scientists, doctors, biochemists and neurologists have produced evidence strongly indicating that the materialist view is wrong but in most instances, they've been careful not to make any statements but simply present the evidence. This is a shame, and it's not scientific, but there you go. Eugene Wigner, who won a Nobel Prize in 1963, wrote of this problem in his article 'remarks on the mind-body question':
"In the words of Neils Bohr, 'the word consciousness, applied to ourselves as well as others, is indispensable when dealing with the human situation'. In view of all this, one may well wonder how materialism, the doctrine that 'life could only be explained by sophisticated combinations of physical and chemical laws' could so long be accepted by the majority of scientists. The reason is probably that it is an emotional necessity to exalt the problem to which one wants to devote a lifetime. If one admitted anything like the statement that the laws we study in physics and chemistry are limiting laws, similar to the laws of mechanics which exclude the consideration of electrical phenomena, or the laws of macroscopic physics which exclude the consideration of 'atoms', we could not devote ourselves to our study as wholeheartedly as we have in order to recognise any new regularity in nature. The regularity which we are trying to track down must appear the all-important regularity, if we are to pursue it with sufficient devotion to be successful."
I'm therefore rewriting 'Chloë solves the Universe' as 'Chloë's Quantum Quest'. Its central focus will be this historical debate between these Nobel Prize-winning physicists. Chloë will find out about quantum physics and then hear of the Big Argument between the physicists about the nature of reality. When she hears that the mind-first view has been abandoned by modern physicists, she is indignant and decides to do something about it.
That'll be my job for the next couple of months. Roll on Spring!
It looks like I haven't won the Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story competition this year (boo) but that's okay as it was a good opportunity to get the watercolour paints out and produce something that wasn't vector-based. Rather than let the story disappear into a drawer, here it is for your enjoyment. Knowledgeable readers will notice that it's got the same story (roughly) as a story I produced two years ago, which is a bit naff, but I did really like the story and thought it was worth doing again in a new medium. Hope you like it!
The amazing Blackstone came to town when I was seven, and I saw how he came alive onstage and thought, God, I want to grow up to be like that! And I ran up to help him vanish an elephant. To this day I don’t know where the elephant went. One moment it was there, the next — abracadabra — with a wave of the wand it was gone! In 1929 Buck Rogers came into the world, and on that day in October a single panel of Buck Rogers comic strip hurled me into the future. I never came back.
It was only natural when I was twelve that I decided to become a writer and laid out a huge roll of butcher paper to begin scribbling an endless tale that scrolled right on up to Now, never guessing that the butcher paper would run forever.
Snoopy has written me on many occasions from his miniature typewriter, asking me to explain what happened to me in the great blizzard of rejection slips of 1935. Then there was the snowstorm of rejection slips in ’37 and ’38 and an even worse winter snowstorm of rejections when I was twenty-one and twenty-two. That almost tells it, doesn’t it, that starting when I was fifteen I began to send short stories to magazines like Esquire, and they, very promptly, sent them back two days before they got them! I have several walls in several rooms of my house covered with the snowstorm of rejections, but they didn’t realize what a strong person I was; I persevered and wrote a thousand more dreadful short stories, which were rejected in turn. Then, during the late forties, I actually began to sell short stories and accomplished some sort of deliverance from snowstorms in my fourth decade. But even today, my latest books of short stories contain at least seven stories that were rejected by every magazine in the United States and also in Sweden! So, dear Snoopy, take heart from this. The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.
Fourth decade! How did he last that long? Was he inspired, dedicated, surrounded by supportive, motivating people or was he just plain nuts? Writing, particularly when one is not getting published, is mentally tough, although I still think it beats commuting. Even successful writing may not be much better. George Orwell had this to say about writing a book:
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
George, it seems, would have plumped for Ray Bradbury being nuts.
if writing is like being ill, then writers need medicine from time to time. They don't want the medicine to cure them of their affliction, as they don't want lose the strange, heady malady that bewitches them, but they usually want some of its worst symptoms - low confidence, dwindling motivation, creeping loneliness and patchy ignorance - to be alleviated.
I know of a medicine that can turn a hermit-writer that's moaning and scribbling uncontrollably into a motivated and more knowledgeable member of the creative world. The effect doesn't last forever but boy, it's a shot in the arm. That medicine is a week on an Arvon course. The Arvon Foundation organises one-week courses in its own properties around the UK on a wide variety of writing subjects. Course attendees spend a week in the company of fellow writers, living in beautiful rural surroundings, and receive motivation, guidance and knowledge from industry professionals. It can be a wonderful change from sitting in your room, pounding away on your keyboard with nothing for company but the radio. An Arvon course won't necessarily transform you into a writing demigod and catapult you into literary stardom like a flaming missile from a siege catapult, but it really benefitted me. The last course I went on was a graphic novel course taught by Bryan Talbot and Hannah Berry, which I chose on a whim. Since then, I've completed a graphic novel; an achievement I would have barely believed five years ago.
