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.


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.

Drawing over coffee and getting ready to print

After a guesting on a belting episode of the Awesome Comics Podcast last week Rock In Purgatory and Heads! have had a stack of new readers. Really pleased to see so many new people checking out my comics. It’s the perfect time for newbies to jump on-board with what I’m doing, as I intend to get Heads! into print over the summer.

Judging by the reaction Heads! has received, it looks like a load of you would be up for getting hold of either a physical or digital edition of the first issue soon. Issue one is actually complete, so its just a case of compiling it ready for print or PDF, and it wouldn’t take long to get it out to you. I’m considering a Kickstarter campaign, keeping things light and low cost. I could do masses of merch but beyond the die-hards (of which it seems are already a few!) most people just want to have a copy of the comic. So, I’ll be offering original art from issue one as well as commissions and maybe a couple of art prints as the main rewards. Let me know if you think anything else would go down well.

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My esteemed illustrator buddy Heather Chapman and I have been out and about drawing a lot lately. ACP listeners will know that Heather is one of the driving forces behind the improvement of my illustration work. It’s been a little while since we’ve both been able to get together to work on our respective projects, so I’ve been very fortunate to have completed comics pages while watching Heather create poetically flowing illustrations and watercolour pieces. Keep an eye on her, as it is criminal that she isn’t already your favourite book illustrator and graphic novelist.

I’ve recently picked up a copy of Watchmen and am stuck into re-reading it. As a nine panel page fanatic this is one of the definitive books on how to make that layout model work. You can expect to see a blog focusing on nine panels or Watchmen (or both) from me in the very near future.

How boring stats can help put your comics in more people’s hands

Any regular listeners of The Awesome Comics Podcast will have by now had the *pleasure* of listening to me have a good old natter to the chaps on this week’s episode. As a fan of the show I was really pleased to be invited on as a guest. I got to talk about Heads! and Rock In Purgatory, plus the logistics behind organising and hosting Wimbledon Comic Art Festival.

As well as having a great chance to get into the detail of my own projects, a theme that kept coming back up throughout the show was around understanding stats and how you can use them to work out if what you are doing is successful. We spoke about how difficult it can sometimes be to look at social media stats, and how important it is to track your referrers on your website stats, as this helps you understand where people are coming from to reach your site and read your comics.


In relation to stats, I spoke a little about my involvement with Popcorn Horror (the digital magazine that Rock In Purgatory was first published in). I asked the people at Popcorn Horror for the number of downloads each issue of the magazine received, to get an idea of how many people were potentially getting to see my work. It’s something all creators should ask for if they are having their work featured by someone online. It’s even worth asking for stats on articles that have been written about you, be they reviews, interviews or whatever. It all goes toward understanding who may be finding out about you. You can use that information to broaden your audience even further, engaging with people who you may never have had the chance to engage with otherwise.

In an attempt to help spread a little love and share work socially, I’d like to invite any comic creators out there to do some tag swaps with me on Twitter. You can tag up to 10 people in a photo on Twitter, and I find it’s a really useful way to let people know you’ve posted something that you’d like to have shared. So, I’d like to invite any comics creators reading this to tag me into photos of things they want promoted, and I’ll retweet them. In exchange, I’ll tag you in my posts and ask you to help me out too by doing the same. It may not have a huge effect as social media is as fickle as the tastes of the people using it. But it’s definitely better than not doing anything, so let’s have a go!

In the spirit of the stats theme, I asked the Awesome ComiCs Podcast for details of downloads and territories of my episode.

There are a load of ways I could analyse these numbers, and a huge amount of variables to consider (not least my active promotion of a milestone Heads! page released the day after the pod). In order to keep things simple, here’s what I decided to do.

The majority of my audience interaction online comes from Twitter. So I check to see how many of my followers also follow ACP, and deducted this number from the total downloads. This gave me a likely number of 33 new people who do not follow me and my work who have now heard about it. Since ACP weren’t able to get streaming stats from their platforms, this number can likely be increased, but we’ll never know for sure.

I know from messages and comments from people I currently interact with that they have listened to and enjoyed the show. I can also see spikes in activity on my website, notibly loads of new Rock In Purgatory readers. Since I have not actively promoted Rock In Purgatory in the last cuple of weeks, it’s a safe assumption to make that most / all of these views are down to my appearance on the pod.

In short, there is proof that doing this show has raised awareness of my work, led new people to read my comics and put a smile on the faces of my existing audience. Thanks for having me on the pod guys, I’ll happily come back anytime!

