2018 - Lots of little experiments.

Looking back 2018 has been about loads of little experiments. Moving in new circles to learn, create opportunities, and push in new directions. This blog is a little bit of a humble-brag, but it's worth reflecting on the ups and downs of the year past, to help plan the year ahead.

In early 2018 I was involved with Manchester's Business Growth Hub 'Spark 2 Scale' programme - had lots of help with business plans for my workshop using stand up comedy skills for public speaking 'Present Yourself' - based on the book from 2017. I was invited to run it as part of their special events, which in turn led to a few engagements at Manchester's Google Digital Garage.

John Cooper at Google Digital Garage Manchester
John Cooper at Google Digital Garage Manchester

There's been a lot more illustration this year than previous years. I finally got on Instagram. Inspired by the 'Bee in the City' project I created a bee for the Manchester Fringe and that led to me being asked to design the mascot for the Fringe. During the fringe I also ran out an experimental show - 'Confessions of a WordPress Fanatic', combining stand up, songs and website development just to 'talk about what I know' and see if it would work. Not great numbers in the audience, but very rewarding.

Some great project's landed on my table including illustrating for a TV advert, re-designing and re-branding Wentworth Music Festival, and working with actor Arthur Bostrom on his new 'Fronch Phrose Berk' writing as Officer Crabtree, the character he played in 'Allo 'Allo. So much creative freedom with all these projects, too.

In August much fun was had performing at the Edinburgh fringe with ComedySportz, and before that I headed over to Dublin for the first Improv Utopia event, a long weekend of improv workshops with people from all over Europe and the USA.

Personal highlights this year including Running a couple of half marathons and walking up Snowdonia with the Manchester Road Runners crew. Hosting the Pint of Science festival and meeting inventive folk, then hosting a manic Doctor Who convention and finally meeting Peter Davison. There was some sad news closer to home, which makes me even more grateful for the amazing people I have as family and friends.

Inktober was a bit of a revelation. I'd never heard of it until it was already happening. Draw an inked image everyday for a month. Having done so much digital artwork I'd forgotten just how much I love the real thing. That and brush pens. The very fact I didn't know they existed until this year baffled me and excited me in equal measure. Inktober opened more doors for me, just be doing it.

I've loved doing the 'WordPress Fanatic' show, as it was quite personal in place, and want to take it to Edinburgh in 2019. I also have a new comics illustration project that's taking shape and am aware don't have the time to do both. Right now the comic project is winning out as it something I have more control over. I love the Edinburgh fringe, and performing, but there are so many variable's and I've not taken a solo show up since 2011. I'd like something more solid and tangible to show for 2019. And I'm allowed to change my mind on that.

As I plan out 2019 current thoughts are to double down on what works. Building the good projects for nice people and building new relationships in turn. Take risks and live life. Oh and and have a holiday, I'm so due a holiday.

  • Spark 2 Scale
  • Present Yourself at Google Digital Garage
  • Illustrating for TV with GroundBreak Productions
  • Great Manchester Run Half Marathon
  • Mascot Design for the Great Manchester Fringe Festival
  • Pint of Science Festival
  • Improv Utopia Ireland
  • Comedysportz and Joke Thieves at the Edninburgh Festival
  • VWORP! An independant Doctor Who convention
  • Good Moaning France With Arthur Bostrom
  • Inktober
  • Manchester Half Marathon
  • Liverpool improvathon 2018
  • Comedysportz Panto 2018
  • and all the other lovely comedy gigs I've done as Danny Pensive.

Actor Arthur Bostrom ask if I'd like to be the book illustrator of his new  French phrasebook 'Good Moaning France'. He's written the book in character as Officer Crabtree, the role he made famous in sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!  Of course I said yes.

Arthur has a list of acting credits a mile long, but is probably best remembered as Crabtree from 'Allo 'Allo.  The character's poor grasp of the French language was the source of many gags, as well as his introductory catchphrase 'Good Moaning' which also the title of the book, recapturing the style and humour of Crabtree's verbal mangling.

Officer Crabtree by book illustrator John Cooper
Arthur Bostrom's Officer Crabtree in illustrated form.

There was a long lead time on this project, permissions for usage and suchlike, which was an advantage for me as book illustrator, as it meant I had a bit time to think about the style and sketch ideas. Looking back at the early concept illustration now, my style, technique and tools have changed a lot. Even in a short space of time.

Arthur knew I could work in a few styles and wanted something a little more animated than the original concept sketches.  I cast my ideas net wide, looking at the European ligne claire style popularised in the 50's and 60's by book illustrators like Herge, Bob de Moor and Joost Swarte.  I’m a big fan of that illustration style and in context of the character  and French origins of 'Allo 'Allo! it looked right. Also I was probably overthinking it.

The character of Crabtree really lends itself to this clean dynamic style, and in illustrated form I could easily see him rubbing shoulders with the Thompson and Thomson, or Agaton Sax.

Creating the cover was a good touchstone character reference for the other ten black and white illustrations which appear in the book. Details were referenced from photo stills, making sure the lapel buttons, badges and cloak all matched Crabtree's Gendarme costume as worn on screen.

The finished cover was realised first as a series of separate images. Handdrawn, scanned,  then moved around on layers in clip studio to find the right composition, then digitally inked and coloured using a wacom intuos  tablet. This technique is less time consuming that it looks, as it allows for experimentation in the composition. If the text title graphics overlap any elements, they can be shuffled around for clarity. Here's the cover composition:

You can order Arthur's book at the Waterside Press website, here.

John Cooper
Comedian & Improv coach
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