The Brief 2016 Beat-Down: or, Blowing Up the Death Star and Blasting On to a Better Year, Yeah?

We need to blow this thing up and fly on.

Yes, indeed. In my mind – a mind that seems to comprehend everything through Star Wars analogies – 2016 is the Death Star and so I’ve come back at the climax to fire some farewell shots to set-up the spectacular finale where we destroy the big gloomy grey sphere o’doom and swoop off into a starry future full of hope. (Woohoo!)

So here we are primed for the finale and here I am, back out of nowhere (Hyperspace) after going missing for a while. (Sorry about that. I’ve been busy, y’know?) I’m Han Solo/James Clayton, it’s the end of the year and we’ve all had enough of 2016 so let’s be done with it and get on with 2017. In (very) brief, here’s my beat-down of the year that’s been this year, and the year that hasn’t been this year. (I really liked the year that wasn’t. Can we go back and have that instead?) After a cursory glance over some photos, I reckon that this is the image that encapsulates 2016 best…

Ruins, rumination...

Ruins, rumination…

Yeah, I’m feeling that (and as a big believer in ‘Show, don’t tell‘, I won’t write an essay explaining why this particular photo of me moping in Pompeii is the perfect summary of 2016). In total, 2016 has been, erm, ‘interesting’. To paraphrase the lady who works in the Asda down the road and who’s convinced that she’s the re-incarnation of Charles Dickens: “It were, like, sometimes like the best a’times, weren’t it? But then it were like, y’know, the vurry worst, in’tit y’know?

She’s right (about 2016, not about being the re-incarnation of Charles Dickens) but because I’m sick of dwelling on the dark, depressing, disappointing and just-too-damn-deathly I’m going to focus on the fun bits. Thus, [INSERT YOUR OWN END OF YEAR ROUND-UP OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS AND CELEBRITY OBITUARIES, ‘CAUSE I CAN’T DO THAT CRAP ANY MORE AND I HAVE NO DESIRE TO NOW… *single tear*]

First up, the personal stuff: over the course of 2016 I’ve taught a lot of English lessons, doodled many doodles, had a number of adventures and misadventures, geeked out on some great culture and not written as much as I’d have liked to. I’ve shared good times and bad times and rad times with ace old friends and excellent new friends. Lots of learning. Lots of experiences. Lots of stuff that is worth talking about, reflecting on and sharing with people. In total, I guess that means that the year can’t just be dismissed as a bad one to write out of the history books.

I’ve been places this year (geographically, I mean). I returned to Milan at the beginning of the year and enjoyed it afresh for a couple of months. Moreover, I explored Italy further this year and highlights include falling in love with all the creatures in Genoa’s aquarium (awww, the manatees!) and with Naples and its surrounding historical wonders (see photo above).

Later on I had a fantastical time in Prague with my bro, my dad, the Golem and Franz Kafka’s nightmares. Moving on to summer school work, the Surrey countryside and weekends hanging around in London were lovely and then I got to autumn when I completely upped sticks and moved to live and work in Bologna. Bologna is beautiful and now, at the end of the year, I find myself in Italy again – teaching at a superb language school and based in a city that, in so many ways, is brilliant. I’ll write at length about Bologna in the future. (Yes I will. I promise.)

As for cultural stuff, shout out to all the art galleries and museums I’ve popped into this year; thanks for blowing my mind. Shout out and thanks as well to Welcome to Night Vale (now 100 episodes weird!) and the Bruce Lee Podcast for stretching my mind and accompanying me on all these long walks I keep on taking. (Why? Because Bruce Lee once said: “Walk on…“) Musically, this year my favourite fresh things have been Babymetal, Weezer’s White Album and Square Hammer by Ghost (which I believe is one of the greatest rock songs of all time, for the record).

