Monday, May 30, 2011

T-shirts on the internet

Here are the 10 categories of successful tshirts on the internet

1. Pop culture recognition humour / copyright violation
2. Self-affirming message
3. Acknowledgement of under-represented group
4. Acknowledgement of under-represented pastime
5. An extremely "clever" image
6. A sensational piece of easily "gettable" wordplay
7. Unexpired meme
8. Food and drink
9. Come-on / invitation to a come-on
10. Juxtaposition/combination of items 1-9

Every time I broke these rules, I ended up with a lot of leftover shirts.

The ultimate non-expiring meme is "cats". You're welcome.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Here's what I'll be doing at MCM Expo

I'm exhibiting at MCM Expo in London this weekend, and it's a funny old show. So I have a new feature: GO MANGA. Perhaps there are some clues to what I am up to in the image below:

Pick three cards at random and I will draw you as an ultimate manga king or queen based on those three characteristics. If anyone wants to add to my list of three-word-max criteria, please feel free to add your suggestion in the comments. So far I have:

Robot armour
Stupid cute sidekick
Weird eye thing
Huge boots
Totally dreamy
Big hair
Oversized dangerous weapon
Air of mystery

I'll have a couple of books for sale and some stickers and badges, but this time I'm here to meet people and draw. So please come and say hello!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fear Of Failure

Iconic designer Milton Glaser (of "I Heart NY" fame) on "fear of failure", professionalism and experimentation. Whatever your field, I think you can learn something from this sage seven minutes.

Milton Glaser – on the fear of failure. from Berghs' Exhibition '11 on Vimeo.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Giant Days Redux

I really enjoyed working on this week's Giant Days comics. They were complex to make, more difficult layouts that I had tried before. Most of them are like two of my normal comics in one - the first things I've done that I'd want to print at an A4 size rather than the smaller size that I usually work at.

I had intended to draw them all like the test comics I posted last week, but half way through the second one, I started to feel like I could give them a bit more polish and make them really nice. Below is the first one I did in pencil - and here's the version I actually ran. I like both, but the subsequent pages needed more than I could give them in this rougher style. Difficult to explain!

Incidentally, I came up with the pencil-and-photoshop method as a way of saving time. By the time I'd done a couple of them, I had gobbled up almost all that time filling in lovely ragged looking brick walls. There is also a measure of extra care required when laying out panels. Add in scanning, putting on proper panel borders, and clean-up, and the savings were negligible.

Though working on Giant Days made me want to do a proper, longer, story, returning to Bad Machinery straight away has felt right, straight away. I love the characters and of all my projects , it's the one that feels like it has the most gas in the tank. I hope you'll enjoy The Case Of The Lonely One.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hey artists...'s a blog post from Phil McAndrew full of copper-bottomed advice. To take an example:

We all have particular artists that we love and have been influenced by. But one of the worst things you can do is to get stuck on those artists or to try to imitate them. Yes, it’s good to study other people’s art and learn from it but don’t just hone in on one or two artists that you really admire. Study LOTS of people’s work.

If you only allow yourself to be influenced by James Kochalka you’ll just end up as a poor man’s version of James Kochalka. No one draws like James Kochalka better than James Kochalka. Why would anyone care about your work when they just go look at a James Kochalka book? James Kochalka is an awesome cartoonist and you can learn a lot by studying his work BUT make sure you learn something from a lot of other artists too. If you’re drawing comics, try ignoring other people’s comics for a while. Find inspiration in novels or nature documentaries or old videos of Etta James on Youtube or poetry or newspaper articles. Your comics will be much better if you do this. You won’t find success if your only sources of inspiration are other comics that are already popular. A thousand other people are already trying to make something just like that one comic you love and chances are most of them aren’t going to find much success either.

It’s also important to go outside and experience new things and interact with people. The world will feed you new ideas and new sources of inspiration. If the only thing you are able to write about or joke about is video games then may the good comics lord have mercy on your soul.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A treatise on contemporary covers

I was in Forbidden Planet in Manchester about a week ago, and took a moment to look at the comic book covers. Or rather, I challenged my friend Joe to find even one acceptable, nicely designed cover on all the "mainstream" pamphlets. Now, I'm not going to tell you that we didn't find any, because we did. Out of about 250 books, we found three.

The other 247 covers hove to one of three formulae, either singly or in combination:

1. Stiff, stock pose, glaring outward
2. Warring dudes/dames collide or hero legs it: SIDEWAYS
3. Tits to the fore!

I do wonder if the people who commission these covers have actually seen what 247 covers featuring no negative space to catch the eye, racked side by side, look like. Well, I'm happy to tell you. They don't look like anything.

