Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Bristol 10: A Survivor's Tale

Another year, another Bristol Comics Expo. With seven shades of crazy going on all around at the moment, this was always going to be a wild ride. Still, it's impossible not to have a great time at this gig, and this year proved no exception.

First, the obligatory name-checking phase of the exercise. New friend-related highlights for me came in the forms of Vicky Stonebridge, Rob Carey and (although I only got to exchange a few words with him all weekend) Andy Brown. It's always a cool experience to meet people who are working on books with me in person - particularly when they're as animated and creative as the crews on The Indifference Engine and Slaughterman's Creed. Good times.

Nic and I also got to meet Matt Gibbs and Vicky Cox, who were instrumental in us retaining our sanity over the weekend. Matt's got a string of writing credits in comics, films and computer games. Gotta love a diverse portfolio like that.

After playing a complex hide-and-seek game with Henry Flint all day, we finally bumped into him on the Saturday afternoon. Considering the hurricane-force levels of palpably alien insanity gusting through the artwork he has assembled for his Outsider Broadcast art book (with words by me!), we were pleased to discover the man himself to be refreshingly human, in so far as we were able and qualified to judge such things.

Si Wyatt earned himself a slot in my personal Hall of Fame, when he not only showed me the outstanding Crosshair statuette he'd built, but actually presented me with it to take home (Stephen got the Badmouth, which was seriously cool). Check this fucker out:

My convention panel début was a lot of fun. In addition to getting to hear Harry Markos lay out Markosia's upcoming schedule and vision of the future, I got to blast a roomful of people full in the face with the double-barrel of Slaughterman's Creed and The Case Files of Harlan Falk. Highlights here included Ian Sharman's run-down of Hero 9-5 and watching an entirely overworked woman frantically trying to translate my red-mist Creed pitch into sign language for the people who came with her.

Cy's Pitchng Face (All Ages Version). Photo by Vicky Stonebridge

The Comic Book Alliance panel on the Sunday was both informative and surprisingly optimistic, and it sounds like just what the industry ordered.

As I write this post, my right ear is being delicately snuffled by the wrinkled trunk of what appears a large elephant in the room with me. Unfortunately, said elephant is just as clueless as I am about the situation. No, I don't know what the future holds for Insomnia Publications. Yes, I've heard all the same rumours everyone else has. No, I don't have any specialised insider knowledge (and, frankly, I'm surprised anyone expected I would have). Like everyone else, I'm just waiting to see what happens next. I've got several books signed with the company and, as far as I've been told, they're all still going ahead. If anything changes in that regard, I presume someone will let me know and I'll work up a Plan B.

Right, then - over to Nic.

Well, Cy has covered a lot of what we did already so here are some Nic-Specific highlights:

We had a great time on Friday night in the Ramada. One of the best things about Bristol is the central venue where you can find everyone at once. Lots of catching up was done with lots of people and I still maintain that a Lost Boys t-shirt grants more cool points than a Beatles one - whatever certain people might think!

You've already seen the Crosshair sculpt higher up the page that Cy got, now meet Rax from the upcoming Unbelievable graphic novel which is drawn and written by Simon Wyatt and lettered by me.

His wings and tail are even feathered. how fantastic is that?

We understand that Si's son wants to be a werewolf when he grows up, which is a fine ambition. Personally I want to be a Triceratops. We were privileged to see some rare cryptozoological footage, captured on a mobile camera, of the young cub in his transformed state.

These weren't the only original pieces of art we were given as gifts, though. Valia "Tw1sted Vision" Kapadai gave us a brilliant sketch of the two of us as The Joker and Harley Quinn from the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game. Scanner not operational right now - but when it is will post it up.

My top priority of Saturday morning was to seek out the location of Garen Ewing and get my hands on one of the limited numbers of
Rainbow Orchid 2 that were out pre-release at the show. It's a great book and if you haven't read it you should. Garen did a beautiful little sketch of Lilly in this one.

I'd been looking forward to picking up Requiem as well, and as luck would have it, not only was there a "get both books for £20" deal, but
Pat Mills was at the table when I went to buy them and I had a really good chat with him. He's one of my favourite writers of all time, so that was quite special.

Saw the first few pages of the Fallen Heroes comic book adaptation. It's looking amazing. One of the saddest parts of not being an editor any more is not getting to see these things take shape.

On Sunday I got to model my unique black "Rah" t-shirt to the kind people of the
Genki Gear stand who had had it made up for me earlier in the year.

Had a moment of almost being sucked into a terrifying B-movie as the awful truth about mushrooms, slime moulds and boiling-sulphur-vent-dwelling organisms dawned on Ollie, Katy and both of us. Shivers!

