I wrote this after seeing the ‘Who Am I?’ exercise in Richard N. Bolles’ book, ‘What Colour is Your Parachute?’ I thought I might as well put it on the Blog.
I chose the word: ‘Creator’. Richard then asks us to ponder why we chose it.
Creator: Why I chose this…
I’ve always been a creator. As a kid I loved making things and often spent whole days drawing. And, making my own comics—from as young as 8. My bedroom floor was sometimes ankle-deep in my own drawings, and my beloved bought-comics, which I loved to read as often as possible. A pattern will emerge here of enjoying certain types of creative media, and then trying them out myself—and absolutely immersing myself in them.
First Attempts at ‘Making’
I believe I made my first crude castle—which I could sit inside—with a big cardboard supermarket box and scissors when I was only 4 or 5, living in Leigh, Lancashire. Now that was hard work. Big, blunt scissors and corrugated cardboard.
Drawing & Crafts
Around this time I also recall drawing. Drawing would soon become it for me. I also got my first comics when I was 4 or 5 in Leigh. Spiderman was definitely one of them. I’m guessing that it was a UK printed version in black and white. Doctor Octopus featured in it. I can’t remember where it came form, perhaps a visiting relative? My dad or mum read it to me o the sofa. Later, I’d start making my own comics.
“It’s a pity that John doesn’t spend as much time on his writing – as he does on the accompanying drawings.”
—mid-1970s School report, Scotland
No surprise then, that Arts & crafts activities would be my favourites in school, even those involving needlework and cloth. For a time, making sock-puppets was a favourite activity of mine. Robert Douglas Memorial School in Scone, Scotland was fantastic in this respect. There was a very broad range of subjects, including creative ones: Crafts, Art (I think, separate from crafts), and even a sort of drama type class, once a week in the gym.
School reports would say things like, “it’s a pity that John doesn’t spend as much time on his writing as he does on the accompanying drawings.”
Lego and Airfix were an especially absorbing pastime, but I loved to create my own things from Lego, rather than just following the instructions. In fact, I often seemed to try to make a thing myself, rather than ask my mum and dad to buy it for me. Or my dad would make it and show me how. Usually, I’d end up with the real things at Christmas or my birthday, having tried valiantly to make do with my home-made versions. I wanted a plastic sailing boat for the local park’s big pond, so my dad showed me how to make one out of wood, panel pins and string.
‘Playing Soldiers’ & Storytelling
When playing soldiers or space adventures, my friends and I would make up a story and act it out—as we went along. Improvising collaboratively. We might be attacking an imaginary German machine gun nest or fortress (I’ve since recreated this as a comic page). These adventures would often take us across miles of countryside, for many hours.
“Let’s make a film!” (Photo-stories)
After arriving in Ireland in 1977, I hit on the idea, possibly inspired by photo stories in my sister’s magazines, of making ‘films’ with my friends. I desperately wanted a cine camera – which would have been a huge extravagance—so that my friends and I could make war films, either starring ourselves or our Action Man figures and soldiers.
Without any planning or pre-scripting or even the barest concept (more’s the pity) we’d dress up, go out and make a story as we went along; shooting still images of ourselves playing our roles. Not only that, but I made comics based on the photos! Did I feel that the comics could be much better than our amateur efforts at ‘Film-making’? Or was I doing just what Marvel did? – making a comic version of the movie.
Making comics was where my creativity was most dedicated and most prolific. I’d been making comics since at least the age of 8, but when the movie Star Wars hit, my drawing activity and its quality went up another notch—improving more rapidly than ever. And I even embarked on a comic adaptation of the film. This is now a well-known webcomic StarWarsAge9.com. The surviving patchwork adaptation comprises approximately 185 comic pages. It’s a patchwork because I did the adaptation several times. By the time I completed it, I’d find that my drawing had improved. So, embarrassed by my efforts, I’d start all over again from page 1.
I also made Star Wars hardware out of cardboard, and a Darth Vader helmet and mask from papier-mâché, cardboard and a re-purposed toy police helmet. We weren’t poor or anything, we were a middle-class family but my mum and dad didn’t spoil us. Which was wise, but the added side-benefit was that in the absence of lots of Star Wars toys like the ones my friends had, I made my own. TIE and X-Wing Fighter, Lanspeeder etc.
Board games were fun things to design and make too.
I was the artist of the class in every school I went to, which gave me one thing to be proud of. Though in Ireland, there was some competition from at least two other boys, one of whom became a best friend.
When I finally got an audio cassette recorder, I would create little radio plays, by reading the Star Wars novelisation and would try to make the sound effects, while the soundtrack LP played in the background. My friend Niall and I would also have fun improvising comedies on tape, most of which we’d already drawn as comedy comics – or we’d read a couple of Howard the Duck comics into the microphone.
Later, in secondary school I got into Heavy Metal, and after seeing KERRRANG! magazine, I started to make my own music magazines and encyclopaedias – for fun, drawing and writing the content.
I tried playing music when I was 10 or 11, having seen a friend’s Bontempi electric organ. Then, the following Xmas, I got a small cheap one and my parents were surprised at how I applied myself to learning pop songs and noting down the numbered keys to press for each one.
Later, when in secondary school I saw another friend playing a guitar and set about making one myself! (instead of asking my parents to buy me one). With no woodworking experience, I made one from and old plywood door using blunt tools, and all the wrong tools! It was useless as an instrument, but an enjoyable and inspiring project which gave me a sense of almost having a achieved the impossible.
My friend and I learned guitar together, started a band and wrote some songs, which we performed live. Having initially declined, I reluctantly accepted the challenge to became quite a good heavy rock singer for the band.
I continued to make comics right up until art college.
When still in school, I entered an animation competition on RTE television. I animated the singer from AC/DC, and it was one of the winners and broadcast.
In college I made a few animated films.
After college I began to play solo blues music, writing yet more songs, and ended up playing festivals and then a residency gig and more nationwide festivals with an elder musician.
I made animated segments and ads for TV for a few years.
Then, I became an illustrator for national newspapers and magazines and books.
After a switch to new media, 17 years or so of Digital and graphic design followed, mostly creating websites.
There was a brief break between jobs when I created all of the artwork for a story app. That was my favourite project. It afforded huge creative freedom.
I turned my old Star Wars and Alien comics into webcomics and enjoyed writing the accompanying articles. It turned out that I had, and perhaps always had an above average aptitude for writing.
My most recent significant creation of the last 2 years, is a Webcomic which was nominated for Best Irish Webcomic 2015.
What turns me on about this
It’s a thrill to set oneself a project, or suddenly feel inspired to commence one, and accept the challenge. Making something wonderful, where formerly there was nothing.
It’s a source of pride to me that I was always like this and I was a very busy kid when I had the tools and materials with which to create things from my imagination.
When it came to my own projects, i’m willing to try anything, with confidence in the outcome.
I’m very proud of what I made over the years. Particularly my own independent works.