Friday 26 February 2021

More Socks gigs, Derry, international, auction & DVD


A varied week of work this week, mostly for the Socks, who started the week by filming a DVD extra about Lytton, an obscure Doctor Who character from the 80s who's now got his own spin off comic. The comics have DVDs including interviews and documentaries. And, now, Socks easter eggs. I didn't actually realise this was a paying gig, so I shall definitely be doing more, and making them longer.

The Socks have returned to the comedy open mic circuit, to see and be seen, and they're enjoying it. Three gigs this week, the first being one that caught us off guard. We didn't realise we'd got it till earlier in the day. Don't Mention Covid Open Mic Comedy (or DMC Comedy to avoid being hidden on Facebook) was a fun night of a dozen comedians, half of whom were from the States. Not having done open mics for over a decade I'd forgotten the variable quality (some people are really not very good), but some acts were great, especially the American comics who were, of course, performing this as a lunchtime gig.

The striking thing about this, and the other gigs this week, was that they had such small audiences. Apart from the performing comedians, there were only about three or four viewers. I put the word out at the very last minute (I'd definitely plug it further in advance if I'm on again). I'm reminded that, back when I used to do open mics in London, this would be a frequent occurence. Gigs with next to no audience was always a London thing. At least this time one is seen by other comics, from around the world, and you only have to travel to the back room.

Chicken Box Comedy was a lovely show, coming from Derry, with the host and half the acts coming from Northern Ireland, it's based on the live show they run regularly and features fun items, like news stories and video clips, plus the presenter Les Ismore (in character) interviews the acts, and kept chatting to us throughout the rest of the show (the Socks opened). For the record, at Chicken Box and DMC Comedy we gave them Halloween and a few random gags. It doesn't take much to fill 7 minutes (DMC was just 5). The recording of the whole show is here

I stayed after the show for the group chat at Chicken Box, which was the nearest to being in a comedy club green room I've experienced for at least a year. Some people knew me from when I'd done the 2D comic festival in Derry, and from when the Socks had played at Black Box in Belfast. Quite the most sociable zoom comedy show I've done (apart from the Socks' own, obviously). Though, again, there was next to no audience. I'd plugged it a little further in advance to the Socks mailing list, but even then only on the day of the show, so we only attracted 4 punters. Surely everyone wants to be playing to a bigger crowd than that don't they? Thinks: maybe I should set up a Socks comedy club, a free show that our punters would come to, but would be mostly guest artists. Would anyone come? I'll run it up the flagpole.

Comedy Auction is an oddity. The acts pre-record their auction lots, which are just fairly worthless stuff about which you make up something funny, and the viewers can bid for it. We've recorded three items, the first of which will be in tonight (Friday)'s show. Other auction acts include Rachel Creeger, Izzy Mant and Trevor Lock, with auctioneer Thom Tuck. To be honest, I haven't ascertained where the money goes. It's a privelege to be included in a line up with such comedians, so I hope people like us. Like all these gigs, we're doing it for, as the kids say, exposure. You do open mics in the hope of seeing and being seen. Back in the day, there was a chance that, among the half dozen punters in your smokey cellar in Soho, would be a scout from the telly. I think this is slightly less likely when everyone can see who everyone else is on the Zoom screen, but hope springs eternal.

UPDATE: The Socks are guesting in Global Comedy on Monday March 1st from 9pm (7 minute slot). It's a free show, and I've shared the Zoom link to our Facebook page and mailing list. Let's see if we can make it a good turnout for this one. 

On Sunday 28th the Socks are doing Dean Friedman's All Request Show again; on March 16th we have Late Stage Comedy; on March 18th we're joining Darren Hoskins' novelty show; on March 19th it's our own next show; and in April we have the 27 Minute Comedy Hour show lined up. Let's see how many more Zoom gigs we can get in the diary before the rules relax in May, and suddenly it's all live shows again (which, of course, I won't be able to afford to do. In the past week I've played in Derry, London and Tamworth, and shared the stage with comedians in Florida and California - and on Sunday night I duet with Dean in New York. I hope they continue on Zoom, cos I'm not driving to them).

Mar 19: Talking Of Changing The Subject…

Sunday 21 February 2021

Socks guest gigs - two clubs and a corporate

The Socks are starting to notch up the guest slots in comedy shows that they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford to do, this week adding a corporate gig to their list. 

On Thursday night they did a five minute slot in a gig for a company called Devere, organised by the enterprising Jessica Forrest. Admittedly the forty quid we got for it doesn't quite compare to the usual corporate rates (an Avalon act might ask four grand for the same gig), but we did a great slot and got good feedback. I also drew a caricature of the boss as part of my stint, something which only came about after my earlier chat with Jess coincided with me finishing an art class and showing her the caricatures I'd just drawn.

Then on Saturday night the Socks did a 12 minute slot in Mortified Comedy (above), the first online venture for a comedy club that formerly ran every month at a venue in Tamworth. Thanks to the efforts of its organisers Darren and Mark, who also work on Radio Tamworth, they'd drawn a splendid crowd (they had more than 60 in, and would have had more but they'd capped the ticket sales to try and keep the audience controllable). A grand line up of stand ups was capped by a closing set by Patrick Monahan which, thankfully, the Socks were on just before. 

We came up against a technical problem that has dogged us recently, namely the failure of the sound on our video clips. I can hear it perfectly, and so, oddly, can about a quarter of viewers. But most people can't hear the sound from the video clips. This happened first at one of our shows last year, but sorted itself. Then it happened again before our last two shows and needed remedial action - a switching on and off of a Privacy setting, then a re-starting of Zoom - in the moments before the show. This time, despite two complete turnings off-and-on, the music would only play to a few. So we did our gig without music.

This means I have pre-recorded performances of What Kind Of F&C and Sweary Poppins, in front of a Mortfied Comedy backdrop, that will have to go unseen.

For the corporate we gave them Exorcist, Airline Puns and an accapella Walk On The Wild Side, which fills five minutes. This was pretty much the same set they'd had at the Frenzy gig. For Mortfied they got Exorcist, Airline Puns, Walk On The Wild Side, and all of the Magic routine (NB I must amend the sawing-a-sock-in-half prop so it stands up on the Zoom set. It rather flopped right at punchline).

