Comic Boom - Comics in Education

Comic Boom - Comic in Education - with 'Star Cat' and 'I Hate Pixies' creator James Turner

May 29, 2024 Lucy Starbuck Braidley/James Turner Season 5 Episode 2
Comic Boom - Comic in Education - with 'Star Cat' and 'I Hate Pixies' creator James Turner
Comic Boom - Comics in Education
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Comic Boom - Comics in Education
Comic Boom - Comic in Education - with 'Star Cat' and 'I Hate Pixies' creator James Turner
May 29, 2024 Season 5 Episode 2
Lucy Starbuck Braidley/James Turner

In this episode Lucy chats with writer and comics creator, James Turner.

James is a cartoonist and writer, creator, with illustrator Yasmin Sheikh.  As well as Star Cat, his comic strip Clatters and Bump regularly appears in weekly comic The Phoenix.

James joins me to talk about his new graphic novel Toby and the Pixies: Worst King Ever!  illustrated by Andreas Schuster is out on 6 June 2024.

James's recommendation for this episode:
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin

Lucy's recommendation for this episode:
Fantasy Sports by Sam Bosma

Follow James:
Insta at 
@eruditebaboon
Twitter/X:
@eruditebaboon

Follow the podcast:
Insta:
@comic_boom_podcast
Twitter/X:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com

This episode is sponsored by ALCS, The Authors Licensing and Collecting Society.  Check out their range of copyright education tools, resources and planning  - including those highlighted on the show by following this link.

Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Lucy chats with writer and comics creator, James Turner.

James is a cartoonist and writer, creator, with illustrator Yasmin Sheikh.  As well as Star Cat, his comic strip Clatters and Bump regularly appears in weekly comic The Phoenix.

James joins me to talk about his new graphic novel Toby and the Pixies: Worst King Ever!  illustrated by Andreas Schuster is out on 6 June 2024.

James's recommendation for this episode:
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin

Lucy's recommendation for this episode:
Fantasy Sports by Sam Bosma

Follow James:
Insta at 
@eruditebaboon
Twitter/X:
@eruditebaboon

Follow the podcast:
Insta:
@comic_boom_podcast
Twitter/X:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com

This episode is sponsored by ALCS, The Authors Licensing and Collecting Society.  Check out their range of copyright education tools, resources and planning  - including those highlighted on the show by following this link.

Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Hello, and welcome to comic boom, the comics and education podcast. If you're interested in hearing more about the crossover between comics and education, then this is the podcast for you. My name is Lucy Starbuck Bradley. And each week I'll be joined by a fellow educator and academic librarian or a creator of comics to discuss their journey into comics and provide some inspiration to influence your practice. And shine some light on some titles that you can bring into your libraries, classrooms, and hopefully onto your bookshelves at home too. This week's episode of comic, boom is sponsored by ALCS the authors licensing and collecting society. And on today's episode, I am delighted to be joined by James Turner. Cartoonist and writer from the Phoenix comic, you will know James's work, which has been collected into graphic novels by David Fickling, the publisher titles such as star cat, which are just brilliantly. Funny and, currently nominated for an Excelsior award. James talks to me today about his series clutters and bump but also about a new graphic novel coming out. So people who aren't familiar with, I hate Pixies from the Phoenix comic. That story that's brilliantly funny is coming out as a graphic novel that can be slotted into your libraries, into your classrooms. Renamed as Toby and the Pixies, but the same characters, the same excellent storylines and situations that Toby and the Pixies gets into. So definitely watch out for that one. perfect for readers, age seven and above. So we talk about that project a little bit today. As well as a little, tangent at the end about advent calendars. So always season, always topical. Comic, boom. Advent calendars in may, especially for you. I really enjoy talking to James. He's very humble. he's very nice down to earth guy, very dry wit, and I just really enjoy talking to him about his process. For writing and drawing and how those things differ. And come together so brilliantly on the page. Thanks to David Fickling for partnering on this episode and bringing James into the fold so that I could talk to him. Here's what James had to say.

Lucy SB:

Hello, James. Welcome to Comic Boom.

James Turner:

Hello, I'm delighted to be here.

Lucy SB:

Thanks so much for coming on the show. As always, I like to start the podcast by asking guests to tell us a little bit about, being a fan of comics, a reader of comics. Where did that all start for you?

James Turner:

I mean, I think I was sort of always making comics ever since I was like drawing, which is from a tiny age, I would just like, I would, you know, combine images to tell a story even before I could write. And then, you know, once, once I could, once I could add letters to them, you know, that was a full fledged comic, although it's a comic even without text. So, yeah, I've been, I've always been making comics.

Lucy SB:

And what about reading? Has it always been part of your reading diet as well? Did those two things go side, side by side? Were there a lot of comics about when you were younger?

James Turner:

I was very lucky because, um, my local library growing up had a huge collection of Asterix and Tintin books, which, so like every week I was going home with a different volume of that. And, uh, you know, I, it was very much a main part of my diet at that time. So yeah, I, It was great to have those around and then my local bookshop as well had shelves and shelves of books. So Calvin and Hobbes was a big part of my growing up as well.

