Out this Wednesday is issue 245 of Savage Dragon, Erik Larson’s impressively long running superhero strip.
A while ago (actually quite a while ago) during a bit of a lull in work, I put it out there that if anyone needed a backup strip in an Image comic I’d be happy to do it. And Erik got in touch and asked if I’d like to do a Savage Dragon strip. And ho boy would I!
This is the first time I’ve ever worked “marvel” style, and it was a lot of fun. (And I wouldn’t mind doing more of that kind of work).
Lovely colouring and some great, great lettering rounded everything off, and if you pick up the comic, I hope you’ll like my small contribution…
And here’s some behind the scenes sketches…
This next page has Erik’s overdraw, since I was pretty off-model…
I’ve had a room to work in since around 1997, when my wife (then GF) and I moved into our three bedroom flat. At that time, I had a massive room that I used to work in – it was so big literally half the room was just … empty space. The other room ended up as a storage room.
Then we had one kid, and then another. And so, I still have a room for working in, but now it’s tiny.
The thing is, up until a few years ago, I used to refer to this room as “My drawing room” which of course, needed more explaining – “no, not the nice room behind the sitting room, it’s the room I draw in.”
Anyway, now it’s a studio, and it has been for a few years. So anyway, thought I’d give you a tour since it’s about 80% more tidy than usual…
Ok, this is the exciting sight that you’ll see on your way in.
In the distance there you can see my Mike McMahon print of Dredd. The folders (bit hard to see here) on the floor in front of you contain a bunch of original art, I tried to move away from just shoving art into drawers and keep them in folders, but they all ended up on top of each other. Ultimately I make too much art. Whatcha gonna do…
The white board keeps me on track for projects (or I pretend it does, really I need to figure out a perfect system and this isn’t it)
Mounted on the wall are my Chris Sprouse page and a Cully Hamner, gorgeous clean superhero art. Cully’s page is amazingly 1:1 to print. I dream of that sort of precision.
(And there’s a page of mine rather rubbishly just sitting there)
I oughta get more stuff on the wall, really.
The UFO in the top left is a left-over from when this room was my eldest son’s nursery… about … uhm… 14 years ago (yikes!)
The Judge Dredd page here is by my old Pal, John McCrea – I want all my friends to give me original art all the time, but this was the first time I’ve ever asked someone to just .. GIVE ME THAT PAGE. And it’s because, well, one it’s by John so that means a great deal (and it means more that it was a gift, albeit one I demanded…) but it has Justice-1 on it, which was Dredd’s spaceship in the Judge Child Saga, and an abiding memory I have is building that space ship out of computer Punch Card, with my Uncle Paul when I was about 10.
Shelves stacked with an assortment of nonsense – the black shelves at top where gonna be home to a small, but cool, Batman animated series collection of toys. But they now sit, unloved, in that big white box. The nude model is turned to save my kid’s modesty who used to take great delight in pretend offence when they saw his little plastic todger.
Other notable cool beans: Bike from Akira, Dredd statue based on the McMahon dredd (in greyscale) the Chris Samnee Daredevil original art book (he draws very big…) and a collection of Dredd reprints that, I think, contain my work.
The drawing board, cleared up for working traditionally, after a few months of digital work it’s nice to sit back down and remember how much fun drawing on paper can be.
There’s not much organisational thought in my shelving process, but these two shelves have SOME specifics about them. At top the 2000AD collection. Big books o’ 2000Ad stuff. (Though not always) then below it shop talk, how to draw books. I’ve read a fraction of them. It is a constant reminder of my inadequacies. (I spelt that word right first time, and it somehow alleviate those feelings of inadequacy!)
