Comic Boom - Comics in Education

Comic Boom - Episode 10 - with Commissioning Editor at David Fickling Books, Anthony Hinton

March 08, 2023 Lucy Starbuck Braidley/Anthony Hinton Season 1 Episode 10
Comic Boom - Episode 10 - with Commissioning Editor at David Fickling Books, Anthony Hinton
Comic Boom - Comics in Education
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Comic Boom - Comics in Education
Comic Boom - Episode 10 - with Commissioning Editor at David Fickling Books, Anthony Hinton
Mar 08, 2023 Season 1 Episode 10
Lucy Starbuck Braidley/Anthony Hinton

Lucy chats to Commisioning Editor at David Fickling Books, Anthony Hinton.

We discuss the recent boom in popularity of british graphic novels - including  the success of Jamie Smart and Neill Cameron.

Anthony is part of the team at The Phoenix Comic, where he edits the comic books produced through the DFB/Phoenix partnership, including Jamie Smart's number 1 bestselling Bunny vs Monkey, Neill Cameron's Mega Robo Bros, Laura Ellen Anderson's Evil Emperor Penguin, Adam and Lisa Murphy's Corpse Talk and many more. He has edited many books of children's and YA prose fiction - and non-fiction - working with writers including the Carnegie-shortlisted Candy Gourlay, the YA-prize shortlisted Melinda Salisbury, and the legendary Anne Fine, and was himself shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award for editing the late Tony Mitton's Potter's Boy. He is also an occasional writer for The Phoenix comic, including on their choose-your-own-adventure series Fates and Fortunes.


Links to everything  discussed, including Anthony's recommendations and the comic to accompany this episode can be found on the podcast padlet.

Follow David Fickling Books and The Phoenix on Twitter at  @dfb_storyhouse  @phoenixcomicuk
Producer and Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Show Notes Transcript

Lucy chats to Commisioning Editor at David Fickling Books, Anthony Hinton.

We discuss the recent boom in popularity of british graphic novels - including  the success of Jamie Smart and Neill Cameron.

Anthony is part of the team at The Phoenix Comic, where he edits the comic books produced through the DFB/Phoenix partnership, including Jamie Smart's number 1 bestselling Bunny vs Monkey, Neill Cameron's Mega Robo Bros, Laura Ellen Anderson's Evil Emperor Penguin, Adam and Lisa Murphy's Corpse Talk and many more. He has edited many books of children's and YA prose fiction - and non-fiction - working with writers including the Carnegie-shortlisted Candy Gourlay, the YA-prize shortlisted Melinda Salisbury, and the legendary Anne Fine, and was himself shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award for editing the late Tony Mitton's Potter's Boy. He is also an occasional writer for The Phoenix comic, including on their choose-your-own-adventure series Fates and Fortunes.


Links to everything  discussed, including Anthony's recommendations and the comic to accompany this episode can be found on the podcast padlet.

Follow David Fickling Books and The Phoenix on Twitter at  @dfb_storyhouse  @phoenixcomicuk
Producer and Host:
@Lucy_Braidley
Contact: comicboompodcast@gmail.com


Music by
John_Sib from Pixabay

Lucy:

Hello an Anthony. Welcome to Comic Boom.

Anthony:

Hello Lucy. I'm really pleased to be here.

Lucy:

thanks so much for coming today. We've got lots to talk about and some really interesting and different perspectives that you're gonna be able to bring to the podcast. but can you tell us, about your journey as a comics fan? Do you read comics for Pleasure? Have you in the past read comics for Pleasure before it was kind of part of your day-to-day work, and where did that all start?

Anthony:

