Clip Studio Paint: Transform and Keep Original

This is something I’ve wanted for a while, the ability to select something (say, a wheel) and then move it somewhere else while leaving the original. Again no way to do this in Clip Studio Paint, but again you can build one.

As with the previous tool, I created and auto action – this one named Transform and Keep Original, in it I created the following actions (see previous post for how to do this)

I draw a marquee around the object to be duplicated, and then created the action with the following steps:

Step 1: Copy (CTRL+C) (makes a copy of the currently selected marqueed drawing)
Step 2: Paste (CTL+V) (creates a new layer with the selected artwork in it)
Step 3: Transform (CTRL+T) (I did this here just to record the action, really doesn’t matter too much what you do with the transformed drawing) once I’d transformed the selection, I confirmed the transformation – by hitting return.
Step 4: Layer->Merge with Layer Below.

And that’s the entirety of the action. The next step though is to slightly alter the action, by taking Step 4 – TRANSFORM – and making sure that the action requires user input (and doesn’t just perform exactly the same transform every time). You do this by clicking a little check box that is on the action’s description, like so:

When you click here (as I’ve scrawled poorly on the image above) it will add a little mini dialogue in place of the check box – and it will add a mini dialogue to the title of the action too.

Now, all that’s left is to map this keyboard action, I went with CTRL+ALT+T (check my previous post for details) and that’s it!

(One point, it’s not perfect, and you’re essentially copying/pasting every time. An minor edit might be to remove the copy stage for the user to do, so that it’s the exact same thing is pasted every time rather than a brand new thing).

Clip Studio Paint: Paste Into Layer

There’s lots of things I love about Clip Studio Paint, and a few things that annoy the heck out of me. Luckily, I can often fix the latter with the former.

One feature I miss from Photoshop is “Paste Into Layer” this takes something from the clipboard and then pastes it -INTO-the layer.

Clip Studio Paint, no doubt because of the complexities it adds by having different layer types lacks this feature. But we can easily add it using Auto Actions AND Shortcut settings.

Step one: create  a new Clip Studio Paint document. This is purely so we can create the actions, so don’t worry too much about any of the specifics of the file – anything here will do.

Step two: put something on the clip board. Select some art, or copy an image from somewhere. Again, largely unimportant what – just make sure you have something.

Step three: Make sure Window->Auto Action is displayed then create a new Auto Action – call it “Paste Into Layer”

Step four: Press the record button to record the steps.

Step five (record these steps!):

Step 5.1 : Paste the clip board into the document (CTRL+V on PC, CMD+V on mac)

Step 5.2: Merge the layer with the layer below (Layer->Merge With Layer Below, you can also press CTRL+E on the PC, CMD+E on the mac)

Step 5.3 press stop on the auto action record. That’s it. Action is recorded.

Step 6: Select File->Shortcut Settings. From the “Setting Area” drop down select “Auto Action”. Find the action you just recorded. Select Add Shortcut and then press “CTRL+SHIFT+V” – or, on a mac “CMD+SHIFT+V”

And that’s it! Hit ok!

Now if you press CTRL+SHIFT+V anything in the clipboard gets pasted IN to the current layer. Couple of caveats: the layer then becomes the same type of layer as whatever was in the pasteboard. Ie if you are pasting full colour art into a line art layer then the resulting merged image will be full colour. It’s not a big deal, but worth knowing. (If you cut from a CSP line art layer and paste into another line at

Futureshocking Week 6: All good things…

Apologies for how long it’s taken me to post this final blog post for the Irish Writer’s Centre Workshop. A couple of deadlines had to be slain, and new things started.

So, week 6. The final.

I started the course with pretty solid intentions, each week would take one aspect of creating a comic and break it down as best as possible and I’d use the time to talk through everything I consider important about that aspect and setting various tasks.

I had hoped to do more workshop bits, but in the end it turned into six weeks of two hour long lectures. I *hope* it was entertaining and useful and I think everyone that participated enjoyed it or got something out of it.

I certainly enjoyed it immensely (though if I ever see another bus to Dublin I’ll probably pre-emptively hurl, trains from now on)

On the final week, Michael Carroll was kind enough to join us to give us the benefit of his wisdom. We talked Michael’s varied career as a writer, how to deal with the inevitable criticism, and the craft of writing stories from the perspective of someone whose done it for a long time.

I also wanted to cover a little bit on some of the comic making process we hadn’t touched on. In the all too brief time we had left, I talked colouring/flatting and lettering (stingy with time, I’m afraid, both could’ve done with a couple of days on their own to do them any justice).

