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.

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!)


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!



Brush Advice

Digging through old sketchbooks, I found some (solicited) advice on using a brush – specifically on cleaning a brush from Simon Fraser and Frazer Irving from May 2000. It was before my career as a comic artist and I felt sure I’d only get somewhere if I was using a brush.

The great thing is, unlike advice on digital drawing tools, this advice is NEVER out of date, so thought you might like to read it:

Simon Says

A good winsor & Newtown Series 7 Sable can last for years with constant use. Apparently some of the acrylic ones are as good now, but I like the sables.

  1. Never dip the brush all the way into the ink, only about half way up the bristles, this stops the ink going into the ferrule where it is hard to remove by cleaning. You can overload brushes for filling in large areas but use a different brush for this, noe you don’t expect to come to a decent point.
  2. Rinse the brush thoroughly in a jam jar of tap wate/
  3. Twist it a bit on the edge to remove the water, if there is still ink coming out of it then keep rinsing until only water runs from the bristles.
  4. Gently dry the brush on a piece of cloth, shape it back to a point.
  5. Stick it in your mouth and use your tongue to bring the thing to a good point and your spit will protect it until the next time you use it.

THIS is why you don’t use anyone else’s brush!

Frazer had this to say

D’oh! NEVER use that eeeevil windsor + newton shit on the brush… it’s WAY too thick with shellac for them, and should only be used with pens. I use Rowney Kandahar black indian ink, which is about as watery as I’m prepared to go… Also, if you use the brush mainly for spotting blacks and big lines, then the brush will clog quicker because it’s always loaded… When I use that much ink I generally clean the brush afterwards to purify the ferrul. Also: what brush you using? Could be that the brush is shit also. A tip I got for cleaning brushes was to dab off the exceess ink BEFORE dunking in water (always cold) and I find sloshing around in a jar more effective than the tap. The soap I tried, but was too much hassle, and may even contribute to wear and tear. And the sucking… I (rather disgustingly so0 load the brush wid spit and then gently lick it to a point… A tiny point I know, but you gotta Lurve that brush…

In the past 16 years I’ve generally stuck with Winsor & Newtown ink-clearly completely ignoring Fraz’s rather splendid advice.

That said, I’ve never done experimenting with traditional inks and you can now get all sorts of great manga focused inking tools from amazon – at the moment my preference is for Deleter Black ink (Number 4) which goes on Matt black and is pretty damn dark.

Anyways, apologies to Fraz and Si for digging up this old info (I’d printed it out from emails I think and cut it out and stuck it in a book that I was using to keep advice in – it has one page on Brush cleaning and… pretty much nothing else. C’est la vie.


Mask of the Red Death

Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint (and Manga Studio – since it’s the same software) share a number of features, one of them – the one we’ll talk about today is called “Quick Mask”

I’m sure you’ve used the Rectangular Marquee tool (a square tool that lets you select an area, with “marching ants” you can then resize, move or cut/copy from), the Lasso tool (to select an area you draw around) or some of the other selection tools.


Selection using Lasso Marquee

One difficulty is refining the selection, and that’s where Quick Mask comes in.


Quick Mask (Menu option: Selection->Quick Mask) turns your selection into a mask over the artwork – usually a red colour (now the blog post makes sense, right? RIGHT?)


This selection can then be refined with all of the standard drawing tools – you use the pen to draw red over the artwork and you use an erase to remove some of the red mask. And, get this, you can even use the selection tools to select bits of the mask to delete/fill/etc.

Refining the selection

Once you’ve finished you then hit the quick mask button again and your red mask is turned into a selection area, which is now yours to cut,copy,resize,rotate or otherwise futz around with.


Marching ants! (ants not pictured marching)

That’s it!

Go now and use this new found power wisely.

Super quick HINT!

Oh I find it best to add the quick mask option to the Command Bar settings – go to Preference->Command Bar, and then find the Selection->Quick Mask in the list of menu options displayed and click “Add” to add it, you’ll end up with a nifty little red dollar bill (Like this:Quick Mask Icon - looks like a red dollar bill ) looking icon that you can now click when you need to turn it off and on…

Customise your command bar!





Out out brief candle


In July, when I auditioned for Macbeth I was really pretty trepidatious – first bit of acting in decades and I’ve been ploughing a furrow of my own design for so long I’m not sure I had any people skills any more (then I remembered I never actually had people skills, I was always a bit of tactless blunderer).

It came right as I’d been asked to do three episodes of the five part World of Tanks with Garth Ennis (which only an idiot would’ve turned down) while also drawing a new series for 2000AD called Hunted*.

So I sat down and laid out a calendar for the next four months of work and just started. It was a daunting amount of work, but one experience has shown me is that when you have a solid amount of work all you’ve gotta do is figure out how to put your head down and do one thing at a time. That’ll get you through anything.


Here’s the calendar as it looks now (Left hand page – Comics deadlines, Right hand page – scenes I had to learn). October to November was particularly interesting because I had one deadline per week, alternating between Hunted and World of Tanks.

