Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Ode to Socks

A poem by Pablo Neruda, illustrated with images by Paul Klee, whose work is perfectly suited for this kind of thing. All I did was stick the two together.

Monday, 27 July 2015


Another quick sketch based on Ken Hultgren's "The Art of Animal Drawing" (he being a lead artist/animator for Disney's Bambi back in the day). Done in a quick drawing session with my kids over the weekend.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Guardian Masterclass with Karrie Fransman

I nipped down to London yesterday for the Guardian Masterclass with Karrie Fransman, someone who I think has a lot of interesting things to say about the current state of comics in the UK, and worldwide. I was not disappointed. (Note to non UK readers - that means I really enjoyed it. Typical British understatement and use of double negatives, you know.)

There was a strong turnout - 30 or 40 people at a guess - ranging from semi-pros to some who were just taking their first steps towards creating comics. Everyone was made welcome, and had the opportunity to get a lot from the evening, I think.

Karrie talked through her own creative process for her first graphic novel, passing round a lot of the original thumbnails, reference sketches and synopses - and discussed how she changed the way she did things for her second. There was also (and this was a key draw for me) a lot of good advice on how to deal with the publishing industry, who to submit to, what to submit, how to stand on, and so on.

The sketch below (rough mix of 2B pencil, Pitt Pen and Pocket Brush) was from a quick exercise that we did, in which a storyline was revealed panel by panel for us to draw - quickly, without thinking too much about it. a riff on the usual "angry person - angry person dresses up - goes to party - wrong sort of party" journey, you know. It was great seeing everyone's different interpretations of this, ranging from the cartoony to expressionist to downright strange. If you work out what my one's meant to be about, let me know, eh?

Anyway, the course is highly recommended. Big thanks to Karrie & to the Guardian masterclass team for hosting.

The crow on the angry guy's hand in the top panel came from a sculpture of some choughs by Terence Coventry in the Pangolin Editions gallery downstairs (thanks to Pangolin for letting me take the photos!) Love the way the blackened metal becomes more polished at their beaks.

Everything is grist for the mill...

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


Pen sketches of a couple of items from a recent trip round Oxford's museums (LHS from Pitt Rivers, RHS from Ashmolean, if I remember right)

I'm doing so much digital stuff these days, nice to pick up a pen for a change!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

World Maps

W.I.P. on an alternative cover design for my new collection of comics, using a "Gnomonic" map projection centred on the North Pole, and a lot of GIMP-ery to simulate the effect of several burnt through layers of paper (inspired by Kate MccGwire's "Fume", a sculpture/book which actually does this in real life, which I was lucky enough to see in Bristol the other day)

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Wood, Water & Fire

Hot on the heels of yesterday's shenanigans, there's been more skiving off what I'm meant to be doing and knocking out Strange & Norrell fanfic art, I'm afraid. I'll get back on the straight & narrow again this evening, but it's been fun seeing how my cross-hatchery works with Beeb-quality photography as a starting point. Scroll down to the end for the teacakes.

Quick shout out to the late, great Sergio Toppi here, who's graphical sensibilities and layout style definitely informed that "open plan" top panel silhouette. Toads by Google - during the scene of the recovery of the Moss Oak from the bog, there was a marvellous toad-based soundtrack going in the background - how to capture that on the page without being toooo subtle?!

Character piece showing the change in Jonathan Strange as the series progressed. I ended up re-watching most of episodes 6 & 7 - the acting in the scene where he's begging the Gentleman to bring Arabella back was absolutely superb.

In terms of comic-book storytelling here, note the ever-so-not-very-subtle use of blue=rational, red=impassioned colour association, and the irregular panel layout to represent madness (and tie in nicely with the broken mirror motif in the later stages of the story).

No actual mirrors (or toads) were harmed in the making of these pictures.

Cast : Bertie Carvel, Mark Warren, Ariyon Bakare, Charlotte Riley.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell copyright Susanna Clarke
Images from the TV series used as starting points copyright BBC
This is non-commercial fan-fiction created purely out of enthusiasm about a great story. Thanks to both book & TV series for telling it so well.

On Adaptation

A few closing thoughts about adaptation here - the TV series and the book are quite different, in no small part down to the footnotes and depth in the book. The TV series creates it's "immersion" differently, through lavish costumes and sets, and the universally superb acting. I haven't seriously thought much about storytelling in these pieces or the ones I posted yesterday (even to the point of not leaving any space for speech bubbles, which in my usual workflow go in before any of the figures), but it's left me wondering what a Strange & Norrell graphic novel adaptation might look like. I'd buy one - but what purpose would it fulfil? What purpose do adaptations fulfil in general? (I've asked this question in my art before, most searchingly here).

It's an involved story, a very large novel (about 800 pages?), and 7 hours of TV. A straight adaptation of the whole story using pictures and speech bubbles to replicate the dialogue would be rather cumbersome, but I think it could be done as a single volume (rather than an episodic comic, which feels much less atmospheric) - say a weighty hardback tome of some 400 pages (with a cloth bookmark in the spine), to throw a figure into the air?

There's a lot of fine dialogue in the TV series. The book often adopts a "report of events" style quite often (in the Jane Austen style). I think the latter could work quite well for a comic adaptation, helping to condense the storytelling into a reasonable page count, rather than a "cinematic" treatment following the TV series too closely.

And, as I noted yesterday, I'd like to pull the footnotes back in, as embellishments to the page - along with the other visual embellishment I've added (toads, candlesticks, quill, etc.)


Final thought - there's a brilliant line in Episode 2 of the TV series, where Strange has just righted the beached boat with his sand horses of Horse Sands, and is striding up the beach while everyone looks stunned, and says "So, who's for some teacakes and marmalade, then?". I'd love to round that scene out with an embellishment of a teacup and plate of scones (nice wedgwood design, or similar, of course) - would that work better with or without the above line included as dialogue?

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

English Magicians

I have been remiss in recent months in entertaining my readers with works of fan fiction - this will not do, sir, this will not do! By way of amends, it is my great pleasure this week to present some illustrations of the fabulous "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell". 

(switching back to 21st Century English...)

The TV series was so visually perfect, and the acting of a universally high standard, it's been hard to pick any scenes - these two have been taken essentially at random. I wanted to experiment with my digital cross-hatching techniques - normally reserved for my own improvised comics work - with something darker and visually richer - and also to play around with adding a few found objects, to add to the atmosphere. The second scene, featuring Stephen Black and Mr Segundus, was an experiment in adding in the sort of lengthy footnotes to a comic-book narrative that make the original novel such a deeply immersive pleasure.

The characters in the story are copyright of Susanna Clarke, and the images that my drawings are based on are copyright the BBC. This is just a piece of "fan fiction", unlike the majority of my work.

Cast (only those that appear in the illos above)
Mr. Norrell - Eddie Marsan
Jonathan Strange - Bertie Carvel
Lascelles - John Heffernan
Stephen Black - Ariyon Bakare
Mr Segundus - Edward Hogg