Thursday 22 December 2011

Russia. RESPECT. And other Gypsies.

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Wednesday 14 September 2011

Tilting at windmills...

Apologies for the lack of blog posts, I have been blogging over at the SelfMadeHero site, so go read. If you've missed my rambling nonsense, that is...

Friday 12 August 2011

Are we nearly there yet?

Tempting fate to talk about finishing something before it's over, but I probably won't get chance on Monday to post anything and I wanted to put this panel up because it's the first panel of the last chapter of Nelson. Truth is I've struggled to get the last chapter done due to an obligation I had to self destruct through June and July. The worst of that seems to be behind me and at last I'm enjoying drawing again. And I'm pretty confident this will done over the weekend in time for Monday's big Nelson pow wow.

This book was my daft idea in the first place and it's kept me company for the past 8 months, rather like a backseat full of screaming kids on a 10 hour car journey. But I absolutely love this book and everyone who has contributed to it. You'll all get to see it soon enough, it is rather amazing.

I owe a special debt to my co-editor Woodrow who has really taken it on his shoulders as I've floundered in the bottom of a whisky glass. Cheers mate. Nearly there now.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Lightnin' Hopkins

Did this yesterday at lunchtime. It's based on the cover to Walkin' this road by myself, the Lightnin' Hopkins LP. If you have the misfortune to follow me on Twitter you probably saw me posting images of it as I went along. Started out as a tiny thumbnail sketch (below) then got dragged into Manga Studio, which I prefer now to Illustrator for creating these kind of sans line images. I may have a go at turning it into a 'proper' painting on some kind of wood paneling (or whatever I can chor from a skip).

Monday 13 June 2011

Don Quixote - Broken Hearts and Broken Minds

Finished. Volume One of Don Quixote is in the bag. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, but it's taken me this long to get over the loss and the separation and move on. Hmmm... I'll start again... That was a piss poor attempt at making an oblique reference to the fact I marked the end of Quixote by separating from my wife and moving out of my home with her and the kids. Quixote wasn't in any way responsible for what happened, but I found much in the book that echoed my state of mind and my situation.

If you're not familiar with the original book you may be surprised to learn that it contains eternal truths about love and loss as well as madness, delusion and goats. But love is to some extent the ultimate madness and delusion, it's the quixotism we all indulge in (not sure where the goats fits in, but each to their own, eh). Maybe the best way to appreciate the idealist, the impulsive, the rash romantic that is Don Quixote is to think of madness as love, then his crazy exploits don't seem any more ridiculous than our own. (Hmmm... how long can I stretch this analogy...?)

I'll switch from discussing it in general terms and instead use some synchronistic examples from recent weeks.

The day of the Royal Wedding was a particular low in my life, the point in this particular marital breakdown where events spiraled out of control into the kind of nightmare-scape that I'd always dreaded. On that day I did this panel:

For Don Quixote love is as unrequited and sweet as a teenage crush.

Everything he does is for the Lady Dulcinea del Toboso, a figment of his imagination, a deep, lasting love he has projected onto a peasant girl in the village.
Nothing like a teenage crush to make you act like a fool, you might not have dressed in armour and fought windmills, sheep and cats to prove the validity of your own imagined love, but it will probably have found a way to make a fool of you I'm sure.

It's in the stories within stories from the people he meets on the road that we get a more realistic picture of how men and women inflict their madness upon each other in the name of love.

They're simple morality tales with a cruel twist and a wicked sense of humour.

Cervantes saves the best for last in Volume One - an entire novella within the novel. In my version this is crushed down to just four pages. 'The Novel of the Curious Impertinent' paints a painful and hilarious picture of what happens when monogamy and curiosity collide.

Now I'm not trying to belittle the complex states of insanity that afflict folk by comparing them to love anymore than I'm trying to turn anyone's idea of love sour; I'm interested in the mechanisms of fiction and how close those mechanisms echo sanity and love. I don't expect to understand these things, it's just handy to leave a few breadcrumbs on the path as you go in so you can find your way out again.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

2D Festival Derry 2011

I've attended a lot of comic conventions and arts festivals over the years, I think the 2D festival in Derry might just be my favourite. Granted, I am writing this in the hazy after glow with a crooked smile on my face, but this event was everything I would like to see from a comics' festival.

The whole festival seemed to be about getting artist to actually give something back rather than sit and receive their fans like royalty. There was no reaching into your pocket from artists or punters and yet everyone went away so much richer for the experience.

I spent a weekend in great company that included my boyhood hero, a host of brilliant artists and writers and so many people from Derry who all seemed to become instant friends.