Unfortunately didn’t really have time to get into any detail, but happily, lots of online resources exist.

Here’s a tutorial on colouring

And here’s a link to some great resources for lettering. As well as fonts you can use for small press for free and paid fonts at Blambot.

Thanks to everyone who took part (and those who maybe just read the blog posts!) if you’re interested in doing a course like this, you can contact the Irish Writer’s Centre in Dublin. And I’m going to see if I can find anywhere in Belfast that can do similar hosting duties (hey if you know anyone that might be interested in hosting it, let me know!)


Futureshocking Week 5: Back in Black

So, this week’s class  on comics was much more along the lines of a workshop. I bought a blueline print of some of my art to Dublin (printed on Canson Bristol board) along with a selection of tools, a dip pen, a brush, a brush pen and a set of Micron pens. And I talked inking.

Each of the inking tools has some stuff that I wanted to highlight/talk about. But the whole point of the class was to get everyone to try each of these tools and see what they liked and didn’t like. I don’t want to get prescriptive with what you should draw with (I mean, if I did, everyone would be drawing with a brush – even me) but what I did want is for everyone to try as many tools as they can to see what works for them.

The Brush

I favour illustration/designer brushes (like the Winsor & Newton Cotman 111 ROUND SIZE 1 or WINSOR & NEWTOWN Spectre Gold II size 0) that are specifically designed for lettering/design work. BUT not everyone likes those, the brush most people will recommend are W&N Series 7 Kolsinky sable brushes that tend to give incredible fine points and can hold a monstrous amount of ink, but do require a deft hand to control.

Range of Mark: WIDE – from very fine to very thick.
To use: Dip bristles in the ink, avoiding the ferrule (the metal part of the brush), wipe off excess ink on the tip. I often will then rotate the brush on a tissue wiping excess ink while also helping it form to a point, and dip again, wipe excess and then ink.  When you’re finished using it, clean the brush thoroughly, then, and this may seem gross, take the brush tip in your mouth and form a point on the tip of the brush using your tongue. The spit will help keep the brush shape when it drieds. And you’ll find it deeply arousing.
Drying Time: Pretty much instant, unless you’re doing a lot of coverage.
Difficulty: Can be high, takes a steady hand.
Pros: Every line has life, no tool gives more variety or is more rewarding
Cons: OMG So hard. SO HARD. SSOOO HARD. But worth it.
Specialist Skill: Pretty easy to rule a straight line with a brush, you simply hold a ruler at about a 40degree angle in one hand (make sure it’s secure) at about the mid point of the ruler, then drag the brush against the ruler and where you want the line – the trick is you’re not moving the brush – you’re moving your entire arm and the brush is just an extension of that. The advantage of using a brush over, say, a micron pen, is that the line is full of life and bounce and you can get a big range of thicknesses – it’s a beautiful line!


There’s a whole bunch of nibs out there, I favour Kuretake G nibs for most of my inking. I also like Hunt 102/107 nibs which are finer (and one is stiffer than the other). BUY ALL OF THE TYPES and try them. You’ll also need a nib holder, there are, generally, two sizes of nibs – some nib holders will only hold either size (G nibs need the larger, Hunts need the smaller), but you can buy some that hold both – buy those!

(Actually here’s a good little starter set for dip pens)

Range of Mark: Depends on the nib, the stiffer the nib the narrower the range.
To use: Dip and ink. Dip and ink. That’s it. Nibs have a little hole in them that’s actually a reservoir for ink so, in theory, you can fill that and ink happily for ages – but, in my experience, the more ink in a dip pen the more likely you’ll splat a big blob of ink on the page. Dip little and often. As it were, and clean the damn pen after your finished (wet a tissue and just wipe it clean, easy)
Difficulty: Pretty easy, depending on the nib. Springier (softer nibs) tend to be a little tougher, and you may find it takes a while to train yourself to only ink drawing the pen towards yourself (if you try and push a nib pain away from yourself you’re in danger of splitting the prongs of the pen and splattering ink and ripping the paper – horrible, horrible mess – MY GOD THE MESS)
Drying Time: depends on the thickness of line, thicker the line the longer the time (as an old prison adage goes) but your best bet here is – assuming you’re right handed – ink from the top left and move to the bottom right so you’re hand is never in danger of splatting in that ink.
Pros: Decent variety of line, really doesn’t require a lot of skill, can actually be fun to ink with (if you’ve decent paper, something good that will take it).
Cons: So many inking accidents. And many artists, myself included, have little inking tattoo gained while being a little careless with an ink loaded dip pen that they’ve stabbed into themselves. Mine is on my left index finger.
Specialist Skill: I find inking with a nib fast and fun. Except when I’m careless and I splat ink into everything.

