Friday, October 30, 2009


Chuffed to discover that Sarah McIntyre has posted some of my sketches on her blog . She was one of the speakers at this conference which I was very glad to have been able to attend on my return from France. I am not at all qualified to review such a comics-erudite event since my relationship to comics is intermittent and I'm an outsider in the vast family of comics creators who work in this medium full time and have made their mark in it. The sequential format does interest me very much indeed and I want to explore it much further (in my always-to-be-continued graphic novel) but there's a great deal of activity and information related to comics culture that I tend to pass by, probably to my detriment.

Having been an artists' book-maker for a long time, the creators I respond to most are those whose approach and ideas are in that vein and who use sequential images as part of their visual/verbal art practice rather than as comics per se. Pages filled with small frames, each loaded with tiny text and drawings, no matter how appealing the story or concept irritate my eyes and brain. I prefer layouts which spread over the available space, flowing in and out of consciousness as time itself does. Such an artist is Dominique Goblet whose work I was excited to discover at the conference. I saw some of her books on the tables and bought one immediately: Souvenir D'Une Journée Parfaite - atmospheric, quirky, melancholy and moving on different levels of time, space, memory and emotion, beautifully expressed in monochrome drawings and an evocative, scratchily handwritten text. Hearing her later in conversation with Paul Gravett (top right in the photos below) confirmed the impression that my concerns and aims were very much in tune with hers. We will keep in touch and I hope to visit her studio in Brussels some time.

About Paul Gravett, no praise can ever be too high: he is responsible for stimulating interest in comics, encouraging innumerable comics artists in the UK and elsewhere and writing about comics critically, perceptively and knowledgeably. Back in the 1980's when I was producing and self-publishing my mini-series The Augustine Adventures (Small Packages) Paul was one of the first to review them in his magazine Escape and he has always been supportive. I think he has a pair of wings tucked away behind his shoulder blades, enabling him to appear wherever and whenever comics creators are assembled, lighting up the place with his good will and open-minded attention.

Sarah Lightman (who organised the conference along with Dr. Laurence Grove of the University of Glasgow) is another artist I've recently met whose work resonates with me. An exhibition of her diary drawings, In Memoriam, is currently in New Hall, focusing on ordinary objects (packets of biscuits, lace, toothbrush etc.) sensitively drawn in pencil, as conduits for autobiographical reflection. Each image has a pithy caption which leads you out of the object represented and into the artist's mind as she was drawing it. Sarah, along with illustrator Nicola Streeten, recently founded Laydeez Do Comics , a forum focusing on comic works based on life narrative, meeting once a month. I went along to one meeting and will be back for more.

I could write more about the conference but I'm going to stop here as I want to post this and get on with where I left off before I disappeared to France.


Thursday, October 29, 2009


My hotel room balcony, Clamart.

I am back home but still floating in a nomadic space where 'home' is just the last bed you slept in and the last place you ate your breakfast. And despite the insecurity, strangeness and discomforts of that floating world, I must say it has its charm and its usefulness. For one thing it liberates you, temporarily, from the force of habit. Your time, your attention, your surroundings all undergo a transformation which may or may not be to your liking but it certainly kicks you in the inertia-zone and wakes up at least some of your somnolent neurons. I walked more, ate less, got up earlier, went to sleep earlier and thought less about myself than I have in a long time. Things which needed to be done got done and although a feeling of being a remotely-controlled robot occasionally surfaced, there were moments of zen-like discovery and intense engagement for which I am grateful.

My sister, continuing her astonishingly quick recovery, is going back to Rome with her daughter this week. They are together in Paris at the moment where Annie is enjoying her release from the prison, as she calls it, of hospital. I don't believe my presence was a factor in her speedy rehabilitation, she's got her own indomitable will for that. But maybe the old familiar rusty pattern of sisterly irritation takes on movement and meaning when seen out of an unfamiliar window.

Back a little later with report of the Cambridge Women in Comics Event which I attended on Sunday.


Thursday, October 15, 2009


I was born in France, my mother, her mother and father and everyone up and down that family tree were French, therefore something in me must be French, part of my bloodstream must taste of vin rouge and some of my brain cells must be tuned to the sound of the French voice. But non, ce n'est pas comme ça. I do not feel French, vin rouge gives me a headache and the sound of French voices speaking all at once sounds to me like chickens trapped in a cattle truck. The voices of Jacques Brel or Leo Ferré or Edith Piaf, that's another kettle of bouillabaise entirely. I can relate to those, absolument, and the same goes for Matisse and several others in the domains of art, literature or philosophy. I have a penchant for French intellectuals' bushy eyebrows and flowing hair (the men) and the women are beautiful, if too professionally made up. But in front of any French television programme, even those intelligent ones in which luminaries from various fields intelligently discuss serious issues, in five minutes I want to run screaming from the room. Or sitting in a café, listening to men standing at the bar talking in highly excited, combative tones about something or other, I feel like a visitor from another planet.

