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13 posts categorized "Comics-unmasked"

24 September 2014

Meet the Makers: Terror and Wonder in the British Library Shop

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Next week sees the opening of our latest exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ and once again the Shop area has been transformed. This time, we are entering the study of an old English country house where, by the flickering candlelight, we can see our host opening a leather-bound volume and inviting us to take a seat.

British Library Shop

We spoke to two of the people responsible for supplying the props that transformed this area: Guy Arzi and Cog O’ Two.

Guy Arzi is a designer who uses reclaimed architectural salvage to create modern decorative and functional objects. His repurposed candelabra are perfectly suited for the gothic shop, as they are a modern reinterpretation of a classic icon of gothic melodrama.

Terror and Wonder Shop2

How did you get started in design, and why architectural salvage?

I am a fine art graduate, but I have also studied Architectural Conservation, and I worked as a Conservator for St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

As a conservator looking after the interiors of some beautiful old buildings you get to look closely at objects and architectural features and you get to understand the materials and the craftsmanship involved in making them.

It seems to me that we don’t make things as we used to, by which I mean the quality and longevity of everything we produce isn’t as good as it used to be. So I feel the need to recreate some of the old craftsmanship, and salvage it from distraction or decay - or maybe I simply can’t resist old objects!

But while working at Westminster Abbey I really started to appreciate carvings and the general wit in old art so it came naturally to me to use reclaimed architectural salvage in my art.

Terror and Wonder Shop3

Is there a particular age or style you like to use in your work?

I like mixing styles a little; it is like how our street architecture is full of buildings from different times. When you mix styles you realize how much these styles are a repetition of themselves but with a little twist. And the streets of London can often be a good source of material that I can rework into new pieces.


You’ve worked at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and you’ve created work for the British Library and The National Maritime Museum, do you enjoy working with museums and galleries?

Yes, I’m a museum junky! I love so many museums across London for so many different reasons - The Wallace Collection, British Library, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, John Soane Museum, Hunterian Museum, I can go on and on. My all-time favourite museum is the Victoria and Albert; I would love to make a massive work for the V&A.

British Library Shop


Cog O’ Two is a real family business. Jon and Micheala and their sons Liam and Nathan produce laser-cut steampunk-inspired props. For Gothic, their aesthetic worked beautifully, being at once antique and modern, ambiguously aged and curiously contemporary. The hanging keys and clock hands help create the ambiance of the gothic study, and the ominous birdcages add a touch of drama.

We asked Jon how Cog O ‘Two came about.

I’ve always been into making things even as a child and probably inspired by my dad who was a keen model engineer and model boat enthusiast. As part of a fancy dress party for my 40th I was persuaded to buy a decent set of Star Wars Stormtrooper Armour and afterwards join The UKG. The UKG ( UK Garrison ) is the UK arm of global costuming group The 501st. Their sole aim is to raise money for nominated charities and have fun whilst doing it – in 2013 the UKG raised over £66,000. The whole family ended up getting involved, Michaela as Ghost Rider with Nathan as Wicket and Liam also as The Ghost Rider, participating at many events all over the UK in a variety of costumes we had made. From there we made a number of props for friends, and since then we’ve just grown.



And did you have experience with laser cutting and etching before this business, or did you learn to make these pieces?

Neither of us had any experience other than my attending FabLab Manchester and using their machines, which was a really good foundation in lasers and 3D printing. FabLab was a wealth of knowledge with their staff and volunteers and a plethora of people that popped in to use the machines. So other than learning the basics at FabLab we’re pretty much self-taught.

And it is a real family business, isn’t it?

Liam, our eldest, is 19 years old and he actually created the first cogs we made into sets and sold. Since then he’s designed a number of our products and generally looks after all the cutting and maintenance of the machines. Nathan is our youngest son and is 13 years old, and he helps out with some drawing, selling on the stall when we do events and doing odd jobs around the workshop.

Why steampunk? Was this something you were already interested in, or did it develop through the business?

As well as the UKG, some of our friends within that group were also into Steampunk and we were invited up to Whitby Goth weekend in April 2010. This is probably the second biggest event where Steampunks meet, as there are many crossovers with the Goth scene, and our passion for it grew from there. Our business actually grew through our love of Steampunk, as we’d already made bits for friends in the Steampunk community. Michaela saw an opportunity to take that one step further and provide components that weren’t readily available in a material that was light weight and cheap enough that any Steampunk could afford. Already having the laser at this point made quite good business sense and the machine could be put to good use.

