If you’re not familiar with “The Pomodoro Technique” it’s a super simple technique for focusing on tasks. The name “Pomodoro” comes from the italian for tomato, and is based on a rather cutsey tomato shaped timer the creator of the technique used. The idea is simple, and it’s this:
You set aside 25 minutes to do a single task. At the end of it, you take a five minute break. Do it again, and repeat until you’ve done 4 sets in a row, then instead of a five minute break you take a 25 minute break.
I find, for the sort of work I do (ie drawing comics) it’s a brilliant way to break log jams. Where I often focus on getting a page done, it’s very much a-can’t-see-the-woods-for-the-trees problem. Focusing on a timer that I draw to, rather than obsessing about whether can draw or not .
I’ve also been playing (for decades really) with a way of figuring out how much time I’ve been spending on pages. So here’s the latest iteration, the target below is pretty simple and represents a single page (you can write the page number in the centre). The first set of segments out from the page, the first inner ring – represents pencils, inks, colours and lettering (or, if you’re me, two segments represent pencils and two inks).
The larger outer ring, divided into chunks of four represents individual pomodoros, in sets of four – I’ve been aiming to do around 16 pomodoros per day – so in total the outer circle represents two days worth of work.
The plan, the guarantee, the thinking, is that instead of worrying about how long a page takes, all I’ve got to do is fill those outer rings as I do pomodoros and boom the page does itself (I mean you’ve still got to draw it, but it makes it – for me – much more manageable)
In this example, page 15 is fully pencilled and I know it took me about 3.5 hours.
So I’ve created a weekly sheet (let’s see how long I keep this up…) that contains a day breakdown of pomodoros as I do them along with 12 pages I could finish in the week (I mean 12 is ridiculous, the reality is, I’ll be happy to get six pages finished in a week, so if you’d like to use this, just remember the extra targets are just there for symmetry and balance on the page rather than actual work you should do)
If you want to use this yourself, it’s scaled at A5 so you can cut it out and stuck it in a diary or just use it on its own (or don’t use it at all!)
This coming year marks the 20th anniversary of my first 2000AD Published work.
tl;dr Just that. This year, twenty years drawing Judge Dredd, and hopefully I’ll get to do more… now read on…
I’ve told the story many times, but to recap, following 2000AD’s purchase by Rebellion, Rebellion decided to have the first 2000AD Convention DreddCon:1 in November 2000 –
Having previously wheedled my way in to the online 2000ad fan community, via the fanzine “Class of ’79” (itself a product of the imagination of sadly missed WR Logan aka Stewart Perkins) and drawn a few strips for it, I’d also become friendly with Gordon Rennie – who was writing Dredd at the time – from doing some small press work for the fanzine “Violent” (created by Mike Sivier) It was clear I needed to go to the new convention.
I was pretty active on alt.comics.2000ad – a newsgroup (newsgroups were message board type things that had elements of social media to them – ask your parents)
And had set up a nascent web cam type operation to draw live from my drawing board (twitching before there was a twitch) And thanks to the wonders of the internet, here that is:
There’s a reason I’m telling you this and it’ll be clear shortly…
The year 2000 was a seminal year for a multitude of reasons, I’d applied for a new job that I’d started on the 1st of that year, working for a charity as their IT manager, but, importantly, it was a part time job and I’d intended to spend the remaining time drawing more and – as a kid growing up reading 2000ad – the year itself, obviously, meant something.
Plus, and this might have been the clincher, 2000 was the year I turned 30.
So I went off to DreddCon, with a pile of comic pages (having advised people over the years you only need a few pages, I decided I’d try a slightly different, idiotic, tact and bought a whole load of work with me, the hope being I’d show it to then editor Andy Diggle and he’d relent under the pressure of my resolve and volume of my pages)
As it turns out, Andy was one of the people who’d watched the webcam (see, told you it would be relevant!) and said he thought (as he surface skimmed the art on the top of the massive pile of comics pages I’d bought) that my art had improved, so yes, he’d give me some work. I was a little anxious because he wasn’t really looking at the mountains of artwork I’d bought for him to look at.