They even have house-martens! :-)
Here are eight great graphic novels, in no particular order:
This was a big game-changer of a graphic novel from Alan Moore, the writer of V for Vendetta, when it first came out. It is a story about flawed, real super-heroes. They are dissected, in fact almost vivisected and in the process, they are made both complex and realistic; becoming flawed human vigilantes or cold, distant superheroes that turn out to be entirely alien to the people they try to help. Very much an adult book and a venerable classic of the genre.
This is an example of 'graphic novel as travelogue'. The author, Guy Delisle, spent time in North Korea while working from a French-Canadian animation company. While he was there, he drew this graphic novel diary of his experiences. It paints an entertaining, startling and quite disturbing picture of the North Korean totalitarian state. Since then, Delisle has written/drawn about Shenzhen (in China), Jerusalem and Burma. All those stories are accessible, funny, perceptive, warm and revealing.
Maus may be the most important graphic novel ever written, in terms of its legacy, its impact, its influence on other writers and its ability to make a horrific subject accessible and readable without every diminishing the tragedy of what happened. Maus, originally in two parts, is about the Jewish Holocaust, based on the author's father's memories of surviving those years. Spiegelmann made an inspired decision when drawing the story to make the characters anthropomorphic, to give them human bodies but animal heads. The germans are cats, the poles are pigs and the jews are mice (as far as I can remember). Its a must-read book (a term that's often over-used when reviewing works but is absolutely true in this case).
Joe Sacco, like Guy Delisle, has used the graphic novel genre as a tool for investigative journalism, to tell readers about what happened to the author when he or she was in that place, a visual diary that gives immediacy and focus to a time and place in our recent history. Sacco talks about the Bosnian War and the siege of Sarajevo in this book, along with its horrors, tragedies, courage and, sometimes, high farce. It is a powerful story, eloquently told in Sacco's pared-down narration and clear, accessible artwork.
Blacksad is in more traditional territory for a graphic novel. It's a series of hard-boiled. fifties. detective-style stories very much in the mould of Raymond Chandler. The twist in this case is that the characters are anthropomorphic, i.e. human bodies and animal heads, just like Maus or Rupert Bear.
What elevates Blacksad above many run-of-the-mill graphic-novel murder stories is the sheer brilliance of the artwork. Guarnido was trained in fine art and has worked as a key animator for Disney in Europe. All the stories' frames are painted in watercolour. For beauty, dynamism, skill and atmosphere, they are without peer.
Does Shaun Tan do graphic novels? It's hard to say. They're not 200 pages long but they are visual stories, or sequential art. For me, the Red Tree is my favourite. It's a simple story that would appeal to children and adults and it is utterly beguiling. Each page is a large, single picture that creates a single emotion through an image. As the story progresses, the reader becomes lost in the tale, with its minimal but crucial text, until the tale ends with a low-key, resonant, beautiful finish. I get emotional just thinking about it. Highly recommended.
This is a graphic novel for youngsters (I would say 8 to 12 age group). High quality drawings, an engaging, dramatic story and there are five books to collect. The story tells of a family who move to a house in the country belonging to a deceased relative. The kids realise that there was much more to the relative than they expected. The daughter finds an amulet and is transported into a different land where dark forces are after the precious item now bound to her.
Amulet looks lovely, is lots of fun to read and is a great alternative for a parent wanting their child to enjoy graphic novels without, for example, having to deal with the somewhat dated style of Asterix (which I still have a soft spot for, but often deems wordy and tedious when I read it nowadays).
A visually striking, engaging, thoughtful and dramatic story about a young woman's life in Iran and her time in Europe. As in Sacco's work, the graphic novel format is again used to visually show a part of the world and a time in history that we don't hear much about in the west and about which we often have distorted and downright false views. Excellent.
I’m still working on the graphic novel. I’ll pop yesterday’s picture at the end of this post so you can see how I’m getting on.
On the science-fiction front, I was commissioned this month by the hope and glory PR company, on behalf of O2 mobile, to write a 1,000 word piece on the subject of the new 4G wireless technology. It’ll be part of half-a-dozen pieces on that topic, mostly written by experts in the field, that’ll be illustrated and turned into an ebook. If it does all come together, I’ll post a link to it in a later blog.
That’s all I can think of for now. For all those Northern Hemisphere people out there, have a great Summer holidays! :-)
I mentioned in the last blog entry about creating a graphic novel with a 'clear line' style. I used Tintin as an example of this method. For those who are interested, there's a very useful article about Herge's methods on the National Maritime Museum website of all places. Check it out here. It's fascinating to see how the page develops; where the 'life' of the story appears and at what point it looks polished and professional.Read More...
Here's what I produced: Read More...