Comic Series

Copyright in the age of AI

I’m gonna preface all of this with I am NOT a lawyer, and copyright law, especially, is one where frequently the winner is the person in court with the most money. So below is largely my opinion…

Copyright isn’t a god given right – there’s no mention of it in the bible and humanity flourished specifically because it didn’t have IP laws of any sort for a long long time (someone had a good idea? we’d take it and build on it).

But it was really the invention of the printing press and the ability to mechanically copy materials that set up the start of what we come to know as copyright – the first true copyright laws are called the Statute of Anne (enacted in 1710) and set copyright as 14 years with a possible extension of 14 years by either the publisher who the materials were licensed to or the author.

Ostensibly the point was to ensure the copyright holder could make money for their material, for a limited time and they would be encouraged to produce new material.

Of course over time copyright has gotten longer and longer, and with some notable exceptions, authors will generally had that copyright over to a publisher so they are no longer the owners of the copyright and the publisher can get all the extended goodness of owning it. Different countries cover it in different ways, the UK mostly follows the US lead. The US lead mostly follows what Sonny (from Sonny and Cher) and the Disney corporation want (mad, isn’t it?).

The French, btw, are the most friendly to authors on this front – their droit d’auteur laws developed sort of in parallel to the UK laws prevent an author signing copyright over to anyone.

The US has a thing called Fair Use (in the UK our equivalent is called Fair Dealing), the idea being that as long as you only use a piece of the material (for example reproducing an image for review) that’s fine. There are other areas of exceptions (the UK allows you to use large amounts of material for research for non-profit – in theory how google uses it’s data, as it’s commercialised is outside of this, but we all used to find google useful so it’s been largely left alone, plus who could afford to fight them on this?).

AI companies are leaning on fair use and fair dealing for the bulk of what they do – swallowing up great gobs of copyright material and then regenerating something “new” from the result. Like chopping up every word in every book ever written and then mixing it with a user’s prompt to get a whole new set of words.

And there’s lots and lots of reasons why they might be right and they might be wrong – if the produced work doesn’t even have a faint echo of any of the material? If it was trained on out of copyright work? If the prompt was say much bigger than the generated output? And i’m sure there’s a whole bunch of other exceptions, and there’s so much money to be had on the AI front that companies will spend a fortune fighting you in court.

BUT, I think what we’ve all forgotten is what the point of copyright was in the first place – a way to give people the ability to earn a living from their creations.

On that front AI holds the keys to a much more dystopian world.

We’ve already started to see Ai’s trained on Ai output that amounts to gibberish, it still needs new inputs, but ai as it stands is likely to hollow out the middle or low ends of the creative industries. Students who would learn the basic craft of drawing might end up training on ai prompt generation and never actually learn good image composition, designers who would be expected to ply their trade on consumer advertising before they’d get a sniff of working at apple, might lose work/income because ai design software can do work that is just-good-enough. We’re in danger of an air lock in the plumbing of the creative industries.

Even without creative stuff AI tools can still be powerful (and useful) but I think governments have to recognise that they don’t want to hollow out the creative arts, and while ai fanboys can argue the bit out as to whether what they’re doing falls under copyright fair use or not, the fact remains it might be good for them, but it’s not good for creatives.

Chimpsky’s Law

NOTE: This was sitting in my draft blog folder, since uhm 2020ish, so you’re getting it now because it’s got art in it.

Well, there’s been enough time, so here’s a few bits of art, for fun!

It’s been great fun drawing Chimpsky and seeing how much people have enjoyed a nice fun Dredd story.

Before I start every script, I sit and read it, then I fire up clip studio, create a new document with a couple of extra pages at the end (so a 6 page story gets about 8 pages of documents) and in those extra I do character design or layouts. So here’s all the layouts along with a shrunk version of the art so you can see where I diverged. Generally I stick pretty close to the layouts, but sometimes I totally change it – sometimes there’s something else needed, ep 1 page 6 of Chimpsky was like that, I had Dredd facing the reader but it felt like not enough. If I saw Dredd’s face, I wanted to see more of Dredd. So I flipped him. Seeing his back, meant we know it’s Dredd (who else would it be?) but he sits on that page like a ominous for-shadowing of what’s to come.