In one of those happier coincidences, my girlfriend (who’d become my wife a few years later) was with me, so it was a glorious glorious con – best of my life, probably. (She remains not-a-con goer though)
I phoned Gordon immiediatly, and Gordon, to which I’ll always be in his debt, said he’d just sent in a Dredd and he’d ask for me to draw it.
And lo, I ended up debuting in Prog 1233 in March 2001 in Judge Dredd.
Some mad person has done the leg work of checking all of the contributors to Judge Dredd and the number of appearances (in the Megazine and 2000AD) and in the twenty years since, of the 146 artists to have worked on Dredd, in terms of number of appearances, I come in at number 9. Something which even now I’m slightly baffled by – how did that happen? In my head I’m still trying to break in to comics in general and 2000ad specifically. This past couple of years I’ve gotten more comfortable with how I handle Dredd himself, even as I’m still casting around trying to figure out how to draw his entire mad world.
That first Dredd strip, I redrew it maybe three/four times, a curse that has followed me around on almost every job – the most recent Dredd I abandoned pages and redrew them with just as insecurity.
Anyway, twenty years. Kind of remarkable to do anything for 20 years really – I think my life working in IT lasted from the age of 14 to 37, in comics 30 to 50 (seven year overlap). Maybe, as the comics time frame takes over the IT time frame I’ll stop thinking of myself as an IT nerd who draws comics and instead ease into old age thinking of myself as a comic artist first and foremost.
This next year, in the bag already for 2000AD is more Judge Dredd, a solo Chimpsky series and more Dept K – if I end up spending the next twenty years working for 2000AD, well, it’s a life well lived as far as I’m concerned.
There’s no central committee to say “Here you go, twenty years of service, well done” so I make no apologies fort the self-congratulatory nature of this blog post, almost everything I’ve ever done in comics has been a way to connect to an 11 year old me, sitting in my room drawing Judge Dredd and trying to escape the real world, so well done you – you did it. I love drawing Dredd, I always have, I always will, and now I’ve finally gotten good at it, I’d like to do more.
Thanks to everyone who’s helped me get here – WR Logan, Gordon Rennie, Andy Diggle, Mike Sivier, Christian Dunn (former Warhammer editor) and, of course, Matt Smith – Thargs current incarnation who’s been there as long as I have, as well as the pals I’ve made along the way, Rob Williams, Si Spurrier, Arthur Wyatt, Al Ewing, and many, many more. And, finally, of course, special thanks to the readers who’ve put up with me as my art style has evolved over the years, there will always be ups and downs in quality, sometimes because you learn and try things out, sometimes it’s because drawing is bloody hard and life is hard and everything is HARD. But it’s never, NEVER because I don’t love the job.
Next week finally sees the Battle Special from 2000ad/Rebellion released, including the 8 page destroyer strip I drew written by Rob Williams. Here’s what it looks like! (Lettering here by Simon Bowland)
Plus it’s filled with even more gorgeous stuff.
Also coming shortly, True War Stories, the anthology on kickstarter which I have a 14 page strip in. Here’s some pages of that, coloured by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by Alex DeCampi
Also soon … Grimmfest – an online horror movie festival that comes with a free comic if you buy a ticket.
And lastly, and I’m super excited about this – I make my DC comics debut in DC’s the Doomed and the Damned… can’t show any art, can’t even tell you what I’m drawing (nor who with, though a bit of google searching might shake that out of the internet) but I can show you this fab cover by Kyle Holtz.
I dunno if there’ll be more DC work in my future, if this ends up being it for me, look, you can see it when it comes, but I’ll have hit everything you’d want in a bucketlist of DC comics… TTFN!
Away from home for a couple of days, and so I had a chance to build up a portable studio. There are, obviously, major constraints but that’s ok, I like limits.
Everything fit in a single big bag.
Digital elements on the studio:
iPad Pro 12.9 512Gb, the latest model, with a nice case for it and the Apple Pencil. This case has a fixed cover (I much prefer these kind of things)
I’ve also got a usb-c dongle, which I can plug a mouse in to (for the purposes of this I borrowed my son’s gaming mouse, though it’s a little ostentatious for my tastes – with it’s vegas lighting and stealth fighter looking buttons)
I’ve a neat little Bluetooth keyboard, a separate keyboard with a hardware on/off switch on the bottom. It’s got a nice feel. I like it because it can be placed anywhere – in front of the iPad, or off to the side, so I can use it while digital drawing.
