The Comic Effect

Ashton Murphy from St Eugene's PS doing a sketch during the illiustration work shop at teh Verbal Arts Centre.  (0603JB60)
Ashton Murphy from St Eugene's PS doing a sketch during the illiustration work shop at teh Verbal Arts Centre. (0603JB60)

The fifth annual 2D Comics Festival was held in the Verbal Arts Centre this weekend. Among the many classes on offer for school children was “How to draw crazy comics” with Beano artist Gary Northfield. Sunday Journal reporter BRIAN QUINN went along to find out more...

The children of Ms English’s P5 class were the guests of honour at “How to draw crazy comics”, which opened this year’s 2D Comics Festival. They were treated to an exclusive lesson in drawing from acclaimed children’s comic creator, Gary Northfield.

Beano illustrator Gary Niorthfield  (0603JB61)

Beano illustrator Gary Niorthfield (0603JB61)

Northfield has had work published in the Beano, Horrible Histories, Horrible Science, The Magical World of Roald Dahl and National Geographic Kids magazines. His own creation ‘Derek the Sheep’, which he says is greatly influenced by the likes of The Far Side and Peanuts, has been a Beano regular for seven years now.

“Usually when you join the Beano you have to draw all their characters,” he told the room of budding cartoonists, “but I’m lucky because I get to draw my own character each month.”

As impressed as they were to be in the presence of a Beano writer, the young artists were positively glowing with excitement when he held aloft the other home of his work: Horrible Histories magazine. Horrible Histories began as a series of books by Terry Deary and has since found a new audience through its magazine and CBBC series.

“This is slightly different to designing your own character,” he told the class. “For instance if I were to draw Henry VIII I would have to do my research. I look at pictures of what Henry VIII might have looked like and look at how people dressed at the time, etc.”

He then delighted his audience by showing them, how through drawing a series of simple shapes the recognisable figure of King Henry VIII can come to life on the page. In 2008 Northfield illustrated a book, ‘Henry VIII Has To Choose’, which tells the tale of how King Henry’s infatuation with his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, began with a painting he saw of her but when he first met he was disappointed with what he saw and said she “looks like a horse”.

“Now that we’ve drawn our Henry VIII character , what shall I draw him doing?” he asked.

“Beheading someone!” was the response from one bloodthirsty corner of the pre-teen audience and, amid a chorus of gasps and giggles, he proceeded to draw an axe-brandishing Henry VIII gleefully preparing to remove another unfortunate spouse’s head.

Next he turned his attention to the children in the room and invited them to draw a character based on themselves and what they want to be when they grow up. Imaginations ran wild as the boys and girls transformed into cowboys, fire fighters and X Factor winners right onto the page. I also took up the challenge and drew myself as what I wanted to be when I grow up: a reporter, but only a better dressed one.

This was followed with another exercise where he invited the children to draw their own four panel comic strips, albeit with a slight twist: after the first panel had been drawn they had to pass the page to the person sat to the left and they would draw the next panel so that each strip had the input of four different tiny imaginations.

What unfolded next were some fantastic adventures such as the Scottish fireman equipped with a set of magic fire extinguishing bagpipes; the superhero who defeat the bank-robbing UFO; and the X Factor finalist whose sore throat caused them to pass out on stage and when she awoke in hospital she found out she had won the competition.

Speaking after the event, Northfield said: “It’s really great to get out and meet young readers and fans. Sometimes when you’re cooped up in an office all day drawing you forget about who you’re doing it for.

“They’ve been a great bunch – very excited and enthusiastic and they have such wonderful imaginations.”

Northfield started with the Beano in 2004, after being discovered at a comics fair, much like 2D Festival.

“I’d been drawing for Horrible Histories for about a year and I’d also been creating some characters of my own so I went along to a comics fair with my portfolio. One of the characters I had sketches of was Derek and they instantly loved him and wanted to put him in the Beano.

“The Beano has been going for 70 years now and many of the famous characters that people loved growing up are still there such as Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx.

“Although, the children’s comic industry isn’t what it used to be, I remember growing up and going to the newsagents and you’d have about 20 different comics to choose from every week.. Now there’s very few, we still have Beano and Dandy and the science-fiction comic 2000AD. What tends to happen is something will be successful on children’s telly and a comic version will come out for about six months and then disappear – that’s why there’s been renewed interest in Horrible Histories. Also, there used to be an entire market for girls’ comics and that has completely disappeared.

“I don’t know if you have the same problem here but in England it’s very hard to get teenage boys reading and I think that’s where comics need to come in.

“The graphic novel market is doing very well at the minute but the teen fiction market is very slanted towards girls with vampire novels and the like.”

The 2D Comics Festival ran from Thursday to Saturday in the Verbal Arts Centre. Artists from DC Comics, home to Superman, Batman and many more, were on hand to give appraisals of local artists’ work. Perhaps the next Charles M Schulz, Gary Larson or, indeed, Gary Northfield is waiting to be found in Derry!