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Dip-pen nibs
Friday 3 October 2014
My favourite part of drawing is inking. The hard work, creating the art from scratch on a blank piece of paper, is done, and I'm over the summit and on the down-slope freewheel to the completed page (uphill: plotting, scripting, roughs and pencils; downhill: inking, colouring and lettering).
Inking isn't totally free of creativity or difficulty, there's plenty of that involved, but it is made enormously more fun for me thanks to the tool I use - the humble dip-pen. I find it such a pleasure to use. I feel as though there is a tradition and history I'm part of. Using a dip-pen is a craft - the very act of getting the ink yourself, of charging the nib directly from the inkwell, and then drawing - from brain to arm to hand to nib to ink to paper, resulting in a physical image, transferred kinetically straight from the source (me).

The first dip-pen I used, on the opening three pages of The Rainbow Orchid, was an Osmiroid Rolatip. Using it now it seems so basic and easy to use, but back then I struggled with its unpredictability, and soon moved to using Rapidographs (often doubling the line to inject some variation). After a few years I found the Rapidograph unsatisfying and I decided to give dip-pens another try. I bought a Hunt 107, struggled a bit, and then it seemed to click.

Towards the end of The Rainbow Orchid I started to find the 107 a little unsubtle for some of the stuff I wanted to do, and a couple of pages into The Secret of the Samurai I turned to the Hunt 102, a finer nib and a little more flexible. I had no problem with this nib, but got curious about the Tachikawas that seemed to be so readily available (when the Hunts weren't).

So next I tried the Maru and the G-nib. The G-nib is a very good manga pen, but not quite right for ligne claire. The Maru was pretty close to the 102, perhaps able to go a little finer - a tiny bit less flexible, but with a tad more character, I think. I seem to be favouring the Maru at the moment, though I'd like to try a few British nibs at some point, perhaps a Gillott or a Leonardt.

Whenever I mention dip-pens on my website, or at comics workshops (I'm nearly always asked what tools I use) I always get interest in them. I'm often asked what kind is best, how to use them and where you can get them. Sometimes people come back to me, frustrated that they've not been able to get to grips with it. It's not like a marker or a drawing pen - you can't just pop the lid off and go. It can take a little while to get used to, but if it's the right tool for you (and it may not be) then it will click, and you'll love it.

Because of this interest, a couple of days ago I decided to make a video about dip-pens. I ramble on about them for about 10 minutes (probably a bit too long, sorry) and then demonstrate three nibs in action. Just seeing the dip-pen work can erase a lot of the mystery. So, if you're interested, here's the video ...

posted 03.10.14 at 12:09 pm in Sketchbook | permalink | 4 |


WWI stories: War Horse
Sunday 28 September 2014
You have almost certainly heard of War Horse, Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel about a farm horse bought by the British Army to serve in WWI. It was later adapted into an award-winning play (which I can highly recommend, though take a box of hankies with you) and later still a film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg.
There is also a war horse in my own family. My ggg-uncle was John Birrell Horsburgh (1865-1940) and his eldest son was John Harvie Horsburgh. John was born on Forfar Road in Dundee in 1892 and, as a teenager, worked in a jute mill. By the time of the Great War he was working as a cab driver and served in the war with the Royal Engineers. After being demobbed he worked as a carter (something of a Horsburgh family specialty) for contractor James Wilson of Malcolm Street, Dundee.

Also starting at James Wilson's, in 1918, was an 11-year-old horse called Darkie. Darkie, so-called because of his handsome black coat, had crossed the Atlantic to Britain in the early years of the war with a French-Canadian Battalion and had gone with them into battle-torn France where he sustained seven injuries to his fore-end, flanks and legs. When the war was over he was bought by Wilson's and was soon teamed up with a carter, my cousin John Horsburgh.

