A couple of weeks ago the local theatre 'What's On' guide popped through my letterbox. I flicked through it and immediately came across a very familiar image ... the Oliver! logo I designed back in 1998 for a local production of the famous musical, now being used to advertise a brand new 2018 production by a completely different company. Only, it wasn't quite what I originally designed, it was a crude copy - though this too has become just as familiar to me thanks to its use by a large number of amateur theatre groups over the past few years.
The copy is pretty horrible - at some point, possibly around twelve years ago, someone saw my version online, small and low-res, and decided they needed to make their own print-res copy, obliterating much of the detail in the process (perhaps by tracing the low-res file into a vector format). This version got whisked up the Google Image rankings higher than my original, and it has been found and used and re-used, and sometimes re-copied or edited with even less detail, by countless others. I can't help but think, what does it say about the quality of your show if you're happy to use such badly rendered graphics to promote it?
Comparison detail of my original (left) and the most often-used copy (right). License my original!
But the first time I came across an unlicensed use of my Oliver silhouette it was a fully detailed copy of my original artwork. Once I started looking I found others, both good and bad copies, in shows from the smallest school production right up to professional youth theatre shows and displayed inside and outside big city venues.
That's what led me to start up my Logos For Shows website - licensing my theatre images to fit the budgets of amateur companies and schools, not so much with the intention to make money, but to protect and assert my copyright and moral rights, and to promote the idea of copyright and legal use of artwork (and sure, the pocket money helps a bit too).
Part of this process included writing to some of the copyright infringers and informing them of their transgression - a task I have never relished and in which I have always been as polite and understanding as possible. Almost without exception the theatre companies have written back saying they had no idea they were breaching copyright and that they just handed the art task to their designer.
Sometimes the theatre company in question just ignores me. One of the earliest infringements of my work I found dated back to 2003, and the same company had used my artwork again for further productions in 2004 and 2008 (their 2013 and 2018 productions, after my letters, do have a new design). Their rehearsal space includes large posters of my design up on their walls.
I'm sure it's true - most amateur theatre groups take artwork from the internet in ignorance, not with any malicious intent. But that doesn't make it right. It's very simple - copyright is the right to copy something. If you don't have that right (and you'll know if you do), then you should not use or copy someone else's work. Amateur theatre companies do know about rights and licensing because they cannot produce a play or musical without paying a fee and licensing the work from the publisher.
Artwork for promotion is no different. If in doubt about the value posters and artwork have then I can point to the company who were incensed that I'd requested the venue take down my artwork until we'd come to an agreement, claiming that every day their posters weren't up they could be losing sales. So ... artwork has value, then?
The photos below show some companies that have used my work without permission and perhaps this gives an indication of how important the visual element of promotion can be for a show.
Since starting up Logos For Shows, my original Oliver! logo has risen up the Google ranks, this time with my copyright notice attached. And for anyone who licenses my artwork, I request that they credit my art and provide a link back to my site as part of the terms and conditions (though, in fact, many forget to do this). This means that most people who search Google for Oliver! artwork and use it without permission have probably seen the 'copyright version' and have thought taking it from somewhere else was okay, or have thought the poor copy of my artwork was not in breach of my copyright - which is not correct, it is still an illegal copy of my work.
Sometimes the reaction to me asserting my copyright has been surprise that I would worry about small amateur companies using my design. But I am a self-employed illustrator - art is my livelihood which I use to try and pay my bills and feed my family. If Samuel French, Music Theatre International and Musicscope don't give their plays away for free, even to amateurs, if artwork has value to help promote a production, appearing on posters, banners, tickets, t-shirts, balloons, pennants, websites, adverts and in videos, then I think that creative work should be recognised and valued.
The Oliver! dancing trio silhouette artwork is © Garen Ewing 1998 and 2018 and is available to license for a very reasonable fee from Logos For Shows.
