Imp Interuptus

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Work on the Tale of the Crippled Imp had to be set aside recently as a number of jobs needed attention. I haven’t decided whether being interrupted on a big project is for the greater good, or a pain in the fundament. On the one hand, it’s good to step away for a while and return with a clearer eye, on the other hand it rather damages the flow of things. Certainly my right hand is grateful for the rest, as the method I’ve chosen to execute the Imp with is physically demanding – I have to press quite hard with the pencil to achieve a nice clean line for scanning and it can result in achey knuckles.

Achey Knuckles – good name for a dodgy East-End character?

Achey doesn’t appear in the latest Ben Kingdom book (a detail of the cover appears above), but there are plenty of other interesting protagonists with cool sounding names. As well as the cover, I’ve just finished some illustrations for the inside. The world of Ben Kingdom is set in Victorian times, infused with a heady aroma of Steampunk (it’s not about cooking so that little metaphor is rather redundant), so I like to revisit my Larklight style of old. This pen and ink technique conjures up the feel of old etchings, but is primarily borrowed from Franklin Booth, an American illustrator from the early 20th century. It was also used to great effect by Berni Wrightson in his amazing version of Frankenstein made in the seventies.

Here’s a picture from the previous Ben Kingdom book, the Feast of Ravens by Andrew Beasley:

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I also squeezed in a couple of book covers, Nightmares and Magic Park 2:

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And a map for the Spook’s Apprentice series, featuring the county of Lancashire. I used an old John Speed map from the 17th century as a guide; it was interesting to see which place names had changed. For example Liverpool was called Lerpool. I’m not sure when the ‘Liver’ bit was added. See? Children’s book illustration can be educational as well as fun!

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Smatterings

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It’s been a peripatetic kind of month, both with living arrangements and work, so there’s a lot to get through.

First up, The Forbidden Library debacle. Every now and then, a book cover just doesn’t work out; despite every effort. I had to abandon the project in the end as I needed to get on with the Crooked Imp, but luckily the publishers weren’t too disgusted with my failure and let me do some illustrations for the inside (hence the girl in the library above – more books! I can’t get enough of them…). Here are some of the roughs for the cover:

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Then it was back to Oxford, where the landscape had changed somewhat since my last visit.

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These are the same willows as in my previous post; a couple of days after this was taken the tow path was completely submerged which curtailed my walks somewhat. I quite enjoyed watching surprised looking Coots and Grebes plop into the water only to zoom off down the river, which had become a fast flowing lake/bird motorway.

Coots and Grebe. Sounds like a firm of solicitors from a Dickens novel.

Like the Thames, Alfie the cat had expanded too.

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Luckily he still had kittenish tendencies and was a fun, if occasionally psychotic, companion.

People often ask me advice about how to become an illustrator, or how to draw, etc. My usual answer is to demand they draw a lot, especially from life; it really helps develop the artist’s powers of observation. Do I follow my own advice? Do I heck.

But I did do a little sketch in the Sheldonian Theatre whilst waiting for the Elias Quartet to show up and swathe me in lovely music…

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Not a particularly interesting image, but it meant I had a really good look around and absorbed things into my visual memory that would normally slip away very quickly. Having said that, I’m not sure if a host of golden cupids parping away on trumpets will be particularly useful in the future, but you get the idea…

When sketching in these situations, I always think to myself I should make more of a habit of it so I feel less of a hypocrite when I suggest others should do likewise. The evidence of my slackness is manifest in my sketchbook – here is the last picture I did in situ, which was at least 3 years ago, I think.

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Meanwhile, The Crooked Imp progresses (hobbles?) further to completion. I’ve just finished page 34, and begun some promotional bits and bobs.

