The Complete Phonogram

Cover to Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie‘s ‘The Complete Phonogram‘ from Image Comics.

Complete Phonogram Hardcover Collection

You may have been following this series over the years. Running to three volumes – the most-recent story arc ‘The Immaterial Girl’ was collected last year – and if you have been following, you’ll know that’s unique in its approach… This is one of the most realistic comics out there (no really, most comics deal in the fantastical to at least some degree) and is yet all about the real-world human condition in the 21st Century. (The inherent fantasy in it is all played out through revealing the perfectly believable character’s inner landscapes and their interplay with the outside world.) Phonogram’s big deal (and ‘Elevator Pitch’) is: ‘Music is Magic’. If music can make you change your haircut, your clothes, your identity, your friends, make you go to places you wouldn’t normally go and even make your body dance around involuntarily then it must be magic. The second layer to this big deal is then what happens when someone learns how to wield that magic, but I’ll leave you to read the comics to learn about that.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I was lucky enough to be one of the circle of comicy sorts to be asked to contribute a ‘B-Side’ – an extra strip – to the second story arc – ‘The Singles Club”s run – this, along with all the other B-sides and extras never before collected  (just like B-Sides on singles never made it to musicians’ albums, some of you may not be familiar with the concept of musical singles having flip-sides or extra running time to fill up these days, but just go with me here) will be back in print in April!

As the main story of ‘The Singles Club’ was locked around particular characters all experiencing the same night, my B-side is based around ‘Indie Dave’ – quite possibly my favourite character from the series – gatekeeper of esoteric indie, whose demeanour puts across the way that indie music is always young, youthful and always refuses to grow up, no matter how dishevelled or creaking the fans get in the end.

On Kieron’s lovely newsletter he recently shared a link to a great article written by someone who loves music, comics and Phonogram – Kieran Shiach – where you can see the impression the series made at work.

I know I’m getting in on mentioning this waaaay ahead of release, but that’s how the direct comic market works; it shouts about things about three months in advance and then readers have a chance to preorder or get excited just before the printing presses leap into action and a run of stories are put out into the world. If you’d like to welcome a copy of this into your home – and put it somewhere near your record collection – you can ask at your friendly local, independently-owned comic shop (mine are Gnash Comics and OMG Comics) for a copy on release, and make it even more easy for them by giving them this ordering code:
JAN170785

See Image Comic’s product page for the collection here.

I’ll go digging in my archives for for some supporting matter for this one to share closer to the release.

Yes I know going to such lengths gabbing about a book when I’ve only got one little strip in it is odd, but I flipping love Phonogram.

Happy Holidays 2016

Happy Holidays 2016 with Highly Questionable Santa!

Hello poppets, thanks for reading this year. (And any other year too.) Hope you had a good 2016 and even if you didn’t, that 2017 will be better. Becky and I’s year was basically the best ever yet (ignoring world events for a sec) because our first child, Sebastian was born. He’s like, really cool!

Check out my previous Bad Santas right here. He’s now turned ten years old. Ten flippin’ years! And yes, I really do need to get these printed up into a range of Christmas cards. Maybe next year…

Now for the yearly apology for releasing this image into an already-suffering world: sorry.
Looking at it you might think it’s some kind of Donald Trump swipe. While there’s a crossover of an ageing, unsavoury character and something to do with military hardware, it’s ‘Brexit’ that’s really got my gears grinding and this image simmering away behind my knitted brow. Grr. Sigh. Grr.

As with all fading attention-seekers, our Christmas card anti-hero has made a lurch into the world of politics. But with the spectre of nuclear war’s ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ looming large, the question is:
could this be the end for Highly Questionable Santa..?

Merry Drift-mas: 2016

Aieee, the image-making technique we do not speak of… Photography! Anyway, here’s some photos of this blog’s writer-gremlin doing some great big art at das supercool, independently-owned indie record store the Drift Record Shop in Totnes and having tons of fun in the process…

Drift Record Shop Robin Stylus Christmas window 2016

I was painting (with real-life acrylic paint) the Christmas window at Drift. (I’d even go so far as to borrow my partner’s screen-printing ink hand-tray. Shh!)

