Monday, 28 December 2009

The End of Another Glorious Year

We just wanted to say to thanks to all of you for making this a fantastic year for Insomnia.

To think that over the last 12 months we have come from gearing up for our first full length graphic novel launch to where we are now is incredible.

We were tipped as “one to watch for 2009” in the 2008 Forbidden Planet Blog end of year round up – and I think we can safely say that we have held up our end with that ;)

Now for the Oscar Speech:

Thanks to all our wonderful creators who have made all this possible. Not just for the work on the books themsleves but for helping with promotion, sharing techniques and tips, covering events around the world, giving up time for signing and sketching, lending all sorts of expertise from outside of comics…the list goes on and on.

Thanks to UKomics, our wonderful printers. You couldn't find a more helpful bunch of people who really care about the books they are producing and who have gone above and beyond to offer help, support and advice to a new company such as us. Not only that but the production quality of the books has been commented on in almost every review.

Thanks also to Dave West of Accent UK for recommending them, and Shane Chebsey of Smallzone for putting us in touch through their printing service which I really can't recommend highly enough.

Speaking of Shane, thanks to all the tireless show organisers who have put on incredible events once again, even in these trying economic times.

Special thanks to John Freeman of Down The Tubes, The Geek Syndicate, Comic Racks and Sci-Fi Pulse for the incredible support you've shown in promoting us this year.

Highlights of this year are so many that it is hard to pick a only a handful but here goes:

  • The launch of our first Original Graphic Novel Cages and seeing our books on the shelves of bookshops large and small.

  • The incredible reaction to, and success of, the Cancertown launch at the Bristol SPEXpo

  • Having the best selling Layer Zero ever (Choices) that needed to go to second printing only a few weeks after launch

  • The launch of the Vigil line with Burke and Hare

  • Getting forewords, covers, pin ups and quotes for our from some of the most respected creators in comics

  • The response we are getting to the ebook previews and work in progress on show at events.

  • Ruffling the feathers of the quilting world with Bad Rain the first Comics/Quilting crossover art with Ferret

  • The gallery exhibitions for MILK and Cancertown work

  • The Temple APA issue 5 with the mammoth Insomnia feature

  • Needing to sign with an agent to deal with interest from film companies in our books

  • So many of our creators getting work in print elsewhere, and winning so many awards and prizes, which just goes to underline the talent we have here.

  • Being the first UK indie in the PSN Digital Comics Store and having our books up there on launch day.

  • Too many interviews, reviews, articles, features in magazines, online, on podcasts etc to list
Crawford Coutts says:

"A huge thank you to the Insomnia Management team for all their hard work over the past 12 months, without whom we wouldn’t be where we are today. Big thanks especially to Nic for her dedication to creators and unfathomable ability to multi-task, to Al for keeping those books flying out the door and onto the shelves and sweet talking all those lovely retail owners, Martin for doing a wonderful job on Vigil and Richard Johnson for his advice and fantastic cover design.

I’d also like to welcome our new Business Development Director who’s taking us to all new places and help us drive forward to do even bigger and better things, Richard Murphy."

It’s been a good year for the indie comics world in general, and a great time to be involved.

See you all next year!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Insomnia Christmas Selection Box

One piece of art from every book currently in production.

Just like a real selection box some are crunchy, some are chewy and some have unexpectedly soft centres.

No, they don't. I made that last bit up. They're all hiding razor blades or traces of ground glass and some are even laced with poison.

If you've been keeping an eye on new signings you'll notice there are a few things we have announced that are not on here. That's because in most cases we sign the script first and then look for the right artist. Sometimes we already know who that is, sometimes we need to find someone new.

The Absence
Story and Art: Martin Stiff

1945, southern England. A chruch is destroyed in a terrifying thunderstorm. Perched on a column of tock the small chapel collapses into the sea, taking Father Jonathan with it. The bridge between the church and its village is also destroyed, leaving the ruin entirely unreachable.

A year later following the end of WWII, the horribly disfigured Marwood Clay returns home, haunted by flashbacks or hallucinations of a strange operating theatre.

His arrival brings back terrible, long buried memories for the the other villagers.

Meanwhile the engimatic, world weary mathematician Robert Temple, a man with the curious talent of predicting the future with startling accuracy, moves to the area and begins building a house ona hill overlooking the village.

Then people start to vanish.

Average Joe
Writer: Thomas Romeo, Pencils: Kelvin Chan, Colours: Melanie Cook

What if Death wasn’t this cold, machine like work horse but just a normal guy? How would he deal with probably the most important job there is? How would he struggle to hang on to what he thinks is right? How could he maintain his relationships and remain human?

