Corban Wilkin: Illustrator


Learning from the Best
January 27, 2012, 12:44
Filed under: comic artists, illustrations | Tags: , , , ,

A few days ago I went to see Craig Thompson in discussion with Marcel Theroux at the St Alban’s Centre in London. He gave a talk about the research and creation process for his book Habibi. The inking style Thompson uses in Habibi is something I’ve been trying to use in my own drawing. He beautifully combines thick and ragged, dry lines with fine little areas of hatching. I’m particularly enamoured with the way he renders trees and rocky cliffs, seen here on the lower-right in a panel from Habibi. On the left is a recent illustration of my own on the subject of technological singularity (predicted to occur in 2045!) which features a cliff in an attempted Thompsonesque style, with the robot atop the peak being rendered more smoothly and carefully. This black and white version really shows the lines nicely, but there’s a full-colour version in my portfolio.

Recently, whilst eating my breakfast, I’ve been copying images from the sizeable collection of art books we have in our house in order to try to learn something by drawing in new ways. Above are a couple of simple Van Gogh studies in fine liner. I’ve never been much involved with fine art (like, I think, most illustrators and cartoonists), but I’ve been growing to love some of the work by those ubiquitous modern masters Van Gogh and Picasso (for Pablo, mainly his early period of work). For composition and line quality, one can find ways of thinking and working that illustrators don’t often use and perhaps find some unique qualities to put in to illustrations. After all, most new developments in illustration spring from developments in the fine art world. Elements of expressionism and impressionism are now widely used in illustration and comics without a second thought, and cartoons themselves seem to me to have been influenced in their course during the 20th century by abstract art and cubism. More than anything, though, one can just learn from the beautiful drawing. Van Gogh’s hard but dynamic outlines are akin to the line an illustrator, working in ink and armed with a brush or nib, might use.



How to Draw Comics

Drawing comics is a painful process. I wouldn’t recommend it.

My two new comics; After the Protest and Phoenix are now up for reading, and the first is going to be published in the Winter 2011 issue of LIVE Magazine, alongside feature articles about the youth protests and riots across the world that took place over the last year.

Phoenix was my last-minute entry into the 2011 Northern Sequential Art Competition. The competition requires you to submit a self-contained one-page story for an A3 page. I heard about it three days before the deadline, and after many unsuccessful attempts and much head-scratching I came up with Phoenix and did the whole thing in 24 hours.

The theme of the story perhaps says something about how I feel about comics sometimes. I don’t know if other cartoonists have experienced the same urge to burn things that I felt briefly after completing A Plague of Lighthouse-Keepers at the end of four months of work. Thankfully Plague remained intact, but I have destroyed plenty of artwork over the years, and it always comes with wails of protest from friends and family, who insist that one is trashing the Mona Lisa when most of the time it’s actually just a pile of old sketches and juvenile drawings from years before that have no use to you now.

Anyway, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Instead, I wanted to post a run-down of my current process for creating comics. My methods have varied wildly over the years and will no doubt change again many times, but since Phoenix turned out to be an almost painless comic to create, I thought it would be the perfect time to show the steps I took to create this page.

1. So I dreamed up this idea, a very brief story with three characters in conflict over an action that one is threatening to take because they feel it is in their interests, but which the other characters don’t want to happen. Classic, very simple story structure. So immediately I sat down with a sketchbook and scrawled the thing out, not caring what the characters look like, not doing any real composition, just getting it down as pictures and words. (On the image above the comic starts at the top-left of the right-hand page. I ran out of space on that page and had to continue on the left-hand page.)

2. Being basically happy with the story (which 99% of the time you won’t be) I went ahead and created a full rough. This was done on a single A4 sheet, the panels were all measured, most of the details were put in, words were finalised, but most importantly, this is the stage where the composition is worked out. For each panel and for the page as a whole, I figure out everything like depth, shapes, light and dark, where speech balloons go, how much environment to draw in, etc. Here is where I get everything right, so that I won’t have to make creative decisions when drawing the final artwork.

