Immersive Thinking

Hey, so I’ve been spending a long time thinking about where I am and where I’m going, and how I take forward the stuff I’m good at and find things for me to do that can really challenge the full set of skills that I have – if you’ve only known me a few years you’ll assume that covers comics and visual storytelling, if you’ve known me for decades you’ll know that also covers programming, IT, acting and a whole slew of weird and esoteric interests.

I’ve been pushing this year to explore VR/AR and what I can do in those fields.

One meeting led to another which led to another which eventually led to Kainos and the building of an immersive experience called Dragon Slumber.

The remit was to create a walk around environment, there was a super tight deadline and physically massive space.

Of course, I didn’t know that, and had been briefed the space was a pretty small, table sized area. So, thinking on my feet I flipped around the idea of a walk in wizard’s den (or at least a small section of it) and turned it into a large tower were you’d come face to face with a life size dragon.

Of course, there’s more to it than that, I conceptualised the environment, everything from names of characters, designs, and a short, fun narrative designed to hook kids. All around the tech and the limits of the tech (including a smart little effect for Lottie – the little fairy that a child has to guide around the dragons)

So we’ve been chipping away at this project, Kainos handling the tech end and me building everything in the VR space using Tiltbrush to rapidly prototype (and I mean rapid, if you thought I was fast at pencilling, sculpting in tiltbrush is insanely fast for me)

I’m not sure where this leads next. There’s talk of trying to get to SXSW (which is happening pretty soon) and me talking to people about this immersive tech and what can be done, and what I can do specifically in the area, and while, it’s not entirely out of character for me to feel confident, I actually feel pretty confident I can offer something unique to immersive tech. I’m strongly attracted to narratives, and storytelling, and I love the playfulness of tech and what can be done when you think about this stuff a little sideways.

Anyway, we’ll see. It’s been an experience so far.

You can read a bit about DragonSlumber here.



Friday Fixup:As-For-Stuff

Is… is As-for your name? PLEASE LET ME KNOW!

I’ve banged on before about the importance of real names for comic creators, so I will say nothing.

Ok, As-for sent me a double page spread, and then a follow up double page spread. Here’s both.


So I’m going to talk about these for a bit.

The first double page spread here is interesting, As-for told me it’s deliberately disorientating, and it is. But I’m not sure what it’s trying for. It feels like the opening sequence of Watchmen, where Dave Gibbon’s drills down into the Smiley faced badge from a height, it disorientated, but it also let you know where you where. It was easy to read. A different angle to look at stuff. I think there’s a few problems here we need to think about – how am I supposed to read this? Is it a linear narrative? is it a non linear collection of vignettes? (What Scott McCloud would call Aspect-to-Aspect or Non-Sequiturs). The first column of panels feels like we should be reading that as one tall read, but that throws you off where to go next.

I have one talent; my reading comprehension is pretty low, so things like this confuse me.

The advice I’ve given for years about story telling is pretty rock solid, I think: ask someone you know/trust (ideally a partner, someone who is on hand most of the time) what they think is going on in a page. Don’t ask them if it’s any good (if they love you of course they’ll say yes). Ask them to explain the narrative, this is entirely non-judgemental, don’t help of prod them just let them look at it without dialogue and see what they’re seeing. It helps if they don’t usually read comics either, then they won’t try and read it properly.

I’d really recommend you do that, that would show exactly where you’re doing wrong here.

So my primary thing on the first page was just trying to help the storytelling (I actually like the art, it’s crisp, and clean and fun, it’s obviously a little round spy cam looking around a space ship, though I’m unsure what the closing lens has to do with it, this version cleans up the reading order…


Ok, on to this second double page spread, and I really like a lot of the art here, lots of great small figures, fun to look at, but … I really can’t make head nor tail of what’s supposed to be happening. My guess is young dude walking along, gets in to fight, but I’m not entirely sure how the top sequence is supposed to be read? I think you’ve some really solid ambitions in storytelling but they’re not quiet within grasp yet – I can see some Frank Quitely sensibilities in the work, but Frank (aka Vincent) knows how much information we need to see to helps us get from one panel to the next, no matter where they are. You also really need to include some backgrounds, I LOVE – LOVE the use of white space, esp where some of the characters are leaning on things that we don’t see, BUT – we need to see some of these things somewhere. Are we behind a warehouse? In space? In the crushing void of the neverwhere? You really want to establish your backgrounds fairly frequently, at an absolute minimum once per page is a good rule (and even then that’s for a solid background with lots of information about where / when we are) after that you need to drop little hints about the background (fight in a library? have some books flinging about behind our protagonists, fight at a dockyard? some gulls flying away as our bad guy punches the good guy)


In the images above I’ve tried to reconcile how I think the page should be read vs how it’s being read. The path in green is the order I think As-for is thinking the story will be read, in the path in red is how I think a typical reader will see that page. The edited image I’ve tried putting the panels back in the order I think you’d read them.