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To avoid spoilers (and the fact I want people to actually buy it) I can’t show too much in the way of finished pages, but here’s one (minus speech balloons) featuring the Jellicoe gang in their hideout… 

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The Spook Rides Again

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It’s ten whole years since the Spook first made his hooded appearance. The thirteenth book, Spook’s Revenge is just out, and I’m taking a short break from The Crooked Imp to illustrate the next in the series. I’m told the film, which was due out next month, has been put back. The trailer seems to have disappeared from the internet; it didn’t look much like the book did in my head, but it had an interesting cast, including Jeff ‘The Dude’ Bridges, Kit ‘Jon Snow’ Harington and Julianne ‘also in The Big Lebowski’ Moore.

There’s a short interview about my involvement in all things Spooky over at Fantasy Book Review.

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The Word Witch

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I started this Local Character back in Summer, but (comme d’habitude) I wasn’t happy with it and it’s been sitting patiently in my kitchen awaiting some attention. The idea of the magical throne of books had been lurking in my head for a while; I just hadn’t found the right subject to take centre stage. Luckily, Theodora Goss visited last year and, as a lecturer and writer specialising in myths and fairy tales, seemed an excellent choice to take the seat.

Anyway, having tinkered with it a little I’m now a bit happier. Here’s the little scribble from whence it sprang…

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Meanwhile, half of The Tale of the Crooked Imp is drawn…

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Twenty pages are coloured and finished, although I keep discovering continuity errors and things that nag at me until I give in and change them. I have found myself lying in bed at night worrying about the interior decor of a Troll’s pie shop (amongst other things), which I’m assuming is not normal or healthy. But, good news for the future, as The Phoenix (where the Crooked Imp will take it’s first steps into the world) was nominated the second best comic of last year by Time magazine.

Misty Moors vs. Dreaming Spires

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I’ve spent five weeks in the city of Oxford, In order to to get a good start on the Tale of the Crooked Imp. David Fickling locked us in his office until things started to shape up; apparently he did the same to Philip Pullman when he was writing His Dark Materials (that might not be true).

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Anyway, Conrad, Will, David and I spent many an hour thrashing out the story and how it could be better served narratively and visually. It was tough going, but very rewarding. Will is the editor of The Phoenix, where the Crooked Imp will be first published in episodes, before being released as a graphic novel later next year.

When I was allowed out, I spent my time being stalked, Cato-like, by Alfie the kitten.

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I went for a lot of walks by the many rivers – Oxford is the willow capital of the country.

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I was often accompanied by the town Heron, who was less bothered by the thundering traffic than I was…

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I also did a lot of drawing, between Handel concerts at the Sheldonian. There was a lot of Handel music in Oxford. Here are a couple of finished pages of the Crippled Imp, to whet your appetite…

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At the top of this post is an old postcard of one of my favourite bits of Oxford architecture that I often walked by (and Oxford is particularly rich in architectural loveliness) – it looked particularly mad illuminated at night but I’m afraid my photograph didn’t come out very well. It’s counterpointed by a lovely twisty tree that probably was a mere sapling when this picture was taken, but I think it captures the feel of the place quite nicely.

Comic Quandaries

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So I’ve finished story-boarding the Tale of the Crippled Imp, the forthcoming graphic novel; it’s now in the hands of the editors, who will help Conrad and I fashion it into something worth reading. Here are some of the rough pages…

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While all that is being examined, I’ve turned my attention to the technical details of how I’m actually going to present the finished thing. Traditionally, comics are pencilled then inked and coloured, but I’ve been experimenting with cutting out the inking process by computer trickery courtesy of Photoshop. Using a filter called ‘threshold’, it’s possible to turn a pencil drawing into a black and white outline.

Here is one of the characters to help demonstrate:

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1 is the original pencil drawing, 2 is the ‘threshold’ application, 3 has been coloured mostly using Painter, which provides nice watercoloury textures. My current quandary involves whether to go for the stark black and white line drawing look of 4, or to leave the pencil as it is (5). I quite like the natural feel that this gives, but I might lose the crispness of the line drawing approach. I’ll probably have to do a whole page to see how it looks with either option – hopefully that will make the decision easier (bet it doesn’t). I have used a similar technique before, when I made Sunsound, but I wasn’t completely convinced of the effectiveness (admittedly I didn’t use the ‘threshold option, just upped the contrast of the pencil drawing). I was inspired to give it another go while reading about the creation of the excellent Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon, who used a similar technique: read about it here. Like me, he fears the tyranny of the inked line…

180 Million Years in the Making

…Well, it seems that long. Lovely Nghiem from Templar Publishing came down at the weekend with a box of Dinosaurologies, fresh from the printers.