We have two more guest slots lined up, at Chicken Box in Derry, and Late Stage comedy club, as well as our next solo show lined up for March 19th (which is, I discovered belatedly, Red Nose Day. Meaning I'll be the one show that night that's keeping all the money to itself. I may have to do something additional to make amends).

Mar 19: Talking Of Changing The Subject…

Friday 19 February 2021

Hamsters & Sausages In Space - art centre classes + rave reviews

 The third week of February was a busy week for Comic Art Masterclasses - in a month where I have more days of classes in 2021 than I had the same time in 2020 when, you'll remember, there was no pandemic or lockdowns! It was also a week of a fascinating experiment, seeing if art centres and libraries could bring in a bigger audience for my Comic Art Masterclasses than I could by myself. Reader, I can report that, yes, they surely can.

The week began with a class organised by Acorn Arts in Penzance, for which they'd managed to round up a respectable class of fourteen, some of which came from Cornwall, but others came from as far afield as East Anglia and Glasgow.

North Wall Arts in Oxford attracted a class big enough to fill two back covers, effectively a sellout. And it was with these two classes that I initiated the offer of sending the original artwork for the caricatures back to their parents. All I ask is that they buy me a virtual coffee on my newly-installed Ko-Fi page here, and I'll stick their pictures in the post. At £3 a pop to them, 99p for postage, 50p for the envelope, and 34p to Paypal, I'm netting a neat profit of £1.17 for every single one. I think I'm onto a goldmine.

Wednesday's class was organised by North Yorkshire Libraries. Because the tickets were free, they had no problem selling it out. And, because it was free, a handful then didn't turn up, meaning I could, with a little jiggery-pokery-squeezery, fit all 28 of them onto the back cover of one comic. I shall be doing that in future, it saves time and emailing. For this class I also started selecting a new background based on their location and have them guess where I was supposed to be. The answer, the picture you see at the top of the page, was Keighley Reference Library.

My fourth day of classes was organised by Arts Depot in Finchley who won the week by selling out a morning and an afternoon class. In their instance almost every kid came from their local area of North London, whereas the others had all included kids from further afield. Finchley ran the class as Pay What You Want, so I have no idea what they actually paid. Acorn in Penzance was also Pay What You Can, North Wall Oxford was £5 a ticket, and North Yorks Libraries was free.

Here's me pretending to be in the Wallace Collection - which the kids at the Arts Depot morning class got on the second guess, by the way! And as if those kids weren't impressive enough, check out these words of praise that parents sent into the art centre afterwards:

Thank you very much for the picture and for organising the masterclass. My 9 year old absolutely loved it! I think it's the most fun she's had in ages. Please pass on my thanks to Kev F Sutherland - I thought the way he ran the class was great.


Thank you so much, Kev was totally amazing, gave my kids such a lift, they enjoyed this so much.


My daughter really liked the workshop today! It was brilliant, funny and very creative! Thank you for organising it.


Thank you for the drawings of the kids. They are very impressive. The kids wanted to say thank you for the class.  They thoroughly enjoyed it. 


This was by far the best session my (creative) daughter has attended. It was absolutely AWESOME and I really hope you do it again and again and again. Kev F Sutherland is just brilliant - absolutely brilliant. Please let me know where else I can review and sing the praises of this session as I’d be delighted to do so. And thank YOU for making it happen.


My daughter is a dyslexic learner and this session spoke to and celebrated not only her abilities but her understanding of the world. She was given time to communicate her ideas, she listened to otters and she produced work she was proud of - this extraction is all down to the the most enthusiastic human - Kev F Sutherland. From the bottom of my heart, please thank Kev as his feedback on my kids work will be imprinted on in her brain acting as a resource the next time she gets a knock at school - which she does. I only wish I had recorded the feedback to relive 😃 This was by far the best session my (creative) daughter has attended. It was absolutely AWESOME and I really hope you do it again and again and again. Kev F

The celebrities these five groups chose to appear in my demonstration strip (and, by the way, I'm now using the Chat function in Zoom for them to suggest the comic titles and to name the celebs, all of which streamlines things greatly) were Ed Sheeran, JK Rowling, Simon Cowell, Boris Johnson, and David Attenborough.

Join my free Kev F Comic Art Mailing List here. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Next Comic Classes, open to the public:

Sat Feb 27 - Chesterfield

Sat Mar 6: Bento Class 

Sat Mar 20:  Zion Bristol

I Roasted Peppa Pig - comics by kids

February got off to a good start with a busy schedule of Comic Art Masterclasses. In fact February 2021 is busier with classes than February 2020 was! How's about that for the green shoots of recovery? And all thanks to moving my classes online and, as we'll see in the next blog post, getting in touch with Arts Centres.

Chawton Primary in Hampshire started the month nicely, doing the year 3 & 4s in one class, the 5 & 6s in the other. As always, in my Zoom classes, they get a comic like this emailed to them. Rather than the photocopied black and white comic they takeaway from my live classes, which takes 10 minutes to produce and contains all of the strips they've drawn, this is a full colour version which I produce usually two editions of, to fit all their faces on the back. It does, however, take way longer to produce. I'd love a scanner that copied A4 pages as quickly as a sheet-feeding photocopier. Is there such a thing?

Tydd St Mary's primary school (above) illustrates another advantage of doing my classes on Zoom: the travel. This is a primary school in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, which would have taken me five hours and an overnight stop to get to. True, Hev and I enjoy these overnight trips, and she's able to turn them into a day out while I do my schools, and we're looking forward to the return of such things. But, by golly, commuting to the back room to do the work is a hell of a lot easier. And, by the way, cheaper for the school!

Newton Ferrers primary in Devon was one of the last schools to have me in in person, pretty well a year ago, and had originally scheduled this as an in-person visit. Luckily they were happy to go with the Zoom class, and ended up with year 5 & 6 producing the most eye-catching title of the month so far (always gets a laugh when I show it to other classes).