yes is the short answer. Yes. A lot. Um, and I think. it started, I dunno if there's any parents listening to this, but I would absolutely recommend that if you have books that you really loved yourself, put them in your child's room as they're growing up. Because my dad had all of the kind of old peanuts, the Charlie Brown and Snoopy sort of collections from the sixties and seventies, which were brilliant. And as I was growing up, they were literally just on the. In my room. And so I'd pick them up, read them obsessively over and over again. Charles Schultz is just a genius at, at both cartooning, but just at really getting to the core of what it, what it means to be human. And I think, peanuts was absolutely where it started. Then as I got a bit older, I got into, the Beano a bit. And I really got into when I was about sort of nine, this, anthology comic called Sonic the Comic, which was entirely based around, Sonic the Hedgehog from the Mega Drive games. it was a British comic and it was being made by these wonderful creators, many of whom went on to things at Marvel and things like that as well. But there wasn't really that. Like that in the sort of early, mid nineties. And, it was just the most exciting thing because you had all of these different types of stories. You have lots of different stories based on lots of different games, but you had brilliant creators doing really sort of, you know, quite challenging storytelling with it as well. And I know talking to some of the people who. Draw for the Phoenix comic. It was quite a big influence on them as well. So it, it obviously hit at the right moment when there wasn't much around. But it was just super exciting. And then a lot of, Batman annuals actually, sort of older, kind of 1970s, 1960s Batman stories, which felt a bit more in. Sort of along with the Adam West sort of TV show, that kind of slightly sillier Batman. And then I, I got into manga as a young teen and sort of read, read all sorts of manga. I mean, you know, manga is, manga is not a genre. It's everything. It's every genre. So I would just devour loads and loads of manga books. And yeah, I mean then obviously sort of lots of creator own things. Um, you. uh, we work with some amazing creators whose, whose work I'd read before we started working with them. And it's just really, really exciting to, to then go from having been a fan essentially, to be able to, you know, be sat across the table from, from people whose, whose work I've, I've loved for a long time. So, yeah, it's,

Lucy:

Manage that. this is tips for me as a podcaster. How do you manage your excitement when there's someone that you generally, like having a total fan moment over and then you meet them in real life and have to talk to them on a professional basis? How do you manage that

Anthony:

Um, well, I think

Lucy:

go, ah, I love you.

Anthony:

I think you, well, I mean, I dunno, it's sort of, you don't want to scare the horses so you don't want to go kind of full. Ah, I love you. But I, I think it's okay to say it because actually I think there's something really nice about people being appreciated and you know, if it is someone whose work meant a lot to you, I think it is absolutely fine to say it. And. you have to kind of take a step back and go, okay, but actually you are a person too. you know, you're not just the person who, created this, this amazing story, which I love with all my heart. You know, here we are, we are just two people having a conversation and let's just, let's just have that conversation and you know, how you're doing today. You know, that sort of stuff.

Lucy:

I think you the first person to mention peanuts on the podcast. Which I have a real soft spot. My dad also is a Peanuts fan and would make parallels between the Lucy and Peanuts and me, which I refute. Uh, still to this day it's not the case at all. So that's definitely. Something that I associate with my kind of family heritage in comics in a way. And it is really nice to have those kind of timeless, I would say. I mean, I'm sure there's, from a storytelling perspective, Sonic is still very good, but it, that, that's got, that Sonic seems so nineties doesn't, it seems so rooted in that kind of era. Whereas, peanuts seems to have more of a longevity and a kind of timelessness about it.

Anthony:

Yeah, it does. Although, I guess what I would say is that, as with everything, it depends on the perspective you bring to it. So I sort of feel with Sonic in those kind of comics, particularly because it was being made in the uk, I think the perspective of the creators on it was a little bit more. Well, we've been given this property, which obviously is hideously nineties and based on a video game, which doesn't really have that much

Lucy:

Gloriously nineties. Gloriously nineties.

Anthony:

Yeah, and I think they all just took the attitude, let's, let's tell the kind of stories we wanted to do in, in the same way that you had sort of Grant Morrison doing zoids and you know, then going off and reinventing Batman and Superman. And I think you've got these British creator. Who take these properties, which are kind of highly commercial, highly, sort of, you know, constructed almost around a, a set of other things and then bringing them into a sort of sensibility that feels much more, focused. How can we make people care about this thing in the way that we do, and how can we make it feel like it really matters? And you might think that that's a little bit sort of trite, but I kind of think you have to have a certain naivety when you are telling stories that you have to go, okay, so this this thing which I really care about, how can I. Everyone who's reading this cared just as much as me. And I think that's in some ways the kind of fundamental question of, you know, how you make things good. You are the storyteller in the market square and it almost doesn't matter what story you are telling. The way you tell it is the thing that's going to make people go, oh, Oh, hmm. You know, all of those kind of noises about like, oh, I'm, I'm suddenly invested. I suddenly care. I've suddenly got all of my focuses on you. And I think that's the power of great stories, and it almost doesn't matter what form they take, you know?

Lucy:

how do you manage that in terms of you've, I know when we talk, We talked a lot to librarians and different people who are doing a lot of professional reading, which obviously you in your job as well, would do a lot of professional reading. How do. Sort of carve out that space for yourself as a reader to have that moment of wonder and being drawn into the story or, or is that very much part of your professional day-to-day as well?