There are two printers here: a brother dcp6690CW – an A3 scanner/colour printer which is essential to how I work – I can scan A3 comic art and blueline print pencils for inking. And beside it, a Brother Laser Printer HL2350-DW which is a nice little b&w laser, that can print double sided. I use this for scripts (and I intend to use it for a little bit of self publishing. Maybe)
27″ Wacom Cintiq – my primary digital drawing tool. All hooked up to a mac mini (which is sat on a bunch of boxes of original comic art, that I don’t ever expect to be opened again until I die and my great great grand kids try and figure out what kind of person I was. It won’t help them)
Also Amazon Echo, which I love. Much better audio than the mac mini’s rubbish little internal speakers (though they’re better than my last PC which didn’t have any speakers at all)
This corner is superbly unorganised. Just an assortment of stuff. Ugh. I should tidy it.
That corner is such a hot mess.
Oh yeah, up in the top right – you can just about see — a Batman Animated The Dark knight figure and a Batman Animated The Demon. They both rock, but they’re staying in their display boxes rather than the big white box of doom.
Blame me for the titles. John writes a tweet, I supply a title, it was ever thus (in er.. the five weeks we’ve been doing this).
Fairy Rings are circles of mushrooms often seen in fields and woodlands across Europe. They mark the meeting, and dancing, places of the Fae. If a human steps into one, they may glimpse the Little People. But bewitchment, ill fortune, and even death may follow. #folklorethursday
I’ll be honest, I consider this one a failure on my part. (It’s neither modesty, nor fishing for praise, just honest assessment). I wanted it to work so badly. I’ve done some nice watercolour stuff in the past, but never a full strip. I thought if I can quickly pencil it and then water colour over it, it should be nice.
It wasn’t. It was.. at best.. a good start.
Compounding this, sadly, was the fairly barely adequate nature of my scanner. It’s important to know and understand the limits of the tools you use, and my faithful Brother DCP6690 has served me well for over a decade, scanning pencils and inks at A3 size, and printing pencils as bluelines on heavy bristol board (sometimes it spews that out and just refuses to play ball, but that’s ok – it owes me nothing). Unfortunately it’s bloody awful for colour. Scanning colour is a serious art in itself. Even if your scanner scans a true and accurate reflection of the art (which is unlikely as the scanner’s light casts a sickly blue light, which is why blue line printing can be easily dismissed by the scanner – it’s practically invisible in the bluewhite light. ) then you’re faced with whether your computer monitor is set up in a way that can accurately show you those colours on screen. Plus the art software (in this case clip studio) may decide to preview it for print and give it a slightly different hue. It’s all a nightmare.
Part of the remit though, is to do these things quickly, so I don’t really have the luxury of going back and reworking (though in this case, I DID) or fiddling with colours when scanned and I wrestled with it, and I thought – better to put out a heroic failure, than to cowardly revert to type and do it again in b&w with digital colours (also I was too lazy)
And one thing I learned while acting is… nobody knows about mistakes until you tell them. So ignore everything I’ve said here and assume this strip is exactly what I meant it to be.
(No pencils on this one, as it was pencilled and coloured in one go)
I wrote and drew this comic strip in October last year. It tumbled out of me too quickly. It deals with losing a parent, and it seems to have moved a number of people who read it when it was on twitter (and my blog previously, though my blog has since been wiped and reset)
The roots of the Mandragora genus of plants are known as Mandrakes. Once prized as magical ingredients they are hallucinogenic, and highly toxic. It was once believed that when uprooted, the Mandrake would scream. Its terrible cry striking dead any who heard it. #folklorethursday
I vaguely remembered seeing a diagram of the Mandrake plant that was, it turned out, from wikipedia. I thought that’d be a fun opening panel. It would feel different from whatever I drew following it.
Panel one I was toying with drawing someone who would prize a magical ingredient, I kept leaning towards a wizard – but everything looked a little goofy (my knowledge bank in my head kept suggesting wizard cliches, and anything that wasn’t a cliche was too hard to “read” as wizard). Then I thought … oh, a druid! quick google of a druid and, you know, bland but workable. Then I remembered a deep buried memory from childhood… GETAFIX!
