Well I’ve just finished laying out the groundwork for page 14 of Cancertown chapter 6 (the final chapter of vol. 1), so I’d thought I’d take a little break and talk about making comics.
I’ve been incredibly busy lately, finishing off chapter 6 of Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth, as well as fitting in my ’day’ job as a traditional music tutor. I add the “inverted commas” because my lessons don’t always take place during the day and are frankly all over the show. Some of the school lessons start at 11 in the morning, others don’t start at 7 at night. Without my handy phone calendar I wouldn’t have a clue where I was meant to be.
Which brings me to today’s topic: Comics take a bloody long time to draw.
They do. In fact creating comicbooks isn’t just a hobby or a job for me, its pretty much a lifestyle. Almost every waking moment I’m not teaching I need to be at the drawing board in order to meet deadlines, and even while I’m sleeping I’m dreaming of upcoming scenes.
I’m exaggerating slightly, I do take a breaks to eat, and I always have to schedule in some ‘Aimee time’ (that’s the girlfriend), but Its been a long time since I’ve really had a lot of time to myself. There’s a pile of about 40 comics from months gone by I’ve yet to read, graphic novels and books from Christmas 07 left lonely and unread, A little pile of Dvd box sets that yearn for my attention but are left sealed for now. I’m so far behind that in my mind Jack Bauer has a full head of blond hair and I’m shocked by his appearance on the TV ads for 24 season 7.
But I digress, and its my own fault really because they’re self inflicted deadlines. Before I started Cancertown, in the whole 23 years of my life I’d drawn about 15 actual comic pages. There’s a shed full of old note and art pads, full of scribbles and drawings that I’ve collected through the years but no proper storytelling work. I had this great idea that when I ‘grew up’ I was going to draw comics, but never sat down and properly trained myself to do it. Time is a nice luxury and when your spoilt by it, sometimes its too comfortable to discard.
I didn’t really feel the need to break into comics while I was at school. I did send one really awful Man-Thing sample to Marvel when I was 15 (never heard back L ) and I felt sort of burned out on art after finishing my A level art coursework work so a lot of my creative urges were settled playing music. After school I hadn’t planned on going to university and toured Europe, America and Australia for months at a time playing flute in the Irish dance show ‘Rhythm of the dance’ (not quite Riverdance, but it paid well enough and took me travelling) and after that I started University, so drawing fell a bit to the wayside (though the doodle filled notebooks undertook a re-emergence at lectures).
I had drawn a few 1 to 4 page strips in Small Axe comics, a local Arts Council funded comicbook, that I’d leant about from the guys at the Talisman comicbook store (now Forbidden Planet Belfast) where I used to work, but it finished up on its third issue and It wasn’t until I heard of the first Derry 2D comicbook festival in 2007 that I thought I’d really better get a move on if I ever wanted to be a professional Comic artist.
I gave myself, if I can remember, about 3 weeks to do a 3 page Daredevil strip, and by con time I had managed 2 and a half. I gave myself too much time and I doodled on one panel for a week. Every house in Hells Kitchen had windows, every window had a sill, every sill had cracks and in every crack lived a family of tiny insects that I tried to draw in.
I did the same thing again for the first Bristol comic con (that I leant about at the Derry festival), taking my time on each panel, leaving it sitting on my desk for days just thinking about it, making sure every detail was right on my Constantine sample, and I didn’t get a third page done.
My first lesson learnt in comics; I needed a proper deadline and the will to enforce it. Nothing vague like ‘I’ll do 3 pages in a month’ because art gets put aside or laboured over or erased and time just generally slips away, but a proper deadline that would keep me constantly working. If comic professionals need to do be able to draw 4/5 pages, it wouldn’t do much good if I didn’t have the will power to do something similar.
I showed off those samples at the Birmingham comic Con the same year and the guys at Insomnia liked my work and so a little while later I got lined up to Cancertown. So when Crawford, head honcho of Insomnia publications, asked me what sort of speed I was working at, I knew I had to buckle down. I knew professionals could do a page a day, but I wasn’t quite ready for that and I was doing the inking as well so I knew It would tale a bit longer than that. I took a week and drew and I drew none stop, up until at least four each morning, until by the end of the week I had four fully pencilled and inked pages. I told Crawford I’d be doing about 4 pages a week. And it worked, I buckled down and for the most part that’s what I’ve produced (I even managed to do a page in 6 hours once)
Although at that time I was only a student, teaching only a few classes during the week. It was also before I realised the project was 144g pages long, not counting the extra pages I added in as I went along. I also didn’t factor in the one thing I hated about creating comics…. the scanning. So I’ve had a few breaks and hiccups along the way that I’ll talk about another time.
Well this blog post rambled on longer than I expected. I need my short breaks to keep my sanity but I must get back to the drawing board and adding the details to Morley and Co. I’ll try to keep the next post less waffley and autobiographical and a little more about actually drawing :)
Next Time: The solution to the scanning problem that made my life bliss.