Lucy SB:

Also, massive Calvin and Hobbes fan, so that is great to hear. And it's lovely to hear people giving a shout out to their library. They're such a brilliant resource and sadly at risk at the moment. But they're such an important part. So many people that come on and talk about the access they've had to different comics.

James Turner:

Yeah, I never would have been able to read so many books, so many Tintin and Asterix that would have been prohibitively expensive at that age.

Lucy SB:

Yeah, exactly. So we've heard about the starting point. How did your, have your reading habits changed? What are you reading now? What kind of things are you into?

James Turner:

the terrible thing is since the pandemic, my reading has absolutely gone through the floor. I've got five books lying by my bed that I'm halfway through. And, uh, just, struggling to make any progress in them. They're mostly, uh, science fiction books, I think is, is probably my go to genre. But, I'm shame, shame to admit that, that I've, I, I barely read anymore. It's, it's terrible. I

Lucy SB:

Why do you think that is?

James Turner:

think I just got in the pandemic. I just got, you know, quite, anxious, you know, I think a lot of people did. And I think my attention span Just dropped. So, this is, this is embarrassing to say I watch TV a lot in bed now, you know I'm, I'm glued to my phone and it's, it's, it's not a positive direction for my life to take.

Lucy SB:

But I do think I know, this is something that guests have disagreed with me on in the past, but I do think that, The way that the image and text works together it seems, it feels less effortful for me to read a comic. I think there's something around the image and the words together, which means because it's accessible, doesn't mean it's simple, doesn't mean easy, but it's less of a hassle. mental drain for me to read a comic than it is to sit and plow through pages of prose.

James Turner:

Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely it's a different experience while you're, you know, you're still reading and you're still, you know, getting a full story it's a totally different experience. I mean, I think part of why I got into comics was because I loved animation as well. So I, you know, I, I love. Cartoons and making a comic is sort of a very cheap way of making a cartoon in a way It's like you're getting all the the wacky, you know Imagery and whatever and you're getting the story. It's just you don't have to draw every image a hundred times

Lucy SB:

Yeah. Much easier. I did film at university and lived with animators. Very pasty and pale. Didn't leave their rooms very much, just drawing endless pictures. Yeah. I think, yeah. I don't think it's good for you.

James Turner:

I took the easy way out.

Lucy SB:

So obviously you're writing for children now, do you think that your reading diet as a child and your experiences of being a comics reader informs your writing and your projects that you work on now?

James Turner:

I mean, I think perhaps it's hard to say, but in like looking back, it could just be that having access to so many comics sort of legitimized it to me as an art form, like, especially cause it's like the European comics it where in Europe, it's a much sort of more. Established thing that the comics are considered an all ages

Lucy SB:

yeah, well respected.

James Turner:

perhaps to have it as a just like an everyday part of what I was reading meant that I didn't even think about it as not being something worth producing. That I've always, you know, thought comics is something good to make. suppose you could say that that was the influence that reading comics early had on me.

Lucy SB:

yeah, I think you think it's so important.

James Turner:

Plus, I think, um, having read Calvin and Hobbes at a young age, I think probably, I always worry that anyone reading my comics will think, this is just Calvin and Hobbes. So I think that's definitely, there's a very marked influence on me from that.

Lucy SB:

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to making comics a career? How did that happen for you?

James Turner:

It was quite winding. I finished university, I was, I was working as a programmer, and I felt like I wasn't, because I used to love drawing, obviously, I've, you know, I've always loved drawing, but I'd sort of stopped drawing. So I, began making comics again, As a way to relearn drawing. And, uh, I was part of like a, an online community. So I was posting the comics there. This, these were called beaver and Steve about a beaver and his lizard friend, Steve, you know, the, the community was in sort of supported me in it and I started posting them to other websites. And then, I was reading other comics. I've read, Casey green, who is like a famous American cartoonist who did the, this is fine dog that's now sort of taking over the internet. He was just starting out then as well. And seeing his stuff really encouraged me to sort of. push my stuff out there more. And you know, it, it, my, my comic sort of became more and more confident. Then I, I ran into John Aggs, who was a manga cartoonist at the time, and he sort of put me in touch with the DFC, which was the sort of the, the precursor comic to the Phoenix. And so, I got started working for them and doing a Super Animal Adventure Squad comic. And then when DFC finished, And eventually, the phoenix started, they picked me up again, and that's how StarCat and I Hate Pixies came about.

Lucy SB:

And you've got quite a few different series, and different, Ways of working, I imagine. Sometimes you're collaborating with other artists. You've got smaller strips, Clatters and Bump, Can you tell us about your ways of working in those different forms and how they differ in your different ways of working when you do something that's solely just you on your own versus when you work with someone else.