This comic was the product of a Saturday morning class which I organised and promoted myself. A fun class, with happy children given their comic at the end. But not very many of them. I have found that, though I have the whole world as my potential audience, I am only able to reel in about a dozen pupils for my self-promoted classes (whereas a school can automatically bring a class of 30 every time). 

I wonder what will happen when I do a series of classes organised, and promoted, by arts centres? (Says he, writing this after he's just finished a week of classes organised, and promoted, by arts centres, about which you can read next...)

The celebrities these 7 groups chose to appear in my demonstration strip were Harry Styles, The Queen, Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and Taylor Swift.

Join my free Kev F Comic Art Mailing List here. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Next Comic Classes, open to the public:

Weds Feb 15 - Acorn Arts Penzance

Tues Feb 16  North Wall Oxford

Thurs Feb 18 - Arts Depot Finchley

Sat Feb 27 - Chesterfield

Sat Mar 6: Bento Class 

Sat Mar 20:  Zion Bristol

Sunday 14 February 2021

Behind The Spine Interview

 My thanks to Mark Heywood for having me as a guest on his Behind The Spine podcast. I'm honoured and flattered to have been asked - check out the quality of guests he has on, I'm the guest just before Tim Harford of More Or Less!

Even more exciting is finding that he's provided a transcript of the entire interview. Listen to, and read it, here

Behind The Spine
S2E11 Comic Books: Kev F Sutherland on Owning Your Style
Feb 10th, 2021

Comic books have spawned some of the most beloved and memorable characters in history. They’ve graduated from a niche offering to the catalyst for movie franchises that have dominated the globe, and through events like Comic-Con, they’ve ignited a childlike passion for stories in all of us. Today’s guest is Kev F Sutherland who has written for the likes of The Dandy, Beano, Marvel and Viz. In this episode he explains how just about anyone can draw a comic, explores the “page-turn” and other interesting mechanisms at a comic book writer’s disposal, and highlights why you should never underestimate the power of simplicity. Find out more about Kev on his website. Behind The Spine is the audio accompaniment to The Writing Salon - you can sign up to the newsletter here.

Behind The Spine
S2E11 Comic Books: Kev F Sutherland on Owning Your Style
Hi, I'm Mark Heywood. And this is behind the spine, a podcast which finds learning opportunities for writers in the most unlikely of places, Northern Bach gags, Paul Ricker, sweary kid, whether you're into Batman or the Beamer. Many of us comic books guide us through our formative years in their early days, comics were read primarily by children. And despite that being far from true now, it's still a perception that exists today. But with the comic inspired Avengers end game grossing, nearly $3 billion at the box office, it's clear that this is hardly child's play from manga to Marvel scifi to graphic novels.

Comics are a format that anybody can enjoy. And importantly, one which allows everyone to become a creator. The beauty lies in the simplicity and that simplicity opens the door to people who might not see themselves as artistic in comics, even stick. Men can tell a captivating story, no doubt, partway through this conversation, you'll feel the urge to pause and start doodling. And I very much encourage you to do so. Just make sure you come back and press play again later. You really don't want to miss out on the insights of Kevin F Sutherland. He's written and drawn for comics, including this red dwarf, the dandy Marvel, and many, many more. And he's my guest today. Chapter one, it doesn't have to be a Michelangelo with Netflix, setting aside a fortune to fuel its Mangere offering. There's clearly money to be made in animation. For many of us though drawing doesn't come naturally. So if you're not confident in your drawing skills, what do you do? Can anyone

Absolutely anybody can draw absolutely anything. This is my starting point. When I do my comic art master classes with kids asking the question who thinks they can't draw. And of course you get a sea of hands, whether that's just working class low self-esteem or really bad art teaching, I've no idea. But then I take the kids and by doing a few simple things, like draw a circle, put the circle, draw another circle. And of course you joke around these things. So the kids don't realize they're learning anything. They're just, fannying about with a pencil. And then suddenly within 30 seconds, they've drawn Bart Simpson. Now it shouldn't be a revelation to anybody that these characters are so popular because they're stupidly easy to draw.

But once you give kids that sort of power, that they can draw anything. And I get them drawing characters that they recognize, then I'll draw a slightly more complicated things like drawing iron man on the flip chart for them is again, quite mind blowing for them. And then when he re they realized he's just got two little lines for his eyes to it aligns for his mouth, he's got a widow's peak and a chin beard is sort of like Michael Leavis in a snooker player is iron man. And when I joined, but really easy. So yeah, anybody certainly anybody can draw. And my extension from that would be that anybody can do certainly the starting blocks of any creative discipline. I'm not overstating this, but I, I don't believe I can draw at all. I've tried many, many times to learn. I've tried because I want to storyboard for either a film or television project. And I stand back and I look at it and I go, that's absolute garbage. Is it the same as other disciplines in the, is it as simple as the more you do it? The harder you work, the better you get.

Yes. And as our improvising friends would say, yes, you can learn how to do it. And certainly in comic strip terms, you can communicate your idea in a few simple images. Now they won't necessarily be great images. I, for one, and remember, I've been doing this professionally for so many years, but I am constantly looking at the work of other artists in all thinking like I did when I was 12. I wish I could do that. But sort of knowing I could never do that. There's some people whose genius goes above what you can do. Some people who's draftsmanship or draftsperson and ship can do what you can't manage, but that's not the problem because your work will come out in your style. An example, I always quote to them is have you seen the cartoon Dilbert by Scott, Adam newspaper, cartoon. It got made into a TV cartoon for awhile. And by the way, he's now gone totally mental bonkers. He's a big Trump fan. But that aside he started, he was in the it business. And he used to draw the field cartoons. He'd stick them on notice boards. He'd do very early emails of his cartoons to people. And everybody at work would say, Oh, these gangs are great. Scott, it's a shame you can't draw. Cause he couldn't draw a thing. His characters would be sat behind a table, which was just a horizontal line. And they would be like little pepper pots with eyes, nose, mouth, and a cartoon of that. He literally himself thought he couldn't draw, but he could rightly for gang that went at the top, he could draw three boxes and put three of these abstract pepper pots in them.