Hopefully this fun non-authorised use of the old Asterix Druid is ok (is this considered fair use?) if not, it may be an internet only version, and at some point I’ll have to edit him out – boo!
One of the jobs as cartoonist on this strip is to link the words together with some sort of narrative, and sometimes the narrative requires only a single image, but here, moving from prized… to hallucinogenic… to toxic required a number of steps (this is why I get paid the big bucks). I’m always trying to shorten the those steps but this time it was pretty much impossible. I had to get the druid to collect, cook and then sample the mandrake (taking us from ‘prized’ to ‘hallucinogenic’ -dropping the cooking /tasting would’ve let it a little confusing about why he was suddenly hallucinating) then another step to toxic. The line art, on its own was gonna struggle a little to show toxic -I thought one open eye then one winking closed would give a sense of a transition from toxic to death – plus a little skull and crossbones, but colour was gonna be the real way to sell it. A sickly green on the face (if I didn’t have colour I’d probably do it as two panels, or leave it was one – not just as clear a pay off)
And the final mandrake gets short shrift here, I kept thinking of Kate Bush’s Experiment IV (a sound that can kill) and following the shriek around as it kills people, but, ultimately, I’ve one page to play with so I’ve got to pick and choose my moments. I liked the goofy mouth of the mandrake and figured with the captions, it’d be enough.
This week’s folklore topic is Trees and Forests. As ever, the strip was prompted John Reppion’s tweet length story:
In 1990 work on the Limerick to Galway motorway halted. A lone tree stood in its way. The Hawthorne, according to tradition, belonged to the Sidhe (Ireland’s Fairies). Disturbing such sites is forbidden. A curve was added. The road snaking around the Thorn Tree. #folklorethursday
My original plan on this was to do a moody Frank Miller piece, stark black and white and a dash of red. At least that was my plan until I read John’s tweet (quick backroom secret: we know both the topic’s in advance, and John sends me his tweet in advance).
The moment I read the tweet, I KNEW I was gonna go Arthur Rackham on it.
Arthur Rackham (b.1897-d.1939) was a British book illustrator who did a wonderful line in fairies and trees. He’d often morph the shapes of trees into beautifully gnarled figures too. Fantastic artist, I fell in love with when I first saw his work in my late teens – my dad was/is a collector of antiques/ephemera, and had got hold of an Arthur Rackham illustrated edition of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, no internet in those days, so seeing that, and finding books about him, was the only way to find out anything. Nowdays a quick google search will turn up hundreds of drawings. Kids, eh? dunno they’re born.
Felt fairly confident we’d see a large tree right in the centre of the page. So I started from there. Decided to go with a couple of construction guys on panel one, and the idea that the fairies where playing havoc with the traffic cones suggested itself.
Next step after pencils is inking…
I’d toyed with the idea of drawing a map, to show the road snaking around the tree, but it really was a struggle to make that seem interesting, thought it would be more fun to draw a car driving past the tree, with the passenger completely oblivious to the wonders around them (like everyone with kids, you know they’re sitting in the back on their ipads no matter how loudly you shout “LOOK! MOO MOO!” as you pass a cow)
I left a big gap beside car panel, because it felt like it balanced out the composition. I knew I’d put some text there (and I was still toying with a map)
Colouring begins with flatting a page. Basically you add a simple flat colour to all the individual elements of a page – these colours won’t generally be final, in fact sometimes you’re better colouring them with entirely random colours. You’ll use the magic wand tool in clip studio or photoshop to pick up the groups – so, for example, I could select JUST the colour bands of the traffic cones by using the magic wand tool.
At this point I was still thinking of colouring this page as naturally as possibly, but two thinks struck me: firstly, I DID want to do something different with this one, three pages is a pattern and I didn’t particularly want to do patterns and secondly, it just felt like any colour would detract from the big tree. So I decided to make the inset panels pure black and white. Which was a little too stark, so I moved them to greyscale. And I quite like the look.