The future is so bright…

It’s burned my retinas off, and given me horrific third degree burns.

I was a child of the 70s/80s, my golden years I grew up with computers that used punch card (for those people that had computers) and televisions that were deeper than they were wide (when the bbc still would announce a programme was “IN COLOUR” in case your tv wasn’t)

I grew up optimisitic about the future, about self driving cars (that hovered), computers that could fit in your hand and robots with ai that promised to relieve humanity of all the aches and pains of work and its associated worries.

Which is stupid really because I also grew up reading 2000ad and it very much spelt out what that world would actually look like. Hovering drones used to surviel your every move. Dredd? Robots with smart AI likely to destabilise employment leading to a world where people can’t work even if they want to? Dredd? A class of people so bored by work free life that they attend ultra violent sports to numb their day? I mean, come on.

The thing is, maybe it’s my age, but it feels like I’ve run out of optimisim for science. There was a while there, when I’d read about the potential of CRISPR-9 (described as a copy and paste for DNA edits) you could hold some optimism, and then my god, the miracle of being able to decode the dna of the COVID-19 virus and swiftly build a Vacine in record time. Self driving cars looked they were on the cusp of happening, AI! Flip CHAT GPT!

All of these incredible technologies appeared and suddenly you’re faced with the crushing reality, CRISPER-9 still has some hope, I think, if we don’t turn entirely into a planet of the anti-intellectual anti-vaxxers. Self driving cars, turns out that last little 5% or so of getting these things to work properly? that’s the real hard stuff. That’s the getting the last bit of sauce out of the ketchup bottle that’s still stuck to the sides of the bottle, there’s no easy way to do that. Chat GPT? AI? Turns out that’s basically a chinese room that doesn’t really know what’s saying and will just make stuff up.

(A Chinese room, is an old metapor about intelligence, which suggests that intelligence might be like putting a person who doesn’t speak chinese into a vast room filled with boxes with chinese characters on them, and a slot that he receives input from – the input are chinese characters and he goes and builds a response by matching his input with the boxes around the room. Needless to say, the man doesn’t speak nor read chinese, but the responses he delivers to the inputs make sense, because he knows how to build answers based on the input – and that’s what’s sort of happening with chat gpt, a little computer man who doesn’t speak any language is getting input in english and going to his massive database of boxes and matching a response to what he’s been asked, he doesn’t know or understand the question, but he does know that if he gets the words “What planet is this” he looks it up in his big ol’ database and gets answers from box 1, box 255, box 1090 and together they read “it’s planet earth”.

On reflection this is a terrible metaphore but I suppose we needed it before everyone had autocorrect, which, in essence is also a chinese room and as such prone to being useless)

Anyway, turns out Chat GPT will lie, and WORSE it turns out, people respect a certain authoriatative voice which means it lies convincingly.

I still cling to a certain tech optimism, I have my Iain M Banks books, thank you very much.

But it was all so much easier to believe the future would be perfect before we started living in it.

Measuring Art

One thing I’ve been mulling over recently is about how to get better, but specifically it’s how to get better at comics and get better at being yourself, I suppose, and one of the problems I have with it, is… well, how do you measure where you are compared to where you want to be?

One of the earliest ways I tried to get better as a comic artist was a fairly simple metric, comics require an artist to produce 22 pages per month so the question was… could I draw 22 pages per month? I got a script off my pal Mal Coney (this was around 1997?) and set about trying to draw one comic in one month, I was working (and I may have been at university too at the time) but i certainly had no other larger commitments (no kids!) so I sat and tried and … I did it. 22 pages (actually think it was 25) and that proved to me, that whether I had the quality of art to do comics at least I knew I could draw enough pages in a month to do it.

One of the second metrics I used to use was about storytelling. Very hard to tell where you are with storytelling – because you’re sort of part of it, but one thing you can do, is you can ask someone you know and trust who doesn’t read comics, to look at a page of art and describe what’s happening on the page – let them walk you through what they think is there, try not to nudge them – let them tell you. You’re not after a subjective opinion (“this is good/this is bad”) you’re after objective stuff (“That guy is talking to this other guy and it’s night. No, it’s day time. Wait, is it night or day?”) that will really help you improve.