And that was enough. He's a multimillionaire as a result of one of the most popular newspaper strips of the 20th century. And that's a guy who couldn't draw. If you can get your idea across it doesn't have to be Michelangelo. It can simply be emojis. It can simply be the Japanese manga Chibi style drawing. The Japanese are very good at this, keeping it simple because of course they've got a language based on drawing the characters. And so they know that if somebody knows what you mean, they're following your story already.

You mentioned Dilbert. I think of things like Dilbert and things like Pharcyde that bring people joy in the form of greetings cards. But at the other end, you've got manga and you've got things like Marvel and DC and many, many others that end. This is a multi-billion dollar global franchise business. And I wonder whether we, we kind of lose sight of that. Could you give us a sense of the size of the comic arts business, you know, from comic sales to festivals, to things like Comic-Con, which was not a phrase I would use until, you know, only a couple of years ago, but now everyone's talking about it. How big is this industry?

I remember what I first told somebody I was going to Comicon and he said, I didn't know you were a communist, but the industry, you know, it's like most people's industries, anybody out there who worked in TV, worked in movie, works in the theater, probably when you joined the industry, someone twice as old, as you told you, it's not as good as it used to be. It's been in the decline for years. I can't think of an industry. That's not like that. And certainly when I started working in comics, which was at the end of the 1980s, it was in terminal decline, apparently hit perpetually been. So, I mean, there was a golden age back in the 1950s when the Beano comic and the Eagle comic with Dan Derin, they would sell a million copies a week.

So I suppose you could say sales have been in decline since then, because of course television grew and then games grew and the competition against the art form grew. So it doesn't have its place in society in the same way as Shakespeare, having originally been the tele of his day, having been the ITV drama of his day goes to being what he is now, something that is studied and taken in a different way to the popular entertainment. It would have been. So comics now I've actually had a bit of a resurgence. I, amongst other things run a comic festival from 1999 to 2004, I ran the comic festival, which took place in Bristol.

And it was about the only one in the country. And we would struggle to get, for example, people to dress up what we now know as cosplay then was called the costume parade. Or even some people would have called it fancy dress. We couldn't get anybody to do that 20 years ago. Now you kind of move for people wanting to do things. Fashions have changed. Similarly, manga manga existed. Obviously it'd been in existence in Japan for 60, 70, more years, but in Britain, there were only a few companies starting to sell this. And as far as Redis were concerned, it was only just coming into their purview. Well, now manga is big. When I teach my comic classes in schools, teenagers, especially the more academic Stu students, your godson emails, those 15 year olds are manga readers because it's sexy stuff.

It's a good thick book that gives you some genuine quality reading time, as opposed to a tiny, thin Marvel comic, which you can read in 20 minutes flat and cost you about the same as the paperback book, manga has exploded. So loads of parts of the business are really big. And the other thing that's grown is people taking comic books and making them into movies. There was a little bit that when I was running my comic festivals 20 years ago, but as everybody knows from the Marvel movies on down, that has really changed everybody's perception of the comic business. They think of comics as things that are in the movies.

The downside of that is when I talk to the kids in the classroom, they know the movies, but they don't know the comics. Many of them don't even know that they've got anything to do with comics. I mean, there's a lot of movies. If you think about them, you wouldn't know that men in black came from a comic, a teenage mutant Ninja turtles came from an independent comic and Howard, the duck was based on one of my favorite comics as a kid. I read how that back in the day,

I think it's not just kids that wouldn't know. I mean, I, I knew those, but only because I researched your work and had found that, but I'm, I'm sure you could quote, you know, a dozen films that have been based on comments. And I wouldn't know the original source material, does that have a knock-on impact then do people who come to the movie first, do they then go and visit the comic version of it or do they just stick with the movie?

I think it's pretty well, exactly the same as movies based on novels, the source material is one thing. And as anybody who does movie adaptations and works in movies will know you take your source material, but then you are making a different thing. So the movies, if they succeed have to be movies that stand alone. And there's a couple of examples that I know from the comics world, where they've taken a movie, Watchman is the most famous example. And someone as acts Neider had made a movie, but way too respectful of the source material. So as a result, it, I don't think worked perfectly as a movie, the TV series, different kettle of fish, but the movie in some parts is a panel for panel adaptation of the film.

And that restricts it as a film. And doesn't add anything to the comic book or the graphic novel, which stands alone as a perfect word. You find this all the time. I mean a Dickens adaptations where you have to take out Dickins words, leaving only Dickins dialogue. And then you basically not adapt. You've got, you've got the plot, you've got the dialogue, but you haven't got the book. And the same thing happens with comics. You've got to take out what happens on the page because the magic of comics is one picture appears beside another, following another, they appear on a page, which is a unit in itself that you see, and you appreciate as a whole, you've got things like the page, turn a thing that you can do in comic books, probably better than you can do in words, only literature.

And if you're writing a novel and then somebody's putting it into a hard back, somebody is putting it into a Kindle adaptation. You can't dictate where the page turn is. Well with a comic book, you can use that page to like an editor in a movie used it. It's like, I don't know what's going to be happening when I turn over this page. Wow, it's a whole page size splash of somebody hanging dead off the back of a door, which is an image that I just dredged up from a book called a history of violence by John Wagner and John Edney Higgins, which was adapted into a movie with, Oh God, was it Viggo? Mortensen? I can't remember. Now there was a David Cronenberg directed the movie based on a graphic novel by John Wagner, who was the guy who created judge Dredd in 2009.

Before we move on to chapter two, this podcast has inspired you to write more or maybe even to write for the first time, then you may be interested in our sister project. The writing sale on its membership is 200 people strong and features all levels of experience from people who've never written before to people writing for stage and screen. We publish anthologies of member produce work, and just like behind the spine, find learning opportunities in unlikely places. The salon has been running for several years right now it's a virtual event, but we hope we can reunite in person before too long. It's an active community. And if you're looking for support, it may be just the thing you need. We're on Twitter and Instagram is at the writing center. There's a private Facebook group, just search for the writing salon group.