Drift Record Shop Robin Stylus Christmas window 2016

Working at this size after spending countless hours noodling over smallish bits of paper with varying sizes of ink marks was fantastically liberating. Look at the little twinkle in my bloodshot eye…

Drift Record Shop Robin Stylus Christmas window 2016Cool records to be seen in the background, artist thankfully not in shot…

Drift Record Shop Robin Stylus Christmas window 2016The idea behind this was to clobber people in the eye with the massive, bold design as they walked up Totnes high street. I drew the outlines with a chunky liquid chalk marker to get them looking crisp before proceeding to block in with good old-fashioned paint and a brush.

Click the Christmas robin to be taken to Drift's classy-as-ya-like Instagram feed!

The finished thing! The idea is that the robin is using his beak as a stylus. y’see… Yep, it’s rude, we’re trying to provoke some kind of reaction here…

Many thanks to team Drift for the photos! You can peruse their wares by visiting their website, here.

The Chronicles of Deva: Revel

The years racing to an end and I haven’t even shown you all of The Chronicles of Deva characters I drew for Susan Ruth‘s series of prose novels, so let’s get right down to it.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

This is Revel. He’s a wayfarer. A wanderer. He lives outside and avoids people for the most part. Let’s not call him a tramp because that wouldn’t have any romance in it. An anyway, he’s ever so pretty. In a damp hedgerow kind of way.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

I had loads of fun with this, making him look a bit appealing, but still functional. (I enjoy solving problems about costume and possessions in character design, they’re problems I’m interested in that can easily be solved…) He also had to look a bit battered and run-down from all the sunlight. cold nights and dewy mornings.
Note the little drawing in the bottom left where I own up to this guy basically being my take on Snuffkin from the Moomins. Because I’d love to be Snuffkin from the Moomins. Who wouldn’t?

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: RevelCertain things set down or being refined; how he wears his gear and in what order and layers.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: RevelAnother stage of refining. I think the feedback was to not make him quite so weathered. (artists love drawing weathered and worn things, get them to draw something fresh or pristine and we struggle…) It might not be so obvious from the roughs but the cape is made of piece-meal bits of sackcloth.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

First rough for final image. Standing stones close in.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

Second rough for the final image composition, bit more space and the viewpoint slightly higher up.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

A scan of the lineart drawn with a dip-pen (Tachikawa G nib like those ‘mangaka’, nib fans) and ink over pencil lines. You can see the carvings on the standing stones a bit better here than on the final image.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

Watercolour greyscale texture painted on. Still imperfections in that and the linework at this stage before they got tweaked out in Photoshop. Not that any of them were huge and glaring at all, I just knew they were there, was all.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

Quick grab of the colours going behind the art in Photoshop. I’ve had to make these darker to show, as the way they’re done translucently (I’m surprised the dictionary on my web browser has that as a word, I’m possibly even more impressed that it’s a word at all) in Photoshop means it hard to show them without them looking odd.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

The final again, just in case you’d forgotten what it looked like. The colour approach was – as with all the other images in this series – ‘limited palette’, which might make them look like a little bit of a non-event in the world of computer colouring where amazing levels of saturation abound, but the idea was to go for a more vintage look, with more restrained use of colour.

Next: the healer!

The Chronicles of Deva: Fafnir

So here’s some milestones. The first is that my partner Becky and I now have a beautiful baby son – called Sebastian – who’s about a month old and he’s amazing. He’s everything we could have wished for and more. We’re so happy.

The second milestone is nowhere quite so monumental. Case in point, it actually passed me by for a while until I twigged recently: I’ve been keeping a blog for ten years now.

Ten flipping years!

Sporadically occassionally for sure (hello, deadlines!), but the averages work out to fairly regular updates, which ain’t so bad. Blogging wasn’t exactly a brand new thing when I started back in 2006, these days it seems a little bit too… Static, in these days of multiple feeds on mobile devices. But oh well.
Everything is content and we’re all content providers now compared to a decade ago. Most of all; all content can be Shared and linked to.

