Writing has stalled

After getting to week 7 of the Couch to 80k writing challenge, I balked out of the last week, exhibiting a pattern of behaviour which I can only describe as “mission nearly accomplished”.

Week 8 is about writing that novel, getting her started, big writing chunks, nothing but writing. And I figured, right, I’m not writing a novel, time to move on.

And it was good for a while, I ended up developing up half a dozen projects that are all more complete than any writing thing I’ve done before, but they’re still largely unfinished – a few I’ve mentioned to writer friends who’ve been keen to take on the burden of writing the script (and I’ve been equally keen to work with them and walk away) combined with business in drawing comics means the scripting has stopped (well, never properly started).

The dredd script I’d been working on I had so many notes that, honestly, I wasn’t sure how to synthesis them all into a single solid script and then I lost the way of myself and started doubting everything I’ve ever thought about everything. (If I’m wrong about this… can I be right about anything).

I think I need to be better keeping my enthusiasm up when I’m on my third round of notes, or, at least, be able to move on to the next thing.

The Friday Fixup has been a fun venue for writing, though like writing articles about topics I know well, it never feels like writing so much as me just spewing my thoughts out.

Just finished pencilling a six page script that was written Marvel style and it’s made me think maybe.. just maybe… I should just write some of these stories marvel style and then draw them up and dialogue them afterwards. Just purely for my own amusement.

Anyway, I’m aware this year was the year I would tackle writing and we’re more than half way through and I have one script with an artist, but nothing else written, and I just wanted to stop and take stock a little. Got to pour myself into more drawing work (WWII will be drawing this strip for several months) and hope I can find the time and energy and balls to just write and draw one thing.

Friday Fixup: PXD

Ok, art on this friday fixup is by a chap whose name is PXD (or Pete).

My general (unasked for) advice on names is this: use your real name, because whatever funny name you come up with now – before you’ve a published history WILL become your name.

My real name is Paul Holden. For publishing purposes (and because I was working with a guy called Paul Holmes who couldn’t quite grasp there were two Paul’s in the store I worked in) I started using my middle initial “J” (for Jason) for publishing, this was fine, real world, home: Paul. Online, publishing: PJ (actually my first published work is under Paul J Holden, PJ Holden scans better)

But then those world’s meet and suddenly every day you’re going “Yeah, PJ is fine. Or Paul, or Jason, or Peej. Honestly, I don’t mind”.

Frank Quitely’s name started as a joke, but of course, that’s how Vincent is no known.

These choices you make when you’re first starting out end up sticking with you for a long, long time.

(I say this because I had to check around to see what Pete’s surname was, but he seems to go by PXD too, so sorry Pete – hope I’ve credited you correctly!)

Ok, on to the art!

Pete’s page to the left, my edit to the right.

I’m not gonna talk about the lettering, but I will link to these, please go read ’em!

Ok, on to notes.

Panel 1:

Let’s stop being so shy, good big close up of our car, frames the house nicely and makes the entire thing a little more ominous. You’re always trying to fool the eye into thinking a 2d flat rectangle is a window into a 3d world, so anything that can add depth really helps that – close things look big BUT the reverse is also true : big things look close – so make something big and something small and it really gives us depth. And really push it – push it so far it breaks, then pull it back so it’s not broken but still a big contrast.

Panel 2: How wide is that door? That’s a wide door! I moved the door in a bit, added a little shadow behind the back of the door (helps frame it up a bit more) and added a little bit of texture to the unadorned wall.

Panel 3

I tried and tried to make this panel work as a straight on but it always felt odd, and the reason is she’s talking to the dude at the door, she’s facing the dude at the door, and suddenly we’re staring straight at her, from his pov – but it didn’t feel right at all, felt like we should still be observing this as a third person – so just came in nice and close to her face and repencilled her. I appreciate this is an older lady, but I think you’ve got a lot of lines on her face which are really unnecessary (I’m often guilty of this) Here’s your drawing of her face cleaned up, still older but prettier, I think. I also shrank her eyes – now you can argue this is a taste thing, but I think on your characters I’m seeing lots of eyes that are just a smidgen too large. For years and years I struggled with drawing eyes – how can you draw everything you want in an eye in the tiny space of where the eye is? IMPOSSIBLE. Couldn’t figure out how artists like Adam Hughes could draw these incredibly beautiful eyes (still can’t, if I’m honest) while I kept drawing eyes that insisted every eyelash, every wrinkle, every light red vein in an eyeball is seen. Draw less, I think is the answer. Make the lines you do draw do more.



