Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

You Sank My Reverend Green!

A Fistful of Dollar

Wendell Hicks: a man with a mission.

(Click to enlarge, or you can see it in excitingly serial form here.)

(The book was nearly by Gideon Hupp, or Gallup Hoff.)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

That's My Glove? Prove It.

I was sketching out this today:

And Laura said "you've a thing about people putting on black gloves." She's right; I've got this up on my wall, a test sketch I did:

It just speaks of sinister intent. I wondered why and about five minutes ago it came to me: it's Jack Palance's glove.

Monday, 25 April 2011


Some samples from the strip, Here Comes the Neighbourhood, written by Matthew Craig, which made it into the New British Comics Vol. 3 collection. I've updated my website with some more samples. If you want to see the whole thing you'll have to buy it.

Wendell? Gee.

While sitting behind my table at Warkworth Art and Craft fair yesterday I had ample opportunity to rough out a comic strip and sketch out the central character.

This is Wendell Hicks. He is a man with a mission. What he and that are will be revealed in a two-pager shortly.

Music on Monday: The Who.

Look, I know: following comics with Dr Who. Death by nerd. Let me say then that as far as my interest in science fiction goes, this isn't the tip of the iceberg, this is the whole iceberg, comfortably run aground in its whole ice-cube-like minisculity.

And this isn't about oooh, The Seventies, Sweets They Don't Make Any More, the Ford Capri, white dog shit, blah blah blah. This is about Delia Derbyshire, a woman so far ahead of her time she invented drum and bass in 1963 (really: scroll down to 'Experimental dance track' here.)

Quite apart from all of its soggily nostalgic baggage, the theme tune to Dr Who is an extraordinary piece of music, all the more so considering it was composed by Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire in the early sixties. It's worth remembering that while the Beatles were sticking random bits of circus noise together on a tape and being hailed as geniuses, Derbyshire and the Radiophonic Workshop were undertaking a quiet and often completely anonymous revolution. As it says on the clip, "it's, what, forty years old [fifty, now] and still sounds like... the future."

On Delia:

Deconstructing the theme:

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Devil is in the Detail.

Some details taken from the Hellboy strip.

It's odd drawing something - a character, a whole world - that is so firmly locked in with someone else's style. I wanted to achieve something that would fit in with this world and without being just a copy.

I made the devil look like Mr Punch because Mr Punch is the creepiest thing ever to crawl from a human mind. It's like entertaining children with a Denis Nielsen puppet.

I can't tell you how much trouble I had drawing the approach to hell. I had it nearly completed, all inked up and 98% done when I decided I didn't like it so I started the whole page again from scratch. That page is now patched all over with pieces I re-drew on top; I don't think there was a section of it that I didn't re-do two or three times. God bless GIMP and what it covers up.

Let The Train Take the Strain

The only way I'll ever get to draw a Hellboy strip is to just draw one, so I have. It's like the joke, "My Grandfather whistled the national anthem for Queen Victoria. She wasn't there, but nonetheless that's who he was whistling it for."

I've always been interested in the old blues legend of the singer going to the crossroads to make a bargain with the devil, exchanging his soul for musical talent. Likewise I've always had the notion in the back of my mind of illustrating folk songs or blues songs; one of my favourites is the diabolic, close-shave-with-damnation vision of 'Down Bound Train', particularly the riotous version by Steve James but written by Chuck Berry, of all people.

The idea of a bluesman going to the crossroads and meeting an unexpected sort of devil seeded the whole thing and it crystalised into this story. Besides, steam engines and hell and so on seemed to fit nicely with Mike Mignola's vision.

I'll do a post sometime about just why Mike Mignola's artwork is so good (lots of black, for one thing - proper black black)but for now here's my pale imitation.

With a tincture of Bo Diddley for flavour.

The fonts are Letter-O-Matic, and Duvall Outline for the title.