Now, it may be a coincidence, but years later I think I have two strengths, one is speed (at my best I can hit 50 pages per month) and the other is clarity in story telling (I think my storytelling chops can be rock solid).

So the question now is what other metrics can I measure, what subjective elements can you tease out of comic art (not a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely curious if you have any answers) and if you can tease them out can you work on improving them?

The truth is I have no idea, numbers of lines on a page? The Mike Mignola-Jim Lee scale. Is your perspective convincing? (does it matter?) white space/black space balance? (that’s a metric you could measure, but literally does it mean anything?) Is the art delicate / beautfiful or blocky / brutal (and what use is that metric if one thing doesn’t neccessarily make it better than the other)

There’s long been the old two-of-three things (applied in comics, but in pretty much every industry you’ll ever read about) You have to be fast, good or easy to get along with – as long as you’re two of those things!

I can control fast (well, I can measure fast).

I can control how well I am to get along with (which really in this means, are you a nightmare or a pleasure for an editor / writer)

Can I control if I’m good? I dunno.

There’s a part of me wants to make a radar chart of a bunch of different, very successful artists and then plot myself in amongst them to see what I could do to improve (sure I could try and make better art, that seems easy … but how HOW?)

Look at Jock – amazing artist, and then look at Bilquis Evely and see the gorgeous filigree noodling of her line and realise that those artists both amazing but polar opposites in some regards. So how do you push yourself?

Anyway these are the thoughts filling my head the last couple of days. The truth is I’m a decent, sometimes great (sometimes not) artist who may never rise above journey man (which you know, that’s not bad) but I do wonder if I could figure out what I need to unlock to get really good, would I be able to do it?

Thinking inside the box

There are panels I lean on a lot, panel shapes, compositions, etc, and honestly, I’ll do them without thinking because they work for me, but I’m trying to rethink some of these choices and make more interesting (or at least, more thoughtful choices).

Take this panel:

Panel 1

Absoloutly fine. Dredd gets to a door, door gets open. Not terribly interesting, but largely doesn’t need to be, this isn’t high drama. But the next panel, is an almost identical composition and so I needed to rethink it. Initially I went for this:

Redrawn Step 1

This is a bit better, I think. Pulled out more it’s an establishing shot, much easier to see we’re outside at a doorway. But still, that old habit of mine of keeping everything on an eye/just below eye level. What if we wanna move up higher (giving us a little more distance, a little more of the location?)

Third go…

SO I think this is better from an angle, though the danger with panels at these angles is they feel voyeuristic, like you’re standing beside someone watching the proceedings, I mean if I added a window frame it would feel even creepier…

Creepy much..
Too creepy..

Anyway, that’s not what we’re after (I mean it COULD be, and if it was, it’d be great… but it’s not…)

Since a panel isn’t alone in it’s composition, it’s judged by what went before and what comes after, I check the previous panel and find – OF COURSE – I’d gone for an almost identical angle on the previous page (last panel) and this (the first panel on this page) feels a bit… like the time gap between them is immediate… I want it to feel like more time has elapsed, so a cheaty way of doing that is to flip the horizontal of the panel…

Still works!

And in context, this flipped panel feels better (you’ll have to take my word) but I feel like I’ve lost a little of the atmosphere of that second attempt, so I’ll take another swipe at it…


I think what I’m losing here is some sky, and at this angle (birds eye view) I’m not gonna get it, so time to go low… really really low…


This has enough in it that I think this could be the one, so a quick refinement later and…


One thing that I’ve started thinking about on this new Dredd strip is… how much does this bit look like a scifi book cover (and how little does this look like something I’ve drawn before?) and this scores it on both counts. We’ve take a functional but dull panel (in my drawing of it, at least) and turned it into its own little sci-fi tale. Pleased with myself now, let the self loathing recommence in 10 … 9 …

The Doctor

I think my earliest memories of Doctor Who are pretty clearly Tom Baker, but less the tv show and more the cut out and keep weetabix models. Toys were a scarce commodity in those toys and tie-in toys to tv film or tv even scarcer.