Here are two of the three non-terrible covers we found:

(The last one I couldn't find online, it was a Matt Fraction Marvel book with a very striking design).

If you want to see some amazing comic book covers from the last 30 years, check out this gallery of Bill Sienkiewicz work - so many faultless compositions. The older I get, the more I appreciate his art.

Of course, rubbish has been around since the first human put down the burnt umber, scratched his bum, squinted a bit, and said "that'll do." But comic book covers, like so many contemporary novels and magazines, show more clearly than anything where heavy-handed marketing has killed innovation and creativity. Where, to put it bluntly, thick people have smoothed out the wrinkles that made things interesting, beautiful or incongruous.

It's your money they want, and they treat you like you're stupid. Demand better!

Friday, May 06, 2011


At last this has been announced, so I can talk about it! I've done four pages for this:

I tend to steer clear of anthologies, usually because I have no short pieces to contribute to them, little time, or rather, little time or inclination to work for free (because you are inevitably working for our old friend "exposure"). But Nelson provided the opportunity to work with talented people and contribute to a greater whole. I can't wait to see it in its finished form.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Anya's Ghost

Back in 2002 at San Diego Comic-con, I met a young artist called Vera Brosgol. Vera was a fan of my work, although when I saw her drawings, it was hard to tell why - as in her late teens she was already capable of better than anything I could manage. That she ended up working in the movies is no surprise.

And she did a few guest strips for me, back when I was a contender, all of which were superb! Check them out. In addition, Vera offered me a few nuggets of (frankly, violently blunt) advice four or five years ago that completely changed the way I drew and set me on a path of constant self-improvement. I'm never going to catch her up, but it's good to keep running towards that Russian dot on the horizon.

And at last, 9 years after that initial encounter, Vera's first graphic novel Anya's Ghost is about to drop (via the auspices of First Second Books). I've read it, it is superb.

So congratulations, Vera. You're sometimes right, sometimes wrong - but always certain.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


I've been laying out The Case Of The Simple Soul for a little book that will hopefully be available at MCM Expo at the end of the month. Time is against me to an extent, but I'll try to have them ready. Looking over 94 of an eventual 98 completed pages (I still have 4 to draw), I noticed a couple of things:

1. Apparently I was keen to fill every square inch with as much detail as possible. In black and white (as these convention-special collections are), the pages suddently look very, very dense. No wonder I'm so tired, I've been drawing these loony-looking pages for 26 weeks straight!

2. This story is probably quite a lot better than the two that preceded it.

Still no news about proper published colour collections I'm afraid. As discussed ad nauseam, I could put them out myself tomorrow, but I've been doing that for eight years, I think I can make better books and reach a lot more people with the right help. That help has, thus far, been harder than expected to find - but I hope to get there. Several of my friends have offered kind assistance along the way.

I also want to link to a great blog, Alison Sampson's 'Space In Text' - it's a hugely thorough round-up of very strong illustration by someone with an excellent eye for it. A great place to go for inspiration or just to feel better about this dang ol' world.

Monday, May 02, 2011

In absentia

This week's comics constitute the penultimate week of "The Case Of The Simple Soul". After next week, I've lined up five guest comics which will hopefully a. inform, b. entertain and c. delight you. I have also cooked up a daily sideshow event to the guest strips, an experiment that worked well enough to cast the cold light of day upon. The week after guest week, I will be living for pleasure alone. I'm not sure what I'm going to draw, but I'm not desperate to start another 100 page story immediately. So whatever it is should offer a quick hit of, and I choose my words carefully here, untrammelled excellence.

(Due to the fact that I work a week ahead, next week I will actually be on my holidays, collecting brass-rubbings in the crypts of East Anglia.)

In the remainder of May, you will be able to see me, alive and enervated, at the MCM Expo at London Docklands (May 27-29). More on that later in the month.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

On this day in history

I was looking back through some old guest strips and found the folder for my 2008 "Feats Of Strength" competition. Here it is! I can't believe the standard of the entries. The winner by Lissa Treiman (left) was amazing, I still remember being blown away when I received it.

Where is she now? Oh yes, working at Disney. It all worked out.

A week or so ago I asked for submissions for a similar fill-in week, but I didn't go about it in the right way. Bar one, I couldn't really tell from most of the people who wrote to me whether they would be able to make something that made sense as a fill-in for me. Earnest offers were made but I wasn't sure what I was looking at. I'll work out a proper reader submission thing later in the year, in the spirit of past events.