As if it’s not enough to wake up not just dead, but Death, Joe finds himself at the heart of the politics of the apocalypse. Before this everything was going to plan.

The other Horsemen are not pleased

Babble Writer:
Writer:Lee Robson, Artist: Bryan Coyle

Carrie Hartnoll is a working class English girl stuck in a life going nowhere fast, but after a chance meeting with her old university professor she heads to America to start a new job as part of his research team.

The team works to resurrect the mythical language of Babel – a language, Curtis theorises, that can be understood by any human being – and use it as the basis for the world’s first universal translator.

In this tale of dead languages and deadly secrets it’s not what you say, but how you say it, that counts.

Butterflies and Moths
Writer: Corey Brotherson, Artist: Jennie Gyllblad

Butterflies and Moths is about a young woman attempting to come to terms with a terrible affliction and her past, and in finding a kindred spirit discovers – through blood and betrayal – that death is a natural part of life.

A prequel, “Fragile” to which can be seen in Layer Zero:Choices

Crowley: Wandering The Waste
Writer: Martin Hayes, Artist: Roy Huteson

Vigil Book

Aleister Crowley was a man out of time, born too soon to a world that was not ready for him. Raised among the conservative Plymouth Brethren, he soon shook off their grim shawl of enforced piety and embarked upon a life of sexual adventurism, drug experimentation, and a serious and lifelong study of the occult.

Writer: Richmond Clements, Artist: Kev Levell

30 AD.

Battle lines scar a rain soaked island at the edge of the world.

Proud, doomed and unafraid before his rag tag band of defenders the British Warlord screams his defiance; challenges the might of the Roman War Machine; calls the champion to single combat. The Champion, Gladius, who men say is unbeatable, who cannot be cut by a blade, who destroys this barbarian rebel as easily as he has so many others.

The people look in vain for a hero, for The Corvus, chosen by the gods.

The Corvus, they say, will rid the island of the hated invaders, will have the strength of one hundred men, will be able to fly.

The Corvus is prophesied, is expected... a fifteen year old girl - and she is all that stands between her people and the crushing power of Rome.

Damaged Goods
Writer: Richard McAuliffe, Artist: Mark Chilcott

Open up this collection of Damaged Goods and gaze into your deepest fears and darkest nightmares.

Read this squirming mass of short dark tales at your own risk. You may never feel clean again.

Dream Solver
Writer:Luke Foster, Artist Chris Wildgoose

When 22 year old picture researcher Ione-Rose Young has a disturbing, recurring dream about seeing her own death, she doesn’t know whether to dismiss it as just another weird dream, or worry that it’s about to come true. Unable to shake the dream from her mind, she sets out to decipher its meaning.

Death Hunter: Dead Man’s Gold
Writer: James Johnson, Artist:Leonardo M Giron

Profit is a haven of fortune that bears more resemblance to a ‘Western Utopia’ than any familiar backwater town. It has been built from the pockets of one man – a man whose past is about to return and fulfil a forgotten curse.

Welcome to the dead west, where greed and corruption shows its true origins.

The Empyre
Writer:Stephen Aryan

On his first day in office, the Prime Minister meets a member of his Cabinet he didn’t elect – Alistair Donovan, the Secretary of State for Nocturnal Affairs.

Donovan runs a secret government department that has existed for over a hundred years. In extreme circumstances, when a swift resolution is needed, the Prime Minister calls on Donovan and his team of hand-picked specialists.

The Empyre mixes fast-paced action with politics and drama, charting how the UK starts to become a world leader in a secret technology, and the effects it has on international politics.

Fallen Heroes
Writer: Martin Conaghan, Artist: Stephen Penfold
original novel by Barry Nugent

A stalker of demons and legends, a pair of master criminals, a teenager on the brink of madness and a man forever cursed with the desire for vengeance. They are all pawns in a plan set in motion over nine centuries before their birth. Pursued across the globe by enemies both human and supernatural they must overcome their mistrust of each other and uncover the truth before it destroys them all.

Frank Sartre
Writer: James Peaty, Artist: James Reekie

A mysterious killer is on the loose in the surreal city of COSMOPOLIS and only one man can stop him! But as panic spreads, that man — part-time nightclub singer, sometime private eye and full time philosopher, FRANK SARTRE — has other things on his mind:

Fallen Heroes pits an unlikely group of heroes and anti heroes against an evil which has existed since the first crusade. If they can keep from killing each other long enough they might just be able to stop the world from plunging into a new dark age.

The Indifference Engine
Writer: Cy Dethan, Pencils: Robert Carey, Colours: Mel Cook

Responding to a strangely specific job advertisement, a distinctly ordinary twenty-something suburban slacker finds himself in the middle of an inter-dimensional task force staffed entirely by superhuman alternate versions of himself.

