Future Shocking

Yesterday was the first of day of a six week course on creating future shocks (and really any short comic book story) I was running for the Irish Writer’s Centre in Dublin.

It’s on a tuesday running from 6:30 to 7:30 every week for the next six weeks.

I’ve run a few one off courses, often with young kids, but more-often-than not I’ve focused on the art side of things (because, well … of course).

Having written a few shorts (more cowritten) but having drawn a substantial number of strips, there’s a little bit of imposter syndrome seeps in, because – who am I to teach anyone else to write short stories. But, you know, I know what I like, and I’ve a good solid sense of what makes a future shock work and I figured that knowledge has value.

The entire course is built around the idea of crafting a simple short story – start with an idea, write up a script, edit it, layouts, pencil it, ink it, letter it.

Roughly each week we’re covering one of those topics. Week one was about explaining what a future shock was and how to write one.

Week two will be about writing a script for an artist to draw.

A quick run down on week one.

I’d planned to get the bus down nice and early and to get some work done on it. Working on a bus, it turns out, is impossible. So next time I’ll be getting the train down.

It’s kind of fun to commute to work.

Arriving early, I drew up what I thought would be a fun little mood board of quotes of short stories on the white board:

 

I mean, I believe those words, especially Alan Moore’s – no better way to learn how to write than in short stories.

 

So I then talked through a couple of the classic future shocks – the Time Machine (absolute belter of a classic, that really isn’t a sci fi story at all) and Chronocops – because, if you think four or five pages can’t fit much in, you need to read it.

Talked about breaking a story into four pages, and having some sort of small twist/turn or even just a reason to continue at the end of each page. And that denouement on the last page.

As an exercise I stuck a bunch of words on the board as a way to think through some story ideas, the words were:

SCAR – WITNESS – ORPHANED – DISCOVERY – ENDS – FEAR – INVERSION – MONSTEROUS

The idea was to take one of those words and tease out some ideas for stories, so, picking one of the attendees at random I asked for a one word thought for “Inversion” – he said mirror.

Taking that as a starting point, and looking at four squares on the white board (representing the pages) I started to dig up a story (and not writing this down, at the time, this is my best remembrance of it:

About a man who wants to be alone, but he comes from a big family, his father dies and he inherits a large mansion including a strange mirror, that, every time he looks into it he sees just his own reflection and noone else.

He becomes obsessed more and more with the mirror, and brings it down to the living room, he works from a home studio – and is constantly interrupted (this is the writers life) and yearns to be alone, but is afraid of the mirror so keeps it covered.

He spirals into worse shape, obsessively driving his family away, and looks in the mirror to see all his family and friends reflected in it, but they’re not in the room. He smashes the mirror and finds himself alone again, but he’s on the other side, trapped and from that side he sees his family, holding a funeral for him.

Ok, it’s not much, but it’s a start and it’s from one simple idea.

I asked everyone to pick a few words and see if they could come up with something, which we’ll hopefully knock in to script form.

Another of the words picked was fear – this, I admit was a little harder to tease a story idea out of, but we went from fear to fear of the past. To the idea of the past literally trying to kill you. To a man attempting to invent a time machine, despite everyone protests that the grandfather paradox is proof that time will not allow paradox. Time, in fact, hates paradoxes so much, that as he tries to build his time machine he’s continually thwarted by accidents – accidents relating to old things, old books falling, statues dislodging, until finally-on a visit to a museum-he’s impaled by the bones  of a dinoasaur and we end with the caption “The past was literally trying to kill him. And it succeeded”

I think what I was trying to get out of this workshop is the notion that ideas are everywhere, you just pluck them from the air and work and work at them. Ok, those two stories – not classics – but there’s something in them worth exploring, and for a short story, it may be fun to write/draw them to completion because then you get to actually finish something. And done is better than perfect. Every time.

 

Strike the Set

Well, that’s it. We finished the last performance of the James Joyce short story The Dead on Saturday and that’s my acting career on hold for the moment.

Really enjoyed it, though playing one of the greek chorus, stood on stage for an hour and 15 minutes was as much a test of endurance as it was of ability to act (if not more so).

The summer play that South Bank do, unfortunately, coincides with my hols, so I’ll just pretend if I’d auditioned for it I would have got a part, and the only thing stopping me is that the dates are all wrong.

It’s been a really interesting experience meeting everyone at Southbank playhouse, it’s clichéd but it felt like a big family (and for many of them that’s literally the case) and I hope to continue to contribute and be the odd one who doesn’t really feel like he should be there, but everyone is very nice to anyway.