Panel 4:

Mild perspective inside rooms are my kryptonite, I really struggle with them. (So did Mignola til that clever bastard figured out you don’t need to do it).

So what I did was a constructed a very simple version of the room in sketchup – took literally 2 minutes, dropped some figures rotated the camera until I got it more or less as it should be and then edited it based on that. I think the real problem is when you’re doing this kind of indoor perspective shot is you want to make it easy so the vanishing points end up very close together, and overlap (where the object in front hides part of the object behind) is a real pain (cus you’ve still got to figure out where the stuff is and then you don’t even draw it – it’s a blorping nightmare) so let us resolve this together – let us from now on map a very simple room (this sketchup room? two walls, a floor, no ceiling and a a simple bed that I duplicated) in sketchup and use that as the basis (you can print out a sketchup model and use that to trace over, you can export-import the 3d into clip studio to digitally trace over or you could just build the model and play with it so you get a sense of what a box room perspective looks like and then just draw it)

Pete linked me a second page, which I’ll not have time to add notes to except this: draw backgrounds! By forcing a black panel border you’ve taken away the ability to leave a panel borderless (and borderless panels also mean you can get away without background!) so you’re sort of going to have to give every panel a background (oops!) Not to worry, 90% of backgrounds are really shorthand reminders to the reader of where the location is – set in a library? then a wall of books will do. Set in a garden? a nice bit of frilly linework that looks enough like a hedge to pass will do. Cheat. I’m saying cheat. But don’t skip it.


Anyway, apologies PXD I feel like I’ve been unduly harsh,  of course, all of this is subjective and the advice skews heavily to my taste in things, so you are free of course, to tell me to stick it up my blorp.


Friday Fixup: Vince Underwood

Friday Fixup is where I take a page of some willing volunteer’s work and see if I can add some extra oomph to the story telling.

First page this week is by Vince Underwood

As ever, his version on the left, my edits to the right, annotations follow…

Let’s begin!

Panel 1:space! The final frontier. The edits: more drama! Just because we’re in space doesn’t mean we can’t have dramatic lighting around a figure (check out anything at all inked by Kevin Nowlan, the master at two source lighting). This little pure white figure against a pure white background felt a little dull, so some nice shadows inside him. Now, in panel 3 we meet some sort of villain, but where’s he come from? He just sort of appears – so I added a little flying figure of him in Panel 1 (it’s not much but it stops that can from just sort of showing up – it’s a reverse checkov’s gun problem we have – if the dude shows up as a massive threat on panel three, we’d better see him earlier than that!)

Panel 2: Couldn’t tell if we were looking at a sun or a planet, so I added some shadow shapes to help sell the planet, adding some central shadows around the flying good guy (Which really focuses you on his mouth and that scream) and added some more pew! pew! pew! (the original has two laser beams, but they’re white and on top of a white planet so it’s all a bit lost, now the planet is in shadow, added some jagged effect lines so it’s not just pure straight laser fire – visual interest! and lots more pew! pew! pew!)

(I make s/fx noises when I draw. I’ve learned to accept that about myself. Pew!)

Panel 3 – OOF! Here we want that impact point to be seen more, by adding shadow around the body of the hero that sort of guides the reader towards the chin/knee interface and adding a little white halo around the back of the villains leg, and more laser beam (pew! pew!) the panel has crunch and movement and focus.

Panel 4-6 Ok, I get what you’re doing here, a classic build up and then explosive punch! but I don’t think it’s working. Firstly the splatters of blood are too blobby and distracting, they’re not helping do anything but obstruct – this is a complex sequence so you want to simplify as much as possible. Plus, I think you’ve got Panel 4: PUNCH! Panel 5: Angry Panel 6: Angry and I think you really want Panel 4: punch! panel 5: PUNCH HARDER! panel 6: PUNCH EVEN HARDER, Panel 7: PUNCH THE HARDEST THERE IS. It’s sort of the rule of threes (I’ve gone for panels 5-6 as closer up views on the villains fist punching with blood, in case the drawing isn’t clear). Build and build and build and defuse. You have build, defuse, defuse, build, defuse.