So let me show you something: here’s another character portrait from Susan Ruth‘s ‘The Chronicles of Deva‘ prose novel series. This is Lukas Fafnir, debonair young gent about town. (The town in question being Chester in Chestershire, in an alternate 1920s…)

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

Fafnir might be a bit of a peacock but he’s quite the bird of prey underneath all those fancy feathers too, he was a soldier in the civil war that ripped apart the setting of The Chronicles of Deva. He’s done some horrible things and sometimes no amount of preening can hide it.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

He’s got dependencies. Drink, drugs. Excess. And he even has an eye for one of the main characters of Deva, Felix Skryker.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

It’s one of those things that appeals to us as human beings for some reason; that the very beautiful is also somehow very broken. (Wether this is because we’re simply jealous or because we know that to project such beauty takes its toll is another matter entirely.)

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

Here’s “morning after Fafnir”, hung over and coming down, groping about his suite wrapped in a gown.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

The rough for the finished portrait, in which we needed to see him looking a bit mean. He’s just arrived at some gathering of the rich and powerful (by post-war standards) and might even be looking slightly rough around the very edges… But he could still casually put down his drink and wring someone’s neck.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

The linework, drawn with a dip pen and ink and then grey-toned with watercolour paints.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

And the finished thing again.

I wonder if I’ll still be blogging in another ten years. Maybe… Blogs might have gone the way of newspapers or magazines by then. What I do know for sure is that our son Sebastian is going to be ten years old by then, so we’ll see what he thinks.

Next: The great outdoors!

The Chronicles of Deva: Xanthe

Running through more of the characters from Susan Ruth‘s ‘The Chronicles of Deva‘ prose novel series and the visualisation and portraits I did of them.

Here’s our keystone character; she holds everything else together and all the other characters revolve around her: Miss Xanthe Chance.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

She’s grown up in imposed exile, in hiding, so she has a very developed mind thanks to being cooped up all the time.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

The rest of her family seem to have been wiped out thanks to their position in the civil war that the United Kingdom went through (the ‘Deva stories are set in an alternate 1920s) they were all far too brilliant for their own good.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

Figuring out some costumes for Xanthe, her almost-prisoner scavenged garb and then the highfaluting frocks she gets put in when she’s introduced into high society.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

Copious note-taker. Polymath Xanthe’s many pursuits include astronomy and star-gazing. A good starting point for a portrait:

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

Here’s Xanthe still in the cell of the tower she’s practically imprisoned in, looking out of the high window with eyes on the stars and a heart fulla yearning.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

…Worked up into a pen and ink drawing with black watercolour paint wash.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

…And scanned in and colour-tinted with Photoshop. Officially this is ‘limited palate’ colour (though I might have gone overboard with the dark grey-blues) to give these pieces an old-timey, vintage (1920s) feel and I think it works.
You might have noticed her face has changed a bit in the last picture, the worry was that our girl genius – while she is supposed to be stunningly beautiful – was looking like a little bit of a bimbo with all that moony face-pulling when she should instead be set with steely intellectual resolve.

Next: More of that High Society! (A little bit too much, in fact…)

The Chronicles of Deva: Skryker

It’s high time to talk about ‘The Chronicles of Deva’ series of prose novels by author Susan Ruth. Susan brought me in to do some covers and other arty bits (more on those later) for her series of books and I drew and painted some portraits of the characters too. The series has the fantastic setting of an 1920’s North-West England in the aftermath of a civil war between the North and South of the country (how very North American, or erm, Korean. Or Irish, even. Ahh, the list goes on) and focuses on the fragile group of characters who make up the ranks of the fragile acting government, beset from dangers without and within.

First up, let’s start on the safe ground of the main male protagonist: Stryker… Felix Stryker.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

Stryker is a minister (the civil kind, not the religious kind) and maintains a security force and espionage network…

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

He has a touch of a young Abraham Lincoln or slightly-older Mr Darcy about him. Very well-dressed, maybe even on purpose to avoid suspicion and always seems to be about to receive a phone call or be called away to some kind of derring-do(!)

