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Fashion, film, design and all things creative at the British Library


Spotlighting collections you would’ve never thought would be in a library and the creative people who use them. Follow us @BL_Creative. Find inspiration for your next creative project in our exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK - 2 May – 19 August 2014. Read more

30 June 2014

Emma Hayley: the UK graphic novel market and how to pitch to publishers

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#CreateUK week began this afternoon and will celebrate the phenomenal success of the UK creative industries which generates £8 million per hour for the UK economy and continues to go from strength-to-strength. 

One strength is definitely the rise of comics and graphic novels. We're seeing a lot of creatives come to our Comics Unmasked exhibition and our first ever series of short courses on creating graphic novels has sparked a lot of interest. Emma Hayley, publisher and managing director at independent publishing house SelfMadeHero, tells us just what's going on in today's graphic novel market and gives aspiring graphic novelists and artists some tips on how to pitch to publishers. 

Newly commissioned artwork by Dave McKean inside an artist's studio in Comics Unmasked (c) Tony Antoniou
Newly commissioned artwork by Dave McKean inside an artist's studio in Comics Unmasked (c) Tony Antoniou

The value of the UK comic book and graphic novel market has risen by almost one thousand per cent in the last ten years, and is continuing to grow. We've seen general book shops (not just comic book shops) embracing the medium with hugely expanded graphic novels sections.

In 2012 Mary and Bryan Talbot's a graphic novel Dottor of Her Father's Eyes (on display in the Library's Comics Unmasked exhibition) won in the best biography category at the Costa Book Awards; this was the first year that two graphic novels were nominated for the award. As well as this, 2013 saw two British creators gaining recognition at the long-established and prestigious Angouleme International Comic Festival in France.  

Also in 2013, the Edinburgh Book Festival embraced the medium by having a special focus on comic books and graphic novels with their series of events called 'Stripped'. And with new comic book events popping up, such as The Lakes International Comic Art Festival last October, and attendance booming at already established festivals like Thought Bubble (where the first British Comic Awards began in 2012), we are witnessing a very exciting period in the UK's comics and graphic novel scene.

This year, the British Library's Comics Unmasked exhibition is further testament to the fact that the UK is thirsty for the medium. With comics and graphic novels becoming firmly entrenched in popular culture, publishers of the medium are enjoying a new dawn in publishing. It wasn't that long ago that British creators had to look to Europe or the US for commissions, but now creators are seeing their work commissioned more and more by UK-based publishers. 

Dotter of her Father's Eyes, 2012, by Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot (c) Mary and Bryan Talbot
Dotter of her Father's Eyes, 2012, by Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot (c) Mary and Bryan Talbot

If you've got an idea for a graphic novel and you want to pitch it to a publisher, then study the publisher's website and see what kind of books they release. If your idea fits in with one of their series (make sure that you don't send a superhero pitch to a publisher that never publishes superhero stories!), then I would recommend sending them a synopsis, with around eight pages of sequential art fully finished and lettered to the publisher's email or postal address. Some publishers may have some specific submissions guidelines on their website, so you should follow these if they do.

If you want to send your pitch by email and you don't get a response, then try posting your pitch. Publishers receive a lot of pitches every day, so find a way of making yours stand out. It's always worth sending  a follow-up email a few weeks later to at least check that they received the pitch. If you don't hear back from them, don't get disheartened, editors are busy and not every submission can always get a response, in spite of best intentions. It doesn't necessarily mean your pitch is substandard, the publisher may have just decided not to take it any further for other reasons.

Try and make as many connections as possible by going to comic cons and festivals throughout the year. Meet and share ideas with other artists. Show publishers and editors your portfolio if you can. If you're a writer bursting with ideas then try and find an artist to partner up with. If you're an artist but your strength isn't writing, then find an appropriate writing buddy.

Read as many comics and graphic novels as you can, and attend as many events as you can. Monthly events like 'Process' at Gosh! Comics is a good starting point. It's a friendly and welcoming industry and you can find the encouragement that you need by sharing your ideas. 

Thanks Emma!

You can pitch your idea for a graphic novel to Emma Hayley (and maybe even meet your future artist/writer partner) this Wednesday, 2 July as part of our short course Mastering the Graphic Novel - Pushing the Boundaries, From Pitch to Publication. Tickets here.  

19 June 2014

What to wear next summer: YMC SS15 London Collections: Men

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Our front entrance hall never looked so cool when British label YMC (You Must Create) showed their Spring/Summer 2015 line for London Collections: Men last Sunday. I sure do love men in pink. Here are my favourites:  








A playful finale: bucket hats with built-in goggles.  

YMC designer Fraser Moss is exploring our vinyl record collection and vintage magazines to create a new design. Follow me at @BL_Creative for updates. 

