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!)
Earlier today, my friend John Reppion posted a little musing on twitter about a local Church being knocked down.
John is a great writer, and the tweet had a lyrical quality that I really responded to. So I thought, as I’m winding down to relax for a holiday (hahah) I’d do a quick drawing of it as I saw it.
Here’s the tweet:
And I quickly scribbled out a layout and chopped the words up as lettering (drawn in Clip Studio at the digest art size, so I couldn’t get too precious and fiddly)
Took a minute or two. Sent it to John for his approval (I mean he was surprised to see it I’m sure, given it was just me faffing around).
Then I went off and did some paid work and came back to it.
Speed drawing is funny, the trick is to cheat as often and as much as you can.
Cheat one: don’t pencil. Just go straight from the roughs to inks.
Cheat two: photo reference. Just google the hell out of everything and trace it. Google a church. Google a wrecking ball. Google a digger. Using maps to get an overhead shot of some buildings so you can quickly use that to build out a panel. Copy a panel and draw over it. And finally google some birds.
Cheat three: TRACE EVERYTHING. Don’t grab photoreference so you can internalise what a digger looks like, grab photoreference so you can trace the digger. If you’ve any sort of eye at all you’ll introduce enough variety in what you’re doing that it won’t be a problem to describe it as a reinterpretation
Not gonna lie. There’s a lot of tracing in this.
Here’s the black and white:
Now for colour, I skipped the flatting/rendering stage and just stuck with simple colours – but I grabbed a page I liked by an colourist I liked which covered similar colours to what I knew I needed and sampled it for all the colours. That to is big fat cheat.
I’ve been keen to thing of Channel Hex as digest sized, it makes sense, drawing roughly A4 art that’s half my regular art sized, should be much faster.
But then you start looking at what digest sized MEANS – and it turns out … there’s a few different digest sizes.
Here’s a small selection…
And that’s not the end of it, there’s lots more options. But looking at these books, it feels like the most flexible in terms of what storytelling I can do vs small size, it’s the Italian digest size that works best. So I had to do some numbers.
Now, ordinarily, I want to draw at least 40% larger than final art (and I may still do that) but measuring the italian fumetti sized comic, and multipling it by 40% puts it slightly larger than A4 – which will not do, I’m afraid.
So I enlarged the page size to 30% instead, which JUST keeps it in to A4 (strictly speaking I added a 5mm bleed around the printed art, that’s probably too large, so it’s fine) and I get this:
A4 W In
A4 H In
Width = printed width, Height = Printed Height 30% W = Width * 130%, 30% H = Height * 130% A4 W In = A4 Width In, A4 H In = A4 Height In.
Sizes here are MM, the A4 W(idth) IN and A4 H(eight) IN are my way of not needing printed blue lines, If I measure 20.5mm in from the left and then 20.5mm in from the right side of an A4 paper block then the distance between those two measurements is 130mm (ie the safe width)
It all looks a bit like this:
Anyway, that’s how I’ve been spending this evening. There’s a surprising amount of maths in comics. (Though, to be fair, only because I’m too stingy to blueline paper)
Course, now I’ve worked out all the sums involved, I can just create my own blueline in Clip Studio and use that from now on.
And, as a bonus, here’s the sizes for 2000AD Art Size Paper:
Page Size: 30.2cm x 39.43cm (this is bigger than A3 so you’ll either need to use bigger paper trimmed, or, do as I do, draw to the edge, scan it in and then draw a little extra on the page in photoshop)
Panel Size (or the Safe Area, in other words – that area of the page that lettering will go into) 26.44cm x 35.79 cm
TRIM Size – if you want to full bleed the art the art needs to be drawn to the page size, but, between the page size and the trim size the art may get chopped for trim. 29.37cm x 38.59cm (Just ignore this, if you want to have art bleed off the page then draw ALL the way to the Page Size)
Reminder: this isn’t the final work, the final work will be an entirely different story. This is just me trying to figure out some stuff about logos/layouts/page sizes/etc.
Anyway, last time on Channel Hex, I’d planned on a commando digest size and now I’m skewing more towards a slightly larger italian digets sized – art would still be A4, but those books tend more towards 4-5 panels per page rather than 2 (ultimately it may be between 3-4) so I drew a page of the imaginary story (aren’t they all) of Planet of the Blind, and dumped some logos on there. Thanks to my pal, Jim Lavery – who put up with me doggedly asking him to help me design a logo even though I’d clearly had exactly what I wanted in mind already – who suggested a font choice that works great. So I mocked up a single page of the comic, and here it is:
There’s a little too many logos on that page, I don’t think the smaller hex-tentacle logo works at all, and maybe, on that first page i don’t need the logos at all (though the temptation to use the hexagram as a 2000ad style credits in the strip is almost overpowering.)
I’ve a colourist friend has promised to colour up the cover, so once that’s done I’ll repost it with logos/etc.
I’m keeping the actual story under wraps – it’s a corker, and exactly the sort of thing I’d enjoy, fingers crossed when the kickstarter happens (and I’m working at timing now, a tricker thing that you’d think) then you’ll hear all about it on my mailing list at Channel Hex.
Got some work done, decided to start playing with logos and layouts for the kickstarter digest idea.
(To recap: a 64 digest comic, it’s actually 68 pages – once you include the covers, drawn while I do other work. Scifi/horror like the old UK Starblazer imprint)
So, in order to start working out layouts for a cover I needed a cover. And I didn’t have one. So I figured, it was time to test my working hypothesis that I could draw an A5 sized comic at A5 sized (which is about a quarter of the size of a traditional comic).
Man, my eyes are not what they once where, it was a little too tiny. So I might scale up – maybe not all the way to A5, but a decent 40% larger, maybe… (So a single page will fit on an A4 page, but it’ll still be smaller than A4)
This cover was a lot of fun to conceptualise and draw. I knew I wanted a sci-fi old school concept, spaceman, fighting monster on new planet. Then I covered his eye with an eyepatch and decided to make the monster blind (and he’s hunting it with some rotten meat).
And then a title just came – Kingdom of the Blind – wasn’t quite on-the-nose enough – good old pulpy sci required it be called Planet of the Blind (he also requires his surname to be King, if I ever wrote it)
Anyway, here’s the cover…
The logo in the bottom right is the Channel Hex logo. Spent some time figuring that out today, tried dozens of variations and ended up … going back to the original logo I designed when I first wanted to do some short channel hex stories a few years ago.
I’m gonna stew over some of these design choices, but it’s been fun doing this. I’ve a promise of a script from a colleague I’ve done loads with in the past, and he’s one of my favourite writers too – so I’m really looking forward to it starting. Gonna be trying “marvel style” (it’s alright for me to go – I’M DOING THIS FOR FREE! but it’s a bit out of order to say “YOU MUST WRITE A FULL SCRIPT FOR ME”)
If you’re interested in where this is all going, definitely sign up for my mailing list – I’ve not sent any posts out in a while, but it’s a sure fire way to know when the kickstart is kicking off. Still lots of research to do on that front, I wanna make sure I’m going in to it with my eyes opened as wide as possible -I’ve had a couple of great chats with people and one of the big things, especially as first kickstarter is KEEP IT SIMPLE – one digital book, one paperback and one hardback and that’s it. Try and keep the posting options tight, so you don’t accidentally push yourself over the edge promising stuff.