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A Life in the Funny Pages

This is a guest post by Robin Etherington. The Etherington Brothers will be part of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour Jamboree on Wednesday 6th June, which is part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the tour. The event will be live-streamed on the Scottish Book Trust’s YouTube channel and 2000 pupils from Scotland will be in attendance. They also completed the most successful comic fundraiser ever in the UK. 

I cannot remember a time before comics. They were always there, piled by the bedside, scattered across the bedroom floor. Tattered, folded, and very occasionally, neatly arranged. I consumed them at a remarkable pace, as did my brother, Lorenzo. Again and again, we’d return to those colourful pages. We were hypnotised. The combination of words and pictures drew us in and inspired our first creative endeavours. The limitless possibilities of the page excited our inner storyteller and we’d spend entire weekends hunched over the kitchen table, more or less in silence, just making.

This marked the beginning of a lifelong working partnership. Lorenzo and I, aged 5 and 8 respectively, began by penning short comic stories which we proceeded to photocopy in the local library and sell in the playground for 20p each – four pence more expensive than the Beano at that time. The artisan approach doesn’t come cheap, folks!

Our passion for the medium remained throughout our time at college and university, and even while experimenting with music (me), sculpture and furniture design (Lorenzo). Nothing seemed to satisfy the creative itch quite like those early days of shared scribbling.

Then, one Christmas, while perusing the family Asterix and Tintin collections, we decided to return to our first great love. We’d both been enjoying individual artistic careers but nothing had really fired us up like those early days constructing comics together.

We decided to take the ‘funny pages’ seriously.

Our working process was honed and refined on the very first book we completed, a 320 page black and white self-published saga that taught us almost everything about being a professional, about the skills we needed to improve, about the difficulty of bringing something new to the market, and about the mutual respect required when working with a close family member.

Did we argue a lot? As children we had the usual squabbles, but as adults our differences of opinion were, and remain, confined to the realm of business. Artistically, as a two-man studio, we had to divide and conquer, so it was decided on day one, back in 2003, that all art duties would be handled by Lorenzo and all the story creation and writing, by myself. This included the physical lettering on the page, something I’d never tackled before, and an element that offered me a wonderful opportunity for visual expression.

Working together, our construction of a single comic page has followed a pattern that’s barely changed in 15 years:

1) I write a page of script, laid out much like a film or television script, and mail it to Lorenzo.

2) He edits the script and lays up a rough sketched version of the page in pencil, then sends it back.

3) I re-edit the script based on his tweaks, letter the page in photoshop, then return the page with any art notes on the rough page.

4) Lorenzo then illustrates the final art, colours it and sends it back for a final proof read and text tweak.

All done. Time for a cup of tea.

While our working practice has remained largely unchanged since those early days, the wider opportunities that we’ve been presented with have offered us new ways to engage with our audience.

Understanding that publishers’ budgets for marketing and promotion aren’t infinite, we knew we’d have to work hard to reach and engage our audience ourselves. Fortunately, our time spent selling the Etherington Brothers brand and our work at Comic Conventions around the UK gave us the initial confidence to do just that. What we never envisaged when we first began to visit schools and book festivals was that we’d create a series of live shows that would foster in us a passion for inspiring young creators, reluctant readers, parents and teachers; one that would take us to the other side of the world and back, eventually leading to the moment we launched the UK’s most successful comic Kickstarter of all time. How to Think When you Draw – a 200 page tutorial collection – was a book with one aim: to inspire amateur and professionals, both young and old, to pick up a pencil and draw. How to Think When you Write, the companion volume, will follow in 2019.

Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to meet some supporters who’ve truly helped shape our journey, and Scottish Book Trust is one such institution. Much like a comedian refining their material, touring with Scottish Book Trust gave us the time and space to evolve our live show in front of an audience. We will be forever grateful for that amazing experience and it is an absolute honour to be included in the remarkable line-up for this year’s Jamboree celebration.

Much like the infinite potential of the comic page, our enthusiasm for making and sharing is boundless, and we hope we can continue to inspire future generations of creative minds with our books and our free weekly online tutorials (180 episodes and counting). The act of engaging with drawing and writing for fun, regardless of age or ability, is to begin a journey of which you’ll never tire, on a road paved with infinite possibilities and adventure.

Making your mark begins by making marks, so get out your pencils and scribble!

 

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