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!

Exalted: Flamey Shoutyman

The first from the next round of ‘Exalted’ RPG illustrations I did for The Oynx Path publishing house – who you may also know from their ‘White Wolf’ name – when I say ‘RPG’, I mean the offline, analogue kind of Role-Playing-Game that springs out of a printed book near some paper character sheets filled-in with pencils and dice clattering around, with graphics provided by our ape brains.

Exalted RPG Third Edition EX3 Solar Exalt Anima Banner 'Divine Glory' Illustration

You want to see the shouty flames bigger? Click if you can stand the heat…

Or in this case, a visual from my ape brain. So this is a ‘Solar’(fine, upstanding) ‘Exalt’(person with special powers) projecting his ‘Anima Banner’(special power lightshow aura) at the viewer. He might have just defeated one or both of those armies in the background.

Exalted Third Edition EX3 Solar Exalt Anima Banner 'Divine Gory'

Doodlin’ with noodlin’s! This was fairly simple as far as briefs go, but I still wanted to nail it if I could…

Exalted Third Edition EX3 Solar Exalt Anima Banner 'Divine Gory'

First attempt at a rough to show was a bit too close-up (the top one) so I started again. Exalted fans will also see that I started off with the wrong Exalt ‘caste-mark’ on the guy’s forehead. Exalts’ caste-marks also glow when they fire up their Anima banners.

Exalted

The same pencil rough with some colour slapped over the top (and a tiny bit of repainting on the face) to make a colour-rough to show.

Exalted

The linework that started off the finished thing! It was pointless drawing the flames of the Anima banner because they’d be ‘additive’ – rendered with light – during the digi-painting process, drawing them with the dark ‘contour-lines’ of a pencil would be silly.
Although most of the detail was going to be lost, I still had fun coming up with blazing sun motifs on the guys armour and detailing smashed-up siege engines and fallen troops.

Exalted RPG Anima Banner artwork process - pencil linework in Photoshop

A closeup of the linework before the colour palette gets unleashed…

Exalted

Colour flats! About as soon as I did these, I realised that I didn’t really need them on this piece. Still, having the blocks down to pull selections out of later on is always handy.
Once again I took to isolating the colours from the colour rough and using them as a kind of under-painting to get the brushstrokes going. The worse thing is a blank canvas, as the saying goes.

Exalted

A bit of the rough, soft painting on some of the lower layers from the piece. (Generally there are ’nuff layers going on. I discovered colour-coding the label layers in Photoshop on this series of images.)

Exalted

A quick snap from while I was painting. The goal is to pretty much obliterate the pencil lines by painting over them and turning the piece into a proper painting as a result. This guy’s face was looking a bit too manic, so I made him assume a more determined look as I went on (check the final image for the difference) this should be someone that we feel some kind of connection with – even if it’s a small one because he’s flaming us – not a gibbering maniac who looks like he’s gonna incinerate us.

Exalted RPG Anima Banner digi-paint progress - character's face

Further to my previous waffle, here’s the guy’s face changing brushstroke by brushstroke…His hair was better here, but his face was still a little too drawn (oho) and eyes too buggy. More about the firey bit in a second!

Exalted

Some of the detail going into the armour and the rest of yer man here. The gaps in here are for…

Exalted

The firey flames of fire! (The fine checkered backdrop here means it’s transparent in a series of layers.) These came from all over the place.

Exalted

Always eager to get a bit of our reckless industrial past into the drorin’s, this lot is mostly from photographs of welding sparks.

Exalted

But before you’re thinking ‘Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century’ ending sequence, this is a similar thing but trying to get a bit of manga speedlines style rushing motion into it…
(Oh and the blue lines are guides for the dimensions of the final piece.)

Exalted RPG Third Edition EX3 Solar Exalt Anima Banner 'Divine Glory' Illustration

Last shout: here he is again, just in case you needed reminding. Click for a bigger shout…

Next up: soothing, darkened rooms!

