More ziney loveliness: Shawn Granton (via Charles Pope, cyclist and diarist)

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:

A day trip to Cheltenham

So Cheltenham, then. A day at the races – almost.

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A couple of years ago I visited Gloucester to research a book I was writing. Almost exactly two years on, I visited neighbouring Cheltenham last weekend, but for different reasons.

As I mentioned in my last post, my good buddy John Tucker was attending his first comic convention – True Believers – and I just had to be involved somehow. Purely selfish reasons, naturally, although I knew the look on his face would be worth it, and it turned out to tickle his wife pink in the process, too.

I have fond memories of living with John (no, I do!), and integral to that was the frequent sight of stacks of paper, pens everywhere, and then every now and again a published zine or mini-comic that he’d hand-folded and stapled himself. I think I might have even traipsed around Manchester watering holes dropping off copies with him on at least one occasion.

Several years on, he’s now got several properly printed publications ready, a nice website, and the stones to take a stall at a comic con to get his name out there. Not only that, but he came up with a fantastic novelty gimmick for the day where he’d sell a portrait done while-u-wait, involving a roulette wheel which would dictate the method of death he would incorporate into the picture.

This instantly took me back to the long evenings he’d spend hunched over his laptop and tablet on Chatroulette drawing doodles for strangers. John tells the story better in his excellent round-up of his day, but it was extremely cool to see this natural progression at his first con.

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All I can really add to the story is that it was an absolute hoot to show up at the day, to contemplate John and his craft among the bigger picture of something like a comic festival, and just to catch up with him and Lauren.

The comic festival was a little of what I expected, and also a little more than what I’d expected. Mostly it was just a really cool, inclusive, friendly place where people could sell their craft, dress up like their heroes, hang out with like-minded folk, and feel a part of something.¬† I will say I hadn’t anticipated the level of cosplay – both in terms of quality and numbers of participants.

As I later explained to John, I won’t be following him around the country going to every single one of his public appearances like a mouth-breathing groupie, but the hands of fate had massaged my neck muscles lovingly the morning I decided to look into the trip, and I discovered that Great Western Railway were offering ridiculously cheap fares.

I couldn’t not go.

Anyway, beyond the comic con itself, I quite enjoy the odd day trip to a random town, and I knew Cheltenham had a few things to see that were up my street. Plus it would be interesting to me to compare Gloucester and Cheltenham, albeit while remembering that to visit both towns anew in February should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

No-one looks good in grey.

Still, bundled up against the cold, I did enjoy my wander around. There are some very pretty streets, some lovely examples of Cotswold-stone architecture, a few nice churches, and a really fantastic museum. There’s also a great variety of eateries and drinkeries.

As can be seen above, the colour palette was restricted to sandstone-yellow and winter-grey, but still rather appealing.

Wikipedia has curiously little to say about Cheltenham’s medieval history – there appears to be one remaining building from the era, and then the history books skip five hundred years until someone decided it would be a good idea to set it up as a spa town.

The town centre itself was about as you’d expect from any town centre on a rainy Saturday morning, but I will say Cheltenham has a thoroughly decent selection of shops.

Fortunately, it also has a well-thought-out selection of public gardens, from those near the centre, to Pittville Park a little further out.

Back in the town centre, I needed some indoor amusement.¬†The Wilson, the name given to Cheltenham’s municipal museum (and visitor centre and gallery and so on), is a gem.

I’m so glad I took the time to have a look around as, not only did I find much to entertain and inspire me, but it was also an almost derelict sanctuary on such a rainy Saturday afternoon as this one. I pretty much had the place to myself, for better or worse.

Within minutes I was entranced by a mid-19th-century Dutch painting of a dockside by Cornelis Springer. The kinds of paintings that grab me are the hyper-real, the almost photographic document of a place or a person.

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This painting was of such exquisite detail that I spent several minutes scanning its surface for clues and characters and stories. There were numerous examples of all of these.

But the overall thing that got me with this one was the fine detail of the brush strokes.

The painting, above, is probably 150cm x 100cm, and yet when stood almost nose-to-canvas I could make out not just the fine rope hung from a pulley on a warehouse building, but the rope’s shadow, barely a hair’s width – a tiny stroke. Elsewhere were the outlines of individual bricks, or a man’s pipe. You can expect this level of detail on a canvas 4-5 times larger, but on this scale the detail is almost microscopic. It was wonderful.

As I learned, the Wilson also holds an important and vast collection of Arts and Crafts artefacts, and I was so pleased to find a current exhibition of the stuff. My day job is in the conservation of an Arts and Crafts-inspired suburb, and so I find this stuff very interesting and inspiring.

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I saw lots that inspired me, mostly the use of marquetry in wooden furniture, and adding splendid detail to everyday objects like door handles and tables, some really fine stuff by CR Ashbee, and the likes of that shown above which tried to encapsulate the whole ethos. (I didn’t take many photographs of the objects themselves as it was hard to reproduce the fine detail.)

The 1920 inscription above, by Joseph Cribb, screamed to me passages from Parker and Unwin’s The Art of Building a Home, along with other ideals¬†stemming from the Arts and Crafts movement.

I also lingered a little too long by the above radio, probably a metre tall, dreaming of having it sat in the corner of a beautiful room, and imagining the warm tones it must emit.

I had a fantastic time in Cheltenham. I came away with a few new obsessions, and things and people to look up. The trip there and back was a breeze – also meant I could play some PSP and 2DS, even – and catching up with John without his prior knowledge was priceless.