Struggling to fit in, he uncovers a conspiracy that strikes at the very heart of the organisation – a conspiracy that only he can stop.

Kronos City
Writer: Andrew Croskery, Pencils:: Alex Willmore,
Colours: Lauren Anne Sharp, letters by Jim Campbell

In Kronos City it’s not water running through the canals – it’s time. It’s possible to submerge your head to see visions of the past and future, although it’s risky. If you know how you can even manipulate future events, not just watch them unfold. Some say you can even change not only time, but fate.

Finnegan Vedant, being an enterprising individual, sees here a business opportunity like no other, but when a mysterious client puts him on a case with bizarre consequences, he’s forced to face harsh truths about himself and the world around him. The game he’s playing is for much higher stakes than it at first appeared.

Oz: The Fall of the Scarecrow King
Writer: Peter Forbes, Artist Barry McGowan

40 years on and something has gone terribly wrong in the Land of Oz. The magic is out of balance. An odd contraption appears in the sky above Area 52, deep in the featureless Kansas Prairie. They have come for Dorothy. She is the only one who can put things right.

But time passes differently in Oz and Dorothy is an old lady now and no longer the ruby-slippered girl they remember.

Writer: Michael Moreci, Pencils by Monty Borror, colours: Lauren Anne Sharp
Covers by Keith Burns

Quarantine follows a group of survivors trapped in a small town in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan shortly after a biological plague is released into the water supply. This plague turns a person into a homicidal war machine, which forces the borders to close, leaving our band of survivors to fight for their lives.

The Ragged Man
Writer: Cy Dethan, Pencils: Neil Van Antwerpen, Colours: Peter-David Douglas

Alone and despised, the Ragged Man drags himself through life with the weight of murdered billions on his shoulders. Hated by the world and everything in it, his body is a prison to a race of monsters. With every skin cell he sheds, with every drop of blood, a tiny piece of their reality escapes into ours, and a tiny piece of our world dies.

Who do you think you are?

The Reckoning Writer:
Jimmy Pearson, Artist: Patrick Walsh

A nightmarish beast of Lovecraftian proportians goes head to head with a US Navy Destroyer just off the antartic coast. Isolated and cut off from command, the USS Reckoning and its impressive arsenal are all that stands between an unsuspecting humanity and an interdimension monstrosity habouring apocalyptic intent!

Writer: Rachel Robbins, Artist: Kev Crossley

According to Gaelic mythology, five spectres of darkness descended from the ancient fairy race Tuatha De’Dannan: the Bean Sídhe, each bound to one of five powerful families. Once upon a time the Sídhe’s hair-raising screams foretold and warned of impending death. But times have changed, and the Sídhe have returned with a more sinister mission, now their piercing screeches claim the lives of the ailing and infected—before the diseased hosts have become terminal. Every prophecy has a loophole.

Snow: A Reflection on Desire and Depravity

Writer: Richard McAuliffe, Artist by Valia Kapadi

“…a daughter of the coven will be her undoing.” they said.

Once upon a time there was a land bound by winter, a land where bloodstains of the deepest scarlet and ravens’ feathers, of the blackest ebony, are fallen on snow of the purest white. Oh, you think you’ve heard this story before, somewhere? So how come the mirrors in the castle are refusing reflections? What is that howling noise out there in the darkness? Who has commanded the release of the Seven? And why is the Queen so disturbed?

Snow is a dark and witty exploration of decadence challenged by duty. Building on a subversive deconstruction of classic themes, it’s a sensuous and disturbing story that rips the meat from the bones of what you know, right down to the last bloody scraps.

Six Months
Writer: Jim O’Hara, Artist: Gary Crutchley

An uneasy exploration of what happens when, perhaps too late, you discover the answers to what it is that gives your life meaning, the relationship between law and society, and what it means when you longer need to hide anything from yourself or others.

Story and art by Simon Wyatt
Foreword by Nick Redfern, author of There’s Something In The Woods

The remote mining village of Bryn Boncath has its share of stories, of local legends, of half believed histories. It is a close knit community, with closely guarded secrets. Strands of Welsh legend, modern murder mystery woven with horror and a dash of crytozoology ask “What if seeing isn’t always believing, but believing will allow you to see?”

Urban Legends
Writer: Steven Stone, Artist: James Daniels

A collection of short stories all based on the urban legends that everyone swears happened to a friend of a friend. The book’s 15 stories range from the comical to the terrifying and all of them leave you with the uneasy feeling that it could happen to you. But they’re only stories right? Right?

And on that note, I'm gone!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Welcome To The World of Tomorrow

This week is the week that the PSN Digital Comics store goes live.