(I’m two for two for giving directors artwork related to the play as a finishing gift, little worried it’ll become my defining habit)

My time will fill up, of course, three nights a week rehearsals will suddenly be three nights a week where I wonder where I found time to rehearse, but I really want to do more (and I really want to do something between shows, but not yet sure what that’ll be).

Anyway, I’m glad I revisited the acting, it’s still enormous fun and, oddly relaxing, I get annoyed with myself for flubbing lines or not being loud enough, but I’ve never really any pressure, if anything it’s nice to stop thinking about my comic drawing deadlines and other adult responsibilities and just be someone else for a little while (though, it’s nice to come back to those things too)

 

Inking Detox

I’m thinking it’s time for an inking detox. I’m gonna drop all inking tools except my brush.

Like many artists I struggle with every part of the drawing process, with a bit of luck you never see that in the final work, all that there is is the art and that’s it. The relentless self-loathing, frustration, abandonment of hope and more doesn’t seep through in the artwork.

A trick that I’ll often turn to to get through particularly hard points is to pick up a different tool and try that, it’s a too-easy option for inking yourself out of dead ends. Frustrated with a brush? Try a dip pen. Dip pen not working? Gah! Lift the Micron. Damn micron not playing ball, time to hit the cintiq. Cintiq effective but ultimately soulless? Let’s head back to the brush.

And the whole, horrific cycle repeats endlessly. Because really, I haven’t addressed the original problem. Like Father Ted and the car, I’ve attacked the one unsightly problem with a hammer and tried to bodge my way out of it.

As I say though, in the end, it’s usually unnoticed. But there are strips where I’ve used every possible inking tool at every point in the drawing process and ended up with a patchwork quilt of a strip. Colouring often saves it (and maybe it’s only me that notices it) but I’m left feeling incomplete, knowing the job wasn’t as it could or should be.

So, I’m gonna try a different tack – I try this often, but the temptation to just lift a dip pen is overpowering so this time, I’m gonna hide every tool except the brush.

The brush is, ultimately, the most flexible tool there is for inking. Nothing is as responsive or can give a line so much life. It’s constantly surprising and always vivid.

My big problem is I get lazy with it, and the line starts becoming unsubtle (and great subtly can be achieved). In this case, rather than throw the brush down in frustration I’ll pick up the white out and thin the line down and go back to the brush.

When you get to look at original art it’s always surprisingly how much white out is used by your favourite artists, and it’s frequently used to make lines thinner or more subtle.

So that’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes.

Channel Hex: Bughunt

Transmissions from a parallel place, Channel Hex is your window into alternative dimensions and worlds.

 

Bughunt was just a one note gag based on the Bill Paxton line in Aliens (yeah, like you needed that explained). Just thought it’d be funny if they were actual bugs, giant massive bugs. I also loved the line in Skull Island (a fantastic movie) were to old hand on hearing a weird chirping sound goes “f***ing ants”. As Rob Williams pointed out, that’s likely an ad-libbed line (which is why we never saw the ants) but it was damn funny.

The troopers are (with the exception of the sarge) based on a popular All American comic series, see if you can guess which (should be pretty obvious when you realise…)

So you get this, and in a final – putting-too-much-thought-into-a-stupid-two-panel joke – the Space Ship they’re landing in is the SS Jerry Paris (writer/artist of the strip Bughunters from C&VG from years ago, who is, pleasantly, become a pal).

On the colouring, I wanted something that felt like the Skull Island set pieces (sun setting behind KONG! F*** YEAH!) and the landscape would be hot pink (based on the photos in this article where the photographer used infra red and processing to arrive at hotpink landscapes, be warned – some of these photos are disturbing, being from a war zone www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/12/16/magazine/congo-color.html?hp )

I buzzed through the colouring as fast as I could, tbh, it wasn’t my main objective, so if anyone wants to have a stab at colouring this bad boy properly, let me know!

Will there be more bughunters? Probably not. Really this was an an exercise in controlled inking, my inking often runs away with me and I wanted to ink something and feel like I was in charge and not just the ink. (Inking the giant ant was good fun but the temptation to just slosh down black ink on the outline of it was almost unbearable, had to thin down so many lines).

I have a couple more one page strips in my ideas file just waiting on some time to execute them, this was a nice little palette cleanser before starting some more 2000AD work.

Hope you like it.

40 Years in the cubes

Usual apologies apply, here for not blogging. Much humble sorries.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago it was the official 40th Anniversary of 2000AD.