The mouse and keyboard combo means the iPad can act like a normal computer. And, of course, I can just grab it and start drawing, I’ve procreate for colour painting and clip studio.
Big important point with clip studio is remember to pre-download all the files you’re working with. I’ve pre-downloaded the 52 pages of the folklore stories, because trying to do that over a 3G connection is a bit murderous (and would eat up data).
That’s all topped off with my iPhone, and it’s 30Gb three connection which I can easily tether to the iPad (oh, I also have some earphones that plug into the usb-c dongle, bog standard headphones since the iPad Pro no longer has earphone connections)
So that’s the digital stuff, but I still like drawing on paper.
So the traditional tools are a canson 180 notepad – these are great because.- as you can see in the picture, they can be fully opened up they’ve cleverly got a stitched spine that a separate front and back cover, so they can open up without the spine getting in the way. It’s really very clever. Plus I like the paper. This is A4 (my eyesight being rubbish, I used to use the A5 but everything has got to be bigger)
I’ve paired that up with a zebra brush pen (small) – though I should have bought a few more inking tools.
A graphgear 1000 pental pencils – filled with .5 leads (I bought a bunch of .5 HB leads but it turns out not all HB leads are created equal, so I reverse fed a stadler .5 lead into the nib of it, which is a bit darker. We’ll see if we run out of leads)
A Mono Zero eraser pencil. These are great if you’re doing pencil textural drawings and you can use this to pick out highlights.
A Boxy carbon eraser, I like black erasers, they seem to smear less.
And that’s it.
All of that fits in to a fairly sturdy man bag I picked up a few years ago.
Basically I can now do roughs and inks some things, the folklore tales are largely all digital so I can probably do that entirely.
BUT I am supposed to be on a holiday for a few days. So maybe I’ll just sleep. Who knows…
Eight days into July and I’ve only just realised I didn’t log my page count for June. So let’s try that now.
Ok, Chimpsky Captain Cookies ep 3 finished (I can mention the title as it’s been announced in the letter’s page of 2000ad, you wont get to see this until the new year!) That’s Six pages. Pencils and inks.
Finished the entirety of the thing I’ve been doing for The Finish Institute (their annual report in comic form!) I think I did pages 5 to 18, that’s 13 pages. Pencils and inks.
And did four folklore thursdays, pencils inks and colours.
Did a silly little one pager with Umar Ditta, and working on a thing with him.
And finally – FINALLY – finished the strip Jericho – 5 for the 77. Rescued, to be honest, by Dan Whitehead, who stepped into to dialogue and script my story that was just out of my grasp. Dan did a great job, really elevated it, so it’s like a proper story now. That’s four pages. No wait, I finished that last week. SO DOESN’T COUNT FOR JUNE. DAMMIT.
So, total in June (and ignoring some other tv story boarding stuff) that brings me to 20 pages. Couple of invoices out, and that’s it. Not a bad total, not a great total.
And I suppose, since we’re halfway through the year, that means, roughly speaking, I’ve finished 100 pages so far.
Back in my pre-pro days (let’s call that the dark time) I’d’ve been amazed to get anywhere near a hundred pages in a year (I’m pretty sure some years I managed 20)
Now, sadly, it’s a pretty slow average for me.
This month I’ve already put four pages to bed, and started the final episode of this Chimpsky Strip. And, unless something else happens, that’s it! Four more pages of the folklore thursday to do too, but as we all know, no payday for that!
Things usually turn up and I’ve been saving little a little squirrel for the inevitable draw down of work, with the plan of turning my attention back to a kickstarter project (one I’m drawing all of) and so, worst case scenario I start that sooner than anticipated.
In a slightly unusual move, I’ve done two versions of this, the first didn’t sit well with me so I recoloured it. So I present the recoloured version first:
If you’ve come all this way down to read my thinking on here, I’m afraid I’ve got nothing. This is the 51st page of comics I’ve drawn for folklore thursday and I think four more strips and boom! a whole year done!
How’s your week. It’s been a complex, difficult week for everyone I think (and for many it’s doubtless been painful too).
