Contrivin’ a Cover for the Evil Star Graphic Novel: a History

Lend me your ears kiddies, and I’ll drop-kick yer mind back into the mists of time for a saga of artistic back-and-forth’ing! While I was drawing the Evil Star graphic novel, I was also on cover duty, which was a brilliant thing indeed. My artistic tag-team leader Dom Reardon (who’s got a cool graphic novel called ‘Underground’ out from Dark Horse in October) drew and painted the fantastic cover for the Raven’s Gate graphic novel we both worked on (see below), but this time around it was all on me. Which was cool, in fact. So while I was pencilling, I put some ideas together.

Since every series (The ‘Power of Five’ novels are a pentalogy) needs to have homogenous covers so the books sit well together, I riffed on Dom’s cover for Raven’s Gate, I came up with this… Homage:

Very First Evil Star graphic novel cover rough

With copious notes explaining myself! (Forgot to mention the colour scheme though. The idea being that each book had its own colour.) The constellation of stars in the sky is Cygnus, which features in the story. (And a lot of my early roughs.)
I’m not sure this quite hit the mark as the brief that came back was for something with a bit more action, based on a particular scene from the book; in this case the flight from the crooked police of the city of Cusco, complete with the main characters about to run off a cliff edge…


After this there was a rethink at Walker Books and it was decided to go for something a bit more bold; something with just one character’s head, face, and even just their eye. I had a bit of noodle and came up with this lot to see if any of it stuck…

evil-star-GN-cover-roughs---wave-3 evil-star-GN-cover-roughs---wave-3-b evil-star-GN-cover-roughs---wave-3-c

The lines in this are supposed to be the Nazca lines, which also feature in the story.

Next: it was decided that the cover should be even more design-led; half the title, then some graphic element. David McDougall, the art-director at Walker knocked up these examples…


I’m not sure where the guy in the hoodie on the right-hand side came from, but I kinda like him. Next: it was decided to sort out the reprint of the Raven’s Gate cover first, and then go from there afterwards. Here’s the final thing:


That’s a panel from somewhere in the middle of the graphic novel – pencilled by Dom and inked by me. Now we had the style set down, a change of colour and main character was in order. So I clipped these shots of Pedro from the interior pages of the book…

Pedro Headshots

And it turned out the sweet one wasn’t even from that lot, it was from the bottom of this page here:


Who’da thunk? David put this together from that shot and some of the other interior artwork…


I then took it and knocked off the rough edges:


Just the artwork on its own looked like this. The background and lightning bolt is from another frame in the same scene.


Next, it was decided that we needed something that matched the scene from the first book – two characters in the same scene talking or working together. So I went through the interior pages I’d inked and picked out frames that had Matt and Pedro – our main characters – in. I then worked them up into little scenes that be easily laid-out by David into a design that worked with the rest of the cover…

ES-cover-element--142-B ES-cover-element-047 ES-cover-element-059 ES-cover-element-060 ES-cover-element-080 ES-cover-element-090 ES-cover-element-096 ES-cover-element-142-A ES-cover-element-p070 ES-cover-element-p078



I’m quite proud of these, they might look a bit wonky occasionally, but that’s because they were once part of a layout of frames on a page.
Next, David took that last one above and worked it into a new composition:


Once again I smoothed out the rough bits (including Pedro’s head looking like it had just been chopped at the neck. Ouch…)


I batted that over to David, who did the texture and the typography and we ended up with this:

evil star GN cover final

Which was the finished cover! There was much rejoicing.
However, there was just one last little cherry to go on top… Spot gloss varnish! The bibliophile/fanboy’s newest friend. I’ve drooled over seeing the book in print after all the work that went into it previously on this blog, but here’s some snaps of the spot varnish…
Here, it’s on the red bits, Pedro’s big head and the title.


…And the blood-splatter type bits on the spine and back cover…

evil-star-gn-spot-gloss-varnish-2 evil-star-gn-spot-gloss-varnish-3…And on the Power of Five logo and some other bits on the spine.