A whole library of comics in your pocket where ever you go? The Future is truly upon us and you can wait up for Santa with free to download chapters of our red-eyed and dark-hearted tales.

Our graphic novels will be published in chapters on the PSN with the first of each being offered free of charge as a taster. Three titles will be on the virtual shelves from launch, with many more to follow.

If you’re looking to try to something different and challenging then our mind bending, skin crawling, heart wrenching books will keep you up all night. So, rub your eyes and take a look at:

Cy Dethan, Stephen Downey, Mel Cook, Nic Wilkinson,

Morley is a man with big problems and a brain tumour like a baby’s fist, living with one foot in a monstrous alternate world. When the lost and dispossessed of London start tripping over those same cracks in reality, Morley must confront the residents of Cancertown - or find his place among them.

“Cancertown will disorientate you, suck you in, chew you up and spit you out and you might well be in need of a change of underwear by the end. Don’t say I didn’t warn you."
Bryan Talbot

“I described it to someone asking me what it was about as a "rip-roaring mindf***.”
John Freeman: Down The Tubes

“A complex, dark and twisted fantasy with a heavy noir feel to it...Think Maltese Falcon crossed with Criminal Macabre and a dash of Alice in Wonderland, trippy as hell (god knows what sort of dreams I'm going to have tonight!)...Seriously though, pick this up as it’s one hell of a read."
The Geek Syndicate

“Cancertown leaps out of the page at you, grabs you by the jugular and doesn’t let you go.”
Sci Fi Pulse

Burke and Hare
Martin Conaghan, Will Pickering, Paul McLaren

From 1827-1828 in Edinburgh, Scotland’s most notorious serial killers, Burke and Hare, murdered 16 people and disposed of their bodies to the eminent dissectionist Dr Robert Knox. Delve into murky, misquoted history and unravel a ghoulish story of medicine, murder and money.

“Burke and Hare is well paced, beautifully illustrated and painstakingly researched. A very impressive launch for Insomnia's new Vigil imprint.”
David Hailwood: Down The Tubes

“It’s not pleasant, but it is truly engrossing. It’s also genuinely chilling

Stripping away the oft misunderstood folk-lore surrounding these two iconic figures the book delivers a ghoulish, yet fascinating account of murder, history, medicine and greed”
Forbidden Planet

“There's a moment in life that I savour: that delicious, perplexing instant when you realise that something you've 'known' for years is actually a crock of nonsense....and when it rights itself, reality has taken on a slightly different hue.

I had just such a mini-epiphany the first time I read Martin Conaghan and Will Pickering's 'Burke & Hare'.”
Alan Grant

Xander Bennett, Mel Cook

What if you’d spent your whole life in a cage, never glimpsing the world outside? What if everything you knew was darkness, fear and cold, clinical steel? What if one day, an angel came to you with a message of hope – a message that you were about to be set free?

“Lovely… and disturbing. Let’s not forget disturbing.”
Ben Templesmith

“Mother of a compelling read.”
Comic News

“If dark and futuristic stories are your thing, then this is one book not to be missed. The artwork alone is worth reading, and the story is incredibly compelling and will keep you glued to every page until it’s over.”
Moya Dawson

Talking about having a book included in the PSN launch Cy Dethan said:

"You know those really big roller coasters where there's this phenomenally steep climb that tilts you right back so all you can see is sky and then you reach the crest of it and the car tilts down and you see the track dropping away toward the ground and time just sort of freezes for an eternal instant while you wait for the drop and it's both unbelievably cool and unutterably terrifying all at once?

It's been a bit like that."

And Xander Bennet added:

"It feels fantastic to be at the forefront of this as one of the first indie books. The more formats that are available in which to read comics (computer, PSP, etc.), the more choice people have. Hopefully, this means readers will be more inclined to take a chance on indie books and publishers other than just the big names.

Digital comics are absolutely where it's at -- or, at least, where it's going to be. We spend so many hours in the day reading on screens that I think, for most people, it now feels very natural to read comics this way. Plus, those floppy paper comics are getting expensive!"

And they are right.

I've talked about the "UK Indie Comics Renaissance" before on this blog, but in actual fact this incredible explosion of creativity is going on globally as more and more people are realising the power and potential of the form to tell all sorts of stories in all sort of ways.

Technology has a huge impact both on the technical side of art and production, and in allowing people from all around the world to work together easily.

The next natural step was to actually get the results of all that work easily into the hand of of readers whenever they want it and wherever they are.

Personal technology like the PSP hopefully means readers will be able to enjoy a much wider range of creators, styles and genres than just whatever happens to be on offer in any one specific local shop, or even tempt in people who have never read a comic before.

We could even see new creators inspired to produce their own work, not to mention the as yet unthought of new creative possibilites that working for a new medium will undoubtedly bring.

