Saturday, 28 November 2009
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
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
To whet your appetite, here are some work in progress pics from Sidhe, with comments from Kev and Rachel.
The passionate, intricate writing of Rachel Robbins and the beautiful art of Kev Crossley fuse the best from our oldest stories with our deepest, most troubling modern fears, to take you on a journey unlike any you will have taken before...
Over to Rachel to begin:
"Confession: I used to play Barbies when I was a child. With my very tolerant little brother."
"But we made them our own, chopping their hair and using food coloring to paint funky/punky ’do’s, shaving their heads, and designing wardrobes out of broken jewelry and leather scraps --cut from thrift store purses-- which I superglued together."
"Ken-boys wore hair extensions left over from the shaved Barbie heads, earrings, and sported ink-stamped tattoos of sharks and dragons. Everyone wore glittery nail polish as eyeshadow and magic markered fingernails. Josh and I took the clan outside; built them houses and caves out of rocks, moss, and dirt for shelters."
"They borrowed Star Wars model spaceships to get around on, and the occasional toy tractor. Some times we sat them on our cats' backs, which never made for happy felines but still provided a decent mode of transportation."
"Not ordinary Barbies, you see. These were Cyberbabes.
Cyberbarbies were nature worshippers, witches, and mediums...though we wouldn't have described them that way, that was the fact.
Cyberbarbies spoke to ghosts I sewed from lace scraps who had heads made out of painted eggshells. They had direct conversations with saints and God."
"Growing up resentfully Catholic, I felt the need to create a corrupt church against whom they fought: a parish who lived in cardboard Chiquita Banana box-- fully equipped with porcelain figures of nuns and priests, adorned with “prayer cards” on the walls. The head priest was a wind up Peter Pan toy who would spin in circles and fall over."
"Sometimes Cyberbarbies had to fight aliens, too, but that was just when my poor brother and I ran out of plot ideas. There was a lot of sex and every “episode” ended with a party or wedding. Pagan 11½ inch fashion figures with pose-able legs also spent much of their time hanging upside down from trees."
"This was, perhaps, the original incarnation of Sídhe.
Now I have Kev Crossley. We play Barbies, but on paper. Insomnia is our sandbox."
"And so the summer slunk away without telling anyone where it was going and Autumn has crawled over everything like a mould, heralding skeleton trees and greying drifts of leaves heaped, grieving."
"The world of the Sidhe now inhabits my own. As the pages develop and the script unfolds from behind my eyes I'm increasingly finding the world Rachel has created to be invading every facet of my waking days. "
"The park down the road heaves with half seen creatures and the trees themselves stalk the edges of the grassed fields, looming above the people who play and walk there, seemingly blind to the scarecrow behemoths shaking and creaking in the tormented air. The streets and buildings are not free of this taint either. It's like seeing the world through a filter of the fantastic and macabre.
Kinda cool actually."
"This is the first time I've found myself so immersed in a story that I'm partly responsible for realising. I only hope the work I turn out benefits from this; I'd hate to be institutionalised for nothing!!!!!!"
Next week Kev will be at our stand at Thought Bubble with some of his gorgeous original art on show. You will also be able to see the magic take shape beneath his sorcerous pencil as he does some live sketching during the day.
Building Kronos City
If you want to see how the magic happens in this room:
That starts with a script that turns into this:
Which then turns into this:
Head over to the Kronos City blog where Alex and Lauren will take you through it all step by step, and all the stage in between.
Alex and Lauren will also be Thought Bubble to talk about the book, the characters and show off the latest artwork.
Other goodies at Thought Bubble will be a limited number of Ashcan previews of Urban Legends by Leeds very own Steven Stone (who has just launched his new blog Written In Stone, check it out) and James Daniels which will be given free with purchases while stocks last.
We'll also be talking more about what we'll be doing in the PSN Digital Comics store, so come by a for chat.
There will be a limited number of posters of the Frank Quitely pin up from Burke and Hare available - these ones in colour and signed by the man himself. Frank is the guest of honour this year so you may be able to catch him around the show, or see him interviewed in a very special Geek Syndicate live chat on the Saturday night.
Two unique competitions will be running from the stand:
1) Win a chance to visit the Buskers Film Set.
Entry to the competition is free with any purchase, or £1 per ticket
The draw will be made on the 1st of December and the winner notified by email. Any winner under the age of 18 will need to be accompanied on the set visit by an adult.
The date and time of the visit will be arranged personally with the winner.
Thanks to Jeymes Samuel for making this possible.
2) Win a PSP 3000 loaded with Insomnia Comics. This competition is in association with The Geek Syndicate. Thanks to Sony for donating this great prize.
