Monday, January 16, 2017

Interview with Peter In Peril creator Helen Bate

This has taken me a shamedfacedly long taken to publish.  the publisher gave me a copy of Peter in Peril - Courage and Hope in World War Two back in October or November last year.  I read it pretty quickly and thoroughly enjoyed it and was asked if I would like to do an interview with the author.  Of course I said yes, and then it took me a few weeks to send questions, then another few weeks to send follow up questions and now a few months later I am actually publishing this.

I reviewed Peter in Peril over on New readers.... It's about a Jewish boy living in Budapest in the 1930s and it covers his life before and during the war.  It's told from the point of view of Peter and is suitable for ages 8 up.I found parts of it very affecting and I think it's a good addition to WW2 literature.  So, I asked the creator, Helen Bate, a few questions. Here we go.

Note - the formatting has gone wonky part way through this post, it's very annoying and I don't know how to fix it.


Q1.  I understand that Peter in Peril is your first book and that you used to be an architect.  How did you get into comics and did being an architect have any influence on how you approached constructing the comic pages?
I gave up my architectural career after 10 years to do a degree in illustration and I initially illustrated some children’s books for Frances Lincoln and Harper Collins. The Peter story was done as a student project initially but in a very different form. I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to work with Janetta Otter-Barry to produce it in a way that would suit 8-10 year old children and the graphic story form seemed to be the one that best suited the complexity of the subject and the age range. I used more text than other graphic stories, as I wanted to allow the book to be read to a child. I also felt it was important with the subject matter to adequately explain to children what was happening in more detail.

I think my architectural background has quite an influence on my drawing style - drawing with a black line is a very big part of architectural drawing and I always tend to gravitate to that way of drawing… even though I’d quite like to have a looser style … but drawing is pretty much like your handwriting - it’s very personal to the individual. 


Q2. Describing artistic styles in comics is one of my weak points, so for the benefit of readers can you describe your art style and how you came to illustrate the way you do?
I don’t think my artistic style fits into any particular category. The drawings are very much graphic and line based because that’s the way I work - and I use layering and watercolour to add depth and mood… Because I also do picture books for younger children, my style is influenced by that too.

Q3. I read that Peter is a member of your family.  Creating this book must have been quite emotional.  Can you tell us about the process of developing it and how you ensured the story stayed true to life?
Peter is my brother-in-law and his story has always been one that I have felt was an important one to pass on to future generations, especially within our own family. Because he and his parents and his cousin Eva all survived, it has a more positive outcome than the story of Anne Frank and others like it; Because of this it’s more suitable for younger and more sensitive children. And in this age of world problems, when intolerance and persecution are becoming more prevalent again, I feel it’s a really topical theme and much needed.

My sister and my brother-in-law wrote down his story in as much detail as he could remember some years ago, so we have a family book that I was able to use to get the details. I then showed Peter at every stage of the development to ensure he was happy with the simplification and the depiction of his childhood experiences. He and his cousin Eva have been amazed by the reaction of people to their story.. they genuinely didn’t think anyone would be interested. 

Q4.  Have you read many other comics dealing with World War Two?  Can you recommend any?
There are a couple of comic style books or graphic stories that I have read about WW2 (both holocaust stories involving children) and that I’ve found really interesting because of the different ways they are portrayed - but they are aimed at older children or adults … 

Q5. Was it Otter-Barry that asked you to do a children's book or did the idea come from you?
It was my idea for the book and Janetta Otter-Barry really liked the idea. 

Q6. Presumably you think comics are good for children, do you feel they improve literacy or that they offer more (or different things?) than prose books do? How so?  What do you think is important about them?
I think the graphic novel style of picture book or comic style - whichever you want to call it, makes reading more accessible for those children who may be less happy reading straight forward prose with some illustrations. So if reluctant readers can be encouraged to read by providing them with comic style stories on more serious themes done well, then that’s a great contribution to literacy.

Although I love reading fiction, I am also a very visual person, so I love mixing the two.  I know my 11 year old grand daughter and my 8 year old grandson are big comic or graphic novel fans, and although they read prose fiction too, I see comics as offering them something very different that helps them to see storytelling and fiction in a different, and more visual way. Providing them with a good cross section of styles helps with their visual literacy and develops their aesthetic judgement. 

I think comic style stories can also be a great stepping stone to understanding film making and theatre, and I think that is a big plus.

Doing Peter in a comic strip form helped to make a difficult subject more accessible - and although I did use a lot of prose in it, that was to ensure that the complexities of the subject were explained more fully. My next comic style story, although also a difficult subject, is set today so needs less explanation and will be more visual.
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There we go.  Many thanks to Helen for answering my questions and for being patient regarding my delays.  You can read more about Peter in Peril on the Otter-Barry website.  Please please check it out.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

I'm trying to think of things!

