Thursday 17 December 2009

The Family Factory

Finished my mountain of work for this year. The last job was this Spartans strip. Above is the art for the wrap around cover, below are coloured versions of some of the inks I posted the other day. I explained in that post that I was a bit pushed for time and therefore when it came to the colouring I needed something that would look effective without requiring too much work.
This is where the family came in. Last Sunday I had all three of my kids throwing paint around making "textures" for the Spartans strip. Some of these I would drop in as backgrounds, adjusting the colour to suit, and others I would make a transparent layer of and lay on top to texture the colours.

Here's how it works:

I start with a spread, speedily inked in Manga Studio. Notice the lack of colour...

Then get my children to make an unholy mess with paint. Here comes the colour...

here are the final pieces drying
I scan those in and then paste them all over the spread, which by now has a few flat colours added. The result is something like this.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Comic Short Cuts

Getting short of time as we head towards the finish line on these 7 comic strips for Weldon Owen. Short of time means two things for comic artists - no sleep and no backgrounds, and if you're really pushed it can also mean silhouettes! Ah God bless you silhouettes, you are my saviour!

This last strip in the series is about those rough tough chaps the Spartans. Thankfully I chose not to write about the battle of Thermopylae (apparently some other hack has already done that) instead I've concentrated on the institutionalised bullying and abuse that goes into making a good Spartan. This means the approach I've chosen is perfectly suited to the story (just in case the publisher is reading this).

When Geri, Faz and I finish this project I'll write something about all seven stories, because it's certainly been an experience turning out all these strips whilst managing other projects at the same time.

Saturday 5 December 2009


Last weekend I took a busman's holiday and did some painting with the kids. As many of you know this is where creativity and destruction become the same thing. Great fun.

Above is a speed portrait of Edie (3 minutes I guess) done with the worst brush and paints I've ever used and under the threat of Oby destroying/creating it at any moment. I've never been obsessed with materials the way most comic artists are, perhaps that's why I was happy to embrace digital inks. All mark making is artificial to some degree and choosing a pen or brush to make an exact mark is no different than creating a pen in Manga Studio to do the same in my opinion.

I kept all the children's paintings, the marks they make are so fresh and wild they make great textures for my own work (multiply layer in photoshop etc). The red and purple composition that Oby is working on here ended up providing texture for Gerraint Ford's cover to one of the Infinity books we've been working on. It's here, take a look.

In the past I've used Edie's painting to create textures for Kackernory, H.G. Smells and Family Pet (click the labels for examples).

Monday 30 November 2009

Mother Of Pearl

This is page one of Mother of Pearl from Dinlos and Skilldos. You may have no idea what Dinlos and Skilldos is or may just be wondering why it takes me so long to get on with it. Here is my first ever blog post explaining. The only thing that has changed is my opinion of the term Graphic Novel which I can live with now. If you click on the label Dinlos below this post you can see the rest of the book so far.

I finished Merlin Book 5 on Friday and did this page on Saturday and Sunday night. The script was written about two years ago, and as with other Dinlos scripts it has been sat waiting for me to find the time draw it and/or stop procrastinating about how to approach the artwork. Each character in Dinlos has their own colour to help with switching between story threads. As I've mentioned before, the idea here is to use the structure of an old Fleetway annual like Whizzer and Chips as the structure for the novel.

I'd like to say the second page will be up soon, but I have six pages of wrestling Spartans, six pages of Galileo and some covers to do in December. I'll try and squeeze it in before xmas if I can.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Spinning plates

After a short interlude for a bout of swine flu I'm back to spinning plates. Mainly alternating between 3 jobs - Merlin, a weekly cartoon for Inside Soap magazine and working my way through a series of 7 comic strips I've written for Weldon Owen. As mentioned before I'm working on the Weldon Owen stuff with Geraint Ford and Faz Choudhury, both are doing some excellent work.

As if that wasn't distracting enough I've had an offer from a rather large publisher who want to develop the "How I Built My Father" strip into a series of books. May come to nothing, but all the same it's an exciting prospect.

Above and below are some examples of Merlin illustrations. Interesting job this, the intention is to mix comic strip and book illustration to make something that will excite 'junior readers', retain their interest and get them reading.
From a personal point of view it allows me to combine two of my great loves - the stark black and white book illustrations of the 50s and 60s (see my Mike Charlton post for an example of this) with comic strip mechanics and comics' use of blacks. Really enjoying this job, but it has to be done at breakneck speed.