Brush Pen

So, there’s a whole bunch of great brush pens out there – it’s never been an easier time to find them. The ones I’ve mostly used (and love) are Zebra Brush pens that you can pick up on ebay (shipping in from Hong Kong) that work out at about £1.50 each, which is actually pretty cheap.

Range of Mark: Surprisingly wide. If held normally you can get beautiful fine lines (though the more you use the pen the less this will be true) and pretty decent bold lines. If held side on you can get strong, super thick lines.
To use: Pick up pen. Draw. Dead easy.
Difficulty: If you’re capable of drawing at all you can use these. Treat them gently (or buy lots) because the super-fine lines that you get from new ones soon disappear depending on use (and if you give it to, say, your 9 year old son to draw with, do NOT EXPECT TO BE ABLE TO USE IT AGAIN, THOMAS)
Drying Time: Pretty much instant. Plus the ink is water proof. Great for convention sketching and laying watercolour over, because they dry to waterproof almost instantly.
Pros: Fun to draw with since they are instantly usable without any skills.
Cons: You’ll burn through them, and they’re so easy to use you’ll start thinking it’s cheating.
Specialist Skill: Ink sideways for super thick line.

Pigment Pens

Pigma Micron pens are the brand I use – the ink is ‘archival’ – ie designed to last and water resistant so you can ink white over the top without picking up the black.

Range of Mark: Not great, you pick the size you want and you’ll get microscopic differences in width – but generally, that’s the size you’ll get.
To use: Draw. That’s it.
Difficulty: Really if you can’t use a micron I question the fact that you can actually draw a line.
Drying Time: Instant and water proof (or at least water resistant)
Pros: You need to ink something? Feeling low? Like self-confidence is gone? Can’t handle a brush today? PICK UP A PIGMA! No effort or skills required. As long as you have a .5 Micron Pigma pen, you’ll get a .5 line without effort.
Cons: Lines are, generally, dead. Unless you go over them to add thickness. And you’ll need to buy a lot – multiple sizes and you’ll burn through them. Not great for the environment.
Specialist Skill: Great for that tiny crowd of 5mm people you have to draw, just pick up a pigma .0035 pen and start drawing.

Indelible Marker

Sharpie is the most common brand here, and the one everyone has.


*ahem* yeah, look, the colour looks gorgeous and deep when applied. Then it starts to shift, and, over time, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, occasionally years. The ink migrates. It migrates across the page, OFF THE PAGE and on to other pages – whatever other pages are stacked above and below it, and what you’re left with is often a faint yellow mark of where the marker used to be. This is why so much art by so many great artists is lost, Sharpies in particular are not an archival ink. DON’T BELIEVE HIS LIES.


Brushes and dip pens can share a bottle of ink. Brushes tend to like slightly thinner ink, but you’ll find your sweet spot. I prefer Winsor and Newton black indian ink (it’s water proof and pretty solidly black). If you keep a large bottle/jar and get yourself a nice little tiny pot, you can fill the pot with ink and leave the lid off to let it get a little thicker, if it’s too thick add some water and mix, too watery? add some from the pot. You’ll find the mix you like best.

(I was asked: Winsor and Newtown black indian ink is made from shellac – which google tells me: Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes and dissolved in ethanol to make liquid shellac, which is used as a brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish. Boy this makes me regret how often I put my brush in my mouth)

Actually Deleter black ink is also pretty nice. More expensive, and there’s more options (I think numbered 1-6), but the black is a beautiful Matt black finish. Deleter have a range of black inks which, I think, translate to how much thicker each of them are. I didn’t find much difference in use between all of them, but it could be I mistreat my ink badly so they all ended up a stodgy black ink. Recommend you try as many as you can afford.

Also for your consideration: Sumi Ink is pretty nice, good flat coverage matt ink – that comes in a nice little bottle.


Sometimes you’ll make mistakes, or sometimes you’ll want to add some extras to something, or correct a thick line. In many of these case you’ll want some form of white out. There’s lots of inks available for this, they include:

Daler Rowney White Acrylic Ink – pretty good. Really recommend it actually.
Winsor and Newtown White Ink – works ok, easiest ink to get ahold of, dries up in the jar pretty quickly though, you may need to resuscitate it every so often by adding a bit of water and mixing and eventually you’ll throw it away.
Deleter White Ink 1 and White Ink 2 – One’s thicker than the other. Both great. Buy both, figure out which you prefer.