To quote Cy in an interview with Frugal Gaming recently

"Given the enthusiastic welcome that Sony has shown to indies like Insomnia, I think there's definitely an opportunity here to demonstrate the true breadth of the medium... there's nothing preventing the indies from standing shoulder-to-shoulder with giants. I think that's something to be celebrated"

So, go, celebrate, the alchemical wonder of the fusion of comics and technology!

And if you haven't finished making your Christmas list for Santa yet here are some PSP game recommendations from the boys and me:

From Cy:

I'm currently working my way through Motorstorm: Arctic Edge, Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror and Resistance: Retribution - which is more colons than I've ever put in a sentence before.

From Xander:

Some of the best PSP games recently have been Monster Hunter, Pangya Golf and GTA: Chinatown Wars. But my absolute fave PSP game would have to be Jeanne D'Arc -- I highly recommend it if you're into RPGs.

From Me:

God of War: Chains of Olympus!!! Yeah, baby.

Really, this blog has everything, doesn't it?

Sharing The Love

Loves to share this week are:

  • Richmond Clements "Turning Tiger" which is now out to buy. There is a preview on Myebook if you want to see the first issue.

  • Lee Robson is going to be writing an ABC Warriors story for Zarjaz next year. The Warriors are one of my personal 2000AD favourites so I can't wait to see this.
In Memory of Eric Martin

On November 18th this year Eric Martin, a great supporter of, and contributor to, the world of comics podcasting sadly died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 36.

His brother Mike has now set up a Donation fund and all the money will go to Eric’s 8 year old daughter Gracie.

Dave Monteith and Barry Nugent of The Geek Syndicate have organized a small auction of some cool stuff to raise money for the fund.

The auction has now started on ebay. More items will be added as the day and week goes on. Any items which do not initially sell will be auctioned again at a later date with the proceeds going to the fund.

Full details can be found on the Geek Syndicate website

Individuals and companies from throughout the world of geekdom have donated some fantastic items for the auction including:

  • Auction 3 - Two Star Wars RARE art prints here and here donated by Tommy Lee Edwards (Batman, Daredevil, Hellboy, Star Wars) will be donating . Signed artist proofs that he did for Star Wars Celebration shows ( Coming Soon)
  • Auction 4,5 & 6 - 2000AD will be donating a Greg Staples signed sketch, Books of Invasions Vol. 1,2 & 3 signed both by Pat Mills and Clint Langley (with a quick sketch in each by Clint) and a signed copy of Pat Mills’ Requiem Book One.

It's incredible to see this kind of support within the community. The generosity of both Dave and Barry in organising this, and from the contributors themselves are deserving of huge praise.

Thanks guys.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Lots of new signing news this week, and I already have some work in progress and concept art to tempt you with.

And the title this week isn't because I've been away. It's not about that sort of absence at all.

It's about this sort, which we have just signed up with Martin Stiff, :

The Absence by Martin Stiff

1945, southern England. A chruch is destroyed in a terrifying thunderstorm. Perched on a column of tock the small chapel collapses into the sea, taking Father Jonathan with it. The bridge between the church and its village is also destroyed, leaving the ruin entirely unreachable.

A year later following the end of WWII, the horribly disfigured Marwood Clay returns home, haunted by flashbacks or hallucinations of a strange operating theatre.

His arrival brings back terrible, long buried memories for the the other villagers.

Meanwhile the engimatic, world weary mathematician Robert Temple, a man with the curious talent of predicting the future with startling accuracy, moves to the area and begins building a house ona hill overlooking the village.

Then people start to vanish.

Martin says:

"It’s hard to explain the original source of inspiration for The Absence without spoiling the ending, but memories of childhood holidays to Devon and Cornwall provided the foundation (as well as a pile of photographic research).

The image of a village perched precariously on a cliff-edge came first while setting the action in the years following WWII allowed for a specific psychological landscape: these were people living literally on the edge of a battered, broken world. It was then that the disfigured exile Marwood Clay returned home and the plot began to fall neatly into place...

My first intention was to write The Absence as a novel but since I was also looking for an excuse to start drawing regularly again after a few years away from the drawing board, I decided to try adapting it into a comic.

Knowing their interest in literary graphic novels a friend suggested I pitch it to Insomnia. Nic responded immediately and a few days later they signed The Absence up!

I’m hugely excited – and a little terrified: it’s a big book and a mammoth undertaking demanding a huge amount of commitment from everyone involved but Insomnia’s unwavering enthusiasm for the project and their belief in me has filled me with a new confidence and energy. "

After a degree in Illustration Martin drifted into graphic design. Ten years later, after a decade away from drawing, which he missed, and with a recently rekindled interest in comics he's back, with The Absence.

