Monday, 19 December 2016

Dear colleagues and creatives, readers and rebels, fans and fantasists. To all my readers and friends,

Warmest Wishes for a sparkling festive season!
Illustration adapted from
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
by L. Frank Baum (Hesperus Press, 1st Dec 2016).

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Poster Competition to save Sutton Coldfeld Library

(photo © Sutton Coldfield News)

 The Campaign to save Sutton Coldfield Library has launched a poster competition open to anyone aged under 18, to raise awareness of the proposed closure of the library by Birmingham City Council.

I've been asked to judge the entries, more details are in this local newspaper article, deadline for submissions is 19th December.

Sutton Coldfield library was my portal to the world as I grew up, I discovered art, design, history and fiction through browsing the shelves. I can honestly say that had it not been for the fantastic service provided by the library and it's full-time professional staff I would not have followed the path I have. The library played a key role in making me an illustrator.

Today it's just as vital a service. Despite the growth the Web, the internet is not a replacement for a well-run library, Sutton is a substantial town, it needs it's library service!

"It the right of all children, regardless of ability to pay, to have access to the knowledge and understanding they will need in their lives. Libraries can provide this. Libraries do for the intellectual and emotional development, what hospitals do for body and mind. To deprive children of their right to knowledge and understanding is to deny them their future". (Michael Morpurgo)

The group are looking for poster designs (any size, any medium) to use on their website, twitter and facebook accounts to highlight why it's important to keep a library in Sutton town centre, and what the library means to residents.

Three winners will be selected from all entries, one each in the following categories: 0-7 years, 7-11 and 11+, with hundreds of pounds of books up for grabs.

Competition entrants are asked to email a photo of their submission to this email address  by Monday 19th December including the name and age of the person who designed the poster.

More information on the campaign is on the group website.

There is an online petition against the library closure.

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Day I met Bob Dylan

The news is so full of unbelievable and depressing stories lately, it's a relief when something comes up that warms the heart. Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel prize for literature is one of the more encouraging bit of news to hit the headlines, the other night I watched BBC4 broadcast the Martin Scorsese documentary of Dylan, this weekend the radio (which I spend far more attention to than TV) was full of Dylan celebrations.

Believe it or not I actually did meet him, once, in a North London cafe. This is a true story.

Stained glass panel made for Façade on an interior door

If memory serves correctly it was 1985, or possibly '86. I was working freelance in Façade Studios, a cooperative of illustrators and graphic designers who shared space in the converted aisle of disused Park Church on Crouch Hill, Crouch End, N8. I've mentioned Façade a couple of times before, but to summarize - Park Church was a 19th Century structure, long disused as a church, though the Nave was still used by the gospel church of Cherubim and Seraphim. The aisles had been blocked off and rented out as shared space for illustrators, on the west side of the church cartoonist John Minnion worked, on our slightly more rowdy east side facing the street, were graphic designers Andy Royston and Chris Millett, and a fluctuating number of illustrators including Jane Ray, Willie Ryan, Simone Lopez and myself. Next to the church itself was the church hall, originally the animation studio of our landlords Bob Bura and John Hardwick (of Trumpton/Camberwick Green fame).

Soon after we set up our studio Bura and Hardwick retired, sold the hall to pop supremos the Eurythmics (Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox), who turned it into their recording studio, and sold the church to the Nigerian Gospel movement Cherubim and Seraphim, who became our new landlords.

Park Church with the Church Hall (Eurythmics studios) beyond. The door behind the lampost was the entrance to Façade Art Studios, which stretched parallel with the street uphill towards the door on the left,  the entrance to Cherubim and Seraphim Gospel church.

It didn't take long for things to get very busy at the recording studios next door. Sound engineers used the spare art studios on the West side. Dave Stewart was often seen around, Annie Lennox less so, I think I only caught sight of her once in the 3 years I was at Façade. Our studio door was more prominent on the street than the music studio, so it always attracted attention - not all of it welcome. Happy memories are of responding to a knock on our door to find Paula Yates (RIP) from The Tube with a film crew pointing a camera into my face - they thought we were the music studio next door. The postman sometimes shoved materials meant for the Eurythmics through our door too, including once Annie Lennox's precious childhood photos from her mum. One of the temporary illustrators in our group thought it was somehow okey to open the package and look through the photos, which were quickly recovered and re-directed next door with apologies.

So, its summer, the word was out that Bob Dylan was in town recording with Dave and Annie. Nothing to do with us of course, but people kept knocking on our door - fans who'd heard a rumour. One particular die-hard Dylan fan kept knocking on our door every day, claiming she was his long lost relative and needed to see him urgently. "He's not here, we're an illustration collective, nothing to do with music" we insisted, but she wouldn't take no for an answer - even when one of us let her in to look around our studios. "see - no music here" we said. "You're lieing, where are you hiding him?" she insisted, I wasn't there at the time but I heard it was a struggle to get her to leave.

It was starting to get a little scary, we just wanted to be left in peace to work.

Me in the studio, 1985
Over the road from our studios was a small hole-in-the-wall cafe, run by retired celebrity strong-woman, Joan Rhodes. Joan was a former wrestler, music hall artiste and actress who in the 1950's and '60's became a household name for bending iron bars and ripping up telephone directories on stage - here's a clip of her in action, and another here on German TV in 1975. She was a close friend of Quentin Crisp, and appeared with minor roles in films like Burke & Hare, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and Elephant Man, also the TV series Dick Turpin.

