Back to the grind

The last few weeks have been filled with ‘life’ things, so ‘comic’ things have had to take a back seat. It’s been pretty hard to break back in.

Since mid-October I’ve been doing a lot less art and comics work. Preparing for MCM (and then tabling at it) took up a lot of the latter half of October, and since November started I’ve had a ton of stuff to sort out, not least my heating system falling apart on the cusp of winter leading to me having to quickly get the whole thing replaced. Picking up a pencil has been hard enough, let alone trying to find time and space to actually do anything with it.

This week I finally got back on the horse (luckily I didn’t choose to draw it as well; that may have broken me). I actually found it a lot harder to do that than I expected. I’ve only had a few weeks away from it all, but I came back to things feeling completely unable to do anything. I was picking up half-finished pages of Heads! and feeling like I wasn’t able to create anything up to that standard. I thought I’d try something different, but all the ideas I had seemed even harder to achieve. Even doodling stuff was futile; I found myself making pointless, low quality images which made me feel even more inadequate.
One of the things that got me was timing. I realised that I wasn’t getting to draw at the times I wanted to draw. Sadly, life doesn’t allow us all to fully command when and where we do what, but I decided to try and pick moments rather than seize moments. I am a long distance runner and am well aware of how defeating it can be to force yourself out to do a long training run when the timing isn’t right. However, I thought about what was good about the bad runs. I remembered that if I felt like I was running for the sake of running while I felt low or tired it was a useless run. I would be more tired afterwards, wouldn’t have achieved anything other than sweat patches and would feel like I was further away from what I was aiming for than when I started. However, if I set out on a run with the intention of just enjoying it no matter how well I did, I found I ran better than I expected and, in some cases, actually did a decent time or distance.

The main way I managed to do this in running was not wearing a watch. I usually time my runs so that I know how well the training is going (particularly if I’m training for a race). But without a watch to keep time I would only be able to judge how well I was doing by how I felt. Putting down the one thing that I was rating myself against gave me back the freedom to just enjoy it for the sake of it. But how could I apply this to drawing comics?

I thought about what I most wanted to draw. Right now, I want to get the third issue of Heads! finished off (I’m just over halfway through). That felt like the thing that would please me most. Then I thought about what was unenjoyable about drawing it. I had a pang of discomfort as I realised that my desire to have the whole thing finished by the end of November was bugging me. A lot. It made me understand that my self-imposed deadline was looming and that I couldn’t achieve it. That made the whole thing feel not just difficult, but a little bit pointless.

So I let it go.

The deadline was there to keep me motivated (see my previous blog for more details on that). If I was working for a publisher on a contract and the deadline was ‘real’ I would have been working in a very different way from the start. So I let it go. I accepted that it is more important for me (and for my readers) that the finished issue is of the best quality work I can produce, even if it takes a bit longer than planned.

Unburdened, I felt able to draw again. The resulting first page I completed was a joy to create and turned out to be much more intricate than I ever expected, so it will really soar in the new issue. I’m not going to have it all done by the end of the month, but you know, it’ll be worth the wait.

Twelve months in comics

This time last year I was happily relaxing after successfully running Wimbledon Comic Art Festival. That event actually marked the start of 12 months of comic awesomeness for me. Here’s what I managed to get up to in that year.

Wimbledon Comic Art Festival

2018-3Running this event was a big deal for me and I was so pleased that it went so well. I’d wanted to put on an indie comics event in Wimbledon for ages, so to have twenty amazing creators tabling at my event was humbling. Hosted at Merton Art Space, I secured the venue by exciting the Head of Libraries and Heritage in Merton with my plans for the day and I even managed to convince the Deputy Mayor to open it with me. I tried my best to mix the content up so that newbies to comics could come and discover that its not all just about muscles and spandex. David Broughton kept the 2000AD crowd happy, Matt Garvey had something for everyone, Gareth Hopkins introduced people to abstract comics, Inko and Vam Nim represented manga, Richy Chandler had some wonderful kids comics and the Awesome Comics Podcast extolled the virtues of all things indie. It was knackering, but I loved it!