British Library Shop

As well as selling to other Steampunks, who else do you work for?

We’ve created props for The National Maritime Museum, The National Space Centre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Harvey Nichols, Various TV and Theatre companies, and many high street retailers.

And if money and size was not an issue, what would you most love to make?

A full size Nautilus Submarine from 20,00 Leagues Under The Sea!

Thanks to Guy and Jon for answering our questions. Full length versions of these interviews can be seen on the ExhibeoVM website.

You can also see our full range of Gothic products on the British Library Shop website.

12 August 2014

What’s the creative process in visual merchandising? Arantxa Garcia on Comics Unmasked

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Coming back from maternity leave, one of the first things I noticed is that the British Library Shop has had a major refresh and is looking fantastic. The displays leap out and grab your attention, it’s full of shoppers and there are plenty of products I have got my eye on (I like Alison Hardcastle’s Map of London and our Beano greetings cards). I find the process of retail and visual merchandising fascinating. I like the careful balance between creativity and sales figures.

British Library bookshop Comics Unmasked 1
Photograph: Anna Bakosova

I got in touch with Arantxa Garcia, our freelance visual merchandiser, who has a wealth of experience in the museum sector. As well as designing our Comics Unmasked displays, she has worked with the National Portrait Gallery, Royal Museums Greenwich and Historic Scotland.  I asked her a few questions…

Hello Arantxa! Just to start off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into visual merchandising?

I guess it was a natural process for me to become a visual merchandiser. I was born into a family retail business and from an early age I worked for my pocket money. I helped my dad checking off delivery notes and assisted my mum with the window dressing, (who by the way is my fiercest critic, being a VM herself) and as I got older I took part in buying and visiting fashion and trade shows. In Spain I freelanced for high street retailers, where I gained most of my experience.

I moved to London when I was 20 to study fine art and always worked part time in shops during my degree. After graduating, I worked at the National Portrait Gallery shop, where I helped to set up of exhibition shops and visual merchandising until one day, while scanning postcards as you do, I had a moment of clarity and decided that this is what I needed to do for a living: visual merchandising for cultural enterprises. It was the perfect blend for me, just like the perfect marriage, between my retail background and my interest in art and history. It just felt right!

British Library bookshop Comics Unmasked 3
Photograph: Anna Bakosova

What is the process involved in creating a display for an exhibition like Comics Unmasked?

We always start with a kick-off meeting with the buyers. It is crucial to understand what’s behind the ranges and to buy into their vision. These meetings are full of adrenaline, catalogues, samples, and lots of: “have you seen… Just like that…I wish we could….”

The approach I took was to recreate a comic scene in itself.  A fun and humorous space almost like a caricature and exaggeration of the elements. The exhibition ends handing over to the public, almost saying: “here you go, we have given you the inspiration and the tools, now you go and create your comic”. The public exits through the shop, so somehow the shop needed to be a continuation of this message.  So I did some research on what a comic artist studio might look like and the common elements between them: reading lamp, drawing table, a stool of some sort and lots of paper everywhere.

The Reading lamp had an important stake in the setting. It could not be any lamp; it had to be the lamp, that timeless design that would embody the right reading lamp of all time.  That’s when I thought about collaborating with Anglepoise, who very kindly loaned one of their giant lamps to us for the duration of the show. I guess the symbolism of the lamp, the light or the bulb, can be interpreted in many ways.  A popping bulb encircled in a cloud pointing at a character’s head always makes us think about that great idea, and so on.

It is important to remember that visual merchandising is a commercial resource used to drive sales through creating spaces that enhance the customer to interact with the product and purchase.

British Library bookshop Comics Unmasked 7
Photograph: Anna Bakosova

Do you have any particular favourite displays or shops in museums and galleries?

Well, that’s when my mind goes blank. I love Museum shops in general. I´m an easy person to sell to. I loved the exhibition range for Elizabeth I and her people, which was hosted at the National Portrait Gallery last September. I especially like souvenirs with Queen Elizabeth I on them. It can be from a fan to a spectacle cloth!  I enjoyed working on Georgians Revealed at the British Library; that was a great range to work with.