If you will not be attending the show you can still enter the competition by heading over to the Geek Syndicate Website.
To be in with a chance to win all you need to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. with the title “Going digital with Geek Syndicate, Insomnia and Sony!”
The first entry pulled out of the hat will win.
Closing date for entry is 1st December.
Unfortunately this competition is only open to entrants who are 18 or over and have a UK Postal address.
Best of Luck!Hope to see you all soon
Friday, 6 November 2009
Here they are then, the first screen shots of Cages, Cancertown and Burke and Hare sitting proudly in the PSP.
Our friends at The Geek Syndicate visited Sony Towers recently for a preview of the technology and to talk to them more about the Digital Comics Store. You can hear about their adventures in episode 139 which will be up later this week.
Kronos City: Reflections on a Vampire
Recently Team Kronos City decided to compare their visions of some of the book's main characters.
Over on the Kronos City Blog they said:
"Everyone sees a character differently so here are our versions. Here at Kronos City, we'd also like to see your ideas of Karl, which will be published here on the 20th of November, just before the Thought Bubble Convention where they will also be on display."
If you want to take part fly on over to the How Do You See Karl competition to see their versions, read the character description and find out how to send your pictures to the team.
I think I might even try doing one myself.
The team have started on chapter 3 now, so expect some new previews in the near future.
More Ragged Man Sketches
Following on from last week's update Neil Van Antwerpen and Peter-David Douglas sent us some more Ragged Man characters recently.
Here are Consensus and The Grudge.
As writer Cy Dethan said on his blog, although it is very early days in the production of the book he posted them "on the grounds that some things are just too good to keep quiet".
Right, though, isn't he?
The The Geek Syndicate and The Annual Podcast Awards
Congratulations are in order for our friends at The Geek Syndicate who have been nominated in the 'Best Entertainment Podcast' Category in the 2009 podcast awards.
Barry Nugent says:
"As there were over 321,000 people submitting nominations Dave and I are very happy to find the podcast nominated and we wanted to say thanks to everyone who took the time to nominate us."
Daily voting will open for the awards at www.podcastawards.com on November 13th with voting closing November 30th. You can cast one vote per person per day during this time.
Next week we'll have a feast for your eyes with an update from Sidhe creators Kev Crossley and Rachel Robbins.
Monday, 2 November 2009
Still better to have too much to do than not enough :)
So, onto the latest in the world of Insomnia.
The Ragged Man Character Concept Sketches
Writing on his blog this week, Cy Dethan says:
"Right before last weekend's London MCM Expo, I received an email from former Starship Troopers: War Stories collaborator and artist on Markosia's recent Harker graphic novel, Neil Van Antwerpen. Neil's work has always been impressive, both in terms of fluid storytelling and sheer beauty, so when he mentioned in conversation that he honestly felt that The Ragged Man, our upcoming book from Insomnia was going to be the one that really showed what he and Peter-David Douglas were capable of I was chewing my own arms off in anticipation of some previews."
And here are those previews in all their glory:
You can read more about the story that Cy describes as being:
"at once a heart-felt love letter and a final fuck-you to the city I've lived in for the past fourteen years"
"Having this vicious, sharp-cornered monster of a story squatting in my brain is the reason I've ended up turning down every superhero-flavoured project I've been asked to get involved in or invited to pitch for."
In his recent blog post and on his website (where there will be updates and a growing gallery as the story progresses) .
Neil and Peter-David were recently interviewed on the Halloween episode of Sci-Fi Pulse on Blog Talk Radio and you can catch the show here.
New Babble Pages
As a special thank you to all the new followers of the @Babble_GN twitter feed for updates on progress on the book writer Lee Robson posted these delicious looking pages by artist Bryan Coyle:
If you want to be the first to see more then you'll need to start following them, too. Go on, make them feel loved.
Lee's well into chapter two now, and sent the latest pages over a few days ago, so it's cracking on.
Martin Conaghan: Radio Star
Earlier today Martin was interviewed on the BBC's Book Cafe along with crime author James Ellroy.
Simon Wyatt: Live and Uncut
Peter "Oz: The Fall Of The Scarecrow King" Forbes and Simon "Unbelievable" Wyatt got talking at the Insomnia table at BICS.
Simon was doing sketches for charity and here is Peter's filming of him drawing a Judge Dredd.
Knowing that the Devil makes work for idle hands Simon's been keeping out of mischief by showing off his talents as a sculptor as well as a penciller.
What could this intriguing creature possibly be?
Jennie Gyllblad: Ace Reporter!
Last week on 25th October, 2009, Jennie "Butterflies and Moths" Gyllblad visited Cambridge to attend the Women In Comics Conference .