Legal, please-don't-sue-me disclaimers: 'Down Bound Train' lyrics copyright Chuck Berry. Extracts from 'Who Do You Love' copyright E. McDaniel. Hellboy character copyright Dark Horse Comics and Mike Mignola, and I dare say I've infringed rampantly all over you. Sorry.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sincerely Yours.

Two quick tips for electioneering, based on some correspondence this week.

1. Handwritten letters are personal. Yes.

Letters that appear to be handwritten but which are in fact mechanically printed and addressed to 'Dear Resident' are not, and actually cause disappointment. (Handwritten address! It's a letter to me! No It's not, it's electioneery bollocks. Boo.)

The bottom line is, not only have you not written to me, but you have momentarily conned me into believing someone has. I am not left thinking, 'ahh, the personal touch,' but rather, 'ahh, you faked up some sincerity. And I thought it was a real letter. You twat.'

This is no better than sending out cheques with YOU'VE WON A MILLION POUNDS!!! and a watermark of Noel Edmonds' face on them.

2. Said faked up personal-touch sincerity is not set up to succeed in the first place when your poor put-upon stamp-licking electoral-register-thumbing biro-wielding apparatchik spells my name wrong.

Music on Monday: Morning, Son.

I expect there'll be another ancient bloke picking a backwoods tune next week, but in the meantime, three hairy men being rowdy.

Saturday, 16 April 2011


I've got a fair/exhibition (a public flogging as I like to think of it) coming up over the Easter weekend so I've been working on some more small square landscapes.

Really enjoy doing these, although having said that, I did move one on from mediocre to better by attacking it in a rage with yellow ochre. Turned out all right.

There are seven new ones in all, uploaded to my website. If you're near Warkworth on Easter Sunday (April 24th) there's a range of artists and craftspersons showing their stuff in the village hall.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Kindle Schmindle: a Curmudgeon Speaks.

TV is telling me just how spankingly different a Kindle is from an ordinary book. You can store up to three-and-a-half thousand books on it, which is good because previously when I've wanted to go on holiday with thousands of books I've had to go camping in the British Library. (We had a fortnight in 940.2, Renaissance Italy. It was lovely.) But Kindle doesn't stop there.

You can keep it in a drawer!

This is good. It means next time you go round someone's house instead of looking at their bookshelves (to judge them, their moral character and intellectual strength) you can now legitimately nip upstairs and riffle through their pants drawer to see what's on their Kindle. Same thing.

Your dog can lick it!

You can read stuff off it while you're chillaxing in a hammock and Converse.

Yeah, you wear Converse and say chillax, because this is your top end:

You live in the perpetual sunshine of those indeterminately Americo-European cities on mobile phone adverts and you laugh all day on your touchscreen phone and use the word 'apps' without wanting to slap yourself in the face. That phone's not even on. Look. It's just shiny shiny shiny.

Your dog can lick it!

You can secretly leer at women!

And the latest one's got a camera in it, so while you're masquerading as a drawly bed-headed Converse-wearing fixie-riding hipster, you can grab a photo of her arse and smuggle it home.

You can give it as a present - although, because it costs one hundred and eleven quid, you can't now afford wrapping paper.

In perhaps the most radical departure from books, you can put it in a pocket! Wow!


Hundred and eleven quid. But your dog can still lick it! It's all over the screen, look! Dog slobber!

I hope you're reading dog training book, because your dog is out of control. And you, you're happy to have dog drool on your stuff. Which you then give to your kids.

And then eat off.

Kindle: If You're Rich but Unhygienic.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Plant Portraits, Spring.

All kinds of interesting forms are sprouting in the hedgerows at the moment, so after a very long lay off from photography I've plunged right back into it in the last couple of weeks.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Music on Monday: Dr John's Hip Operation

Dr. John, playing the piano. Result: happiness.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Edge of the Forest.

"From 6 April people in England, Wales and Scotland will be able to work beyond the age of 65, without their employers having the right to force them out of their job." BBC News, 6 April, 2011.