Anthony:

It absolutely is. And I don't think the two things are sort of, I don't think the two things are not connected. You know, I think you have to have that wonder in this, in this sort of job. Because. as a human being, the thing that you have the most of really is time. You know, what do you want to spend all of your time doing? And really you want to be spending your time doing something you really care about. Um, and so I have those wonder about stories, and that's one of the reasons why I do this job. so if you are working on something and I'm reading something for work. I'm hoping that it will give me that sense of wonder when I'm reading it. And then you can step back and be a little bit more critical of going, okay, why isn't it doing that? What things about it are meaning that, this story is you know, it's being a bit baggy in the middle. Where did I lose interest? Why did I stop kind of feeling as invested? What happened to this character who suddenly, seems to have been forgotten for three chapters? What are the questions that I'm asking? but I think, that's the difference a little bit between trying to dissect something academically and trying to edit something in this kind of way, which is. You know, at the end of the day, the question you are asking is, not so much trying to analyze the techniques or take apart the text in an academic way. It's much more about trying to, say, how does this make me feel and is it making me. The sort of things that the story is demanding that I feel. And if the answer is no, but the story is still demanding it, then what kind of questions actually do I want to ask the author, which might help prompt them to, go back in rework something. And then the other skill that I think you have to have a little bit as an editor is, have a memory like a goldfish. I'm terrible at remembering the things that happened in previous drafts when I read a new one. I'll absolutely be reading something for the 12th time and I just, I won't remember what was in sort of draft seven or draft eight. I'm trying to come to something a bit fresh. I'm trying to be the new reader, looking at something going, okay. And then you meet the story on its own terms, and. You can kind of see how that version makes you feel.

Lucy:

So I think it's really useful is context, just for people listening who myself included, I'm not really sure what the day-to-day role of a commissioning editor would be. What, is there anything you've given us a real flavor of the purpose. is there anything you can add to that in terms of, you know, what does your role actually sort of entail more broadly?

Anthony:

So I, I think. There's a process that happens with books, but obviously you're doing this with lots of different books at once. So essentially you are looking at, here are the things that people would like us to publish on submission. Which of these things would we like to publish? And then you are hopefully convincing the company that that is something that you want to take forward and that everyone can get excited about, and you try and transmit your own excitement and get them excited about the story and then, you are working with the authors, to develop it. And so that might involve starting with the first draft and then meeting with the authors. Talking to them about fundamentally what do they want their story to be about, I guess. But really, where's the heart of their story? What are the things about their story that they care about the most? And then how can. help the story to be showing off all of those elements in its best possible way. And, you know, the stories will demand that themselves. You can sort of get a little bit mystical about this, but stories are an intangible thing where like the story themselves will suggest to you, actually, this is really what I'm about. And it's a, a process of working together with the author to help identify what those things are, and then sending the author off and they'll go away and, and rewrite, and then send it back in. And then you keep those conversations going until, you've arrived at the final version. On the other side of it, it's also sort of, getting very, uh, sort of technical on. Proofread or writing the blurb or doing all of the, kind of like helping turn the thing that you have in front of you that's been made by the author, by the writer, by the artist, and doing all of the steps that need to turn it into a book. So that's working with designers, working with, production, working with, all sorts of wonderful people. And it's a very collaborative process. Helping to turn. This intangible story, first of all, down into something written by the author in the way that they want it to be. And that's the very best version of what it can be. And then turning that into something that can exist on the shelves in Waterstones.

Lucy:

when I was listening to you talk then I was thinking, well, as a teacher, when I was. Marking or working with children to edit and improve their writing. I'm generally not in having conversations about what the heart of their story is. It's more of a proofreading job, or it's about creating a writing product really that meets a certain criteria of the curriculum in, in many cases. Cause it's not really just sort of writing for pleasure a lot of the time in school. But I do think there, there might be parallels in terms of how to best guide people through what can be a difficult process of accepting feedback, of thinking about how to improve something that they've already put a lot of work into and the emotional attachment to that we have to our own creative output, I guess.