We enlisted with the
Fetish Men and are now standing proud in the rank of Tea Master General. We have an ID card, A badge, a personalised poster, a mug and everything!

I also learnt the deadly secret of the Nugent of Destruction - but I cannot reveal any more at this time!

All in all a brilliant weekend - but I'd like to request that they lower the temperature for next year.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Panel Games: The Bonus Round

Playing the outsider's edge, I chose door number 3.

As luck would have it, there was no goat sitting behind it, but rather Harry Markos of Markosia with an invitation to join him on the Markosia panel at the Bristol Comics Expo this coming Saturday to talk a bit about the upcoming Slaughterman's Creed.

Mr Green from Slaughterman's Creed, chapter 2. Pencils by Stephen Downey. Colours by Vicky Stonebridge

So I guess that's what I'll do, time permitting.

Having fought with an increasingly cranky printer, I will have a draft copy of the complete book in progress with me to show at the Markosia stand following the panel and anywhere else you might catch me throughout the weekend.

The pencils and letters are complete for all five chapters, and colours are complete on chapters 1 and 2.

The whole Slaughterman's Creed team will be at the show all weekend and we are:

Cy Dethan: Writer
Stephen Downey: Pencils
Andy Brown: Inks
Vicky Stonebridge: Colours
Nic Wilkinson: Letters

Slaughterman's Creed will be out digitally later this year, with a print version to follow.
  • The panel is at 11.45 in the Ramada
  • The Markosia stand is in the Mainstream and International section also in the Ramada
As well as Slaughterman's Creed, I'll have previews of The Indifference Engine (complete) and The Ragged Man (issue one) with me. Just ask if you want to take a look.

See you there...

Friday, 14 May 2010

Panel Games...

As long as we're in a bit of a Nic vibe at the moment, I should take a second to drop in a couple of sightings and updates.

As was announced recently, Nic has stepped down from her management position at Insomnia Publications, due to the time restraints of changing jobs in Real Life(TM). She'll still be active as a creator, as both letterer and artist (watch for her work on The Morlock Manifesto, in Accent UK's upcoming Victoriana anthology), and will still be visible in all the usual places.

For those fearing for a UK indie comics industry lacking Nic's enormous reserves of personal awesome, allow me to set your minds at ease. For one thing, Nic has joined the committee of the Comic Book Alliance, and will be appearing on their Sunday panel at Bristol. Here's what they have to say about that on the convention website:

The Comic Book Alliance

Come along and hear the latest news from the industry-wide not-for-profit organisation that is there to support fans, retailers, creators, distributors and publishers. Air your views on what's grim and great about the UK comic industry and together we can put the world to rights! We have a lot of exciting developments to reveal with the founders, GM Jordan, Shane Chebsey and Tim Pilcher, plus surprise guests!

Nic is also providing the foreword for Valia Kapadai's Tw1sted Vision, a book I've spoken highly of in the past and will continue to do so at every opportunity.

As for me, between now and the Bristol gig I've got about 150 pages of preview material to print out and bind together, several bases to touch and a number of meetings to hook up. Not bad, considering I'm not planning on pitching anything specific at this one.

Roll on the 21st...

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Nic's Sticky Notes

Right then, here we are. Or here I am, at any rate, I imagine you’ll be popping along at different times as you’re free.

Asynchronous conversations – one of the many beautiful things about the internet.

But I’m just wasting time here with my fingers while I think of what to say. You see, Cy invited me to be an irregular contributor to his blog, sticky fingers excepted, and it sounded like a great idea. Now I am faced with a white text box and struck with a case of the “...but what shall I writes?”.

Let’s try and keep it comics related, then, at least at first...

This week, in preparation for Bristol, I have been mostly lettering comics. I also designed my first logo.

Here it is:

As you can see it’s for Slaughterman’s Creed, which will be out from Markosia later this year.

When I say “designed” I actually mean “designed and executed”. I’ve come up with logo concepts before for Cancertown and The Indifference Engine, but they were both drawn up by the rather wonderful Paul Cartwright.

In my other life I do a lot work with what is known as “emotional design”. The short explanation of that is “designing for the subconscious”. Using shapes and colours and their placement, contrast and interrelation to provoke certain feelings and attitudes. You’ll maybe have seen Derren Brown do a “turned up to 11” version of this kind of thing, but I'm a marketer, not a magician.

In my other life, though, I do the theory and the sketching and the testing of the interpretation. I usually have a magically skilled graphic designer to do the actually execution. So, when I said to Harry Markos of Markosia “What do you want to do about designing the logo for Slaughterman’s Creed, then?” and he said “Why don’t you have a go?” I had an initial moment of terror and then merrily jumped in with both feet and started splashing about.

