23rd Jun 2007

How it’s done

I should be getting back on track shortly. I’ve been running around between work, home and my dad’s house for the last couple of weeks and really had very little time for drawing. Or for thinking about the story, which is probably more important. I don’t have a script. I have a rough idea of the shape of the story, and I try to work a couple of scenes ahead in my head, with events coming into sharper focus the closer I get to drawing them. The flood and clearing up after it have taken up most of my mental energies over the last couple of weeks, so upcoming scenes just haven’t been able to clarify themselves yet.

It occurs to me as I write the above that some of you might be interested in how I go about creating The Ulster Cycle. I have, it has to be said, a fairly peculiar working method.

gridAs I said before, I don’t have a script. I’ve tried writing scripts, but when I have a script I’m happy with I kind of feel “job done” and can’t motivate myself to draw it, and I’m a creative megalomaniac so I don’t trust anyone else to draw it. I also don’t pencil. For some reason my drawings lose a lot of the life and spontaneity the more preparation I put into them. Ever since I started doing life drawings in permanent marker I’ve felt my best drawings are done quickly in indelible media. I did some minicomics in this style about ten years ago and found it liberating. Having spent the last year or so trying to prepare an adaptation of The Cattle Raid of Cooley, the central story of the Ulster Cycle, and getting well and truly blocked on it, I decided to break the mental logjam in this tried and tested way.

My only concession to preparation is a grid drawn in black marker (see left), dividing the page into two, three and four tiers and columns, from which I trace the panel layout onto A4 printer paper in red biro, having given some thought to what note the page starts on, what it finishes on, how many and what size and shape of panels I’ll need to get from one to the other. Then I just start drawing, mainly still using my trusty red biro. If I’m lucky that’ll be the only tool I’ll use, but I usually also have recourse to a bit (or a lot) of Tippex. On occasion, particularly early on, I’ve used a pink highlighter pen for tone, and in one instance finished a panel in black biro because detail and depth were getting lost in red. Dialogue is roughed in as I go. It’s not unheard of, if a panel goes badly, to redraw it on another page and paste it over the original. Below is what the pages look like when they’re drawn.


Then I scan the page in RGB colour, greyscale it, and darken it by adjusting the brightness and contrast in Photoshop. Heavy biro drawing sometimes crinkles up the page and creates shadows on the scan, but these can be removed by deleting the red channel before I convert it to greyscale. The lettering is done in Photoshop using a font I made from my hand lettering using High-Logic Font Creator, and sometimes I’ll take the opportunity to redraft the dialogue.

I decided at the start not to use word balloons, but to connect the dialogue to the characters with a simple tail, like Brian Talbot did in the original version of Luther Arkwright, and Eddie Campbell often does in his autobiographical strips. It’s a stylistic thing that appeals to me for some reason. More artists should do it.

Anyway, that’s how it’s done.

8 Responses to “How it’s done”

  1. Rixou Says:

    Glad to see you’re getting back on track! Very interesting behind the scenes shots here. Losing energy and details as a result of overly fine tuning drawings is a problem I have too. Am considering breaking my usual pencil-before-ink routine and doing it all in pencil when I get round to my own Celtic comic (it’ll happen, eventually). It does seem fitting that the subject matter should be captured in a similarly raw and candid style :)

  2. paddybrown Says:

    Go for it, and I hope it works for you. The great thing about digital technology is we’re not limited any more to the classic brush/pen and ink style, which was only necessary because of the limitations of letterpress printing.

  3. Marc Raab Says:

    I like your method of working. I can appreciate the need for spontaneity. When I got started drawing my own comics, that seemed like the most natural way for me to work, also. However, I ended up getting too anal and critical of my own work. Subsequently, I have spent the last 18 or so years reworking the same comic over and over again. It’s gotten to be quite the OCD exercise. (ha ha).

    I don’t do a lot of internet posting, but you are the first person I’ve seen on the web to reference Brian Talbot. I have been very influenced by Arkwright in my own work, but found no one else who knew what I was talking about. Even on the P. Craig Russell message board, believe it or not.

    Thanks again for sharing your work. I want more, now, please.

    Marc Raab

  4. paddybrown Says:

    How can anybody not like Bryan Talbot? That’s like not liking ice cream or something.

    Page 34 is about a third drawn. I have a couple of other projects on the go that are dividing my attention at the moment.

  5. » Blog Archive » Forthcoming comics Says:

    […] you’ve been following my blog since last June you may remember that I’ve been drawing The Ulster Cycle in red biro, but greyscaling it and […]

  6. Gavin Says:

    I don’t like ice cream but I do like Bryan Talbot. Tale Of One Bad Rat is a great comic. Fascinated to see you work in red biro, and some art does lose it’s life force with pencil/inks.

  7. paddybrown Says:

    Don’t like ice cream? Well, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, I suppose. And yes, One Bad Rat is brilliant.

    Hope you’re enjoying the recent pages. I’m working with a new scanner, and it comes out looking much more like the original drawings.

  8. Joe Williams Says:

    Very cool process. I’ve been considering trying to do something similar as I “freeze” a bit when it comes to pencilling and then inking where when I just draw in ink it looks so much better and has a LIFE to it. Hmm….

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