Story telling is key here (I’m in two minds though, I really like As-for’s clean art style, but I think it’s a little too far and they’ve got to figure out how much information is too little information… as a storytelling your job is conveying information about the story, too much and it’s a waste and can slow a reader down but too little and it’s hard to know exactly what you’re looking at)

Hope that’s interesting or helpful!


Friday Fixup: Paul Ridgon

Paul, kindly decided to take part in this, and set me a page. As ever, his original followed by my annotations:



Ok, before we begin: 2000AD is my bread and butter, but I’m always concious that there’s a danger with things like this that I’m trying to hammer someone else into the shape of ME, and look – one of me, frankly, as my wife will tell you, is enough. So it’s a struggle to try and NOT do that (this is entirely on me, not anyone who contributes). Anyway, taking Paul’s page in isolation…

I think my first thought on this was… well, this isn’t a comic page – it’s four images of four locations that are entirely unrelated as far as I could tell. There was no continuity linking the panels together,  no chain, now clues for the readers that they’re four images that are related to each other. So that was my first task, figuring out what’s going on.

Panel 1: I do this trick occasionally, where you’ve got an establishing shot and everything is happening in that location, Paul’s original felt small, like a vista of a location. So I opened it up, by bleeding the entire location down the page and by opening up the top it feels bigger somehow – now at least, it’s clear that what follows is all happening in the city.

(I also added some spots of light below the panel, in the borders too) to show we’re moving deep into the bowels of the city as we read down the page.


Panel 2

I think we have two jobs with this panel, one establish that the Judge-Cadet (if you’re a 2000AD reader the fact they’re a cadet will be obvious from the white helmet) is near the bloke standing outside the building (a building I decided was a refuelling location) and that the cadet is holding a baton – without this it’s unclear where the baton on the last panel comes from. I also added, behind them, the figure of a Judge (cadets are normally accompanied by a senior Judge, and in the dredd world set stories that senior Judge is usually Dredd).

I have them passively watching, because that’s the sort of thing that would happen.

Panel 3

It’s too clean! I added MOAR SHADOW – we’ve established it’s a noirish strip in that first panel, so we’ve got to follow through, in the original it’s in danger of looking like a CGI rendered cut scene, so I’ve added shadow to help indicate this is an exterior location (without it it could well be part of an interior) and since it’s outside and probably low down in the city, we need dirt and grit and – inexplicably – sheets of a4 paper floating around. I’ve also added some furniture to the tops of the buildings, just to get away from the perfect square shape of everything. And, deep in the panel, a silhouette of the cadet. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

Panel 4

As my 13 year old would say “OOF!” It’s not terribly clear in in the original whether this is a baton thrown to distract or one that’s impacted him and gone further in. So I had to make a choice. My choice – for the sake of impact – was to really get it more visceral and in your face, larger baton, in the foreground, and some blood pouring out and losing a tooth help to give it impact. (Also speed lines, and directional lines pointing to the action).

Everything, EVERYTHING, should be helping to enhance the storytelling; shadows, textures, everything. If they don’t deliberately push a reader towards reading what you want them to read then they’re sort of useless decoration. Also, and this is entirely on me, I’m not a big fan of the Clip Studio Paint hash brush it tends to show up in a lot of people’s work and just pushes any charm or personality or quirkiness of your work out of the way, moving to a homogenous bleh. But that’s me.

Anyhue, thanks for asking me to do this, take from it what you will, I think art is pretty solid, this is really about squeezing every millimetre of quality out of a piece of work but like most things is entirely subjective.

Couch to 80k Week Day 4

Boiler Plate: If you’ve been following, you’ll know, but if not: Couch to 80k is an 8 week writers bootcamp, requiring about 20 minutes per day (10 minutes of writing) by Tim Clare. I decided to do it to build some writing muscle and I blog my experience of doing it here.

Ok, that out of the way, on with the show…

No wait, one final thing. I’m blogging this, because, well, I missed blogging. The internet changes and evolves, I understand that – I’ve been here since about ’95 – when newsgroups where the thing, the www was a lot less of a thing, and people used gopher to find interesting stuff to read.

I remember telling people they should use google for search cus it much better than alta-vista or ask jeeves, or Yahoo!

But the general direction of the internet was towards openness, AOL tried to keep people locked in a single eco system, and failed.

I started blogging in about 2000, primarily to document my trials and try-outs for breaking in to comics as a professional (hence the original name “Back to the Drawing Board”) though, it became a journal of my first steps towards drawing.

Then came message boards (the Warren Ellis Forum, later The Engine, the 2000AD Message Board – which is still with us, and others) and now, finally twitter and facebook these were all ways to chat to other people about what was happening, and they all, bit by bit, took the steam out of what I was trying to do on the blog.