In about 1928 both John and Darkie moved to Tough Brothers, merchants and manufacturers at the Anchor Works in Anchor Lane. Darkie was a 'Belgian type' but had the short neck and powerful shoulders of a Clydesdale. He was an intelligent creature, able to position himself correctly depending on whether he was pulling a cart or a lorry, behaving better than many motorists at traffic lights, able to shift himself out the way of a passing bus upon hearing its horn, and he knew his way round the twists and turns of the Corporation gasworks yard without the slightest guidance needed.

In 1933 Darkie took part in the Broughty Ferry Carnival, and in 1935 he was spruced up and decorated for King George V's silver jubilee. But in August 1937, having never needed to see a vet in all his carting career, he died of an internal ailment. He was about 30 years old and had been at work just the day before. John Horsburgh was inconsolable ...

"... aye, [he was] as cheery at the end o' the week as he wis at the beginnin'. He wis the maist wice-like horse I've ever had onything tae dae wi'."

John himself had married in 1916, to a jute spinner, Elizabeth Anne Williamson. They had five sons (that I know of), though both parents would outlive two of them (James died aged 1 in 1922 and William died aged 25 in 1945). Elizabeth died in 1968, age 73, and John died age 76 in March 1969, just three months before my own birth.

posted 28.09.14 at 11:05 pm in Family History | permalink | 3 |


New Julius Chancer - A4 roughs
Thursday 18 September 2014
I said I'd be blogging the first three pages of the new Julius Chancer story quite closely, and here is the next stage - lettered A4 roughs.
I've measured out the panels on the final drawing paper (A3 landscape for half a page), scanned them in, reduced them to A4, printed them out, and have then very roughly sketched in the basics of each panel (based on the script and the thumbnails). These have then been scanned in again and lettered so I know how much space the balloons will take up before I commit to the finished artwork.

The next thing to do is to start the actual drawing!

posted 18.09.14 at 3:36 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | 3 |


WWI stories: James Parker Gilmour
Tuesday 16 September 2014
One hundred years ago today James Parker Gilmour was killed at the first Battle of the Aisne.
He was born 21st June 1893 in Loan Street, Anstruther Easter, in Fife, the fourth child of an eventual nine to James Parker Gilmour (1861-1934), a slater, and Mary Henderson Borthwick (1865-1929). In his teenage years he became an apprentice watchmaker, and on 5th September 1913 he enlisted with the 1st Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) at Dundee.

Attached to C Company, James landed in France on 13th August 1914, and a month later he was crossing the Aisne as part of the follow-up offensive against von Kluck's German First Army and von Bulow's Second Army. As the two sides faced each other across low-lying open ground the British started to dig ditches for cover, and these soon deepened and lengthened to become the first trenches of the war.

The Black Watch saw particularly heavy action on 14th September at Vendresse, losing 18 officers and 450 men, including their Lieutenant-Colonel. The 15th, 16th and 17th saw heavy shelling of the British positions.

A newspaper listing of 17th November 1914 reports 2567 Private J P Gilmour as missing, and almost a year later, in August 1915, his parents were still appealing in the press for any news of him, stating he had been reported missing on 14th September, though his death was eventually recorded as 16th September 1914.

He is remembered on the Anstruther war memorial, the memorial at the Anstruther Fisheries Museum, and at the cemetery at La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre, Seine-et-Marne, on the memorial for missing men with no known grave. He was 21 years old and the first WWI casualty from Anstruther.

See my family war memorial here and war archive here.

posted 16.09.14 at 11:22 am in Family History | permalink | |


The Scarifyers: The King of Winter
Thursday 11 September 2014
Last month I finished my ninth Scarifyers cover. This one is called The King Of Winter, starring David Warner and Terry Molloy, and written by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris. It's not released until 17th October, but you can pre-order it here.
In the meantime, here's some process images, from thumbnail roughs, to pencils, inks and the finished design.

posted 11.09.14 at 10:08 pm in Work | permalink | |


Moving up: comic guides
Friday 5 September 2014
I'm making a few slight changes to my working methods with this new Julius Chancer adventure. The biggest change is that I've decided to draw my master artwork at A2 instead of A3 (unless I hate it after trying it!).
This idea first entered my brain back in 2011 when I saw some beautiful photos of an Asterix exhibition and noticed, not necessarily the extra detail, but the amount of space available to draw in each panel. I always felt a bit crammed-in working at A3, especially when putting down 10 or 12 panels per page. And when drawing smaller full-length figures, and buildings, detail and accuracy does start to get a bit smudgy.

