Hello Rainy City Librarian readers.
Jane kindly invited me to write a little about my experiences as a freelance cartoonist/writer, so here goes….
I’m writing this in the rainy country in which I grew up – England. My parents still live here, in a thatched cottage in Briantspuddle, in the Piddle Valley (where the River Piddle runs), in real Thomas Hardy country – Dorset. I love to visit in September, when the sea is still warm, the leaves are still hanging onto the trees in the forest and the garden is full of treasures like tomatoes, courgettes (zucchini to you), raspberries and apples. It’s also the perfect place to go for walks and come up with ideas.
Before we moved to Dorset, I lived in other parts of the West Country. I loved my home life, but hated school, where I didn’t make great friends. Coming home from school and drawing, reading, or writing was what I loved the best. All kids love drawing, but I was inspired by the comics and comic books I read to continue drawing and writing beyond the point most kids give up. I was given a Peanuts collection at the age of six and it was fantastic to see how a few words and simple drawings could create a whole world you could escape into.
We moved to Briantspuddle when I was 13 and I found my friends: other geeky kids who loved to write comics, or talk about books (Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy was my favourite book then). I continued drawing comics at University, where I studied Biochemistry. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the nerve to forge a career as a cartoonist back then, and I ended up spending 7 years working in the pharmaceutical industry. In the end, the stress of being a round peg in a square hole got to me and I quit my job, moved out of London to the South Coast and got a job as a cartoonist for a local paper in Brighton (Tomboy was the first panel I drew). That was 1999 and I’ve been a full-time freelance cartoonist ever since.
In 2003, I downshifted even further to New Zealand. The internet meant I could live anywhere and after 5 years in NZ, my partner, dog and I moved to Melbourne, Australia for a few years, then back to the UK for a couple and then to Spain (where we are living for two years to learn Spanish). In the midst of that, my daily comic strip, Arctic Circle was syndicated by King Features and I’ve been drawing that for newspapers worldwide for 9 years.
I draw a webcomic that wouldn’t be able to run in most newspapers, as comics that run in most newspapers have to adhere to “family-friendly” standards that seem to be stuck in the 1950s (you can’t even say “that sucks!” in a syndicated cartoon.). Human Cull appears on GoComics. It’s a tongue-in-cheek cartoon about making the world a better place by removing the really annoying people.
GoComics is part of Andrews McMeel Universal, which also owns Andrews McMeel Publishing (AMP). When AMP contacted GoComics cartoonists to solicit middle grade book proposals, I was keen to send them something. I’ve written a lot for that age group (including my comic, Jack & Joni’s Time-Travelling Shed, which appears in a science magazine for children in Australia.) and I had an idea that had been knocking around in my subconscious for a while (my subconscious does all the heavy lifting in my work).
I wrote a proposal for FAB (Friends Against Bullying) Club, the book I would have liked to escape into as a kid. The editors at AMP loved the writing, art and central character, but they wanted significant changes to other parts of the book. I made some changes, but I knew that if I made others (e.g.. taking out the involvement of the police at the end of the book, because of recent police killings of kids in the US), it would change the book in ways I wouldn’t like. FAB Club was too important to me to be diluted via conventional publishing, so I went the self-publishing route. I tested the first draft of the book on some 8 and 9 year olds and made a lot of changes to make it more readable. Then I had the book professionally edited and sent the final draft to advance readers for my “crowd edit”. The book evolved to become the best thing I’ve ever done. With a lot of help.
If you want to find out more about FAB Club, or my other work, you can go to alexhallatt.com.
Thanks for reading and have fun!
PS. I’ve attached a picture of me and Billie at work!