Great for stars and blood splatter. Dip the brush into ink – get a lot of ink on there, and get ready to get your fingers dirty. Using your thumb flick the bristles of the brush (hold the brush in your hand and flick the bristles). You can do this in a controlled way but you WILL get ink everywhere the first time you try it – so, for god’s sake, wear clothes you don’t care about!

Dry Brush

Best using a large, older brush. Dip brush in ink. Now dry off all the ink. DRY IT ALL OFF! Don’t wash it though, that’d be mad. Now ink with it. It’ll leave a dirty mark. Play with that.


Good thick kitchen roll is good for this, scrunch it up, dip it in to ink, now use it for big smoke effects or any other texture you can get out of it.


Secret tip! If I have a large area of black to cover, I’ll use a brush to ink black around the outline of it (leaving a thick inner border where I want the large black expanse to appear) then I’ll grab a cotton bud and use that. Cotton buds are no use for getting in to tight spots, but absolutely brilliant at quick coverage. Sure you can use a black marker – but HAVE I NOT MADE IT CLEAR HOW RUBBISH BLACK MARKER INK IS?


Any way, if you don’t fancy analogue inking – try out all of the above techniques, then scan them in and create brushes in photoshop or Clip Studio Paint and BOOSH! You can texture without getting your fingers dirty.

(Look, if this was on patreon and you were paying for this, I might have dug up lots of actual photos to help illustrate this post, but it’s late, I’m sticking to the arse of this chair due to the heat and I’m tired. So there you have it!)


Futureshocking week 4 Schedules and Perspective

This week I’d planned to talk scheduling, and techniques for working flat out.

The fact that I was late to arrive and that the Irish writers Centre didn’t open until later than it was supposed to is just one of those little things designed to show you man plans and god laughs.

Usually what happens – as I’ve done each week – is I have a topic in mind. I decide to do something slightly different, I ask a question and I get sent on a tangent.

So, the plan: talk schedule and pencils.

I’ve devised a system for scheduling that helps me work. And when I’ve slowed down it’s always coincided with me abandoning my system.

The first part of the system, is a monthly schedule (I’ve blogged on this before).

I have an entire year planned out, in a grid – every month has 25 boxes with each box representing a single page. In an ideal month I’ll do 25 pages – but I’m happy to settle for… well, whatever number of pages I’ve got to do that I, paid to draw.

Step one though is to decide what’s Realistic number of pages for you – I draw all the time, but I also look, after my kids, so, depending on school holidays I set my limits higher and lower. This is really about setting expectations and making sure you’re not discouraged if you don’t hit 25 pages. If you know if advance that you’re only gonna get five pages done (a perfectly decent amount if you have a day job) and you hit that it’s going to feel good. )

Every project gets a colour, and as I complete a page I mark it off the calendar. And I keep going, by the end of the year you have a complete record of the work you’ve done.

Part 2 of this system is to use the pomodoro technique – there are apps for this, but it boils down to using a 25 minute timer to do a task and once you do take a five minute break. Repeat four times, and then take a longer break before starting the cycle again.

The aim here is to concentrate on a single task in that 25 minute work period. You’ll be amazed at just how much time is wasted and how much you can do in 25 minutes.

It’s a pretty simple system, but using it, I’ve been able to hit 49 pages per month on occasion (I wouldn’t recommend it. Though as I happens, I enjoy doing more work rather than less. And I still had time for a bit of a life)

Covered a little bit about character design and silhouettes, and making sure that characters have distinct shapes – Overwatch (the video game) is a good example here, where the character’s traits are often a reflection of their physicality. But also this holds true if you’re designing spaceships or vehicles – if you have a large space battle between three warring alien species you want to be able to quickly read the shape of the ships.

The reason silhouette is so important is that we see the outline of things very quickly – and a good distinctive silhouette can scale up or down to any size and still be readable. This is true of characters and vehicles.

Sometimes it helps to start thinking of character silhouttes in terms of the basic shapes – square, circle, triangle, etc. And then the feel, soft, hard, flowy, etc. These can help unlock ideas.

We also talked about pencilling, though focused on some basics of persepective.

There’s plenty of great books on the subject and it’s too intense to cover in the short time I had, but I quickly covered the horizon line, one point perspective and using it as a way to draw crowds.

The horizon line is the distant horizon as seen from your eye level. If you look up or look down the horizon line doesn’t change – it stays at your eye level (even if your eye is looking up or down).

