Sunday, 27 February 2011

Diary with added stinkbomb

Diary Feb 11

It's a while since I've used my blog simply as a diary, so allow me the indulgence of doing that to look back at the last week. And in a week where hundreds have died in earthquakes in New Zealand, hundreds more in revolution and turmoil in the middle east, and millions more suffering in genuine hardship the world over, this will sound like almighty whingeing of the most feeble kind, but this has been one of those weeks. Hardly a bad week but one for which the word "meh" could describe the feelings quite well ("meh", by the way, is a term Hev struggles to use in any way other than plain hilarious, her pronunciation of it sounding like a full grown sheep. One of those things that can be guaranteed to make us both laugh. Little things.)

So, first "blow" (and we will see that these blows are more at the puff of wind end of the scale than the swinging fist end) came from Doctor Who.

I've been delighted in recent months to have some new comic strip art to do, and one of the most fun jobs was for Doctor Who Adventures. The editor, who I met after a Socks gig, started commissioning "where's Wally" style spreads from me. The nature of these is that the more you draw, the better they get, and the last one I did was a Dalek spread so satisfying that they splashed it on the front cover and I've had a couple of emails asking me if it would be made available as a poster. A job that was very much going from strength to strength. They even asked me to pitch for a weekly strip back in December. Then I hear nothing for a few weeks, so I get back in touch to see if they'd like the next job drawing, only to learn that my editor has left, and so has the art editor I was dealing with, and the new team aren't doing the sort of spreads I was doing. (This happened to me when I was working on Doctor Who Magazine in 1989-91, I'm starting to get used to it).

The other artwork that's come across my desk in recent months has been doing a strip called Galaxy Wanderers for a football magazine. I loved designing the characters, relished putting great detail into the full colour pages, and after the first few episodes started writing the scripts as well. They gave me the front cover of issue 1, and another one a few weeks later. This was starting to get on a roll and, as is the nature with these things, was getting better strip by strip. It was about to get its first reader feedback. Which is when I was told they were dropping the strip and replacing it with a series of quarter page cartoon, written by the staff, featuring caricatures of footballers. This shows up a small weakness in my work. Though I am a genius live caricaturist, much sought after for weddings and parties, and can capture anyone's likeness in literally a minute, I can only do that from real life. Working from photos I struggle because, from a photo, you can't tell what a person looks like (try it yourself, look at 3 photos of the same person taken at different times. Does it look like 3 different people to you?). Added to which I have absolutely no knowledge of or interest in football so could not tell whether I'd got these likenesses right or not. In every instance I had to redraw the hairstyles on the players because the photo reference I'd been sent had, well, the wrong hair. And, in short, I wasn't happy with the results and, compared to the enjoyable Galaxy Wanderers, this was a blow. Whether they continue asking for more quarter pages of caricatures that don't look like people I've never heard of, we shall see.

Then, because January was quiet, I took on a small advertising job, designing a character and a series of strips to advertise insurance for a small local client. Fun and straightforward I thought, forgetting what I tell the kids every week in my Comic Art Masterclasses about advertising jobs. I deliver the job, having designed Armourdillo, a funny animal as asked for, in funny accident-related strips, in lovely colour art of which I was quite proud. And, as I always tell the kids, it's at this stage that the client will realise what they wanted in the first place and you'll have to do the whole thing over again. Having suggested funny animals in the mould of Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner (hence Armourdillo) he suggests they'd prefer a British domestic animal, possibly a cute dog. Not so much a blow as a wind up, that one.

I then learn from a fellow comic that the rival show to the Sitcom Trials, the Sitcom Mission, had teamed up with TV company Hat Trick. Following the story online I saw that they'd got official sponsorship from Hat Trick, prize money for their winner, and the kudos that comes with such a high profile partnership. This is the sort of deal that, when I was running the Trials, I was constantly trying to get and never managed. I came close a number of times, and of course we had the ITV series and other high profile successes, but reached a ceiling which is why I dropped the show in favour of the Socks. Prompted by the Mission's news, I gave a lot of thought last week to reviving the Trials, and have raked up the irons in the fire that might make this happen. Just last night I hit upon another genius twist that makes the Trials format perfect for radio and TV now as never before. Now all I have to do is get lots of meetings and sell it. So, some good has come from what was, basically, jealousy.