The vast majority of new movies I’ve managed to see have been terrific and my top five flicks of 2016 would be: Kubo and the Two Strings; Captain America: Civil War; Tale of Tales; The Revenant; and, of course, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It always comes back to Star Wars, and that brings me back to blowing up the Death Star and hurtling on into 2017. Right now – with a slightly fatalistic head on – as I face up to Reality and the challenges ahead I feel that my spirit animal is a bizarre amalgamation of all the lead Rebels in Rogue One. (In other words, in my mind I’m running around a cruel and ruined galaxy, fighting for impossible causes and I know I’m going to die but I know that I am one with the Force and the Force is with me and it’s all fantastically cinematic so I don’t give a crap.)

More optimistically, I’m psyched for 2017. I’m resolved to do even better and have some fun. I’ve got fresh inspiration and motivation to create things and I’ll be blasting ’em out as a work ’em out. (Yes I will. I promise.) I’ve got a very, very long New Year’s Resolution list but I won’t bore you with that. Ultimately, it’s all about positive energy and enthusiasm, essential humanity, creative action and love. It doesn’t matter if that sounds simplistic and vague – love is easy and it’s blatantly clear to me that, after 2016, we need to go forward with more love.

Let’s go do that then. Now I’m going to blow up a Death Star ’cause it was just too doomy and hug a Wookiee. So long, 2016. Here’s to 2017…

Hourly Comic Day, Slice of Life Chronicles from a Relatively Unexciting Saturday…

Yesterday it was the first day of February. Hey February! It’s the month of Pancake Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day and the NBA All-Star weekend. It’s also the month of Hourly Comic Day. That happens on the 1st of February. That was yesterday. Let’s go back to yesterday…

The objective of Hourly Comic Day is simple enough: every hour you’re awake and functioning you produce a comic to document your day. Slice-of-life diary comics on the fly. It’s a nice idea but I’ve never done it because: 1. My comic drawing skills are not up to much and my fingers can’t realise the awesome pictures in my mind, damn those digits; 2. It always seems that February 1st is an ultra-busy day where I couldn’t possibly squeeze in some sketching every single hour; 3. Diary comics are not my preferred brand of jam (as a later taste test described below will confirm).

(Un)fortunately enough, I’d set aside yesterday as a ‘Saturday where you have absolutely nothing to do except rest back at home off the back of some busy days and just get on with some writing having allocated extra space’. I could therefore fill the extra space with a few really crappy little comic panels jotted down on pink post-it notes. Oh, and then I was told I’d be making a curry for a family dinner so that ended up in the mix as well and added some extra spice to a comic chronicle that’s pretty mundane.

It was a challenging thing to do, and not because I had to knock something out every hour. What I found a bit difficult was the nature of diary comics: they’re naturally self-obsessed, solipsistic and prone to neurotic navel-gazing. I do not dig these things at all and try to avoid them, which is partly why I’m not really engaging with Twitter much at the moment. After drawing a few panels I started to realise that questions about how I represented myself and how I accounted for my time(wasting) were surfacing. This creative action was too consciously self-involved and introspective for my personal taste. The fact that I refer to myself in the third-person is pretty telling. As I say, my favourite jam would be different kinds of comics, though I can, have and do enjoy the autobiographical graphic works of certain artists. I think it depends on the individual person and the circumstances they’re depicting, but I do know that I’d personally rather produce far-fetched fictional than work up kitchen sink non-drama diary strips. Less narcissism, more fun, for sure.

What I’ve learned is that diary comics are definitely not going to be a regular thing, but it was still nice to have a crack at Hourly Comics Day. In spite of my feelings, you may find them intriguing or entertaining and I’m glad I participated this time around. Here’s the outcome of yesterday’s scrappy sketch activity: a run-through of my pretty unexciting day but, hey, it was a pretty good day…

Hourly Comics Day, Morning...

Hourly Comics Day, Morning…

Hourly Comics Day, Afternoon...

Hourly Comics Day, Afternoon…

Hourly Comics Day, Evening...

Hourly Comics Day, Evening…