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….

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kickstarter article

I wrote this article for the December issue of Popcorn Horror magazine, who just so happen to publish Rock In Purgatory. If you are considering crowd funding a creative project heres a few things to think about…

Anyone who has ever tried to get their art, project, or grand plan for world domination off the ground will have come across one obstacle or another. Most often it can be summarised in a simple question:

Where am I going to get the money to do this?

Every venture we undertake costs us money. Even if we are not looking to put ourselves into the public domain, we have to pay to do the things we are passionate about doing. So when it comes to taking a risk and going public, the advent of crowd funding platforms such as Kickstarter have suddenly made it incredibly easy to take that next step. I used Kickstarter last year to launch my debut horror comic Brutal Bombshells. Though I am pleased to say my campaign was successfully funded and that I did not experience as much stress as is often reported when running a campaign, it was no easy journey.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, crowd funding refers to the process of seeking investment in your venture from willing members of the public. People can offer to help fund your project and come away with an exclusive product if they make a financial contribution. Often a variety of products are available at different price levels. If you think of it as a way for fans to safely invest in something creative, it is easy to see why crowd funding is moving into the mainstream more and more. Pledge Music has been helping bands get albums released for years now, and Rob Zombie just used crowd funding to get his latest horror flick, 31, off the ground. As most crowd funding relies on hitting a minimum target, unless that target is reached nobody has to fork out cash for something they may not get. However, there are often risks on both sides as contributions may not truly meet the goal required. There are many sad tales of false promises and backers left empty handed. These range from individual people offering more than they can deliver, all the way to larger ventures overspending to the point of going out of business.

When I made the decision to pursue crowd funding as a way to launch my comic, I researched the platforms and processes to better understand what I was getting myself into. Crowd funding gives creatives the opportunity to have guaranteed funding for their project up front. The risk is, in theory, low – if you don’t hit your funding target you do not have to deliver on anything. It’s free to set up a campaign, with the platform only taking a cut if you fund. So again, low risk. Plus, I was pleasantly surprised to find there is a community of users on Kickstarter. These are people keen to get involved in new things which are exclusively available through crowd funding. Roughly 65% of my backers were Kickstarter regulars who had no interaction with me until I launched the campaign. Considering the amount of effort I put into digital marketing and social media activity, this was a revelation to me.

This was all fantastic news for me and my comic. I spent a long time comparing other campaigns and backing a few myself  to experience how it worked from both sides before deciding on my plan of action. Seeing similar projects to mine seeking thousands of pounds and offering many outlandish rewards, I chose to keep my first campaign simple. I opted to treat my campaign as a pre-order promotion. I had sought printing costs already and knew how much producing the comic would set me back. Rather than factor in time and materials for the art and writing, I just went for actual expenditure. I created this comic because I wanted to and I was happy not to be paid for the work this time. As a new face on Kickstarter, I felt that humbly asking people to pre-order copies was the best way to go about it.

One big attraction to using a digital platform such as Kickstarter is its ability to help you reach a potentially global audience. But if you are not prepared for this it can be very hard to fulfil all you have set out to do. I was ecstatic to find I had contributors from across the world. Most were purchasing a digital copy of the comic, but I still had a lot of physical sales to Europe and the US, and one person in central America buying an original piece of art. I was not aware that the postage costs I was charging contributed to target amount and not collected separately, which nearly caused me a lot of trouble. This was my own mistake, but it was one of many things that were not clear when setting up my campaign that could have tripped me up considerably.

On top of this I had a rather nerve wracking three weeks with that piece of original art being lost by the US postal service! The piece was priced high, so if it disappeared I would have been liable to refund the backer. This would have been disastrous for me – by this point the comic had been printed and paid for, so the money had been spent. Any refund would have to come out of my own wallet. I couldn’t help but smell a rat and was convinced that either the buyer was trying to pull a fast one or it had been stolen by an opportunistic postie.

Luckily, after weeks of chasing the buyer I got an email from him to say it had finally arrived safely.

It is worth pointing out that financial and logistical mishaps are not isolated to crowd funding. No matter how you try to fund and deliver a project, something will always go wrong. In a past life I ran my own company promoting live music events. Even for the low cost / low risk shows, there was always a chance I could lose money or have an awful situation on my hands. Things are never totally within our control. So, if you are considering a crowd funding campaign, here are a few things to always keep in mind.

Communication and honesty are key to everything. People are committing to pay you money for something, so you need to tell them what is going on. If it is still in production when you launch the campaign, say so. If it runs late, let them know. If you can’t get to the post office because you have too much to do, apologise and let them know when you’ll have time. People hate being lied to (don’t you?) so avoid giving them excuses and fob offs. Most people are totally fine with things changing as long as they are kept in the loop.

Do your maths – then do your maths again! If you hit your target you’ll be charged a fee or two as the money gets processed. It is hard to fully anticipate this, so do your maths well and consider a number of different outcomes. Don’t get caught out. If you have something to physically post to people, take it to the post office and note down all the postage charges you can so you know how to set these costs. Get all your production costs worked out and then add a bit more, just in case. However……

Don’t get greedy. Setting contribution tiers too high will put people off, and setting the target amount too high will make it harder to reach. Be fair, but if you are in it to make a profit, make it a reasonable one. If you are using crowd funding it is likely you do not have the money to invest in your project already. If you make your primary goal to deliver a cost neutral project then any over funding can start to contribute to profits. Once you’ve delivered the best crowd funding campaign ever, you can think about clawing in the cash on the next venture.

I would recommend that creatives considering crowd funding take the plunge and give it a go, but I urge you to keep your wits about you and be prepared to put effort into it. A great campaign needs to be engaging and informative if it is to stand a chance. Make it as awesome as you can. And one last piece of advice: don’t bother with the Kickstarter trope of rewarding a £1 pledge with “your eternal thanks”. Spoiler alert – nobody bothers backing that!