This year though, I’ve deleted facebook (second time around to delete it, there’s definitely stuff I’ll miss – though there’s a certain “what am I missing at this party if I leave” going on, hopefully that’ll settle down). I’m keeping twitter (I think twitter has made me a better writer, Tim Clare talks a lot – in his other podcast shows – of putting the most interesting word at the end of a sentence, so “The man came face to face with the Tiger” rather than “The Tiger and the man faced each other” and that’s a very similiar to what I’ve discovered with twitter, which is the joke only works if the word with punch is at the end. “I like drinking out of those tiny coke cans you get on planes – especially to the sounds of “dad, stop pretending you’re a giant” works better than “I like to pretend I’m a giant by drinking out of those tiny coke cans you get on planes with the kids shouting “dad stop it”). Plus I have a lot of followers on twitter, and you know, that network of people is valuable to me (not in a monetary sense, but in a wider, hey, I like you guys sense. Facebook was fraught – FRAUGHT – with difficulties, every friend request became a value-judgement “do I really want people to know they’re friends of mine?”)

And I’m back to blogging.

The Couch to 80k programme is helping me to blog every single day. I dunno if it’s interesting – I suspect it’s ok as long as I don’t waffle on too much (like I just did) and I KNOW – because people have told me – it’s pushed them to consider doing the Couch to 80k programme themselves. And that’s not a bad thing, right?

Anyway, today…

Continue reading “Couch to 80k Week Day 4”

Chaotic Evil

I’m sure you’re familiar with the Dungeons N Dragons monster/people Alignment categories (if not from the game, then probably from exposure to memes and wotnot via the inter web).

They are:

Lawful good | Neutral good | Chaotic good
Lawful neutral | true neutral | Chaotic neutral
Lawful evil | Neutral evil |Chaotic evil

I’ve been sort of mulling over, in my head, the overlap in various artists and inking styles over the years (there are artists clearly influenced by each other, and artists who influence other artists and styles mutate and change over time). When I was younger I could tell who drew some art based on a single bit of line work, reading the contours, the steadiness of hand, the sharpness of line and telling you if it was a Bolland, Ezquerra, McMahon or Smith (or Gibbons, or Dillon, or… etc)

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to marry these two little things up: an Alignment category for artists. It’s a work in progress, and tbh, it’s hard to do this without implying some sort of value judgement (especially when you see the word “Good”) – but I mean nothing of the sort. My categories map as follow:

LAWFUL / CHAOTIC – inking style that’s more controlled to inking style that’s thrashed out and contains splashes (so this is, I suppose rendering)

GOOD / EVIL – more properly this would be REALISM (Good) to IMAGINATIVE (EVIL) (I mean, I clearly don’t think Imagination is evil, but when I was first mulling this over, this is where I ended up)

So, here we go…

Brian Bolland (Lawful Good) | Steve Dillon (Neutral good) | Bill Sienkiewicz (Chaotic Good)

Adam Hughes (Lawful Neutral) | Becky Cloonan (true neutral) | Klaus Janson (Chaotic Neutral)

Kevin Nowlan (Lawful Evil) | Mike Mignola (Neutral Evil) | Si Bisley (Chaotic Evil)

Look, this is just a silly game. Maybe you’ll have better luck filling in the blanks, or maybe you’ll have less luck! Who knows, but if you do it, please let me know, I’d love to see where everyone ends up!

(I’d probably put myself as Neutral Good, up there with Steve Dillon, if I had the choice – that is to say, controlled inking – but not insanely so – and reasonable levels of realism… maybe)


James Bond M: The Artists Commentary/Travel Guide


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?


February Round Up

Hey! It’s near enough the end of February that I should probably have some sort of monthly newsletter round up (for the blog at least).

Ok, here’s some stuff that’s happened…

James Bond: M has happened. Written by Declan Shalvey, M gets a message that his past is coming back to haunt him and he heads off to Belfast to sort it out. It’s a one shot, 30 pages from Dynamite and I’m pretty happy with it. Unusually for me, I sat down and read the entire finished article and really enjoyed it. Dec’s written a tight little story and I’ve drawn Belfast as she exists (I’ll do an artists commentary track at some point, in the meantime if you want to read Dec’s writers commentary here.

Finished drawing episode 3 of the Garth Ennis penned World of Tanks: Citadel. This is a five parter, and coming from Dark Horse comics in May.

The finishing of this coincided with the publication of M so I’m feeling a little demob and decided to spend the weekend wreaking havoc in my studio and cleaning it out to replace it with something new.

It looks like this currently

And my plan is to rip out most of the furniture and replace it with a single massive Ikea Kallax unit (Ikea’s modular cupboardy furniture thing) which you can add shelves too, etc.

I’ve already emptied out the filing cabinet (it’s got my tax info in one single sleeve in one drawer, so I don’t actually use it) and the wooden cabinet that held older tax stuff and a decade and a half of crappy sketchbooks with nothing of value in them (all dumped now – I kept anything half decent, there wasn’t much)

But I’m nowhere near finished with it all. And I’m starting to feel that antsy feeling you get when you haven’t drawn for a couple of days (I mean, goodness it was a relief to finish all deadlines and know there was no pressure for a day or two, but no I actually WANT to draw. And do something spectacular).

So back to drawing tomorrow. Despite the fact the studio …er… doesn’t look much different. (At least not yet)