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Wednesday, June 1st, 2011
Creating the Spirit of Hope

Here’s a secret. I nearly didn’t do it. When GM Jordan sent me a text late one night in March asking if I wanted to be involved in a small charity project the CBA were doing to raise some money for victims of the Earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, I said “Yes” instinctively, without really thinking it through. I did so in my kitchen and, by the time I walked the few yards into my study, my email had already started to ping like crazy as creators started to say how much they wanted to be involved. And it was at that point I had the feeling that I might have jumped out of a plane without a parachute. After all I’m a freelancer who writes to eat, time is money and all that. At the same time the pictures coming in from Japan tended to put any selfish fears into perspective. If there was something we could do to help even a little, it seemed worth it. The next day was spent answering emails. Luckily I have three great and very understanding editors over at Eaglemoss (stand up and bow Richard Jackson, John Tomlinson and Sven Wilson) who have been amazingly flexible with deadlines as the book started to become something of an obsession and take over vast tracts of my 9 to 5 (and 5 to 2 in the morning). Within 48 hours of the first email arriving it became pretty clear that this wasn’t going to be a small project. Maybe a 52 page book? More emails. More creators – some old friends from my Marvel UK days. A few amazing artists such as Nick Abadzis, Liam Sharp and Henry Flint not only wanted to be involved but created amazing pieces of work in record time. Others soon became involved, writers and artists whose work I’d only previously admired from afar as well as some new creators (at least to me) whose work totally blew me away. Within a week it wasn’t a 52 page book but a 116 graphic novel collection. Now where was that parachute?

Normally part of the role of an editor is to inspire creators, to give them a little nudge here and there to make sure the best possible work is produced. In this case that wasn’t needed. Everything that came in was stunning. If I wasn’t a Northerner quite a few would have brought tears to my eyes (and I dare anyone to read Richmond Clements and Inko’s “The Ship” and come away unaffected) while others made me laugh (David Leach and Glenn Dakin especially). I was starting to feel like I’d stepped into a strange parallel world where things worked out simply because comic creators are, as a rule, really good people. Someone should do a survey but I’m fairly sure if they did the findings would indicate our business has less arseholes in it than just about any other.

I think one of the reasons the strips turned out so well is they were done so soon after the Japanese disaster. We get so used to seeing wars and suffering on TV that it takes something severe to get a reaction out of people. The footage of the Tsunami moving in on Japan did just that. Who couldn’t be touched by the sight of such appalling devastation? I remember hoping that the car trying to outrace the killer wave would make it…

As creators we take real life and turn it into stories. Good creators (and I count those involved in the book as among the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with) try to make sense out of life – both the good and the bad aspects of it. Writers and artists are vital to the emotional well being of humanity, whether it’s inspiring and enlightening readers with insights into the world around them, or providing a few moments of freedom from the cares of everyday life. Those involved in this collection created some of the most personal stories I’ve ever seen. I was worried people would send the same ideas in, the same images – both Tim, GM and myself were certain we’d be inundated with pictures of Godzilla with a tear in his eye. Not one crying Godzilla turned up. Each story provided a fresh and emotional viewpoint on the disaster or delved back into ancient myths to retell tales paralleling recent events.

The book came together almost magically, as did the title. I originally suggested, a little half heartedly as it didn’t quite feel right, that it should be called “Hope”. Almost in the same email GM Jordan suggested it be called “Spirit”. A quick call later it was pretty obvious that combining the two words would not only give us the title but also an emotional core to the collection. There was already a theme running through many of the concepts and stories, a theme of humanity overcoming the most terrible disasters, of the darkest hours bringing out the best in mankind. Almost at the same time Jimmy Broxton sent his amazing image in. It screamed cover to me… but we already had a great Mike Allred cover. Luckily this is comics where variants are the norm. Two covers seemed the logical way to go…

Time and freelance deadlines shot by. When all the strips were completed it was time to work out the running order. Just to make it even more complicated we weren’t doing just one book but two… the physical edition and a larger digital E-Book edition. Both would have to work as pieces of art in their own right. It was important to save some great strips for the digital edition. All the strips were printed out and spread out on the floor of my living room. Peter Hogan and Adrian Bamforth’s strip was an obvious choice for the opener. It set the scene perfectly for the stories following it. After getting the printouts in something resembling a finished order, I carried a homemade version of the book around with me to meetings and trips up north (and the odd trip to the pub) for about a week, moving strips around and reading and rereading the book to make sure the various pieces had the right flow. With some of the strips in the anthology dealing with the death and despair brought on by the disaster, it was important to not only spread these out but also to make sure they fitted with the strips nearby. Hence the emotionally hard-hitting “There” by Al Ewing and Gary Erskine is followed by Si Spencer and Jessica Kemp’s beautiful Haiku-inspired piece.

Printers were found (quick nod to Ukomics), James Hodgkins handled the design of the cover and interior text pages, Gary Gilbert made sure all the strips were ready for the printers and looking their best and Dan Rachael was on hand to colour Temptation and deal with the odd emergency. Special thanks are needed to Maggie Calmels and Eaglemoss Publishing who set an ftp site to help store all the artwork and allowed me use of the office printers and facilities to help coordinate everything.

All the hard work put in by everyone over the last few months is now nearing completion. Eva Perkins set up the Spirit of Hope fanpage on facebook earlier this week and suddenly the internet was covered with blogs recommending the book. It was an amazing day, watching people talk about the Spirit of Hope all over the net. Next step is the press release Tim Pilcher’s working up…

It’s easy when we all become wrapped up in a project like this to forget the terrible events that inspired it. In the way our modern world works, it already feels the disaster is ‘old news’. The press have already moved on to Super Injunctions, FIFA corruption and whatever comes next. Meanwhile back in Japan and New Zealand the people touched by the disasters are still dealing with the repercussions. We’re going to raise money for them. Hopefully a lot of money but perhaps more importantly we’re creating something which will remind people that, to paraphrase a line from Rich Johnston’s piece, they’re still there. They’re still dealing with what’s happened and we’re still here thinking of them and wishing them well. With a little luck we’re also creating Hope.

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