I've also been moving away from the ever-reliable Hunt-107 nib and have become quite attached to the Tachikawa Maru, a finer stylus, a little more flexible, but also allowing for a much more comfortable holder.

With the increase in paper size (actually I'll still be drawing on A3, just landscape in two parts) I have had to update my little set of home-made tools.

The first of these (above left) is what I call a marginator. It's a bit of card cut exactly to the width of my page borders, allowing me to quickly mark up the drawing area of the page without having to count the millimetres from a ruler. I know that's not exactly an arduous task in itself but, when you're doing lots of pages, anything to speed up the repetitive bits is a help.

My first version (for A3) was straight - this new improved model has a 90-degree angle on it, so I can place it in the corner of the page and mark two measurements at once.

Next to that (above right) is my balloon space guide. When I letter the completed page it is at A4, but I need to know how much room to leave for balloons when drawing my bigger original art. This allows me to measure the depth of balloons at A2-scale according to how many lines of text there are. I know how many lines to allow for because I do A4 roughs and letter them first.

I have a little print-out of all the measurements I'll need for working at A2 (above), just so I don't have to keep working out how big half or quarter of a page is, and also so I can quickly reference my basic panel sizes (third, quarter, fifth of a tier, etc). I rarely use those exact measurements, but it's a starting point from which I can go bigger or smaller, depending on what I need. My old A3 measurements are on the left.

The first scene of the new story is three pages long, and though I won't be doing this with the entire book (you'll be relieved to hear!) I am going to be blogging the process of this scene quite closely - just to get things going. Here are the thumbnails ...

posted 05.09.14 at 8:28 pm in Comics | permalink | 6 |


Sketches
Thursday 4 September 2014
For various reasons it's taken a while to get going, but I am now working in earnest (when I can) on the next Julius Chancer book. It is fully plotted in great detail and I am into the scripting. Sketches are also happening.

posted 04.09.14 at 9:55 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | |


Julius Chancer at the London Film & Comic Con
Tuesday 15 July 2014
On Sunday I drove up to London for my adventure comics workshop at the UK's first YA Lit Con, YALC, hosted by the London Film and Comic Con.
I tried a couple of new things out at the workshop - lucky-dip treasure items and communal map-making, which I will definitely keep for future workshops. I have to say I'd prepared the event for a slightly younger audience than I got, and the venue was incredibly noisy - but everyone still seemed to enjoy it, despite a bemused expression or two at my opening 'Adventurer's Oath' (soon turning to chuckles, though). Huge thanks to everyone who participated, and also to Jenny Hayes, from Egmont, for looking after me so well.

This isn't the sort of comic show I would normally attend, but it was fascinating to see. I didn't stay too long after my book signing, but - if for nothing else - the whole trip was worth it just to see RO reader Matthew Stubbs turn up in a fantastic Julius Chancer cosplay. Thank you, Matthew - that really made my day.

One other thing to tag onto this blog entry: a lovely review for The Complete Rainbow Orchid from the fabulous Read It Daddy ...

Charlotte's best bit: Fab and exciting, and plenty of awesome female characters for her to identify with as well as a no-nonsense hero that uses his brains rather than his fists.

Daddy's Favourite bit: A shining example of a brilliant story that you can comfortably recommend to parents looking to introduce their kids to comics. Cannot recommend this highly enough.

