Well, I’m still trying to figure out what this might look like on the site as it progresses. But I thought rather than leaving everything in script limbo, I might as well throw some art down, even if these things/pages are little more than scrappy or rough thumbnails. It will at least make the task quicker and more fluid as I pull any final version together. But here we’ll be able to watch the early version unfold (even if things change as it turns to print), and that might be fun.
So firstly, what is The Margin? Well if you read the rambling post that was “Making use of this thing”, in the latter portion I talked about wanting to do a fantasy comic, something a little more high fantasy, probably allied to my rekindled love of playing, writing and running fantasy TTRPGs, but also part of something older that I started writing way back (on the BBC Writing site and DeviantArt under the name Hesirion). Regardless, this new effort is definitely allied to the ttrpg art I’ve been making of late. –
So this, *gestures broadly with arms*, will be that. Likely as not it will be a little clunky, as it’s an experiment, a little more freeform and meandering than even my usual standard, but it will be a way of working the kinks out of the visual storytelling whilst still, making/finishing something… even if that something I’d less polished and, well… finished. Or that’s what I’m going to tell myself. So, I guess I’ll sett up a page in the side bar dedicated to this one particular storyline, and we’ll see where we go from there. It will be something I’ll be doing between other more pressing (ie paying) projects, but it will hopefully trundle along at its own pace. Oh, and it will be in rough colour too… here the first few pages.
As I mentioned earlier in “Half Of Something…”, I have some unfinished books in the wings, some have been hanging about longer than others. But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten them. Case in point, the third and final book of the Viking Saga trilogy, instigated by Rob Jones of Madius Comics (now legendary comics letterer in his own right), with art and interjections by me.
The first two books, The King’s Leap and Ake’s Trial seemed to hit their marks, getting some favourable reviews even from non-fantasy comics fans, and we had planned the third book, almost immediately.
Life, however, sometimes gets in the way, and other things needed to be dealt with. I pencilled the book, and started inking it, but it just didn’t get all the way to the finish line.
I’d like to think I can get it (that third book) there this year, but I’m not going to make any promises. We’ve even talked about a full colour collected (and maybe expanded) edition, but that will be further down the line still.
The book/s was/were supposed to be a cycle, both in the mythological definition and in terms of the actual narrative structure itself. So getting the complete trilogy done would really make sense of it all.
In the meantime, here’s some pencils with the text overlaid, a preview of things to come, if you will. Enjoy…
The Pandemic… Lockdown… it feels like it was an event horizon. It pulled a whole bunch of time toward it, stretching it, making it both vast and now weirdly disconnected and disorienting as we figure out how to go on.
In all that time it seemed like I was busy with other things, I seem to have just utterly failed to use this blog, this site, whether to update anything about my comics work of late, or to just post the occasional piece of art.
I need to change that.
Going forward, it would be good to use this thing not only for promoting work or the thing I’m currently working on, but to add process stuff and again, and maybe get back to doing some reviews of other peoples stuff.
But changes are afoot. The livery of my show stands has been pretty CONsistent for the last few years… with that clunky old b/w image of Harry from The Cthulhiad making my stand look like an old grainy silent movie cover on a shelf full of contemporary blue rays, laughs.
But this year I’m going to look at changing it up, to try and match the way my work output has changed…
The images above show the artwork for my new Con/Event Banners.
It’s odd, but I had a whole bunch of plans for my comics, first just before Brexit, then just before the Pandemic Lockdowns, both events unceremoniously brushed those plans off my drawing board and into the bin beside it… these plans may get revived at some point, but at this moment it’s not really worth going over.
Then, as happens, other things turned up. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but my work sort of diversified. No sooner did it seem that I decided to go full time in comics, and had started to build up a steady-ish stream of work and on going projects, things that I could showcase at Comic Cons and other events than the lockdowns seemed to close some of those doors. But as those doors creaked half-shut, occasionally banging against the doorframe, another set opened. Namely those into the world of TTRPG art. I’d been a fan of fantasy art since I first was able to buy my own books. And my early art output was definitely influenced by that genre. I’ve always kept a hand in, but this was a chance to really go for it and try to split my work down the middle.