James Turner:

so when I'm making a comic for myself to draw, I'm often writing it almost as a comic, especially if it's something short like Clatters and Bump, I'm literally, I'm drawing little sketches. Thumbnail sketches as I'm writing it,

Lucy SB:

It kind of comes fully formed

James Turner:

Exactly. And there's an element of it just sort of being slightly boring to to just write, because part of, part of the sort of, part of a comic is the visuals. You know, part of it is the expression that a character is pulling, but that sells the line. So that's, that's how I, I work when I'm writing for myself. and I do that to some extent when I'm writing for somebody else. But I find that I'm more often going straight to script, which is not something I ever used to do. I don't know why I make that difference. I do still sometimes, yeah, do little thumbnail sketches. But, it's it's different because, because I don't draw the end thing. They don't look like the characters that are going to be in it. So it's perhaps somehow it doesn't feel as relevant. But then once I've got the script finished, that's, that's for an artist, then, you know, that gets sent away, the sort of rough pencils for it come back and, and then I'll spend time going through that and feeding back and saying, you know, basically I wouldn't have drawn it this way. I, you know, why is he frowning? He should be smiling and you know, all the things that I thought were obvious from the script, which were actually not obvious at all. Fixing all those things that I hadn't thought of to do. I have to get out of my head more when I'm doing a script for somebody else. Because I just hadn't, hadn't occurred to me that that, that someone could ever think of it. In a different way.

Lucy SB:

But likewise, do you find though that that things come back sometimes and it's moved on from from your expectations, things have moved in a direction that you weren't necessarily expecting, but it's added something that something that you didn't expect? You know, you're surprised in a good way.

James Turner:

Yeah. i'm always delighted when you know There's there's things that come back and i'm like laughing out loud when I see it like a a unicorn all squashed up or something that I didn't I didn't plan I didn't visualize when I was doing the script and i'm like, oh, I wish I thought of that I would never have drawn it that well if I was doing it So there's definitely there's a delight to be had and when you when you get something back that you didn't expect And I think the other thing is that When I'm drawing a script, I'm the one putting funny little details in the background. I would never write that into a script, so it's, you know, that's, that's very much in the hands of the artist and it's always fun to see one of those.

Lucy SB:

When you're writing for yourself to draw, do you have, things that you would avoid because you find them difficult to draw?

James Turner:

That's, yeah, that's the other thing that I feel much less inhibited when I'm writing a script for somebody else. You

Lucy SB:

large crowd

James Turner:

I would never exactly, I'd never put in script for myself the whole glory of the universe unfolds before them in a thousand myriad ways. Um, just leave that for the artist to interpret.

Lucy SB:

love it. Looking across all of your work, humour seems really important. Is that something that is really important to you?

James Turner:

yeah, I think I'm, I'm, I find it very hard to take myself seriously. So I think it would be difficult to, to write a comic that didn't have a lot of humor in it. It's always, for me, the sort of, uh, the most important thing. I'm trying to, I'm trying to write more and more story as we go, trying to learn that skill. But I think, humor is, it's very much, you know, key to the human experience if you want to go too fanciful.

Lucy SB:

I think sci fi in general as well though is, all about what it means to be human, that's really what for me, what sci fi is all about. What are we?

James Turner:

yeah, good sci fi shouldn't just be lasers and spaceships, you know, it should hold up a mirror to society.

Lucy SB:

Exactly.

James Turner:

Which I'm sure what my StarCat comics

Lucy SB:

Well, you know, I was just about to say, that's a perfect segue to Starcat. I was going to ask you to, we will talk about Toby and the Pixies, which is very exciting. but we always have Paul Register who runs the Excelsior Awards on to talk through the kind of shortlists. So we discussed, Starcat Turnip in Time because it's one of the shortlisted books for the Excelsior Award. We'd just like to hear from you about the book and about StarCat in general. I think it's a really good opportunity for teachers and librarians listening to maybe, build their knowledge of the kind of books that they can be putting into their reading spaces. So yeah, if you, can you give us a bit of a rundown about what it's about and what kind of readers might enjoy it?

James Turner:

Well star cat is Essentially a story about a star a cat. Sorry. It's also a spaceship

Lucy SB:

Get it wrong from the start, right?

James Turner:

Yeah, yeah, it's about a star. That's also a spaceship. No, anyway So yeah, it's about a cat. There's also a spaceship and inside is a crew That flied around space doing missions for the space mayor. my sort of idea for it was it's, it's sort of like Star Trek, but what if everyone on the crew of Star Trek was a coward or an idiot? or selfish, which is the total opposite of Star Trek. So I, I sort of came from that premise and we have, you know, the captain who's on the front face of it is heroic, but really just is desperate for attention and wants people to think he's a hero. You've got the robot, robot one. Who is, you know, pretends that he's the most sophisticated advanced machine ever, much better than humans, but he's lazy and selfish and greedy. you've got your science officer, Plix, who's a sort of jelly, and, uh, she's, you know, obviously, as a science officer, she should be the clever one who knows everything, but she's just, you know, hitting an atom with a hammer and hoping for the best. And, uh, finally, the pilot. Who is sort of the only one who can actually control the StarCat, but unfortunately, she speaks a language that no one else on the crew can understand. And, uh, she, she's very much a, an agent of chaos, but, but, you know, when all is lost, the pilot usually has a plan to fix everything. And that somehow is a crew of four that flies the StarCat around.

Lucy SB:

It's brilliant. So StarCat appears in the Turnip. In the Phoenix. And then I know, for example, we've had Neil Cameron on the show before, and the Mega Robo books are serialised in the Phoenix first and then becomes the book. Is this the same kind of premise?