Below is an example of my Soapbox cartoons for Inside Soap Magazine. This is a job that Roger Langridge did for many years. Given the readership, the editor didn't want anything too weird and it's very important that the characters are instantly recognisable, so I've kept to a fairly realistic style.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Cardinal and the Nun with two guns

The Nun With Two Guns was created by Warwick Johnson Cadwell. He has possibly the best illustration blog on the net, he's a very clever chap. Anyway, I was rather taken with his nun and thought I'd do a version of the Egon Schiele painting 'Cardinal and the nun' with the NWTG. Here's the real deal below.

Just noticed that I commented on WJC's blog at 21:25 and posted this at 23:45 which is an exact record of the time it took between having the idea and posting the final art.

Monday 9 November 2009

Matt Smith version 3

Had another go at the new Doc, think I'm getting there. Slowly.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Congratulations Vivien McDermid

and Joff Winterhart (what a great name!) on 1st and 2nd place respectively in the Graphic Short Story Prize. Unusual choice for a post from me, but there's quite a lot of traffic coming through my blog this weekend and I don't want my previous post to seem like a slight on the true winners or their strips. You can read the winning story on the Guardian Gallery page or fork out for the Observer and read it there. It's a story about the difficulties of parenthood and loss of liberty, I could relate to some of this after struggling at home on my own with my son through unemployment and trying to build a career as an artist and writer. And most of my 'art' in those years went into creating worlds for my son and I to play in which often resulted in wrecking the house, much to my poor wife's despair upon returning from work.

Looking at the reaction to the previous winners I saw a surprising amount of criticism of the strips and the competition itself, so another reason for this post is to distance myself from anything like that. Of course I think I was 'robbed' (I imagine that's what you feel if you lose a competition - this is my first) and it's great that so many people like my story. One 'A' level student liked it so much she asked if her literature class could use it to discuss what constitutes a story, poem, picture etc. What I'm saying is that the competition makes you work up an idea to completion and therefore you've succeeded.

If there are as many entrees as I've heard then hopefully someone will put together a site to collect them all, and if it may be more constructive if, instead of aiming resentment at the judges or the winners, people take a moment to write why they entered in the first place.

I entered because although I have managed to earn money from drawing and writing (see the 10 Ways To Stay Busy post) I have a lot of ideas about what is possible with comics/graphic story telling. I'm never going to get a brief that says "Rob, can you do something we've never thought of" so I needed a focus to get the ideas down. I'm happy enough with what I've done, it's a glimpse of what I feel I can do and I think I was hoping that if people 'got it' or 'liked it' then I could justify giving up some of the paying jobs and putting more time into my own projects.

Friday 30 October 2009

And the winner of the 2009 Observer, Jonathan Cape, COMICA Graphic Short Story prize is...

...not this.

The winner is available to see on the Random House page if you want to compare and contrast and play at being a judge. I shall crawl back to my sick bed and debate the merits of different approaches to comic storytelling and what comics can achieve another day.

"How I Built My Father" is dedicated to the memory of Brian Head. A lovely man and a brilliant Dad.

Monday 19 October 2009

Zoot, Mook and Kook

from left to right - Kook, Mook and Zoot

I put another Huzzah!! page up, page 50 would you believe! Anyone need an update on what's going on...? Well, as far as I can work out the Space Witch, mother to the girl eaten by the giant boy who now accompanies the Baron and Durante, was killed by Durante. Unfortunately as she was dead anyway killing her has split her into three. She now plans to reek her vengeance on all who've crossed her path by affecting the fates of the Gestalt Heir (the big blue baby), Lord Tesk and his missus, and the three stooges.

My latest page deals with the three stooges. They were partly responsible for releasing the baby from Xog, so that wicked old Space Witch is using them to kill the surviving Sister who's in the protection of Bohaan Vlax. The surviving Sister shares the blame for hiding the witch's baby and cutting open Xog (accident?) by zapping Zoot as he aimed his laser at Baron Kazam.

Make sense? Waddya mean NO?!?!? Well, I tried.

Friday 16 October 2009

Batman for Nige

I don't normally do superheroes, but a mate of mine is unwell and it was suggested to me that he would like it if I did him a Batman 'sketch'. Don't know that I've drawn Batman since I was a kid, so it took a bit of thinking about and ended up being a bit more than a sketch.