I haven't written anything here for ages.  I want to, but I don't know what to write about.  My life is filled with work and family, neither of which I am going to bleat about on such a public forum.

I am still reading comics, but I have lost a lot of enthusiasm for current output.  Those I do read seem to have been filled with meaty tragedy/heroism stories, usually about people dying/nearly dying and being saved/something threatening to kill their loved ones/other life and death/world changing decisions serious business stuff.  I have had so much serious stuff  in my life I can think about this shiz for hours, days even, but I don't want to write about it.  I would prefer to read and talk about light hearted stuff, but then I think my writings would go, 'this is fun, I like fun, I hope if you read it you like fun too'.

I don't really know why I would write things or who for.  I'm also painfully aware that I have written stuff like this post before, probably 3 or 4 times.

If this was a lifestyle blog I'd be saying that I'm shutting up shop and I don't like how consumerist lifestyle blogs have become.  That prolly means nothing to anyone who reads this.

I'll tell you what I am doing though, that is watching all the Star Trek series on netflix. I did the full 7 seasons of Voyager (I adore it and Captain Janeway beyond belief) and now I'm on season 5 of DS9.  DS9 started off shoddy but has got loads better.  I thought about writing about Trek, but I have no enthusiasm for that, I like just watching it and writing fb statuses about it to my friends.

Yet I still want to write things, I just need to work out what I want to write about.  Aarrgggh. Writers block is rubbish.

Edit - just press publish and then thought of things I could write about.  Le sigh.  Art stuff. I started drawing.  I am interested in the technicalities of drawing (because I don't understand the technical process).  I am also still putting occasional things up on my New readers...start here! blog and I will hopefully have an interview with a creator up soon.  So I guess I am writing things.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Brilliant

(this is a post I wrote a few weeks back but only just found again)

I just read Roddy Doyle 's brilliant. It's set in Dublin and is a story about how the kids of Dublin defeat the Black Dog of Depression who is ruining the adults’ lives.

It's so literal. Kids are the only ones who can defeat the dog because they are the future. They laugh at almost anything and when they say the word ‘brilliant’ they take away the dog's power.


I didn't enjoy it, it's just too on-the-nose. I think of another book that made everyday words into metaphors - Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. His treatment of London tube stations is fairly literal, but it's clever, and nestles inside a clever book and the metaphors aren't the whole story.  Brilliant is described as a magical, moving, marvellous story. I find it too obvious to be moving.  It doesn’t feel magical, not if you have an imagination. It's simplistic, depression can’t be staved off and defeated by being cheerful and laughing.  Metaphor doesn’t work unless you follow it through, you can’t do halfway houses. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Legally Blonde, Teen Titans Go, Rebirth

Legally Blonde is a great film.

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed it and on a recent re-watch I worked out why.  It's all about female friendship and solidarity.  Elle is a rich sorority chick who appears shallow and mostly interested in getting married to her love, Warner.  Usually in films rich, blonde, popular, shallow, marriage chasing women are bitches.  Not so Elle.  She is friends with everyone in her sorority house (is that the right term?) and she expects other women to be friends too.

When she starts at Harvard and a lecturer asks Vivian for her opinion on Elle's behaviour, Elle is genuinely shocked that Viv goes against her.  When Elle needs a pick me up and goes to a nail salon she takes genuine interest in the beautician's life and becomes friends with her - in films rich women don't usually make friends with poor women, but this friendship is genuine.

All the successes of the film are down to women trusting each other and supporting each other.  The woman the legal team is defending used to be in Elle's sorority and so she  only trusts Elle.  They wouldn't have won the case without Elle.  Viv eventually dumps Warren, stops being a bitch to elle and they become friends.

It's nice to see a film that celebrates female solidarity, girliness (pink, fashion, bubbliness) and seriousness and achievement.  It's great.  If I ever get the inclination I will watch it again and do a full analysis of it.  That would be fun.

On a more comics note, I saw my first episode of Teen Titans Go! this morning - it was the one where Raven and rose make friends and Starfire, Cybor and Garth go to Cool School.  It was witty and the characters were in character.  I very much enjoyed it.  Almost as much as I've been enjoying the Rebirth books I've been reading.  It's been a good couple of weeks for my entertainment. :)

Friday, May 27, 2016

A new outlet

I started an art blog.  It's on instagram and my username is sarangapie if you want to go have a look.  I'd link it but instagram is bloody odd and I don't think you can view posts unless you have an account, and I don't think you can upload photos without using the app (so you can't upload from a laptop or pc, for example).