A little while later we decided to continue the series, but this time we chose ten war films to discuss - and we've just recorded and published episode 8, looking at the 2004 film Downfall.
George, born in 1898, was the third of four boys, sons of James Jervis, a steam roller driver, and Alice Mary Ecclestone. The family came originally from Staffordshire but moved to Epping in Essex around 1890. For the war George joined the 9th Battalion Essex Regiment and on 5th April 1918 the Chelmsford Chronicle reported him "seriously ill with gunshot wounds in the thigh".
While the 9th Essex were involved in an intense conflict on the 5th April, it is perhaps more likely that he was wounded at the end of March, probably during the severe fighting of the 27th around the town of Albert by the River Ancre. George died of his wounds at the British depot at Etaples on 8th April 1918. Just under a month later his parents received further devastating news when their second-eldest son, Clifford, was reported as wounded and missing. It turned out he had been taken prisoner and, happily, he survived the war.
Stewart John McHardy (also b. 1898) has had a brief mention before, in a post relating to the death of his cousin, Alexander Maxwell Smith (killed in April 1917). Both their fathers were killed in train accidents, Alexander's being struck down on the line outside Rosemount, near Blairgowrie, in 1927, and Stewart's falling from a train en route to Rosario in Argentina in 1916.
His father had moved out to Buenos Aires in about 1890 and, after starting out in farming, had graduated to the laying out of tennis courts and athletics pitches, later going into business as a sports outfitters and even branching into sales of Ford motor cars. Stewart had worked for his father, but a few months after his death he returned to the UK (he was born in Dundee) to enlist, arriving in London on the Highland Rover in October 1916 and joining the 7th London Regiment - 'The Shiny Seventh'. A year later he was commissioned Second Lieutenant and in early 1918 he was attached to the 2/19th London Regiment at Jerusalem. At the end of April they saw heavy action against the Turks at Es Salt in Jordan, and it was here that Stewart was killed in action.
See my family war memorial here.
Also in that opening scene we see some of the building's interior - a bit of the hallway, the library, the collection room, and Sir Alfred's office. Later we see the breakfast room, which also made an appearance in The Secret of the Samurai, where I mapped out the room more properly. This made a big difference to the way I drew it and the way it came across in the strip - it had a much better sense of both space and place. You can read a bit more about that in this blog post - The Secret of the Samurai - Part 2. Another post on designing the environment can be seen here - Map Room.
This is all part of my learning process and a desire to make the world that Julius Chancer inhabits more realistic, or at least more believable. With this in mind, and having to show yet more of Sir Alfred's house in the next adventure, I have ended up going the whole hog and mapping out the entire building, both exterior and interior. A bit crazy perhaps, but now the setting is real to me and makes sense. (Some of it was hard to make sense of as I'd already drawn various rooms with windows in various places - but it all joined up in the end!)
I won't say any more than they've released, which is that it's coming out in September 2018 and contains four new expansions for the game which can be added separately or combined together. The set includes four character cards, 18 adventure cards and 10 terrain cards.
Once again I had the pleasure of creating the artwork for Peer Sylvester's excellent game - and I can't wait to play the expansions myself!
The reaction ranged from calling Tommaso 'entitled' and 'arrogant' to solid support for his rant and empathy for his view. While there may have been a little truth to some of the criticisms (not including the ill-mannered name-calling) I could also sympathise - literally years of intensive work resulting in pitiful financial returns is why so many creators can't make a living from comics alone, or even spare the time to make them.
Of course the negative reaction to this view is because artists and writers are supposed to be grateful for even being able to touch the hem of a career in art, let alone get paid for it. There's still an attitude that such vocations should be done 'for the love of it' (as if you can't get paid for something you also love), even going so far, sometimes, as viewing any financial remuneration as a form of 'selling out'. Little understood among many outsiders is the fact of the increased burden on mental health that goes with doing something you are so passionate about, often resulting in an extreme love/hate relationship with the thing you're supposed to comfortably enjoy. Making comics is rarely a comfortable occupation.