This is the first time I’ve messed around with the lettering, but introducing the repetition of The Hawthorne seemed like a more natural way to read the text. (When I’m placing the dialogue I’m reading it aloud, I’ve done some acting so I think I’ve a solid ear for how dialogue can be heard).
If you’re interested, you can read more about the tree here.
One final thing, the original black and white pages are drawn at A4, pencilled on one side, inked on the other and they’re available for sale. You can contact me directly if you’re interested.
“John! JOHN! We’ve gotta do another one! Quick! Think of something…”
I’m kind of curious about John (Reppion)’s creative process, I should ask him to do the next blog post – does he have any idea in his head what I’ll draw? Is it a surprise? ( I know the first one was… cus I just drew it without him knowing it was gonna happen) Does he expect me to pick out one detail then I go with another? Anyway, I have no idea. I should do something about it.
This week’s folklore thursday topic is local food. Which prompted John to come up with:
Brambles grow wild across the UK. Their thorny vines bring forth sweet Summer fruit. The berries must never be picked after October 11th. This is when Lucifer fell from Heaven, landing in a blackberry bush. In revenge he spoiled the fruit by spitting upon them #FolkloreThursday
Went through – what is now – the usual process, splitting it up in to panels as I saw it. Lucifer falling from Heaven was gonna be the big one, big fun old devil to draw. I initially wanted to make Lucifer look half angelic, a sort of glow through the middle of his body but, frankly, at the size I was drawing it, I couldn’t get the detail in I wanted so I dropped it, went straight to the devilish form (it’s one page, you don’t have the space to mess around).
Panel 1 simple establishing show-we’ve gotta be in the UK (I wanted Northhampton, just for funsies, an industrial english town overgrown) but space and lack of familiarity with the place meant all I could do was get a skyline with a big chimney in there.
First three sentences broke down into three simple panels, showing an establishing shot, brambles, industrial town, then a close up of some fruit (and I threw in a nice little bird, for the sake) and the third panel tried to figure out a way to get the date in there, then realised I was torturing myself and I could just literally have a date fly past the panel.) Added the little bird flying away too.
I thought it’d be fun to draw the panels as vines (which is a pretty stupid idea, cus it was hard work) but it really did make it feel like a nice piece.
Split the line “this is when lucifer fell from heaven” and “landing in a blackberry bush” – irresistible to have satan have his bare bottom impaled on a couple of little pricks (er)
Felt I needed a facial reaction after the pricking of his bum (something wicked this comes), and then it came to the “spoiled the fruits by spitting on them” and I pencilled that. In conversation with John it turned out the myth has a few variants, he spat, he pissed and he … well.. let’s say he does something very deeply unpleasant to them that spoils them.
To me spitting on it felt… I dunno, less funny than the devil taking a piss on them, so that’s what I did. I split the line so the “he spoiled the fruit” was rubbing up against the line of urine from satan (it’s almost abstract, and you may not be sure what you’re seeing) then “by urinating on them” is juxtaposed against the image the drawing of satan rubbing his sore butt. It made me laugh. And that’s all I ask.
Like a fool, I coloured the first one, and thought – that’s cool, I’ll do b&w for any more. But no… I ended up colouring this one too.
I had to play with the placement of the letters too, because of those stupid vines I drew for panel borders.
Satan’s reaction to the sting felt like it was missing something, and it was clearly missing a simple line of dialogue. I’d accidentally turned my primary colour to white in Clip Studio, so when I lettered it it was reversed (white text on black) but I liked that so kept it.
By the way, the black and white art for both strips is available to buy, if you’re interested, just fire me off an email!
So, in order to figure out how I’m gonna get Channel Hex moving, I’ve been playing with a lot of ways of working, and wanted to have a cover that I could play with (see what logotypes work, see how branding would look, checkout where credits could go).
Previously, I posted the b&w art for a mock up cover, and Matt John Soffe a damn fine artist and a new colourist for 2000AD offered to colour it, and he did so, so here’s a mock up.