Anthony:

Oh, massively. And you know, I think that, That's part of being a human who makes something, you know? if you don't feel attached to what you've made, then, that might suggest that it's not something you're as invested in as, as you might need to be. I guess the way I would suggest approaching it, I mean, teachers, teachers know this already, but it's, it's, you ask the questions, it's, you know, it's encouraging that, Process of taking that step back from the thing that you've made yourself and, and helping them to read it as if someone else had written it. And then asking, you know, what would they think about it or what are the things that they think are working in teacher's case for the criteria? And what are the things that they don't and can they identify those? And you know, I think if you've managed to get that little bit of distance, it's really, really valuable because essentially sort of writing is, is the turning of the idea of what's in your head into something tangible. Rewriting is the process of making it as good as it can possibly be, and I think you have to sort of acknowledge both parts of that process. Otherwise, you're only going to be able to get so far because. you know, there may well be, a number of geniuses who can be right first time with everything that they make, and they can construct something which absolutely works in every single way without needing to go back over it. But I don't think that's true for, for most people. It's certainly not for me. And so I think what you want to do is be able to see what you are doing both as a mode of self-expression, but also, part of a process. and that the first draft is only the first step in that process. And that by the end of that process, hopefully what you've got is something that you can feel not just immensely proud of, but even more proud of than you would've done had you stopped at, at step one.

Lucy:

Yeah. I, I think there is, there is something around that, that, it is about a process I found it really useful an eye-opening for children that when they find out that, you know, famous authors, they are going through the same process as well. It isn't about this thing you did isn't good enough, it's that it's not finished. Cuz you, this is the process that we go through is that you, you have a first draft and then you, you know, you revisit. And I think sometimes we just. In the school timetable, you're kind of writing one day and editing it and improving it the next, and then you're onto something else. There's not actually any time for you to have distance from it, I've found it really valuable, the following term to go, well, let's just dip back into some of our writing that we did a few weeks ago, because then they, it is easier a little bit to have that kind of distance from what you've done and be able to see it with fresh eyes, I guess. Is that something, is it quite a tight timeframe often in the publishing world or, Is there an opportunity for creators to have that bit of distance from what they've

Anthony:

I think the honest answer is it depends on what's being made. But I think that what you try and do is you try and build that in as much as you can. So, the process can be, particularly if, you've got a, a series being produced, that there will be a sort of imperative there to try and. Publish regularly because what you're trying to do is, you know, you've got readers really excited about book one and book two, and so book three might have a little bit more pressure on it to be delivered in a certain amount of time. But I also think that's not really the best way to be thinking about it, because ultimately what you want to do is you want to also be leaving your readers as satisfied as possible. I think on the flip side, I think there is definitely, a real vital importance in giving authors space to, to really hone their, their story. We published at the end of last year, an amazing book, absolutely stunning book called Tyger By SF Said, with some brilliant illustrations by Dave McKeean. And, SF had been working on that novel. For best part of nine years. And that was an enormous number of versions and redrafting and, and all of that. And, you know, there were things that he discovered in sort of version 10 of the story, which suddenly elevated the whole thing because, you know, if you can have that space and time, You have the ability to suddenly see all of the potential in your story. And obviously as an editor, that's the kind of thing you are, you are there to sort of ask questions, which hopefully prompt those answers. But the stories belong to the authors and it's about them sort of realizing that I'm even better than I thought I was. You know, suddenly all of these things are in, in this idea, which I've already had, and. Suddenly if I change this name here or I change this concept here and I just move things a little bit, it reframes the entire, the entire story and everything just glows that bit more. So, yes, I think, in certain cases there is time. In certain cases there aren't. you know, speaking about comics as well, obviously, at D F B we have a, a really close partnership with the Phoenix comic. And I also work on the Phoenix as well. The Phoenix is an anthology comic. 32 pages, full color comes out every single. And because it's every single week of the year and there are 32 pages that need to be

Lucy:

has a lot of space

Anthony:

um, there is a lot of space to fill and there's an anthology. So some, some comics, you know, Jamie Smarts, bunny versus Monkey will be two pages in, uh, the Phoenix that week. There'll be other comics that will be four pages, maybe six pages. and some will be one pages or some will be sort of three panel shorts, but it's a juggling act with that because obviously you need to be providing a lot of material every single week. And so ideally what you want to do is have everything done well in advance, but you are always trying to make sure that, there will be a comic for all of the subscribers and readers, on a Friday. That brings other pressures as well.

Lucy:

yeah, for sure. and David Fickling books has been Well known for, its graphic novels. has that always been part of the David Fickling mission? Is that kind of central to it or is it just something that's developed over time is that something that's evolved because of the Phoenix? I'm just interested in that relationship and the kind of the flow between the two. I.