If you’re drawing crowds, and the crowd are all the same size as the viewer then every person standing on the same flat plane (ie the floor) will have the horizon intersect where their eyes are. This is a pretty powerful way to fool your eye into thinking you’re seeing in 3d.

The horizon in the panel basically tells the reader where they’re viewing the action from as well as their orientation – so a horizon that’s tilted – what’s known as a dutch angle – makes the reader feel off balance, and if you make everyone else react as though they’re off balance…

Well, now you’ve got the basis for a Klingon Bird of Prey attacking the Enterprise.

Moving the horizon up, places the reader higher up – as though they’re looking down on the action. Here, instead of using the eye level as a way to hang people off the horizon, we can use some other stable measurement – for example, the size of the persons head, and so, in this example, the people (who are all identical in size) are measured TWO heads below the horizon.

The same rules hold true for moving the horizon down, here you may find it easier to make the horizon intersect, for example, the bottom of an ankle, and draw everyone relative to that.

Other objects can be similarly placed, for example, a field of (in this example, badly drawn) horses..

(horses are a little more complex to place on the ground plane because, while you can think of humans, essentially as flat – 2d – horses have four legs which tends to benefit from thinking of their legs like a cube for placing on the plane)

edited to add: You can, of course, mix and match things on the horizon. As long as it’s consistent. So here, average sized human, a taller, hairy bear like alien and a small robot – the human is placed one head below the horizon, the bear-man the horizon intersects at this shoulders, and the tiny robot is measured using his height, so he’s one size below the horizon, placing multiple copies of them in the image is just then a simple job of placing the measurements and drawing them hanging from those measurements – I’ve added a very simple ground plane and some background to complete the illusion.


We also talked about story telling, and choregraphy of a battle – between three different armies, and using the travelling direction of each army seems like a cunning idea – one from the left, the next from the right, until you get the third, which you then realise needs a new angle (straight towards the reader in our example case).

We talked more stuff, about trying to get depth into a panel, so it feels immersive, but that’s as much as I can remember for now!

Hunted: Furies

The new series of Hunted starts this week in 2000AD. Written by Gordon Rennie, superb colouring by Len O’Grady fab lettering by Ellie DeVille.

Here’s the first three pages unlettered and in glorious MonoChrome … (but really you want to see the colours, they’re just lovely)

No Workshop this week, as it was my youngest son’s ninth birthday so had booked a skip week. Start again next week when I’ll be splitting the class, I think, into those that want to learn to draw good, and those that want to continue to write new stories. (And in the drawing stakes it’ll be all about fundamentals, and whatever hints and tips I can give to how-to-cheat-at-drawing-everything…)



Future Shocking Week 3

(To catch up: teaching a class in Dublin on writing / drawing short stories – specifically around “Future Shocks” – four page shorts with a twist in the tail, but that spine lets me build out how to tell stories visually, and how to come up with ideas)

So, week three, by this stage everyone has something scripted. Week three was about taking those scripts and making thumbnails. The course was broken down into six very specific steps, but there’s lots of bleed through on each element.

This was also the first week I got everyone to actually workshop – drawing out their own stories. From here on in the course is about drawing. For some I think this is probably the most terrifying part of the course (oddly, for me, this is the easiest part).

The concern, I think, most people have is “if this doesn’t look like a comic I would buy then I it’s not worth doing”. I think that’s pretty much wrong. I think, as long as the art is consistent, and tells the story you intend (and consistency I think is more important than some quality of “finished”) then good lettering will make any comic very readable and enjoyable. (Lettering is much undervalued, but not in my workshop!)

Anyway, on to layouts.

And to save my fingers, and sanity, I’ll preface this entire thing by saying – this is my opinion, and as such it’s subject to change (based on counter evidence, whim and the direction of the wind) and it’s largely subjective, but it’s what feels like has worked for me (and I have a good reputation for clean story telling).

So, for building layouts/thumbnails

Step 1: read the script. Read it real good! The thumbnail stage, for me, is partly about figuring out what the writer has written so I can understand it and partly to figure out what I need to draw to communicate the writer’s story in as visual and exciting way as possible.

There are levels of composition to consider when thumbnailing/drawing a comic, there’s the very top level – which is pages over a story, then at the page level, there’s the composition of panels on a page, and then down to a panel by panel level.

Since we’re concerned with four page stories the composition over a story has a certain feel – opening page, two pages of things happening, and a last page. I find some compositions work better on opening pages, some on the last page and the filler middle pages can be a little more pedestrian (I mean in an ideal world, you don’t need that, but those pages aren’t often what the read

The vast majority of books about composition are really talking about that panel level – the composition of a single image within a frame.