It wasn’t like I didn’t have a safety net though. Luckily I could ask the incredibly talented James Reekie for tips, and Markosia’s editor Ian Sharman is a red hot designer himself.

I’d been thinking about ideas for the logo for a while, albeit for someone else to draw. Given the nature of the story something meat related had always been kicking around at the back of my mind. For a while I played about with the idea of the kind of bluish stamp that you see on bacon, but then for that to work the whole cover would have had to bend around it and look like it was made of flesh. That would have all got a bit too Necronomicon, though, and not worked as an advert for the content.

The initial cover concepts that Stephen did were quite “video nasty” style with their red and white and nasty meat hook in the foreground. I spent a lot of time thinking about whether to play up the “straight to video” kind of look – but the 70s exploitation or 80s horror vibe didn’t fit the nature of the story, but no spoilers about why that is the case at this stage!

In the end this one popped into my head almost fully formed. The concept of the logo as a label from the actual world of the story. As I played with sketching out possibilities for it I realised it could also do the job of getting across quite a lot of information about the content. Not just incorporating a content warning (and yes, it is very very violent, the language is very bad, but there are no naughty bits!) but little hints about the nature of the world and the story. Ah, you’ll see what I mean once you’ve read it.

And if you come and talk to us at Bristol then you’ll be able to see some previews.

I drew up several versions with the elements combined in different ways and after a bit of back and forth, Harry picked the one he liked.

I had more to say about that than I expected, and I didn’t even get into font selection and straight or curvy corners!

I wonder if I’ve got time to say anything about lettering then, and what to say about it? I’m not going to write a “how to” that’s for certain. For one thing, there’s a lot of those about, and if you want one the best I can recommend is Comic Book Lettering by Jim Campbell. It started life as a series of posts on the 2000AD forums and he then kindly compiled it into a PDF and a free ebook. I know it’s helped lots of people with its clear illustrations and practical step by step advice. Apart from eating his brains to gain his knowledge it’s the closest you can get to a direct download of years of experience.

If you think you want to be a letterer, though, be aware that it can change your life in ways you might not want, like wondering about the fonts used in the middle of a film you’re watching.

I think what I want to write about is more the “art of lettering”. More about what you do once you’ve had the all night wrestling matches with illustrator, learned its true name and gained dominion over it. That’s not a fight to be approached lightly, either!

Recently PJ Holden wrote a fantastic piece on his blog showing his approach to composition and how he manages the flow of the readers’ attention around the page by drawing focus within the panels and the page as a whole. It’s better if you go and read it than if I describe it to you though. It’s a really great insight into an artist’s creative process.

So, inspired by that I’d like to do something similar for how I approach lettering, working with the shapes of the art and the script, but I am nearly out of time and almost certainly out of post and attention span now, because it’s going to need examples and arrows and all sorts of things like that.

So, let’s save that for next time, and I’ll make up lots of pictures to illustrate it as well. For now I’ll just say that I think of lettering kind of like the Force – it has a visual side and a technical side and it binds the script and artwork together.

All that remains is to clean the sticky marks from the keyboard before Cy gets back...

Friday, 7 May 2010

Closing the Book...

As I write this entry, Nic Wilkinson sits not ten feet from me, cackling uncontrollably as she lays the letters over the finished pencils of Slaughterman's Creed. We'll leave aside for a moment what it says about my partner in innumerable crimes against nature, humanity and any god you'd care to name (they're all public domain, so feel free to pick a couple of good ones) that she finds my grimmest work to date also to be my funniest book. Rather, let's focus on the subtext here. Barring the colouring (currently having Vicky Stonebridge's considerable magic worked on it), the entire five-chapter run of the book is now in a fully readable state. Covers and logos are in the works, and I'm starting to hear the first rumbles of a distant drumroll as we begin the countdown toward publication.

The Indifference Engine is in much the same condition right now, with Mel Cook's complex and concept-driven colours in progress and the letters already in place. Again, the book is now fully readable, and I'll very likely be shoving both it and Creed into people's faces all over Bristol later this month. What's more, things are currently looking very promising for having a readable first chapter of The Ragged Man with me as well. All going to plan, I'll likely be the most previewed writer at the convention - albeit without an actual book launching at this one.

Speaking, as I usually do and was just a moment ago, of Nic - it looks like I'll soon be able to kick off an Exciting New Feature on Cy's Matters. In short, I've invited her to contribute her irregular thoughts on an irregular basis to the blog - providing she pimps my works shamelessly and doesn't sticky up my keyboard too much. Watch for that soon, and tremble...
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