Panel 7 (centre big punch). Ok, the centre visual effect here is cool but pointless, hard truth – it’s making me, the reader, look at the central effect and think “WHy am I staring at this dudes arm” – I’m completely missing the punch in the face that’s going on – I’m a dog that can only see on shiny thing at a time, and that shiny thing is SO shiny. So I moved the shiney to where the punch is. I did mine crudely you could do it with cooler v/fx, but the point is: the point of impact is the point. Not the dudes arm.

Panel 8-9-10 Again removed the blood splatter, so much clearer (I didn’t do it, but I’d be inclined to flip the horizontal on panel 8, as he’s arming his right hand and punching with his left, which looks a bit silly, but would work if it’s his right hand). Panel 10 I made it another punch, one with more gusto (I admit, my drawing of it is hard to make out) the point is: this is our heroes redemption moment, he gets his punch in, he’s going to win…

Panel 11: BUT WAIT! NO! Bad guy grabs him. I think you need a beat of the villain grabbing him before they start entering what I assume is limbo – I’m guessing the villain is vanishing them both away? I added a background to panel 11 (it’s the planet behind them, maybe I’d add some of the space ships too)

Panel 12-13-14-15 largely unchanged (I did add some white little lightning bolts to tie it to the visual effect on panel 7)

And finally, the background – let’s call it panel 16 I put some space ships in, because, frankly, they just seem to vanish around panel 3 where’d they go? Hopefully a reader won’t notice this stuff they’ll be so engrossed in the story, but there will be something nagging them in the back of their head, some sort of flaw they can’t quite see, and it’ll never occur to them that the spaceships just left, without a by-your-leave.

Anyway, hope that’s interesting/informative/something. YMMV on all of this stuff.

Friday Fixup: RL Rudge

Rich sent me this page (I hope you don’t mind me calling you Rich!) a fine cyberpunk type one pager.

As ever, Rich’s page first, followed by my edits followed by notes on why I did what I did…

Hey ho! Let’s go!

Panel 1: I think if you’re going to rely on perspective you need to lean hard in to it, get out the ruler, draw the guidelines. Then start measuring making sure you’ve got straight lines where you need them. I cheat (and goodness if you can cheat ALWAYS cheat) by using Clip Studio Paint’s perspective guidelines. I usually would use them to refine a pencil sketch, then I’d free hand the lines in. You’ve also got to be aware of scale – if the building is large what kind of tiny details can you see? What gives it a sense of scale? Usually it’s the number and size of windows – we all have a general notion of how big a window is so if the window looks small then boom it’s further away.

The van is suffering a bit from a flat tyre here too (I’m guessing that’s more accident than design) and we have one character walking out of it. So, I pushed us closer to the woman walking out of the van, van and her now dark heavy foreground, gives us more a sense of who’s important in this scene – on the original the building was important, in the redraw the woman looking at the building is important. Of course, check your script (which I don’t have) it may well be this shouldn’t be that type of scene – this panel is now the exorcist movie poster.

Panel two, pulled out from the van, stayed with her, dropped the panel border up top. Felt all a little close. Also It takes seconds to google “door of white transit van” give that a go! Google everything real world, you may not use it but it can suggest new shapes so everything stops looking like a persons memory of a thing.

Panel three – in the original it’s a little confusing to me, suddenly the girl we’re looking at is in the middle and beside the other guys? I think – but can’t swear, this is supposed to be a chat between them were we erase the boundaries of time and space which is cool and a comic book trope, I think though, if you’re GOING to do that then bite the bullet and do it …


Floating heads are fine!

Though if you are going to do that then the very next panel BETTER HAVE A BACKGROUND! failure to do so will make the reader think they’ve entered some sort of limbo dimension where backgrounds don’t exist.

Now, what I did on this panel is I just pulled us in closer to the action (I cheated by reusing the art on panel two – which is fine for what I’m doing here, but try and avoid reproducing art in this way as it gets a bit dull and samey – it’s fine to do use a copy as a pencil if the inks then add some subtle changes. There’s room for dialogue and it’s clear where everyone is in relation to each other (I’m big on the geography of a scene, reader should never be confused about where they are UNLESS YOU WANT THEM TO BE…).

Panel Four

Hey, I’ve done backgrounds everywhere, so we can drop them out for this panel, that’s cool. It’s nice and clean and keeps our focus on our tin-chinned chum.

And that’s it. YMMV, I hope this is interesting!

Friday Fixup: Stephen Ward

It’s friday fixup, this slice of sci-fi silliness is from Stephen Ward who has a whole strip for you to read here.