Read more here!

posted 15.07.14 at 11:01 am in Julius Chancer | permalink | |


YALC at LFCC
Friday 11 July 2014
This weekend sees the annual London Film and Comic Con at Earls Court in London and, slotted into it, the first Young Adult Literature Convention, curated by Children's Laureate, Malorie Blackman.
I will be there on Sunday (13 July), giving a comics workshop at 11.30 ('Create your own amazing adventure comic'), with a book signing afterwards. I believe the workshop is free (once you've paid admission to the main convention), you just need to sign up at the YALC booth inside the Book Zone.

Hope to see you there!

posted 11.07.14 at 3:20 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | |


Googling me
Wednesday 9 July 2014
I used to have a Google search set up so that I'd get an alert if The Rainbow Orchid was mentioned online. About two years ago I stopped it, and have mostly been living in blissful ignorance of whatever reviewers think of my book. True, I miss a number of very nice reviews (though links to these sometimes end up tweeted to me or sent to my email inbox anyway) but I also miss the more negative reviews (of which, thankfully, there are not so many), and even more importantly, highly polarised forum conversations where my book is discussed.
Is it because I'm an over-sensitive, thin-skinned artist? Well, yes, partly - I don't mind admitting that a bad review can make me feel a little down for a short while, but actually the past 3 or 4 years have thickened up my skin quite a lot, and a fair negative review has little effect on me now, especially as time and distance have made me more objective about RO myself.

But the main reason I don't particularly want to read negative reviews is because they usually serve no useful purpose for me as an author. I've said before that I'm very aware of my own book's shortcomings, and some of these have indeed been picked up in reviews as well. But quite often an author will look to readers' opinions to gage whether they are doing the right things, and if you do that, the message can get confusing ...

"... excellent, fast-paced, and very well-cast period adventure story."

"... a bit slower than you feel it could be ..."

"... the storytelling's so well paced it never feels like Garen's trying to squeeze too much in ..."

"... the narrative suffers from a horribly slow sense of pace ..."

"... the story is exciting and fast-paced ..."

"... the story took a long while to get going ..."

"... an interesting and fast paced storyline ..."

"... It's a slow burner ..."

"... a fast paced adventure quest, a real tale of derring-do ..."

"... It's fast paced and exciting ..."

There are other examples besides the pace of my story-telling, for instance the colouring - some people really love it ("beautiful colouring", "artful use of colour") and some think it's not so great ("dull, unexciting colours", "I found the colouring crude in places"), and so on - characters, drawing ability, plot, backgrounds, etc.

So what am I to make of all these contradictory views? Is my pacing just right or terribly wrong? Is my colouring lovely or terrible? The thing is, these are all aspects that, to a certain degree, are subjective. Yes, there's some bad colouring in my work, and yes, the pacing is not always as good as I would like it to be. But the fact is - I personally like a slow-burning plot with lots of intricacy, and I'm not a fan of bright colours or computery-gradients, I like muted colours, evocative for an historical adventure. And some readers will agree with me and some won't.

Even though I know these things can be down to personal preference and taste, I will still read a review that says someone doesn't like my colouring and I'll think, "people don't like my colouring", until, that is, I read another review that says the opposite, and then I'll think I'm doing okay. It's just the way our brains work.

Not Googling my book can have other consequences though. I recently did Google my book because the past week has seen a rather high number of Amazon sales (even selling out of stock two or three times), after a bit of a slump over the past few months, and I was curious to know the source - perhaps some widely-read nice review or something. I didn't get far into the search when I discovered, quite incidentally, a comics 'fan-site' publishing (terrible) scans of my entire book, for free, on its website. They were also providing several Cinebook titles (including Blake and Mortimer and Lucky Luke) and the full Asterix canon. I alerted Cinebook and we both sent messages to the site resulting in them taking our books down (and I never found the source of the recent sales, as the pirating task took up the next few hours of my day).

This time it was a fairly painless process - I've had to do this before, issuing DCMAs and taking full days out of my work to get a satisfactory result - not fun, and a bit like playing whack-a-mole, so not something I go looking for.

