So it came to pass that in the first week of September, Gerry my landlord rang me up and told me the time had come to move out of my office.
I'm surprised it hasn't happened earlier, to be honest. I've been luxuriating in a large office space, which has filled up more and more with my junk until it is 90% storage unit and 10% work space, since I moved in sixteen - yes sixteen - years ago. My first action? To put some stuff on eBay. Above you see one of the two Socks massive posters, which went as a pair for £75 the lot.
One thing that's not shifting fast on eBay is my cheese plant - if anyone wants it it's going cheap. It's eight feet high, reaching from floor to ceiling and filling the window. Wherever I move to next, I fear Cheesey (no, she/they've never had a name, I just call the leaves Them) won't fit.
Most likely I'm going to be spending a while trying to work from home, while the contents go into storage. It won't be the first time.
Looking back at where I've managed to work over the years is an interesting bit of nostalgia:
1989 - When we moved to the South West, and I went freelance for the first time, I began my solo career drawing comic strips in the back bedroom of 5 The Glebe in Wrington. Writing and drawing strips for Gas, The Damage, and Century 21's poster magazines, I managed it all on one table. My Amstrad computer would be moved on, and my drawing board moved off the table top in turn. The centrepiece of my organisation was the fax machine. Try explaining one of those to the kids today. Out of the window I watched the great storm of spring 1990, including a chimney pot flying through the window of a greenhouse. I was there for 6 months.
1990 - 93 - While Heather worked at Nailsea school every day, I worked from the back room of our flat in Leagrove Road. That back room still doubled as a guest bedroom at the time, and I shared my workspace with the fold up Z-Bed that had come from Kibworth. Again it was a tabletop shared between a portable drawing board and an Amstrad green-screen "everybody's first word processor". Here I produced the rest of my strips for Gas and The Damage, then edited, wrote and drew for UT comic (91 - 93) as well as producing a daily strip, Battler Britten, for the Daily Sport, and a weekly football strip for the Sunday Sport. I was busy, if not necessarily doing work I was proudest of.
93 - 95 - My first office, on Old Street in Clevedon. With the creation of Gladiator comic, which I devised and brought to a publisher, negotiating the licensing deal with LWT and looking forward to a smash hit, I took on the role of writer and artist, and realised I could possibly expand my organisation. So I rented an office, and brought Lucy Allen in as an assistant. Then Mark Buckingham asked if he could come and share my office, and I welcomed him with open arms. Thanks to Mark I was able to break into Marvel comics. When Gladiators went tits up, losing me money and threatening an end to my work in comics, I helped Mark out with some inking, and gradually crept up to doing my own inking for Marvel on Dr Strange and Star Trek. In this office I also designed t-shirts for Network, including Xmas 93's best seller "Let's Get Out There And Twat It"
95 - 98 - Our second office. At the suggestion of Steve Noble, Mark and I moved to a bigger suite of offices above the then Midlands Bank on Sixways. Don't look for it, it's not there any more. Here I inked Marvel comics as Mark made the wise move to drawing for DC, and was also beginning my fledgling stand up career. It was in this office that Situations Vacant, the live sitcom shows that were to become The Sitcom Trials, was born. Our first meeting, which included Iain Morris long before he created The Inbetweeners, took place in Steve & Rob's board room. Meanwhile, as the Marvel comics work started to dry up (the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the details of which you'll find on Wikipedia) Mark and I launched The National Comics Awards from this office, and I began plans for Comics 99.
98 - 2002 - Back home. With my Marvel work gone, I struggled to find comics work, and was even reduced to training to sell double glazing. I was unable to afford my share of the office rent, so Mark and I both had to move out of our beautiful loft suite. Three rooms we had! Three rooms! It's since been converted into a flat which, with an extension out across the roof, is worth about £400,000. Meanwhile most of my stuff, which was an awful lot of comics and old artwork, went into storage, firstly at Hugh's picture framing company behind the garage by Salthouse Fields, and later in a barn on a farm near Weston Super Mare. I moved back to working from the back room. Something that was about to become a lot more difficult when Heather left her job at Nailsea school.
Summer/Autumn 2002 - The farm. I rented an office in a spider-lined damp subterranean stone room on a farm, a mile down the road to Nailsea. There couldn't have been a worse place for me to work and I hated it. I came back to working there having finished my loss-making second year at the Edinburgh Fringe, with the second Sitcom Trials show and my only solo stand up show, and I was both impoverished and miserable. But luckily I'd come back with the promise of a TV show. First I had the 8 week Rude Health TV show, and then coming in spring 2003 there was to be the Sitcom Trials TV show. It looked like I was about to have some money again, and another office loomed on the horizon.
(A shot from 2014, compare the size of the cheese plant then and now, above)
2002 - 2018 - The Office. Thanks to Gail Buckingham (Mark's then wife) I was introduced to Gerry and the office on Copse Road, which had been Mark's office ten years earlier, before the two of us moved into Old Street. The cork notice board on my wall was made my Mark's dad. I moved in in September or October 2002 and have remained there ever since. It's in this room that I've written and drawn all of my comic strips for The Beano, and my Women Of The Bible graphic novel, and a hundred other script and art commissions. Notes from the Sitcom Trials TV show are still on my walls, along with the certificates I got from Childline and Comic Relief for the money I raised from my comic festivals, which had started being run from home, and ended in 2004.
The most visible items on the wall are of course the posters for the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. Every studio video they've made has been shot here. Their green screen has hung permanently on the wall, and their props and the components for making props, take up a big table in the middle of the room. There are also currently a few boxes of their comics and t shirts taking up a bit of space. Though not nearly as much space as Heather's Anubis sculptures, who have lived here characterising the room from the start.
(This photo from 2014 shows the place less cluttered than it is now)
So, not-quite-everything must go. Looking around I see an awful lot of Doctor Who toys that ought to find a better home (how many Tardisses?), and quite a bit of computer hardware. The Amstrad has long gone, but there's still space being taken up by a black Mac Power PC, a round-backed 2002 iMac, a large-screened 2005 iMac, two toilet-seat MacBooks (circa 2001/2), and a white MacBook that I was still working on up till 2013. What do you do with old Macs?
Can I really work from home? Or will there be office space that I can realistically afford? With my work in schools, and touring with the Socks in recent years, there have been months when I don't use the office at all. Since 2007, it's been deserted throughout August for all but two year, for example, and spending more than 100 days doing classes, it spends a lot of its time lying dormant. One thing I won't be needing any more is a phone line, with the mobile now taking all calls, and the broadband having long since replaced the fax machine (it went to the tip, that's what you do with those).
Let us see what the next six weeks hold. I have take a Big Yellow Self Storage unit, and I've got a really heavy workload to take me all the way through October. November will find me in a new working space, who knows where?
Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. View the promo video here.