Saturday was spent sketching all day, and I mean ALL day. No one charges for sketches and whilst you get some people who want you to draw 'what you do' (I did a LOT of Daleks and Matt Smiths) you get a whole bunch of people asking for anything under the sun (I have now drawn Wonder Woman, Wolverine, the Joker etc etc). Most of the people were kids. I got handed sketchbook from a 6 year old that contained zombies by Glen Fabry, Spiderman by Phil Winslade and Tank Girl by Rufus Dayglo mixed in with the kid's own drawings from the day before. "What would you like?" I foolishly asked. "A robot squirrel," he said.

I spent the day sat next to the genius that is Mick McMahon and his wife Chrissie. They were great company and the nervous quaking that should have wrecked me in his presence was dispelled by the fact he's a such a nice bloke. We spent a lot of time together and talked A LOT of comics.

Here's a couple of sketches he did for me:

Dredd done in my sketch pad with my pen and...

Spikes Harvey Rotten. And here's the man himself busy drawing countless sketches for everyone. I had so much stuff with me it spread all across his table too.

Eventually the kids go off to bed and the adults head to Dino's bar for the panels. I was on the first panel on the Friday night with Rufus (Tank Girl) Dayglo, Denise (crime writer) Mina, David (Bulletproof Coffin) Hine and Mark (Vice president of DC comics) Chiarello.

From L to R David, me, Denise and Mark. Photo by Rufus.

Below is the bar filling up ready for the panel.

Once again 2D was a great leveler as artists, fans and locals all mixed in. The discussions from the panels filtering out onto the street and vice versa. This is what a festival should be like and David Campbell who puts it together with the help of, yet another new mate of mine, Gary (Marvelman) Leach deserves all the praise he will get from us in the coming weeks. I don't know how he does it, but anyone else putting together a festival like this should give him a ring and find out. I want more.

I learnt a lot, had a lot of fun and made a lot of new friends. I think that was true of everyone who came.

Thanks David. Thanks Derry.

Thursday 5 May 2011


Scan of the brush and ink drawing I did for the Nelson cover.

Finally the cat's out of the bag. I'm terrible at keeping secrets and having a big secret like this to carry around for the past few months has been a real challenge.

The 'secret project' I've been working on since December last year is called Nelson, it's an anthology of UK comics done as a novel, find out more about it here. A UK comics anthology that embraced all types UK comic creators from the Beano to 2000ad, from small press to those working Marvel and DC, from Newspaper strips to Web comics seemed like a good idea, I thought it would be even better if all of those different comic creators were working together on the same story.

I had the idea last year and with the help of Woodrow Phoenix and Blank Slate books it is becoming a reality. The idea was a simple one - tell a person's life by picking one day from each year of their life and use a different comic creator for each year. I started it off in 1968 the year the character was born and passed it on to Woodrow who did 1969 and passed it on to the next creator for 1970 and so on. Because I want this to succeed as a novel I've worked as editor, with Woodrow as co-editor, to oversee, occasionally guide and always help. It's been a honour to work with so many amazing talents and be a part of their creative processes.

I could say so much about this book, but I need to hold off until nearer publication for fear of peaking too soon. All I can say is that it is exceeding my expectations already and it has a life all of it's own. At times I feel about as in control of this book as a surfer is in control of the sea.

So next time someone asks you if you know who or what is Nelson you'll be able to tell them.
A panel from my opening 1968 chapter

Monday 2 May 2011

Mark E Smith and the Ramones

I don't know whether you have the dubious pleasure of following me on Twitter, if not you probably won't have seen these scribbles. Comics' savant, Dan Berry, invited fellow twitterers to produce high speed sketches of first the Ramones then Mark E Smith without using reference, these are my results. Mark E Smith is a character so ingrained on my consciousness that it felt like cheating. Alongside Mick McMahon, Mark E Smith helped shape my world view growing up, for better or worse.

The Ramones one included some guesswork, Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee were fixed in my head but 'the other one' was guesswork. I used the remaining ink for a 'drawing without reference' idea of my own, the Samuel Beckett below. Probably has to rank as the quickest drawing I've done, took about 20 seconds I suppose.
As you can see below I did it on the inside back cover of my sketch pad because it was shiny and would resist the ink. I may do something wild and inky in the near future, these were a lot of fun to do.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Me then.

These are eight self portraits. They're all in order bar the first one. So clockwise from top left they are: 1990 drawing of me as a 14 yr old, 1984 first drawing at college, 1984 first ever oil painting, 1986 oils and compass, 1986 oil and pencil on paper, 1992 watercolour, 1996 oils (I was drunk when I painted it) and 1999 oil sketch.