James Turner:

Well, most of the comics have appeared in the Phoenix, but they were not sort of told as one continuous story. So then there's, there's additional, sections that have been added in to sort of join those bits up. So, with book one, it was actually never planned as a story. It was just a load of, separate stories that we found a sort of through thread to connect together to make one continuous story with this one. It's a bit of both. Planned it as a story, but we had already written comics that we just wanted to include. So they, they had that theme of science, which then made the book about Plix and her sort of science journey, if you will.

Lucy SB:

That's really interesting. And one of the things about having them in the book it does obviously open it up to a much wider audience, which I guess is going to be the case as well now that, I hate pixies is being transformed. Is this again, the same thing? So it's a, it's the serialized, but put into a longer form story. cause I see the, there's a name change as well. it changed the name? I think that might upset people.

James Turner:

I, uh, I, I prefer, I hate pixies, but I think I can see that some people pointed out it might be a bit negative sounding. So, uh, if, if you're, if, you know, a parent is out there buying a book, they might not want something that sounds so horrible that they'll buy it. pick up on a whim. But yes, I prefer I Hate Pixies, but I understand the change.

Lucy SB:

It's a marketing move. Okay. I love I Hate Pixies. can you tell us, for people who might not have had a chance to read it a little bit about the story?

James Turner:

so yeah, I Hate Pixies is about a, young boy called Toby who accidentally squashes the wicked king of the pixies with a garden gnome. And, uh, by pixie law, that makes him the king of the pixies. But the, uh, the crucial thing is, Toby doesn't want to be king of the pixies. He wants nothing to do with the pixies. But the pixies will not take no for an answer. And they insist on inserting themselves into his life, trying to help him with various things. To, uh, yes, disastrous consequences.

Lucy SB:

I think it's just a really great mix of kind of. craziness, fancifulness, but also the just everyday life of a child as well, like school and your normal life as well. kind of all mixed in, which makes it just really relatable and also really funny. I love it. how was it the process of bringing the book together? Has that been completely painless, easy process or has there been challenges along the way?

James Turner:

Yes, that's been much more simple than StarCat because we very much, you know, planned this as a book from the beginning. I think there were elements, you know, we've sort of changed it as we've gone. So there's, there's been things where we've had sort of, you know, manipulated a bit to make it work as a story for the book, but, but mostly it's been a Fairly painless. And I even had to invent a way, a whole system of how, cause the books, the pages in the book are half the size of a page in the Phoenix. So you can't just shrink them down or they'd be tiny. So I came up with a whole complex system of how you can break a page of 12 panels into two pages of six panels. And now a lot of the, a lot of the comics in the Phoenix you'll see use the same sort of roughly the same format of a page layout, just so it can be broken up into a book more easily later. Yes. It's quite a boring detail, but I was secretly very proud of it.

Lucy SB:

Yeah, it's the sort of thing that I'd like to think about for like a second and then be like, no, no, no, I can't be bothered. Oh no, my brain can't cope with this. that sounds great. I know, you're doing some activities with the Phoenix as well do you do a lot of kind of workshops with, with children, young people? Is that something that's new what can you tell us about that?

James Turner:

This is more or less my first ever workshop. I've done little bits and pieces, but I'm, I'm quite nervous about these sorts of things. For some reason, I find it quite, quite nerve wracking to be in front of an audience of children, something I'm going to have to

Lucy SB:

Oh, no, it's terrifying. You're right. No, it's brightly terrified.

James Turner:

Yeah, luckily this is a digital one, so I won't be able to see if the children are losing interest or, you know, wandering off and playing on their video games, but, But yeah, so I'm going to be teaching, how to make a funny comic, in theory, I'm going to be drawing, coming up with new characters and drawing four panels of, um, hopefully hilarious jokes, the idea is that kids will be able to follow along and make up their own comic at the end.

Lucy SB:

And how long is it? Is it an hour long session?

James Turner:

think it's an hour long session.

Lucy SB:

Is that something that you'd like to do more of, do you think? I mean, it's maybe outside of your comfort zone, but do you think, would you like to do more school visits

James Turner:

I think it's definitely a skill that a, children's author needs. So it's, it's something I think, uh, it would be a very good idea for me to get good at, and I think in theory I should be good at it.

Lucy SB:

I think you'll find out that you are good at it, you just haven't tried yet. You haven't done it. You haven't got the evidence under your belt, but I'm

James Turner:

Yeah, hopefully. hopefully.

Lucy SB:

Were you able to bring your love of drawing and comics into your school time? Was that nurtured or was it very much something that was outside of school? We get quite mixed answers to these kind of questions. But I think it's always really interesting to build up a picture of, the way in which education has influenced people and maybe if some reflections on. How that could have been strengthened, maybe, just in terms of thinking of take outs that teachers could ponder on.

