Another bumper year of visits to schools has passed and taken me further afield than possibly any previous year, thanks both to Authors Abroad and their international trips, and the various Literary Festivals with whom I got in touch for the first time a year ago and who were kind enough to have me visit. In all my classes, which ranged this year from the usual school visits, to home parties, ad hoc set-ups in local halls and marquees, I've worked with kids (and occasionally adults) to produce a comic that we run off on the photocopier and they take away in their hands. In fact this year some projects were even more ambitious, so let's start by looking at one of those.
Magna Carta Monstrosity - Barking week. Thanks to Helen Chamberlain at Art Reach, I worked this week on two Magna Carta based projects, where I went into schools and youth clubs in, in this instance Barking (and earlier Lincoln). As well as giving me usual "how to" class on the subject of comics, had them tailor their work towards the subject of Magna Carta. Some of the end results were random and surreal, but all were brilliant. I then wrote and drew a linking story to go with them all, and the finished works were printed as an 8 page full colour A4 comic, distributed in the two towns to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Magna Carta. If anyone fancies doing the same for Shakespeare's anniversary next year, I'm up for it.
Rainbow Burping Unicorns / My Name Is Jeff - Here, from January, we see two recurring themes from the year. Firstly we've been stiff with unicorns (remind me to add up just how many of this year's comics ended up with unicorns in their names), and secondly I lose count of how many comics, mostly from secondary school kids but not exclusively, draw on Vines and other teenage memes for their subjects. I know I'm old, that's why I will never understand why, in 2014-15, "my name is Jeff" was even a thing. But it was. See also "Deez Nuts". No, me neither.
Ellie's Slumber Pants - Some of my travels are captured here, with a flying visit to Denny near Falkirk as well as a couple of days in Malvern. Another thing I started doing this year was adding a multiplicity of colours to the kids' covers once I got them home. I then mail these back to the teachers as a touch of after-care service which, I think, they appreciate. A couple of years ago I was leaving these things totally in black and white, and five years ago I was only keeping an occasional record of them here in the diary, not that they were that much to look at back then. I'm saying I've got better at this kind of thing.
11 Ninja Screwdrivers Go Scuba Diving For Unicorns - these aren't even the best comics from March, but they were in the biggest montage. See also Bart Simpson Doodling On A Poodle Eating Noodles and various other entries in possibly the busiest month for schools this year.
Vampire Afro Sheep - and more of those unicorns. This batch from April includes the visit to Hexham, one of the many far-flung literary festivals I attended this year. And by golly Hexham is far flung. Great to have an excuse to go there, and be paid for it. You can see also some of the 5000 odd caricatures I've drawn this year, and me posing cheesily by a flipchart, which I have also done a lot.
Bolidloces And The Three Hairs - Here from May we see a nice example of the mis-spelled title that happens every now and again. Usually it's a year three pupil who has a brave stab at writing out some words they've not yet learned how to spell. Today it was a year 7 pupil trying to spell Baldilocks and getting Bolidloces, and who am I to judge? What I'm more judgemental about is Molly The Walking Cheese Grater, which was one of those cyber-bullying situations I end up contributing to, however unwittingly. Again it's usually year 8 or 9 who'll write a title that is in fact an insulting in-joke about a fellow pupil, in this case it was a Year 5.
Attack Of The 50ft Baby - All the world is here in this selection from June. From the Al Mustafa comic, produced in an after-school class at an Islamic Youth Centre in Bradford; to a mention of Minecraft - the obsession of kids across the country; to some cover designs that I'm justifiably pleased with (have I given you an idea of how quickly I turn these things around? They're usually done while the 2-hour class is in full swing, and if I'm lucky I get break time to put a bit more detail); to another bloody Vine, this time it's "Deez Nuts", which I'd not heard of before, and was new to them, hence its transliteration to They's Nuts.
Pug Dog Doing A Poo - The shopping centre classes. Thanks to DC Thomson and Intu shopping centres, I did the most unusual series of classes in unlikely settings as part of the Beano Takeover, everywhere from Braehead in Glasgow to the Trafford Centre. None of these comics got printed out and taken home, but we managed to produce the covers, and lots of kids went home happy. Fewer unicorns, more toilets. Make of that what you will.
Obama Finds A Sausage Unicorn - Again with the unicorns, these are mostly from the classes I did in August across libraries in Edinburgh. For the third year running I've balanced my nightly comedy show with days dotting between libraries. It makes the peas taste funny but it keeps them on the knife.
Anaconda Pig - And in September I hit the festivals trail starting with Nairn and going as far as the Isle Of Wight. Sally Sausage etc is the work of adults, while Anaconda Pig is one of my favourite cover designs of the year. Don't ask me why, somethings just come out right in the few minutes you have to draw them.
Migros vs CoOp - the Swiss comics. Thanks to Authors Abroad I found myself teaching at the second most expensive school in the world (did I mention it cost €100,000 a year? Did I mention the teachers aren't allowed to tell you who the kids actually are for security reasons? Did I make the "I should have charged more" gag? Okay, moving on) and they made comics just like any other kids. Great fun.
Deranged Suicidal Beavers - The Amman comics. I spent a week in Amman in Jordan, again thanks to Authors Abroad, teaching the kids at the American Community School how to write and draw comics, and what a splendid time that was. Of course I saw next to nothing of the city on my whistle-stop visit, but it was enough to be a highpoint of the year. I also took the opportunity to create a series of themed and linked covers for the six comics they produced, like anyone but me will ever notice.
Voldemort Vs Aliens - And in November I did more classes. From literary festivals on the Mull Of Kintyre and Manchester to schools in rural Oxfordshire, they came up with the goods.
The Comic Art Masterclass calendar - 13 pages of the best of 2015's comics, collected up into a calendar, and on sale now. A delightful year worth celebrating, with more miles covered than ever before, and some very interesting and varied projects under my belt. I look forward to a surprising and eventful year to come.
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.