I mean look at this advert from 1977 – this, for the period looks like incredibly high production values for something printed on the back of a cereal box

Yahoo advert

There are earlier DR WHO cardboard cutouts, but this is the one I remember, and it spurred in me a need to make more cardboard cut out toys. My earliest memory of 2000ad is also cardboard related. Making the Justice-1 spaceship out of computer punch card with my uncle (not only were tv/film tie in toys a rare commodity but even paper and cardboard was hard to come by in the 70s)

I remember creating a little motorbike bay area for the Justice-1 spaceship that was perfectly to scale and had Judge Hershy, but memory is kind sometimes (and cruel other times) and thinking back there’s absolutely no way it was anything but rubbish.

Hot TV Advert

Around the time of Return of the Jedi (1983, and by this stage I was 13 and probably still a little too juvenile for my own good) I went with the next door neighbour to go to a toy shop so he could measure the snowspeeder toy they had so he could go home and build one out of cardboard (these things were wonderouly expensive, way out of my family’s budget – at least for another few years until we were doing ok and my young brother – by then the perfect age for all things star wars – ended up getting things like the millenium falcon and the deathstar…)

The papercraft landspeeder met a fiery end as many of his papercraft toys did. Me? I’d’a held on to that thing. Again memory being what it was, I remember it as being a perfect 1:1 replica of the plastic toy.

Anyway this has all be spurned on by the fact that the BBC have just put online all of the Dr Who’s it’s within their power too. To be honest, this is what I want from the bbc – every tv show ever produce stuck online, give it to me! let me press pause on getting older and wallow in the nostalgia of my childhood viewing (way back when dr who was appointment viewing, when any random channel at any random time of day I could wander past and tell my parents exactly what it was on tv, because man I had not much else going on).

I thought I’d start by going back to the Sylvester McCoy era, because I did NOT enjoy that series – but I was 17 turning 18 when it aired, and man Dr Who was uncool enough without this goofball turning up and ruining it all. (I mean, he probably didn’t, the beeb was desperate to destroy doctor who by that stage so who knows). I never looked fondly at the over the top drama-school-ness of some elements of Dr Who, but boy I loved mad scifi ideas.

BUT! BUT! I didn’t – I’ve gone back further to Colin Baker (like many who watched at the time, Baker’s choice to play a deeply unlikeable doctor stung, especially since I LIKED Davidson Doctor Who was like a kindly uncle or something, Baker was too much acid after the calming balm of Davidson). So I’ve started watching Series 26 The Trial of the Time Lord. Some shabby acting (from actors I know can do better) some obviously massive budget constraints (the doctor was forever fomenting revolution in places where the local tribe was like 15 people) and a big ol interesting-silhouette-but-obviously-man-in-a-suit villain, and a plot that is so typically doctor who that it feels like a big old dr who cliche. But I’m overlooking it all, because deep deep down, the sight of Dr Who and the cardboard sets always brings me right back to being 12 years old.

Moving on.

The 5th of November is the twentieth anniversary of my mum’s passing. It’s been a raw wound for a long long time. She died aged 50 and so I’ve outlived her by three years so far.

She passed three months after my wife and I married – Annette and I had been together nine years by this point and mum and my younger brother (Who was exactly 25 years younger than me, and born a couple of months after Annette and I started dating) had become part of our entourage when we went places. To the point that mum used to joke that she’d come with us on honeymoon. We got married in Barbados, and mum came with us. Well, for a bit. We’d booked two weeks in barbados, the wedding would happen one week in and we invited everyone who wanted to go with us (they were all paying their own way, though we had secured a bit of a deal) so in the end we had a fair number with us. All for one week. Except mum “well, if I’m going that far, I might as well go for two weeks – so I’ll just come with you” No, mum. I love you, but you can come out one week early and stay for the wedding week and Annette and I can have a week alone. And that’s what happened.

When mum died, I was working in IT support for a charity and got a phone call telling me to come home. I can’t remember a lot of what happened, it all became a bit of a blur – there was a 16 year age gap between me and mum, and in an odd way we grew up together, I think. Mark, my brother one year my junior, died age 26 and so I felt very keenly that with mum going there were memories that I had that were shared between her, me and mark, that no longer existed for anyone but me.