It is true that no one is owed an audience. There's a market out there, and success in it can largely depend on whether you've made something that large numbers of people actually want to read. But first that market has to be made aware of the art in question and there are many stories of wonderful comics dying on the vine thanks to poor awareness or marketing. It's a challenge for both creators and publishers.
Thankfully, Tomasso's post, as well as opening a useful discussion, helped to heighten awareness of Spy Seal and resulted in an increase in sales, eventually leading to the publication of four issues and, in January 2018, a collected album.
It's a great book and I heartily recommend it. The drawing is very clean, almost severely clear line, but still retains charm and enough character to feel alive with movement. The design aesthetic is lovely. It's funny and mysterious in just the right measures and, while the obvious comparison may be with Hergé (there are numerous direct nods to specific Tintin adventures), it also put me in mind of the super Michael Crawford film, Condorman. Tommaso cites Danger Mouse as another influence, and I can see that too.
Spy Seal - The Corten-Steel Phoenix is published by Image Comics, runs to 96 pages, and retails for £11.99. I hope there'll be more to come.
I also want to give mention to Colin Mathieson's latest collection, Moments of Adventure 2. This was published through Accent UK last year and collects some of Colin's contributions to their anthology titles such as Robots, Pirates, Monsters and Remembrance Day.
I really love Colin's short stories, they always work well and contain a lot of heart, the theme often lingering beyond the closing of the covers. The colouring, this time by Aljoša Tomiĉ, adds a lot to Colin's art style and I hope there will be more work to come in this vein.
Moments of Adventure 1 and 2 are available from the Accent UK website.
And if you ever find yourself near the National Army Museum in London, make sure you check out Colin's work in their 'Story of British Military Comics' display, for which he worked on several pages (with colourist Matt Soffe) - a fantastic thing.
On a personal level, I'm pleased to see Corben recognised - he has long been a favourite of mine, though I must admit I have not been following his work over the past 18 years or so. I was, I think, 16 when I first came across his art - seeing just a tame panel or two from his 1978 "illustrated epic adventure of fantasy and magic", Neverwhere, I put it on my Christmas list and my younger brother bravely bought it for me. Seeing the full book for the first time was a bit of a shock for this rather sheltered young lad - most of the characters went around totally naked, baring their weighty anatomy without so much as a blush.
But once I got over that (and making sure my Mum never saw it), the main aspect that struck me was the solid vivaciousness of the art - the painting was incredible (how could someone produce so many pages of such detail and intensity?) and the characters were alive, squashy flesh, elastic muscle, poses I hadn't seen in comics before, expressions that conveyed everything, all bathed in light and shadow that made the drawings feel like tactile models.
The fight scenes in particular stood out - they were bone-crunchingly real, enough to make you wince while reading. Faces concertinaed under the weight of a fist, leg bones snapped from the force of a thrust kick that looked as though Corben must have studied martial arts at some point.
Corben quickly became my favourite artist (a panel here and there in my comic Realm of the Sorceress was directly copied from his work) and I sought out more of his stuff - not easy in that pre-internet era, when much of what was available was sold by specialists far away across the Atlantic. I got hold of the Complete Underground volumes, as well as Mutant World, Werewolf and Bloodstar. I discovered a sequel to Neverwhere, Muvovum, a work I found difficult to digest due to the unflinching physical detail of the monsters depicted.
Another to keep away from my Mum was The Bodyssey, though I preferred some of his more mainstream adaptations such as The Last Voyage of Sinbad (with Jan Strnad), Vic & Blood (Harlan Ellison), and, produced later, one of my favourite novels, William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland.