Martin has co-written a few theatrical plays which performed on the London fringe and has a couple of unfinished novels stuffed away in his office. He is currently an art director with a publishing house.

Corvus by Richmond Clements and Kev Levell

30 AD.

Battle lines scar a rain soaked island at the edge of the world.

Proud, doomed and unafraid before his rag tag band of defenders the British Warlord screams his defiance; challenges the might of the Roman War Machine; calls the champion to single combat. The Champion, Gladius, who men say is unbeatable, who cannot be cut by a blade, who destroys this barbarian rebel as easily as he has so many others.

The people look in vain for a hero, for The Corvus, chosen by the gods.

The Corvus, they say, will rid the island of the hated invaders, will have the strength of one hundred men, will be able to fly.

The Corvus is prophesied, is expected... a fifteen year old girl - and she is all that stands between her people and the crushing power of Rome.

In this cracking tale of high adventure, defiant resistance and desperate heroism Richmond Clements and Kev Levell will show you the history they didn't teach in school, but that they couldn't keep out of the comic books.

Richmond is the first writer we have to be working on both a Vigil book (Pinkerton) and a fictional Graphic Novel.

He is also (presumably using some sort of cloning or time manipulation device!) the co-organiser of Scotland's Hi-Ex convention and an editor for FutureQuake Press.

After a 12 year stretch working for the dark side at a promotions agency Kev is a reformed creator who fights artistic crimes as a freelance illustrator and designer. We are happy to be helping with his rehabilitation.

The Reckoning Diary

A new Facebook Group is now up and running where you can keep up date on progress with The Reckoning by Patrick Walsh and Jimmy Pearson.

Watch out for tentacles!

Going Digital with Geek Syndicate, Insomnia and Sony

There were a record number of entries for this competition, but there can only be one lucky winner!

Congratulations to Kirsty Caffery who wins a PSP loaded with Insomnia Comics.

Thanks to the Geek Syndicate and Sony for running the competition and providing the PSP.

Until next week...

Saturday, 28 November 2009

From Nothingness into Being: Behind the scenes of Frank Sartre

"A mysterious killer is on the loose in the surreal city of COSMOPOLIS and only one man can stop him! But as panic spreads, that man — part-time nightclub singer, sometime private eye and full time philosopher, FRANK SARTRE — has other things on his mind!"

This week we take a look at the creation of The Ballad of Frank Sartre by James Peaty (writer) and James Reekie (artist).

First we have James Peaty answering some questions about the book itself, and then James Reekie will pick up with a look at how he goes about bringing Cosmopolis and its inhabitants to life.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the background to the story and what it’s all about?

A: Ooh, the unanswerable question! Very briefly, the story is sort of part-thriller, part-character drama with dashes of sci-fi, horror and gender bending thrown in for good measure! Oh, and talking apes. We all like a good talking ape!

Q: So, how did the book come about and why did you want to write something like this?

A: That’s almost the classic ‘where do you get your ideas from’ question.

Of course, if you read ‘Frank Sartre’ you will actually (sort of) discover the answer to that question…but I digress!

I’ve had the title and the basic conceit of the story/main character for about 10 years, but I first started seriously playing with the story and thinking about getting it published in 2002. It nearly happened a couple of times along the way – once in 2003 and then again in 2007 – but for a whole bunch of reasons it never came to pass. Thinking that this particular ship would never sail, I gave up hope of it ever happening.

Then, in mid-2009, I was introduced to the folks from Insomnia by my friend Ferg Handley and I started up a correspondence with Nic Wilkinson. Pretty soon I pitched them the book and to my surprise they said ‘yes’ pretty much straightaway. I think I started writing the script in August and then we signed up James (Reekie, the artist) in about October. Since James came aboard it’s been full steam ahead, which after ten years of it just simmering away, is a very good thing!

As to why write this book; well I think when you’ve been working, as I have for the past 5 years, on company owned characters for publishers like DC Comics, Marvel, Dark Horse, Panini etc you get pretty jaded with the whole rigmarole of writing within a very narrow set of parameters. The urge to write this story is, to a large degree, fuelled by the desire to just stretch a different set of writing muscles and see how far you can push yourself as a creator while still telling a compelling and exciting story in the bargain.

Q: At this early stage, and without too many spoilers, what can you tell us about the main characters and the world/settings of the story?

A: You know what, this far in advance I don’t want to say very much about the story.

As for the lead character of Frank Sartre, well…let’s just say he’s a rather troubled guy, with a fair few of ghosts in his past and skeletons in his closet.