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I did the cover way back in February 2012, and completed the 14 colour interior pictures last summer.

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As usual, this ‘Ology is packed full of secret flaps, maps, things to pull out and generally rummage around in. It’s crammed full of illustrations – other artists who worked on the book are Gary Blythe, Douglas Carrel, Helen Ward and Nikki Palin.

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As is traditional, there are a few things I would have preferred to have painted better, but I like the overall feel of the book. Unlike some of my previous Ology’s, I went for a more muted, watercolour look that I feel sits nicely with the ‘explorer’s journal’ atmosphere. This was achieved mostly in a program called Painter. It probably took the same amount of time to paint digitally as it would have using real paints, but there were a lot of changes made along the way (due to story developments and layout alterations) which would have been very difficult to do on traditional artwork.

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Dinosaurology (being an account of Percy Fawcett’s expedition into the unknown) will be available in September.

 

Trolls in Tricorns, Fishmongers, Griffins, etc.

Recently I’ve been making a lot of sketches for book covers and the on-going pre-production for the Tales of Fayt project.

Here is a portrait of a family of Griffins for the German edition of a book called Menagerie. This won’t be the final design; I need to re-think everything, but I may be able to salvage some of Griffin pups for future use.

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Here are some concept drawings for The Tale of the Crippled Imp, being the first episode of the comic strip I’m working on with Conrad Mason.

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I’ve storyboarded the first few pages; now I need to refine things and really work out the characters so I know what they look like from various angles. To help with this endeavour I thought it might be useful to construct my own models. Unfortunately my sculpting skills are abysmal. I also forgot the troll was in the oven and he came out with toasted ears and a crispy hat, which is why I’ve had to cover up the burnt areas with paint. Never mind, the Tricorn hat will be useful as they are a nightmare to draw without reference.

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The Widdershins Report

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On Friday night the Widdershins exhibition was officially opened.

The preview evening was extremely well attended; the gallery could barely contain the throng and it spilled out onto the street (filled with the sounds of Klezmer, ably evoked by Tim, Lisa and Rima).

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Two of the exhibiting artists can be spotted in the above photograph, Brian Froud and Terri Windling. All the other artists were in attendance, with the exception of Wendy Froud who is recovering from an operation (get well soon Wendy!) and Alan Lee who is still wrestling with Hobbits in Middle Earth (New Zealand).

The top picture features a sculpture by Virginia Lee with a lovely background by Neil Wilkinson Cave. Below, A Paul Kidby sculpture calmly observes my Gidleigh Goat going about his business…

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I took lots of pictures on the night, but because it was so hot they all came out blurry (except this one which features a back view of Marja Lee). To make up for this here is a link to a front view of Marja by Brian.

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On Saturday we did a mass book signing and I stayed on to see Paul and Vanessa Kidby present a talk (if you weren’t aware, Paul is Terry Pratchett’s main illustrator as well as an excellent sculptor). I sneaked into the gallery just as it was closing to get some non-blurry snaps…

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Hazel Brown displayed a selection of intriguing Faerie assemblages (above). Hazel has known the Frouds for many years and provided the typography for Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book, amongst other things. Below, Paul’s sculpture guards a couple of Alan Lee paintings (one is the Widdershins painting detailed earlier in this Blog).

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Next week, Hazel, Virginia and I are attending a ‘coffee with the artists’ thingy; Terri Windling will be overseeing. There will be lots of previously unseen artwork to rummage through, and lots of insights into the creative mind (at least that’s what I’m hoping to get). There are also lots of other events going on over the course of the exhibition; check the Green Hill site for all the details.