Chewing bubblegum and kicking ass


Anybody catch They Live on the Horror Channel last week? It’s one of my favourite movies ever, and definitely my favourite John Carpenter movie (yes, above Halloween, which you all know I am obsessed with too).

I first saw They Live back in the early 90’s and loved it immediately. My dad put it on (it’s one of his favourites too) and he knew I’d be hooked. Horror and sci-fi movies are as much of an influence on my comics and art as anything else. They Live has been a massive reference point for Heads! and will be a movie I’ll continue to watch periodically as I develop the story further. Though I keep getting told Heads! reminds people of Dick Tracy and The X-Files (which are influences), I’d say I draw a lot of my Heads! ideas and plot methods from They Live and Luther more than anything else.

If you are looking for some awesome new comics to read (other than mine, of course, which are free to read on this website) I urge you to go and back the Little Heroes Comics Anthology on Kickstarter. I love this charity and all it stands for, so I’d love to see more people supporting them. If you haven’t heard of them, they create and distribute comics creation kits to children staying in hospital wards. That’s a pretty awesome thing to do, in my opinion, so I insist you all go and either back the new anthology or donate to them so they can provide a kit to a child.

Make sure you are tuning into the Awesome Comics Podcast on Monday as I am their guest! Yep, these guys decided that it would be a good idea to have me talk on their show for two hours – a decision they may live to regret! I will be talking about all things comics, giving you all the low down on Heads! and re-capping on my experience of organising and hosting Wimbledon Comic Art Festival last November.

Plots, Bones and print

It’s been a week of frantic Heads! drawing for me. I’ve got myself all inspired by the great responses I’ve had from the webcomic pages released so far, that I have ploughed on with getting a load more of it drawn. The story so far has been piquing the interest of lots of people, and I’ve had requests for advance previews of the rest of the first issue from excitable fans. 


I really want to get Heads! out as a print edition. The gritty black and white feel that I have gone for would look great as a pulp-style comic. I was going to let things run for a bit longer before I jumped into this, but I am thinking of launching a Kickstart or pre-order to get it out there. What you guys think? Would you like to have a copy of Heads! rolled up in your back pocket, or do you like it just fine as digital for now? 

I watched a ton of Bones recently, and I am still re-watching season 8. As influences go, Bones isn’t really something I refer to, but I’ve been quite intrigued by the plot balancing. Each season of Bones has a single, long running plot which either resolves by the end of reaches a cliff hanger to lead you into the next season. Some are more effective than others, with the Gormogon plot in season three being one of the strongest. But rather than the whole season be focused on that one plot, there are incidental plots each episode, to keep things interesting.


Loads of shows do this, so it’s not unique to Bones. However, I particularly like the way they often tie the incidentals to the long plot. It gives the opportunity to bring new or supporting characters into something which may reveal them to be of more importance. Mostly, I like how it can be used to divert from things in the main plot and to add red herrings. In writing Heads! I want to be able to throw readers off the scent and lead them to conclusions that are false. I want to be able to drop some surprises along the way too.  



Heads! launch and rediscoveries

It’s been a comic-fuelled few weeks for me and I couldn’t be happier.

First up, my new comic Heads! has finally started and is getting a fantastic response. It’s my first long-form story and will be structured in ‘episodes’ like a classic private detective TV series.

I’ve started to launch this as a weekly webcomic, which is something I’ve never done before. Already I’ve had a load of great feedback, particularly people impatient for the next page to release, which must mean its grabbing people straight away! A few previews and press releases went out and have gone down well. I also got a shout out on The Awesome Comics Podcast from Tony Esmond (Down The Tubes, Never Iron Anything, Cockney Kung-Fu) resulting in this rather tasty quote – thanks Tony!

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The plan is to get it out in print very soon. Keep an eye out for either a Kickstarter or a pre-order coming up in the next month or so. You can read the story so far for free on the Heads! page of this website.

Also this month the print run of Rock In Purgatory was finally completed. This was a beast of a project to put together and I’m really proud to be able to hold it in my hands at last! Pre-order copies have been received and its been fantastic to have comments about how good it looks and people tweeting photos with their copy! The print run was limited, but there are still a few copies left if you want one, but be quick! I’ve also added a digital edition for just £1.99 as well. Check out my online store to get your hands on it.