If social media, isn't your thing. No problem. We'll put a link to the email newsletter signup sheet in the show notes. The writing sample is by writers for writers because writing is hard. But now on with this week's episode, chapter two, breaking the mold through mechanisms like the page term, a comic book offers a unique set of tools to its creator, unrivaled world of experimentation and bound by what we typically understand as conventional literature. It's fair to say that anything goes that attitude has been around since the very advent of the comic book. This culture of rule-breaking should be a lesson to all of us, whether writing comics or not, because it has allowed them to evolve and adapt in incredible and unexpected ways.

We're really lucky growing up as a kid, reading comics through the seventies, eighties, and into the 21st century, because so many of the innovations happened for me. They happened while I was watching. I mean, for start, when you grew up with the Beano, you were seeing creators like Leo Baxendale, who back in the fifties had invented the bash street kids and many of the minks. And then he did a whole load of comics, which are very famous now. But while I'm a comic, which had a character called grimly fiendish, and a whole load of these really bizarre cats and his imagination really shaped what funny comics in Britain still look like today, just the way that you draw faces with a circle for a nose and big overlapping circles for eyes.

He was as influential on comic books as Tex Avery was on animated cartoons 70, 80 years ago. And a lot of these innovations were happening as I was reading them. So he invented the critical Willie, the kid who is basically almost the first British graphic novel because he published his own book and he got it out into the market where until now you'd only had annuals, you know, with hardback books, with comic strips in, and suddenly he had this whole thing with his own character in an, an ex it's hard to describe because essentially it's like the Bino with we poo and fart jokes in, but it revolutionary book would advocate.

Then you had writers like Alan Moore emerging in the 1980s. And this was in British comics like 2008 D and then there was an independent comic called warrior. And these were the people who are really starting to break. Well, they weren't breaking the rules. They were observing many of the rules that existed in other disciplines. The first of which was taking your art form. Seriously, starting to imagine that your readers were over 18 like yourself. And so not insulting their intelligence. I mean, it sounds like novel writing one Oh one, but in comics, because they'd always been for eight year old kids, people wrote down and at the start of the 1980s, you get writers like Alan Moore and Steve park house and grant Morrison and Peter Milligan and Martin Miller.

You get many of these writers who grew up starting to do grown-up stuff. Some of them would start to do just gratuitous material. And we get an awful lot of that in the present day. But a writer like Alan Moore was starting to take his work seriously, structurally looking at it in the same way as he would write a screenplay. So he does stories like halo Jones, which if there's in 2000 day D scares, which was a rip off of ITI where an alien lands in Birmingham and that again, worked beautifully in that's in that structure. Dr. And quinche about two juvenile delinquent aliens running wild around the universe.

And then he went on to do the stuff that we're more familiar with V for vendetta, and then Watchman,

I'm writing to a, perhaps a more sophisticated or grown up audience. Do you take that and extend it to it's? I guess it's furthest extremity. You get publications and comics like this, which was certainly very, very formative for me growing up. My right. Did this start with the creator was just selling this in bars and pubs. Is that right? Yes. When Chris Donald created vis this was a really good example of being there at the time I was watching this happen. The thing about vis was it's the sort of thing where you're told you can't do that. And somebody will have said to Chris, Donald, you can't do a comic that's like of a Beano, but all full of sweary words, nobody will ever sell it. He ran it off. The first ones were run off on the photocopier at work cause he worked for the DHSS in Newcastle. He ran off cheap copies. He went to pubs and clubs, just the place that he regularly frequented and sold these. I think it was 10:00 PM time. Wasn't it for the first visits that he sold and then they would print them. Then they would get local establishments to run adverts in them. And of course, when you do Northern bought gags, when you do Paul Wicker, the tall Vicker, when you do sweary kid, these things which are designed to make, I think he was 19. So they're designed to make a 19 year old laugh. They will make every 19 year old laugh. If you know your mates sense of humor, you can sell a thing to your mate. It's how quite a lot of comedians dies are all bands start. You entertain us a core group of people. And if they get it, there's a chance that the wider world will get it. And in the case of veers, it grew just by, there was a distributor called more harness and somebody got a chance to see this unrealized.

It might go a little bit further. And then it somehow got onto the desk of Richard Branson and Richard Brunson, a guy working for him called John Brown, said, we could sell this Richard. And Richard said, no, we couldn't look at it. It's just the Beano with sweaty words. So John Brown started his own company and made his millions by selling a sweary Beano to, he knew he had access to the Virgin Megastore. So they would sell it on the counter of the Virgin Megastores. And then when people, when it sold out and sold out more eventually got into wh Smith, all of this from the starting point of that's a thing you can't do, but a guy did it anyway. He had nothing at stake. He was only 19. And you couldn't predict it happening. I mean, I think that's the case with every art form that takes off. It comes quite often from nowhere. You know, many of our great things like the rock and roll booms, scaffold music, you look at it and you think, well, carry on kids. It can't do any harm. And then all of the kids love it. And suddenly you have the Beatles. Suddenly you have hip hop. Suddenly you have res comic. The Beano was the same when the Beano starts in 1938. And before that, the dandy in 1937, they are a comic without little words underneath the pictures.

So they've just got the picture and some voice bubbles, which the Americans were starting to do in their comics that cause the Beano and the dandy start in the same year as Superman and Batman. So these ideas are sort of bubbling around in the air and they're being done in the cheapest medium. And they're being done in the medium that no one's taking any notice of. So there's no one who really is got money to lose here. It's just, Oh, we're doing another one of these kids comics we do with Victor. And we do with the Hotspur in an America. We do it with adventure and we do it with detective comics. So sure if these kids want to do something a little bit radical, you know, in the case of the Americans, people in silly costumes with their pants, outside, their trousers, let them in six months time, we'll be doing something else.

And in the case of the dandy and the Beano, if they want to do Lord snootier of posh kid who hangs out with a gas work kids, if they want to do desperate dance cowboy, who also looks like he's in Scotland who bends lampposts and smoked tobacco out the end of it, then get, let the there'll be something new next week, next week. That's how it happens.

Chapter three, my Shakespeare, just when you think we've run out of ways to re-imagine the work of William Shakespeare, something blindsides you. And it isn't until you hear the concept and the rationale that you realize how blindingly obvious it is to do it that way. Why didn't I think of that? And I have to say Kim's adaptation of Shakespeare to the format of a graphic novel is a stroke of pure genius.