I've no doubt some of his work could be described as quite sexist, though perhaps it could also be argued that the men had equal rights when it came to nudity, and, contrary to what Le Figaro says, many of his female characters were intelligent, strong, and usually got the better of the often simpleton men - but you have to read the stories to see that. Then again, perhaps it doesn't help too much when viewed within an industry (comics) that already overwhelmingly objectifies women within its most visible genre (superheroes).
Another favourite, from the Collected Underground volumes, was Rowlf, the tale of a girl and her pet wolf - the Japanese genius of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, liked it so much he started to adapt it as a possible film project. One can only dream what that would have been like!
I drifted away from Corben after a while - perhaps much of his work was more suited to the male psyche when in its late-teen and early-twenties, and my interest in horror, especially graphically violent horror, quickly disappeared - though it really was his art that astounded me more than any attraction to the titillation or story content (a mixed bag) - and that has stayed with me to this day, particularly in the way I think about fight scenes in my own comics.
So, congratulations, Mr Corben - I should perhaps go and see what changes the new century has brought to your amazing work, and I hope there are many more projects yet to come.
The main content of the Supplement consists of 15 pages of notes and annotations for the complete story, a bibliography, a cover sketchbook, a handful of interviews, some RO Christmas cards, character genealogy, and more. For this digital release I've added in a few extra-extras, namely some more Christmas designs, a previously unavailable (at least publicly) interview, and a little extra artwork. The original Supplement was 48 pages, this one stands at 54. None of this repeats the extras collected at the back of The Complete Rainbow Orchid.
Out of interest, the RO Supplement did see a French translation of a kind - if you purchase the three-volume set of L'Orchidée Arc-en-ciel from BD Must then you also get Le Dossier, a smaller (16-page) edition of the Supplement, featuring three truncated/edited interviews and some different artwork (largely in colour - my English edition is in black and white). There are two versions - a brown 'Collector's edition', and a blue 'Press edition' - both with the same content.
To download the free (English language) Supplement PDF, visit the shop, scroll down to The Rainbow Orchid Supplement and you'll see the link there. Enjoy!
Partly this was because I did get a handful of comments of the 'who does he think he is?' kind, and I fully agree with that. I am no big name, no famous dude, and no wise guru. But the second 'thought' on my list was:
You can learn from anyone, no matter what their level of expertise, no matter what their age is. Stay humble and be generous.
And while it's difficult to be both humble and promote a self-written blog post, I am publishing a follow-up in the spirit of hoping others might find some of these thoughts resonate with them in some way. It's quite likely you'll agree with a few and disagree vehemently with others. This is a personal list.
As I said last time, these are extracted from a file I've kept on my desktop for a number of years that I add to whenever a thought occurs that I want to keep. Some are born out of my own experience, and some are from observing fellow creators. All of them should be taken with a pinch of salt, and none are any kind of gospel!
The great thing about making comics is that if you do a not-too-good drawing then there's another opportunity with the very next panel.
Comics - the art is the page, not the panel; the reason is the story, not the art.
Personally, and generally, the fewer creators who have worked on a book the more interested I am. The optimum is one.
There is no quick fix to success. You need kung-fu - effort!
Once your book has been released into the wild, it must fend for itself. Let go.
What your peers think about your work is of interest, but what your readers think of your work is of value.
Don't 'write women'. Write people
Getting bad reviews as well as good ones is a sign that your book is reaching people outside the comfort zone of your friends and family. This is a good thing.
Don't give away your comics - people don't appreciate free stuff as much as the stuff that they've paid for. Give a discount, maybe, but your work is always worth something.
Publishers paying creators for original new comics, made to be comics, shows the health and value of a national comic industry.
To keep an artist going, give praise at least once a week.
If you really want to know a subject you mustn't just read about it, you must write about it.
In my comics the 'camera' is generally an observer, not an active participant, but this is just a preference, not a law.
Don't believe anything a publisher promises unless it is in black and white in a contract. And sometimes, even then ...
If you're drawing an interior scene, draw a little plan of the set, even if you don't see everything in the comic - it helps to keep the background consistent and you'll know what should appear in each view.