My Comic Art Masterclasses in schools are a good way of restoring the confidence. I know what I'm doing and the kids love it. So it was a blow to find that the first school of this week, written in my diary since October, wasn't confirmed thanks to a change of staff since then and, I discovered at the 11th hour, wasn't happening. If I don't work I don't get paid, and the only person to blame for having a date pencilled in and not set in stone is me. Mixed metaphors, also my fault.

Now Socks gigs, those are a sure way of reminding me what I do best. Recently I've been killing them in my support slots, and slaughtering them in headline slots, and coming up are full theatre audience who've paid just to see the Socks. However, before the tour dates start this week, came two smaller gigs, one corporate and one last minute favour. The corporate on Saturday was in front of the employees of a computer company in a wine bar and went pretty well despite the fact that a few people clearly wanted to carry on with the conversations they'd been in the middle of, a few more were desperately waiting for the pudding cpurse that we were holding up, a good few listened politely and laughed even when they didn't quite understand the gags, and a goodly few had so many gags go over their heads I could almost hear the whooshing sound. The the favour was a last minute filling-in support gig in a local venue in front of an audience who were not, I would suggest, used to going to see live comedy and were expecting a bloke in a bowtie being a bit 'blue' about his Mother In Law. The Socks have never been met with quite such baffled silence and, though we still won them round with certain banker routines like the Michael Jackson bit and Sweary Poppins, it was a struggle and didn't make me feel like a 5 star award winning act by any means.

Wednesday in Dartmouth promised to be a busy day, but full of the things I do well, two Comic Art Masterclasses followed by a Socks show. Both classes were sold out and the morning's class went beautifully, the kids producing a comic that they took away, and I drew all their faces, textbook. The afternoon class started off looking pretty good too. Until the stinkbomb. There were three boys there, of that difficult age, who didn't want to be there. I should have sensed more trouble ahead when, during the name The Comic part of the session where each kid writes down a name for the group comic and they vote for the best, I find, amid the suggestions from the 7, 8, 9 year olds (the youngest kid today was 6, younger than I usually allow, but very bright) the titles "Huge Tits" and "Great Big Massive Huge Tits". These 3 boys were not joiners-in, they sat sullenly with their hands in their pockets, apart from the one who texted throughout, and I learned subsequently they had been treated to the classes by their Nan, who was having to suffer their presence at half term. Then they let off the stinkbomb. And, though I kept a cool head and didn't blow my top, and moved tables and opened doors, and called for staff to get things cleared up (the windows, through a stroke of architecural genius, were the kind that don't open), I wish I'd dealt with it better. I wish I had been able to be sure, for example, that they were to blame. But in a classroom situation, with 25 kids in a theatre of an arts centre, none of whom know each other, sat on mixed tables, aged 7 to 14, when you're in the middle of an intense workshop, these things are hard to pin down. So, while I'm agonising over all this and trying to appear completely in control, they let off a second stinkbomb. The room now stinks, and remains stinky for the rest of the day, and just as I'm about to have the kids sent out, being 99% sure who is to blame, the most bored one on the phone says "my Nan says we can go", so they go. All in all, a good way to make me go from comic professional genius sharing his wisdom to feeling like an untrained supply teacher in one foul smelling move.

Added to which, the Socks gig that night took place in the same stinky room. The floor was cleaned between workshop and show. It now smelled of washed skunk. (Who designs a building with windows that don't open? Archi-bloody-tects! Someone should stinkbomb every architects office, so they don't make that mistake again.) But the Socks show went well, so that was okay. Nice crowd Dartmouth, love you (and almost all of your kids).

And the week has ended by being turned around nicely. Last night's gig in Stafford was a sellout with a fabulous audience who called for an encore (after a 90 minute show by the way) and who came up to talk after the show, full of praise and invites to the bar (which I had to decline with my 2 hour drive still ahead, but many thanks folks) and boosts to the ego. So, after all that, all's well with the world, and the director of the venue wants us back next year, perfect result.

So, if only tonight's gig were actually happening (it's been in my diary since December, I have an email saying the gig was confirmed, then in the listings we suddenly aren't there, oh you know how it goes) we'd be starting the next busy week on a fine footing. Whatever, I can use an early night anyway, what with having to be in East Sussex (3 hours away) for 8.30 tomorrow morning. Onwards and upwards...

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