But let's end on a high note: I also came across these lovely tweets from BBC reporter Giles Dilnot:

"... Julius Chancer is pretty addictive ... enjoyed the Rainbow Orchid which I can now return ... felt v much like part one to wider adventures ..."

Thank you, Giles. And, with that, I'm now going back to my non-Googling lifestyle, and ignorant bliss.


Googling in the 1920s.
posted 09.07.14 at 12:09 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | 2 |


Comic Salon - Erlangen, Germany
Wednesday 25 June 2014
For the publication of the second volume of The Rainbow Orchid in German (Die Regenbogen Orchidee: Auf Gefährlichen Pfaden), my publisher, Salleck, invited me to attend Comic Salon in Erlangen, Germany's biggest comic show. The event kicked off on Thursday (19th June), but I got an early morning flight from Stansted to Nuremberg on Saturday (I was up at 3.45 am!), and was at the show just a few hours later, staying until proceedings closed at the end of Sunday and flying home Monday morning.
As with all my recent European excursions, I had a fantastic time. German comic fans easily rival the Dutch for openness, friendliness and generosity (not to mention excellent English language skills), and I should also add patience to their list of virtues as I had quite a few more detailed drawing requests ... so much so that on the Sunday I was under strict instructions to only provide head-shots of my characters! Snow leopard cubs were requested quite a bit, too. Anyway - I am (and have been for a while now) a lot more comfortable with public sketching, and even though I haven't really done a lot of drawing this year, I enjoyed sitting and doodling away in people's books.

Comic Salon was a terrific show, a nice atmosphere, buzzing with comics of all kinds, and with a wide variety of readers. My French publisher, BD Must, was there, so I was able to say hello again to Jean-Michel Boxus after our Angouléme meeting, and I also got to meet Frank Madsen and Sussi Bech, two Danish comic creators I have long admired, along with their studio partners Tatiana Goldberg and Ingo Milton (and we had a lovely dinner together, along with my publisher Eckart Schott and Belgian artist Eric Maltaite, on Sunday evening). I also had a few good chats with Mike Perkins, who introduced me as his 'first inker' - back in the early 1990s I'd inked his pencils on a comic called Snowstorm, written by Paul H. Birch. I was also surprised to see Lizz Lunney at the show, and was able to say a quick hello.

At Angouléme I'd been disappointed that I hadn't been able to get into the Tardi exhibition, but I was delighted to see that it had made its way to Erlangen and I managed to get round it a couple of times, lost in the beauty of Tardi's art and the horror of its subject matter (mostly pages and sketches from Goddamn This War! (Putain de Guerre!). Also on the theme of the First World War, Joe Sacco's fold-out pages from his book, The Great War, had been enlarged onto canvas and displayed in the Schlossplatz in front of Markgräfliches Castle. It's a stunning book, and even more stunning at this size.

One of the special items made available to attendees at Comic Salon was a sticker book published by Panini with stickers of the guesting comic artists available from the various publishers around the show. When I was a lad of 7 or 8 I used to collect Panini football stickers, so to become a Panini sticker myself was a little thrill.

Thank you to everyone who bought my books and said hello, and a very special thanks to the Salleck Publishing stand-crew who were so friendly and looked after me so well. A special thank you to Wolfgang for his excellent company and chaperoning while I signed pre-orders, and, of course, to Eckart for inviting me and making it such a nice experience. I feel really honoured to be even a small part of the wonderful European comics scene.

posted 25.06.14 at 9:01 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | 2 |


Spanish Integral and German Sword
Tuesday 13 May 2014
Today I received a couple of copies of the latest incarnation of The Rainbow Orchid - namely the complete story in one single hardback volume in Spanish - La Orquidea Arcoiris: Historia Completa. It's a big book, and a hefty one too, retailing at 29 Euros and available from NetCom2 Editorial.

And on Sat 21 - Sun 22 June I'll be in Erlangen for Comic Salon, Germany's most important comics festival (held once every two years). I'll be on the Salleck Publications table where I'll be signing and sketching in the German edition of volume 2 (Die Regenbogen Orchidee: Auf Gefährlichen Pfaden).