What makes a museum shop good is the buying, product development and the use of collections in doing so. I find it really interesting how you are able to describe an era or a personality through product, and in this way you bring it closer to the visitor. So my favourite shops are those that are true to their collections. Those who do it well! Inspiration comes from everywhere: art, architecture, theatre, colour, interior design, conversations, History books, junk shops. And from walking around with your senses fully open.  

British Library bookshop Comics Unmasked 6
Photograph: Anna Bakosova

Are there any trends for visual merchandising for museums and galleries at the moment?

I’m not sure if it is right to talk about trends in the museums and galleries sector, as the trends are given by the shows they have on at the time, or just by the nature of the institution itself.  This is part of the beauty of the job, which allows you to travel through time: one week, the Elizabethan era, and the lavish Georgians the week after. It is true though, that as Museum and galleries become mindful of their retail resources and income generation, they look outside - at how the high street does it, and the techniques they use to drive sales. Nonetheless, it is crucial to keep up-to-date with the general trends in art, fashion, current materials used in interior design, colour combinations, contrasting textures, and general ways of creating ambiences and spaces. 

British Library bookshop Comics Unmasked 5
Photograph: Anna Bakosova

Arantxa will also be helping us with the visual merchandising for our Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition in the autumn.

06 August 2014

Hello Frances, Goodbye Kissley

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Hello Frances Taylor...

Wow, it doesn’t seem like a year since we wrote our last joint blog and I said goodbye to the Library for a while to go off and have my lovely daughter Holly. I'm going to be taking over our creative industries programme and, of course, this blog. The good news is that Kissley isn’t going to be leaving the Library: she will be promoting our exhibition and events programme: Gothic literature, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, anyone? The autumn events programme is shaping up fantastically – look out for a very creepy, spooky LATE.  Where better to get scared at night than in a huge library?

It’s been so lovely to come back and hear about all the great projects Kissley’s been working on.  Her highlights must include Spring Festival, YMC fashion show, creative writing workshops and her Artsthread x British Library competition on Comics Unmasked.  I’ll be picking up where she has left off – it’s great to be back!

Photo 2
Image: Fran (on left) and Kissley posing with our Comics Unmasked cut-out

Goodbye from Kissley Leonor…

Dear Readers,

It’s been a pleasure sharing with you all the cool stuff happening at the British Library. Here are my highlights. One million Flickr images of our collections made free for anyone to use, remix and repurpose.  Here are some of the gems I found:

Gems and Precious Stones
Image: Gems and Precious Stones of North America, KUNZ, George Frederick, shelfmark: "British Library HMNTS", "British Library HMNTS 7106.i.12." Page 85

My Little Chinese Book

Image: My Little Chinese Book, POST, Mary Audubon, shelfmark: "British Library HMNTS 11645.e.57.", page 12

Hastings albums tapirImage: The tapir sent from Bengkulu to Calcutta in 1816.Shelfmark: Add.Or.4973

Songs of a Savoyard
Image: 1890 Songs of a Savoyard, Gilbert, W. S. (William Schwenck), shelfmark: "British Library HMNTS 11651.k.42.", page 102

Spring Festival. It was great to see so many new people working in film and fashion come to the Library and discover our collections. We welcomed some great speakers including screenwriter Tony Grisoni and fashion historian Amber Jane Butchart. And we danced. Dancing is always a good thing.    

Our Made with the British Library suite of videos highlighting how people have used the Library. From an illustrator to a record producer, author to entrepreneur – I love these inspiring stories. 

Over and out
x Kissley

14 July 2014

Kapow! Comic-inspired accessories by artysmarty

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The British Library Shop looks like an open page of a super-colourful comic book right now and I love it. Here I interview Angela Cuthill, founder of accessories business artysmarty, who's created a line of jewellery for us in celebration of our  Comics Unmasked exhibition.   

Kapow! birch wood necklace, £25.00 I have this necklace and I get a lot of compliments. Once a stranger on the bus leaned in to read it more closely and then touched it. A little awkward. 