Comics require broader thinking. There are innumerable ways to place five panels on a page (ignoring the content of the panel), but straight off the bat some of those panel arrangements are a little dull and don’t really do much. It’s a good exercise to draw out various panel arrangements at thumbnail sizes for different numbers of panels.

Here’s a few – there are, of course, an infinite amount. For my money, and for reasons that I are mostly intuitive, and will depend on the script, but arrangements like A – are the most dull, and would tend to suit the middle of a story better than the start. B, C, E, H feel like a good opening page, D has the feel of an ending. As does I.

I always think of panel arrangements over pages as opening and closing of a pair of brackets – or the word I and a full stop at the end of a sentence (or, you know, the top and bottom of a burger bun, whatever anology works for you).

Of course, ultimately, the arbiter of how the panels will be arranged will fall down to the script, and I have a few rules in that regard.

I’m always looking at the density of text/captions – lots of dialogue? this needs to be a big panel (regardless of what the writer has decided, and sometimes they get this wrong… “Small panel. Ext of house. Captions ……. page after page of captions…”)

No dialogue? this CAN be a small panel, but that’ll be dictated then by storytelling. Is it an action beat? Is it something percussive that needs a big panel to sell what’s just about to happen. There are a million ways to figure this stuff out.

I’m also trying to frame the important element, with the set around them,

Panel example: A sargeant shouting to the crew of a dropship. Framing the crew around the Sarge keeps focus entirely on him.


Here’s two versions, the top version is maybe a filmic version – character front and centre, the bottom version is more comic book. Leaving lots of room to the left of the character for deadspace/dialogue (I’ve shown that in green here). But the silhoutted crew at the front are framing the sarge, he’s still the main focus (in either version) and the background of dropship/remainder of crew give you a sense of scene (mise en scene, if you’re fancy)

(And obviously this is a panel on its own without the context of other panels around it)

Panel example: Someone waking up, here the elements that are important are the calendar/lamp – but pushing them to the foreground but using them as a framing device around the sleeper makes it feel like they’re still part of the background while at the same time letting the reader know exactly what time is on the clock.


Other things to consider, you want to try and avoid repetitive panel designs, in the same way you want to avoid repetitive sentences (unless it’s intentional) if you’ve got a few pages with the same layout consider tipping the table over and trying something outlandish, that’ll often help unblock other ideas.


Panel example: here the script called for a single solitary small planet out in the depths of space. By moving the planetoid to the bottom right, I’ve made the distance the reader has to cross the largest possible distance (remember we read from left to right) thereby enhancing the sense of vast empty space.

My preference is for uncomplicated story telling, as fancy as I get might be art breaking out of panels (if a) it only happens occasionally, b) it really warrents it and c) it doesn’t get in the way of the flow of storytelling).

This will do for now (this turned into much more of treatise that I’d intended!)


Three things

I do love drawing comics, but after 16 years as a professional (and after leaving a long career in IT about 10 years ago – 10 years of it as my only job) I feel it’s time to do something else. I admit this is as much about the current drought of work that I’m sitting in as it is about anything else. (Year before last was the busiest I’ve ever been, last year was the most lucrative I’ve ever had, this year is looking like the least busy I’ve ever been with the worst year financially every – made worse by the fact that last year was so good. Freelance is hard yo!) but it’s also about pushing myself more – sure every page is a struggle, but there’s lots about my old day job that I miss – working with people, training people, figuring out why stuff wasn’t working (there’s a good part of IT support that’s basically very low-stakes detective work )

I love what I do, but if I could find a way to do it 9-5 with a regular pay cheque I’d snatch it right out of your hands.

Anyhue, as it happens three things fell on me this week that at least made me feel like I’m more than just an artdroid. They were things I’ve done a little before, but these felt like higher stakes – or at least I was pushing beyond my comfort zone.

Teaching comics. I’ll feel on a surer footing when I get out of the writing part and in to the drawing part, but it’s been a challenge and I think I’ve done ok with it. I really enjoyed it, would hope that I can find some more work like it here in Belfast. (Hey if you’re looking for someone who can teach how to write/draw comics in Belfast, give me a shout!)

Acting. I did a cold read for a friend who’s developing a play. Felt stupidly nervous and way out of my depth. Having done a bit of acting (nothing major) watching two other people who clearly knew what they were doing and then dreading the moment I had to say anything. That was horrible. Where the hell did my confidence in acting disappear to? I think I warmed into it, not sure if I did anything but read lines as though I was saying them. Can’t think that that’s acting.