3. I didn’t scan in the pencil layouts, but for the final artwork I measure out all the panels, translating precisely from the rough. This comic was drawn at A2 scale so all measurements had to be doubled. Then I lightly plot the positions of all the big shapes across the page that make up the composition. I draw in detail panel-by-panel next, though I’m not as meticulous about penciling in these details as some cartoonists. I feel more confident drawing with the ink afterwards so that’s when the details really start coming out. I use a size 4 Windsor and Newton Series 7 and completely undiluted Sennelier ink, which is very thick and black and will destroy many expensive brushes until you learn how to clean them properly. So I ink it all up, pretty cleanly in this case, starting with the panel borders, and then basically going from panel to panel. This is the mindless-labour part of making a comic really, but it’s still very enjoyable, especially since you can listen to music or audiobooks because you don’t need to concentrate very hard.

4. Finally you scan it in, blast the contrast so it’s all pure black and white, and then colour it digitally if it’s in colour. Colouring probably doubles the time it takes to create a page, but in some circumstances it’s definitely worth it. I create a new layer over my inks, set it to multiply and then colour away using a pressure-sensitive tablet (I can’t tell you how much nicer it is to colour with than a mouse/pad). For this comic I took an image of fire and selected two colours from the image to use. Taking cues from the duo-tone colouring of Seth, I used these two fire colours the represent all the colour and tone in the story.

Like I said, this is one of the most painless comics I have ever made. Somehow it seemed so easy. Most of the time it’s more of a case of tearing my hair out and constantly thinking that I should try a different story. Sometimes I’ll type out a script to work over, as in the case of Ripe, to try to perfect the dialogue, and usually I’ll have to redraft the initial thumbnail stage countless times.

One of my favourite posts from Craig Thompson’s fantastic blog shows the stages that he went through to create a standard page for Habibi. He actually does five drafts of each page, and they aren’t even in colour! No wonder it’s so good.

P.S. Breaker’s End has been long-listed for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition. I’m through the first round!



Evolution Disproven
October 18, 2011, 23:28
Filed under: comic artists, my comics | Tags: , ,

The gag strip ain’t dead! Not as long as Kate Beaton continues with the brilliant Hark! A Vagrant. I couldn’t hope to match the humour of her strip, but I had to have a go a gag strip that I thought up recently. It was inspired by a friend of a friend who, in a discussion about evolution, claimed that they were ‘never a monkey’.

That crafty bugger Darwin had the world scientific community fooled. Do you remember ever being a monkey? Didn’t think so. Now go ahead and read the full strip.

I was also reminded of a one-panel cartoon I drew for Middlesex University’s Meow magazine, which I’ve posted below. The issue’s theme was ‘idols’. I don’t know if I really ‘did’ the theme properly. I think we were supposed to draw people we admired or something. Oh well, I got a cheap chuckle out of it!



Tough Competition
October 14, 2011, 11:45
Filed under: comic artists, comics theory, my comics | Tags: , , , ,

So that’s two competitions in a row that I’ve entered now, with my entry for the Observer/Comica/Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story Prize being posted yesterday, special delivery, since today is the deadline (I’m good at leaving these things to the very last minute!). It’s a short science fiction comic about the last two humans, stranded separately on the moons Titan and Callisto, and who can only talk to each other remotely.

It’s called Ripe and you can read it in the comics section I’ve set up. Cast your eyes left, and click ‘comics’ to choose from a selection of my most recent works, available to read in a single smooth column of goodness, rather than the atrocious ‘click link for page one, read, scroll, read, back button, click link for page two, etc.’ format that a lot of blogs present multiple-page comics in. I’ve always preferred a single long column for on-screen comics-reading as it means you can just tap your down arrow as you read, so as not to disturb the flow of the narrative. Scott McCloud, creator of Understanding Comics feels my pain and frequently speaks out against poorly formatted web-comics, especially in this article. Whilst I don’t know if I would word my objections as strongly as he does (from the linked article; ‘The page designs of most long form webcomics suck donkey dick.’) I certainly find myself in agreement with him.

That being said, I know the layout of my comics here could be prettier. Eventually I hope to set up a fancier interface that makes it as clear and lovely and natural to read as possible. Until then though, a single vertical column is a simple yet fairly effective way of creating a decent reading experience.