Tell us a bit about artysmarty. Do you design and take care of the business side? Do you have a partner?

artysmarty is really a creation imagined and driven by me, so no business partner. I do all the design work and run the company, which gets pretty hectic at times!  I’ve had different helpers over the four years in business, and some of the boring stuff I can get outside help with, things like photography and accounting.  You can’t do everything and sometimes you don’t want to!
What has been the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of running your own business?

Lots of day to day challenges invariably crop up,  things that stop you from doing the bits you love, like dealing with the dodgy Wi-Fi provider and cleaning spray paint out of a carpet (true story) but I couldn’t really name one biggie.

I guess being creative on demand can be a bit daunting, but if you don’t think about it too much an idea worth investigating further will pop up.  The rewarding bits are thinking about where you’ve come from and the progress that you’ve made.  My first studio was in a basement on North Great Georges Street in Dublin that literally had no daylight.  I think making it to a south facing building has been up there!
How did your jewellery designs for our Comics Unmasked exhibition come about?

I met Duncan Sanders (British Library Retail Buying & Merchandising Manager) and George Gutcher (Buyer and Visual Merchandiser) at Top Drawer in London, probably about six months before we started to work on this project.  We’d talked then about some of the other pieces that I had in my SS2014 collection and how they’d tie in with some of the upcoming exhibitions.  There had been a few emails going back and forth after that (George managed to remember me via my bright red hair) and they asked if I’d be interested in doing some bespoke pieces for this exhibition.  I was delighted to put some pieces together, I love all of the art work associated with comics, it really fitted in with my love of bright colour and ethos of fun. Artysmarty_Brooch_zap

 Zap! birch wood brooch, £12.50

What kinds of things did you look at for inspiration?

I gave myself some time to take another look Lichtenstein’s work,  I remember studying him at college but he’d kind of dropped off my radar a bit.  I love his colour palettes and self-parody. The content of his work is quite funny and accessible.  I also tried to think of the essence of comic books, I think they’re a lot about action (sometimes violent action!), kapowing and whamming all over the place, so I really thought that aspect would have to be included.   I guess the colour was the other big hitter for me, there is a really distinctive colour palette which I wanted to use but in a contemporary way, hence the chevron and small triangle patterns.
If you could have any superhero power, what would it be?

The ability to keep my feet warm in any temperature.
Do you read comics, graphic novels? If so, do you have a favourite or one you’ve recently read?

Not really, but I do love Calvin & Hobbs and Robert Crumb.  I was at the Biennale in Venice last year and he’d somehow drawn the whole story of Genesis  into a room full of illustrations.  Wowzer!

Kapow! resin and mixed media earrings, £15.00

Can you tell us about your creative process? What’s your studio like in Dublin?

I love a good tramp around a museum of gallery and would take a lot of trips specifically to visit certain museums.  I had it in my mind to go to Russia this year and visit the Hermitage but might be a trip for next year now.

I go to Venice for the Biennale, love the cinema, and find nothing better than flicking through design and art books at the bookshop.  Life drawing has helped me keep up my drawing skills since college and sometimes I’d go to the Natural History museum here in Dublin and draw the stuffed animals.  Creepy.  Oh, and the studio is a mess. 
Your stocklist is long! I see you’ve designed products for the V&A and you’re stocked in Japan. How’s it all going? I’m curious what your bestseller is in Japan!

Been a really busy start to the year alright, but it does take a while to get a good client list and get your brand / brand recognition out there.  The Japanese audience is a bit different, as you’d imagine, and I’ve done quite a few pieces specifically tailored to them.  This season it’s been a ‘gem series’ of earrings but they also have a love of nature inspired pieces.  If I had to pick one bestseller it would have to be the ‘bird’ series of necklaces and brooches, they’re really colourful and easy to wear.

Check out artysmarty's AW2014 collection:

Artysmarty_acorn necklaces  Artysmarty_mountain brooch
Artysmarty_tree necklaces

If you're thinking of starting a creative business or want to grow the one you have now, check out our Business & IP Centre. We have loads of resources - from market research databases to workshops on how to write a business plan and increase sales.    

30 June 2014

Emma Hayley: the UK graphic novel market and how to pitch to publishers

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#CreateUK week began this afternoon and will celebrate the phenomenal success of the UK creative industries which generates £8 million per hour for the UK economy and continues to go from strength-to-strength. 