Don't know if you learn anything from these, other than I got better at drawing, just thought I'd post them anyway.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Letting the puppet strings show.

"Why did you draw it like that?" you ask. Well, regardless of whether you ask that or not it's the question I'll try to answer in this post. Obviously I draw in a number of styles so the one I chose for 300 pages of Don Quixote was for a specific reason.

Firstly here's the glib answer for people who are afraid of talk about art (y' big babies!):

The reason I did it this way is because it's quicker and I need to do 6 pages a week to pay the bills.

What follows is the 'speak your brains' version, or 'the truth':

A phrase you'll hear a lot when people discuss the styles of comic artists is "Raw or Cooked", it's self explanatory really - Raw is unpolished, as it comes and Cooked is polished to 'perfection'. The traditional process for making comics has helped create these schisms. Most comic artists to this day still work in pencil stage and ink stage and the distinctive comic art look, so shakily mimicked by Roy Lichtenstein, is a result of the process. It was necessary for a hard black line in early comics due to the poor quality printing and so the art of 'inking' was born. As was the job of 'inker', something that is still entrenched in American comics. Despite the process driving the artist naturally towards the 'cooked', some inking let the brushwork say more about energy and texture than simple tracing. Better printing techniques gave artists even more opportunity to move over to the 'raw' side of the spectrum. Now we have comic art that's stretched the spectrum as far as it can go, just look at a book by Joann Sfar next to one by Chris Ware.

I use these two as examples because they are both successful storytellers, there are examples of both approaches where the style, regardless of how wonderful it looks, detracts from the story. Neither approach is guaranteed to tell the story better than the other, but it's important that telling the story is the intention in choosing an approach.

No prizes for guessing which side of the raw or cooked spectrum my Don Quixote work sits.

I imagine most artists' roughs look a bit like this, I want to retain some of the that manic energy in the final art.

The final line work is still very rough, but hopefully it masks some degree of sophistication.

I knew from the start that I would be looking for something ragged enough to reflect the setting, the characters and state of Don Quixote's mind. And coming back to the unclever reason, I did need to make the haste with which I'd be turning the book around work for me rather than against me. I dispensed with ink altogether and decided to scan my pencils.

That hasty, raw, pencil work was perfectly suited to the story, but as with all art there was a deception at its heart - there's no way I could put together whole pages of characters interacting in one continuous mad scribble, there is a lot of penciling just as with any comic art.

To prevent me from tightening up and polishing the line work unintentionally I draw onto a lightbox set up in such a way as to ensure I can't see the roughs too clearly, this means I'm never tracing, I'm looking to make definitive, if occasionally clumsy, marks.

Sometimes I'll switch to a stubby B pencil and work away from the lightbox to introduce shadows and texture.

I imagine it's obvious why the ragged look suits a rustic setting and characters, it may not be quite so obvious why that look reflects the state of Quixote's mind. Exposing the workings in a drawing has a long history in the 'fine arts', I still bear the scars of being taught by products of the Slade School where the process of building an observational painting is left on the surface for the viewer to see (the famous measuring ticks and crosses*).

This amounts to the artist showing us the puppet strings, it is telling us that it is a painting whilst another part of our brain is shouting that it's a person. That schism was explored in art long before the meticulous Slade painters arrived and in literature it was being explored over 400 years ago by Cervantes in the pages of Don Quixote.

Here the design is resolved digitally. It's about using negative shapes, so I'm roughing in colour. I do this a lot on Quixote. Don Quixote often becomes a squiggle, a kind of signature when he's in the background of a panel.

Here's the final art of that panel with the quick lines and fixed design working together.

How can we believe in a character from the pages of a book? How can we believe in a person who is just lines on a piece of paper? Cervantes knew this madness and pulled countless readers into it. It isn't really possible to adapt Don Quixote, it's an adaptation from a translation of a history of someone who is made up, all we can do as readers is join Cervantes inside this madness. And that's all I can do as writer and artist.

*See painters like Coldstream or Uglow for examples of this.