On the one side, my expanding work in comics, mostly indie, mostly black and white, with a typically historical, 18th/19th century illustration influence, or with a focus on creatures/monsters, and other genre stuff.
On the other, full colour painted, fantasy art, whether as illustration for ttrpgs or as prints (and maybe somewhere further down the line even a high fantasy genre comic (check out lower down the post for more details on that).
All of this allowing me to lean into my love of fantasy art and characters that you can see in my Sketches From The Margin sketchbook (above), and in my supplement for DMsGuild (ad’ video below).
So, that’s that for this post… not much more than a regret that I haven’t posted more, a note on how my work output has split into two distinct types of work, and a tease that I might well be looking at writing a drawing something akin to a fantasy comic…
And on that note, some fantasy comic art in the wings…
The title of this post comes from an old image, an ironically unfinished title page for a comic I started to fumble around with two and a half (maybe more) decades ago. It shows a character, once again looking not unlike myself, opening mail, whilst leaning back on a chair near a drawing board. The comic would have no doubt been about the punk/rock band I’d fleshed out some stories for back then. Stories that involved time travel, science fiction, “robots and religion” (with that particular outing called, very cleverly “Cross References”) as outlined in a vague list like manifesto by myself and my old friend Andrew Segal, at a table, in our student digs in Norwich all those years ago… the weekend I wrote those first words, I sat and fleshed out and illustrated a bunch of disjointed and unconnected panels and splash pages outlining the romantically hopeless members of a band called Toxic Shock… a crass notion, that resulted in the title Toxic Shopping, as the book would really focus on the mundane stuff the band, to often be abbreviated to just “Toxic”, would be shown doing, including of course, “shopping”. All no doubt inspired by pouring through a friends copies (then later, my own) of the works of Los Bros. Hernandez.
The scrappy hand drawn Title/logo I’d considered for “Toxic Shopping”. My gods, look at that thick Tippex/whiteout… aah, those crazy pre digital days.
This wasn’t my first outing as a “comics creator”. I’d not finished (indeed, barely started) other comics before this, and would go on to stubbornly unfinish many other comics projects in the future (sincere apologies to those of you out there nodding at this bit, I really am genuinely sorry). Anyway, I recently found a page of some very early art in some old artwork portfolio sleeves from my art school years whilst sorting out detritus still unpacked from an house move sometime ago. If I remember right it featured a kid with a chainsaw for a head (I believe called “chainsaw-head”) who had escaped a mad politician’s sideline as a serial killer who made bizarre sculptures of his victims in an old warehouse. The art veered from one style to another, weakly emulating whichever artist I wanted to be that week, and if I also recall correctly (and I’m sure I do), ultimately based around the lyrics of a Sundays track, if you can believe that?
This image above , I remember, was inked, laying on the the floor of my student flat, sometime back in 1992, I guess? It doubtlessly owes a lot to those A4, Mignola Dracula tie-in comics they brought out… there were other pages for this story, some fully painted (man I wish I had some photos of those still), others mixed media as I absorbed work by McKean, McKeever, Seinkiewicz and others…
If it helps, this is me back then, I clearly had no idea about anything.
It’s strange to think, that those early notions of a story about a band, would eventually turn into the Cthulhiad after going through various transitions and central character refocuses, including being rewritten as prose, and even retooled as screenplay notes and script, one small section of this would even eventually get performed as a script in hand play by performers from Middlechild Theatre here in Hull, at a Scratch Theatre event in the embryonic arts quarter that was in Humber Street, that was surreal.
Various early “Toxic Shopping” artwork, including notes and rambling written descriptions of cults and organisations from the “Cross References” episodes of Toxic Shopping that I had planned. There seems to be an abundance of this stuff, drawn variously in sketchbooks, A4 or A3 loose sheafs of paper, fastened together in plastic pockets etc. Much more than I remembered.