I’ve been slowly slowly working my way through part three of a four part Dredd. Got it finished, eventually, three weeks it’s taken – for six pages. Crazy. (Granted I was planning on taking two weeks and I don’t have a deadline so it’s not late, but it is a rubbish way to earn an income)
That done, I’ve been doing corrections for a WWI story (never much fun, but necessary for this because it’s based on a true story). Drew a one page strip written by Umar Ditta, for an anthology thing and I’ve been thinking about the Channel Hex thing again.
To recap: last year I started working around the idea of a kickstarter format, one that would be both sustainable for me to do, and sustainable for a book for people to buy.
(And sustainability was important, because if I could make one book work then I could turn it into recurring format)
Ultimately I figured drawing a 64 page book in the “Commando” or “Starlord” format (roughly A5 size, typically 1 or 2 panels per page) would be the best. It would be quick to do, cheap to make and feel substantial – 64 pages would feel like something, even if, based on the page size it’s close to being about 16-20 pages of normal sized comics.
Anyway, instead of just barrelling ahead I did a lot of thinking on it. Roped a friend in for a script, and just started chipping away at it.
But, of course, feature creep meant it slipped to being bigger than commando size (a calculation I thought wouldn’t make any difference, but OF COURSE IT DID) it sort of upended everything. The Covid-19 hit and all plans went out the window.
Now, I’ve seen others take a similair approach to kickstarter and do well out of it, so it’s time to think about this again. (Notably the guys doing Hell in Stalingrad, who I did a cover for)
Going back to square one, the original format idea, it’s time to start building out spreadsheets and seeing how I can make it work. And, as soon as I get a script in hand, I’m gonna take an unpaid month and just draw the hell out of it. And move to kickstart with it as soon as I can.
So, next week, I’ll be thinking about that, waiting on a Dredd script and doing a four pager for the 77 kickstarter comic. Oh, and doing some work on this thing for the Finnish Insititute, which is a bunch of interviews I’m adding some goofy humour too (all done as comics).
That’s a lot of stuff for next week, but I just need to find my groove. Tomorrow I’ll fire the Dredd off to the editor. Look at what needs done on the 77. (Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday) and get that out of the way.
Closing off stuff to allow new stuff in.
Anyway, here’s to a calmer week ahead (as if)
OH and as soon as movement starts again on Channel Hex – you’ll see it behind the scenes on my newsletter SIGN UP NOW channelhex.com
So, while John and I aren’t exactly the same age, we both grew up in Blighty and share many of the same references, and I’m pretty sure John had some notion what I’d do with this.
Monkey was an absolutely formative experience for me. I’d never seen anything like it. It hit the UK in ’79 – and I was nine years old. I grabbed the nearest broom handle from the back yard and was twirling it around like Monkey Magic for hours on end.
Endless school fights.
If you’ve never seen Monkey (or, to give it it’s original Japanese name, “Journey in to the West”) it was an absolutely bonkers adaptation of the a Chinese novel written in the 16th century. And probably my first exposure to asian culture.
I had a couple of notions of how to handle this, the big choice was do I do my own version of The Monkey King or do I do the version played by Masaaki Sakai (who was impossibly charming as the boisterous, and naughty monkey)
And you know, the pleasure of doing your own stuff is you can do what you like. So Masaaki Sakai it was.
Ideally, I think, I would’ve like to have done this as a four colour comic book adaptation or a cover – and I designed a “The Monkey King” logo to drop on it, but I just couldn’t make it work, so in the end I settled for moving some of the text around so I could end on “The Monkey King” trying to tease out the idea of what my monkey king might look like, so in the final panel reveal it’s a neat little nostalgia hit.
So, yesterday was the last live sketch until august, I think – next week is Father’s Day. Then we’re into July, and that’s sort of height of summer holiday in NI.
I want to thank everyone who’s commissioned me over the 5 episodes (though really, I think I’ve done this format now about 7 times) and esp for everyone who’s been able to tune in and chat alongside. Honestly. I know I talk a lot, but if I didn’t have questions or comments to respond to it would be one hour plus of pencil scratching sounds (maybe that would be better … Nah!)
anyway. Hopefully see you all again in august for season 2 🙂