Anthony:

I think David has always been incredibly passionate about, about children's comics, and particularly anthology comics. So, back in 2008, 2009, there. David launched the D ffc, which was a sort of forerunner of the Phoenix, that he put together, while he was running the company. David Fickling books, which is now independent and has been independent since 2013, but at that time was an imprint of Random House. And so the D FFC was a sort of first run at this, so this was always something that David was incredibly passionate about. And then obviously the financial crash of 2008 hit the Phoenix was a, a wonderful opportunity to sort of relaunch, as an independent company. And, that has been going, going strong since 2012 and since the beginning of D F B as an independent company, we've been publishing, graphic novels using. the material created by the Phoenix. So in the sort of early days, we used to do a reduced, A4 size. So the Phoenix is produced a day, four size. We would take, the strips from the phoenix and bundle'em up. do some work to them to make them work a bit better as a book, and then we'd bring them out into the market. And what's happened in the last kind of few years is that the, success of comics like Dav Pilkey's Dog Man, Raina Telgemeir's Smile and things like that, essentially showed book sellers by pure volume of sales that there. This massive audience that we always knew was there because we always knew that kids love comics, and since we started reformatting the graphic novels in 2020, we were sort of able to, you know, come along to a, to a bookshop situation, which was now willing to shelve graphic novels alongside. children's fiction. And I think that's been just wonderful because I think, you know, with Bunny Versus Monkey, which has been enormously successful, so Jamie Smart's sort of brilliant, brilliant now quite long running series of seven books that are out in the, in the market at the moment. You know, book eight will be coming out at the end of this year. That is, fantastic for lots of reasons. One was that we always knew this was amazing and brilliant and suddenly. That and, and the other, Phoenix graphic novels, finding much bigger and more successful audiences, is fantastic. But I think, the bookshops were sort of primed to shelve them in the main children's section in a way that I think has, really opened that door. it's been really exciting. In terms of the two companies, we obviously work incredibly closely together and it's meant that we've had, in the case of Money versus Monkey, Jamie Smart has been doing two pages every single week for about 10 years, which means that if one year's worth. Bunny versus monkey can make one new format book. We've been in a very advantageous publishing position where we had all of this material and we were sort of now able to, get it into the hands of, of kids in a format that the bookshops were excited to sell. And we've just seen it go from, from strength to strength to strength. So it's been, it's been very, very exciting.

Lucy:

You mentioned Dav Pilkey and Raina Telgemeier and people I've been speaking to on the podcast will mention Jamie Smart and, Alice Oseman as the kind of English versions that their popularity of both Bunny versus monkey and Heart Stopper has really been instrumental in Kickstarting what they hope to be. Graphic novels and comics becoming more mainstream, mirroring what's happened in America.

Anthony:

it's, I think we always knew that kids love comics because we knew that, um, you know, storytelling in all forms is, something incredibly special. And, the ways in which you receive stories work. You know, differently for different people, but I think there's just a sort of openness and, accessibility about comics, which is, which is incredibly exciting. I think that, both with Jamie and with Alice Osman. I think that, it's brilliant seeing them have the success that they have and obviously, you know, we hope to build on that and we know how amazing all of the other creators we have working with us are, and, developing that space for children's graphic novels within the uk but also, worldwide, you know, is absolutely. part of what, what our mission really is. We have, a really exciting moment here. And I think that, it basically wanting to get this wonderful work into the hands of as many kids as, as we possibly can because we know that they'll love it. And I think that, that's been proved by, by Jamie's success.

all of it comes back to Jamie. Really. Jamie is an absolutely incredible creator, one of the hardest workers that I've ever come across. And he is just an absolute genius at understanding what children love and what makes them laugh. And, none of this success happens without a creator as skillful, talented, and, and brilliant as he is. And it turns out that once you've solved the shelving problem, a lot of things can follow. So having the books in the right format was, was absolutely step one. But it's also worth saying how supportive Waterstones have been, and I think it's enormously to their credit, that they were willing to really get behind children's graphic novels. And I think without Waterstone's support, it wouldn't have got to where it. but also, um, has been an enormous amount of hard work on the part of, in particular people like Villa, our sales director and Fraser Hutchinson, our PR manager, who have put an enormous amount of effort and energy and thought and creativity into how to get these books to market in the right kind of way. And of course, you've got the Phoenix and, uh, built-in audience of. Receptive kids who already love Bunny versus monkey love, Jamie Smart, and they're sort of primed to, to go great guns for it as well. But I think definitely when you've got something that starts well can build and you can publish repeatedly, you can create a snowball effect, which in the case of Bunny versus monkey, has just been incredibly gratifying to see.