Wall of Dredd

A little Judge Dredd sampler I’ve been sitting on for a while (not literally, it’d crease):
Judge Dredd cover colour sampler The linework on its own:
Judge Dredd sampler ink linework And the little thumbnail that started it all off:
Judge Dredd cover sampler thumbnail sketchSome composition roughs for the piece from my out-and-about sketchbook. (Which reminds me, it’s about time I uploaded a bunch more scans from that.)
Judge Dredd composition roughs At one point I was thinking about a Robocop homage/mickey-take. (Once upon a time – before the 2012 feature film was released – it was remarked that Robocop was the best Judge Dredd film that didn’t actually have Judge Dredd in it.) Oh and there’s a blob of Becky‘s wall marker on there too:
Judge Dredd cover composition roughs

Ask any British person and they will tell you that Judge Dredd haunts their dreams and flows in their very veins. (They’ll also start talking to you about the weather.) I’m no exception. (On both counts.) Other countries might have amazing heroes or incredible styles and opulent comic industries in comparison to our odd little transatlantic sideboard scene, but we have Dredd. Wether you like him or not, he’s ours. Going through my sketchbook to get roughs to post alongside the finished artwork up above, I thought I’d scan in some Dreddoodles too…

This is me thinking about the Mega City One Judges uniform before I started drawing the final thing:
Judge Dredd uniform sketches Judge Dredd uniform sketches

Further along that thread, Judge helmet doodles. Each one is different:
Judge Dredd helmet concept sketches

A doodle of Mega City One, which is as much a character in the story as Dredd is, and similarly, everyone draws it a little bit differently:
Mega City One - Judge Dredd Doodles

Shouty, stubbly Dredd with meaty neck. These last two are for when I was drawing a Dredd sample script for 2000AD.
Judge Dredd doodles

Dread again with some other friends, in red pencils this time, in case you were falling asleep:
Judge Dredd Doodles

Don’t worry, I’ll be over to shake you if you do nod off.
Judge Dredd Doodles

This one’s from 2003 or so, and is a bit embarrassing, but I do quite like the Judge Anderson down the bottom.
Judge Dredd Doodles

Another fairly early one. The little Dredd heads are an indication of the difference you can get between two Dredds:
Judge Dredd Doodles

And another. If you draw Dread’s visor with a straight top, he looks really dopey:
Judge Dredd Doodles Judge Dredd Doodles

Some Justice Department Techs and other folks:
Judge Dredd Doodles

Female judges are always cool:
Judge Dredd Doodles

Bulbous brainpan and that bloody bird. The eagle shoulder pad can be tricky:
Judge Dredd Doodles

Thanks for making it all the way down to the bottom of the wall of Dredd. Now please disperse in an orderly fashion before the authorities arrive.

Archive: Grand Decadence

Have a look at something from the archives: development sketches I did for a comic written by Kieron Gillen & Jim Rossignol. The (very) loose plan being that it might be a miniseries from Image once it had been kicked around.
These were scribbled… Mostly six years ago. Gulp.

The idea being that the story followed this big-bloke/little-bloke pair of main characters as the rest of the insane world they lived in… Happened to them. I seem to remember having great fun pushing the big-bloke/little-bloke idea visually, then being egged on by Kieron and going even further… (See below.)

Big Bloke: ennormous, shouty, murderous.
Character development sketches

Character development sketches

…”Death Wigs.”

And the little-bloke; quiet, studious, intense, possibly not made of real matter.
Character development sketches

Character development sketches
Character development sketches
Character development sketches
Character development sketches
Character development sketches
These spreads were about as developed as it got…
Character development sketches

Supporting characters now; first up is a meddler who was even more horrible than the main characters. I might’ve pushed the androgynous, cross-dressing angle too far…
Character development sketches
Character development sketches
Character development sketches
Character development sketches

Terrifying love-interest:
Character development sketches
Character development sketches

Possible villain:
Character development sketches

And some cannon-fodder cannon-fodder.
Character development sketches

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 #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.