Rehearsals weren’t too onerous, if anything, I suspect they were what kept me sane while I was working on producing roughly 32 pages per month for four months(!)hunted_ep8_001_001

As it happened, within a fortnight, I finished Hunted (which sports some spectacular colours from Len O’Grady – LOOK AT THE COLOURS!) finished World of Tanks (should be out soon)

And now the play is over. Four nights running last Wednesday to Saturday, four performances as Ross (who functions as much as Basil Exposition as anything). I hope to do more acting, it felt like 20 years of rust just sloughed off me. I think I was decent in it (who can tell, right?) I certainly enjoyed being on stage, I enjoyed milling about waiting to go on stage, I enjoyed hanging out with the cast and crew and, pretty much everything about the experience, so thank you Jo for casting me, for Heather (Lennox to my Ross), Graham and Rachel (The Macbeths), Barney, Roger, Mike, and every one else (it was a big cast/crew!).


(That’s Macbeth – Graham, Ross – me, and Lennox – Heather, photo stolen from the Southbank facebook page.)

More auditions are happening in January, and with a bit of luck, I’ll go for them too – I definitely feel more able to audition than I did when I auditioned before, and everyone at southbank has made me feel welcome. And it’s really nice to have something other to do than sit in my room working.





Ok, headline calm down. Jeez.

Here’s is a very poor update.

  1. I’ve finished drawing all of HUNTED – the Rogue Trooper spin off written by Gordon Rennie featuring the adventures of everyone’s favourite eponymously named villain “The Traitor General” – I can’t help feeling his real name is something like Farquhour O’Hullohan, hence his nom-de-guerre. Brilliant Colouring by Len O’Grady. I’ll let you into a secret: I didn’t know it was being coloured so added digital zip-a-tone, then I saw some of Len’s colours (in a jpg preview) and the jpg mushed the zipatone and I thought “well, oh well, that doesn’t work, doesn’t need it though – it looks pretty damn good”. Then stopped using the zipatone, then saw the print version and thought “Oh bugger the zipatone looks great!”. So, if I get to do another series, the zipatone is coming back.
  2. Currently finishing up the last episode of the five part World Of Tanks for Dark Horse comics with Garth Ennis. Pew Pew! Tanks! Pew! Pew! Soliders! Pew! Pew! Research. SO.  MUCH. RESEARCH. Should finish that this week then going to take a little break from drawing for a week or two. Or more.
  3. Looks like I’m gonna be doing a couple more articles for ImagineFX. That’s fun. I miss writing stuff.
  4. MACBETH! Starts on the 23rd. I probably should be petrified, but honestly deadline after deadline after never ending deadlines mean I’m pretty relaxed about it. It’s gonna leave a hole in my life when it’s done, and I’m not looking forward to that. I’ve enjoyed heading off to rehearsals three times a week. It’s the least pressured thing I get to spend my time on, and entirely me time too.
  5. MALTA! Heading off to Malta Comic Con, hanging out with fellow comic creators in December. That should be fun.

And.. that’s it.

I’ve been pretty rubbish on the updates, been hard to know what more to say on the blog. So much of my time is spent on twitter, living in a political bubble where everyone I know leans left and suddenly finds themselves swept over by world wide lurch to the right.

I’ve felt a little beaten down by world events (this year, man, this year).

But look. Here’s what I believe:

I believe that AI is coming faster than any one realises (we’ve seen sudden leaps in AI in the last year that I’d’ve never expected) largely driven by google’s Deep Mind. AI will overturn pretty much everything if we let it. (I don’t buy the idea that AI is automatically bad, though I absolutely entertain the idea that bad people will use AI for bad things – at least to begin with).

Renewable energy is quickly reaching a point where solar is cheaper than coal or other mass pollutants. How cheap can it get? Once we start using giant tesla batteries to store the over produced energy it’ll get pretty damn cheap.

Electric vehicles, and self driving cars are coming down the pike as fast as AI (I mean they’re on the road right now!) and will have an utterly transformative effect on the world, in the way that the automobile did when it appeared.

And automation, more general skilled robots – powered by simple AI which can be reprogrammed with almost no actual programming are going to make millions of jobs vanish (not as many millions as self driving vehicles will, mind you).

All of this is going to have a massive impact on the world, and on jobs.

What’s interesting is there isn’t just one company pursuing any of these things, there are dozens.

And all of these pieces can lead to a utopian vision if you let them.


I can’t imagine that hunter gatherer societies could picture what farming would bring, and I can’t imagine that farming societies had any clue what the industrial revolution could bring. So us, here, in 2016, I don’t know that we can really predict where we’ll be when the AI revolution really kicks off, but technology is the one thing that’s constantly transformed society, and the next big transformation is coming, and I think it’s coming faster than we can imagine.

(*boy, I’ve really drank deep of the futurist kool-aid…)