One strength is definitely the rise of comics and graphic novels. We're seeing a lot of creatives come to our Comics Unmasked exhibition and our first ever series of short courses on creating graphic novels has sparked a lot of interest. Emma Hayley, publisher and managing director at independent publishing house SelfMadeHero, tells us just what's going on in today's graphic novel market and gives aspiring graphic novelists and artists some tips on how to pitch to publishers. 

Newly commissioned artwork by Dave McKean inside an artist's studio in Comics Unmasked (c) Tony Antoniou
Newly commissioned artwork by Dave McKean inside an artist's studio in Comics Unmasked (c) Tony Antoniou

The value of the UK comic book and graphic novel market has risen by almost one thousand per cent in the last ten years, and is continuing to grow. We've seen general book shops (not just comic book shops) embracing the medium with hugely expanded graphic novels sections.

In 2012 Mary and Bryan Talbot's a graphic novel Dottor of Her Father's Eyes (on display in the Library's Comics Unmasked exhibition) won in the best biography category at the Costa Book Awards; this was the first year that two graphic novels were nominated for the award. As well as this, 2013 saw two British creators gaining recognition at the long-established and prestigious Angouleme International Comic Festival in France.  

Also in 2013, the Edinburgh Book Festival embraced the medium by having a special focus on comic books and graphic novels with their series of events called 'Stripped'. And with new comic book events popping up, such as The Lakes International Comic Art Festival last October, and attendance booming at already established festivals like Thought Bubble (where the first British Comic Awards began in 2012), we are witnessing a very exciting period in the UK's comics and graphic novel scene.

This year, the British Library's Comics Unmasked exhibition is further testament to the fact that the UK is thirsty for the medium. With comics and graphic novels becoming firmly entrenched in popular culture, publishers of the medium are enjoying a new dawn in publishing. It wasn't that long ago that British creators had to look to Europe or the US for commissions, but now creators are seeing their work commissioned more and more by UK-based publishers. 

Dotter of her Father's Eyes, 2012, by Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot (c) Mary and Bryan Talbot
Dotter of her Father's Eyes, 2012, by Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot (c) Mary and Bryan Talbot

If you've got an idea for a graphic novel and you want to pitch it to a publisher, then study the publisher's website and see what kind of books they release. If your idea fits in with one of their series (make sure that you don't send a superhero pitch to a publisher that never publishes superhero stories!), then I would recommend sending them a synopsis, with around eight pages of sequential art fully finished and lettered to the publisher's email or postal address. Some publishers may have some specific submissions guidelines on their website, so you should follow these if they do.

If you want to send your pitch by email and you don't get a response, then try posting your pitch. Publishers receive a lot of pitches every day, so find a way of making yours stand out. It's always worth sending  a follow-up email a few weeks later to at least check that they received the pitch. If you don't hear back from them, don't get disheartened, editors are busy and not every submission can always get a response, in spite of best intentions. It doesn't necessarily mean your pitch is substandard, the publisher may have just decided not to take it any further for other reasons.

Try and make as many connections as possible by going to comic cons and festivals throughout the year. Meet and share ideas with other artists. Show publishers and editors your portfolio if you can. If you're a writer bursting with ideas then try and find an artist to partner up with. If you're an artist but your strength isn't writing, then find an appropriate writing buddy.

Read as many comics and graphic novels as you can, and attend as many events as you can. Monthly events like 'Process' at Gosh! Comics is a good starting point. It's a friendly and welcoming industry and you can find the encouragement that you need by sharing your ideas. 

Thanks Emma!

You can pitch your idea for a graphic novel to Emma Hayley (and maybe even meet your future artist/writer partner) this Wednesday, 2 July as part of our short course Mastering the Graphic Novel - Pushing the Boundaries, From Pitch to Publication. Tickets here.  

17 June 2014

Woodrow Phoenix turns the pages of She Lives at the British Library

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Today at 18.00 and on Tuesday 22 July British comics artist Woodrow Phoenix will be turning the pages of his giant book She Lives which is on display in our Comics Unmasked exhibition. If you're in the gallery do pop by - this is a great opportunity to see all the pages up close and chat with Woodrow. He kindly gave us an interview below. 

SHE LIVES - a fast preview of a very big book by Woodrow Phoenix from superadaptoid on Vimeo.

