Filed under: comics, comics theory, graphic novels, illustrations, my comics | Tags: art, books, cartoons, children's books, climate change, comics, graphic novels, illustration, science, writing
I’ve been in the habit, for a long time, of drawing TOO SMALL! So right now, working on the Low Carbon Future graphic novel project with Leeds University, I’m drawing these pages at the largest scale I’ve ever done for a comic, and I have to say, it’s very refreshing.
These pages I’m doing are to be printed around A4 size (210x297mm), which is large, so I’m drawing them at something like 500x720mm, not far off A2, which is gargantuan. I think people used to draw comics on paper that large, to be printed on big full newspaper pages, and they scanned them with those massive old drum scanners you don’t see anymore.
Admittedly, I am making this easier for myself by using the ‘french graphic album method’ of drawing two half-pages and then printing them together. It makes having the thing on your drawing board a lot less cumbersome. Anyway, more on this when it’s looking finished.
Filed under: comics theory, exhibitions, illustrations, my comics | Tags: art, books, children's books, comics, graphic novels, illustration, writing
‘The graphic novel’ is being worked on and will be for a long time, and that’s all I’m saying.
Although it looks this way, I haven’t, in fact, dropped off of the face of the earth, but I have been extremely busy (haven’t we all?), with, as well as ‘the graphic novel’, a full-time job which I might talk talk about in a later post.
Some of my work from Dreams of a Low Carbon Future is currently on display in The Cartoon Museum in Holborn and will be until 1st June 2014.
Have you ever noticed that to tell another about a planned project intended to be completed on one’s own steam, or a mighty ambition one has every intention of carrying out, often ruins the possibility of making said dream a reality? I read somewhere, at some time, that to explain a hitherto secret idea, for a story, say, to someone else actually gives us some facsimile of the pleasure we associate with great and self-motivated achievement. By revealing that we have every intention of writing the greatest screenplay in history we in fact feel that the friend we simply had to confess this ambition to thinks highly of us for planning to do so. We imagine to ourselves that they are in some way impressed with our plan and our motivation and it thereby robs us of the ability to make real what is already so comfortingly extant in the shared consciousness, which seems almost good enough to replace the real thing. Making something real takes a tremendous, in fact inordinate, amount of time and energy. Making anything significant must by necessity take over one’s life. If we can feel, subconsciously or otherwise, that we have already been a bit impressive to the people whose opinions we value then the effort seems futile. We’ll give over a chunk of our lives to creating or realising something, and to present it to those we first mentioned the idea to will be anticlimactic: “See? I told you I’d do that thing and look at me now. I’ve gone and done it!”
How much grander and more exciting to step out from behind a doorway and present a fully-formed piece of brilliance to one’s peers, the excitement of their response to this wholly unpresaged, fully, or perhaps, at least, mostly, accomplished idea a powerful motivator in the graft of hours upon hours doing the labour of creating the thing in reality. Rather than presenting a now-poorly-motivated shadow of a grandly (or, indeed, failingly) expressed idea, one instead has a grand statement, all laid out and out of the blue, with no grand idea that it tries in vain to live up to.
Resist blurting out every idea to your friends and peers; explaining your bold vision to them. An idea that is just an idea ought to be kept a grave secret until, through work, you ripen it and cause it to exist: make it ready to be enjoyed. Until that time, all you have is an idea and all of the experience in my short life so far has taught me that an idea alone is worth next to nothing.
Of course there are exceptions even to this rule: the idea for chocolate-covered peanuts, for example.
Above and below: VECTOR DRAWINGS. Remakes in fact of some old children’s book illustrations. I liked these and haven’t bandied them about enough yet.
Filed under: comic artists, comics theory, illustrations, my comics | Tags: art, books, children's books, comics, doctor who, graphic novels, illustration, sci-fi, science
Just a piece I neglected to post until now: an ink and watercolour inspired by the Doctor Who episode ‘The Eleventh Hour’, for a big fan of the programme.
The Doctor crash-lands in the back garden of Amelia Pond, and when he leaves, tells her he’ll return immediately. By the time he does get back to her, Amelia’s now a grown woman who’s been obsessed with him her whole life, even though, to The Doctor, very little time has passed. I liked the night-time tone of the greens and blues.