This will have to keep you going. I think my original schedule was optimistic, I’m still at the figuring out with the writer what the story for the first book will be, so this will have to do for the moment!
Book needs a spine design (because it’ll be a thick digest size) and some sort of back cover artwork – even knowing that is useful. I suspect the finished cover will have to basically be drawn as a single image, with those areas marked out. (I haven’t a clue how to do that yet…) but still. Ain’t that colouring nice?
After John Reppion and I did a fun little one pager using a tweet from John as my script for a one page comic we rattled around thinking what we could do next, and we’ve glommed on to #FolkloreThursday on twitter, folklore Thursday is every Thursday people talk about folklore. It’s pretty simple. So we decided to see if we could do this again, and John sent me a ‘script’
It looked like this:
Many old stories tell of sailors landing on mysterious islands, out in the open sea. There they make their camp, and light their fires. Then the island sinks down fast. The drowned become its food. The island is not an island at all. It is the Zaratan – a monstrous sea turtle.
My basic work flow on this is to separate the paragraph into chunks (usually sentences, but sometimes I’ll break them up for the flow of the art and how I picture it in my head)
So this got broken up as follows (along with my thoughts)
” Many old stories tell of sailors landing on mysterious islands” – initially I thought I’d have to make this two bits, but couldn’t figure out a good way to break the sentence up.
“Out in the open sea” this felt like a panel on its own.
“There they make their camp, and light their fires” – single panel, can easily have a lit fire and make it look like a camp is being setup.
“Then the island sinks down fast” that was gonna be hard, showing a sinking island with speed, I ended up making it two panels. You want to show scale, but also speed. Hard to do.
“The drowned become its food.” “the island is not an island at all” “it is Zaratan – a monstrous sea turtle”
One of the rules I’ve sort of set for myself (and may well abandon) is I try and do minimal amount of damage to the words – keep them as they are as best as possible. But, and this may be the sholocky sensibilities in me, I don’t half want to change that last line to “the island is not an island at all. It is a monstrous sea Turtle” “THE ZARATAN!” (and maybe that will happen further down the line)
Here’s scribbled layout.
The final panel was going to be hard, because I wanted the monster and the eating and the way the words happen and the order they happen to reflected in the drawing. In the end the fix was simply to flip the turtle horizontally.
One thing that surprised me was just how cartoony this one was. I can’t deny I was influenced by Johnny Dubble’s amazing pirate art and the book How To Think When you Draw 2 (which has a great page or two on drawing pirate ships) so it could be they leaked out of me, but also, having just finished a fairly serious war story it felt good to let loose a little.
I chopped the sinking into two panels in the pencils, and drew the pirate ship in front of it, but when I inked it the ship was just in the way and it was never clear we were looking at the island sinking, so off it went to the big pirate bay in the sky.
Inking was done by hand, on a blue line print. Drawn at digest size. This is partly for speed – I want to do these quick (how quick? pencilled and inked yesterday, coloured last night and finished this morning, about four hours total?)
With the captions all added there was still something missing – that pirate ship on its own never made sense, it needed something to lead you in to it, and then I hit on the fun idea of having a single line of dialogue here “LAND HO!” to bring you in, and join panel one with panel two.
Strip all pencilled and inked traditionally, then touched up and letter in clip studio on my desktop, I then transferred it to my ipad to colour it in bed (best advantage of csp on the ipad, working while in bed in awesome – while others read, I’m colouring…)
And voila the finished beast!
I’ve been asked a few times “will there be more” and I think “yes” but we’ll have to see. And, weirdly, by a few people “will these be collected” and the answer to that depends on how the answer to the first one goes.
I know this though, we’re not being paid to do this, so our only barometer of success is whether people like it or RT it on twitter, so if you’re keen to see more, that’s the way to do it! (and RT is worth about 100 likes, so keep that in mind!)
(Oh, and thanks to John, who rose to the occasion magnificently!)