Storyboards. I’ve now done a couple of storyboards, it turns out that, despite my concerns, I’m actually on pretty solid footing doing them (whisper: I’m even good at it). I’ve been telling stories visually since I was about 7 years old. It’s just a bit odd to wrap your head around the idea that they don’t want a finished piece of artwork. I consider my value as an artist in producing finished art, and while I’ve always considered my story telling as my real strength as an artist – you’re still trying to produce a finished piece of art. Storyboards are all about that story telling without the finished art and for a director it’s your skill as a visual thinker that are valued. It’s weird to disconnect them, but fun to just kind of finish a thing with a director and go – “so… that’s finished then” without spending the next month drawing something in detail.

I like it. With a bit of luck I’ll find some paying gigs on that front. Northern Ireland seems to have more and more TV product coming out of it, and it could be a good supplement to comics.

Anyway, that’s the notes from the drawing desk as it stands right now. I may well change my tune tomorrow.


Future Shocking: Week 2

Wherein I talk something of the grammar of comics (its nuts and bolts) and draft zero and themes.

So far, in both weeks I’ve sketched out notes for myself, and then talked word vomited out everything I can think of, so I ask forgiveness if I’ve forgotten anything or doubled up on some things.

The plan this week was to go back over scripts and talk about themes, but instead, I started with a little breakdown on terminology / grammar of comics.

A story is made up of a scene. A complete comic can contain a story or it may be made up of multiple issues (or episodes)

Since we’re talking future shocks specifically, I’ll talk about how I think of those.

A future shock is made up of four pages, each page should end on some sort of minor cliff hanger, and if you’re doing a scene change (moving locations, jumping around in time) ideally you’d do that on the page turn (so the new location is on the new page) some time’s you’ll have a lot of scene changes, in that instance you may need to think about making sure they’re on a tier of their own.

A page is further broken down in to panels, and a number of panels across a full page is referred to as a tier.

(Apologies for the basic nature of these description, just wanted to make sure we’re all talking in the same language)


Int – short for interior (ie the inside of some location)

Ext – short for exterior (ie the outside of some location)

Close Up – A head shot or close up (obviously) usually of a character.

Extreme Close Up – brings in even closer to the action. Maybe close to a feature on a characters face. Possibly a close up to some other important element (so the button on a console, or a gun in someone’s hand)

Mid shot – an panel featuring a character usually from waist height up. Good for doing dialogue with more than one character.

Long Shot – taking a long lens – often things like the exterior of a building, used for an establishing shot (so, for example, Panel : Long shot, exterior of the daily planet. Dialogue[from building] “KENT!”)

An establishing shot establishes location and where your characters are. In books you may only need to establish a location once (“He entered the library. Walking alone he ventured up the stairs. He considered where he was.” – at all times we know he’s still in the library) in comics you need to have at least one panel to show location (sometimes this can be saved for the end of a sequence as a reveal – so we follow a character through a long corridor (with narration talking about how he’ll be free at last), and at the last panel we reveal they’re about to sit in an electric chair to be executed, and the establishing shot then functions as a twist – changing the meaning of the narrative.

You need to constantly reinforce location, sometimes you do it through small details (a large establishing shot of a library, followed by shots of a character in front of books. As a writer you’ll write the specifics of the establishing shot but you’ll just assume the artist will keep a reader conscious of where the characters/story is set by adding enough background detail to do that. As an artist you’ll be looking for panels that will work effectively as establishing shots, sometimes the writer will specify that a panel is an est shot, sometimes they won’t and you’ll infer it from their description. But a scene without an establishing shot is a scene set in a limbo place, without time, space, or dimensions. Which is great if that’s what you’re going for, but mostly that’s NOT what you’re going for.


(The greatest use of keeping establishing shots to the end is the scene in Silence of the Lambs where Clarice is about to knock on the door of a sweet little old lady, and the swat team is about to batter the door in of the serial killer – but because Jonathan Demme cleverly left the establishing shots to the end of the scene, he’s able, right at the last second to pull a great twist and show that no, in fact, Clarice is at the killers home and the SWAT team are at the little old lady’s – that’s a clever use of establishing shots)

I like to empathise at all times, even when dealing with close ups, midshots, etc, you have to really keep in mind the need to leave room for lettering. The golden rules are: top left quarter of a panel should be considered “dead space” – ie nothing important in there, just background, or other insignificant detail, because that’s prime real estate for lettering and characters should always be speaking left to right, in the order that they speak (that seems obvious and easy, but it’s surprising how much of an art making that choreography works is, sometimes you need to cheat angles, hide things, reveal things, move people, etc, to make every panel stick to that form)

On a single person midshot/closeup the rule of thumb is dialogue will be to their left. If your scene has two people talking and you’re cutting between those two then-then you’d normally leave room for one on the left and the other character would have dialogue space on their right. This is actually a pretty common technique in tv interviews – where the gap helps establish which direction you the viewer are watching the conversation from (notionally in the middle, and you’re turning to look to your left then your right).[god some of this stuff really needs an illustration to help it make sense-apologies!]

