I’ll try and do this without spoilers, but here we go!!
So, I think Declan first asked me about doing something together a few years ago, nothing concrete beyond – would you be interested in doing something with me. As anyone knows, my generally policy is to always say yes to potential work. (But also, whatever it would be, I figured it’d be fun).
Checking my emails, I see the first time there was a serious mention of M was around April last year, when I drew the picture of M outside the crown – just as a taster image. it took a solid 6 months for approvals etc to be be gained before I could actually see a script and get some drawing done. Such is the way sometimes (and especially with licenced stuff)
I’d suggested a few ideas of locations to Dec for places in Belfast. I was particualry keen on M being able to get from A to B within the time you’d expect him to (Belfast is a small place, and it wouldn’t take days anyway).
Page 1: MI6 Head quarters. And a 00-agent. I cropped his head, didn’t want to spoil the hand that this, was not, in fact 007. Figured I could play that better if you didn’t see who it was.
Page 2: Oh look it’s not 007!
Page 3: M gets a present. It’s a rubber bullet. There’s a few shapes of rubber bullet you can choose from, the hardest part is to not make it look … rude. The simpler baton (less phallic shaped one) looks more stunted pringles can though, so we went with this.
Page 4: Blooming nightmare drawing real locations. Like a maniac, I was scouring google maps for the location of a red post box that would be on the right side of the street so that M could lean out and post a letter so he could arrive facing the direction he’s facing beside Euston. Let’s be real though, no one else will care. But you do what you do.
Page 5: Yay! Belfast! That’s a slightly cartoony version of me and my wife and kids in Belfast behind M there. And a bloke taking a photo of the windows for some reason.
Nate Cosby told me he likes how I drew M as this big old bruiser who could take someone in a fight. I don’t think I made a conscious decision that that was who my M was – but certainly once I had that physicality I liked it about M. Someone who could, in a pinch, take out Bond in a straight up fight.
This is Victoria Square, its main feature – and one I wasn’t able to get in to the drawing – is, roughly in front of M, an old Victorian Bandstand that stood for years in Botanic Gardens (a location we’ll see later) which is a good 40 minute walk away (it was here originally, then relocated in the early 70s then moved when they built the Mega-City-like Victoria Square.
Why is M here? I figure he popped in here to pick up a toothbrush and some jammies from the John Lewis (that’s the sort of shop M probably shops in)
Page 6: Flashback City. Oh look you can spot a smidgen of the H&W cranes (this may be Samson OR Goliath). It’s on the loyalist area of the flashback (since the dockyards were a predominately loyalist area). The opposite of that is a nationalist gable wall of no-fixed-location, but we’ll say it’s the Falls Road, since it’s possible… The rough shape in the background (obscured by lettering) is the Black Mountain – holding constant vigil over Belfast. It’s the feature I miss most when I’m away from home.
The bar here ISN’T The Sunflower, though it is my hazy recollection of bars of that type, that, it turns out are almost all the Sunflower. You should go there for a drink, they do nice food.
Page 7: This isn’t the interior of the Sunflower, it’s a sort of amalgam of all the Belfast bars I’ve ever drank in. It’s also the first appearance and Declan and my mutual pal, Ron Abernathy (this is his actual name and likeness, used with permission) Ron was pleased as punch he was in the comic.
I like that Sammy has the Ulster Says NO banner across his desk. Maybe he nicked it from the top of the Belfast City Hall.
Page 8: I got nothing.
Page 9: Nope, not much to say here. Characters angry (one reviewer who liked the book suggested my characters were “too expressive” – he may have a point)
Page 10: I grew up around dealers of badges and militia and UVF badges and can assure you this is a pretty accurate bit of interaction between one and a paying customer
Page 11: When I was a kid, of about 7 years old, the army landed a helicopter on a bit of land near where I lived (this was in ’87 – height of the troubles) the soldiers disembarked, and me, a reader of Warlord and Commando, found this to be a the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, anyway, one of the soldiers, on their honkers as they looked at me offered me the chance to look through his gun sight and I don’t think I’ve ever not forgotten it. (I never, in my entire life growing up in Belfast, ever got caught up in a riot in any way shape or form)
Page 12: The Crown. More baroque than a drawing could possibly convey (though, dammit, I tried!)
Page 13: Silhouette! Such a relief after drawing the outside of the crown! Artists do silhouettes for a few reasons: 1) it’s faster, no denying it. 2) it conveys a lot of information while remaining enigmatic, and 3) it fairly breaks up the monotony of the art you’re looking at. They’re a powerful tool. More flashback, we didn’t want to change the panel borders for flashbacks, hoping the colouring would give the reader context and I think it really works.
Page 14: Moneypenny’s Apartment. This is my actual living room. (Albeit without the chair on the far left, but otherwise, it’s spot on). The phonebooth is at the bottom of the hill round the corner from my house. Oh how I chuckled at the fact these characters could just nip over to chat to each other if ONLY THEY NEW!
Page 15: The ‘Ra! Show up! Well, the junior division, at any rate. Less the PIRA and more Trying too Hard A.
Page 16: Finally some action! Ooof! M can handle himself, esp against amateurs. Amusing myself only: the rusty excuse for a weapon is based on a beretta 9mm, which I (mistakenly) believed to be Bond’s gun of choice (research later suggested it should’ve been a Beretta 418 as Bond’s first gun) Oh well. Will do better next time.
Page 17: Oh goodie a crowd scene. Small figures are really hard to get right. On the one hand you want it all to be recognisable on the other hand we’re not great at processing detail – we slow down, a riot shouldn’t be a slowdown. It should be a feeling of welling panic. You wanna get low down and in to it as quick as you can.
Page 18: M, handed a plastic baton gun, and told to fire – lots of soldiers lacked the appropriate training to use these things when they first hit.
Page 19: Morning. In the Park. We’re in Botanic Gardens, in the kids play area. Before any kids are up (much to my own amusement, one reviewer picked up the location based on the shape of the railings, that’s when research pays off!) In the background is Annadale Flats, where’d you’d frequently see UVF slogans and the Union flag flying.
Page 20: Big moody shot of M. I jumped between digital and analogue on this work, this is one of the digital ones and I wish I’d drawn it analogue.
Page 21: Rain. I wish I’d drawn this one digitally. Bloody rain.
Page 22: The Dark Hedges
Page 23: I keep thinking this building in the background is Belfast City Hospital, but it isn’t. It’s part of Queen’s university. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve only just realised this (despite the fact that City Hospital building is a bright yellow and this … isn’t)
Page 24 (this paragraph intentionally left blank)
Page 25: oof. Gotta hurt.
Page 26 – 28: Not much to say here, beyond saying I developed a little technique for using a wide bristle brush to splodding leafy patterns on the page. It was surprisingly fun and easy to do. Just take a hard bristle small wide brush (mine was about half an inch wide) dip it in ink, wipe the ink off so it’s not too much and then dab it on the page and presto! instant foilage!
Page 29: I think this was Dec’s favourite page (certainly it’s the one I gave him). It’s pretty striking (no pun intended) in b&w though this was down to Dec more than me as he pretty clearly described what he wanted here. Works though, the man knows composition.
Page 30. Back to London. Back to MI6. Back to work.
Hope you got a chance to pick up and read the comic. I’m pretty proud with how it all came out, Dearbhla did a great job on the colours, Dec’s writing was ace, and I did ok. You know?