Don't get too excited about what is on there.  I can't draw. I'm not being modest, I have no artistic talent. My stuff  is nowhere in the realms of good.  But. I liked drawing in art classes in school (I think I stopped classes at 13).  I hadn't really drawn since - a few moon and goddess doodles, the odd flower, but when I sat down and tried to draw I got really frustrated that I couldn't get what was in my head down on the paper, so I haven't ever bothered.  Then this weekend I realised that didn't matter to me anymore.  The point is to draw, it is in the act of drawing itself.  It doesn't matter if it's trash and no one knows what it is.

And you know what, I'm actually quite proud of what I've done.  I feel accomplished. I drew a daffodil and it resembles a daffodil.  I even drew a mini comic and I think it kind of makes sense.

What caused this change in mindset?  It was the talk I went to last Saturday about trauma and women's comics.  Nicola Streeten referred to her art as bad art, then put it in inverted commas and said she thought it was good art.  It got me thinking that everyone has a different notion of what good art is.  I am used to, and I like, the American superhero art styles (as varied as superhero art is, it usually has a recogniseable style).

Streeten set up Laydeez do Comics.  I came away from the talk wanting that for Norwich, but aware that I don't have the time or energy, or skills, or network, to do this.  But I am pretty desperate to do something creative.  I have spent approx ten months looking after my little boy and have only had the energy to take things in - telly usually.  It's a very passive way to spend your free time.  I have a yearning to do something proactively.  I know I need to get back to New readers... but I feel constrained by the formalities of that site, and anyway, I don't have the time or energy to read comics, scan in pages and then create a decent review, so that's on hiatus for the moment.

I read about how the Birmingham LDC was set up and how the founder was inspired by London LDC to do her own comics.  I thought, I can draw.  If she can, I can.  I haven't checked out her work by the way, I don't know if I'd like it or not.  And I remembered that people say the best way to get better at drawing, is to draw.

So I drew.  I'm not sure if I want to get better, that isn't the point of this exercise.  The point is to give me a creative outlet, and writing isn't really doing that for me at the moment.  Although this post is going pretty well, maybe I just need more inspiring subjects....

Anyway. I draw now.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cap'n A: Civil War (spoilers)

I saw this last night. I didn't think much of it. It was OK, but I felt like it was an excuse to get lots of costumes fighting each other in cool ways, rather being focused on plot.Having said that, the plot did make sense and was fairly tight, even with such a lot going on.  Perhaps I'm just getting movie event fatigue.

The introduction of Peter Parker was good (and I'm so thankful we didn't get another Spidey origin story). Antman's giant scene was great.  The actor playing Black Panther was good, and had a lovely accent but I didn't like his suit. The Dora Milaje) was perfect.

Perhaps I was also too tired for a cinema showing. The theatre was really hot and I'd had a bad night's sleep and my eyes ached.

I didn't think it deserved the title civil war. The fights were pretty well contained and for Civil War I expect most of America to be trashed.  I did like the plot about the fake Dr guy trying to destroy the Avengers by wrecking their relationships. That felt fresh. One of my problems with watching superhero films is I am watching them as a comics fan, assessing against source material and delighting that these guys are on screen.But after so many Marvel films that delight is gone because I;ve seen them so many times. Now I just need a good film. Ant-man was. Civil war was merely OK.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wonder Woman Earth One

This was a disappointment.  I was curious how Grant Morrison would write her and excited about Yanique Paquette drawing.  Unfortuantely the end result is terrible.

It would be kind to say it is a riff on the golden age.  It is golden age Wondy ideas packaged into a cold, heartless, sneery mess.  It’s a really cynical origin story and Wonder Woman should not be cynical.  I can’t think that Morrison is a fan.  I think he views her as an interesting character, but he has no connection to her.  I don’t think you should write or draw characters you don’t feel a connection with.

The story itself is boring.  Dull.  It flows badly and there’s nothing to keep you interested, no suspense, even thought there are things which should be suspenseful in there.
The art is lacklustre.  The character poses are a bit too much on the sexy side for my taste, and there’s little of the detail and originality and joie de vivre that I’ve seen Paquette do elsewhere.  The colours are nice enough but the inking is one dimensional.  The Amazons look like pin ups, but not very exciting pin ups.


There is so much good Wondy stuff out there.  Bombshells, Legend of Wonder Woman, Sensation Comics and Ame Comi Girls are so much better than this. So much better.  Bombshells would do really well with a non traditional comics audience, it could capitalise on the retro love that is still going around.  And it’s a good story.