Our collections are an amazing source of inspiration for fashion designers. Henry Holland was spotted in our Reading Room researching old Tatler issues for his debauched debutante line and E. Tautz designer Patrick Grant gave a talk on how historical resources inspire his designs as part of our Georgians Revealed exhibition.

We also host events on topics such as trend forecasting, intellectual property and how to generate PR for fashion designers who are looking to start, run or grow their business. Plus we have over £5million worth of market research and business information that's free to use. FREE. Sign up for a Reader Pass and get in here!

17 June 2014

Woodrow Phoenix turns the pages of She Lives at the British Library

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Today at 18.00 and on Tuesday 22 July British comics artist Woodrow Phoenix will be turning the pages of his giant book She Lives which is on display in our Comics Unmasked exhibition. If you're in the gallery do pop by - this is a great opportunity to see all the pages up close and chat with Woodrow. He kindly gave us an interview below. 

SHE LIVES - a fast preview of a very big book by Woodrow Phoenix from superadaptoid on Vimeo.

What is your favourite exhibit or theme in Comics Unmasked?

The 15th century Bible that British Library curator Adrian Edwards unearthed from the Library's collection is absolutely beautiful and without a doubt real comics. The design and layout of those two pages is more modern than a lot of what we see from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It has given me a lot to think about and I would love to see the other pages of this volume, I'm going to put in a request!


Block-book edition of the Book of Revelation. [Germany, 1470?]. British Library Shelfmark: IB.14

What role do libraries play in your life? 

Libraries were pretty central to my life as a child. I learnt to read when I was three so by the time I started school I had read every book in the house. The school library was an incredible idea. All these books that I could look at! I got used to this idea very quickly and read my way through many of them in the course of the year. I was the kind of kid who took home the maximum number of books every week. I remember my first visit with my mother to Lewisham Central library which was like a kind of nirvana. There were three public libraries within two miles of our house and I had library cards for all of them.

When I was researching my book Rumble Strip about cars, roads and how we use them, I used my British Library Reader Pass  to look at traffic data and statistics. And also to pull up books that I was just curious about seeing. Library reading rooms are some of my very favourite places to be.

For those new to comics and graphic novels, what titles would you recommend?

I designed Rumble Strip to be completely accessible to people who have never read a comic book before. It has worked very well on that level because it's about a subject that affects every one of us every day, it doesn't require any specialist knowledge or interests to be relevant to you. I feel especially pleased that it is the first comic book that my 80-year-old mother was able to read, and importantly, enjoy. It works just as well for twenty-something hipsters so that's pretty good. Rated 'E' for Everyone! (Rumble Strip, Myriad Editions, £12.99 is available in the British Library Shop)

I also recommend another book I worked on called Nelson, which is a collective graphic novel written and drawn by 54 different authors. It gives a really great overview of what comics are doing in the UK right now, with a compelling story about a woman born in 1967. There is one chapter for every year of her life right up to 2011, and each chapter is written and drawn by a different person so it's a wonderfully varied and surprising collection. (Nelson, Blank Slate Books, £18.99)

Luke Pearson's series of books about a girl called Hilda, published by Nobrow, are brilliant. They are children's books that adults will get a lot out of as well, as they have all kinds of little resonances in them. They take place in a Scandinavian landscape of mountains and woods that's a cross between Moomin Valley and a Miyazaki cartoon. (Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Hilda and the Troll, Hilda and the Bird Parade and Hilda and The Black Hound, Nobrow/Flying Eye Books, £11.99)

What was the most challenging and enjoyable aspects of creating She Lives?

Pretty much every aspect of making that book was challenging! I had to start the process by making the book itself before I could work in it. Wrestling giant sheets of paper around, trying to make them lie flat and wondering what would happen when I put glue on them was terrifying and fun at the same time. Maybe we could make Extreme Bookbinding into a new sport?

It was surprisingly physical to work on drawings at that size. I was covering so much paper, I was doing a lot of bending and stretching and I would be exhausted at the end of every day. But I did really enjoy doing something that used all of my body rather than just a bit from my elbow to my fingers. It was almost as if I was inside the artwork in a more painterly kind of way. And I derived great satisfaction from taking a giant blank page and turning it almost completely black with ink. 

It took 19 months to make, which is a very long time for me. Usually my longest projects last seven or eight months. So it felt endless and at times I wondered if I would ever finish it. Now that it's done and sitting in a case I am slightly sad that it's over. Only slightly though!


Book now for short courses on creating graphic novels!

Becoming a Graphic Novelist - Who is in charge? The dynamics of image and text
Thu 19 June 2014, 18.30 - 20.30

Becoming a Graphic Novelist - Subverting Stereotypes
Wed 25 Jun 2014, 18.30 - 20.30

Mastering the Graphic Novel - Playing with Fire: Sex, Subversion and the Self
Thu 26 June 2014, 18.30 - 20.30

Mastering the Graphic Novel - Pushing the Boundaries: From Pitch to Publication
Wed 2 July 2014, 18.30 - 20.30