What is your favourite exhibit or theme in Comics Unmasked?

The 15th century Bible that British Library curator Adrian Edwards unearthed from the Library's collection is absolutely beautiful and without a doubt real comics. The design and layout of those two pages is more modern than a lot of what we see from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It has given me a lot to think about and I would love to see the other pages of this volume, I'm going to put in a request!


Block-book edition of the Book of Revelation. [Germany, 1470?]. British Library Shelfmark: IB.14

What role do libraries play in your life? 

Libraries were pretty central to my life as a child. I learnt to read when I was three so by the time I started school I had read every book in the house. The school library was an incredible idea. All these books that I could look at! I got used to this idea very quickly and read my way through many of them in the course of the year. I was the kind of kid who took home the maximum number of books every week. I remember my first visit with my mother to Lewisham Central library which was like a kind of nirvana. There were three public libraries within two miles of our house and I had library cards for all of them.

When I was researching my book Rumble Strip about cars, roads and how we use them, I used my British Library Reader Pass  to look at traffic data and statistics. And also to pull up books that I was just curious about seeing. Library reading rooms are some of my very favourite places to be.

For those new to comics and graphic novels, what titles would you recommend?

I designed Rumble Strip to be completely accessible to people who have never read a comic book before. It has worked very well on that level because it's about a subject that affects every one of us every day, it doesn't require any specialist knowledge or interests to be relevant to you. I feel especially pleased that it is the first comic book that my 80-year-old mother was able to read, and importantly, enjoy. It works just as well for twenty-something hipsters so that's pretty good. Rated 'E' for Everyone! (Rumble Strip, Myriad Editions, £12.99 is available in the British Library Shop)

I also recommend another book I worked on called Nelson, which is a collective graphic novel written and drawn by 54 different authors. It gives a really great overview of what comics are doing in the UK right now, with a compelling story about a woman born in 1967. There is one chapter for every year of her life right up to 2011, and each chapter is written and drawn by a different person so it's a wonderfully varied and surprising collection. (Nelson, Blank Slate Books, £18.99)

Luke Pearson's series of books about a girl called Hilda, published by Nobrow, are brilliant. They are children's books that adults will get a lot out of as well, as they have all kinds of little resonances in them. They take place in a Scandinavian landscape of mountains and woods that's a cross between Moomin Valley and a Miyazaki cartoon. (Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Hilda and the Troll, Hilda and the Bird Parade and Hilda and The Black Hound, Nobrow/Flying Eye Books, £11.99)

What was the most challenging and enjoyable aspects of creating She Lives?

Pretty much every aspect of making that book was challenging! I had to start the process by making the book itself before I could work in it. Wrestling giant sheets of paper around, trying to make them lie flat and wondering what would happen when I put glue on them was terrifying and fun at the same time. Maybe we could make Extreme Bookbinding into a new sport?

It was surprisingly physical to work on drawings at that size. I was covering so much paper, I was doing a lot of bending and stretching and I would be exhausted at the end of every day. But I did really enjoy doing something that used all of my body rather than just a bit from my elbow to my fingers. It was almost as if I was inside the artwork in a more painterly kind of way. And I derived great satisfaction from taking a giant blank page and turning it almost completely black with ink. 

It took 19 months to make, which is a very long time for me. Usually my longest projects last seven or eight months. So it felt endless and at times I wondered if I would ever finish it. Now that it's done and sitting in a case I am slightly sad that it's over. Only slightly though!


Book now for short courses on creating graphic novels!

Becoming a Graphic Novelist - Who is in charge? The dynamics of image and text
Thu 19 June 2014, 18.30 - 20.30

Becoming a Graphic Novelist - Subverting Stereotypes
Wed 25 Jun 2014, 18.30 - 20.30

Mastering the Graphic Novel - Playing with Fire: Sex, Subversion and the Self
Thu 26 June 2014, 18.30 - 20.30

Mastering the Graphic Novel - Pushing the Boundaries: From Pitch to Publication
Wed 2 July 2014, 18.30 - 20.30


13 June 2014

Interview with Fionnuala Doran - winner of Comics Unmasked Arts Thread x British Library competition

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We love supporting young creatives through competitions that use our collections as inspiration. Royal College of Art student Fionnuala Doran won the top prize in our Comics Unmasked competition in partnership with Arts Thread for her 9-panel comic The Story of Roger Casement. Here she tells us more about her her work. 

