All this week I’ll be running interviews conducted at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds, with self-published and small-press publishers right on through to writers for Marvel and DC. I also had the chance to speak with several of the winners of the inaugural British Comic Awards as well, so keep yourself glued to The Beat!
Daniel Clifford is the writer of a number of self-published comics including Halcyon & Tenderfoot and Sugar Glider. He’s also one of the founders of Art Heroes, a British team who travel the country offering comic-book workshops for schoolchildren. With recent reports about the helpfulness of comics in teaching literacy skills to children, Art Heroes makes comics for children but also teaches them about the creativity to be found in comics as a medium. I spoke to Daniel at Thought Bubble, while Lee Robinson, the other co-founder of Art Heroes, did all the hard work of drawing sketches for people.
Steve Morris: What first inspired Art Heroes?
Daniel Clifford: I had already been running workshops with Jack Fallows for a year or two before Art Heroes started. Being in a school and meeting young people, and introducing them to comics, I felt that people were missing a trick by not making comics which could be pitched straight to a young audience first-hand. Jack and I never got a project off the ground in that regard – he’s now become a teacher, in fact, as a result of his time teaching workshops – but the idea stayed with me.
I met Lee through a mutual friend, and we worked together on a mini-comic which was packaged with my series ‘Sugar Glider’. We got on so well that we thought we should find another project to do, and that’s where the idea for Halcyon & Tenderfoot came in.
It’s a story about a superhero team who are father and son. I pitched it to Lee and we started doing it together. We weren’t making much money from our part-time jobs and wanted to get into comics, so it made sense to do workshops to make money, and then make comics together. That’s how Art Heroes got started. We make comics, showcase them as part of the workshops, and hopefully inspire others to make their own comics too.
This year we’ve managed to put out 4 comics, and have done a number of workshops around the country.
Steve: And how has the response been?
Daniel: It’s been good! We haven’t sold millions of issues, but the response has been good, and people have been coming to us online as well as at conventions. Kids at workshops seem to absolutely love it. It might not be the easiest thing to pitch kids on, but once they’re at the workshop, they seem to quickly get really involved in it.
We like it when we go to a classroom and we have an audience already there, and we can teach them something about a medium they might not have thought about creating in beforehand.
Steve: How important do you think it is that we have comics for kids, as well as mainstream books for older audiences?
Daniel: Very important. That’s why we started Art Heroes to begin with. When I was younger, more than anything else, it was reading comics which got me interested in stories and reading.
When I started doing workshops, I looked for comics I could happily give away to kids, and I’d think “well, there’s a knife in this one” or “that woman’s just wearing her underpants”. A lot of them are just a bit too violent for me to show to kids, the content isnit appropriate. We didn’t want to give away inappropriate comics as part of a workshop getting kids to start reading comics for the first time so we decided to make our own — so we wouldn’t have parents writing to complain that we gave their kids dodgy comics.
Steve: What do you find kids most respond to in comics?
Daniel: The thing kids seem to respond to most if when the characters feel believable to them. A lot of feedback is about the way the characters feel, and if they feel like they’re real people or not, which I’ve really enjoyed. We don’t explain how Halcyon & Tenderfoot got their powers – instead we’re focus on their reactions to all these new experiences and situations they find themselves in. It’s character based story primarily, because that’s what kids like most. A big thing happens at the end of the first issue, for example… and we don’t gloss over it
Steve: What’s coming next, after Halcyon wraps up the final issue?
Daniel: The last issue will be out in December, then after that we’ll just be pitching. We really like how The Phoenix magazine is working in Britain right now, and it’d be great to see more people working on projects like that. We really want to get our comics out to people now, and we can’t do that by self-publishing. You have to be part of something bigger.
Many thanks to Daniel for his time. You can find the Art Heroes team on their website www.artheroes.co.uk, which offers issues of Halcyon & Tenderfoot for digital download. You can also read more about Sugar Glider over on the website, and find Daniel on Twitter at @danielclifford6