Once again, don’t forget if you’re in Leeds or anywhere nearby, come to the Thought Bubble Festival next weekend (23rd and 24th) and get your free give-away copy of the graphic compendium that is Dreams of a Low Carbon Future, featuring comics and illustration by myself, as well as a mixture of other comics artists, climate researchers, and school-children who have contributed their own work.
Filed under: comic artists, comics theory, my comics | Tags: art, cartoons, comics, graphic novels, illustration
Inspired by Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, Seth’s Wimbledon Green, and a little bit of Irvine Welsh, I drew a comic called The Wonderful Experience straight in to an A4 sketchbook with no planning, character design, scripting or roughing. This is the method Seth used to create the entirety of Wimbledon Green, so I thought I could have a go at a short comic.
Now I’ve tried this sort of thing before; going straight in to finished pages, making the story up as you go along, and my god does it rarely work. Most of the time you get three pages in, declare that what you have done so far is irredeemably awful and is only going to get worse. Then you go away and watch the telly or something. You’re always so inspired when you start out, that’s the sad thing.
Only on two other occasions have I ever completed a comic using this method. In 2007 when I drew a 180-page comic called Wasp and Bee in just five days, and in 2009 when I completed a 24-hour comic called Or, which has since been lost/destroyed, but involved a weird collage of orange and white cardboard and very little story.
This time the ‘no-planning’ method came out fairly well. Although I sort of did plan quite extensively in my head as I got further in to it, but I refused to write anything down. I thought it might ruin the natural flow I had going.
Anyway, it’s a comic about a pitiful character trying to come to terms with his paralysing lack of sexual experience. This is very much me writing from the point of view of a character whom I dislike, but still feel empathy or sympathy for. This is something Irvine Welsh does that I really love, especially with the character of Begbie. He lets you get inside the head of this horrible, violent bastard, and you can’t help but begin to understand his actions just a little bit when you see them from his point of view.
Everyone is the way that they are for a reason, after all.
Click the image to read the whole comic.
Filed under: breaker's end, comic artists, comics theory, illustrations, my comics | Tags: art, cartoons, comics, graphic novels, illustration
I’m working on chapter two of Breaker’s End at last, and really trying to pin down the right sort of style and aesthetic for the whole thing. I will eventually return to chapter one and redraw it, I think, since it was very much a rush job when I drew it last October.
All the images above from Breaker’s End are work in progress, only half inked with pencil lines still in there, but I quite like them in this state and thought I’d share. Oddly it does seem that sometimes inking a panel or page to completion can kill a lot of the life that was in the pencils. I recently read the graphic novel Local written by Brian Wood and drawn by Ryan Kelly. Kelly’s inking is very heavy and impressive, employing a wide range of techniques to get different effects, but at the back of the book, in a commentary about the art, he said something that rang true with me;
“Usually, my methodology follows something like this: I pencil out a face and it looks great. Then, I ink it and it looks like dook. Finally, I spend an inordinate amount of time nit-picking at the face with white-out, correction tape, and numerous power tools.”
Nevertheless, Breaker’s End is fully thumbnailed and I’ll be working on it steadily throughout the year. It’s shaping up to be quite close to how I envisioned it when I originally dreamed up the idea, so I’m going to keep working at it and see it to completion, come hell or high water.
I’ve also just illustrated three articles for the coming Spring edition of Live magazine, one called ‘Culture Awards’ about upcoming cultural events in 2012. Above you can see a couple of cartoon illustrations for that piece. On my portfolio you can see all the little illustrations for that article plus images for pieces about an agnostic visiting different religious buildings, and Facebook bullying/addiction.
Finally, I’ve been doing some work on a short film called Frank Filleh, about a great man who, working his way through solving all the world’s problems, loses his genius. I’ve drawn images for a magazine and book covers to be used as props in the film.
Filed under: a plague of lighthouse-keepers, breaker's end, comic artists, comics theory, my comics | Tags: art, cartoons, comics, illustration
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.
Filed under: comic artists, comics theory, my comics | Tags: art, cartoons, comics, graphic novels, illustration
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.