Lucy:

Yeah. Here, here. As a publisher, do you focus, mostly on, reading for pleasure? I think that that's where definitely in terms of schools, that's where 10 to see comics and graphic novels sitting in this, it's quite firmly in the reading for pleasure. Not so much embedded in the curriculum though, though there, obviously there are lots of cases of schools doing that, but it's not widespread. It's kind of, if you've got one passionate member of staff who's confident and wants to give it a go, then, then you are seeing comics in the classroom. If not, it tends to be in the library. In, in the sort of reading for pleasure. Is that something that also you would like to see more of or is that something that you are interested. in supporting teachers to do, to actually use the comics, or graphic novels in the classroom space and sort of curriculum delivery more.

Anthony:

Absolutely. I think that, It's also about what's the right sort of, start for a conversation, you know? because I think there are certain comics that, are definitely brilliant at starting those sort of conversations. So, we published an amazing graphic novel by Patrice Aggs and Joe Brady called No Country, which is,

Lucy:

I've actually just very recently reread that, in the last couple of weeks. So it's very fresh in my mind.

Anthony:

Oh, fantastic. And that's kind of an inversion of a, um, a Civil War story. It's a, a story about a civil war kind of raging in, in the uk and this family, these two sisters and their younger brother and their dad, trying to live a normal life sort of in the middle of this, restricted near war zone. And I think. Kind of book is a brilliant conversation starter. I also think that Neill Cameron does the most amazing work, with Mega Robo Bros, is an incredibly, exciting, thrilling, moving, powerful, but also very subtle the thing that Neil is so good at is taking this format, which is about these two brother. Alex and Freddy, who are robots and who have all of your sort of brotherly scuffles and fights and things, but also, as well as big adventures where they get to punch giant robots. He's also looking at what does it mean to be a robot who doesn't necessarily have, for example, a fixed gender or what does it mean to be, different? And I think using those sort of. You know, story, ideas and then really drilling down into what does that then mean? You know, I think is a wonderful way to sort of present some really, interesting, fascinating, intensely human ideas to kids. And I think would be wonderful conversation starters in a, in a classroom. I think it also becomes a question then of, What's the kind of overall framework of the class and I think that what Neil does is so brilliant because it is an incredibly pleasurable read and it's really really fun. It's just really, really fun. I think basically there's lots of brilliant things in all of the comic books that we, we try and, and try and make. But I think primarily, our audiences. Is the readers. It's, you know, first of all the subscribers to the Phoenix, and then it's the audience for all of the, the books. And I think that, um, you know, it's, you want to kind of spark people's imagination and that can go in all sorts of different directions. But in order to do that, you want to give them material that that can really matter to them. And I think anything that matters to you can be an object of discussion in a classroom because I think that means that you are thinking about it properly and that means that you are engaging with it in a way that, will spark further thought and can spark further conversation.

Lucy:

How do you, pitch and set your kind of age ranges? Because things like, Neill's Mega Robo series. They've got, actually got quite, and I would just think something like Jamie Smart, you've got a real broad range of appeal and lots of different layers there that could be accessed to lots of different ages. I just wonder how you go about sort of where you're gonna pitch those books, for what age range and how you make sure that you've kind of tailoring that content.

Anthony:

Well, I guess what I would say is that you have to have a, duty of care to the children that are going to be reading the books that you publish, or the comic that you publish. And so it's about making sure that, you aren't sort of breaching that duty of care in a way that is going to be upsetting in a way that isn't, isn't appropriate, if you see what I mean. Within that though, I don't think that age ranging in that kind of way is, is sort of enormously helpful in the sense because that's sort of a publishing problem, right? In the, in the making of it. I don't think you need to be too. Stringent about, things like complexity of language. I think in all of them, and I would absolutely include Jamie Smart in this Laura Anderson who does Evil Penguin, James Turner and Yasmin Shake, star Cat has some very complex. Language in it as well. But I think you frame that kind of stuff in context and so that if a reader is encountering a word, which they don't know yet, you can have that as an exciting thing because if you are framing it in the context of a comic panel where the reader can see what is going on visually, that actually helps to kind of. Their ability to understand what this word really means. And so then obviously if they want to go and look it up later, they can. But if they just want to move past it and go onto the next thing, that's fine. But they've, they've encountered a new word. They can internalize that word and then, um, you know, you can help sort of. Very subtly, stretch their reading ability or like push them a little bit further. And I don't think we need to be afraid of that. I think kids are really good at, at sort of self-censoring, both when they encounter sort of words which are a bit more complicated or, or ideas that are a little bit more complicated. I think kids are brilliant at, taking the, the kind of the ideas and the tone and things like that, that they really connect to. So again, with Neill's Mega Robo Bros you've got Alex, who's the older. the older robot. And then you've got Freddy, who's the younger one, and Freddy is an absolute ball of energy. He's a huge kind of whirlwind of, wanting to punch everything and just enthusiasm and massive ego. You know, he's your absolute nine year old who's kind of standing up on all the tables, waiting his arms going, look at me. You know? And I think if you are that kind of hyperactive younger kid, you'll absolutely hone in on the Freddie moment. And Neil did a brilliant job, of writing three amazing illustrated fiction books, all about Freddy, which have that real energetic voice to them that are just, they're fantastic books. If you're a slightly older kid, you might connect a bit more with Alex, who's a little bit more, kind of internal. He is more questioning about, all of the decisions that you have to make as a, as a. Person growing up in the world, and how you want to be seen and how you want to kind of connect to other people. And you'll hone in a little bit more on those, those sort of moments. And so, what you try and do is you try and create books that. giving readers of all ages, something to kind of hook into, and something to enjoy

Lucy:

And do you think of a parent at the same time as that like the experience of shared reading in the home we see, in cartoons on, the tv. Sometimes you can see really clearly that kind of, that, that line was for the parent. Kind of, um, aside, is that, is is really less less of that what's your approach to thinking about Adults also accessing the texts,

Anthony:

um, I mean, I think that it. to an extent. It depends a little bit on the text, but I think that fundamentally you are trying to make something that is, exciting, interesting, meaningful, that has sort of emotion to it as well. And I think if you've done that job well, then that doesn't need to be age restricted. It doesn't matter what age you are. So if you're a

Lucy:

It works cuz it works for humans,

Anthony:

Exactly. Yeah. It's, that's a hundred percent it. You make the story work as a story. You make the story work for humans, and then parents can share that with their, their children because hopefully what you've made is a really good story that everyone wants to read and everyone wants to, to experience. And it doesn't matter what age you are, I think, within something like the Phoenix as well, because you have that little bit. Variety of comics. I think that there are certain things, so for example, the Fates and fortunes choose your own adventure stories will sometimes

Lucy:

I really love those. I am also a cheat when I do that. I do, I totally look ahead to see which is the right way to go.

Anthony:

You cheat. Oh, I can't believe that. Oh, That's terrible. No.

Lucy:

That's not kind of low life. I am

Anthony:

No. Here's the secret. I think Cheating's Okay. I think it's fine on that. because the whole point of a choose your own adventure is you want to see what all of the different endings can be. And I think. It's, it's great. But also I think within those we use a little bit more elevated language because I think we know that quite a lot of parents are reading those with their kids. And so there's an, an opportunity there to sort of introduce slightly more complex tonal language that is really fun. But I think is, is kind of going to be more of that sort of shared experience. So yeah. But I mean, overall what you want to do is you want to make good stuff and then people will want to read it and then it doesn't matter what age they are, they'll

Lucy:

Yeah. Yeah, that's so true. And we are coming to towards the end. I do just wanted to ask you, you mentioned, Neil Cameron's middle grade fictions, illustrated fiction as well, and I was interested in, someone had asked me the other day, so they were getting questions around, how'd you move children on from comics and graphic novels and. Almost suggested, oh, and then I thought, oh, I don't want to, I don't want to reinforce the just idea that children should be moved on from comics and graphic novels. But obviously often the people who create, graphic novels also create prose books. And I wondered if that that was why you have them in your collection or, where, where that kind of evolution came from. Are you seeing it as a next step or are they kind of a parallel thing?

Anthony:

They're 100% a parallel thing. It's not about moving anyone on from anything. Comics are great. Prose books are great. Illustrated novels are great. And I think what that's a hundred percent about is that there are brilliant creators who are brilliant storytellers and it doesn't really sort of matter what form they're telling those stories in. It's another opportunity for their stories to exist in the world for potentially a different audience or, new readers who won't have heard of them. and their work, in comics, but they might discover them in books and then that will hopefully also feed back into the comics as well. And it's a real synergy there. But across, across the creator's work, I think what we care about is stories and pros, stories illustrated pros, stories. Comics are all different forms of that kind of communication of that idea of, you know, here's a character who I want you to care about. Here's a really exciting circumstance. And I think Neil is a really great example of this because he's just an absolute born storyteller and I think that. You know, for him or for Jamie who's also written, the Illustrated Flemer novels. Lauren Anderson, who I mentioned earlier, is obviously massively successful with Amelia Fang and Rainbow Gray. Jamie Littler as well, who, um, is a brilliant illustrator now, brilliant writer and illustrator also, made comics for the Phoenix quite a few years ago now. But I think there's so many people who have this real. Talent for, creating characters that, that we care about and writing brilliant stories. And so it's just a different form for them to do that. and I think it's, it's been really exciting seeing that happen because I think that, you can see all sorts of possibilities that come out of the different forms that can kind of inform each other. I think there are certain things that come out. Constructing a, a prose story that can then feed back into the making of comics and can elevate that. And I think a lot of the skills that come from being someone who's brilliant at comics means that the type of novels you write will have certain things about them that other people can't bring to them. And so it's. You know, what are the things that make these creators really wonderful and special and really exciting to, to read? And what things can they write that no one else can write? Um, and that may turn out to be, to be a comic. It may turn out to be a novel. It can be, could be anything.

Lucy:

Can you give us three points, two or three points that you'd like to leave us with kind of thinking points, things for educators to mull over or just summarize the things that you've been talking about today? What would you like to leave us thinking at the end of this podcast?

Anthony:

Well, I think that. I think stories are probably the most important things that human beings have, and I think a love of reading comes from a love of stories. So it doesn't really matter what form those stories take. They are absolutely valid. And you know the question sort of. Why do you care about this? I think can apply to absolutely everything. So if kids care, if anyone cares about something, they will make an effort to try and work at it or trying to understand it. And it sort of doesn't matter what that is, but you can connect everything to stories. So if a kid is really excited about sport, is stories. Sport is storytelling. It 100% is because you've got the, the narrative of that particular football match. But you've also got the narrative of that particular player who's just come back from an injury or you've got the narrative of, you have, you actually, you've got the struggle. You've got the fact that they were two, one down at halftime, but they came back to win four, two. You know, I think all of these kind of things are stories fundamentally, and I think. People engage with stories all the way through their lives. The story about the story that you tell yourself about how your life went, the, the kind of crisis that you have in your own life when your story is interrupted, because circumstances mean that the narrative that you had planned for yourself isn't going to go the way you thought. Again, it's, it's all about stories, and I think fundamentally when you. Connecting with reading. You are connecting with story and you are connecting with the fundamental principle about how we understand the world and about the thing that makes us human and everything else. About how well the authors communicated those ideas about the language that they've used about the literate kind of ways that you can communicate ideas in more clever ways than others or whatever else, all flows from that. And I think if kids care about stories, I think they will care about life. And I think that means that the whole principle of education is encouraging, essentially. People to grow up and to become adults and, empathetic, understanding, members of the human race. And I think there is no better way of doing that than, than through story. And I think that if you are, looking at children who are sort of struggling to connect to reading, I think there are a million, million ways. Of connecting them to stories, and then from that, everything else can flow.

Lucy:

Completely agree. That was very stirring and profound and a great thing to leave people thinking about. So thank you for that. That was superb. Final thing, I think this is gonna be very difficult for you in, in your role, uh, but can you leave us with one book, just one or comic that you would put on our to be read pile? what should we add? That you're only allowed to choose one.

Anthony:

Only allowed to choose one.

Lucy:

Sometimes people just completely flout that, to be frank. But that's that

Anthony:

no, no, it's fine. I mean, the, the cheat answer here is to say the Phoenix, um,

Lucy:

allow it.

Anthony:

something for everyone in it and you know, but I, and I think also professionally, I, I probably have to say the Phoenix, but I also mean it because, you know, it is, it is so, Truly magnificent and there is something for everyone in it. So I will say I, the Phoenix, and if I'm not allowed to pick the, the thing that I work on as well, I would say

Lucy:

That is brilliant. Thank you. I would second the Phoenix. It arrived. On, it's actually still on the doormat. mine. I'm not allowed to open it. Um, but yeah, it's great excitement

Anthony:

Right. Two

Lucy:

great excitement when it arrives in my house every week, from me and from my children. So yes, I would second that of the Phoenix too. Thank you so much for, coming onto the podcast. It's been brilliant to hear. Really different perspective and just centering the importa. of stories has been really lovely and I feel quite energized. So thank you so much. It's been brilliant.

Anthony:

Thank you, Lucy. It's been a real pleasure