This is continuing my experiments at trying my no outlines style in Manga Studio with some aging effects for good measure. I'm no Batman expert, but I wanted to do an old style Batman with the batwings attached to his wrists and have him preparing for a dust up with some 1940s goons in a disused warehouse. I also wanted him to have an old fashioned approach to fighting, sort of 'sock on the jaw' rather than some kung fu-free running-pepsi max-matrix palaver.

Anyway, here's hoping Nige gets well soon.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

What a helmet!

Here's the other panel from my last Huzzah featuring the Baron. I've often wondered how my flat colour with no black keyline style might work for a comic strip and this worked out ok. With the aging and texture added these Baron images remind me a bit of Peter Blake paintings. Perhaps the answer to making this style work for comics is to ensure my characters all have plenty of targets and lightning flashes - maybe a strip about wrestlers is in order.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Is that...?

Yes it is. It's a new HUZZAH!! page! Well, I say new... it's an ancient looking page in keeping with the dust that's been collecting on HUZZAH in recent months.

Friday 9 October 2009

Wizard layouts

Merlin rushing off on some escapade or other

For what seems like an eternity I have been doing layouts and roughs for my latest projects. Eventually I'll get to do some finished art again. These images are from my first Merlin book for Random House, they're not far off finished looking because I wasn't sure how they'd come out myself and wanted to give the BBC folk a clear idea of how they'd look. I do a lot of roughing for jobs like this in Photoshop. It allows me to keep working over and over on the same image, cutting away at the black and adding finer black. Sometimes I rough in Manga Studio for the same reason. If I'm doing a project for myself or one that needs a bit more thought I'll scribble on paper with a 4b and scan in the resulting mess.

The Merlin stuff here all looks very tight. Below is a looser example. This is for a story about Apsley Cherry Garrard that Faz Choudhury and I wrote. Faz will be doing the lion's share of the art on this strip, but I like to stick my oar in and in this case I roughed out how I saw this panel. It was done in Manga Studio with the same cutting in and drawing over the top approach. There are 4 other stories in this series that we're currently working on for Weldon Owen, but the roughs for those are so rough as to be unintelligible to anyone but me. I shall post some examples of the later stages of those stories at some point.

Now though I have some characters from Emmerdale to draw for Inside Soap magazine. I'm livin' the dream!

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Widow's Curse Graphic Novel

Sweetleaf - design for a flying lesbian from Woman Who Sold the World

Just received my complimentary copy of The Widow's Curse Graphic Novel collecting Doctor Who Magazine strips from April 2007 to September 2008, plus the Storybook strips from those years. I wrote three of the nine stories in this book: The Woman Who Sold The World, Bus Stop and The Widow's Curse and drew two others: The Immortal Emperor and Time of my Life. The book also contains great work from Johnny Morris, Ian Edgington, Dan McDaid, Roger Langridge, Ade Salmon, Martin Geraghty, John Ross and Mike Collins.

There's twenty pages of commentary at the back and a bunch of sketches, character designs and stuff. Writing for the Doctor Who strip is incredibly demanding as there are plenty of demands put upon you as writer. You're robbed of the chance for any continuity due to the show being on air and Scott Gray, the editor, has quite fixed ideas about how the mechanics of a DWM strip should work. The commentary does reflect some of this struggle, which is good. As with all creative ventures though, it's the end result that really matters. I'm very proud of my work in this book and feel I learnt a lot working for DWM.

Scene from the Immortal Emperor

Monday 28 September 2009

I got the blues (and the purples)

I'm currently co writing 5 strips for Weldon Owen with Faz Choudhury which I'll shortly start drawing, plus I've started work on the BBC Merlin books and some caricatures for Inside Soap magazine. I've also squeezed in a couple of things for myself. Above is one of a number of colour tests I've been trying out for Dinlos (this is a redone panel from H.G.Smells). And below is a tiny peek at my 4 page strip for the Comica/Cape/Observer Graphic Short Story Prize.