It was a rough time. I think on the day, I ran into the bathroom (multiple times) just wanting to hide. I found it very difficult.

And for years, there was a numbness. I remember I used to day dream about what would happen if I won a million quid, and I remember one day, after mum died, having the same thought and suddenly cutting it short with “Well, if you’re going to make any sort of wish, you dickhead, why don’t you wish your mum were still alive”.

Mum was cremated and her ashes put in a grave with my brother’s ashes. A grave that, after his death, I used to go with mum to so she could clean it. We’d joke about stuff and it was far from a sombre thing (mum and I shared a very dark and dry sense of humour), it was kind of joyful. Mark and her never got on as he was growing up, it wasn’t until he left home at age 17 that they started having any sort of respect for each other. And at the grave mum would fuss around it with a tenderness I think she wished she could have expressed to him when he was alive.

(As a side note, and since I’m baring all here, Mark died aged 26. Mum and Dad were in Canada, and one of his friends had been in touch to say they hadn’t seen him, so they contacted me and got me to pop round the house. It was locked. From the inside. So I phoned the police, who came and knocked the door in. Once the door was down, I asked if I could go first, because – well, it felt like it would be more appropriate. And Mark was lying on the floor, having fallen off the sofa, eyes open and long passed. I had to phone them in Canada to tell them. It was awful. Coroner reported death by natural causes, Mum and Dad were convinced it was Sudden Adult Death Syndrome – which, at the time, wasn’t something many people had heard of or believed in. Northern Ireland being the centre of crackpots though, and Mark, at the time knowing pals who were in to witchcraft, the Judge decided there may be something more sinister going on – I stood up and pointed out that had he died two months earlier he’d’ve found a bunch of star trek books and that’s as likely as witchcraft to be the cause of his death.)

But, that, of course, made me visiting mum’s grave all the more difficult. Bad enough it’s where mum’s ashes are but it’s also – the drive up, the standing at the grave, the tidying of it – all reminders of mum being alive.

So I’ve been a handful of times, usually at the suggestion (if not prodding) of my wife. And it’s been difficult.

But this year, twenty years, the wounds don’t hurt. There is, of course a gap in the heart where my mum is, but it’s a gap that’s slowly grown over with new tissue.

I’m going to go up, say some goodbyes, and phone my aunt – her sister – who she used to talk to pretty much every day and I’m sure felt the loss as keenly as me.

And I think the hurt will stop.

Here’s the comic strip, I bring out every so often when I talk about my mum, that I drew now five years ago. It all remains true. There are, of course, more things I’d add, I’d like to tell mum about the house, about my brother John about Nathan going to university, about Thomas’s starting GCSEs. But she knows. She knows.

Dredd Poison

I was pleased with how this page turned out from Episode 2.

(It’s an eight parter running in 2000ad right now)

Rob wanted a lot of stars, and I wanted to give it a lot of texture. so there’s about three layers of stars that I gave Pete (doherty) to do with as he will. Also gratuitous butt shot for those that are inclined.

Studio Tour (2023)

I’m due a studio tour, right?

We’ve been in this house for around a year and there’s still a fortune worth of work to do. Outside of the studio we started by adding a new fence to the outside drive, so we could have private space in the backgarden which was a godsend over the summer (otherwise you can see our backyard from across the road) but it cost a fair bit. And we changed the stair case (money) and then updated the kitchen (more money) which, combined with buying the place has left me sort of broke. But we have a house on a ground floor with an outside which meant I got to do nine barbecues this summer (and if the bloody weather had been more dependable it would’ve been a lot more) including one just as my son finished secondary and him and his mates got their university acceptances and we had a big barbecue with him and nine mates, and the family and my wife’s cousin and her family and one of our friends and one of my brothers and there was twenty people in total. Was great. Worth it.

Anyway, the studio.

Time moves relentlessly on…

Like a big unrelenting thing. Eight days since the last update.

Let’s catch up, got a neat two pager to do for Monster Fun, with a tight deadline just before I went to Cheltenham (which meant I had to crush a bit the couple of days following to get it done for the 16th which was the deadline) full colour. Think it looks good, I’m a terrible judge of these things. Already feeling like my colouring box of tricks is way too limited.