In other comics news, I’ve been delving into new things lately – well, new to me anyway. My illustrator buddy Heather Chapman tipped me off about a ton of comics in a charity shop and I managed to get away with an armful of old Archie digests. I’ve been using these as reference here and there in the past, as they are great for showing ways to illustrate and compose conversations and keep them looking interesting. But I’d never really read Archie much before. Now that I’ve ploughed through a few issues, I’m hooked! Not only are these going to be great reference material but the short strip method and compact print format are something I’ve fallen in love with.


I’ve also got back into Green Lantern and am loving rediscovering the Jessica Cruz / Simon Baz stories in Green Lanterns. The current storyline is pretty compelling and I’m now thinking I need to get back into the Hal Jordan titles as well…my pull list is about to get much more expensive…


Who’s who in Heads!

Reading Heads! or looking to jump on? Make a start but getting to know some of the characters you will be meeting along the way. Here’s a quick overview of the leads – more detailed character articles will be coming as the webcomic pilot runs.

Our hero (if you can call him that) is maudlin private detective Steve Datsun. An ex-Met Police detective, Datsun left the force and set up shop independently, only to find himself facing the most unusual crimes and criminals right on his own doorstep. Not having to answer to his old police superiors, Datsun can take matters into his own hands a little more, but does he really want to get so involved in what these weird Heads! girls are up to?



Datsun’s old police buddy Andy Higgins also decided the Met wasn’t where he saw himself staying. Cobbling together a bit of cash, he and Datsun rented an office above an Indian restaurant and started their own detective agency. The voice of reason to Datsun’s impulsive gut, Higgins does what he can to balance Datsun’s view in the face of this spree of odd crimes. But there’s only so much reassurance he can give before the coincidences don’t look like coincidences anymore…


DCI Burton is still an upstanding member of the Metropolitan Police Force, and for his sins, is also still Datsun’s main connection to them. Acting as reluctant go-between, Burton has the tough job of upholding the law while also helping Datsun do so in his own way. The results seem to be going well, but will a day come when Burton has to choose his friend over his job?



Three girls wearing giant animal heads and oversized ski gloves committing unpredictable heists across London? Meet the Heads! gang! Nobody knows who they are, where they came from or what they are up to. But one thing’s for sure, Datsun is on their case now and no matter what they do, or who they employ to get in his way, he’ll be coming for them.

Read Heads! for free now!

5 reasons to buy Rock In Purgatory

Not got a copy of Rock In Purgatory yet? Are you mad?! Here’s five clickbait reasons to put your money where your mouth is…

More than just a comic
Rock In Purgatory is presented as a parody music magazine. So alongside the awesome comic strips, you’ll get a poster pull out section, fake ads for tours and instrument endorsements, articles about the bands who have influenced the strips and behind the scenes pieces that show how the art came together.

It sets up for Heads! my new comic project
Heads! begins on 29 May and one of the primary story arcs revolves around a band called Vortex Face. This band’s first appearance features in Rock In Purgatory and serves as a prequel to the events they instigate in Heads! Get yourself ahead of the curve by buying Rock In Purgatory.

Loads of never before published comic strips
Though it ran as strip in Popcorn Horror magazine for over a year, this collection brings all the published strips together with loads of others that have never been seen before. Discover awesome new bands who meet incredible and outrageous deaths!

Supporting comic creators makes you cool
Subjective, I guess, but I’ll certainly think you ar e a lot cooler if you buy my comic…

It’s the most fun you can have without going to a metal gig
Rock In Purgatory combines heavy metal music, horror movie gore and comic book sequential art. If you love any or all of those genres then you are bound to find something in this collection to amuse and entertain you.

So what are you waiting for – go buy a copy now!

Heads! is coming

On 29 May, my new comic project Heads! finally launches. After months of anticipation, you will soon get to find out what Heads! is all about.

In a change to my usual horror content, Heads! will be a sci-fi private detective comic. Rendered in black and white pencil tones the style of the comic harks back to the pulp era of crime noir. This will juxtapose nicely with the story being based in the present day, with much reference to social media and current technology throughout.

A crime story at heart, Heads! incorporates plenty of unusual sci-fi twists, giving the story an X-Files kind of edge. Are these bizarre crimes being carried out by hyper intelligent criminals, or is there a paranormal, alien or supernatural force behind it all? And who are these girls, with those Heads?

Heads! will be released as a weekly webcomic pilot, starting 29 May. Let me know whether you want to carry on reading online or if you would prefer a print run of this series.

Stay tuned…