And that about wraps it up. Thanks for reading all this stuff!

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #15: Haçienda Fulla Hate

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the desperate main characters of Evil Star are left no option but to infiltrate the villain’s hiedaway in the dead of night…

Power of Five - Evil Star Graphic Novel workings

Drawing black and white comics, kids? Night scenes are your friend. I love drawing scenes at night, it’s the kind of thing I live for as an artist; deep shadows, choking blackness and figures’ outlines emerging out of the darkness. Pages breaking into areas of harsh black and white. That sort of thing.

Power of Five - Evil Star Graphic Novel workings

And here’s an appalling scan of a quick doodle on the back of a page of script of Scarlett, the fifth Gatekeeper from the Power of Five series. I like the little figure of her jumping and swinging her sword. There are some Mouse Guard mice creeping in on the left-hand edge too.

Power of Five - Scarlett

Next time: Auto Abscondment!

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #14: Disquiet on the Western Front

The action in the Evil Star Graphic Novel momentarily shifts from a chaotic Peru back to a calm night-time London. There’s still trouble brewing though…

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #14a

There might be a traitor in ‘The Nexus’, the group who help The Gatekeeper characters in the series. This is a little two page scene where, in a strange move for fiction of this kind, two middle-aged female characters have a conversation. That kind of thing wouldn’t be happening in a Hollywood film, that’s for sure. The swanky flat belongs to Nathalie – the character with the lighter hair – and she’s invited Susan – the woman with the glasses – round. It’s always a challenge to come up with environments for your characters to live in when you’re drawing comics: they should reveal something about the character who lives there, and be convincing as a real place.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #14b

I also did a bit of scene-setting by way of page layout here: all of the scenes with the Nexus or back in old London town have a very straight and regular layout with plenty of evenly-spaced ‘gutters’, usually my page layouts are a bit wonky and on diagonal angles, and the scenes that happen in Peru are more like this.

Next time:
Enemy territory!

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #13: Dream Pairing

Happy New Year, bloglins. As the lucky among us emerge from the family food bunker, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way that this fat-ciggie-end of-the-year’s seasonal message of true goodwill to all men could be realised? A place where we can swap ideas with our fellow human beings the world over with no hang ups on language or tone of voice? Contrary to its own moniker, Evil Star has the answer…

Evil Star Graphic Novel workingsWhile asleep, the main characters of Evil Star can access a kind of dream-world in which they can speak to each other no problem at all, even though they speak English and South-American Spanish in the waking world.
My approach for the dream-world was inspired by how Bill Watterson drew Calvin’s ‘Let’s Pretend’ sequences in Calvin and Hobbes. His style switched from ink-brush cartooning to more realistic comic illustration. The gag being that the imaginary world was more ‘real’ than the real one.

Evil Star Graphic Novel workingsSo most of the figures in the dream sequences are photo-referenced, to make them sing with the note that can only come from direct human figure reference, compared with drawing from the imagination. As always with my work, it’s usually me in the photos, using a tripod, the furniture and now a ‘Gorilla Pod’ to balance the digicam on, curtains drawn and angle-poise lights dotted around to control the lighting, and using a long AV cable to the television to use it as a viewfinder while I’m posing away. And the auto-timer, obviously.

Next time: Apprehension!

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #12: Heart of Gold & Sketchbook Daubings

Evil Star‘s very own Fagin, the grungy old fella Sebastian, is one of my favourite characters in the book. He lives in ‘Ciudad de Veneno’ in the slums of Lima, ‘Poison Town’. He lets local street kids sleep on his floor in return for their earnings as thieves, shoe-shine boys and jugglers. His suit’s so old it’s falling off him, he’s unshaven, there’s an old cigar hanging off his lip and he has a drinking problem. And he’s a goodie!