Here’s a panel from it…


Editor liked it, so that’s good. Then spent a few days doing family stuff (lot of family stuff). One of the things with kids is, once they reach a certain age, they’re no longer yours to talk about – I used to talk about my kids all the time (on the blog and on social media) because they were delightful little wonders oblivious of most things but especially the internet (except for youtube videos) but now they’re 18 and 15 and as much as I’d love to share stuff about them, stuff I’m proud of, concerned about or just generally parent things, I just can’t. That stuff is theirs. But know I love them, and know that there’s often lots to talk about and I just can’t.

Have finally begun another Devlin Waugh strip, six parter. No deadlines, suspect it’ll not get scheduled for some time. For some artists this is great, for me, it’s a curse. I know if I attacked it the way I normally attack work I’d get it finished in a fortnight, but instead it’s taken me a fortnight to even open the script … because … no deadlines.

On the writing front, I haven’t really had a chance to open the script again on the WHITE RABBIT story. And again self doubt kicks in and I think, really Paul, this is the story you’re going to spend your precious time on earth drawing, something no-one will likely read, you’ll not likely enjoy (not nearly enough monsters) and something that no-one is paying you for? SHUT UP INNER MONOLOGUE.

As a side note, do you inner monologue? I do a lot. Turns out not every one does. Even as I type this I hear it in my own voice in my head. And if I pause to think of the wording, I’ll hear it in my head. Apparently not as common as I thought. (Also: I will have full on dialogues with other people – as I imagine they would react – play out in my head. Honestly a bit of a curse, because you know this isn’t necessarily what they’d say/how they’d really react, so you play through all sorts of permutations. And it’s always been like this. Voices in my head, but not the mad kind, probably)

I’ve most of the next issue of A4 written. Trying desperately to write something that doesn’t end with death is hard though. (It’s been pointed out, correctly, that these stories are all debbie downers… truth is I’m not sure I know how to write anything else? but I should try) There’s six stories so far and I did have a seventh which might be funny, but it turns out I’ve forgotten it. As soon as I think of one of these shorts I write them in the notes app on the iphone and then get on with things, safe in the knowledge it’s there. Sometimes I take a while to do that, then other thoughts pop up and *pff* gone. This one has gone *pff* (And I bet it wasn’t that funny)

Enjoy this Man-Thing Interlude (drawn in procreate)

Been chatting to Alec Worley (lovely bloke, comic writer, his newsletter is here) and he’s been bullying me into moving over to substack. (I have a substack account but only use it for reading). He reckons it’s where the audience will be.

To be honest, I’m sort of fed up with all social media. It’s so balkanised now, I can’t auto post from the blog to twitter, or blusky (but can to mastodon, which I’ve otherwise sort of left fallow). There’s threads where I’m on but not. Instagram which I have but never really upkeep and half a dozen others I’ve forgotten. My patreon still exists but I’m a ghost on there now. (Though I do appreciate those people who may be seeing me in other places and putting money in to my patreon, believe me, it may not seem much but it helps!)

In the battle-with-my-ego front, enough good quality writers have said words to the effect of “but you’re writing is really good” that I’m starting to think there might be something in that. Or at least I might try and stop shying away from the title of writer. I’m really not comfortable with the title (I’m a comic artist who sometimes makes comics that don’t have writers attached … or I sometimes jot down ideas for stories that I never, ever finish) these are things I need to fix, though I’m not sure how that would happen, maybe writing something that is purely prose? or writing something for another artist? I dunno. It’s an interesting data point for now.

I will say I feel my career as a comic artist has been taken as far as it can really go (which I think I’ve said before, isn’t really a bad thing, I don’t mean “and I give up” I mean “well, I’m never gonna be the hot artist, the in demand artist, the first guy on your rolodex or the guy you know will shift the needle, but I WILL be the guy you phone cus the other guy dropped out and man alive this deadline is tight” and honestly, being the hot-artist is a fractionally tiny part of the industry, there’s not many hot artists. I did wistfully want to be an artists-artist. But I’ll settle for being the editors-artist.

Maybe writing stuff will allow me to move the needle in some other ways. I dunno.

Again, my mood is a little darker than usual, I’ll grant you.