Well, I have been writing and drawing for comics for 30 years. I've worked for the Bino extensively writing and drawing my own stories. So I did bash street kids adventures. And I worked for doctor who adventures and I've worked for Marvel, mostly for Marvel. I was working as an artist, but I was also starting to breakthrough as a writer, writing werewolf finite, and then Marvel file for bankruptcy. And that's a long story, but anyway, having worked for Marvel for awhile, but as well as writing comic books, I work writing for a right, doing stand-up comedy writing stage shows. And I did a show called the sit-com trials, which was onstage taking, but writers work where we would do short sitcom scripts and pitting them head to head with actors on stage so that the audience would then choose the thing they liked the best.

So I've put things on stage and I've I've written for pretty well, all media. One of the things that I had always had in my mind was how I would do Macbeth because when I only seen Macbeth, I have thought that people were in many ways, making him too much of a hero. If you think of the Patrick Stewart version, which was shown on the BBC, he's very much a successful warrior. And I didn't think that that's how I perceive the story and a favorite play of many of us going right back to 1977 is Abigail's party by Mike Lee. Well Abigail's party is how I have always seen Lawrence and Beverly from Abigail's party.

That is my Macbeth and lady Macbeth. And I talked to loads of people when I'm taking my shows up to the end of a fringe I'm in the loft bar. So of course, Malo version of Macbeth. And everyone was like, Oh, I'd love to be in that. But of course I don't have the where with all. And by the way, I've never directed a serious play. I've only directed and I may not have directed it most successfully, who knows. And so I couldn't put on a play, but I could do a graphic novel. And at the end of 2019, because I knew I was going to have a couple of quiet months in which I could really get my teeth into this. I planned the project. So I did 125 page graphic, novel adaptation of Macbeth. It's called Finley Macbeth.

My name is Kev F Southern. My middle name is Findlay. And as it turns out researching the real Macbeth, he is part of the same clan as my ancestors on my mom's side work clearly as well. The Finlay clan McMath was part of that same club. So fender Macbeth is a salesman in 1977 for a manufacturing company in Scotland called Albert industries. So instead of having conquering Kings fighting in this medieval structure, I have the salesman of the year and he gets overlooked for promotion because Duncan MacKinnon instead chooses to promote Malcolm MacKinnon. And so he's frustrated, but he's frustrated and he's this guy, although he's good at sales, he doesn't have the social skills. He doesn't have the confidence. You know, he's just, he's a guy in a Brown suit and a kippah tie. His wife, Linda Macbeth is more ambitious. She's manipulative. And again, familiarity with Abigail's party. You can picture the character, who's molding her husband in that way. And then when you see that so much of Shakespeare's dialogue blends with that vision of his story. Now in my adaptation, I still have the stabbing. I still have the death. I have the servants, the chauffeur, I still have the guest room in a very big house that the Macbeth live in, which is well beyond their usual budget.

You know, Linda has made him really overstretched the mortgage payments. And again, there are lines in with Beth, which back this up, he gets himself in a bit too deep. There's lots of blood. And in my version, I've, re-imagined a lot of the dialogue, but I've kept a lot of Shakespeare in there too. And I've looked very closely at the witches because they have agency, which a lot of times is overlooked, especially Shakespeare kind of drops them out towards the end of his tone, telling in my story, the, the witches are the secretaries who very much run the company that they're the first face you see, when you come into Albert industries, as they're the first face you see, when you come into my bed and in my version, you see them right to the end and you get more of an understanding of the part they play in manipulating the story.

And I don't want to spoil more of the adaptation than that, but that was how I was going to do it on stage. And that's how I've done it in the book. And of course the book I can, I can do more with the visuals.

I've always found the accessibility of Shakespeare. Fascinating. We know these plays so well. And yet we still find new ways of performing them, that you mentioned the Patrick Stewart version. I saw that in the theater and it was the most terrifying production I have ever seen. And everybody knows that you're supposed to end at the first part. You're supposed to go to interval when Banquo dies. They didn't. And I was like, wait, what's going on? I don't understand it. But because it was set in the military hospital, what was great is that the witches were nurses. And of course they had what we now know is PPE.

They had masks on and the line your beds do tell me, otherwise just worked perfectly because they were at sometimes little touches like that.

Well, that's an interesting thing with the Patrick Stewart one as well, because we were talking about Adam adapting into another form and you take the form that works for your audience and their expectations. The Porter. Now the Porter scene in the Patrick's do adaptation. He was made dark and grizzly and the bottom line for me, he was made not funny. Now he's a comedy routine in my version, and I'm sorry to spoil this for readers, but my Porter is Billy Connolly. Now he's actually a Billy Conley tribute act for potential copyright reasons he's referred to as that. But it's set in 1977, I took the most popular comedian of 1977.

And then he does a series of topical gangs about people who've just died because that's what the Porter does. The Porter comes in, he does topical gangs about people who just died because that's what the audience needed at that point in 1590, whatever, that's exactly what they need. That was the point of it. Your audience have just been off to go and get locked, head in a bag. I don't know where they ate, but you then come back for your light relief. You're then put in the right temperature. And then you're segwayed back into the drama and the introduction of a brand new character, Madame McDuff, who is going to come and help solve our crime. That's what's going to happen in your story. And you do it the way that works.

I mean, I might've got it wrong. And jokes about Mark Bolin. Having died might not be very funny, but that's, you know, you do what works

And, and so much so that you, you didn't just stop at my Beth. You've carried on. You've done two more. Haven't you?

Yes. Well, my second book w I was going to do phenomenal, Beth, and then are we going to sell it at the book festivals and comic conventions that I've been invited to for 2020, none of which happened. And so I started doing a new, a new one under lockdown, and that was Prince of Denmark street taking Hamlet. Again, this is an idea I'd had on the back burner, but it was even less of a, a stageable thing because I'd envisaged Hamlet as a punk musical. The adaptation was very interesting because you look at Macbeth and it's a really good film plot. This is why Macbeth gets adapted into Japanese film versions and so on because it's 90 minutes long.