Complaining I can understand. Maybe that's the French gene in me. I am argumentative and a good complainer. Not for me the Anglo-Saxon embarassment about sending badly cooked food back to the kitchen, letting sleeping dogs lie and not rocking the boat. Those dogs had better wake up when I'm around and the boat rocks and rolls.

A fraught trip back to the hospital yesterday and a painful procedure for my sister to endure (is there anything worse then having tubes and instruments poked up your nostrils?) but things are calmer today. The weather has turned very cold and I didn't bring my winter coat.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The tables and chairs in the breakfast room at my hotel are wearing skirts, long golden yellow brocaded skirts. It looks like a gathering of headless bishops, an ecclesiastical convention imagined by the Surrealists. Surveying the scene from above is the always open eye of a television, pouring out old Disney cartoons dubbed in French, which makes the quacking and barking and squealing even more hysterical than in the native version. Plastic flowers and candles adorn the skirted tables. Breakfast is good: crusty baguette, croissant, butter, jam, orange juice, coffee.

Taking a shower is a daunting tour de force: if you make the fatal mistake of turning the hot tap on first, boiling water sprays you and the room from cracks in the long black rubber hose attached to the bath. Today the cold water tap fell off. There are no hooks to hang anything. Maybe the French have not yet discovered hooks. But I saw some of those suction ones in the Super U yesterday and if I were staying longer I'd buy a sackful and stick them everywhere.

I love this hotel. The friendly Moroccans who appear to be running it are philosophical about Things That Don't Work As They Should (c'est la vie) and will fix them almost as soon as possible.

My sister is definitely better. Yesterday we went for a walk in the streets around the clinic and today we'll do a longer walk. Mood has improved along with la santé. Please may it continue to be so.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Some photos of Clamart, a small town in the region called the Hauts- de- Seine where my sister is sitting, bored and fed up in a convalescence clinic and where I like my hotel room.

Friday, October 09, 2009


This morning my sister and I travelled by ambulance out of the big Roussy hospital to a convalescent clinic further out of the Paris periphery, near a small provincial town. The doctor wants her to stay two or three weeks but Annie has never been one to do what she's told or to accept that she is not Superwoman. Her recovery from the operation, thanks to the brilliant skill of the surgeon, has been astonishing but she is still not fit enough to go back to 'normal' life. Arriving at the clinic, there was a bit of a kerfuffle - to use a gentle British euphemism for one hell of a drama - because the lady was not well pleased with the place or with anything, really.

Never mind. Things have calmed down now and I am installed in a cozy room in a small hotel in the town centre, with a WIFI connection that actually works. I like this area much better than where I was before, at least there's human life out there, not just cars. There are shops and restaurants, boulangeries and boucheries and coiffeurs (more coiffeurs than anything else, for some reason - maybe the ladies of the town are particularly hair-conscious). My hotel is one of those typically French romantic petits hotels where things that don't work (like the missing top of the hot water tap) are quite charming and attended to with casual good humour by the proprietor. I much prefer this to mass-produced anonymously efficient tourist-oriented establishments. My room is the kind where one could probably write a book, should one be so inclined. One is not, pour le moment, so inclined.

Pictures of some sort will be forthcoming, soon I hope.

Monday, October 05, 2009


Water towers near hospital parking.

The hospital, Institut Gustave Roussy.

Internet connection in my room is unreliable but it seems I may have to move very soon, maybe this week, maybe next. My sister, who is doing extremely well, is going to be transferred to a convalescence clinic which we hope will be in central Paris but all depends on a complicated admin system over which we have no control. I have to find somewhere else to live which will be near her but I can't even start looking until the hospital tells me when and where she's going. Because I'm too tense to write anything interesting, I'll post some photos I took of my current surroundings. Back soon, hopefully with better visuals and verbals.

The self-catering room where I'm living.

Friday, October 02, 2009

From Paris

Well, not really Paris. More like the back of beyond, a sub-urb, a soulless banlieu where cars, presumably driven by humans, have taken over what used to be landscape and little shops, cafes, people-ish things. Instead there are motorways, roundabouts, traffic lights, bridges under which hapless pedestrians (people actually walking) risk life and limb to cross to yet another traffic island and thence make their weary way to....the Super Market! The only place for miles where something for supper may be found though it is fairly sure to consist mainly of additives. I'm only slightly exaggerating.

Enough. I'll write less robotically in a couple of days. I've finally managed to get an internet connection. My sister is more or less okay: the operation was a success in removing the malignant intruder but has left her like a boxer after a particularly brutal fight where the other guy won. Still her wondrous fighting spirit remains undaunted. Praise the Lord and the surgeon and Annie.

Images are some I've been mousing as a kind of journal while practicing being without my beloved graphic tablet.