I tell people my first 2000AD was prog 1. It probably was, but I was seven and things are hazy. Pretty sure my first distinct memory of creating something 2000ad related was around 1980, when I was 10 – and 2000AD had been out for around 3 years.

I can trace this to the story “The Judge Child” – one of Dredd’s early sagas where, along with Judge Hershy and the unfortunately hirsute Judge Lopez (Dredd never approved of his moustache) when I sat with my uncle Paul and built a scale model of the ship Justice-1 out of computer punch card. Including a loading bay with three Bikes. (In my head this thing was a fantastic recreation of the actual ship, honestly can’t imagine it wasn’t just a terrible disaster of “sticky back plastic*” and cardboard)

I Kept reading until around 15/16 when school proved to much of an obstacle for me to remain a comic reader (no outright bullying, just a lot of raised eyebrows and “are you reading comics”)

Started again in the late 80s, dropped in the early 90s.

All through this time though, dredd filled every sketchbook I had. (Even the one noble failure of a sketchbook that begins “I vow not to put any dredd in this sketchbook”… later on that same page…)

Started reading 2000AD sporadically again in the late 90s.

But 2000AD – the year not the comic – was barrelling up towards me fast and I’d yet to make any sort of comic art career. Despite a couple of swings at bat (a graphic novel and comic for fantagraphics, and a short story with Mike Carey for Calibar) the dream was always to draw Dredd. The year was also when I turned 30, it all felt significant and do or die.

In about ’98/99 I contacted WR Logan who was running a small press fanzine of Dredd world stuff via the post and started drawing small press dredd stories. Through Mike Sivier I met Gordon Rennie (Mike was running a small press comic called “Violent!” of which Gordon was a contributor). Mike said “Hey, I have a couple of stories one by Gordon Rennie [ who was a well established 2000AD writer by this point already ] and one by ..” “I’LL DO THE ONE WITH RENNIE” was my immediate answer.

In ’99 I took on a new part time job in computers, hoping to properly pursue comic art in the time I had off and started this blog under the name “Creative Struggling” as a way to document my attempt to break in to comics.

Andy Diggle, then editor, got to see some of the small press stuff I did and at the first Dreddcon, in 2000, I turned up massive portfolio in tow hoping to convince him that even if what I was doing wasn’t good enough yet there was definitely an upward arc to my art.

I went to that first Dreddcon with a portfolio and my girlfriend (and readers, I married her) and came back with a promise of some work a pains in my cheeks from a smile that had stuck on my face the entire weekend.

Gordon was onboard and asked Andy if he could assign me to a dredd he’d written and by 2001 I was lucky enough to fulfil a life long dream and draw for 2000AD, and I’ve been an irregular regular for the comic ever since.

I’ve lost track of the amount of work I’ve done for 2000AD, hundreds, thousands of pages (at one point I counted about 300 pages of Dredd, but I’m pretty sure I’ve done far more than that now)

But it’s tough to accept I’m now part of that history. I imagine it’s the same for every person who’s part of it, right back to Pat Mills and John Wagner.

At the official 40th convention I shook hands with a lot of people, many of whom I think think of me as part of the comic and that’s something for which I’m grateful.

With a bit of luck 2000AD will continue long into the future and as long as I can, I’ll try and be part of that.

It’s here, boss! It’s here! The plane! THE PLANE!

Ok, not the plane, the computer.

Computer arrived last week, spent a few days setting it up and tweaking it, spec if on my previous blog post, so here’s some early thoughts (dedicated to those, like me, have had to make the switch from mac to pc).

The Good:

Man, this just flies. Clip Studio Paint, big(ish) painterly brushes, small inking brushes lagfree. I actually thought my previous system was ok for b&w ink work, but it turns out this is even nicer. Zero lag on the normal inks I’d use, nice precise line work. Dead good. And opening 22 page documents, with 600 dpi A3 sized artwork? Seconds. Incredibly fast. Saving a single image is so fast I have to sometimes double check I’ve done it.

3d Stuff, whoosh! Pretty spectacular! I used Sculptris before on the mac and it wouldn’t take too long before the fan kicked in, here it’s able to handle a lot! (before.. er.. it crashed).

Using sketchfab is amazing for hi res, hi detail models, and sketchup isn’t just as smooth as I’d like – but I put that down to the software – as it’s able to handle hi res renders without slowing down.

These are all pretty useful to me.

The bad:

Gah this thing is a monsterous size (and monsterously ugly) I’ve slipped it down the side of my desk so I never have to look at it ever again. It’s not silent, but out of the way the fan is quieter than my old MacBook and it’s far enough away I can’t hear it, so that’s a relief.