If you do it properly, you motor through the action Hamlet. I've subsequently read this disgust a lot, but my first thought was what a lot of academics have also hit on. There's more material here in here than you would perform in one go when you're reading a, I've got various versions from first folio and quartos on your reading, four hours of material, it's a, director's cut. This is a version taken from lots of different ways of performing harmony, lots of different productions from Shakespeare in times. And you would never do the whole thing you chop and select from this. And so that's a really good starting point.

There are too many words. That's my problem with Shakespeare's Hamlet way too many words. So what happens is in my version, I've set a Hamlet in 1977 on Denmark street, which was 10 pound alley. As people will know, it was the heart of the music industry from the 1920s, right up until about the 1990s. And in 1977, it was the heart of the music industry. There was still recording studios in the basement. The publishing companies are, we're mostly still there. The sex pistols lived upstairs above. I think it's number six, Denmark street and recorded in the basement. Malcolm McLaren paid for them to have this flat up there. And my Hamlet is a character called Joe Prince Hamlet, and he is the lead singer and songwriter of a band called the Danes.

We've got Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on drums and bass. And her ratio star is the lead guitar. And they are an up-and-coming punk band. They're a manager. And the record label is uncle Claude, essentially. Claudius. But what happens when Prince Hamlet discovers what's happened to his father who was King Hamlet, who was a 1950s rocker who's died under mysterious circumstances when he is given a visitation by the ghost of his father, which again, spoiler alert, it happens during a broadcast of some old footage on the old gray whistle test. I've got whisper whispering Bob Harris in my version, when Hamlet discovers what happened to his father, the hands of Claude and his mother Gert, who they've now married, then he starts exacting his revenge.

I tell the story again, we're not doing conquering Kings in castles in Denmark. We're in the music industry. When there are still lots of things at stake, there's a failure. The hippie singer songwriter, her career is there and growing her father Polonius is an old Prague rocker Polonius monk. And he's, he's now an ANR man for the record label, as well as being wise, counsel to the youngsters saying things like, Oh, yes, I heard your John peel session. And we have the same things that we play with as in Hamlet's court, in Denmark, but in Denmark street where it's a good little environment to keep everything happening.

So Claude and Gertrude have got a flat on demo street, as well as having a place in Hampstead, which means that you can do your stabbings and then be quite close to the place you've got to be next. There's a church at the foot of the street as well, and a pub around the corner. So I've got everything. I've got all these things on ministry. Imagine Hamlet as the lion King, you can certainly imagine it as a, you know, a band called the Dane set in the late seventies in the middle of Soho. It, it just works just, just on what you said about Hamlet. If you haven't seen it. And if, and if listeners haven't seen it immediately, after listening to this, go on to Google and just type in Shakespeare's agents, there is a brilliant secret policeman's ball sketch where Rowan Atkinson plays Shakespeare's agent and Hugh Laurie plays Shakespeare. And it's basically Rowan Atkinson is rewriting the to be, or not to be speech, because he says it's five hours bill, or a too many words in this.

You need to get to it. That it's, it's one it's really funny, right?

Forgotten that strip. Well, luckily I didn't put any, anything about there being too many words in my version, but it is the thing that strikes you. There are too many words. I think Ben Elton must've written that script because he refers to this in upstart Crow. And I think it's what a lot of people, when you write you rewrite, and lots of us do editing down, especially in comics where the balance of words and pictures is something you're very much aware of. You're aware of it with you're doing the comic timing of a live performance. And when you're doing it in film and TV, you take a dialogue out, you strip it down and you get to the point when you're doing comedy writing, you have to be particularly concise. And those of us who do comedy writing and comics writing find we're using the same discipline.

It's taking words out, leaving you with the bit that is funny or doesn't hold up the storytelling. And yeah, Ben Elton would be very aware of that. And somebody doing comics, you, you can't have a voice bubble. That's more than half of the picture.

Just finally the masterclasses that you've been running, normally you would be in, in schools, in person running these presumably you know, giving immediate feedback on what, on what kids have been able to, to produce. How easy has it been for you to, to pivot and to move that online? Have you been able to run the master classes?

I've been very lucky in that the comic art classes, I do work perfectly online. I mean, I stand up there at a flip chart, just like I do in the classroom. I can get the kids in the same way with call and response as I do, when I'm in the classroom, getting schools to come on board with it, I've been lucky as well. Loads of schools are up for doing it as long, of course, as they've got the, the software and the hardware. The first schools that I worked with were independent schools where right from the start of March, they had been able to get the kids working on their own tablets at home.

Increasingly I'm finding regular schools are being able to have me in. So that's, that's marvelous, Kev, comic You'll be able to find my contacts. Please have me into your school. I've also been running them for any, anybody to come and join. So I run those regularly, advertising them on my Twitter and my Facebook so that anybody can come along and join the classes. And they go away having produced a comic. I do a caricature of them as well. And after two hours, hopefully they've learned everything that I know how to do so they could leave school and steal my job.

Well, that's I said, writing is all about borrowing. As many times, it's been an absolute pleasure. We will put links to your work in the show notes, but Kevin Sullivan, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure. Thank you. Conclusion. A massive thank you then to Kevin F Sutherland for joining me on the podcast and to recap, what have we learned? Absolutely. Anyone control, comic book characters are so powerful because they're so simple. The author of Dilbert made millions with what were basically stick man drawings. Don't let your perceived lack of artistic ability holds you back. Whatever you create will be in your style. And that's the whole point.

The creator of this was told you can't do that. Clearly. He could learn to break the rules. Even if comics aren't your bag. They are the only medium where rules can be broken, be brave experiment and ignore the naysayers. Shakespeare can always be re-imagined. It's a great lesson in creativity to sit down and consider ways to tell the stories in a unique manner. So many people have done it before. So it forces you to tap into the deepest parts of your brain to come up with something new. The simple act of attempting this will do wonders for your creativity. And finally, Kevin says his lack of knowledge in playwriting is what led to the creation of the Shakespeare in graphic novel. Don't let your writing go on read just because you're not comfortable with the medium.

