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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

*POST UPDATE*
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

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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.