The support characters I’d like to keep a secret for now, but what I will say is that the story is set in a rather odd and surreal city known as Cosmopolis and that amongst its population you will find a sky-cab driver called Silas, a rather cantankerous loan shark called Jingles and a psychopathic killer known as ‘The Stain’.

Q: Insomnia readers are out there on the wilder edges, and they like to be challenged. What is it that you are hoping to do with this story that will be different?

A:Not try and write a comic that aches to be a movie!

Being serious though, I just want to write a story that people will find compelling and maybe gets them to think a bit along the way. I’ll leave the bold statements of intent to others.

Q:Can you tell us a bit about some of your influences and inspirations?

In all honesty, just intelligent creators and good material. It’s less a case of who inspired this book and more a case of who continually inspires me. In that regard, the usual suspects would be: Alan Moore, Dan Clowes, Grant Morrison, Dennis Potter, Russell T Davies, David Chase, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Philip Roth, James Ellroy, Howard Chaykin, Paul Pope…and many more!

Hmmm…why are there no women on that list?

Q: Music plays a large role in the story can you tell us some more about that?

A: Well, I’m a big fan of movies like ‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’, ‘Shoot the Piano Player’, ‘Broadway Danny Rose’, ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘The Killing of a Chinese Bookie’ where ‘sadly-out-of- their-depth’ musicians or entertainers get embroiled in some sort of bonkers crime plot, so the early kernel for this story was no doubt inspired by those kinds of movies.

Beyond that, I just like music! And more specifically, in comics terms, I like the way musical notes and musical performance plays out on a double page spread in a comic book. It’s like the comic page becomes a stage. Sounds silly, I know, but I think it links theatre and comics together in a very interesting way.

Frank being a musician was the first idea I had for the book, so all the other stuff just sort of built from there really. If he’s a singer we need to see him sing. What does he sing? Well, we can’t afford to buy song rights so lets just write our own and tie them into the overall tone and mood of the story. And so it goes…

Funnily enough, this has sort of taken on a life of its own and we’ve been talking about recording some of the songs from the story and using them to promote the book further down the line. Not sure how we’ll find the time, but it’ll be fun to do.

‘The 400 Blows’ will live again!

And now over to the main with the pictures, all the way from Athens, Mr James Reekie

Frank's world and the city is based on an early 1960's future version of Manhattan, complete with anthropomorphic animals, flying cars and huge billboards reaching far into the sky.

Before starting the project I spent a lot of time gathering reference imagery. James uses a lot of film references in the script to give artwork direction and whenever we discuss ideas we always end up talking about favourite scenes that we want to use for inspiration for composition or colour. I looked through film posters and stills for inspirational shots creating mood boards to show the James and Nic what I was intending to do.

Of course, creating Frank was the main challenge. James' scripts paints a clear picture of him and so I just sketched away. I based him on various leading men, not all '60's, there's some Moore, Newman, Don Draper and, of course, Sinatra in him. A bit of a mongrel!

After submitting these sketches James suggested we tone the quiff down for "current" Frank as he appears at various stages of his life in the book and so we need some visual clues to link him to a specific time period.

I'm designing the book in spreads, a hangover from working extensively as a Graphic Designer. You view a book in spreads, not pages and the artwork on one side affects the other in mood, style and pacing. For the early spreads of "Frank" I wanted to throw the reader into this bright, shiny world, full of lights, reflections and sounds bouncing off every surface.

The technology in the book is designed on a "flat screens with chrome" concept. The simple elegant line of 1960's futurism applied to mobile phones. "Looks like an iphone..." you say? Well, look, there's no plastic interchangeable covers in this world! You'd know these things were in your pocket for sure...

Now a little bit about my process:

I reference everything directly as much as possible, searching through books and the internet for great suits, cars and skyscrapers. As mentioned before I work in spreads and 100% digitally using a combination of Manga Studio and Photoshop for the art and Illustrator for the letters.

The spread I'm using to show my process is a scene of Frank performing with his current band "The Paranoids" from chapter one.

I thumbnail out the page using a 10mm "pencil". This technique comes from blowing up my tiny thumbnails to work up roughs, allowing me to keep the exact proportions. Why redraw when you can trace?

When I'm happy with the design I then go in and do a detailed rough of all the panels.

I then set the bubbles and letters in Illustrator (text removed for this example) and send off to James and Nic for comment. They're kind and gentle. Mostly!

For the final artwork I tighten up what I need to with some more pencilling.

And then apply the ink. I'm trying to give a 60's pulp feel to the linework too.

When I colour, I hate books that have a "paint by numbers approach", assigning a colour to each clothing item and diligently colouring up each shape. It's so emotionless. Colour is a emotive story telling devise, and I like to wash over a spread with a limited palette, concentrating on tone and definition, only adding specks of colour to draw the eye to important events or items.