James Turner:

Yeah, I think, as I said, I've always loved doing comics and I think that wasn't really something I could do. Do at school. I remember I did, uh, for example, do very badly in my GCSE art because I wasn't really interested in, in the sort of the artworks that were, you know, we were required to do. I think probably at primary school it wasn't a big problem because, I think comics perhaps is more accepted for you to do at that age. But once I got to secondary school, there didn't seem to be an outlet at school. I think the other kids perhaps were growing out of it. The only comics they wanted was sort of Marvel comics and that sort of thing. Whereas I was still, you know, drawing stuff. Stuff like that was more like, the Beano or whatever that that's all

Lucy SB:

kind of, yeah.

James Turner:

yeah, it was funny silly comics not Serious hit superhero comics now that I did dabble enjoying my superhero comics Which were I think terrible in retrospect, but it was very much I was just doing comics on my own in the background and I it sort of, faded away and, and faded away and drew less and less until we, as I said, it was sort of after university. I thought, you know, I've got to relearn how to draw and and

Lucy SB:

Um, yeah, I was very arty at school, and went to, art college, and I studied film, but, it was very much like an artsy type course, and then I just didn't draw for ages and yeah, it's quite liberating when you reignite that and think, oh, yeah, this is something that's actually just in me. I take, you're a bit rusty when you start back again, for sure, but it doesn't, you know, but you can quite quickly build your skills back up, can't you? Um,

James Turner:

doing it every day. I mean, the thing is that when I went to uni, I wasn't doing an art subject at all. I studied maths at university because, and I think it's. It's, it's two very different subjects. It like with maths, I knew I was good at it because if you get the right answer, you've done it right. Whereas I, the thing I think I struggle with art is the subjectivity or it, of course, it's like, if you, if you're not getting the approval and it sounds like very attention seeking, but you, you know, you don't know whether it's good or not,

Lucy SB:

yeah, you do need that reassurance.

James Turner:

Exactly. It was sort of why I went into the, the, the math side of things was because I needed, you know, I wanted to know that I was doing something right, I suppose. And it was only sort of after university when I Started to get my own personal confidence up that I think I got that confidence to, to go back into the, those more subjective forms

Lucy SB:

And do you think, you mentioned having like an online community when you first started as well, and was that, was the support from that community a key part of it as well, do you think?

James Turner:

Absolutely. Yeah. If it wasn't for that, it was a sort of a blogging sites or pre Facebook and, and all that. Yeah. That was just, you know, a few random people writing their thoughts on the internet and, it's only because of that, because that, that really boosted my confidence was, you know, meeting all these people that I never would have met normally and, and it, it transformed my life probably. it, it's definitely let me make comics again.

Lucy SB:

I did a course last year, a graphic narrative course at Royal Drawing School and about half the people that are on the course, we've kind of stayed in touch and are making a zine, with each one with one of our comics in and, I had to pre read it, last night and I hadn't seen my one. That I'd put in it for my comic for ages, and I just thought, like, well, guys, I've proofread it, but the bad news is, mine is terrible, kind of, like, I can't believe, like, you know when you look back at something and you're like, What is this? But they all reassured me that, oh, no, it's fine, it's fine, and, and like, I know that they would say that even if it was terrible, but it is, you do need those moments where people are just like, you know what, it's fine, and it's fine. Even, you know, it was, it is the best you can do at that moment, isn't it? And then you've got to kind of move on and not, how easy do you find it to kind of draw a line under your work and say, is finished?

James Turner:

yeah, I mean, absolutely. I, I, I struggle to look at my own work, especially, you know, especially shortly afterwards. It's, it's always excruciating. I think, I'm incredibly lucky that, you know, I've got an editor who says, this is done, you know, You've sent it in. I accept this as a work of writing and that, you know, that's, that's, I've got that one single person that can give me validation and that that's enough for me to be able to send it off. But I do find, while I can't look at something immediately afterwards and be like, okay, that's good. I do, I, you know, sometimes I'll go back to something I wrote a long time ago and I'm like, oh, yeah, Yeah, this is good. I, you know, I did something that, that's not terrible. I, and like, if I'd looked at it at the time, I probably would have hated it, but. You know, having that separation, having that distance when you've sort of forgotten it, I think it makes you realize that we're obviously our own worst judges, but once you've got the distance from it, you can sort of see it perhaps a little bit more objectively.

Lucy SB:

Yeah. Someone said to me, actually, the person that said this to me was, the Comics Laureate, Bobby Joseph, who I was just talking to yesterday, because he's going to come on the podcast. But he was saying that, You write the story because something in the story has resonated with you. And so it's not really about whether or not you think it's perfect or not. It's out there in the world and it might resonate with someone else. And that's what it's about, which I think was quite a a good way of looking at it. You started it for a reason, that idea came into your head for a reason, because it was something that spoke to you. Whether it's like, it doesn't have to be something like a really deep message, just, you know, it could be a joke that you thought was funny or like a story that you thought was cool and worth exploring and if you thought it would then somebody else will. It doesn't have to be millions of people, but somebody else will.

James Turner:

Yeah. Write For an audience of one, I think

Lucy SB:

Yeah, that's a good, that's a good plan. Which is Yeah, the difference is yours will be read by more than one person, whereas mine will be just that one person. so what's next? What have you got planned coming up? What future? You've got the launch at the start of June, of the publication of, Toby and the Pixies. What's next on the horizon for you?