I took his first page to see if I could pep it up with the story telling, His page then my edits, then notes to follow!

So let’s talk SCALE!!!

You have the vast, endless expanse of space (“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” the great Douglas Adams) and yet panel one feels super cramped. It’s also got the main characters flying against the direction of the reader (reader is, of course, moving left to right – anything that is on the page attempting to move right to left is gonna feel either very jarring or like it’s not moving at all – a still moment). So panel 1 I pulled the camera right out – since we have two characters the dialogue – in the context of the rest of the page – is actually pretty clear which character is speaking so we don’t need to show them just yet.

I’ve also ramped up the threat – and I think it makes the first line funnier – “he’s gaining” is vaguely worrying when the other guy has a ship the same size as you, but it’s very worrying when his shape is so vast that it’s really gonna pulverise you (plus he’s so close it’s very much an understatement)

Second panel: It’s always a pain to have the first person speaking on the right – it’s not ideal, but sometimes you have no choice (I always blame the writer)  making the second person to speak (on the left) lower down in the panel, and giving the letterer plenty of room to work on in the middle is about the best compromise you can make (ideally you don’t get in the situation, but here we are!)

I’ve added some background, both of the interior of the spaceship – needn’t be too much, just some lines to help us know where we are, and windows to the exterior with stars flashing by – it all helps give us a sense of movement. You could also maybe give the panel a dutch angle which would help give a sense of a spaceship jigging left and right to avoid being shot at and would elevate the character higher on the right so it helps the letterer even further.

I’ve also changed the body language, I think the joke works a little better if the character is one minute deeply lamenting the mistake, then the next sort of “but it was delicious”.  Panel 2 made me go back and change panel 1 a little, I took the reference to the pineapple and decide to give the big spaceship in panel one more of a pineapple look to it – helping to reinforce the silly (the big teeth on it are supposed to be a big docking bay with an crunchy open/close gate thing)

Panel three: BACKGROUND! doesn’t need much, just some moving stars and planets and some odds and ends round the ship, stuff to add personality (I added here a tree car smelly thing – you want to add tchotchkes around and about, things that show the world is wider than the blank walls of the ship)

Panel four:

Show don’t tell! Pulled the panel out, dialogue from inside the ship showing intent, the giant wall of asteroids, bullets flying past – we see a plan, the threat and the possible solution. All better than another shot of our heroes inside the ship which conveys little information that “let’s do this”

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got – ymmv, pick from this what you think works and what doesn’t.

Friday Fixup: Ahmed Raafat

FRIDAY FIXUP! I did another one! Ahmed sent me this page, caveat: this is for an Egyptian comic book so reads right to left, so I had to flip it before I could make sense of it, so from here on in I’m going to talk about this newly flipped version as though it’s the original (make sense? otherwise I’ll be talking about flipping things back to the way before and it’ll drive us all mad)

Anyway here’s Ahmed’s original (ie his page flipped to read left to right) and my amendments, notes, as ever… to follow..

Panel 1:

Ok, first off. This is clearly a night scene in a busy location, but owing to the stylistic choice of the buildings in panel one it felts too bright. So That was my first job – bringing the lighting down. I pushed all the buildings in to silhoutte in the background leaving the odd lit window as an indicater they’re buildings and then I masked off the top of the buildings and added a splatter stars (more than were originally there – some time ago I created an ink splatter and scanned it and turned it into a brush for Clip Studio Paint, this is my go to splatter brush for stars or blood or just chaos). The splatter allows us to read a continous set of straight lines for the roofs (rooves? roofeses?) Then I blacked out the floor. Next I wanted more crowding so I added another -I’m calling them – tucktucks just to beef it up, then I figured I needed depth, so I took the waiter guy and blew him up and moved him so he was taking up a big bit of the foreground (I fixed the cups he had in his hand which seemed to be tilting forward and about to spill) but him in isolation looked great, but it’s not really his story, is it? So I needed a good visual link to the next panel so I ended up poorly drawing the guy in panel two in panel one – just a suggestion to link these panels, panel 1: reach for cup. Panel two? drink from cup.