Man, I’d forgotten what a heartache windows was to find software that’s exactly what you want. iTunes is a dog on windows (it just doesn’t work at all most of the time) and I used it for listening to podcasts so now I have to find decent podcasting software and that a trawl that I really don’t want to waste my time on.

For all the macs (many) faults, generally you’d have less choice but it’d be the exact right choice.

Windows Movie maker doesn’t exist any more (so there goes and video editing).

My keyboard (I spent £80 on a decent keyboard, it’s wireless, has lights so you can look at it in the dark and a trackpad) works beautifully, except the play/pause buttons only seem to work in the windows “groove” program, which I presume is windows new audio player. That would be ok but the damn thing doesn’t handle podcasts.

I can live with the bad, and really, I still have my ipad for music/tv watching so it’s not awful. I’m existing in a weird in between world where my windows machine serves a single function and I use my mac kit for everything else.

Soon though… soon VR/AR – it’s something I’m desperate to explore, and something I intend to stuck in to at some point (er… when I can afford the rest of the kit!)

 

Computer Loopy

My macbook pro (which I love) has started to feel a little slow, so I decided it was time for an upgrade.

It works fine for digital drawing (though it can get noisy when the fan kicks in for painting at hi res) but it positively crawls when you try and do anything in 3d (as I have been doing lately – with sketchup, and using 3d models for tanks)

Looked around, but, sadly, like many of my peers in comics there’s a real struggle to find a new mac that fits – my ideal would be a mac mini with more oopmh, but it just doesn’t exist. So it was time to go back to PC. Having bought a surface pro 3, I’ve actually liked windows 10 – there’s things I HATE about it, but nothing I can’t work around in some way. Plus I’m keeping the mac for my day to day job stuff.

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at buying PCs and I’ve sought advice from friends on this front, so ended up building a system from overclockers.com (it is a bewildering experience after going from apple’s clean limited options to an explosion in a tinsel factory layout of PCs, and god how can PCs be both boring looking AND gaudy? amazing). Anyway, it’ll be black box I’ll hide.

So here’s the system I ended up with and why, first I asked a good friend of mine Sean Doran for some suggestions and so, unless otherwise stated, he’s suggested the bulk of this device and I was happy enough to with him.

(I present this in full because either this is boring to you in which case you’d’ve stopped reading earlier or you’re thinking of doing the same..)

CASE: Phanteks Enthoo Pro M Window Edition – Black Full Acrylic Side Window

This is the dull but gaudy bit of windows. Give me a nice invisible case, who the hell wants to look inside your computer and have lights? Ugh, never mind, this is fine. It’s all fine. Has a single drive bay for DVD/Bluray.

MEMORY:Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 PC4-19200C14 2400MHz Dual Channel Kit – Black (CMK16GX4M2A24

Many of these numbers mean little to me, it’s fast and it’s 16Gb – I’m currently happily working within 8 on my mac, so 16 seemed a reasonable upgrade. Clip Studio Paint works very nicely on 4, photoshop and other apps want more.
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 64-Bit DVD – OEM (MS-KW9-00139) 
Gotta have an O/S. Windows 10 – NOT awful. It’s actually alright and if it’s my main machine I can probably tweak it for exactly how I want to use it. Part of me is tempted to not even connect it to the internet – leave it as a machine that just draws and works, but there’s too much useful stuff on line (like ..er.. twitter)
BLURAY: OcUK Value Blu-ray / DVDRW combi SATA – OEM
I rarely use the cd drive I have, but I’d like something I can throw a bluray on to. If I remember right there’s some question over decent software to watch blurays on on windows (which seems insane it’s not a standard thing, but what do I know…?)
MAIN DRIVE: Intel 600P 512GB M.2-2280 PCI-e 3.0 x 4 NVMe 3D NAND Solid State Drive (SSDPEKKW512G7X1)
Ok, here’s the stuff. M.2 drives are new technology to me, in fact when I left the IT industry SSD drives (a kind of hard drive built on memory) didn’t exist at a consumer level. M.2 are similair to SSD in that they use memory (so silent and very, very fast) but plug in more directly to the computer so they transfer data at ridiculous speeds. 512Gb is actually storage for me to do all my work from-my current storage needs for all of the art I’ve drawn over the last 15 years is about 100Gb (and even that could be halved if I ever tidied it up)
SECONDARY DRIVE: Seagate BarraCuda 2TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache HDD – OEM (ST2000DM006)
Secondary storage, mostly for storing backups of things and any over spill. TBH most overspill will probably be me accidentally creating multiple copies of the same documents.
Graphics Card: Zotac GeForce GTX 1060 Mini 6144MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card
This is where I start flailing about looking for advice. Here I went for the best I thought I could afford on my budget. I’m interested in VR/AR stuff. I want to play with that. I’m convinced that’s our next big thing for entertainment (but I was also convinced by that in the 80s and the 90s, so I’m clearly on the optimistic end). Having played with Google Tilt (a 3d painter program for the HTC Vive) I really really want more access to that level of reality.
Processor: Intel Core i5-7600K 3.8GHz (Kaby Lake) Socket LGA1151 Processor – OEM
Ugh, this was a toughie, it felt wrong to go for an i5 processor when my current macbook pro has an i7 – but the i5 is quad core at 3.8Ghz and my current is dual core at 2.8Ghz so the spec was definately up. I’m still not entirely sure what the i5/i7 difference is, especially when measured over the years (is it just branding? suspect it maybe… 7 is definitely more than 5, but is 7 from 2013 more than 5 from 2017? stupid computers).
I have no keyboard (will, at least temporarily, use an older macbook keyboard). I’d like a small – no numerical key – keyboard with a backlight and the whole thing will be plugged into the 27″ cintiq (a second screen may be useful, but I’d like one with retina resolution so may hold off on that for a bit…)
Again, thanks to those online who were probably bored of my asking, and my pal Sean Doran. I’ll let you know when the computer arrives and what I actually make of it…!