James Turner:

um, I recently finished, uh, writing on a, a nonfiction graphic novel about. The human digestive system. So that's, I think that's also coming up this year. That's, that's something to look out for called Poo Crew Adventures, um,

Lucy SB:

love it. Right, great.

James Turner:

which i, I took on mostly'cause it sounded like a, a funny thing to do, but it is actually a real book. Um, I'm also. I'm also. working on, I have been working on a while on a, on a new pitch for the Phoenix, which, uh, it's, it's quite early to be talking about it, but, and it may never come to be, but it's, it's sort of working title is Dungeon School, about a sort of a school for adventurers learning how to do dungeons. It sounds quite rote, but the idea is that I'm going to sort of upturn a lot of the sort of fantasy tropes. And, uh, just sort of make a fun story about kids at school. It's just that the school happens to have a dragon in the basement and, uh, the teacher's a wizard sort of thing. It's, it's, uh, it's sort of a progression of, of what I did with, I hate pixies, I think in terms of. More more characters and more storytelling while still being fantastical and fun

Lucy SB:

sounds brilliant. And how, what's the kind of time, pipeline of that? How long is it from having these kind of early discussions and pitching ideas to something appearing in a publication like the Phoenix? Is it quite a long lead time?

James Turner:

I mean, it's it's probably not as long for most things mine I think I probably first told them about this last year sometime and I've not made much progress I keep saying I'm gonna have something to show them and keep keep not not doing that. But hopefully At least some scripts this year, perhaps in the comic next year, that's, that's, that's, I'm, I'm setting myself that as a, uh, an Odyssean contract,

Lucy SB:

When you've got something that's like serialised is the whole kind of sequence, is that all complete before it ever goes in? You're not like, cycling things over on your bike to get into the next week's Pheonix.

James Turner:

oh, no, it's, it's, it's. quite often fairly close to the wire. It's uh, uh, I think, um, they, they've definitely changed things and they do have more of a backlog than they used to. So it used to be, you know, I'd, I'd finish a StarCat and then it would be in it next week and I'd be like, gosh, that, that was close. But now they, they do, they do tend to, uh, run things a lot more, a lot further in advance. That, that does remind me I need to get some clatters and bumps done

Lucy SB:

Do you do those in a chunk? How does that work? That work, are you doing them in, sort of, sitting and working out ten at a time, or

James Turner:

Yeah, it tends to be, it tends to be that I'll write them in a block because you sort of get into that mode of thinking. So it's easier to sort of write quite a few in a go. Then it takes me, you know, it takes me a while to draw them again because of that self criticality. It's like, it's hard to sit down and draw something and like, oh no, that this is another reason it's good to have another artist do it because then they can't be sitting there thinking the script is rubbish. Why am I drawing this? Well, they can, but I don't have to see them do that. So, there's that, there's that constant doubt when you're drawing your own thing, and that sort of slows down my drawing, unfortunately, a lot. But, um, so I'm sort of, then, having sat down and written all these scripts in one go, then take, I do sort of one a week, really, which is ridiculous, because they probably take less than an hour to draw if I did it all in one go. but yeah, it's also, I do that outside of my normal hours. So it's like, I'm just having to find times to do it as well.

Lucy SB:

I think they're brilliant. They're my, they're my favourite one. Don't tell anyone they're my favourite one in the favourite little strip.

James Turner:

They're my favorite too.

Lucy SB:

So, we're coming, to the end of the podcast now. and at the end, I always like to ask guests to have, maybe some thoughts that might, help educators something practical that they can put into action. And I've seen you, before, when I was sort of researching this episode, I've seen you talk a little bit about ways to support, well, you were, it wasn't framed as this in this way, you're talking about sort of how you generate ideas for your stories and things like that. And I just thought that might be really useful for teachers to hear. because often it's something, you know, the blank page is something that, you What everyone struggles with, and children, are people, so they struggle with it too. Do you have any tips as to how we can encourage children that might be struggling to think of something to write about, to kind of help them on their way to finding a hook of something they could explore as a story?

James Turner:

think perhaps the thing to think about is, is how many Clatters and Bump bump comics, for instance, never get past the first panel, you know, I'll draw that first panel, I'll draw, you know, I'll write out loads of ideas and then throw away most of them and just stick with the good ones. I feel like that's not something that, that. I encountered at school, it was always, you know, you, you just go from beginning to end writing,

Lucy SB:

You haven't got time, you've just gotta

James Turner:

is. Exactly.

Lucy SB:

on with one idea, Yeah.