Panel 2: The glass looked like it was weirldy floating. Our hands and fingers curve around and take on the shape of the object they’re holding – as best as they’re able. The squishy flesh touching the object soaks into the shape of it increasing the surface area and grip, and on the exterior surface of your hand the bones wrap around and you’re seeing mostly bone and sinew on that side, but bone and sinew trying to be a cup holder. Unless it’s a light glass we will try and get as much of that glass in to our hands as we can. I also flipped this panel, there was a lot of symmetry going on with the next panel and I needed an easy way to disambiguate the two, I also think this is a neater way of hemming the second character in here.

Panel 3: The facial expressions on the smaller character here and the smaller character in the previous panel were nearly identical, so I needed a way to stop that. Decided that since the character turned up first off in a lot of shadow he should remain in a lot of shadow this further made it look different to the smaller character in the previous panel. I also blew up the other character in this panel, helping to add some depth to the scene.

Panel 4: I pushed him back in to ominous silhouette, we lose the facial expression, and maybe the intent – depending on the script, but really it felt much better to have him in all silhouette here, it looked cool and felt like a good moment on the last panel of the page.

I should point out, I’m really looking at these things out of context of overall script, so, arguably, I’m losing information and intent from the overall story, so it may well be that edits I suggest here are unworkable, but still, it’s fun to figure this stuff out, right? Anyway, as every YMMV!


Friday Fixup: Steven Grey

Every Friday I ask, on twitter, if anyone has a page of art they want me to go through and see if I can’t help them ramp up the storytelling (it’s always about making it better, even by small degrees) and then I talk about the decisions I’ve taken and why they might be good (or bad, who knows, right? it’s all subjective)

Steven Grey sent me a couple of pages, I went with the first one, so here’s his version to the left and mine to the right with notes to follow…

Ok, the first big thing I did, and something I want to talk about: black panel borders.

Black panel borders can be awesome, they can add mood and moodiness. The can really draw a reader in to the story, but like most decisions that impact on a whole page there are down sides. For me, the downsides are considerable. I LOVE open panels, I LOVE being able to blow out a background and panel borders and have the reader just look at the characters reaction, and these are things you lose once you decide you want to have a pure black panel border.

So, for this page I decided to go all out and remove the panel borders. Panel 1 is the one that is most impacted.

Panel 1: There are two things on this page that seem to be important… the boy and the boys reaction to the butterfly (which implies the butterfly is important). I opened up Panel one so it became a vista on a wide open space, allowing me to uncrop the tree (because cropping is great at making you feel like you’re in an enclosed space it felt -inappropriate to crop on this big picture view). I also added a silhouette of the boy walking toward the tree and made the butterfly more obvious (there’s a little noodle drawing, that, due to the low resolution on the original, may have been the butterfly or might not, I just tidied that idea up a little)

I also took the dense foliage around the tree away, lifted it slightly above the panel border, but keeping it on the ground plane, and added clean black into the bark of the tree. All this is to help the reader “read” that they’re looking at a tree.

Panel 2: Flipped the panel and added more black in to the butterly. Added a little bit of foliage to the background (never needs to be too complicated, just enough to suggest background. Film and TV can do a focal effects – basically pushing the background into a blur and that’s harder to accomplish with lineart [you can blur lineart but it looks horrid] but you can lightly draw some background. Flipped the background here because it felt like, as a reader I was skipping over this butterfly, flipped it feels like I’m forced to stare at it a little longer (this is very much, as is all of it really, in my humble opinion)

I really like the lineart style, but I think there’s a danger of things getting a little lost in the light feathery lines, so I decided the butterfly was in that danger, so gave it a solid black wing so we’d never lose it in any panel.

Panel 3: Unfortunately, I think your art style can be a bit of a rod for your own back, it feels light when there’s no background details (even simple ones) so added stuff here.

I wanted to drop the panel out and just have the butterfly, and the boy in the panel but as they’re both cropped slightly to the opposite sides of the panel borders it felt like that would look odd.

Panel 4: Couple of big edits here. I flipped the panel, It felt like our reading of it in the  direction meant we skipped over the butterfly entirely (it also felt like it was so hidden in the foliage we’d never have seen it) so flipping the panel actually produces a slightly more interesting narrative witin the panel – in the flipped version: boy reacts to something, we see the hand of the big guy moving foliage, butterfly flies off. In the original unflipped version: big guy looks at boy (who lets go of butterfly and it flies off in the opposite direction, zig zagging our view). Also tidied up the foliage around the butterfly and gave it black wings with eyes, so we never lose sight of it (eye joke!)


Panel 5: unchanged. Nice closeup.