The edge of the forest, hard smoke beyond the paddocks
frays back and is there. Cutters go out through it,
come in again on the ringbarked slopes, down the fence lines.

- You have to send the flooded gum quick. It don't stay flooded -
ironbark's a bugger to bark if it comes dry weather -
the man sitting next to me knows inside the forest.

He has his praise out there. Two taps on a trunk
and he can tell you its life. Steering the chainsaw
he can drop a tree on a cigarette paper. His billets

bumped, loading, ring like gongs; they win prizes.
Tallowwood's lovely: it has a deep like fat.
He has raised trucks out of swamp with his quick chain-cunning.

He loves praise, hoards it. The tic's become hereditary.
His arts are the waltz, cards, company, ripostes:
Easy see you're not two-faced. You wouldn't wear that one.

But at sixty-five, they take your life away.
If work has been shelter, they let in the winter
if work has been drudgery, night mocks the late-freed man
if work has been proof they take the glass away.

At four years old, he was milking easy cows
and was put to the plough at fourteen, the day after school.
Hauling timber with the teams, trusted in cattle dealing

he worked, then and always - long in lieu of pay -
for a sign of love from his irritable father,
the planter of flasks. His nightmare, strawed with praise.

The years hurry by. He was facing the bad birthday.
Neighbours talked heart. They tell you when to die
in a community. Thus when the Company, in person,

told him Stay on: you're our best man, some custom
and cliche were bent. It was a commutation.
Life. Life given back. Almost a father speaking.

He will come and go for years through the edge of the forest.

(Copyright Les Murray, from Lunch and Counter-Lunch, 1974.)

Monday, 4 April 2011


Foam shrimps, yesterday.

I had two brushes with the many-headed beast that is the internet in as many days. Both came through Twitter, and both were reminders that Twitter is a very public place, regardless of how much you think you're mumbling away in private.

Yesterday I posted a comment about Robbie Savage, footballer, dull pundit and missing BeeGee, currently engaged in a three-way battle with God and Colin Murray to achieve omnipresence. It was something to the effect that Savage's punditry certainly involves a fair amount of self-deprecation; barely a minute of a match goes by without him managing to engineer a self-deprecating reference to himself.

It's not the worst thing that someone on Twitter has said about Robbie Savage. What I wasn't expecting was that Robbie Savage himself would re-tweet it, which meant I got a couple of Sav is da man wat u evn no abt ftball u r a jock u r all shit up there if u met him u wd prbly lick his hoop-type comments in retaliation.

Fair dos, I suppose. It was unpleasant, but if you're going to make a public utterance about somebody, there's a chance they're going to hear it, particularly if they spend as much time as Robbie Savage apparently does looking themselves up on Twitter.

Then today, I posted after listening to the new series of 'Fags Mags and Bags' on Radio 4. It's very funny; there's a real joy in the use of language, it's beautifully performed, and creates a perfect world of its own, which is what makes the best comedies successful.

I was particularly pleased to hear Ramesh refer twice to the 'foam shrimp', because 'foam shrimp' is funny in itself, and I enjoy hearing Sanjeev Kohli saying 'foam shrimp.' (Stop saying foam shrimp.)

I said as much, and I was absurdly pleased when this then happened:

Music on Monday: "A Hard Man To Follow."

You're given a CD and a little Subbuteo figure of Davy Graham and told to put him in his chronological place in the Subbuteo folk music line-up.

He's got to have absorbed the work done by Bert Jansch, Wizz Jones, John Renbourne, the Martins Carthy and Simpson, not to mention Jimmy Page. They all played exploratory, open-to-the-world interpretations of traditional music, drawing in sounds and tunings from outside the western tradition. No-one could be that accomplished, fully formed, have gone so far and been the first to do it.