Regarding the Comica Prize, I found out from an interview I listened to between Paul Gravett and Stephen Collins that the quality of the entries improves every year. The feeling seems to be that a heck of a lot of young people, inspired by what comics can do from reading the new wave of graphic novels (stuff like Blankets, Black Hole, Persepolis), have decided to start taking comics very, very seriously and are set to produce things far greater than anything we have seen so far in this comics renaissance. It means that every year people who enter the Comica Prize are going to have tougher and tougher competition. I hope it drives everyone to new heights in their comics making.



Getting Comics Done
October 5, 2011, 18:43
Filed under: breaker's end, comic artists, my comics | Tags: , , , ,

A couple of days ago I sent off my entry for the Myriad Editions First Graphic Novel Competition. Above are some images I’ve cut from my comic, ‘Breaker’s End’. Here’s a blurb I wrote for it to give a quick idea of the story:

For ten years, Isaac and Chloe have lived out of a tent in an abandoned woodland. Chloe makes money selling decorated shells, but they are in their sixties now, and sleeping on the cold ground isn’t as easy as it was when they were twenty-year-old backpackers. Chloe would love to live in a warm house and sleep in a soft bed, and when the government introduces a bill to sell off England’s remaining forests and nationally owned land, it looks like living the life of the ‘travellers’ will become an impossibility. Can she convince Isaac, adamant that he will never return to society though he will never explain why? And could she ever hope to earn enough money to live, selling shells by the seashore?

You can see some of the complete spreads over at my portfolio and I intend to upload the first chapter as a whole eventually, in a format  that allows you to read it in one smooth column.

Right now I’m composing a four-page comic for the Comica Graphic Short Story Prize which I’ll be displaying here soon. Short stories are difficult to write, but hopefully it’ll shape up pretty well and be a decent entry into the contest.

Good luck to anyone else who’s entering. Last year’s winning entry by Stephen Collins was a tour de force of design and intense short prose. He set a pretty high benchmark; lets hope someone tops it!



Social Comics
August 4, 2011, 11:03
Filed under: comic artists | Tags: , , ,

I’ve attended various comics-based events over the past week inlcuding the private view of the Cartoon Museum’s follow up to the huge Steve Bell exhibition, an exhibition devoted to Doctor Who in Comics. Above is one of the pages of original art on display, of which there are many by a wide variety of artists. Dave Gibbons and David Lloyd both feature, as well as Alan Moore as a writer. As always, it’s incredible to see pages of original comics art. Very inspiring.

I also attended the Comica Social Club last week, a monthly meet-up at the Southbank Centre hosted by Paul Gravett, who fronts the Comica festival. I got to meet various cartoonists including Jon Lim who draws a webcomic called Vampires from Mars which I think has some incredible cartoon drawing. Also; Claude over at GronkComics has an impressive array of work, including some of the nicest mini-comics I’ve seen (drawn straight into ink in a sketchbook!)

Just last night I attended another meeting of cartoonists organised by The Comix Reader, which also proved to be a decent social gathering of the London comics core. Visiting from Australia was graphic novelist Bruce Mutard, who seems to be a hidden gem of antipodean comics, with a beautiful line drawing style which reminds one a bit of Adrian Tomine.



Publishing Alternatively
May 31, 2011, 18:55
Filed under: comic artists, paroxysm | Tags: , , , ,

Hot on the heels of the Steve Bell exhibition, I spent the weekend at the International Alternative Press Festival 2011, a zines, comics, and small press fair. I forgot to take photos, but it was a really packed out and pretty well-sized event, with tonnes of creators of every stripe selling their work. It was refreshing to see so much enthusiasm, like Hamish MacDonald who writes, prints, binds, and sells his own novels and has a podcast about making books, and Steve Tillotson who is hilarious as well as being a skilled draughtsman Also picked up a surreal wordless graphic-novel by Nicolas Presl, the kind of thing I wouldn’t have come across if I hadn’t been to the festival

Woodrow Phoenix (author of Rumble Strip) was there, along with Paul Gravett (head of the Comica festival), both whom I’d had the fortune to meet in 2009 at the London Print Studio in a discussion/presentation with several other comics people, as the culmination of a comics exhibition. I also shifted quite a lot of old copies of Paroxysm #1 and #2, and received a lot of self-published zines and comics in return. This is the first real convention I’ve been to, but it turned out to be a great experience and I’ll definitely be on the look-out for more in London as they come.