Just over five years ago I was unemployed, having been unceremoniously ‘let go’ from my job working in a call centre. To be honest, it was a job I hated, but nonetheless I needed to find work again pronto, lest I find myself eating cardboard and sawdust for the near future.
I decided that (as well as applying for all sorts of other jobs) this ‘break’ in employment was as good a chance as ever to try and do something about my long-held ambition to work in comics. I loved writing and drawing from an early age, and always dreamt of one day working for the comics I had grown up reading. But where to begin?
Luckily for me, I had befriended the incredibly lovely Jamie Smart online, having been a huge fan of his Slave Labor Graphics series Bear. Up until that point all I had to show for my creative endeavours was the Cosgrove Hall produced pilot The Carrotty Kid, and my own web fiction series The Astonishing Adventures of Lord Likely (the latter of which Jamie wound up doing a guest comic for, which blew my mind). Knowing I wanted to do more, Jamie very kindly let me know that veteran children’s comic The Dandy was gearing up for a revamp, and was actively looking for new artists and writers to take it in its new direction. He gave me the relevant contact details, and I pitched an idea I had called George vs Dragon, a slapstick Tom and Jerry-esque take on the St. George legend. I had some positive feedback, and then – as is the case with this sort of thing – it all went quiet for a while. I waited.
Finally, on the 17th of August 2010, I had confirmation from Craig Graham, the then editor of The Dandy, that they would take the strip, which would start its run with the first issue of the relaunch. Somehow, I had made it! I had made my first sale to a comic, and to The Dandy, no less!
And so began a career that took in more work for The Dandy (Boo!, Harry and his Hippo, Bad Grandad, Cavemen in Black to name a few), The Beano (various mini-strips and lots of script-writing), The Dandy and The Beano’s annuals, Dennis the Menace and Gnasher’s Epic Magazine, Viz (Internet Troll, Diva Braun and Randall and Hopkins: Deceased) and Private Eye, as well as selling some comedy sketches to BBC Radio 4 Extra’s Newsjack. It’s been the very definition of a dream come true, as well as being a lot of hard work and at times rather stressful, especially when The Dandy closed its doors in 2012 (because we killed it, if you believe some corners of the internet), which left a big hole in my earnings. Being the stubborn git that I am (and realising that I’m literally useless at anything else) I held in there and managed to fill the gap with various corporate gigs (such as this cartoon biography of Darwin) and by securing a regular position as the writer for Roger the Dodger’s adventures in The Beano, which allowed me to dodge a fate worse than death – more call centre work. SHUDDER.
But while there has been stress, there’s also been far more joy in this job. For example, I’ve been constantly blown away by the positive feedback from the wonderful readers of these publications, who have been so welcoming and supportive of my work and have made the lonely job of creating comics so much more enjoyable. You can only do your best, and produce what you think is funny, but you’re always working in a void. With the internet, however, it allows creators to finally hear back from the readers, and while this can be a double-edged sword (one side lovely and shiny, the other sometimes stinky and rotten and wonky), the positive far outweighs the negative. It’s been a great experience.
It’s also been amazing to work with some of the artists I grew up admiring – I’ve written comic scripts for the likes of Ken Harrison, Nigel Parkinson and Barrie Appleby – all legendary figures in the UK comics scene. And, thanks to the internet again, I’ve been able to garner advice and guidance from other amazing artists and writers - the aforementioned amazing Jamie Smart, Lew Stringer, Steve Bright, Wayne Thompson, Laura Howell, Steve Beckett, Wilbur Dawbarn, Nigel Auchterlounie, Cavan Scott, Tommy Donbavand. And the tip-top peeps at DC Thomson HQ who have given me constant work or have aided me along the way - so thank you, Craig Graham, Michelle O’Donnell, John Anderson and Mark McIlmail. They really are an incredibly helpful and kind bunch of folks. But don’t tell them I said that. We don’t want them getting big-headed.
While I’m here giving shout-outs, I should also mention the support afforded to me from my friends and family. My mum and dad, for buying me a new computer when I started out so that I could properly colour my work at home without my old machine crying on me; my sister for getting me additional bits for my then-new office set-up (even if she did take a picture of herself wiping her bum with the first edition of The Dandy I appeared in, the cow); big thanks to Stu Munro, for egging me on and, after joining The Dandy himself, for helping me out and being there as an Actual Person who I could talk to about all this comic craziness. Ahh, good times. And more thanks go out to the rest of my chums for putting up with me when times were tough, and for being there to enjoy a celebratory beer when they were good – bless you, Sarah Trinder, Andy Weston, Andi Woodford, Megan George, Dan Morrison, Tom Butler and Anabel Large. And more thankses to all of the lovely readers and internet chums who have ever geed me on or said something lovely. I can’t begin to list you all because there’s loads of you and plus I’ll probably forget someone and then all hell will break loose and arrrrgh. Suffice to say, if you’re one of those people, I THANK YOU. Sincerely, thank you.
And finally, huge thanks to my partner Naomi Gibbs, who has not only offered unswerving support, but has also patiently dealt with my grumps when things got tough, and who never lost her confidence in my abilities even when I did. Plus, most importantly of all, she also gave me the AMAAAAZZIIING gift of our little baby boy Arthur. Thank you, Na! I love you lots and LOTS.
Over these past five years as a freelancer, I’ve been thrilled to tick off all of the main goals I set out to achieve and have thus seen my work in print in all of the titles I enjoyed and admired as a youngster. Yet far from feeling like it’s a job done, I still feel like I’m only just beginning. Needless to say, I’ve more plans in the pipeline for the future, including a children’s book, and bringing Lord Likely back in all-new adventures. Plus literally other things.
I won’t end by saying something like ‘here’s to another five years’ because, in all honesty, I want to keep doing this until someone prises the pen from my cold, dead hands. Which – I’m hoping! – is more than five years away. *Checks pulse*.