With this spread it's a single scene set over just these two pages and I wanted to isolate it, encapsulating the event with a colour break from the red and orange of the street scenes. The club is called "The Exterminating Angel" and I had set the colour for it on the previous spread with a neon blue sign.

I washed over the spread with a single cyan hit.

I then add gradients, isolating areas and painting with the airbrush. It's a quick and free approach that really sets off the line work. Oh, and I do it all on one layer. This file only has 3 layers, I added a "reflection" layer above the ink line for the lights.

...and that's it! Simples.

Oh, we spoil you, don' t we?

What the hell, it's nearly Christmas!

Monday, 23 November 2009

After Thoughts

This weekend we were at the Thought Bubble Convention in Leeds and a great time was had by all!

Comics folk defeated both the severe weather, and the Leeds one way system, and the event was incredibly busy all day. I didn't get a chance to go over to the conference side with everything that was going on, but talking to Paul Gravett later in the day it sounded like it was going very well.

As always it was great to catch up with old friends and make lots of new ones.

Plenty of Insomnia folk were around the table throughout the event, singing, talking about their books, making great plans for lots of things that we can't reveal just yet - and Kev Crossley's live sketching wowed the crowds, while his portfolio left them speechless!

Highlight of the event had to be the Geek Syndicate panel. The boys were on top form as usual, and Dave's impromtu rendition of Rawhide was fantastic, as was the mystifying, and really slightly unnerving revelation of the existence of the "glue man" who haunts comic cons asking artists for pictures of superheroines stuck in glue! All the panel seemed to have encountered him, and at various different shows! Frank Quitely and Cameron Stewart's tales of having to draw the mad things that live in Grant Morrisson's brain were wonderful, too.

Congratulations to Alex and Lauren of Kronos City who both won prizes at the Dr Sketchy's Burlesque drawing competition on the Saturday night. Their "How Do You See Karl" non competition has been very successful and you can see the results on the blog.

Thanks also to Martin Conaghan, Cy Dethan, Ollie Masters, Steven Stone, Roy Huteson and Christopher Barker for helping hold the fort on the day.

We got to meet Ian Cullen from Sci-Fi Pulse in person for the first time, having spoken to him online and even on the radio before now!

Fallen Heroes News

Barry Nugent, Martin Conaghan and I had arranged to meet up to talk about Fallen Heroes plans this weekend as scripting is now well underway.

With an astounding piece of timing, though, we discovered, and signed up, the perfect artist only hours before the show :)

Ladies and Gentlement, please allow me to present Steve Penfold - and his initial character sketches that just blew us all away:

Martin's got brilliant plans for how this is all going to come together. I wish I could tell you more, but for now will just have to leave you with that tantalising little hint of things to come.

Burke and Hare: Getting Into The Guts

Last week Burke and Hare creators Martin Conaghan and Will Pickering had an in-depth interview over on the Forbidden Planet Blog with lots of beautiful artwork from later on in the book that has not been seen before.

For those north of the border, In Scotland, there will be a Burke and Hare signing event at Forbidden Planet Edinburgh in January, followed by a gallery event. More on that as we get closer to the time.

The excitement and interest in this book from many non traditional comics sources with an interest in history and literature is really fantastic, and shows the power and very high quality of the art and storytelling that it can cross what often seems an unbridgable divide between comics and the rest of printed literature. More in this in the coming weeks.

Shock Theory

Celeste Sharp, writer of Shock Theory, is all over the news this week. Bournemouth University, where she studied until very recently, has been writing about her success in being signed to Insomnia for her very first graphic novel.

Jersey radio have also been in touch with Celeste to request an interview about the book next week.

Imagine FX

This month's ImagineFX magazine has two pieces on Insomnia, one with a picture of Crawford Coutts, if you haven't met him and wanted to know what he looks like!

Crawford is in there talking about the launch of the Digital Comics service for the PlayStationNetwork in December. For those with PSPs the reader software is now available to download from the Sony site.

Average Joe artist Kelvin Chan also has an interview in the magazine, and there is a preview of some of the artwork.

Working With Artists

Just a small mention of the odd world of comics production and the kinds of things you find yourself discussing.

Previously I had thought the weirdest thing I had discussed by email was either the shape of the sounds sheep make with Simon Wyatt when lettering Unbelievable, or maybe the one about how it would effect the perception of Emer's character, in Sidhe, if the underwear visible over her waistband was boxer shorts or lacy knickers.

However this week, working on The Indifference Engine Rob Carey sent me an email that included the following line:

"Does anyone object to seeing a penis in this shot?"

Followed a few days later by:

"New Engine, now with added penis" and a beautifully drawn page that delivered just that very thing!

And on that note, I'll leave it for this week.