This edition has a little bonus in the form of the Lily Lawrence Story Sword of Truth that I originally wrote and drew for The Girly Comic back in 2004, only now it's in colour.

posted 13.05.14 at 10:20 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | 2 |


Make It Then Tell Everybody
Friday 28 March 2014
Yesterday (Thursday) I chatted to comic creator and teacher Dan Berry for his podcast, Make It Then Tell Everybody. We covered a number of subjects including getting started, the way you view your own work, research and my creative process.
Click here to have a listen, and thanks very much to Dan for having me on. Check out his amazing archive too!

posted 28.03.14 at 6:02 pm in Comics | permalink | |


Three good comicky things
Tuesday 25 March 2014
Here are three good comicky things that have come my way in the last week ...
One - MULP: Sceptre of the Sun. This is an adventure comic crossing the territory of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain ... all that lovely stuff, but with an extra unique feature - all the characters are mice! The story is intriguing and exciting, and the artwork is detailed and gorgeous. It's written by Matt Gibbs, with art by Sara Dunkerton and lettering by Jim Campbell. There's lots to love in it - 1920s cars and motorbikes, archaeological mysteries and clues from the ancient past, mice riding lizards, beetles as beasts of burden, wooden aeroplanes, a classy villainess, and lots more (including a background appearance by a certain Julius and Lily in mouse form). It's right up my street. The first issue (of five) will be released on 7th May 2014 and you can find out more at the Mulp website.

Two - Kurt Dunder. Perhaps you recall that I wrote a review of the only Kurt Dunder book to be published in English - Kurt Dunder in Tirol - back in 2009? Well, now Danish author Frank Madsen has made the very first volume available in English too, Kurt Dunder in Africa, in digital format from Comixology. This is terrific news, and as soon as I get my mitts on the family iPad I'm going to download it for myself!

Three - Unfinished City. This is a detective thriller set in the criminal underworld of Former Yugoslavia and it looks very nice. You can read the first 20 pages here. The art, by Robert Solanović, is wonderful and gave me a hint of Simon Gane, and a pinch of Paul Harrison-Davies - both favourites of mine, but it's all its own thing. And the story is enthralling and very readable, by a UK writer who I have long-admired as an excellent story maker, Ben Dickson, this time in collaboration with Sylvija Martinović. Please support the project's Kickstarter campaign - I want that book in my hands!

posted 25.03.14 at 9:10 pm in Comics | permalink | |


Making a comics page
Monday 17 March 2014
I have published a new audio slideshow with me rambling on about my process of making a page of comics. You can view it in the behind the scenes section of the website here. There's also a YouTube version, but it's not quite as good quality.
If you've read my 'director's commentary' that appeared at the Forbidden Planet International blog a little while back, or have seen me talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, or the Hay Book Festival, or at the British Comic Awards last year, then you'll already be familiar with this material.

As a footnote to this post, there's a rather grumpy review of The Complete Rainbow Orchid up at Amazon.com (US) where the reviewer goes on at some length about the 'pathetic' 'self indulgence' of my making-of material at the back of the book. While I don't mind if someone doesn't like my book - that's fine (and I'm very aware of its imperfections myself) - I do feel that this criticism is a little unfair.

Perhaps things are different here in the UK where many comic creators are actively trying to revive the comics industry by getting young people engaged in the medium, especially at workshops where we help them to create their own comics. I get a lot of interest in how I work - from invitations to do workshops at schools and book festivals, to emails on the subject (often several a month) and queries at comic shows.

It's got nothing to do with thinking me or my creative process is particularly important. It's a different world now - most artists have blogs and show their working methods and many published comics have sketchbook and process sections at the back. Why? Because people are genuinely interested. I love seeing such things myself, from the smallest of small-pressers to the biggest names in the industry.

Now, that's enough self-indulgence!

posted 17.03.14 at 2:02 pm in Julius Chancer | permalink | |


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