James Turner:

Yeah. You, You, you, know, you're sitting there in class or even at homework, you, you, you, you're not like taking something and throwing it away. You're, you're, but instead you're just not even starting. So perhaps that would be my advice would just be, you know, write a hundred bad ideas and then have a look. And they will be like, Oh, actually quite a few of these were good. So that's my process is just. you know, writing down a lot of silly things. It's usually, you know, in the case of Clatters and Bump, Clatters walks in and asks Bump what he's doing and Bump has hit something on a hammer or he's, you know, glued himself to a wall or, you know, it doesn't matter. You write that first idea without having any idea of where it's going to end. And then you just like, because You've thought about the characters. Perhaps this is another tip is having these well defined characters that you know how they behave. But yeah, because, because of that first setup, then you're like, Oh, well, I know what bump would do here, or I know what clatters would do here. And then like, well, Oh, because he said that I know what the other character would do, and then you've got three panels of your four panel comic. And then you're like, well, because of all this, Oh, I can think of something funny. Because, you know, that that's just makes sense, and that doesn't always happen every time, you know, you might only get to the second panel, you might only get to the third panel, and there's no punchline, but, you know, just giving yourself the freedom to come up with loads of ideas, and then seeing where they go, is, is that's very much my, my method, if you can call it that, so I think, perhaps, if there's a way, I don't know how you do it, if there's a way to, to give kids the freedom to try that, I think that might

Lucy SB:

Yeah, I think having that access. I know that some schools have more a writing for pleasure kind of approach where children have writing journals. So it's not just in their English lesson that they're writing down their ideas or having to start their ideas that, so they could, you know, maybe be writing down ideas for characters that may or may not go somewhere. But then when they start their writing they've got a whole bank of ideas that they

James Turner:

Exactly.

Lucy SB:

that kind of journaling.

James Turner:

I've got a file in my, in my, drive just called ideas. Lots of just bits of ideas that just come to me and I quickly write them down and, and almost never go back to them. But, but, you know, sometimes there'll be like, I'll be go back and go, Oh wait, that's a good thing. I can, I can fish that out and tie that into this other thing I'm doing. And, you know, it's good to have that bank of, of bits that can get tied in, make little patchwork.

Lucy SB:

to ask you about This is where the ratings of the podcast will drop off The advent calendar thing on Twitter. I am obsessed. Literally, highlight of my year, can we just have a brief chat about that? How did you start doing this silly game with the advent calendars? And do you really take it as seriously as you report to on your Twitter feed? But it just made me laugh a lot.

James Turner:

Yes. Okay. Yes. The calendar thing. Um, yes, it's, it

Lucy SB:

so silly.

James Turner:

started at, Work, I think I would we would just have an advent calendar at work and it you know, if you open an advent calendar door, it's like, oh, it's a candle great You know, it's it's a picture of a snowman. There's Where's the fun in that? So I was like well What if I try and guess it what if I try and guess what's going to be behind it? Because I was I think figured like there's only a sort of a fairly small pool of images You can get behind an advent calendar door it should be guessable really, and, and I think there's, there's also, an element of when I'm doing it, even when I was doing it at work, there's a character there. There's a character that, that believes that there's a narrative.

Lucy SB:

Yeah.

James Turner:

the calendar

Lucy SB:

Yeah,

James Turner:

put,

Lucy SB:

sort of logic behind it.

James Turner:

you can't put Santa Claus behind door one because he's like the main character, he's the hero, he should be late in the calendar and you know, so I let the advent calendar guesser take me over and, um, and you get into this frame where you, you, you know, you. It does become important to try and guess these things and you and you do you believe that you can get it And it can even be that i'm staring at that calendar thinking I can get this I can get this. What is it? What is it and i'm actually genuinely in that moment, like, frozen with indecision, like should I guess Candle or should I guess Wreath? And if I open the door and it's something and it's something I think I could have guessed or even should have guessed, I'm furious with myself. So it is like, I'm like approaching as a joke, but once I'm in that zone, once, once December is upon us,

Lucy SB:

It's real.

James Turner:

It's real. And I really,

Lucy SB:

And is there much deliberation around which calendar you're going to choose?

James Turner:

I no longer choose the calendar. My wife now is, is, uh, acts as an independent adjudicator and she, she selects, she selects the calendars and they're off, they're quite, they're quite surprising what the things that she comes up with and, and it's good to come to it fresh, not knowing, you know, what I'm expecting, not being able to do that analysis in advance. So I, you know, I appreciate having, having that, that independence overseeing me.

Lucy SB:

have you really got a spreadsheet about what all the different, what's behind all the different doors?

James Turner:

I really do have that spreadsheet. My wife was the one who maintained it because I was not that organized, but having that spreadsheet has been a valuable tool and, uh, you know, knowing exactly how many times a candle comes up really indicates, gives me some idea

Lucy SB:

It's all in this. Oh, this is the maths background. The maths background is coming in. The

James Turner:

Exactly, exactly. I need to do a curve of how many, how often I bless these things.

Lucy SB:

come in useful. It's brilliant. I love it. People who don't follow you on Twitter should follow you. I'm refusing to call it X. I'm not.

James Turner:

Oh yeah,

Lucy SB:

not No. No. Um, so yeah, on, uh, people who don't follow you on Twitter should definitely do that and we'll be able to find you, in the show notes. It's not the most seasonal of conversations. I feel like it's a shame there's not more advent calendar type moments throughout the year. We should have calendars for more events counting down.

James Turner:

I had a birthday calendar once, so

Lucy SB:

good.

James Turner:

that's February though. Yeah, growing up, think maybe an Easter calendar?

Lucy SB:

What, with doors on it. A birthday calendar with doors on it Hmm. I think

James Turner:

it's a niche gap in the market. Someone thought they could get in there.