Daily Read: Prophet Remission 1

So, my wife has decreed (and I agreed) we should sit down with the kids and read for half an hour a day*, from 7:00pm to 7:30pm. Not too much, right? Oddly it’s just about enough time to get through a graphic novel, so I figure since my tsundoku has gotten redonculous, I can start there.

(* It remains to be seen whether we’ll do this beyond one day, but my youngest loved the idea, and my eldest moaned about it wasting computer time – so it’s win/win)

Ok, first book up in the unread pile is Prophet Remission 1.

This collects the Image Prophet series issues #21-26. Though really, it’s more of an entire rethought reboot that bares very little relation (barring name and probably some visual ideas) from the previous Rob Leifeld created generic Captain America/Super Solider idea.

THIS series, launches us 10,000 years into the future when a disorientated Jon Prophet wakes up from suspended animation on an unrecognisable Earth with a mission he must fulfil.

It’s pretty great. I mean, it ticks all my future-war-fetish boxes, right down to list of equipment, bizarre future tech and weird alien customs. Great artwork throughout, and while the initial story sort of opens up the premise of a kind of Story of the week format (which would’ve itself been great) the final episode in this book adds a new dimension that could see things run entirely differently.

I loved it. I think it’s pretty much right up your street if you’re a 2000AD fan, mixing the future war of Rogue Trooper, with Bellardenelli style weirdness.

You can buy it here  and I can’t recommend it enough.

 

2016 Review Of the Year

Hi Chums, every year around this time, I post up my comic book drown review of the year. Something I’ve done, somehow for around 12-13 years or so. So here’s this years one.

 

Some notes: Nathan is in a grammer. He’s really thriving in it. If you’ve followed my blog for some time you may know that Nathan thriving in school seemed unheard of, but thrive he is. Tom is enjoying school (but not homework). And everything home related is going pretty well. Annette went back to school to study something sciencey (a thing she’s never previously done, so big culture shock and new challenges for her) and I went and did some acting, after a 20 year gap. And I really really loved it. So more auditions this year, I think.

Workwise, it was a funny year – I drew less than last year, in the region of 189 pages, but doing Dark Horse work and the post brexit pound plummet meant I did ok this year. All in better than any previous year. Self employment is a funny old game though, and the tax repercussions of a single good year followed by a bad year can actually be pretty severe, so careful careful going forward.

New years resolutions this year: less twitter more drawing. Less twitter more blogging. Less twitter more work.

I mean, obviously I don’t mean that – I’m sort of hopelessly addicted to twitter, but I can’t help feeling it’s not healthy. Certainly this year on twitter felt like it wasn’t. Maybe it’s the current political climate, maybe it’s the nature of any platform that expands to the size twitter has. Who knows. In any case, it feels like a boil that needs lancing in some way.

Anyhue, hopefully 2017 turns out to be the karmic rebalancing that 2016 feels like it needs. In which case we can all expect to wake up knowing the next lottery numbers. Good luck!