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

Messing around with exact facial features. Getting everything down the same in every expression or quick drawing and then repeating it at-will is something that takes lots of work.
Oh and just in case you were wondering; yes, it’s possible that ‘Skryker’ could be a pseudonym. You’ll have to keep reading the books to find out though.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

So here’s a rough for the portrait; Skryker at night, shadowed, tucked away in a cobbled side-street near his ministry, partially lit by ornate lamps while the fog and mist of ‘Deva’ (the city of Chester no less, going by its Roman name) rolls in and around, concealing things and then offering fleeting reveals in the faltering light… This is what he’s all about. Oh and he also looks like Cary Grant a bit for some reason. That guy!

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

I decided to retire the lamplight halos, they were clobbering the whole ‘some things are hidden’ thread too strongly straight into the reader’s eyes. This is our clean-cut hero, after all.

Unfortunately I don’t have any in-progress images of the pencilling or inking of this character portrait image, so we go straight to finished linework with grey tone wash. Susan wanted these pieces of artwork to have a classic feel, like, say, book illustration around about the 20’s, when the books are set. Drawing linework with a dip-pen and ink and then putting in tone with watercolour paints on a real piece of paper definitely helped get this.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

The analogue bit finished and ready to be scanned:

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

And then here’s the scan tidied up.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

For all of my talk about classic feel, it now now time to, arm, unleash Photoshop. Just for limited colour values though! We had all of our informative parts off the piece down by hand, this was the last boot into legibility and the finish line:

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

And here’s your finished thing. The tower in the background actually had its angle straightened up thanks to the magic of Photoshop.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

Sauve fella.

Next: Skryker’s weakness!

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in Print

Some photos of the very plush, oversize-hardcover of Bartkira: Nuclear Edition, now in print and available from your friendly local comic shop!

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in print photos

Here’s some of my art in amongst some amazing work from industry veterans and trail-blazing newcomers, the perennial AkiraRalph spread!

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in print photos

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in print photos

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in print photos

So Bartkira‘s a whole thing, you know. Here’s an outstanding mural by Erik Veldmeijer and Frans Boukas at the Incubate festival in Holland. (Photo by William van der Voort.), some Mulhouse / Tetsuo cosplays, memorabilia and a Bart / Kaneda tattoo(!)

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in print photos

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in print photos

The title page with Bart / Kaneda and an interior spread with Milhouse / Tetsuo by project co-editor James Harvey:

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in print photos

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in print photos

Warwick Johnson Cadwell draws frenetic city-wide cataclysms like it ain’t no thing:

Bartkira: Nuclear Edition in print photos

Due to the grey area/public domain spot the work exists in legally, all profits from the sale of the book go to charity; OISCA Coastal Forest Restoration Project in Miyagi Prefecture and Save the Children, as chosen by Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon. So you can know your pennies are going to a good place in return for you being able to put a slice of buzzing pop-culture madness on your bookshelf.

Exalted: All Along the Watchtower

Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

The last in the series of illustrations I did for the interior of the forthcoming Exalted third edition ‘EX3’ role-playing game book from The Onyx Path publishing. Here, it’s sunset over the mountain city of Medo and it’s time for the changing of the guard. The living guards are joined by the ghosts of their ancestors who take the night shift of watch duty over the ramparts of the city when the sun sets.

Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

This is something of a world-building piece with one main character in it helping to communicate the setup of the place too. The brief was to show a valley and a mountain range with wooded lower slopes, great city walls with crenelations, our main guardswoman, the friendly ghost appearing, others appearing in the background, and that the guardswoman had a small bone on a necklace around her neck that she was playing with.

Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

After lots of playing around with angles and compositions to try and get as much as I could into one image, I decided to clobber the composition with a sledgehammer of simplicity… Get things fairly straight and layer them up. Keep it simple.

Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

I coloured up my linework to make this colour rough to show to the art editor and creative director. The feedback that fed back said, ‘can we darken it up a bit and make it look like it’s definitely night-time drawing in?’ So I got out the pot of darkness paint.
Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

My Onyx Path pals definitely had a point. Anyway, next up was printing out a blown-up rough and light-boxing some pencils from it onto another piece of paper.

Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

The friendly ghosts that would be dropped on top of proceedings – in proper translucent, ghostly style – were drawn on another bit of paper.

Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

Colour flats! Hey, this didn’t take long! I wasn’t going to flat every single tree trunk and canopy on the hill-side since I could do that much later in the process with a few flicks of a brush and produce much better results. Is it clear how much fun I was having drawing her protective sou’wester? I was.

Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workingsRage, rage against the dying of the light.
Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workingsRage, rage against the shoddy artistic workmanship of just dropping in the brush strokes from colour rough from earlier on to build up a bit of texture, to get the painting going.
Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workingsWorking in the darker tones, shades and shadows. It’s funny how just the linework visible over this makes everything look a bit like it’s in relief or something. Anyway, no time to reflect, it’s time to put the highlights on:
Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

The sun’s dipping behind the mountains, so there’s only so much light being thrown around. You could argue that there’s a mountain behind the viewer which could bounce the light back onto the scene, but we’ll leave that alone for now. And in general.

Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

Some more feedback on making the main character a bit more rosy so we could pick her out a as living, breathing pink thing in the gloom as opposed to a statue. I love doing limited palette work, so every once in a while I need a nudge like this. Anyway, the friendly ghosts in lamellar armour had appeared and we were done!

Exalted third edition EX3 RPG art workings

And here’s a close-up of some of the detail. The character’s face was a little bit out of my usual style, and it was only after the fact that discovered that there was no such thing as an ‘Exalted look’ in this edition of the game. Ah well.

Even though this is the last piece from this series I’m showing off, it was – paradoxically – the first one I finished. I’m kinda funny like that. I learned a lot on these illustrations. The book was finally on general release a few days ago, so sidle along and pick yourself up a copy if you’re a roleplayer. The book design is really incredible, so fresh-looking for an RPG. ‘Medo’ – the region the piece of artwork above is set in – gets a mention in the blurb for the book, so that’s cool. Oh and If you’re one of the fancy types on Kickstarter who’s getting a metallic slipcase version or similar, then I salute you.

Dev-Con 2016 Sketches

Some sketches from the Dev-Con Plymouth Comic Convention earlier on today:

Dev-Con Plymouth Comic Convention sketch

First up, two from Celtic Fenian Mythology. First; Sabh, a naughty wizard, her doe form, Fionn, and definitely not a wi-fi symbol. (Turns out celtic knotwork can look too simplistic if you take plain elements and then crop them too much. Anyway, knotwork was a bit more a monastic thing, so I need to harken back to simple knotwork-like motifs carved in stone more.)

Dev-Con Plymouth Comic Convention sketch

Second, fiery Tuatha De Danaan fairy Aileen and Fionn. The idea is that the Tuath’ are definitely not elves with pointy ears and spindly bodies – because that would be predictable and lame – but impossibly beautiful and perfect beings where the guys look as gorgeous as the girls and the girls look as powerful as the guys. Kind of like a race of supermodels. I think I need to put a bit more work into fleshing this particular idea out though; we’re winning in the unsettling, asexual disco-diva look stakes, but it needs a little something more too…

Dev-Con Plymouth Comic Convention sketch

Tank Girl!

Dev-Con Plymouth Comic Convention sketch

Boba Fett from the old Star Wars films! I really should reference this guy properly at some point! Visual memory of Cam Kennedy‘s Dark Empire comics art is not enough!

Dev-Con Plymouth Comic Convention sketch

Wonder Woman, who seemingly still isn’t allowed to wear trousers. Somehow. Hope you like that battle swimsuit you seem to be stuck in, you symbol of female emancipation. (I wonder if a male audience and male creative teams might have something to do with this..?) Anyway, I gave her a nice skirt.

Dev-Con Plymouth Comic Convention sketch

Wolverine, drawn with copious photo reference of Hugh Jackman! That Hugh!