They insist on printed pages rather than digital files, and I've had a nightmare reproducing these colours on paper. If (when) I lose I'll post the whole strip on the blog and you can judge for yourself. Actually, I think this competition is a great idea, I can't wait to see other people's stories and doing it has certainly given me some freedom to experiment. I feel like someone's mum saying "we're all winners", but if doing this forces you to do what you want and get it done then the prize itself is secondary.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman and Welshman

This was a commission for Mindgames magazine and the brief asked for an "Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman and Welshman attending a pub quiz with each nationality represented by the national tipple to which they are partaking - Englishman has a lukewarm bitter, Scotsman has a scotch, the Irishman has a Guinness and the Welshman has.... is there a national drink of Wales? Could he be holding a leek?" A leek?!?! Jeez, how crap would that be? Anyway I just did him getting the answer. Here's a couple of tiny spots from the same magazine.

I didn't say it was funny!

I'm putting these up because I found them the other day and because I can't blog about what I'm working on for the time being.

Friday 11 September 2009

Matt Smith as the Doctor

I had a go at drawing Matt Smith as the Doctor back in January when news was first announced and yesterday I got asked if the image could be used as part of a project to celebrate the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. Looking at the original drawing I decided I'd have another go this morning. Hopefully they'll prefer this one now I've done it.

Friday 4 September 2009

10 ways to stay busy

Ordinary folk I meet when I venture out of my shed ask me how I manage to earn enough money drawing pictures to support my three children. I'm the only wage earner so I need to stay busy. Here are my 10 ways to stay busy as an illustrator:

1.Get a good agent.
The picture of the jazz man at the top was done for an agency 'brochure'. I had to pay to go in the brochure. Nice little picture. Got me sod all work. Agents that operate like that are not much use unless you want an illustration hobby rather than career. If the agent isn't offering you work every month it's either the wrong agent or you're crap.

2.Get paid to pitch.
A good agent will get you a fee to pitch for work. The image below was for an Aztec book. The publisher prefers to use 'realistic' styles in information books but wanted to see what I'd do. They decided against using it, but I got paid and got to try something out.

3.Do Anything for money.
There are a few illustrators who have a "style" and it's the "style" that you pay for. I had a "style" for a while, but my "style" earnt less money than a part time shelf-stacker in Tesco. The Yosser Hughes, "I-can-do-that" approach, is the one that pays my bills. Somebody was going to get paid for drawing sharks that look like photographs, as I was totally broke I thought it might be nice if it was me.
4.Every magazine needs illustrations.
Sometimes this may require hypnotising the editor, but MAGAZINES DO NEED ILLUSTRATIONS. Below are some things I did for the unlikely and short-lived BBC puzzle magazine Mindgames.
5.Pretend you're someone else.
If Osprey are looking for an Angus McBride type watercolour, figurative, historical illustrator then pretend you are one. Actually ignore that. I didn't get the gig anyway.

6.Come up with a quick style
Illustration work is really badly paid so it makes sense to work fast. If you're clever you make it look as if knocking-them-out-ten-to-the-dozen is your "style". This dandruff picture was done for Tall Tree Books.

7.Always say yes.
When that nice Ben Sharpe, editor of the DFC, asked me if I had any stories to pitch I said "yes". And then ran away to quickly come up with something. Below is one of the stories I pitched that day - Geronimo. I think it's best to say yes to pretty much everything, means you spend less time thinking and more time drawing and writing.

8.Don't think Twice.
The knack to drawing stuff quick is to draw faster than you think. These monkeys are a prime example. They were done for a book about puberty for Parragon. They didn't take much longer to draw than they do to look at. Your drawing is a product of a whole life of looking and thinking, no need to waste time thinking about it when you're drawing it.
9.Pretend you understand Da Kidz
Essential given that most illustration is for children. Even if you are a miserable old git in your 40s it's best to make out you're in-tune with the kids. These pics were also part of the Parragon puberty books.

10.Find somebody really successful and make them look good
I make more money pretending to be Martin Brown than I do being me, that's because he's very successful and I'm not. Most of the Horrible Histories books will have pictures inked and coloured by me on the front and many are filled with my pictures too.

10a.... or find somebody really successful and jump in their grave
The other option is to take over from somebody successful. I now do Philip Reeve's old job illustrating Murderous Maths. In fact Kjartan and I have a giant Murderous Maths of Everything coming out next year. Fortunately I don't have to do it all in Philip Reeve's "style".

There you have it, that's how I support my three children (and my comic career). I know, I know I'm a total slut.
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