It all began when I was working in Shoreditch and one day over a lunch at the Rich Mix, an illustration caught my eye. It was the cover of a free music paper; bright blue with a simple line drawing of a striding character.
In the centre of the paper was the full four page comic, without words; Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophonist, re-imagined as a handyman. The illustrations were beautiful and the storyline mesmerising – a retelling of Alice in Wonderland using characters from jazz, soul and rock’n’roll. I read it and re-read again. And now I’m sure I must have read it 100 times. Over the next few weeks it bothered me that it was so clever, witty, surreal and so unlike any comic strip I’d ever seen before.
At that time a friend told me about a small press bookshop called NoBrow which was just around the corner from where we worked, and that’s how my journey into the world of comics started.
Most people stereotype the comic reader as someone obsessed with Marvel Superheroes or assume they are a geek like Comic Guy from The Simpsons. But the comic scene I discovered was the DIY Small Press one, falling between fanzines, cartoons and graphic novels; offering total freedom of subject and artistic style.
Later in the year, the Comica festival rolled into town. It was a revelation. Over two weeks, there were events attended by comic artists from all over the world including talks, workshops, launches and lots of free wine. The main event was a market in Bishopsgate where the cream of comic artists gathered to sell their publications. I was surprised to discover how friendly they were and open to talk about their techniques, tools and inspirations. Each was inspirational and highlights included meeting Simone Lia, Luke Pearson, Philippa Rice and Lawrence Elwick who had created the Charlie Parker comic strip that had originally caught my eye. Rather embarrassingly I came over like a gushing fan, but I have a nice memento from the meeting.
One thing the event taught me is that you have an idea, just go out and do it. These authors self-publish their work, they don’t sit around waiting for agents to knock on their door and offer them contracts and they certainly don’t have big budgets. Inspired, I joined an Experimental Drawing class at Putney Art School. I’ve rarely been so out of my comfort zone, not having done any art since I was 13.
Surrounded by talented people I experienced a full range of emotions at each session ranging from paralysis before you’ve touched the blank page, the guesswork of proportions, waves of doubt through to a eureka moment where you begin to see every detail of the subject, back to doubt and finally the last 10 minutes when there’s a massive adrenalin rush to finish it off. I’ve now moved onto an Experimental Media class where I’m using new techniques. Last week I tried watercolours for the first time and was so shocked by the process and translucence of the colour, that I couldn’t get to sleep!
During the day I thrive on helping to produce interactive digital experiences but after work my passion is drawing. There is something so exciting about creating a drawing – starting with a smudge or a cross hatch, developing it and seeing a jigsaw forming. There is no apple-z key to undo the work and when you’re working in ink, no eraser to hide your mistakes. But that’s part of the ‘Joy of Drawing’. I believe that anyone can do it. So whether it’s scribbling doodles in your lunch hour, playing Draw Something on your commute in to work or taking an A3 sheet of paper and decorating it with charcoal – give it a try. Drawing is one of life’s simple pleasures.
This year’s Comica Festival takes place in November this year. A similar smaller festival, BD and Comics Passion, is taking place in South Kensington at the end of May. The full Charlie Parker Handyman series is online.