Inset panels an inset a panel within another panel, used to good effect to highlight an action – for example, a large panel with two gunslingers, and an inset panel of a close up of one of the gunslingers hand over the holster) and bleed panels (where the art bleeds off the page)

Birds-eye view A view looking down on the scene- great for supplying information (where we are, who the characters are, how close they are standing, where the gold is…)  for example a stampede of wild animals from above them will show the reader the variety of wildlife running, but it will also distance the reader – they won’t feel endangered – because they’re not part of the story)

Worms-eye view A view looking up usually from the ground. This is great for making the reader feel like they’re part of the story, and feel imperilled – so the same stampede shown from the ground up immediately makes the reader feel they’re about to be trampled. The trade off here is that it’s pretty low information density.

And when you’d mix them for in this example: a variety of inset panels of close up of hooves, as animals stampeded, layered over the top of a full bleed page of a birds eye view of the stampeded is a great way to both show everything and get a reader invested

That all covered, the second part of the talk was really about finding a theme for your story. This is stuff I’ve blatantly stolen from conversations I’ve had with Rob Williams (so thanks Rob!)

Once you’ve written a draft zero (a first draft to just get all the ideas down) it’s a good idea to start asking yourself “What is this story about?” – and if the answer is “Well the character does this then this then this” you’ve not really answered the question (because what you’ve done is explained the plot). The Godfather, for example, could be boiled down to trying to escape your family. Alien could be about fear of the dark. Sometimes you’ll find the theme you hand in mind in the beginning of a story (if you had one in mind) turns out to NOT be what the story is actually about, that’s ok. Roll with it.

Once you’ve answered the question of “what is the story about” it’s time to start looking at the script again and figured out how you can really enhance the theme, get rid of things that muddy the thematic water (if the story is about greed, do we really need a sequence about how cute rabbits are?) and then ramp up things that bring the theme into sharper focus.

So, say we come up with a simple story:

Man steals rocket ship to leave earth and lands in moonbase.

What’s it about? Well, it’s about “Man steals rocke” let me stop me there, nope, that’s the plot. What is it about?

Is it about someone’s need to escape? (they escape earth?)

Is it about someone’s greed? (they stole the ship)

Is it about their need to be alone (they land on the moon?)

Figure out your theme, here I’ll take “They want silence” – now, the course is really about future shocks so I’m always looking for a twist in that. So, the story is they want silence, looking at the plot again it becomes:

Man steals rocket ship to leave a noisy earth, they fly to a newly established – empty moonbase- and land the vehicle.


As soon as they enter the moonbase an deafening alarm sounds “INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!”

No we’re getting somewhere.

Ok, keeping the theme – he wants silence. What does the earth look like? Make it noisy, overcrowded, buildings painted in dazzle camouflage, the ship – let’s make the ship this incredible soothing – Steve Jobs like dream vehicle, that he steals. It’s comfort but not the real aim, the real aim – maybe not a moonbase – the real aim is a second earth. One that has a small base that’s established with enough resources to last a crew several years the crew will be sent to terraform the planet to make its air breathable. BUT as soon as he lands – no wait, the ship has to crash, but that’s ok, he thinks because I’ll be alone on this planet, this beautiful, noiseless planet. He walks in Intruder alert Intruder alert! No! Wait, second twist, he figures out if he can hack the building to convince it he’s the crew that’s supposed to arrive, the alert stops. Blissful silence… until the terraforming machinery starts and it’s insanely loud.

So we’re building out from a simple story idea, figuring out a theme and then using that theme to help strengthen the story (and it, in turn is sparking other ideas). The theme has helped decide how the props look, buildings, etc. It’s helped double up the twist, and you know, you’d have to think about establishing why our protagonist wants silence so much. These can all come from the theme (and if they do so they help reinforce the theme)

Anyway, that was mostly what I can remember from week 2. Hopefully that’s interesting/useful to someone!





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:


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.