*** Are you a creative writer and/or illustrator and want to have a go at making a graphic novel? Maybe you already have one ready to pitch to publishers? We're hosting a series of evening short courses inside the Comics Unmasked exhibition gallery focusing on the inspirational and practical sides of creating graphic novels. Find out more here. ***

What inspired you to tell The Story of Roger Casement?

I've been interested in Roger Casement and how his life seemed so oddly out of place in Edwardian Britain for a long time. I originally planned a mini comic on the story of Roger Casement's work in the Congo and South America, juxtaposed with his secret 'black diary' life way back in 2010 (below), but because I was working full time it never really went anywhere apart from the back burner. When I saw the brief for the competition I was stumped, but then I thought back to the one pager I had laid out ages ago and with a bit of a rejig, it seemed to fit the brief nicely.

FDoran_Roger Casement 2010

FDoran_Roger Casement 2010_2

Did you draw the comic by hand or using digital tools?

I drew about 75% by hand. The other 25% was using my drawing tablet and Photoshop. I usually try to work mostly by hand but sometimes its easier to correct mistakes digitally. I always find myself misspelling things in speech bubbles, for instance.

You’re doing an MA in visual communication at the Royal College of Art – how’s that going? Did it help with this entry?

It's going really well! There's a small but friendly community of comic and zine makers here - we're actually working on an illustrated/comics/photography/reportage magazine, which we're currently running a Kickstarter campaign to promote. I've made two mini comics during my first year, and the time I put into structuring and composing really paid off when preparing my Arts Thread x British Library entry, I think. It's good to get feedback and have the time to be reflective about what you're making, especially when it's something as structurally complex as a comic.

The Assumption_FDoran 1

The Assumption_FDoran 2

Above from 'The Assumption' - Doran's graphic novellete in progress,  2014

Tell us about your experience drawing – I know you also did a BA in fine & applied art. Have you been drawing since you were very young?

My mum says I was drawing before I could talk! My sister, brother and I all used to make our own comics, actually. It's like second nature now.

What is your dream career?

I'd love to go on and publish my own comics/graphic novels - proper, long-form ones. So far the longest I've completed has been 16 pages, but hopefully in the second year of my MA I'll get the chance to complete my first full-length comic. 

For those who are new to comics and graphic novels, what titles do you recommend?

Persepolis is a great one for first time comic readers. Marjane Satrapi's voice is so charming and the art is accesible but also expressive. I know a lot of people who wouldn't consider themselves comic readers who've read Persepolis. Also, Scott Pilgrim is amazingly great fun. I like to think they're both 'gateway' comics that get you geared up for the harder stuff.

*** Creating graphic novels evening short courses 19, 25, 26 June and 2 July 2014 - find out more here. ***

04 June 2014

From the high end to the street: Fashion inspired by comics

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Our current exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK comes at a perfect time when comic book art is more than ever inspiring fashion designers. Today's guest blog comes from Geraldine Wharry, known for her Future Trend consultancy based in London and inspiration sharing platform Trend Atelier

Geraldine Wharry_Trend Atelier

When I first collaborated with the British Library Business & IP Centre for a trend forecasting event in September 2013, I presented the key fashion trends for 2014 in womenswear, menswear, textiles, graphics and accessories. One of the trends was “Cartoon Reality” and showcased the resurgence of comics and superheroes influencing designers and makers. The trend fit within a larger concept called Pop!, a whimsical and edgy design direction filled with bold colour juxtapositions and graphic statements.

Fashion and comic book art share an exciting relationship. Comic book illustrations have fueled the imagination of many fashion labels, from high-end designers such as 3.1 Philip Lim and Tom Ford, to high street brands Topshop and ASOS. I call this the “Pow Wow!” effect. In the 1960s, Pop artists who delved into comic art and illustrative drama such as Roy Lichtenstein came to influence Donna Karan, Moschino, Viktor and Rolf and Yves Saint Laurent.

