Etherington Brothers Baggage Launch
On October 13th, an unusual book launch took place in Holland Park.
At Daunt Books, a wooden fronted shop that compliments the affluent boutiques and delicatessens between the station and the Edwardian squares to the West, cardboard cut-outs of monkeys and robots were placed on display as champagne glasses were set out for expectant fans.
The shop is part of a small chain which also has branches in Fulham, Hampstead, Belsize Park and Cheapside with a flagship branch in Marylebone. The location of each reflects the upper middle-class clientèle the chain attracts and suitably, for a shop with a branch just west of Notting Hill, it specialises in travel books.
So, the launch of an unknown graphic novel for children by relatively obscure creators, was a surprising event to find in one of their branches on an unseasonably warm Autumnal night. The book, Baggage by Lawrence and Robin Etherington, is a light-hearted romp through a fantasy city reminiscent of the work of Terry Pratchett.
Baggage is part of a range of books published by Oxford based children’s publisher, David Fickling Books, which until now has reprinted stories from a children’s subscription based comic called The DFC, that ran from May 2008 to March 2009.
Lawrence, who draws under the pen name Lorenzo, provides the art while Robin writes the dialogue and draws the letters in the word balloons for their collaborative projects, which also include a strip in The Beano, and the latter has also written comics for Star Wars and Transformers magazines.
At the launch, the Etherington brothers spoke about how, after the weekly comic was cancelled, Mr Fickling had the intention to bounce back from that and launch a library of European style graphic albums, hardback books with 80–100 pages of comic strips inside. They decided to pitch him a brand new book, following the success of their strip Monkey Nuts in the comic. With Baggage, they said: “It was for the love, it was for the passion and it was a story we thought would be immense fun.”
The graphic novel tells the tale of a hapless clerk in a lost luggage office who, on the brink of being fired for his carelessness, tries to impress his boss by returning the oldest piece of lost luggage to its owner. This adventure, which criss-crosses various exotic locations, gives the book a flavour of travel writing, so perhaps its launch in Daunt wasn’t so unusual after all.
They added: “it’s wonderful to be here today and actually pass this book into the hands of new readers and old readers and start to take it out to the schools.”
The range of books has started to attract young people who might be drifting away from reading outside of the curriculum. The Etheringtons explained: “you still have great publishers in the UK, like David Fickling, who fight the sort of stigma that is holding back graphic novels and comic storytelling.”
One of the earliest books in The DFC library, a graphic novel called MeZolith, was another launch at Daunt Books, Holland Park in April 2010. That title also has a touch of travel writing in its pages as it follows the cross-country adventures of a Mesolithic boy, 10,000 years before Britain became an island.
Written by oral storyteller Ben Haggarty, who has performed at the Hay Literature Festival and Carnegie Hall, New York, and illustrated by Adam Brockbank, a conceptual artist on the Harry Potter films, the title became one of The Times’s Graphic Novels of the Year in 2010.
Although MeZolith gained plaudits for its content, it is still difficult to sell most graphic novels to average bookshop visitors. Manager of Daunt in Fulham, Max Porter, advises other branches in the chain on their purchases of the medium. Mr Porter is a fan of comics, but admits many of the ones he stocks are there because he likes them himself. He worries about the graphic novel sections you find in bigger chains. Although they might have a larger selection elsewhere, chain store staff take little care in curating it or keeping it in order.
He said: “I kind of prefer our smaller selection, where at least if you took me over to it, I could more or less say I’d read every single one and I can give you the right one.”
Although the creators of many books in The DFC library are not yet well known, a contributor to the original serialised comic is one of Britain’s most famous authors. Philip Pullman wrote a strip called The Adventures of John Blakein DFC, which he hopes to complete one day as a graphic novel or film. He said that he read the weekly adventures of Dan Dareas a child and that he found the episodic format made it relatively easy to write a comic. He added: “It tells a story in a visual, cinematic, exciting way and yet it has the privacy, the personal connection, that you have with a book.”
With the release of schoolboy crime caper The Boss by John and Patrice Aggs in November, which joins Baggage and anthropomorphic comedy title Super Animal Adventure Squad by James Turner in the latest ‘wave’ of releases, there are nine hardback titles in The DFC Library altogether.
Hopefully this range will continue to grow on the back of good publicity and sales, complimented by the launch of a new weekly comic – The Phoenix – by many former DFC creators in January 2012. The Etheringtons themselves are contributing to the new comic, with strips called The Dangerous adventures of Von Doogan and Long Gone Don.
The brothers are optimistic about the state of comics in the UK at the moment, with new creators and new titles arriving on a regular basis. They added: “for now, we cannot wait for people to get hold of Baggage and see what we’re bringing in 2012, because it’s going to be epic!”