There is a beautifully illustrated full report up on her blog, which you should read now, but here are the highlights:
"I’m a very shy person (believe it or not), so when I was confronted by the sight of confident, professional comic-book creators and enthusiasts, I preferred sketching and observing them from a distance, rather than conversing with them myself."
"The first one to take to the ‘stage’ was Asia Alfasi, a Libyan-British manga artist...Asia, as a person and artist was very fascinating and unique! She is currently working on an Autobiographical Graphic Novel about her upbringing with the different cultures meshing together (Muslim, British, Scottish etc), also talking about her choice of wearing the hijab (headscarf). It was a very personal and optimistic talk, which I enjoyed a lot."
"After Asia came Sarah Zaidan who spoke about her post-doctoral study ‘Miss Meta: Analysing the Female Superhero Through Time’. She showed the evolution of superhero-physique and discussed what triggered the changes."
"The final morning-talk was held by Sarah McIntyre who spoke about her experiences within the Picture Book industry and how comics are sneaking into this genre. Even though picture books tend to be for children and I want to do graphic novels for a more adult audience, I found this talk very inspirational."
"When the three first speakers were done, a short panel discussion took place, which I found was mainly dominated by Sarah Zaidan."
"And then, Lunch break! We were all offered food and drinks in the conference hall, so me and Ellen grabbed as much as we could and sat down on the floor in a corner again to eat and draw. I doodled people while munching on some lovely ham-sandwiches."
"Lunch-break over, it was time for the long awaited talk by Melinda Gebbie, the artist of Lost Girls, an erotic Graphic Novel that has been in the making for 16(!) years together with Alan Moore. I didn’t really know what to expect. My initial thoughts were simply: Erotic Graphic Novel? Ooo. Alan Moore? Ooo."
"… And then explained why she did Lost Girls entirely by hand. ‘It’s a loving, stroking, hands on meditation which you could only do with your hands, because it’s a part of your body which goes directly onto this beautiful paper… And then you’ve got the originals forever.’ She spoke of the importance of physically layering the artwork with your own hands, onto paper in front of you, not on a computer screen with a plastic tablet. At this point, I was in love. Perhaps even going slightly lesbian. ‘You must never be hindered by what other people think.’ "
When Melinda was done, she sat down in the front row with me and El. I was starstruck and hated my shyness.
"The afternoon split sessions of talks commenced. I chose the room which focused on Autobiography. At this point, someone had taken my pencil(!) and I was forced to sketch with a pen. This is a serious offense in my book.
First lady to step up was Kate Evans, a political cartoonist who has a history of crazy protests. She’s lived in a tree house. She’s been to a protest rally in a pink samba outfit… In short, she’s a little bit nutty, in a good way of course!
After her came a duo. Namely Woodrow Phoenix and Corinne Pearlman. They wanted to discuss whether Autobiography is a trap. Whether is makes us lazy, not bothering to create something, but simply using our everyday lives as material. Corinne also showed some images relating to her jewish background. I had a fleeting thought of creating an atheist comic."
"Both me and El were exhausted at this point, but we really didn’t want to miss the last talk of the day. It was going to be a conversation between Dominique Goblet and Paul Gravett."
"I am personally a big fan of Paul after having a tutorial with him at University last year and then being invited to the Bristol Comica event (which ultimately lead me to Insomnia Publications) [Thanks Paul - we owe you one! - Nic].
I see him as the person who helped me get to where I am now. He was the one who told me to come to the Comic Con and bring my drawings with me to show to people. Something I wasn’t very confident in doing.
"Dominique Goblet is a French painter of complex narrative. She has the ability to switch between styles seemingly effortlessly. I personally liked her more detailed and lifelike drawings. She’s brave enough to challenge the boundaries of comics and fine art, asking things like: ‘What IS a comic?’ and also inviting the audience to think about ‘the truthfulness of autobiography’. Are the creators making some of the stuff up? Are they exaggerating? Leaving some important bits out? Twisting it? You need to approach Autobiographical Graphic Novels with care."
It sounds like a fascinating day and wish I could have gone along. It's also great to see such conferences happening more and more often as the medium we love continues to spread its wings.
And then Jen came back to London, where she met her Butterflies and Moths co-creator, writer Corey Brotherson and this is what happened:
Not sure I have not ushered in the apocalypse in some way, putting these two together!
Now, what with this and the now legendary Citadel of Comics BICS report I think we now claim the prize for having the creators who do the GREATEST EVENT REPORTS EVER!!!
Off to start getting ready for Thought Bubble now - those 3 weeks will just fly by.