Are you ready to take a trip to Stagdale? Prepare to enter a world of mystery and intrigue set in the stunning British countryside with Frances Castle’s atmospheric and visually arresting graphic novel.
It’s the summer of 1975 and despite the addition of a new housing estate the ancient village of Stagdale remains an insular place suspicious of change. Nestled into the chalk-scared valley lies Stagdale Manor, home to Lord Ethelbert, a self-proclaimed descendant of a Saxon King. Once grand, the estate is slowly slipping into a state of dilapidation. Hoping to find a new life for themselves, 12-year-old Kathy and her recently divorced mother rent an old damp cottage from Lord Ethelbert on the outskirts of the village.
It’s not long before Kathy befriends local boy Joe who enjoys telling her stories about village life, both past and present. He takes her to the museum and shows her the empty glass case where the Stag Jewel, a Saxon gold amulet in the shape of a deer’s head, used to be displayed. The jewel was thought to have once brought Stagdale prosperity and luck, but according to local legend it was stolen by a German boy who lived in Kathy’s house during World War Two.
“‘Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again’. This quote from Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca comes to my mind when I reflect on the structure that Frances Castle has constructed for her tale of things remembered past. In the first part of Stagdale, nostalgia is as vivid as the swallows that dart about in the cauldron heat of the summer of 1975. The drawing style and character design of this credible world combines modulated lines with delicate textures and sumptuous colour with somber tones.
Kathy is uprooted from London by the acrimonious separation of her parents. She has arrived at the place where her mother’s ancestors come from so it’s part homecoming. The Brontésque atmosphere that Castle conjures out of the hot summer night sky takes me back to the tales I read as a boy and how my imagination soared when I thought of the mysterious world just beyond in the shadows.
Stagdale is the location deep in the Cumbrian National Park, a picture postcard, chocolate box English Village where all is not well. Castle employs a bright pastel palette for daytime and sultry inky one for night. Colour signifies much more than the passing of time in this story. While her mother concentrates on making a home for them, Kathy tries to cope in these unfamiliar circumstances. She finds some comfort in her friendship with Joe but the Bloat family who live opposite are proof that she’ll need to keep her wits about her. Working with the familiar tropes that represent English rural life and the stereotypes real or imagined that make things tick Castle positions Kathy into a world where there is an ancient wrong that must be investigated.
The layers of the story are further enhanced by the surprising discovery that many years ago another unhappy child lived in the cottage. Max a boy from Germany has hidden something in the cottage that takes us from rolling English hills to the mechanised jackboot of history. All is certainly not well!
This A5 landscape format aids the sweeping scene depicted on the front and back of the book. The narrative is enhanced by the delicate end papers that contain subtle nods to the events within. Frances’ illustrations are a treat for the eyes and it’s the beautifully crafted details that make this an impressive piece of work. Of particular note for me is the spread showing the centre of the village, with its austere war memorial and ubiquitous shopping trolley half submerged in the river. The village is well maintained on one side but not the other why is this? Inside the Stagedale Stores with its supply of long ago sweets and the strange shadowy figure standing in the back. The Stagdale museum scene with its pitiful contents is still however pregnant with clues. The use of familiar tropes such as lightening and rain help us to appreciate the tension and eeriness of the place especially at night time.
If you were alive in 1970’s Britain the fashions, sweets for sale and the pace of village life will be familiar to you even if you never lived in a village. There is the power of the cultural collective conscience at work here, something that has been lost in modern times. I look forward to reading further chapters from this story to see if Kathy can make a success of her new life, whether she will discover more about Max the German boy and what actually did happen to the Stagdale Jewel!”
“Stagdale is more than a lovely curio, its intersection of music and graphic storytelling offers a vivid experience and fresh possibilities” - Concrete Islands
“Now I’m itching for part 2 and beyond. It’s so good I just want to sit with each panel, soaking it in” - @sixty4k on Instagram
Frances Castle set up the boutique record label Clay Pipe Music, to create beautifully designed and illustrated, limited edition vinyl LPs. The first part of Stagdale will be released through Clay Pipe along with a flexi disc and download EP of Moog based electronica by The Hardy Tree (Frances’ musical alter ego) that soundtracks the story.
You can listen to the Stagdale EP over on Spotify.. CLICK HERE
This Easter holiday hundreds of families will visit the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford.
At the very heart of the centre, is the magical Story World zone which is a specially created play space designed to inspire children’s curiosity and imagination. A fabulous team of dedicated Story Builders guide children and families through the space and encourage them to create their own stories.