Rock In Purgatory

01-FRONT-COVERI was trying to launch Rock In Purgatory at the same time as running WCAF, so understandably I couldn’t manage both. In the end, I released Rock In Purgatory in spring 2018, pleasing its fans by collecting the horror comedy strip as a parody music magazine. I threw in a poster pull out, fake gig ads, instrument endorsements and articles about the bands that inspired the strip. At 48 pages, this is not just my debut solo comic release but also the biggest thing I have created to date. I’m really pleased with this comic and was ecstatic when it sold out at MCM this year (more on that later).

Unfortunate Tales

DVwnX4xW4AAm7cH.jpg largeProving that networking works, be it online or face to face, in the wake of Rock In Purgatory finishing its run in Popcorn Horror, I was asked by Ken Wynne of Attack From Planet B to take on art duties for his webcomic Unfortunate Tales From Planet B. Each strip features a re-working of a classic VHS horror movie scene, but with little links which take you from one strip to the next. Even I’m not sure where Ken is taking this narrative, but its been an absolute pleasure so far to draw loads of garish horror comics!

Heads!

menu 1Having ruminated on Heads! for nearly two years I finally took the plunge and began drawing my first issue based series as soon as WCAF was over. My plan had been to be able to release issues in farily quick succession by indie standards, which was quite a goal to set for myself. As with Rock In Purgatory, Heads! is created, written and illustrated by me. That includes colours. And editing. And lettering. And compiling for print. And marketing. So I changed my creation process to see what I could do to speed things up without compromising on quality. The distinct difference with Heads! is that I create the pages at actual size, so the only editing I do is to correct a mistake if I find one. It means I can carry pages around with me anywhere, as I’m working on A4 britsol board. I can draw pages anywhere and anytime. And with the scale being 1:1 there is less to draw. I’ve had to adapt to that the most, as some of my page layouts have slightly less panels than I would put in if I was drawing detail at a larger scale, but its actually helping me get better at the amount of detail I can put into a panel.

Issue one was released in September 2018, but by this point I had already completed the art in issue two and had begun to draw issue three. Ideally, I would have loved to have had three issues fully drawn inside of a year, but life gets in the way sometimes. However, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve achieved two and a half issues in a year, which means I can still release three issues within a year. Hopefully by then the next two and a half will be ready so that I can keep up the regularity.

MCM

I closed of my year of comics by tabling at MCM London for the first time. It was a great experience and I’ll be back next year for sure. I officially launched Heads! to the masses at the event and loved being able to get people as excited about as I am. If you are interested in reading more about that event read my previous blog about it.

Now I’m heading into a new period of comic creation and promotion. Besides Heads! issues two and three plus loads more events, I have new projects that I want to get started with. Will I achieve more in the next twelve months than in the last? Stay tuned to find out….

Guitars are cool and everyone is called Chris

Having never done an MCM before (nor ever having been to the ExCel) it’s fair to say my first one was nothing like I imagined it would be. I’ve tabled at comic cons, run comic cons and been part of various events in the past, but MCM was quite unique.

A massive venue filled with so much stuff for three long solid days is quite tiring to think about, let alone be involved in. Luckily I had enlisted horror writer Craig Jex to help me out for the weekend so I had someone to hang out with and hold the fort while I went for a wander. But first, we needed to set up.

I found Comic Village and was enormously pleased to discover it was not in a hall of its own. I think I’d drawn this conclusion because there’s so many things going on that I assumed we’d be tucked away in a separate room. But MCM is all open plan, allowing punters to walk through everything unencumbered. Though I am sure many people never ventured over to Comic Village, there were plenty of people who don’t normally read comics that did come by, take a look and have a chat with creators.

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Once me and Craig had set up and met our table neighbours (the über talented Mr Picto and Yannis Rubbis) we were ready for action. I’d brought my SG to display Rock In Purgatory and unveiled the characters from Heads! who I’d had made as models for the table. I hoped that these unique elements would help start conversations and get people interested in my comics. This really did help get some people over who may have missed out otherwise, and as a result I actually sold out of Rock In Purgatory half way through day two! I spent a lot of time talking guitars with people, which was really nice; it turns out a lot of rock and metal guitarists love comics as much as me too. Heads! captured imaginations as well and the unofficial launch of the book went really well. I was surprised at some of the people who did and didn’t take a punt on it, so I’ll certainly be hearing that in mind when I start marketing it again in due course. Talking to comics fans what makes these events worthwhile. It’s all well and good tweeting away all day and having a bit of online banter, but actual face to face conversation makes such a difference in getting my comics across to people and seeing what really excites them about my work. Oddly, almost all of the men who introduced themselves to me were called Chris, which at least made it easy to say hello to them again when I saw them the following day.

I managed to escape from the table plenty thanks to Craig and got to experience the rest of the show. I saw a horror panel, failed to meet some cool guests due to timing (but did wave to Amanda Conner) and got lost amongst various awesome trader stalls many times. I got round Comic Village and met some great people. I finally met Ken Reynolds in person, ran into Wimbledon Comic Art Festival exhibitors Richy Chandler and Silvia Carrus, traded abuse with Matt Garvey (obvs), and drank far too much coffee with Josh Harris.

By the end of the event I was knackered, but really pleased to have unleashed my comics on so many new people. And I had two really wonderful high points. Firstly, a fella came over to buy a copy of Rock In Purgatory because he’d been following it online. This one person who knew my work and sought it out really made the weekend for me. Great as it is to find new readers, it’s the first time someone I have never met has tracked me down to get one of my comics, so this meant a lot. Secondly, apropos of nothing Ken Reynolds told me how much he thought my art had levelled up lately. I agree – I’ve been looking back on older stuff and am really proud of how my current work is looking, so it was fantastic to know that someone as talented at Ken not only acknowledged this but has been watching me develop as well. Cheers Ken!

Those of you who were following my antics on Twitter will know I also spent all weekend tallying up the various cosplayers I fist bumped. That was a good laugh, so here’s the list of everyone I got:

  • Harley Quinn (loads of them!)
  • Starlord
  • Blacksad
  • Hellboy
  • Dick Tracy
  • Michael Myers
  • Frank from Donnie Darko
  • Amanda from SAW
  • John Constantine
  • Doctor Who mistaken for John Constantine
  • Bloodshot
  • Rocketeer
  • Preacher
  • Thanos
  • Ghost Rider

Top 5 MCM guests who aren’t Dave Bautista

The disappointing news that Drax will not be appearing at MCM London next week has resulted in a lot of upset punters. Plenty of people had booked tickets (some also booking travel and accommodation) to see one of the headline guests, so understandably they aren’t too impressed. But fear not – there are tons of awesome guests from comics, TV and film who you can still meet. Here’s my top five guests who I recommend you seek out; just try not to get in the queue before me cos I have a Comic Village table to run too.

wp-15397938001391498503228Katherine Isabelle

The first person I’ll be seeking out is the delectable Katherine Isabelle. I’m a huge fan of hers and consider her to be the definitive modern day scream queen. Ginger Snaps is a new classic in terms of horror and Katherine’s role as Ginger in all three movies is outstanding. Despite my love of those movies, its American Mary that is the stand out from her career for me. An absolute masterpiece of horror film making with a leading lady cast to perfection. That’s not to mention her stand out role in Hannibal, as well as tons of other movie appearances….yeah I’m going full on fan boy here! I’ll be getting an autograph and gifting her a copy of Heads! for sure.

 

AmandaConnerJune2011Amanda Connor

Over in Comics Village (which is where you’ll find my table) comics artist Amanda Conner will be appearing. Her work on Harley Quinn is outstanding and I totally fell in love with her art following that title. There’s so much going on in her panels yet it never feels overworked or cluttered – I’m in awe of her ability to give so much life to her comics. Her husband, comics writer Jimmy Palmiotti, is also appearing at Comic Village.

 

wp-15397941409442879161Linnea Quigley

Any B-Movie fan worth their salts will be clambering over themselves to meet Linnea Quigley. Best known for her role as Trash in Return of the Living Dead, Linnea has had a long career in all kinds of horror scream-fests. My favourite piece of trivia about Linnea is that she features as a ‘soul’ crying out of Freddy’s chest in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. Trash featured in two of the Unfortunate Tales comic strips I have drawn for Attack From Planet B, so I am hoping to meet Linnea and show her what we did with the character.

 

wp-1539794076542464578806Frank Miller

The man in black, writer, artist, creator; love him or hate him Frank Miller is an institution when it comes to comics. With headline comic titles to his name, Frank Miller is definitely on my list of guests to meet. This is the man responsible for Sin City and 300 among many others; iconic opuses that have helped define comics beyond the superhero genre. As influences go, he sits alongside the likes of the mighty Alan Moore in respect of kicking comics in new directions and allowing traditionally non-comics readers to appreciate the medium with a fresh outlook.

 

John-Romita-JR-300x170John Romita Jr

The mighty John Romita Jr is joining Comics Village as well! I love Romita’s art style and am honoured to be sharing a convention hall with this guy. I’m a massive fan of his work on World War Hulk, and his art on Kick Ass is also fantastic. If you want to meet an amazing comics art legend you need to make sure you swing by and seek him out.

It’s not all bollocks!

The last week or so has been a bit of a creative non-starter for me. I feel like I’ve hit a bit of a block on Heads! and a few other things have dragged me down further in relation to it. But I’ve found a few ways of getting myself out of that frame of mind and back in the creative saddle.

I’m currently working on issue three of Heads! ahead of the second issue being released at the start of 2019. I was very excited about this particular issue, as it’s where the story expands, more characters are introduced and the key players really start to come into their own. But designing a new character and also a building whose appearance is essential to the plot (trust me…) turned out to be a taller order than I expected. It left me feeling a under confident in a lot of the artwork I was producing and as a result I lost all faith in everything I’d done with the issue. By this point I’d made significant progress with 11 pages of a 26 page comic. The thought of scrapping it all and starting again was about as desirable as the prospect of continuing with it as it was – in short, I was stuck where I was.

Luckily, I am not shy about showing things off, even if I’m not very happy with them. I appreciate that it can be hard to put your work out there and particularly to ask for criticism and advice. But rather than put things out publicly and ask for help, I chose my audience. I showed pages to my long suffering other half, who puts up with a hell of a lot of diva tantrums from me in general. She’s really good at pointing out if something isn’t working, and since she isn’t an artist she is a really good gauge for whether a reader will be as disappointed in a page as I may feel about. I went to my incredible artist friend Heather Chapman. We always show each other pieces of our work we love / hate and often illustrate together. Heather gave me some suggestions and considerations, while appreciating my gut feeling as an artist. I then showed my writer friend Craig Jex. He’s worked on comics projects with me and is also a filmmaker, so he’s a creative but not an illustrator and therefore was able to look at it all from a professional point of view but also as a reader.

I got a number of things from choosing these people.

  1. All three are nice people and would be truthful with me if they thought I had drawn something that wasn’t up to my usual standard.
  2. They all had different ideas for how I should approach a change. These ranged from changing the composition of an image to pointing out how the placement of a speech bubble could cover a non-essential detail that wasn’t quite right.
  3. They all pointed out the things they liked about the work I showed them as well as the things that could be improved.

It’s that last point that made the most difference, and is the thing I’d say is less likely to happen in a public arena. I got the criticism I needed but was buoyed up by hearing that the vast majority of what I had created was hitting the mark – or as Craig put it “You always pick something you don’t like and assume the whole issue is all bollocks. It’s not all bollocks!”

This really helped me move on with the issue. One particular page needed a re-think and having a bit of confidence back allowed me to experiment with some ideas and find a composition which is so much better. I know some people will think my choice of critics was too safe, but these people also know what I care about in my work. There’s loads of areas that my work could improve in, some of which I actively try to get better at and some of which I really don’t consider to be of importance. The people close to me know that I don’t want my work to look more like Jim Lee or J Scott Campbell, they know I don’t care about making things more hyper-realistic and that I find occasional continuity errors to be quite amusing things to definitely keep in. So, rather than point out lots of things like that, or looking for faults for the sake of it, they looked to see if the pages I showed them looked like good quality Rik Jackson comics pages, and they told me the good and the bad things that I needed to hear.

What I did while you were at Thought Bubble

I wasn’t at Thought Bubble celebrating the awesomeness of comics with the vast majority of the UK indie comics scene. But rather than dwell on what I missed (which looks to have been pretty amazing, judging by everyone’s updates), I got stuck into doing loads of comic-related stuff myself.

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Orbital Comics now stocking my titles

I was really pleased to deliver Heads! and Rock In Purgatory stock to the wonderful people at Orbital Comics in London’s Leicester Square. A beaocn for London’s comic crowd, Orbital is a brillant store whatever your comic book tastes. There is an entire small press and indie section of the shop, and I’ve managed to pick up some awesome titles there, such as Chunks by Matt Garvey, Bubbles O Seven from Bounce Comics and Katzine by Katriona Chapman. I love the fact that my books are now sharing shelf space with these kind of titles, and I hope that it helps to get my work in front of new readers. If you have a pull list at Orbital, or happen to be popping by for a comic fix please check out the indie section and pick up something new.

Heads! issue two….and three!

Heads! issue one is still warm from the presses and already my plans for the next issue are well in hand. All the art and editing is done, and I spent some time at the weekend starting the lettering. However, I put more effort into the art for issue three, which is already taking shape really well. The first three issues of the series will weave lots of mystery and delve into the character development of the main cast. I am also bringing Vortex Face into the mix. Rock In Purgatory fans will be familiar with Vortex Face, and will be pleased to hear their appearance in Heads! continues on from their origin. How do I managed to get a soul sucking doom metal band into the Heads! mix? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

Interview in Popcorn Horror

I finished off my interview with horror magazine Popcorn Horror. You can get hold of their double length Halloween issue in October (follow @PopcornHorror on Twitter for updates). I was interviewed by horror writer Craig Jex for a piece about Heads! and my future comics project. The Halloween special has some great articles and a hellish cover by Chris Barnes of Brutal Posters, so its well worth checking out.

Green Lantern and Dick Tracy

I also caught up on some regular comics and grabbed some new ones. I’m all in awe of Dan Jurgens current run on Green Lanterns right now. I’m a big Lanterns fan and love where this story arc is going. Having Cyborg Superman taking over the power battery is a great idea, and the planning behind the coup is being excellently executed.
I also picked up the new Dick Tracy comic from IDW. I haven’t have a chance to read it properly yet, but it looks like a brilliant addition to the Tracy line and has gone straight on my pull list.

Focus – a tale of marketing vs creating

I’ve been a bit pre-occupied with promo activities over the last few weeks. Nothing wrong with that; it’s probably one of the reason you’re reading this blog. While marketing and creating are rather different animals, both are essential to getting a comic out into the wilderness. Finding the balance between the two is probably the trickiest bit.

The biggest thing for me right now is Heads! being published. I’m really pleased to have print copies in my hands and available for you all. Heads! is my first attempt at a logn-form comics story and this first issue will form part of the first story arc in what I hope will be a fairly long running series.

I’d always planned to do Heads! as an ongoing story, to some extent. The logisitics of creating it and keeping people interested had me change my approach a couple of times, so now it’s going to be a set of mini-series which build toward the final climax. I’m also trying to get ahead of the curve on creating it all so that I can release fairly regularly. Ideally, I want to get a new issue out every four months. So far, issue two looks ready to hit that deadline, but the marketing and promotion of issue one has eaten into my time quite a lot. However, it’s not just writing anf drawing each issue that needs to happen. I need to promote, market and sell the buggers, which takes a considerable amount of energy and resilience.

There’s a lot to be said about getting the creative / promotional balance right. As I have found when I put on Wimbledon Comic Art Festival last year (and prior to that in my music promotion past life) its hard to do both really well at the same time. Both require a lot of time, effort and – most importantly – focus. Since the start of August I’ve been pushing the release of Heads! a lot. Though it’s been really worthwhile in getting the comic out there and building a buzz around the release, its meant I have focused a lot less on drawing and writing than I would have liked to lately.

My plan for the next few weeks is to get solidly back into the creative process and let some of the marketing I’ve done look after itself. I have a few interviews and reviews being released over autumn, so other than my usual incessant tweeting I’ll be leaving the promo stuff alone until I get to MCM London at the end of October.

That said…if you do fancy buying a copy of Heads! you can get print or digital editions from my online store.

OK…I’ll stop now…

 

Show it to a kid – Part 2: Practical improvements

I got a little side-tracked last week with the pre-order launch for Heads! so didn’t get round to finishing these follow up examples ready. As part two of this blog piece I wanted to give a few more examples of how I have tested my visual storytelling techniques and made changes to my comics accordingly. My eleven year old son is really good at helping me with this – kids in general are, and I explain more about this in the previous blog. Here are a couple more pages he’s ‘read’ and how his interpretation has led to improved panels.

02-heads-vs-blog

This is a page from Heads! where I wanted to use the imagery of changing gears in a car to represent part of the plot accelerating. The previous page has fewer, larger panels and shows the characters casually talking in the moving car. When I showed my son the scene, he said the first page was people talking about something important in a car. He reached this page, hesitated and then said that ‘everything sped up’. The rest of the pages in the scene felt more urgent to him after that, which was what I’d hoped the result would be.

Get a copy of Heads! to see for yourself.

01-rip-vs-blog

In this page from Rock In Purgatory, a snow leopard creeps through a las Vegas hotel to find its way to a concert stage before it attacks. The text and dialogue bare no relation to this, which I intended in order to draw less attention to it and make it feel more surprising. In the original layout for the page I had not referenced the snow leopard as much. When my son read the strip, he felt that the snow leopard seemed to come out of nowhere – not in a sinister way, but in a nonsensical one! The preceding page ends with a frame of the snow leopard in a cage with the lock open, which I reminded him of. Though it helped him feel more content with the strip, I realised that I wouldn’t be there to point this out to every reader. If my son was missing the point, likely most readers will. So, I added the snow leopard in just a little bit more and showed his journey through the hotel. The final page felt concise but accurate, and my son thought the silhouette of the beast added suspense – which suited me just fine.

Get a copy of Rock In Purgatory to see for yourself.

As we all know, proof reading a final piece is so valuable. I’ve learned that a visual storytelling proof read of a comic can be of massive benefit, and kids are great to do this with. Plus, they are usually a bit more blunt than friends or family may be, which is exactly what we need to make us, as comic creators, realise that something isn’t working and to find a way to make it better.

Had good experiences like this yourself? Let me know in the comments below.

Show it to a kid – Part 1: Testing visual storytelling

My son and I started developing a comic idea this week. We chuck ideas around all the time and sometimes choose to do something with one if it sticks with us. In this case, I’d seen a tweet from The Phoenix asking for writer and artist submissions. We thought we’d have a go at turning our fun little idea into something a bit meatier and get a submission over to them. 

This got me thinking about how much of an important a part of my comics creation process my son is. Not only is he full of good ideas, he’s a great sounding board for whether things are working well in respect of visual storytelling. Comics is a visual medium so you need to have your visual storytelling nailed down. Pages need to be interesting to look at, flow effortlessly and not make the reader have to ‘think’ too hard about it. The layout and presentation of the art shouldn’t dilute what’s going on with the story. Being able to create a sequence of images that tell the story at the right pace and over an acceptable number of pages is no mean feat. And testing the success of this is where my son comes in.

As often as possible, I show him thumbnails, page layouts or completed pages (yes, I know some of my work is not suitable for kids – I make sure whatever he sees and reads is appropriate), none of which have any text on them. I ask him to tell me what thinks is going on in each panel, and to tell me what the scene or page he’s just ‘read’ was generally all about. I ask him how some parts make him feel, though he often articulates this anyway. It’s so interesting and often makes me rethink a page, or brings up a point I hadn’t considered. My son is eleven years old – if he can’t ‘read’ a silent page, it probably isn’t working.

toad-webcomic-vers

Here’s my Toad of Toad Hall silent comic from last year. I gave this to my son and he was able to read the scene. He found humour in the ever changing costumes and understood the pleading urgency of Toad at the start. At the end, he told me that Toad was defiant, but ended up going along with the final plan, which he assumed would lead to him feeling angry with himself later on.

The point of this exercise is to see if the visual storytelling is hitting the right notes. It’s not an exact science – there are obviously some layouts and images that do not adhere to a standard storytelling process, or that need to be more abstract and subversive to suit the script. But generally, if I want to know whether a sequence has the right beats in it and moves the reader along with the story, it really helps.

I’ll put some examples of this up in a new blog post next week. However, for a quick reference on visual story telling I would suggest you all have a look at Bone by Jeff Smith and The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. If you look at Bone without reading the text you can see so much going on in the art. Humour and peril are well portrayed by the light and shadows in the panels, and characters feelings are presented in subtle hand gestures as well as body language and facial expressions. The Snowman is a completely silent book, yet Raymond Briggs gives us something that has so much to ‘read’. I remember my dad and I read this book a lot when I was a kid, and we he would get me to tell me what is going on in each panel. I do the same with my kids now too, and find that this is a book which takes a long time for us to read together due to the amount of narrative and emotion that can be interpreted from the art.

Check back next week for the second part of this blog, where I’ll break down some of my comic pages from Heads! with the help of my son’s interpretations.

A (Un)fortunate Tale of art direction

The new Unfortunate Tales script landed in my inbox at the weekend. For those that don’t already know about it, Unfortunate Tales is a webcomic published on the Attack From Planet B website. It’s written by AFPB main man Ken Wynne and I do the art for it. Each strip riffs off of a different horror movie concept, with each strip linking subversively to the next. This edition takes on Return Of The Living Dead, having jumped from a reference in the previous Street Trash inspired strip.
Other than being a great little strip to work on, it’s an excellent opportunity try out new things. Ken’s scripts are particularly detailed for such short pieces and it forces me to very quickly learn how to draw things I haven’t drawn before or tackle compositions that I wouldn’t have come up with myself. This script presented a compositional problem, so for the first time in this working relationship I needed to negotiate how we produce it.

Ken’s original script describes a front facing one point perspective layout. The direction makes sure all the details are captured, but when it came to drawing this I found the camera angle to be very restrictive. Unfortunate Tales is exclusively produced with square panels. The layout Ken described called for a focal character at the front standing with legs apart so that we can see characters visible in the mid-ground. There is then a background layer with a suggestion of activity. In a wider panel, this may have been good, but we can’t change the panel shape. If I could crop to just knees down on the foreground character we could see more detail, but it is essential that we see all of the foreground character in full. So I was limited to roughly this layout:

I decided to try out a few different variants and eventually settled on tracking the camera around to the right, keeping the foreground character in full and in front of the panel, but now off to the left. The mid-ground character remain in the mid-ground, but I can come closer to them, showing more detail. And the activity in the background now appears directly behind them, adding a bit more urgency to their predicament:

I pitched this to Ken to get his take on this and he appreciated what I’d done. Once he saw the two compared to each other he felt that the side angle helped to show off more of what he wanted in the strip. So we went with this layout, and I am now working up the pencils for it. The last time I had to negotiate on scripts and layouts with a writer was when I drew Brutal Bombshells to Craig Jex’s scripts. It can be a delicate process, and sometimes it’s hard to tell a writer that what they’ve written doesn’t quite work. It comes down to not just respecting each other’s particular skill, but also respecting the fact that sometimes an objective eye on something can really help to make something better.