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings

Sebastian isn’t actually in the book for that long, but he commands all the scenes he’s in. By the time of his departure from the story, he’s travelled along his own little development arc and become a real hero with an emotional punch to his character. He really seems like a real human who stumbles into a narrative and then stumbles out again.
I based Sebastian on the actor Ricardo Montalbán. (Yes, he of wrathful ‘Kahn’ fame). I needed an aquiline patriarch with a Latino cast, and he fit the bill perfectly.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings

I had a good time drawing Sebastian, Matt and Pedro in the candle-lit dark of the tumble-down slum, it was great fun throwing all the shadows around the filthy surrounding built out of rubbish, wreathed in cheap cigar smoke.

Oh, and here’s a doodle from the back of a page of script of another one of the ‘five’ who have ‘the power’ in question in The Power of Five. Scarlett, the main character of the fourth novel, Necropolis. It’s shaded with a half-working water brush pen with ink dropped into the reservoir.

Scarlett from The Power of Five book IV: Necropolis

She won’t actually end up looking like this, but I like the spontaneity of these.

Next time: Parallel Dimensions!

And while I’m on, I thought I’d show these few pages from my ‘out and about’ sketchbook that’s always at my side in a manbag. I’ve been getting into using my Pentel FP10 Brushpen for sketching in dimly-lit pubs and gig venues, and I’ve been quite liking the results.

Pub and Gig Sketchbook spread in Brushpen

This is friend Lux Harmonium and The Diamond Family Archive playing at The Barrel House in Totnes.

Pub 'n' Gig Sketchbook spread in Brushpen

Since it’s heavy black ink instead of faint pencil you can actually see what you’re doing in the dim light, the bristles get marks down fast, and you can muck about with shapes and textures. Linework’s a bit tricky, but that’s why I’m using it, so that if I’m good at brush-wielding when I’m cramped in a corner somewhere of a hostelry after a drink or two, I’ll be able to turn on the same approach when I’m sitting bolt-upright in the daylight at the desk at home.

There’s an online archive of my wanderin’ sketchbooks up here if you haven’t seen them already.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #11: Bad Cop, Bad Cop

Every baddy needs a henchman. Henchmen, preferably. Diego Salamanda, the villain in Evil Star – who I’ve not actually shown any proper pictures of yet because his very image is a wee bit of a spoiler – can buy anybody he wants and his ‘man’ is Captain Rodriguez of the Peruvian police. Rodriguez brings all the henchmen.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings

Rodriguez is fun because he has no subtlety whatsoever. He’s an explosively violent bully. So his design is very simple: just plain old nasty in every possible way. You can really let rip without having to worry about nuances! He’s built like a wrestler but with a gut, hands like shovels, a small cranium and beetling brow, recessed eyes with bags underneath, pock-marked skin, dressed in cheap clothes (a polo shirt with a suit jacket, gharsp) and with loafers on his feet, the most evil shoe in existence. Especially when he’s giving people a kicking with them.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings

In the top-left corner of the second image, you can see Matt almost doing a Capoeira move. G’wan, Matt! In the script he’s scrabbling around on the floor and rises with a kick to an approaching bent copper, so I thought that suited. Always keen to break the monotony of sitting down for a living with a bit of leaping about, I even posed it up myself for a bit of photo-reference.

Next time: How the other half live.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #10: Escape to Victory

Do things tend to go well in adventure stories? Not really. Are they deliberately so to impose a sense of impending peril? Yes. After Matt and Richard touch down in Peru in Evil Star, things go pretty perilous pretty fast.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings 10a

Leg it! As they don’t say.
It’s not all bad though, because soon Matt meets somebody who becomes an important character in the book, and the rest of the series:

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings 10b

Pedro! Pedro’s character design is supposed to make him look as different from Matt as possible for a boy of exactly the same age. He’s more defined by his body shape as a character than Matt, who’s defined more by his trademark clothes; hoodie, baggy jeans, trainers, and his haircut. What a spoiled Western kid, you may think. Pedro has his body and little else to call his own, as becomes clear in the story, so I wanted that to define him visually. As malnourished and dirty as it is. His clothes are hanging off so that helps. He has mixed Native South American / Latin features, which were interesting to look up. I wanted to give Pedro a kind of Peter Pan quality, he’s from another world to the main character of the book and can flit about strange landscapes – like the urban hell of run-down Lima – effortlessly, like he’s somehow fey; full of life in surroundings full of decay.

