Let’s just file this one under “things I was convinced I’d already blogged about but…2020?” and pretend it’s not already December, okay?
As well as the recent zines I have been enjoying, earlier this year I was a very happy recipient of a nice selection of work by Shawn Granton, behind the wonderfully-titled Urban Adventure League. A Portland resident, Shawn has a number of interests which dovetail neatly with my own: he’s regularly out on his bike, camping, taking pictures with film cameras, or playing with a short wave radio. Often all in one trip!
In fact, the detail that first led me to Shawn’s online presence was his use of the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, a lovely 35mm range finder camera I’ve talked about several times before. The Hi-Matic gets a nice amount of coverage on blogs, Flickr and Instagram, and it’s always nice to see what people get out of theirs when you know the exact tool they’re using (differences in film stocks aside).
And as well as an enthusiastic film photographer, Shawn is also a great blogger. He’s been at it for years, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him in a distant sort of way via his blog posts which cover all of the kinds of hobbies I mentioned above.
As I was getting more familiar with his interests this past summer, during the same period I had been reading a lovely book called A Golden Age of Cycling, being a collection of recently-published selection of diaries kept by Charles Pope between 1924 and 1933. Pope wrote – somewhat prosaically at times – about his cycling adventures around the UK, and occasionally on the continent.
The mileage Pope would rack up on a given weekend – and the sheer numbers of weekends he spent awheel in any given year – boggled my mind. A lot of the places he visited were familiar to me, and it was always nice to see how much detail he wrote about the places along the route itself – or rather, the names of those places, if not vivid descriptions of them. Pope rarely waxed lyrical in his diary entries, but they often read as though he was frantically jotting down details at the end of a long day’s pedalling, or while he wolfed down some gargantuan breakfast, keen to hit the road again. At the very least, his route listings helped me to visualise a mental map of his route – or occasionally would lead me to actually try and plot the route he took on a map featuring today’s roads.
This always gave me pause, though; Pope was cycling Britain’s roads at a time long before motorways and dual carriageways, but also quite early on in the British love affair with the motor vehicle. These roads were old, windy – and very quiet by today’s standards.
Crucially, Pope could navigate towns and cities of various sizes without having to contend with vast ring roads, junctions and multi-lane roundabouts. He could instead weave his way in and out by the old roads which were still carrying the size and volume of traffic they were used to.
He did of course occasionally grumble about the vast numbers of day-trippers in their gas-guzzling automobiles clogging up pretty little Cotswolds villages, so I mustn’t presume the roads were entirely empty of cars. Pope was not a fan of this new menace. And it was therefore especially gut-wrenching to learn via this book that Charles Pope ultimately lost his life on his bicycle after a road traffic accident.
But despite this tragedy, what a happy book it is to read. The tales of his adventures have inspired a few of my own, and although I constantly needed to remind myself that British roads 100 years would be virtually unrecognisable to Pope, there are still pockets of the countryside – country lanes and pretty little villages – that would be instantly familiar to the man, as he propped his bike up and strode inside the nearest pub for his trademark refreshment of bread, cheese and Bass ale.
I provide all this detail into the Pope book because, as I read it, and as I became more familiar with Shawn Granton’s blog and general demeanour (not to mention his obsession with British three-speeds), I knew this would be a book Shawn would enjoy. Having read his blog for a while, I was aware he had a public PO Box address on his site, so it was clear what I had to do next: I sent Shawn a copy of the Pope book.
To my delight, not only did the book arrive in what seemed like less than a week, but in not much more time than that, I had received a reply by post from Shawn as well! I sent the book via what I presume used to be called ‘surface mail’ (Royal Mail’s International Economy) and had imagined it would be flung into the bilge of a creaking wooden ship and might wash up on the eastern seaboard of North America some time after a storm broke up its hull. Then, through snow/rain/heat/gloom it would eventually cross that vast continent and make its way into Shawn’s hands long after I had forgotten ever sending it.
But no! Even in a pandemic, the postal service blew me away, and did Shawn proud too: his neat little package was a joy for me to unpack, stuffed as it was with varieties of the stuff he makes and sells. You see, not only is Shawn an entertaining and knowledgable writer, but he’s also a great artist, sketching comics and logos for all sorts of projects.
I was thrilled to find in the pack he kindly sent me in gratitude for the Pope book a series of photography- and cycling-related comics, zines and stickers.
Thanks so much, Shawn – and if any of you reading this would like to see some of Shawn’s work, his Etsy store is the place to pick what you’d like: https://www.etsy.com/shop/urbanadventureleague – or just check out his blog at https://urbanadventureleague.wordpress.com/ – if you like the things I’ve been blabbing on about for a thousand words now, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Shawn’s blog, too.
Oh, and PS: after mentioning my delight at seeing some of the other recent zines in e-ink form, I should add that I regularly read Shawn’s blog posts on my Kindle – and here’s a recent example which just shows off how great e-ink makes certain types of illustration look: