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Ode to Zero Hour

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While revisiting old comics, I dived back into some of DC’s mid-90s Zero Hour event. This was an important event for me as a comics fan, as it allowed me an easy entry point into new and existing titles.

Up until Zero Hour I’d really only ever read Batman and some related titles (usually whenever there was an important crossover). Prior to that I read some X-Men and Fantastic Four, but being a young teen with not much cash I could only commit to buying so many comics each month. Considering there were four main Batman titles to keep up with, I couldn’t afford to follow many other comics. I certainly didn’t have money to waste trying out new stuff only to find that I had to get hold of tons of back issues and read other titles just to know what the hell was going on.

Zero Hour provided me with an opportunity to discover new things. For those that don’t know this event, Zero Hour was an event that handled alternate realities off the back of milestone stories such as Death of Superman and Crisis on Infinite Earths (find out more at DC Fandom). The actual issue mini-series that led the whole event was a bit anti-climactic in my opinion (basically Hal Jordan losing his shit again), but the ripple across all titles was to give them a simultaneous issue 0.

These issues were stand-alone stories showing the affect effects of Zero Hour on each character. They shone a light on the character, delving into their origins before propelling them in their next significant story arc which was, of course, affected by the fallout of Zero Hour. Additionally, a number of new titles were piloted through Zero Hour. Some were brand new pitches that emerged from the event and others were re-imaginings of existing characters (my favourite oddity with was Dr Fate reborn as Fate, a sword wielding muscle-bound warlock).

All of these issues were a gift to me – finally here was a chance to grab as many new DC titles as I wanted, get a taste of the characters without the need to understand decades of context, and chose new comics to follow. And all of this could be done with a single issue!

One of my biggest gripes about mainstream comics (and the reason I eventually stopped reading for many years) is the constant overlapping into different titles. With Batman, it was hard enough to follow just Bruce’s stories across four main titles, periodic one-shots, regular crossovers with other titles and the need to have half an eye on Justice League in case anything important happened to him there. I was reluctant to get into new things because I knew I couldn’t afford to sustain being a reader of anything else if it started to deviate from a single main title.

The Zero Hour issue 0’s aren’t all masterpieces. I found some of the new titles to be pretty awful, if I’m being honest. But I still have stacks of them because they mean a lot to me in respect of the window they opened into new territory. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed picking them back up, particularly the issues for Lobo, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and Superman: Man of Steel. You can find various 0’s on eBay for pretty cheap, so if you missed out on this at the time why not take a look for some characters you always wanted to read and try them out.

First printing

Heads! Issue 4 was released right on top of lockdown kicking in. Its been a bit frustrating, as I feel like that release ended up going rather unnoticed. Understandably, people had other things to worry about, but other than Kickstarter backers I haven’t been able to get it out there very much. This includes getting a copy to one significant person. 

James Clarke (known as Brown, for reasons best not delved into here) is one of my best and oldest friends. We’ve known each other for longer than I can remember. We have played in bands and made music with each other for about twenty years. He started dabbling in digital art several years ago, but last year he made a big commitment to upping his game as a colouristAmong many artists whose line art he honed his skills on, Brown tapped me for any and all line art that I had lying around including sketches from my first every Inktober. 

I desperately wanted him to help out a Heads! cover so we decided to work on issue 4 together. Rather than just give him line art to colour, I decided to give him full reign on the design. I knew what the cover needed to be, so I gave him the brief and all the inks and let him off the leash. 

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I’ve never worked with another artist in this way, so it was interesting to see how Brown interpreted the brief and how he chose to add his own flair to it. I discovered how picky I actually am about the way my art is presented – I lost track of how many times I asked for a head shot to be moved to a different position behind Datsun, or to change the by-line placement. Luckily, Brown didn’t go too mental dealing with my shit! As well as this, I also gave Brown a concept sketch of Datsun firing a raygun. It’s a sketch that is for future reference, as its to do with one of the places the story will eventually go. I liked it a lot and when I showed Brown he snapped it up immediately and came up with the wonderful colour and background treatment you see here.  

When Heads! Issue 4 came out, the one person I wanted to see to give a copy to was Brown. But I couldn’t. I posted out the backer rewards and hoped to get to see him, but lockdown stopped that. Then my local post office closed so I couldn’t even post him a copy. But at the weekend Brown was able to swing by and say hello. We cracked open the back gate and he sat out in the woods behind the house while I sat by the shed. I gave him copies of Heads! and a stack of raygun prints – his first work in print! Those of you who have every had anything released in print, it’s a pretty big deal. Something that has always existed as a single piece of art is now suddenly a proper comic or a high-quality print. It’s impressive to behold. Brown now has his first print work in his hands – and judging by the work he’s pumping out right now it won’t be the only print work you see from this guy. 

You can follow Brown on Instagram @merejackals. And you can buy Heads! from my online store. 

New inputs, new outputs

Over the last month I have made some great progress with Heads! issue 5 and I’m proud to let you all know a third of the art is now complete. Oddly, I find that I’m drawing less under lockdown. I used to pick up  pencil several times a day, even if I was only managing a quick sketch of a fiddle with a panel here and there. At the moment I now tend to have about three evenings when I get round to doing anything, but I have been trying to dedicate solid time to art when I can.

The result is 11 pages of sci-fi mystery madness which will be concluding the current Heads! series. I’ve taken the opportunity (as usual) to try new things with this issue. The most noticeable is that I’m sticking in a ton of cameos from friends in it. As fans will know, Vortex Face associate Parsh is actually based on my brother-in-law, but I have slid a load of mates into this one. Largely, these are people who have helped me create the comic or have been particularly supportive of my work. I don’t do photo-realistic portrait work so these characters are drawn in my style based on real people, but its helped me stretch a little as it makes me follow a specific look that I have not designed, much like a pro artist may have to do when joining a new comic. It’s a challenge to stay within the lines while keeping my personal flare, but its certainly been fun so far.

I’ve managed to read a bit more than usual, so have picked up new books and comics lately. Some of these have been influential, such as The Devils’s Beat by Robert Edric, and others are inspirational, such as seeing new comics from my mates Tony Esmond and Adam Falp (Atomic Hercules) and finally having my mind blown by Fraser Campbell and Iain Laurie’s House of Sweets. If any of these are new to you, I advise you to rectify this!

Taking in new things is definitely encouraging me to try new art and writing styles, and to explore different ways of telling a story. Samuel George London (of Milford Green fame) made me aware of the Studio Binder Story Circle when we both chipped into a Twitter thread on comics writing. This was great for me to see, and is the sort of thing I miss out on usually, as I tend to consider myself more of an illustrator than a writer. It’s something I probably wouldn’t have known to look for, so I was really pleased to have discovered it.

As I move on with the next development on issue 5 of Heads! its going to be really important for me to refer to new things. I have my first big fight scene to draw and a complex reveal to deploy which will tie up many loose ends but cut others looser, so these are writing and drawing challenges I haven’t faced before. If I want to keep people like you as fans of Heads! I’ll need to be at the top of my game – I will endeavour not to let you down!

Lucky charms

Heads! issue 5 is taking shape. The opening scene is complete, so I wanted to share a little sneak peak of the first three pages. Fans of the story will know what this scene is, but I’m not giving away how it pans out!

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I’ve had some interesting responses to my previous post about what you expect to see happen in the final issue. So far no one has mentioned anything I had forgotten about (phew!) but everyone has different hopes and has noted different things as being of importance. This is great news for me, as it means I’ve weaved a complex plot that is resonating with people in different ways. The revelations in the final issue are going to surprise many of you – though with all this diverse focus its going to be an even bigger challenge to make that surprise have a big impact.

Being closed off from the world has left me a bit bereft of writing inspiration. Despite the fact that I have time and access to read loads, watch TV and movies and listen to music and podcasts, I actually find that a lot of my best ideas come when I’m not immersing myself in media or sitting there trying to create. I run and often concoct entire script plans while out running, but having not been out as much as usual I’m not getting that opportunity. But I was digging through some old art supplies the other day and came across a box I had misplaced which has helped me out a bit.

In among a load of old colour markers that I stopped using yonks ago, I rediscovered the little items that used to adorn my drawing board before I moved house. I’ve got some Vegas casino chips that my other half brought back for me when we first met. I have a chunk of selenite which looks awesome catching light from my drawing lamp. There’s a deck of cards I taught my son to play on.

I’ve started laying these things out when I draw or write lately and its actually helped get me back on track. I’ve got stuff around me that is the right sort of distraction. Rather than meandering off to make coffee, check messages or end up watching a movie that is on instead of it just being in the background, I find these little bits and bobs take me away for a moment then allow me to come back: shuffling cards while I ponder some dialogue, stacking chips as a doodle turns into an elusive panel layout.

I guess in the current situation we may need to adapt to stay capable of doing usual things, and it seems this is one of the ways I’ve adapted. I really like the first three pages that I’ve produced of the new issue, so if this method is helping me get into it then I reckon Heads! issue five will turn out to be a belting finale.

Help me finish Heads!

The fourth issue of my sci-fi mystery comic Heads! was released in March. It’s the penultimate issue of the first series and was quite a challenge to get finished, but now it’s out there I’m hugely proud of what I’ve achieved. In two years I’ve single-handedly written, drawn and lettered four issues of a series, which is not mean feat. However…the final issue looms…

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For those that have been following the series, you’ll know that I’ve left so many threads hanging at the end of issue four, with sixteen characters orbiting the main story. Those that haven’t read it yet can download issue one for FREE! Covering all this off in the final issue is not just going to be a creative marathon but also a test of my writing and editing resolve. I’m lucky enough to have Patrick Kennedy, a great editor and copywriter who has helped ensure that the writing is on point, the plot is consistent and that I haven’t made massive typos everywhere. He’ll be guiding me on this issue also.

The problem I face is that, though this issue will end the arc it isn’t the end of the whole story. Some questions will remain unanswered, some new questions will be asked. I already have a plan of how this issue pans out, but how will I know if I’ve close this arc properly?

That’s where you come in.

I want to know what you guys are expecting to be resolved in the final issue. What are you hoping to find out? What revelations do you think will be uncovered? And what do you think deserves to be explored in more detail in the next arc?

Comment below, or reply to my tweets on the subject. I’d love to know what you are hoping for…if only so I can laugh maniacally at your responses when I realise my plan for issue five will mess with your head even more!

Why create?

Ok, so, first post in nearly a year. The site has seen new content going up but I stopped the blog as it wasn’t getting as many readers as other content was. But, considering the utter shitshow we are currently living in I thought I may as well have another go. I was contemplating video posts – which I likely will venture into again – but my awesome friend Claire-Marie tweeted to say that if I blogged it may inspire her to get on with blogging again herself, so I see this as a fair trade. Go see what she has to say over at cmls.world.

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Now is a time when entertainment can be such a huge thing for so may people. We’re all stuck in our homes or with restricted access to places. Some of us are working front line jobs and are stressed and running risks. We need something to alleviate our frustrations and concerns whenever we can.

I used to work in the TV and music industry. It was fun work, authoring DVDs, editing music videos and working on movie releases. I really enjoyed the work (a spectacular combo of creative and technical that really suited me) but the people and the industry started to grate on me. There were a lot of superficial people I had to endure, people who had high opinions of themselves and would make unrealistic demands, only to blame everyone else for any failures. It wore me down, started to take the enjoyment out of the skillful part I loved.

My other half is a nurse. She trained up shortly after we met 12 years ago. While I was dicking about with video edits she was working with cancer patients, helping people in stressful acute assessment wards and eventually ended up as an ICU nurse, helping to save lives in critical care. Coming home from work each day we’d trade stories of the challenges we faced. It didn’t take long for my ‘challenges’ to seem pointless when held up to hers.

I remember very clearly coming home one day and having a bit of an existential breakdown at her. I’d spent all day being harassed by Rihanna’s label to get a video exclusive ready for its 8pm premier. It was a stressful day with all manner of label bosses and video staff shouting and hollering at each other. All so that a video could be ready for 8pm. What did it matter? It was a Rihanna video for fuck sake! The album was gonna sell shed-loads regardless, so did it really matter if the premier was an hour late, or a day late?

She turned to me and explained that it did. It was really important that it went out on time. Because somewhere, there may be a person sitting in a hospital bed in a bad way. Physically and emotionally spent. Now, what if that person was a massive Rihanna fan? What if they had spent a shitty, awful day just looking forward to seeing that exclusive video premier? What if that was the only good thing that person has today?

It made me re-evaluate everything. I’d never though of the output of my work in this way – I’d become jaded and could only see it as a means for other people to get rich. But that feeling when you personally connect with something creative is individual and unlike anything else. Doesn’t matter if that’s Rihanna, Game Of Thrones, Batman – if you connect with it then its important.

So I’m gonna blog when I can, cos it will be a creative outlet for me and cos someone might get some enjoyment in my ramblings. I’m gonna post progress on my art and comics cos I’m proud of them, cos creating them makes me feel alive and cos somewhere, someone might just be hoping to see the kind of thing I do and get some pleasure from it. I’m gonna finish the final issue of Heads! this year cos I’ve loved creating it and cos I think there might be a few of you out there who are about as excited as me to see how it ends.

See you along the way…cheers for reading.

 

Crowd scenes, casting and articles

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Haven’t blogged in a little while, but that’s because I’ve been hard at it working on comics and story development. And drawing crowd scenes. And crying…

Heads! issue three is coming on very nicely and is nearly finished. This one has taken me a lot longer than the previous issues, but for good reason. The art is the most ambitious I’ve gone in respect of comics, for a start. Those who have been following the story will be pleased to know that this issue is where Datsun confronts mysterious doom metal band Vortex Face in an attempt to rescue the kidnapped husband of his latest client. This all culminates in a ten page scene at a gig, which of course means crowd scenes! Quite aside from the fact that most panels contain a lot of people in the background of some crazy action sequences, I chose to open the scene with a double page spread crowd scene featuring 82 people. It’ll look amazing when it’s done, but it’s taken a long time. I can’t sit and do too much at once, otherwise everyone ends up with the same face. So, I’ve been doing four or five people every few days or so to keep it fresh. I took this scene as an opportunity to practice my portraiture skills, so you’ll find some metal related cameos, including Slayer’s Kerry King, Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf and Motley Crüe’s Vince Neil, to name a few.

I’ve been pooling references and influences lately. Two things that I find really useful in making comics is casting and soundtracks. Yes, I’m aware Heads! isn’t a Netflix show (yet). But when I consider how the characters behave, I find it useful to consider who would play them in a movie or TV show, so I can play out scenes with those actors. Similarly, I play music when I draw and find certain songs and styles help me develop characters and scenes. I’ve been considering which songs would fit together well as a soundtrack to Heads! and have nearly finished a scene by scene soundtrack for the first issue. Check back soon for an update on that which can interact with your comic reading experience.

I’m also reconsidering the blog, and trying to decide if its worth putting effort in here, if people would prefer to subscribe to a newsletter, or whether regular short videos on YouTube would go down well. Let me know which medium you prefer and the sort of things that you’d like to see from me.

Press, pre-orders and comicons

My month of comics overdrive is coming to an end, but I’ve got not intention of slowing down.

The Heads! Kickstarter has funded – thank you to all backers and everyone who has helped promote it. It’s been sent out to the mighty Comics Printing UK who is busy turning it into a sexy, physical product. I can’t say enough good things about Rich at Comics Printing UK, and I know that the print quality of the comic is going to be just as awesome as the other books he’s done for me and numerous other comics creators.

Those of you who are kicking yourself for missing out on the Kickstarter will be pleased that I have added a pre-order for it to my store. You can also get hold of the first issue of Heads! if you are a newbie to the story.

If you need convincing to try it out, here’s a review of the first comic from Pipedream Comics. I was very pleased with this write up by James Blundell, who really got into the story and enjoyed the mystery I’ve established.

My son and I are very nearly finished with our Little Heroes comics submission. It’s been loads of fun and we’re both really happy with how its coming together. We have a very tight deadline to meet now and still some tweaks to make, but we are working hard to get it all done in time and to the quality we want it to be at. Watch this space for more details soon…

If you are in Brighton on Saturday 9 March come down and join me at ICE Comic Con. This will be my first event of 2019 and there are some fantastic guests and exhibitors there, such as Rachael Smith, David Broughton, Clint Langley and Ram V to name a few. See you there!

Sensory overload

Currently I am…

  • Reading: Everville by Clive Barker
  • Watching: Charmed Season 5
  • Listening to: Rust by Monolord

 

February comics overdrive

Well, February is shaping up to be one of the busiest comics months for me this year. Yes, I know it’s a bit soon to say that, but just look at what I have on the go.

Heads! Into The Vortex is up on Kickstarter until 15 February (in case you hadn’t seen me plugging it to death). I’m proud to say it has hit its funding target so it’s all systems go on getting it ready for all you lovely backers. Now is the best time to back the comic, as all rewards are guaranteed to be fulfilled. There are comic universe bundles, print and digital editions, original art packages and commissions available, so go fill your boots! If you aren’t able to back the campaign I’d massively appreciate you sharing the link with your friends and followers. This will help new people discover my work and is a great way to reach potential new readers. Big thanks to everyone who has backed it, shared it or a bit of both already.

In preparation for the campaign I did an interview with the mighty Richard Sheaf of Boys Adventure Comics. Richard is a huge supporter of the indie comics scene, so it’s a privilege to have him take such an interest in my work. You can read the interview on his blog. While you are there I urge you to check out his other articles and subscribe, as it’s an excellent source of comics news and info.

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When talking to Richard, he asked me about the piece I’m producing for Little Heroes Comics new anthology. If you haven’t heard of them, Little Heroes is a charity which makes comic creation kits for kids staying in hospital. This is such a fantastic cause and I’m a big supporter of what they do. Each year they produce a themed anthology and this year’s theme is science. As comics fans and science fans, me and my son Dylan heard this news and immediately set about working on a short comic together. The submission date is 28 February, so we haven’t got long to pull it off. Dylan wrote the script and I am drawing it, plus we have the help of designer extraordinaire Ken Reynolds on lettering duties. I’ll post a separate article about our creative process soon, but in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at the work in progress.

As if all this wasn’t enough, I’m finishing off art for the third Heads! comic, which will be out later this year. Plus, I’ve already made a start on the script for the fourth one! I’m having an absolute blast creating Heads! and I just want to get more and more of it out there.

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Finally, I’m prepping for ICECOMICCON in Brighton on 9 March. The line-up is stellar and I’m looking forward to catching up with David Broughton and meeting loads of other fellow comics creators. So yeah, February is pretty mental. I’ll need a pint by the time I get to ICE so if you see me at the bar afterwards feel free to join me!

Heads! Into The Vortex is LIVE on Kickstarter!

BACK IT NOW ON KICKSTARTER!

I launched the campaign this week, and at the point of writing this post it is already 50% funded! The campaign ends on 15 February so if you want to be among the first to get hold of the new issue you haven’t got long to do so.

For Heads! newbies there are reward options which include the first issue, and one that gives you Rock In Purgatory as well. This issue introduces villain group Vortex Face, who made their first appearance in Rock In Purgatory in 2018.

Prices start at just £1, so head over to the Kickstarter campaign and back it NOW!