Yesterday I traveled to London to host the closing show for the Imagine Children's Festival, at the Southbank Centre. As with all new children's festivals I had no idea what to expect, but the good people behind Imagine had claimed that they would be allowing children to take over the Southbank Centre ... and they did not disappoint! As I reached the venue I was delighted to discover that every window, pillar, table and wall in the building was emblazoned with colourful characters like these two friends below...
I headed for the Clore Ballroom, the giant performance space that would be home to my comic antics. Streams of lights were hung from the ceiling giving the room a festive feel. And there were lots and lots and LOTS of children.
But before I took to the stage, the place completely emptied. My slot was preceded by a brilliant Pantone pen sponsored colouring event that the kids ripped into with wild enthusiasm. All the paper and pens and general excitable mess had to be cleared away, which meant that I suddenly found myself staring out into an empty foyer with only five minutes to go. It's hard enough performing without the assistance of my brilliant brother, but doing it to an empty room would have been a low point.
I was, however, worrying unnecessarily. Summoned by the compere the crowd appeared ... and then appeared ... and then kept on APPEARING!
There were children of all ages present, from four to fourteen, and they truly helped make this a very special event. I even experienced my first stage invasion - just look at this little fellow go!
After holding the giggling loon upside down on stage, I managed to locate his parents (that trick always works) and the show charged onwards. Afterwards, every child was given copies of the Etherington Brothers' free comic workbook AND a free copy of the Phoenix Comic.
Then I headed to the Foyles stand for a book signing, which brings me nicely to the very best bit of performing live - meeting the next generation of creators.
The remarkably talented boy below is Lewis - a huge comic fan (Phoenix, Beano, Dandy and more) and a superb artist and writer. He had brought with him a HUGE pile of his own comics (he's written over a hundred issues!) just for me to look at ... and I was simply blown away by the boy's talent.
His characters, colour work, invention and understanding of how a good comic strip WORKS, left me speechless. Only thirteen years old and he's already a pro.
Phoenix fans should keep a look out for Lewis and his wonderful work, as he'll be popping up on Twitter, the blog and possibly even in the comic soon. This one's a real talent to watch out for.
Many thanks to Tom and all at the Phoenix for bringing our comic fun to London and for all the folks at the Imagine Festival for allowing me to prance around the stage like an idiot. I had a great time and we look forward to returning next year.