Thursday 3 March 2011

The Lovecraft Anthology

Reblogging the above image because I just received my copy of the Lovecraft Anthology, published by SelfMadeHero. And it is a really beautiful and creepy looking book! SelfMadeHero should be applauded for their choice of artists on this book, by using the cartoon stylings of artists like Mark Stafford, Shane Oakley, D'Israeli and Ian Culbard they have set themselves apart and given their anthology a distinct vision. It reminds me of the halcyon days of 2000ad in the late 70s and 80s seeing such strong, idiosyncratic styles together in one title. Funnily enough, current 2000ad favourite Leigh Gallagher also draws a story as does David Hartman (a new name to me, but another with a strong cartoon sense to his storytelling) and Alice Duke, whose painterly work has some magical touches in it. The book employs the writing talents of Ian Edgington, Dan Lockwood, David Hine, Leah Moore & John Reppion and, of course, me.

Just to be clear, I didn't draw anything in this book, and I couldn't have drawn my story, The Dunwich Horror, as well as Ian Culbard has anyway. If you're a fan of Ian's work you're in for a treat, I think this is his best work to date. If SelfMade ask me, and if time permits, I'd certainly like to draw in a 2nd Lovecraft Anthology. The above image was just done quickly for my own amusement. It's a picture of young Wilbur from The Dunwich Horror. If you don't know who he is then you should rush out to your local bookshop/comic shop and get a copy of this anthology. If you do know who he is then I imagine you've already got your coat on and are on your way to the shop.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Doctor Who meets Miss Havisham

A page from the 'Time of My Life' from Doctor Who Magazine (reprinted in the Widow's Curse book), written by Jonathan Morris. Putting this up as another reminder that I'll be at the Cardiff Expo this weekend with Doctor Who wares (and a sketchbook). Hopefully I'll see you there.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

The Immortal Emperor

This a comic strip form the Doctor who Storybook 2009, I drew it in May 2008. It's a fun story written by Jonathan Morris. Its significance to me is that it was my return to drawing comics professionally after a lengthy hiatus. There are some rusty moments in there, but I also had a lot of fun with it and I think that shows.

Sunday 30 January 2011

Beaten Up!

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza get beaten up a lot in this book. I'm starting feel like I may be a bit punch drunk myself with it. I've done the losing your mind section and now I'm into the relentless beatings. It's funny, because that sounds like the plot for the story of many comic book heroes, especially Superheroes. Although, if this were a superhero story there would be a need to indulge a prepubescent wish fulfillment and have Quixote defeat the bad guys, plus Quixote would probably look a bit more like the victim of steroid abuse.

Needless to say this isn't that kind of book, even if it does lay down a story format that so many Superhero comics have picked up over the years. It's not fair to compare the two, but interesting none the less. In many ways Cervantes' genius can be seen in the way his view of the hero and the madman was framed in his mind alone and published in 1605 whereas it took the collected minds of many great writers 70 years to come to the same end-story in comics. In other words what Alan Moore did to 60+ years of superheroes, Cervantes did to his hero from page one. 400 years before.

Ah, but comics were never meant to be seen as great literature, I hear you say. Neither was Don Quixote. It was a popular entertainment, an amusement. It was read by the everyday Spaniards in streets and villages and read aloud to those who couldn't read.

This is not to say that I expect my comic book to turn out something on a par with Kirby, Moore et all (God, I wish!), no this is just to help communicate the idea of what Don Quixote was in the context of its time, and perhaps help people understand why it is so lauded.

As in the panel above, Quixote and Sancho spend a lot of time on their backs moaning. If there is something to admire about them physically it's their almost 'rope-a-dope Ali' ability to soak up pain.

There are a few more beatings in store for our heroes before Cervantes' story spreads into something wider, so I better pick them up so I can knock them down again. I feel their pain.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Influence Map Mark II

Here's a variation on that Influence Map meme. I tried to replace my influences with images by me that showed that influence. I say 'tried' because it wasn't very straight forward as it turned out. I could have chosen virtually anything I've done to illustrate the influence of Mick McMahon, for example, what I chose is something from 1986 (a strip called Brother Grimm) to show how far back his influence goes. And in places I just looked for a kind of symmetry.

Anyway, hopefully it's still of some interest.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Cardiff Expo

In my first outing of the year I shall be attending the Cardiff International Comic Expo in the company of many other Doctor Who comicsy folk. I'll have a new batch of those big yellow Doctor Who prints for sale and will be sketching and signing for anyone who wants me to. I'll have some other Doctor Who stuff to sell and original art. The above has been turned into some rather nice cards. I'm short of time to do a new piece for Cardiff, but I did consider adding Doctor No. 11 to the above image and turning it into a print. Would anyone want one if I did? Be a bit like this rough design below I guess (with the addition of a Matt Smith scene bottom right of course).

Anyway, if you're there come over and say hello, I'll either be on the Doctor Who table with Dalek and TARDIS or at the Blank Slate table.

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