My home base both days was Button & Bear Bookshop, a terrific independent children's bookshop run by the Chadwick family, most of whom you can see here. I heard the festival had some first-year glitches, but because I was being looked after so well by Louise, John and Becky Chadwick, everything for me went great.
One think I really appreciated about the setup was pairing me with comics creator Marc Jackson (and his lovely, lively family). That meant I could show children Marc's table and talk them through the process, from idea, to drawing, to printing, to hand-selling.
There aren't any invisible parts of that comic-making process (except maybe in the printing) - Marc does them all himself - so it's much easier for children to imagine how they could set up their own comic table in years to come, selling books and merchandise that they've made from scratch.
I got to sit in on one of Marc's workshops, which was fun; he has a great way of talking to kids and adults about drawing, and he's quick to dispel their notions that they can't draw. Marc runs a comics festival in his hometown of Macclesfield - Macc-Pow - so if you're in the area, definitely look it up.
My new Grumpycorn picture book isn't a comic, but it has comic elements in it (such as the panels here), and it's about making up stories, so I thought it would be a perfect starter for sparking ideas.
The basement was surprisingly airy and forest-like; I thought being in there for two days might get claustrophobic but it's actually a lovely, focused space. Here I am, doing a bit on unicorn facial expressions, then talking about some of the basics of making comics (panels, speech bubbles, zooming in/panning out, labels, etc).
First photo by @janpr on Instagram
Children and their grownups came up with some fun comics! We started with the front covers, designing our character on them (variations on Grumpycorn). Then we created back covers and they had to think of some sort of interesting and effective way to LURE readers into their book. They added a price tag, which I've discovered children LOVE; they get very excited about the idea that their book might be able to make them money if they work hard enough on it and finish it. And it drums home the important concept that people other than themselves are going to need to be able to understand what's happening in their stories, that the comic has to work on its own, without them sitting there explaining it. (That's one of the biggest leaps in understanding a comics creator ever makes.)
Ha ha, here we're using some reverse psychology on the back cover blurb. (I love the farted bar code!)
Inside, we created a dedication page, which some people made very funny. And then we got going on the story, their unicorn trying to get something, and failing at least three times before possibly getting it.
It was interesting working with all different ages, everyone from 7-year-olds to grownups. I always find teenagers most challenging, because they don't have any facial empathy with speakers, they'll fix me with a death stare for much of the session and I'll be certain they're hating every moment of it, only to discover at the end that they've really enjoyed it and made something brilliant. Ha ha, here we are, doing death stares. Or maybe some variation on that.
This comic really made me laugh... and the guy finished the whole comic and wrote it in rhyming first! Stick with it right to the end:
People often ask me, "What's your best tip for getting into publishing?" And my answer is, "Don't only draw pictures or write stories, make ACTUAL BOOKS!" It's such great practice, and you learn how books work. And there's something really important about finishing a book project; I tell kids that the difference between a wanna-be author and an author is this: the wanna-be author has started a book (or many books), but the author has finished one. So everyone who came to my session, if they finished their book, they were an author.
And the difference between a unpublished and a published author is this: an unpublished author has one copy of the book, and a published author has more than one copy. So I could point to Marc's table upstairs and show them a simple way to publish, that really only needs a photocopier or a computer printer.
I've had a lot of weekends away, but when this sort of thing happens, it makes it all worthwhile.
A few more photos from the trip. Here's a Shrewsbury boat cruise the organisers booked for guests on Friday. I'm sitting across from Shrewsbury Library worker Katherine Berry and her comic artist husband Dan Berry, who makes terrific comics and also runs the Make It Then Tell Everybody podcast, which I love listening to when I'm painting.
And here's John Allison, creator of the remarkable Scary Go Round comic:
Comic artist Eldo Yoshimizu and his wife came all the way from Japan:
On Friday evening we had an evening festival opening ceremony, with not just one but TWO blingy mayors! Presenting the mayors of Shrewsbury and Tewksbury:
It was great to see Ivy McCloud and Scott McCloud (check out his Understanding Comics trilogy), who'd come in that day from Los Angeles. How they held out against the jet lag was beyond me, but Ivy and I managed to get our traditional photo that makes me look like a giantess. I've followed these guys on LiveJournal since before I can remember, their book tour of 50 states and all that, so it was great to catch up with them and hear what their kids are up to.
The comics festival was spread out across the town, which had good and bad sides to it. The good side was that the town felt more caught up as a whole in comics, but the bad side is that the people who were stuck at the prison got almost no passing traffic. The second day, the people who had been in the prison got moved to the castle grounds, pictured here, which were much more airy and scenic. Here are comics artists Corey Brotherson, Yoms and his partner (whose name I must try to remember better since we run into each other in London in the market!), Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot.
Tables run by comics artists Sonia Leong and Laura Howell:
Excellent Terry Pratchett costume by @lilistprince and the view of Shrewsbury through my hotel window. Big thanks to everyone who made this weekend possible, including my contact people Shane Chebsey and Sarah Prince, local Patron Charlie Adlard, and of course the team at Button & Bear.
Right at the beginning of the festival, I commissioned two comic books from Marc and Jane's children: Florence delivered, and Nancy still owes me a finished comic.
I like the bold, graphic back cover blurb on Flo's: REMEMBER, THE BOOK IS GOOD.