I'm like a nun chasing her second lover, or a dog finding its second bone. I'm amazed and delighted and wanting to go back again and again. I've just discovered Blogshank, the illustrated blog of Mike Smith, freelance graphic designer.
In his words: There are plenty of blogs by illustrators in which they upload their latest work, and loads of webcomics, but not many whose illustrations ARE the blog.
Mike draws and colours the entries in a little pocket diary - a week to a page - and simply posts the photos once a week. While the illustrations themselves are sweet enough (and the layout is very clever) what really marks out this diary is the wry sense of humour.
I haven't been so entranced by a pocket diary - not one so magical anyway - since Harry Potter destroyed Tom Riddle's in The Chamber of Secrets.
The waterways connection here is that a couple of years ago he bought St. Kilda, the very first narrowboat to have its own website. (Not a blog, but nevertheless the first website. In the 1990s St. Kilda dominated web searches for canal subjects, and I think I remember first reading it about 1996 or 97, although memory can play tricks.
Now Mike's in the process of moving ashore near Leicester, and the diary records, among other things, 'the final voyage of St. Kilda', of buying a house, boating there and selling the boat.
The blog's improved over the years. Early versions simply show a written diary with occasional mono pen/ink illustration, but now it's a full-blown comic, complete with adventurous layout and colour wash. Either he's missing a lot of appointments now, or he's keeping a separate 'normal' diary.
Boating first makes an appearance in Blogshank in February 2007, and he finally buys St Kilda in June 2007 - there's a sweet picture of the vendor and purchaser exchanging key and cheque on Friday 15th (see below).
In later entries Mike has put keywords and descriptions behind the pictures, which does help the search, but you have to construct the story by reading it properly. It took quite a bit of reading for me to learn how he came by his boat, and latterly the ups and downs of getting a mortgage and buying a house.
Mike also has a Best of Blogshank page - his own personal favourites:
Blog entries get pushed off the page and into obscurity, which is a bit sad. (Not so sad if they're crap ones.) So here are some of my personal favourites in chronological order, with a little bit of background info for the curious, and to get the page indexed in Google.
While that's handy, he might like to try a service like Outbrain. This is the 'star ratings' system I use, allowing you (loyal reader) to mark the posts that you like (and dislike). It sorts the wheat from the chaff, the flotsam from the jetsam, the coal from the slack and the dross. It's not a personal choice, however; it's voted by the readers themselves.
I love the way Mike automatically grants you permission to use his illustrations on your own private blog, so long as you link back. That ought to give you reason enough to write about his work, no? It's the main reason I've spent over two hours researching and writing this post.
If you want to use his work for commercial purposes and in print, well, naturally, separate conditions apply. But I'm surprised I haven't seen this diary in a waterways magazine already. Unless it's because they perhaps can't afford the high fees it's clearly worth. Or maybe it already has appeared, and I don't read enough waterways magazines. Or perhaps they want all the content to be about the waterways, and Blogshank isn't all about waterways. In fact, very little is, really. But enough to pass through Granny's filter, I think.
More information about Mike and his work on Blogshank's About Page.
(Big thanks to Halfie. Mike Smith might be the first boater to draw a blog, but Halfie was the first boater to draw my attention to it.)
Update: Amy of Lucky Duck comments that she mentioned Blogshank a year ago - her post here.