Next time:
Bent coppers!

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #9: Air Miles

The action in Evil Star now transfers to where the rest of the book will take place: Peru.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #9

Before they get there though, Matt has another strange dream… Funny that, eh? I’m going to render the dream sequences in a different style to the waking world in the finished book, as they’re important, and become more so over the course of the series. What can Matt’s dream mean though? There’s no time to find out, as they’ve touched down in-country.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #9

The book’s most important character soon appears. A little bit more than the script says, actually. I pulled a background cameo for him from the text of the Evil Star novel itself, a little aside that didn’t make it into the Graphic Novel. Yet.

Lego Judge Dredd

(Oh, and looking through the GN’s script to post this entry, I noticed a doodle on the edge of a page of… A Lego Judge Dredd. Not sure why, I must’ve been getting distracted. Here’s a scan. I reckon the amount of world-building 2000AD have done in Mega City One for Judge Dredd would really translate to a bunch of Lego sets. If it works for Batman and Spiderman, why not..?)

Next time:
impromptu exercise sessions in Lima.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #8: Shadowy Enclaves, But in a Good Way

Helping out Matt in Evil Star are a group of sagacious sorts. If this book had a medieval setting, they would probably be a round table of high wizards with voluminous robes, but because the series has a modern setting, they’re all normal people with day jobs who meet in a converted office building in Farringdon

Evil Star Graphic Novel workings 8

While a benevolent team of thirteen advisors are a wonderful thing for a self-doubting hero to have, sometimes they’re a bit of a chore to draw. That’s thanks mostly to the ‘person-on-the-left-talks-first rule’ we have in comics. Once all the characters are in a room and sitting down in their positions, it takes some visual storytelling gymnastics to get their speech balloons falling in the right place regardless of the seating plans. Oy! It’s like being a wedding planner, I tells ya! You can see a little seating plan I scribbled (twice over) in the image above.

Next time: The meeting’s agenda sparks a bit of a relocation.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings #7: Church in the Morning

The first point of greater story-arc drama in the Evil Star Graphic Novel takes place in a fictional church at Shoreditch in London. I know it’s fictional because I tried putting the name Anthony Horowitz came up with for it (‘Saint Meredith’s’) into the interweb to see if it had any reference images to show me, only to find out it was made up! Those writers!

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings

Anyway, Matt has to go on his own to a set-up meeting to pick up something that might help him and his friends over the course of the book. The stakes are very high, everyone’s out of their comfort zone, and friendly police officers are hiding around the corner to intervene if it all goes wrong, which strangely enough, it does.
This scene is important as it’s also the first time in the entire series that Matt uses a method of travel which only he and the rest of the Gatekeepers can access, and occasionally do in the rest of the books to great effect.

Evil Star Graphic Novel Workings

Crash! It’s all gone pear-shaped! Also hiding in these images is the villain of the piece, one Diego Salamanda. Who I’m deliberately only showing so much of at this point. He’s a bit special.

Lee is a happy doodle

Also, here’s a little something. A deliberately crappy self-portrait I doodled to be the placeholder on the last page of my old blog. This is the first entry I’m putting up on flash-git WordPress under the umbrella of my own web domain after a few-too-many years of ‘blogging’ elsewhere. Oh, you see that header banner up the top of the page? That’s not a stock one, I made that from scratch. There aren’t any Photoshop brushes used in it either, it’s all assembled from scans of painty things I’ve daubed myself.

So, here’s to the new venture!