If there's something you find difficult to draw, make sure you include it in your story.
Every time I finish a story I want to out-do myself on the next one.
I favour the 'Victorian ankle' theory of drama and excitement. If you show too much, so much of the time, then dramatic events have less impact. Use action well.
The primary purpose of a publisher is not to be your friend, but to make money out of you.
It can take ten good reviews to wipe out the taste of a single bad one.
I want to make stories for swimming in, not paddling in.
Dialogue can be just as compelling as action.
People often say "it'll all be worth it - one day they'll turn your book into a film!". I'd rather they said "what a brilliant comic - it's just right!".
Would you like to know the magic ingredients that go to make a wonderful story? There are three: blood, sweat, and tears.
It's not the kind of pen you use that will improve your drawing, it's the kind of brain you use. How do you make your brain better for drawing? Draw, and keep drawing.
Children are not the next generation of comics readers. They're comics readers right now.
When people are critical of your work you either want to give up or you want to work harder and do better. Choose the second option and you'll have a greater chance of success.
You have to put yourself in luck's way in order to be lucky. Get your work out there.
Sometimes you have a wonderful idea, full of possibilities. Then you tell someone about it and it turns to ashes.
Yes, I do manga. I also do fumetti, bande dessine, manhua, historietas, strips, chitrakatha, serier ... Comics!
It doesn't matter how little it is, just make sure you do something productive each day, even half-an-hour. You'll feel better.
Gamers, stamp collectors, comics fans; these are not tribes, they're groups of individuals each with a hundred different other interests too. Don't lump.
There's great satisfaction in making a new story out of old facts.
No one sneezes in a story unless it means something.
Nostalgia and tradition are wonderful things - but don't hang on to them too tightly. Use them when you need to, but let them go just as easily.
You don't have a 'strong male character' so let's get rid of the 'strong female character' description too. We're all brave, cowardly, strong and weak. Actions should define character.
No one is owed a readership. Every single reader you gain is earned by the daily effort of creating your comic. If you have them, they are deserved.
Even your biggest fans will forget you once they put your book back on the shelf.
Don't be your own enemy with negativity and self-pity. It's difficult enough to have any kind of success without holding yourself back. Be your own best ally.
The less you charge someone, the more work they'll ask you to do.
Be an awkward author sometimes - be nice, but care about the details of your work.
Don't wait to be 'in the zone' before you start drawing. It won't happen. The only way to get 'in the zone' is to start drawing, usually when you're not 'in the zone'.
Is that artist better or worse then you? It doesn't matter, but I'd suggest you get off their path and get back on to your own!
My mission is to find people who like my work, not to force people to like my work.
To keep the fire burning you have to feed it with pages of art. It will keep going for a while without being fed, but before too long it will go out. Then you you have to make a big effort to rekindle that fire - it won't just happen. Best to keep it going.
Too many opinions can dilute an idea to almost nothing.
It's not how good you are at drawing, it's how good you are at ideas.
If you need to draw an animal, don't just look at still photos but look at videos of how they move as well - it will give you a feel for the creature and the drawing will be better.
Uphill: plotting, scripting, roughs and pencils; downhill: inking, colouring and lettering.
My favourite comic pages, from my own pen, are all due to storytelling, not the art. Even just a little success on the page makes it for me.
Art is exposing your vulnerability, and what's more human than being vulnerable?
Don't dismiss the power of understatement in comics, not everything has to be overacted with extreme gestures.
There's no such thing as a 'boring layout' for comics - it just has to be clear. If you think the layout is boring then the story is not doing its job.
The background is the Fifth Beatle. By that I mean sometimes it helps to think of environment as another character in the scene.
Don't fight the world - just do the best you can, with the things you're good at, in your own little corner of it. Lots of people doing that will have a greater effect than one person trying to do everything.
See part one here.