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….

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.

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.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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…