Friday, February 26, 2010

Comic Cuts - 26 February 2010

Mid-week I suddenly realised that Bear Alley was 1,500 posts old, which took me a little by surprise. Although the number of posts is listed on the Blogger dashboard, I've a bunch of posts that have been started but never completed and sometimes there are a string of others lined up, usually when I'm running a strip, which means the number shown isn't the actual number of posts that have been posted.

This is as good a chance as any to explain how Bear Alley is put together. When I started three-and-a-half years ago the idea was that I'd post occasional bits of research that I was doing—things that interested me or work that I was doing for others. Back in 2006 I was working for Look and Learn, so quite a lot of posts revolved around artists and writers who had contributed to the magazines and comics the company owned. Now I'm back to freelancing the articles tend to be about whoever interests me at any given moment, often sparked off by a query from someone about an author or artist. Often I can find almost nothing and it's useful to throw what little information there is onto the web to see if anyone can fill in the gaps—and I'm hugely grateful to everyone who has posted information either through the comments or privately. In quite a few cases, I've managed to resolve long-standing mysteries from a clue sent in, or a comment makes me want to revisit some old research and see if I can come up with something new. A good example of the latter happened yesterday when someone dropped me a line about Lunt Roberts. Way back in January 2007, I wrote a piece that gathered together everything I knew. Yesterday I was finally able to discover his date of birth and figured out the year in which he died.

If I'm dealing with a comic strip all day, I'll often dig around in my paperback collection for something interesting to post about; similarly, there's usually more posts about comics or illustrators if I'm working with books. Without that chance of subject, that change of pace, I'd just be at work in front of the computer all day and blogging wouldn't be much fun. I actually find it quite relaxing after a busy day.

Posts are usually written the day before you see them. So I started this post after watching Mock the Week on Thursday evening. Long posts can sometimes take me well past midnight, so when I talk about "today" on a Friday, it often is today, although it's highly likely it was "tomorrow" when I started writing. I time posts so they appear around five o'clock in the morning. There's no significance in this... when Blogger bought in the ability to schedule a post I picked the time at random and it stuck. I'm usually up by 7.30am so I quickly read through what I wrote the night before in the same way you do. Fortunately, I can make some quick changes if I spot a mistake or something doesn't make sense before the majority of people get to work—and I know for a fact that most people read this at work because the number of visitors drops quite a bit at weekends. Not a wholesale drop-off but a significant fall. If you're interested in statistics, Bear Alley gets around 700 unique visitors every day, a number which jumps slightly when someone posts a link to something I've written—usually a comics news site when I run an obituary. Today I've had four visitors from Japan arriving via Twitter. No idea who posted the link but domo arigato.

If I'm running a comic strip, I usually spend Sunday scanning and cleaning-up and line up a week's worth of strips. That means I have evenings free to catch up on e-mail or clean up some cover scans or do some research for the Science Fiction Encyclopedia or Crime Fiction Bibliography. Queries or research for those two volumes can prompt a longer piece, such as the recent columns on Charles Garvice and Marie Connor Leighton, which can take three or four evenings to compile. I'm posting a piece about Effie Adelaide Rowlands on Saturday and the bibliography alone took three evenings to put together. This is why I'm a lousy correspondent. If I can answer something off the top of my head, you might get a reasonably quick reply. If it involves any research, it'll be slower. It's an unfair system because easy new queries get answered more quickly than older more involved queries, but it's the only way I can keep my unanswered mails down to a manageable level (about 200 at the moment, although quite a few of them are from groups I'm a member of).

That's pretty much all there is to say on the subject. Sometimes it's a bit of a challenge to post something new every day, which is where the idea for running strips came in, but I try to post a couple of longer pieces or a cover gallery each week. I'm always happy to publish contributions from other people on a broad range of subjects. It could be anything from your favourite artist to a bit of ephemera you've picked up in your collecting travels. Every contribution from someone else saves 700 readers having to read self-indulgent columns from me writing about me.

Talking about me... I've spent all week stitching bits of artwork together (on the computer, not a sewing machine you understand) for the H. Rider Haggard book. "Allan Quatermain" and "King Solomon's Mines" are done and I'm just under half-way through "Montezuma's Daughter". Our column header is the opening page of "Alan Quatermain" by Mike Hubbard. Still a lot of work left: all the pages need to be cleaned up and two of the three need to be re-lettered. So I'll be banging on about this book for some while yet.

On Saturday I'm off to Crystal Palace to sign copies of the two new Book Palace Books publications which arrived today. Tomorrow really as it's still before midnight but today by the time you read this. If you pre-ordered copies of either Frank Bellamy's The Story of World War 1 or Frank Bellamy's Complete Swift Stories, copies should start shipping next week.

Monday and Tuesday I'll be posting the Recent Releases and Upcoming Releases columns and Wednesday should see a new strip starting. Looks like I've got a busy Sunday ahead of me.

Now get to work.

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