These stories didn’t seem to fully know what they wanted to be, but I carried them around as I took other art & design related jobs, eventually starting to travel into Europe with work, then drifting from design job to design job around the South East. The writing would eventually evolve into a series of short prose pieces. Stories that I would first post on the (now sadly defunct) BBC Writing website, a site through which I would get to share my love of writing and storytelling with my sister Jane, getting closer to her before she passed away). After that I began to post my work to DeviantArt’s prose section, and I started to draw together a set of stories that would form some of the mythology and atmosphere behind my current comics. Follow the link and you’ll even find the prose version of The Indian Fighter, the first comic I fully finished and printed, taking it to Thought Bubble around a decade ago now.
From there my sketchbooks started to fill up with other snippets and panels and page layouts for more Cthulhiad stories.
(Click to see the full images) Some of the elements in the sketchbook pages above found there way, in one form or another, into Some Rough Beast(s).
I was talking to a friend and fellow comics creator recently, I suppose trying to pin down the point/relevance of what my comics are about. And I’m broadly speaking about my own personal comics here, The Cthulhiad, and maybe to some extent the museum/heritage comics I write and draw. Thinking about when I’m asked directly what my books are about, or when I’m pitching them to passers by at comics events, I often simplify my response to “They’re about monster hunters, and some of the monsters that hunt back”, or “Lovecraftian Tentacles, this book is talky, this one is more fighty”, “Occult Detectives, Secret Societies, Myths and, yes, Monsters” etc. But that’s not what they are really about, at least not to me.
I think, weirdly, just like those early books. They were an attempt to write about my life. I guess all writers do that to some extent. But I can’t help noticing, beyond the obvious likeness of the books lead character to various incarnations of my own physical self (in terms of practical reference use, I am my own cheapest model after all), that the books now seem to have become weird, cryptic reliquaries for autobiographical snippets, past experiences, current thoughts and obsessions, places, environments. One of the last pieces of The Cthulhiad I self published, Some Rough Beast(s), going as far as to take the lead character back to his home town, which is with out a doubt clearly and unashamedly my own home town. It’s name is right there, written on the town sign, and it’s primary features are drawn right there in the panels. My comics aren’t about the relationships between people, they’re not even really that plot driven, as they seem to focus more on things. Things, objects, that become repositories or externalised manifestations of memories or ideas. Whether those memories belong to people, organisations or something “other”. All usually left for someone to decode, one of the characters along with the reader who gets to look of their shoulder as they unpick thieve cryptic palimpsests.
“But what about all the goddamn monsters?”, well, maybe they are cyphers for something else, something I haven’t quite figured out yet… I mean I like monsters. Both in a visceral, in thoughtful way a kid likes monsters. I grew up reading books on Greek myths and just laying there on the floor surrounded by picture books filled with images of the various (alleged) heroes, Perseus, Bellerophon, Theseus… but it was the creatures they fought that really did it. The Chimera, Medusa and the other gorgon sisters, Stheno and Eurayale, and the Minotaur, then came the Conan books, and then Frazetta, and don’t even get me started on Clash of the Titans (I was a late starter to cinema, we just didn’t have the money when I was growing up, so seeing that at the pictures turned my head completely). Conan would be my first introduction to Lovecraftian creatures and atmosphere of course, then the short stories themselves followed by the books of letters between those various pulp authors, and the subsequent disappoint,ent and wrangling dog conscience to separate the work from the author. But as I’ve clearly stated above… can you fully do that. I don’t know?.
Anyway… I suppose the point of this nostalgic (?) ramble, is maybe there’s something to be learnt from these mostly unfinished things, these part made comics projects… the word “monster” suggests “a lesson” or demonstration after all.
I remember reading something by Scott McCloud, in which he mentioned a man called Henry Darger, now considered a classic example of the outsider Artist, but in the interview a cautionary tale of sorts, about telling stories that go on and on, never finished and never becoming things that can be experienced by others.
So I guess what I’m suggesting is. Finish something. Make it. Give it a cover. Print it, or post it somewhere online. Allow people to get at it, for free or for money. So it doesn’t just become…