Jeff Noon Book Cover Roughs

When word-hunter novelist Jeff Noon got in touch with me a while back thanks to Twitter,
the first thing on his mind – before what became my work on the Microspores fiction project – was for me to have a go at some book covers for reissues of two of his works, ‘Pixel Juice‘ and ‘Automated Alice‘. Naturally I’d read both of these books years ago, as any self-respecting rabid Noon fanboy would have done. I forgot to do the full hero-worship name-drop on Jeff the last time I blogged about this. Did I mention he’s an Arthur C. Clarke Award winnner?
So once I’d managed to calm down a bit, I got the two books down from the shelf in order to refresh the visual threads that had been squirrelled away in head from the very first time I’d read them, and in no time at all had about three A3 sketchbook pages cluttered with a scatter-burst of ideas.

Jeff Noon's Pixel Juice book cover roughs

Pixel Juice is a collection of short stories and other things besides. Going through the thumbnails above, the first one relates to a story about pixellated faces on television (that became a starting point for a Microspore too). The second and third are Vurt feather jobs, just because I was excited that I could be drawing something set in that world, and so did.
The first one of the second row is a story called ‘Bug Compass’ about the boyhood of two characters from Vurt, Beetle and Scribble.
The first image of the third row is from the story ‘Hands of the DJ’. The purple one next to it is the main character of the story ‘Xtrovurt’, a man with a second mouth formed on his stomach who’s on a business trip to New York.

Jeff got back with an idea about how the covers for each of his novels could look like a machine constructing itself, maybe even in a slight ‘steampunk cogs’ visual style. I wasn’t keen on hopping on the steampunk bandwagon when it was already at the bottom of the hill, so I stuck with the germ of the idea of strange machines, processes, and converting language. It was also around this time That Jeff intoned that the covers would have to work at a tiny wee thumbnail size, and even in black and white on a Kindle or e-reader too. That changed the entire game from illustration to design, and these were the second lot of Pixel Juice roughs:

Jeff Noon's Pixel Juice book cover roughs

Going back in time, here are the first splurge of Automated Alice roughs from the sketchbook. Automated Alice is a novel where after going on her wonderful adventures, Alice goes on yet another journey that’s just as strange:

Jeff Noon's Automated Alice book cover roughs

During the book, Alice discovers she has a twin sister, so that’s where most of the duality in these comes from. The second thumbnail is her going down a termite tunnel in the book, as opposed to a rabbit hole.
The third one was me with my eye on the thumbnail market. The fourth was based on a chess game from Through the Looking Glass. The fifth – and the bottom two – are me deliberately going a bit, erm, ‘steampunk’, as the period of the Lewis Carroll books justifies it, and both the originals and Jeff’s book have plenty of clock motifs. Automated Alice also has some analogue computing strangeness in it too.

Jeff Noon's Automated Alice book cover roughs

Moving on to the image above, I focused on the colours that you tend to associate with Alice; sky blue dress, yellow blonde hair and white pinny. This is thanks to Walt Disney‘s animated version (A fact which I discovered thanks to John Ronson‘s ‘For the Love of…’ show, it was probably because the Disney animators picked up a contemporary edition copy of the book where Alice was printed those colours in the illustrated plates. Just to ramble about that film a bit more; you can watch it and see just how much ‘grandfather of manga’ Osamu Tezuka was influenced by the Disney style. Alice looks a lot like a manga character to our unsuspecting modern eyes. Not that it’s that simple of course, you can get entire articles out of that train of thought and whether or not it’s getting derailed.)

Jeff Noon's Automated Alice book cover roughs

Moving on through to simple colour schemes and then shapes too, trying to get something that immediately leaps into your eyes and brain. I was trying to work up a duo of colours for each book, making each book different, but based on the same template, so they would all make sense sitting next to other on a shelf.

Jeff Noon's Automated Alice book cover roughs

Moving on to the last rough, I was trying to get as steeped in book-design for a busy market as I could, and came up with these two-stage pieces of long-range typography first, then illustraty bits inside, for the keen. The flies are ‘blurbs’ (an interesting choice of name from an author used to selling books for things that broadcast short ideas, propaganda and adverts, and even ‘advurts’) from Jeff’s ‘Nymphomation‘ novel that also appear in a story in Pixel Juice. There’s a moon in there because there’s a story called ‘Spaceache and Heartships’ all about how planet Earth actually has a second moon that nobody knows about.

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.