Xmas Options

Comes this time of the year, and – owing to my prior working life in IT (tech support/programming) and my reputation as someone who still enjoys tech, I’m normally asked by friends/family what they should buy the loved ones in their lives who want to draw (and especially if they want to draw digitally). So here’s a tiny list of things, in what I’ll call my “XMAS FAQ”

“I have a new(ish) computer, my kid wants to draw on it, what do I need?”

You’ll need two things: hardware AND software, let’s take hardware first:

In terms of hardware, you’ll want a graphics tablet. Graphics tablets come in two basic forms – one without screen and one with screen. Obviously, there’s a price difference. In terms of usage, the screen is preferable, but really, you can do a fine amount of work without that. So here’s a few options:

Wacom One

Wacom are the brand name to beat when it comes to graphics tablet, and yet – certainly at the entry level area they’re fairly reasonably priced. The Wacom One is priced at £29.99 and you can pick it up from Amazon here.

Moving up the Wacom line up to a slightly larger surface area, the Wacom One MEDIUM is only a tenner more (and worth it if you’re going to be spending large amounts of time haunched over the tablet) it’s £39.99 and again, from Amazon here.

(Both devices are mac and windows compatible)

If you’re feeling super generous or if this isn’t your first graphics tablet, you might wanna think about graphics tablets with screens (a category wacom had come to dominate so completely previously that, like hoovers, they’re in danger of the brand name becoming a noun – the Cintiqs). The Cintiq 16 is Wacom’s opening offering here, but they start at about £470 which puts you out of xmas present and into professional purchase category.

Luckily a whole range of other companies have appear to fill in that gap between £50 and £470. Now, hand on heart, I haven’t used any of these, but I can talk a little about the things you need to keep in mind if you’re buying and so, caveat emptor.

XP-Pen Artist 12

So, the things to keep in mind:

Screen size – how big is it. The bigger the screen the more of the art you’ll be able to see. Now, as a rule you can use a device like this AND a second monitor but you can expect a little neck strain if you’re constantly popping your head up and down. That said, even with – as I have, a mahoosive 27″ screen, it’s a) never enough screen space and b) I only ever find myself drawing on one section of it.

Now, the other factor with screens is resolution – higher is better. Lots of screens will talk about HD or FHD (High Definition or Full High Definition – in this area those acronyms amount to the same thing). FHD resolution is 1920 x 1080 pixels. Which is decent enough for most things, and weirdly, FHD looks far better on smaller screens than on larger screens (because they’re squashing more pixels in smaller and smaller areas). Old computer screens would be 92 pixels per inch (ppi), ipads around 260 ppi and iphones about 300-400 ppi (around 300 ppi the eye can’t even see individual pixels anymore).

Pictured above is the XP-Pen artists “12” – (it’s actually 11.6″ in size, measured corner to corner) and is a relatively inexpensive £199 – from Amazon here.

If you’d like a much bigger screen there’s the XP-Pen artists 15.6 (which IS 15.6″ across) here and but it’s priced at £399 and the Wacom Cintiq 16 (16 inches across) is currently £469 and, if you’re going that much it’s probably worth going with the Cintiq.

If you’re after larger screen real estate and don’t mind a drop in the resolution you can look at the XP-Pen Artists 22E – a 22″ screen with a FHD resolution (so it won’t look as nice as the smaller 15.6″ screen but you will have more room to spread out on)

These devices are largely compatible with mac/pc – and should work on windows 10 and mac os x latest version (but always check)

Now, hardware out of the way, what about software:

There’s really one beat-them-all option and it’s Clip Studio. Clip Studio works on mac or windows and comes in two flavours: PRO and EX and there’s a hefty price jump between them. For almost everyone (and I even include professionals in this) PRO is exactly what you need. For a few (and I love it, so it’s absolutely for me) you’ll want to move up to EX – which includes features for handling multipage documents as well as making long animations.

I do all my digital work in Clip Studio EX.

So, to recap: almost any graphics tablet (from a budget of £35+) plus Clip Studio Pro (about £30)

Clip Studio does regular sales too, so if you DO want the EX version you can upgrade when a sale pops along and it’ll still be fairly good value.

I don’t have a computer, my kid needs something to draw on, what do I need?