But, yes, like a Big Bang, Dav(e)y Graham exploded uniquely into life* and all of those musicians followed in his dazzling wake. John Renbourne said of him, "Back in the sixties he was so far ahead of just about any would-be picker that it was practically miraculous. I can't think of any of my contemporaries from those days who weren't completely knocked over by his playing, and we all owe him a huge debt." Despite this, he never made the same leap into the public consciousness as the likes of Renbourne or Jansch; just as music in the late sixties seemed to be rolling around to being recepetive to what he was doing, his path curved the other way and he faded off the scene. It's illuminating to put Graham's She Moves Through the Fair and Mustapha back to back and compare them with Jimmy Page's White Summer. Quite - cough - similar.

Genius (and Graham was one) doesn't necessarily have to be troubled, but Davy Graham was a spiky and complex character all of his life. A heroin addict for many years (deliberately, some said, an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Charlie Parker and the like.) He died in December 2008; obituaries here and here.

There isn't a lot of Graham footage about, but I found a snippet from the Folk Britannia programme on YouTube (thanks to jrowe2k) which puts him in the context of those - somewhat awestruck - musicians who were his contemporaries.

The second clip is an audio track, from the After Hours CD, and it's jaw-dropping.

*Well, no. No-one comes out of nothing, and Davey Graham cited guitarist Steve Benbow as an influence. And so on.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Heart of Darkness, with a Snooker Table.

It's often said that the BBC displays a left-leaning bias.

Not true.

The heart of the BBC leans not left, not even right, but beyond both to some nightmare ethos of victimisation before which even Kafka would have paled. I mean, of course, Desert Island Discs.

This cosy institution, one of the pillars of Radio 4, hides behind its chintzy familiarity a sickening world where the individual is persecuted with a devious thoroughness unknown even to those regimes who chucked citizens out of helicopters.

The premise behind the show is that the BBC gets hold of a celebrity - by kidnap, presumably - and maroons them on a desert island. A bloody desert island. Wrenched, like hair pulled out by the roots, from their friends and family, and stranded on some godforsaken atoll with nothing but mangroves, coral and wild monkeys for company. 'How do you think you'd cope?' leers the presenter. 'Would you live? Would you sit weeping on the shore for the loss of all those dear to you? Which do you think would get you first, the loneliness, starvation, or simply thirst? Would you stage a bitter struggle for survival for which your effete urban life - unless you're Ray Mears - has miserably ill-equipped you, or would you simply one day just walk into the surf? Let's have your next record.'

The records. Records. You know it's not a CD player, it's not even a big silver hifi with giant wooden speakers like Other People's Parents had. There's no electricity. It's a hand-wound gramophone with a big horn. You're going to be mad as Klaus Kinsky, serenading the savage tribes and their implacable jungle with Caruso, but without the company, or the white suit.

Lifelong agnostics are mocked by a present of the Bible. Sportswomen whose childhoods are a best-forgotten boredom, spent trapped in a wooden cube of stuffy dreariness filled with the bluebottle drone of teachers and the impenetrable shrapnel rain of pentameter while outside the freedom of the track simmers under the sun - they get the complete works of Shakespeare.

One luxury object: it can be of no practical use. You cannot signal with it, shelter under it, set fire to it, set sail on it or suck some kind of sustenance from the glue holding the fretboard to the body. It can only serve as a stiletto-sharp reminder of everything you have left behind.

And then, as the victim, having related their whole life, meaningful, trite, eventful, scarred, triumphant as it was, now sees it has all shrunk to this point of abandonment and void on some coral speck in the blank blue universe of the Pacific; then, they engineer a wave and take all of your records away. Except one.

One record.

One record to play over and over, sitting bereft on the scorching white sands, listlessly cranking the handle of your Victrola as your sanity floats away like a paper boat, ultimately believing yourself King of the Monkeys with your crown of seaweed and a coconut orb, to the sound of Deep Purple's 'Black Night,' another fragile soul taken and crushed.

And join us next week, when the black Cadillac comes creeping for Gary Lineker.


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