We are thrilled to announce that the Story World space has been revamped and refreshed this season, inspired by the work of Arena illustrator Aleksei Bitskoff.
From Aleksei’s initial concepts and a back catalogue of character designs, the team at Discover developed a steampunk theme which was the perfect inspiration for this interactive space. Aleksei has created imagined cities within the clouds, flying machines, alien planets and caves to explore, stained glass windows to gaze through and spinning character builders to jumble.
We are proud supporters of our neighbours at Discover and this amazing project has been fascinating to watch evolve and unfold, from concept to completion. The project has involved a huge team of enthusiastic creatives working together to take Aleksei’s illustrations and transform them into a series of immersive and engaging experiences, we salute you!
Here are some of Aleksei’s designs…
We adore these stunning stained glass windows which look directly out on to the garden and cast an atmospheric glow across the event space.
Here are some photos of Aleksei visiting Story World for the very first time, it’s fair to say he was pretty impressed with how everything turned out.
Book you DAY PASS at Discover HERE.
Stay tuned for news about our amazing illustrator events program at Discover this summer! It’ll certainly be a day to remember.
There’s no ducking out, it’s time to be a hero, so dust off your cape and put your super pants on because Adventure Duck has landed and he’s up against his nemesis and evil super villain Power Pug in …(shouted in block buster movie voice over tones…)
ADVENTURE DUCK…Vs POWER PUG ….
Written by legendary Steve Cole and illustrated by the bonkers brain that is Aleksei Bitskoff. Adventure Duck is a brand new series of illustrated fiction stories for newly emerging readers published by Orchard Books and one set to be a huge hit with readers of all ages.
It seemed like a standard day in the park when an unexpected meteor hit the pond with consequences no one could have predicted, least of all Duck! After an intense zen conversation with a strange egg with a moustache named Yoki the Wise Duck discovers he has some mega super powers… unfortunately so does his evil nemesis Power Pug and so they em’bark’ on an epic and hilarious battle for supremacy.
With moody bench-cows, neon ninja zebras and pugs in three piece suits, this book will have you rolling around on the floor with laughter and looking skyward hoping for the next meteor.
This book will QUACK YOU UP! grab a copy HERE
It’s that exciting time of year again, the moment we get to reveal our new showcase brochure featuring some of the amazing work our illustrators have been busily beavering away on.
This season we have focused on world-building and character creation, mirroring some of the recent successes some of our brands have had on the small screen.
In 2018 and 2019 we have celebrated great successes transitioning from the page to TV with a number of our favourite characters striking major television deals. You may have seen Alex T Smith’s Claude pottering about on Disney Junior, or Chris Garbutt’s Pinky Malinky causing meaty mayhem on Netflix, all these alongside Jonny Duddle’s team of Jurassic adventurers in Gigantosaurus on Disney Junior, and there’s more to come (but that’s all TOP SECRET!)
Inspired by these and many more we have decided to showcase illustration work that reflects our recent successes and how our illustrator’s significant talents in the fields of character design, world-building and creating story concepts can transition into successful books and big brands.
Within the pages of this portfolio you will be enchanted by Ori an endearing space creature with a talent for making stars, spot keen ornithologist Otto Blotter, Bird Spotter, take part in the Space Chase or win the Space Race. Blast off in to space with Super Rabbit Boy and take to the stage with Matt Millz. We also have a thought provoking Planet Full of Plastic and a bone shaking School Bus of Horrors! Take a break and make a Rainy Day Rocket, pop in and visit The Pirates Next Door and follow Mr. Penguin on a perilous mission to The Fortress of Secrets. Discover Story World and choose your house colours in the wizarding world of Harry Potter, all this and so much more.
We hope you find this taster portfolio inspiring and look forward to working with you. Do drop us a line for more information or to receive a copy of our new brochure. Click HERE to view the full digital portfolio.
It’s GAME ON for the Saint’s football team but jinxed with ridiculous injuries, strange illnesses and cancelled games it seems as though everything’s going wrong this season, fortunately Stanley’s team-mates believe they finally know why. Their football kit is cursed!
The team’s attempts to break the curse take things from bad to worse. Stanley’s still got some tricks up his sleeve … but will his curse-cracking ideas save the team in time for the last game of the season?
Here are some of our favourite Steve May illustrations, we think you’ll agree they are packed with character and really bring this brilliant story to life.
The Unlucky Eleven publishes in June with Barrington Stoke, pre order a copy HERE
Here’s a photo of Steve with his special advanced copy, he looks pretty excited about it right!