This is my new favourite thing, because this stuff didn’t exist 20 years ago, and it does now. Now, I AM an apple fan boy, but in this instance, the hardware and software actually ARE the best out there. But here’s my recommendations:

An iPad (budget will dictate what you go for here, but I recommend…

iPad 10.5″ 128Gb RAM from Amazon £ 399.00

Apple Pencil (You need the 1st Generation) £89

And, PROCREATE – an absolutely stellar drawing app for the ipad which is about £8.99.

If you’re a little strapped, you can go down a model on the ipad to the 32Gb RAM one, but honestly that’s just opening you up to a world of pain – you’ll find yourself constantly managing the amount of stuff stored on it.

You don’t need the iPad pro (though it’s lovely) the basic iPad with the apple pencil and procreate is an amazing tool for drawing. If you’re looking to do comics professionally, you could subscribe to Clip Studio (which is a subscription on the ipad) which works out around £4 per month for pro or (around) £60 per year for the EX version.

Anyway, that’s my advice, I hope it’s of use! Happy xmas shopping…

Folklore Thursday: Cat

“John, look, I think we need to get engagement on twitter up. The internet loves cats, so whatever the NEXT folklore tale is about — I’m drawing cats”

And thus, John sent me this:

Cat Sí are Celtic fairies in cat form. An old tale tells of a man walking at night hearing a voice say “Tell Tom Tildrum Tim Toldrum is dead”. Returning home, he repeats this to his wife, whereupon their own cat exclaims “Then I am king of the cats!” and flees. #FolkloreThursday

I’ll be honest, no matter what John sent, I was drawing cats. I’ve got to find ways to amuse myself.

Anyway, Not only was I thinking cats, I was thinkig Aubrey Beardsley

And here we are. Usually ideas like this are about making sure I’m trying new things, if I can constrain myself in some way (esp if it’s a thing I never normally do) the thinking goes (well mine does) this might spur me into new stuff.

Beardsley, though, frustratingly, doesn’t seem to have drawn many cats. (No great surprise, he was a startlingly young 25 when he died) and so I was stuck with how to draw a Beardsley cat. Panel one cat was drawn on the basis that he tended to draw very wide bottomed figures, art noveauesque shapes. So I cobbled a silhouette around that. The spikes I added much later when the whole page was finished, partly because Beardsley did sometimes add fringes on to black areas, and partly because I wanted it to have some sort of air of the supernatural or – mostly – to differentiate it from the cat on the last panel. As it happens, the spikes I added made it look like Mog from Meg and Mog and that amused me, so in it stayed.

Panel 2, it’s Beardsley himself. A young man, never married so this is, clearly a fictionalised version of him. Beardsley’s work seems to have large black shapes (often fringed with white dots or black) and large clear white space. So it’s trying to figure out how to balance that all. Very pleased with the lettering balloon – done in Clip Studio, which is not a brilliant tool for lettering, but this was an easy effect to make (black on white balloon, white text, then the entire layer is given a black outline)

Panel 3, Beardsley and wife – just made her up. The picture behind them is “self portrait in bed” by Bearsley

Panel 4, finally our cat walks out – this is a Beardsley cat – taken from Pierrot and cat, from St. Paul’s – I’ve had to add a couple of legs as the original is behind another figure.

And the decorative around the frame element was important, but I felt I needed to get the thick black border for the full on Beardsley effect.

Hope you like it! One more to go before we call this year done, the next will be the last for the year, and it’ll be very wintery…


I’ve signed up for the Masterclass website. Masterclass run a bunch of web classes from various luminaries in their fields explaining how they do what they do. It’s all very very high production quality, though that’s reflected in the price – £170 per year though, this weekend they had a special buy one membership and give another away (and so, you could, if you were so inclined, split the costs with a mate)

I remember there was a little of stink in some small areas of the comics community when Neil Gaiman was advertising his Masterclass – there was an odd feeling that he should be offering this all up for nothing (I mean, I’ve been paid over the years for passing my knowledge and it’s pretty limited, so I’m not sure what people where objecting to)

So, I have, of course, signed up for his class. I figured if I can do one class per month over the next year I’ll have had good value from it. Some of the writing classes are 30 or so lessons, so one per day should do it. And I figure if I do the writing I’ll also do at least one for just entertainment, as it happens there’s a Penn and Teller teach magic (it’s cool, I’m not about to start doing magic tricks, arthritic fingers somewhat limit my prestidigitation but it’s nice to learn stuff, right?) so I’ve signed up for that. And since they suggest you sign up for three classes, there’s also a Gordon Ramsay one, for cooking (obviously) which I will be trying to learn stuff in too.

Anyway, you’ve a day to make up your mind (took me a couple of days) And I’ll try and keep a track of which of the classes I do and keep you in the loop…

Folklore Thursday: Rübezahl

Look, I’ll address this head-on. Yes, that’s Alan Moore, Leah Moore and John Reppion. I wasn’t asked to do that (John never asks for me to do anything, it’s all me) but reading the tweet, laying the panels out and thinking “I need a weather giant, a wise woman and a wizard-like Monk” and it suddenly occurred to me that it would be both perfect and funny.

I started colouring it with the sky with a view to full colour, but I’m a bit up against it here at the moment and then I thought I’d use the same blue for the giants – as I wanted them to feel ephemeral rather than big solid giant then realised I didn’t really need any colour (phew, that saved some time).

Sometimes I wish I had more time to attack these things, but you don’t always get what you wish for. 

Folklore Thursday: Vrillon

This was a lot of fun.

I’ve been itching to do a scifi-ish tale with one of the folklore stories since we started (I am, at heart, a 2000AD artist, scifi is the norm for me) I honestly didn’t think we’d ever get to do one, but this presented a neat little departure. And I hope the twist in the tale end of it comes through (because I always need to explain the jokes: it was a hoax! AN ALIEN HOAX!)

I thought drab dreary 1970s england colours set against bright colourful alien life would be a fun contrast. On first pass of the thumbs I drew for it I thought I couldn’t draw an alien, because… well, the alien is never seen, but then I figured that would give me the freedom to do what I wanted – it’s an alien in the imagination, so he’s superimposed on a static TV background (I created a layer in clip studio, filled it with black, generated some perlin noise that was nice and big, then smeared some of it, then converted it to lineart – that gave me the static I wanted.

Anyhow, hope you enjoy it!


I’ve been keeping a journal this past week, based on the Bullet Journal format.

The Bullet Journal is, basically a way of organising a notebook into something like a diary with a todo list. There’s a lot of hoodoo that makes it feel a bit cult like – but the essence is “here’s a way to organise a todo list”. Like the pomodoro technique I think it can be useful.

There’s a lot to the Bullet Journal stuff, though, honestly it’s not that complex (the magic is: You make your own index, add page numbers to all pages and then allow yourself to find how you can use it best)

I’m finding it useful, though my life isn’t busy busy – there’s lots of grind in what I do, sit down draw a page, do the next page and repeat forever. But it is helping me find myself on top of other out-of-comics stuff.

So, here’s some additions I’ve made to my bullet journal:


Threading bullet journals already exist, basically if you run out of room on a page, you simply write, at the page number below it the next page that you should go to (and if you’ve multiple books you could write 2.23 to indicate book 2, page 23). I’ve ramped up how I use threads, for indicating a page (say for example I have a to do list that says “• Podcast recording ” I’ll add an indicator for the page where I keep my podcast notes, the indicator is drawn like a simple bookmark:

I’ve added a Collection (Bullet Journal speak for a couple of pages of notes on a very specific topic) for Podcasting (just lists of topics) as well as a double page spread for keeping a note of my stomach pain from IBS (I’ve drawn a little calendar where I’ve put red in the dates where the pain has kicked off, along with a graph showing the pain intensity along with the time of day – there’s space there too for writing whatever food I ate that might have kicked the pain off)

Finally, I’ve a Collection of Comics Projects – drawn as gridded boxes based on my previous Schedule page, this helps me keep track of what I’m drawing, what I’ve drawn and where gaps in my schedule are. As I do pages I draw completed bullet points to indicate when I’ve drawn them, too.

I’ve been doing it for a week, having seen many many bullet journals, I started off by drawing inspirational quotes, decorative elements and all sorts of idiotic elements to it, but really, the big key for me is using the index and threading to go to the next or previous pages, has helped me get some more boring admin stuff done (stuff that I tend to forget, and have to do at the last possible moment).

Anyway, we’ll see if I can keep it up. I’ve been dragging the log with me everywhere, constantly updating and checking it and making stuff happen.

The Long Con

I’ve not done many cons this past couple of years, but I feel like next year I aught to up my con game.

Cons used to serve a very particular function for me, once upon a time, they were generally the place you’d go to meet editors and fellow creatives. I’d never bother with tables (because frankly I had no idea what I’d do at one). Eventually all the editors stopped attending and it was just about other pros, they’d become ‘jollies’.

My first comic con was around ’98 – ’99. I went over under the wing of Stewart Crofts-Perkins (aka WR Logan – one of the most well known 2000ad fans, credited for a number of story ideas by John Wagner, and is the fan for whom Chief Judge Logan is named – Wagner used to take great delight in telling Stu how he was about to mangle Judge Logan in the latest episode of Dredd, Stu sadly passed in 2016)

Pretty safe to say I’d’ve never ventured off to a con without Stewarts guidance (I was coming over from Belfast, had no friends locally doing conventions, though there were people – I just didn’t know them)

It was all UKCAC and Bristol cons in those days.

But they eventually died out, for a while leaving nothing but a couple of token comic cons and some of the massive film and memorabilia cons (which by then had been touched by the Big Bang Theory and were calling themselves Comic Cons, much to many comic creators chagrin).

Even cosplaying was a new endeavour in those halcyon days. (Memorably at an early con one guy dressed as Judge Dredd [and as a mark of the accuracy of his scratch built outfit he was also sporting a goatie beard] wearing a helmet that restricted his hearing, he was jokingly asked to come up to collect the award on behalf of the best character “Judge Dredd” – having misheard the announcer he went up to collect thinking it was best cosplay outfit (this, before those awards even existed), there was a very awkward moment as the 2000ad crew rescued their award from him, but not before he’d made a speech thanking his mate for holding his coat at the back and being amazed at the support… oops)

Anyway, cons now fall into, roughly, three categories for a creator, each of them have different needs and advantages…

Networking – if you’re only one of a couple of creators at a con it’s not much use for networking. Cons with editors, publishers, writers are all good for artists for networking. Bring portfolio, bring free stuff, circulate, mingle, eat drink and make merry.

Money making – You need a table to do this, along with something to sell. Prints, original art, comics, whatevers, or, possibly sketching on the day. Good footfall is needed or, at the very least, a targeted market (if you’re a Dredd artist, most decent sized British cons are good for this)

Something new – look, not all cons will have massive footfall, be super targeted to what you do, or be great for networking, but sometimes they’re just something that looks fun or amazing – do those if you can! Just make sure you don’t go broke doing them. They won’t advance your career, but they will (usually) be a lot of fun.

Anyway, that out of the way, I’m looking to get to some cons next year, and really they’ll need to hit two of three of those things for me. Cons are expensive, I work from home, so a two day weekend at a comic con can cost me four days of work – two days at the actual con, and two days of travel around the con.

(I once did a con so far from home it was two wasted days getting there and two back, mind you I also once did a con that in Athens that I went because I’d never been, got no work done, cost me a fortune but fell in love with Athens and returned two weeks later with my wife for a holiday).

Of course, on top of the work time lost, there’s the cost of travel and hotel on top of that (though in the days of yore, I’d compare travel notes with my english collegues often discovering the flight from Belfast was a half or a third the price of their train tickets)

When I began doing cons, comics where my secondary income – I had a proper day job. When I went to comics full time, cons became something of an expensive luxury (even if I was fortunate to have expenses paid to some).

And I’m not unusual in that, that’s most people’s experience.

So, anyway, if you’re a con I’ve not been to and would like me as a guest, just ask! If I can I’d love to attend.

Provisionally I’m planning to get to thoughtbubble in 2020 – I’ve missed every single one for various reasons, largely around timing.

And, because I can, here’s some photos from Ghosts of Conventions past, specifically Bristol Con 2004 (15 years ago!) – which I decided to document from my flight on (like a lunatic).

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”8″ display=”basic_thumbnail” thumbnail_crop=”0″]

Folklore Thursday: Whispers

The below was published in our Patreon (which you can subscribe to and get the comic as soon as I draw it, which is usually a day or two early!)

“Does this work” has become something of a mantra between John and I, he’ll send me something and a “does this work” (and it always does) and sometimes I’ll try something different and email it to John with a “Does this work”

So, anyway – does this work?

Bar a couple of bits all the ghosts are photos of me, my wife and my kids. (The couple at the door is from our wedding photo).

I’ll admit this may be gimmicy, but it’s one of the pleasures of this format is trying something once and moving on to something else.

I think if I could, I’d do something better with the fairies, the playground stuff (overlaying a photo of something…?) and the circus poster – dig in and find something that’s a real circus clown poster (and out of copyright).

Anyway, on to the next one!