You think it fits best in, make it fit somewhere else. Thanks for listening. I'm Mark Haywood. And if you'd like to get in touch, we're on Twitter and Facebook is at behind the spine. New episodes are released weekly. These likers are with you. As on Apple podcasts, it really does help goodbye for now. Stay safe and keep writing.

Saturday 13 February 2021

Socks Murder Mystery report

 Well, parts of it were excellent, and people have only been saying nice things so far, but honestly I couldn't tell you if the Socks' Interactive Murder Mystery worked or not. I'm really glad we took the risk of doing something new and experimental, but it really was a bit too complicated and not in the Socks' usual style for my liking.

I have to thank James Pharoah and the Quarry Theatre in Bedford for teaming up with me to run it. It meant that we definitely reached a new audience. We ended up with 55 ticket buyers, of which I think half might be newcomers to the Socks' Zoom shows (they were most likely punters who'd previously seen the Socks live in Bedford).

We took the script of Situation Murder's Ten Little Chefs, last staged circa 2003, and adapted it for the Socks to perform. Between them the two Socks played four characters as well as themselves, with some very variable accents. Because the audience were muted most of the time, I couldn't tell if they were finding stuff funny, and it was the costumes that were producing most of the slapstick. The murder mystery story was very long and, possibly hard to follow.

I think, if people had turned up expecting a traditional Murder Mystery, they'd have been a bit put off by the comedy routines I front-loaded it with (it was 15 minutes before the drama started). And if people expected the Socks doing funny stuff, they might have been a bit bored by the long drama in the middle. But, as I say, I don't know. Nobody's said anything but nice stuff so far.

When we broke the audience off into Breakout Rooms, I hadn't briefed them all on what to do before they went (though I was pleased with the technical process, which I stayed on top of). And whether the Socks' improv answers to the punters interrogation questions were entertaining I don't know. It's very hard to tell when you're on the Socks' side of the set.

I was worried in advance that we didn't have enough material to fill an hour (I was convinced the murder drama itself was no longer than 15 minutes). In the end we went on for 1 hour 20 minutes!

The running order was:
10 minute Countdown video (Minging Detectives music, which I'd forgotten is excellent)
Opening gags (mostly from Minging Detectives)
I'm A Sock (song on video)
Into Murder Mystery gag material
Prick With A Fork Intro video
Long scene of drama, video sting, another long scene of drama. Murder.
Winter Wonderland song (video)
First Poll of Whodunnit
Into Breakout Rooms - Constable Sock visited each room as voice only (on iPad)
Interrogation of three suspects
Second Poll of Whodunnit
Denouement Scene - The end.
Coppers Cabana (song on video)
Thanks and wind up (then 90 minutes in the virtual bar afterwards)

So big thanks to everyone who came, I look forward to our next show being all comedy all the way through!

Next show: Talking Of Changing The Subject, March 19th:

Friday 5 February 2021

Drawing Space Elain & gigging at Frenzy

This week's had a bit of everything in it, the most pleasant of which has been writing and drawing a three page strip for the newly-Kickstartered Wallop comic - Space Elain.

I've whipped out the red space suit and rocket pants for their third (or maybe fourth) outing, this time being worn by Space Elain (her surname's an anagram of alien) who has adventures in space and wakes up at the end. Yes, I've done Little Nemo in space. Keen eyed fans of my work will recognise the suit, helmet and jet pack from its last appearance in Hot Rod Cow, and its first time around as the outfit worn by Plug in a series of strips called Rocket Pants in The Beano and Beano Max. I mention a fourth incarnation, as the Plug strip began life as an unpublished pitch to Red Dwarf Smegazine, Robbie Rocket Pants. There may be nothing new under the sun, there's certainly nothing all that new when I'm coming up with humour strip ideas. 

The script for this one is totally new and I'm sweetly pleased with it. Scripting and pencilling was done between Monday afternoon and Tuesday night, inking completed on Wednesday. Lettering and colouring still to do.

On Thursday night the Socks did their first 5 minute open mic slot in over a decade, I think. We guested in Frenzy Comedy's New Material Night and, I think, went pretty well. Here, it's on Youtube, judge for yourselves.

It's hard keeping it down to five minutes. We'd planned a set that included a string of gags, Walk On The Wild Side, then rounded off with the Hose routine from Shakespeare. We got as far as Wild Side and our five minutes was up. Good laughs, and kind words afterwards.

Zoom comedy club gigs have an odd dynamic, I found. Whereas the Socks get away with their shtick online by directing the set ups and punchlines at each other, them breaking the fourth wall to talk aside to the audience, stand ups have to direct it all out at the crowd. Which, last night, found the problem of the MC's rhetorical questions being taken as conversation, so punters were actually replying to things like "so who's been down the shops lately?" and replying in full, rather denying the comic the chance to get on with their material. That's a problem you don't get in a club. A Zoom show is like a club where every punter's brought their own microphone.

We have one more guest lined up, at Mortified Comedy, and want to get some more, especially at London clubs. For years it's been unfeasible to do open mikes, what with the travelling and the lack of pay, not to mention the rigmarole of putting up the Socks' set for so short a time on stage. (When the set up and take down is three times as long as the gig, it really doesn't seem worth it.) But for Zoom gigs, nothing could be easier. Bring em on.

The past week and a bit has included not only three Comic Art Masterclass days and Tilly & James's excellent Burns Night Zoom party (above), but also a guest slot for The Socks on Dean Friedman's Groundhog Day show. We attempted a second stab at John Cage's 4'33", having failed to record it in our Burns Night show, but this time our mistake was to forget to tell all the audience to unmute. They're used to being muted during Dean's song so stayed largely silent through our routine. So it fell flat and still doesn't give us a clip worth sharing. We'll have another go sometime.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries & art centres - AND NOW ONLINE on ZOOMemail for details. His debut graphic novels Findlay Macbeth , The Prince Of Denmark Street and The Midsummer Night's Dream Team are available on Amazon. Follow Kev on Facebook, Twitter. Promo video here

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre will be touring near you sometime. Catch up with them on Facebook for the latest. 
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