By 1985 Joan had long since retired, but all of this glittering career was displayed on the walls of her tiny cafe on Crouch Hill, photos and memorabilia of the golden age of stage and British film, it was a unique place. Naturally Joan's Cafe was a magnet for us creative types, our closest hang-out at lunchtime. The basic food may have left something to be desired, but Joan was a unique character.

When Joan died in 2010, the Telegraph ran a fascinating obituary here.

So, it was a quiet, sunny day, no-one else was in my studio, so I nipped over to Joan's for my regular cuppa and sandwich. There were just two other people in the cafe hunched over the corner table, one I instantly recognised as our neighbour, musician Dave Stewart. The other was a man wearing a heavy parka with the hood pulled low over his head....  it was the middle of summer, t-shirt weather, so this alone drew attention. I sat on the next table (there were only about four tables in the cafe), and chatted nervously to Joan. Dave said something to Joan too (I don't recall what), but all talk was directed towards Joan, not to me of course...

Such was the scenario of my encounter with Bob Dylan. What do you do in that situation? - "Hey Bob, hows it going? I loooove your music" - no, I wasn't going to say that. I wasn't going to say anything! Let him eat his lunch in peace, he doesn't want to be disturbed, he's incognito, can't you see he's trying not to be spotted? Just mind your own business John, eat your sandwich, pay your bill and leave, that's the dignified thing to do, of course, he doesn't want to talk to local riffraff.

Hey, I don't even like Bob Dylan's music.

Dave and Bob (not my photo- happy to credit if photographer identified)

The sandwich is on the table, I examine every detail of the thing on my plate, and begin to eat in silence.

"Arn't you hot in that coat?" I blurt.

Dave glances at me out of the corner of his eye then at the hooded guy, but says nothing. "Yeah, but you know" comes a slow drawl from under the hood. Know? know what? That he has to hide in the corner of cafe's under a cowl to avoid mad fans? Am I a mad fan? No! I don't know anything about him. Why am I saying anything? Shut up John!

"It's quite warm today isn't it" I say to the room at large.

Joan grins and agrees. Bob shifts in his chair.  Dave is impassive. I can't remember exactly what was said next, but I think Joan explained to Dave and Bob I was their studio neighbour - an illustrator working next door. Bob or Dave (not sure which) asked me what kind of illustration - all kinds, children's books, editorial, say I.... "That's good", says Bob.

I mention our old landlords were Trumpton animators Burra & Hardwick, who sold the old hall to Dave's studio. Dave nods - we have a mutual connection. Are you here for a while? I ask Bob. "No". I mentioned that we were being pestered by people looking for him. "Just ignore them", says Bob.

We left the cafe at the same time, I held the door open for him, wished them good luck with the sessions and he shook my hand. And that was that.

I'm glad I wasn't a particular fan at the time (though later grew to love his work), had I been more aware I'd probably have asked even more stupid questions than I had already, but brains turn to mush in these circumstances, I had no idea....

That evening I met a friend of my house-mates who was a total Dylan fanatic, and said "here, shake the hand that shook the hand of Bob". By that time I'd repeated my story to several people, it felt like some kind of spiritual experience rather than the rather mundane encounter of reality.

Next time pop-pickers I'll have to tell you about the time I unknowingly met Kylie Minogue, blissfully unaware who she was... but that's another story.

I wish I'd got to know Joan a bit better though. 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

New Book Release! 'The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus'

I've a new book out for Christmas! The title kind of gives away who it's about!

John Shelley Santa 01

Most people will think of L. Frank Baum as the author of The Wizard of Oz, but he was an incredibly prolific author who created many other wonderful and classic titles, one of which is The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, first published in 1902.

Hesperus Press, which focuses on publishing neglected classics, has just released a new paperback edition of the book with interior pen drawings by me.

Released on 1st December in paperback,  I contributed 22 black & white drawings (note: the cover however is not my illustration).
Book details are here:

ISBN 13: 9781843915904

Here's a taste of some of the interior drawings:
John Shelley Santa 02
John Shelley Santa 03

The blurb from the publisher's site: Who is Santa Claus? We all know he is real, but where did he come from, and how does he deliver presents to all the children of the world? In this wonderful book, L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, tells the true story of Santa Claus, from being found as a baby in the woods to making the first toy the world has ever seen (a carving of his cat Blinkie), to the invention of the dolly, the Christmas stocking, the Christmas tree, his battles with the evil Awgwas and being granted the mantle of immortality so he can keep bringing joy to children for ever. Beautifully written, and with glorious new illustration by John Shelley, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus brings the magic of the Oz books to the life of Father Christmas. Introducing unforgettable characters like the Master Woodsman, Necile the Wood-Nymph and little Mayrie, who just wants a toy of her own, this is a book for children of all ages, and is as immortal as Santa Claus himself.

John Shelley Santa 04

John Shelley Santa 05
You'll have to buy the book to see more!

This was a fun book to illustrate, the narrative rolls on quickly with many scene changes that could have been illustrated. With limited space for illustration though it was a struggle to decide which passages to illustrate and which to leave. Inevitably I drew more than were initially commissioned, thankfully the publisher found room to include all.