Lucy SB:

it has been brilliant talking to you. There is one more question that we always end the podcast on, if we were to add one book to our to be read piles, it could be a comic, a book about comics, what would you recommend we read?

James Turner:

Gosh, um, hang on. Let me take a look at my bookshelf.

Lucy SB:

Everyone does that. To be fair to you, you haven't seen these questions in advance. It's, I, I sometimes do have to pull people up when they've had it for weeks and they haven't thought about this. Something that would be of interest to the teachers and librarians listening, but it could be for their own reading, for pleasure, it doesn't have to be for the children they work with. Something you love.

James Turner:

Perhaps I'd say something by Ursula, Ursula Le Guin, if we're going for something. I mean, the Earthsea Chronicles is something that kids would enjoy, I think. And, uh, but I think that the Right Hand of Darkness was something that really, on the subject of science fiction, it's something that really, you know, twists your head, trying to understand the ideas in it and seeing things from a totally different perspective. I don't know if that's appropriate for something about comics, but it's a, a science fiction book that, that is a very good example of casting a mirror up to society.

Lucy SB:

I think that sounds brilliant and links in with the sort of things we've been discussing. So thank you for that. That is an excellent recommendation. I will put a link in the show notes to that, so that people can find it if they're interested. thank you so much for coming on to the podcast today. It has been brilliant to chat to you. yeah, it's great to have you as a guest.

James Turner:

Great. Thank you very much for having me.

There you have it. Thanks so much to James for joining me on today's episode. I love talking, to him. Absolutely. Can't wait for Toby and the Pixies to come out so that a wider audience can access those excellent stories and just enjoy James, his sense of humor that comes out from the page. You don't have to wait long is coming out next week. That book is going to be released on the 6th of June. So get your preorders in and you might be able to get it on the day. If you're quick enough to listen to the episode. Thanks to David Fickling. for helping me to arrange that conversation. And I'd just like to say again, thanks to our brilliant sponsors ALCS a not-for-profit organization supporting over 120,000 members to collect money for all of the secondary uses of their work. So really an organization that supports authors and make sure that they're properly reimbursed for all of the uses of their work from beyond the sales. So things like users in education. academia and so on. I know many of my author friends are very grateful to receive a little bumper payment from ALCS once a year. Just going to highlight some of that resources that are available on the ALCS website at the end of each episode. So I know we're coming up in a couple of weeks at the end of June to the carnegie awards, And there are some nice lightweight quizzes and interactive activities, all themed around children's literature. And copyright rules and things like that, those are available for download on the copyright education section of the ALCSs websites. I'll put a link in the show notes. My recommendation this week is going to be a brilliant series of comics that I've just stumbled upon. They're published by Flying Eye book form, but not long. I'm not like a graphic novel length. kind of a picture book, length comic called fantasy sports by. By Sam Bosma. And I just really, really enjoyed these comics. There's one, two and three. Each comic has a different sport, but it's kind of a mix of fantasy with Indiana Jones. Type, adventuring. But with a bit of magic in there and then a sporting element as well. So it just ticked so many boxes for me on the back cover of the first fantasy sports. story, there is a quote, which says. It's the offspring of spirited away and space jam. And, um, I was in from that moment on, I was like, yes, please. Absolutely. Sounds like something I want to read. I really enjoyed it. I love the artwork. I love the action sequences, the way that the panel structure. Reflects the kind of fast paced sports activity that's going on. there's some really nice humor in there. Some visual gags as well which just made me laugh out loud. It was just delightful. I really love it. I love the way that the storyline between the two main characters. Wiz and Mug. Uh, kind of this flashback, she hear that origin story as you go through the series and it builds up layer on layer, great fun, really accessible, and really enjoyed them. So. I'm glad that I stumbled across them. I thought they were brilliant. highly recommended from me right up my street. That's it for comic boom this week. Thank you so much for listening. The reception to this series has been. brilliant. I've loved seeing everyone. Sharing on social media and the real buzz about last week's episode. So thank you for that. Just to remind that we are fortnightly now. Not weekly. it gives me a little bit more breathing room and Tyler a bit longer to listen to it as well for you guys. But please, if you would like to support the podcast. Sharing on social media is a number one way that you can do that. Help us get that message out there. Let other people who might be interested know that we're here. I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you've read some of the titles that have been recommended by guests or featured in the podcast, we'd love to hear some of your. your. thoughts. So please. Get in touch, you can do that on Instagram. But at comic underscore boom underscore podcast, or you can reach out to me directly on Twitter slash X. at Lucy underscore Braidley. So please do all of those things. You can find the details in the show notes. I'd love to hear what you think about the podcast and the titles that we've covered. The topics that we've covered so much to think about with them the next Susanna's episode last week. And then that's really seeping into the questions that I'm wanting to ask the creators that I meet, about their work and their approaches. So. Plenty more to come. We've got some brilliant episodes coming up. The next one in two weeks time is again, something a bit different. A community-based project working with I particularly care experience children. children with a social worker. Uh, in the school setting. all based around comics, some really, really fantastic. Powerful work going on there. So keep your eyes open for the next episode. My name is Lucy Starbuck Bradley. I'm the host and producer of comic beam. Thanks for listening.