Whilst researching the trend, I came across such a large amount of visual content, stylized editorials, and quirky garments created in the last few decades that it’s clear the relationship between comic book graphics and fashion has reached a tipping point. Comics and superheroes have become a perennial source of print and pattern inspiration in fashion, revisited season after season and acting as a complement to core items such as whimsical polka dots, logos and graffiti art.

It’s only natural comic art would influence fashion designers as they are always on the hunt for captivating imagery. With bright colour palettes often used against black and white lettering, this makes for impactful visuals, which designers use on garments as their canvas. The layout of comic book pages with their exaggerated fonts and messages also inspire stylists and fashion editorials in publications such as Vogue.

1_Action by Jack Adrian and Mike White_Craig McDean Vogue USA May 2008
Left: Action 1976-77, by Jack Adrian and Mike White. Action, used with permission from Egmont UK Ltd. Right: Photographer Craig McDean for Vogue USA May 2008 via Loyal KNG

Head to toe looks showcasing comic art are now often seen worn by style makers and photographed by Street FSN or other renowned street photographers such as Tommy Ton and le 21ème.

Street FSN
Via Street FSN 

The designers who are currently building our fashion landscape also grew up with comics and superheroes. They instinctively reference their teenage years, children’s books and favorite superhero movies, all embedded in their visual consciousness. This is clearly seen in collections by designers like Jeremy Scott who often uses comic book imagery such as monsters seen in his Autumn/Winter 2014 collection.

Jeremy Scott AW14_The Trials of Nasty Tales 1973 Dave Gibbons and Richard Adams
Left: Jeremy Scott A/W14. Right: The Trials of Nasty Tales, 1973, cover art (c) Dave Gibbons and Richard Adams  

The sexually seductive nature of female superheroes also inspires designers of the likes of Tom Ford to create alluring silhouettes with references to comic book splashes of colour and text bubbles as seen in his Fall/Winter 2013 collection.

Tom Ford Fall Winter 2013_Torrid Erotic Art 1979_Erich von Gotha_Robin Ray
Left: Tom Ford Fall/Winter 2013. Right: Torrid Erotic Art, 1979, (c) Erich von Götha - Robin Ray

On a deeper level, the relationship between comics and fashion goes beyond the idea of using the style as a purely graphic source of inspiration. Comics can be subversive vehicles for sexual and political statements, which is precisely the focus of Comics Unmasked. As it stands, subversion is fashion’s second name.

Throughout history, the designs that stand the test of time are the ones that challenged our perceptions of gender and body image as well as channeled designers’ sense of humour and whimsy. Fashion if anything else, is about making a statement, in between shocking the audience and creating awe. Designers use clothing as a powerful tool of expression to surprise, seduce and turn the shocking into the beautiful.

Name the punk era and Vivienne Westwood in the 1970s, Balenciaga and his cocoon shaped jackets in the 1950s, or Yves Saint Laurent’s popularization of trousers for women, and you will find in each one of these examples a deeply subversive spirit aimed to provoke change.

More recently, we see alternative music groups collaborate with high fashion brands to create thought-provoking street wear. The best example being South Africa’s Die Antwoord and co- founder/rapper/illustrator Watkin Tudor Jones (also known as Ninja) whose subversive futuristic rap is paired with Basquiat-inspired characters and street punk styling. The group and its impactful graphic streetwear fronted Alexander Wang’s T campaign in 2012.

Waddy Jones from Die Antwoord_Punk Memories, Escape 9 by John BagnallLeft: Waddy Jones from Die Antwoord. Right: Punk Memories, Escape 9, by John Bagnall (c) John Bagnall

Cartoon comic artists and fashion designers have created a great dialogue and creative exchange. We classically saw cartoon heroes on jersey t-shirts and the growing influence of street style on high fashion in the last 50 years has made it possible for cartoon graphics to gradually make their way onto silks and organzas. The subject matter moves effortlessly from paper and celluloid to fabric as its canvas.

As street style and bold graphics continue to influence the high fashion, this trend is set to grow from strength to strength - so stay tuned. For a full view of the cartoon research and sources used for this article visit my Pinterest Cartoon Reality Board. 

Geraldine Wharry and Trend Atelier are hosting Fashion Forecasting: Trend hunting and gathering on 24 June 2014 in our Business & IP Centre. Get the tools you need to identify the fashion trends for 2015/2016 - find out the more here.