Thursday, February 24, 2011



Within two minutes of meeting each other, Leeds' top illustrator Kristyna Baczynski and I had come up with an incredible invention. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here we are modelling it.

We've not set a price yet, but you should probably form a line outside your nearest branch of Woolworths.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Writer's regret

In art, you're meant to be able to rewrite all the mistakes that you made in life. But the more I look back at Scary Go Round from a point of years' remove, the more I see the glaring mistakes that I made. They're not "ran over a granny on a zebra crossing" type mistakes, more the permanently documented evidence of missed opportunities and mis-steps.

There's definitely a point in Scary Go Round where I start writing the comic that I think people want, rather than the one that I wanted to write. Don't worry, I couldn't have written that comic at the time even if I'd wanted to. I didn't have the tools, some might say "chops", to do so.

The biggest hole, for me, was at the heart of Esther and The Boy's relationship. It's expressed in such vague terms. The average story was 45 pages long, which didn't leave a lot of room to get to the root of the matter. It's only since writing the new comic that I've begun to understand some of those older characters properly.

Part of the reason that I wanted Bad Machinery to be about kids, and slower, was that I could look at these things more closely. I love drawing nutty things, but it's the interpersonal stuff that interests me when I write, more now than ever.

I used to try to fit as many firecrackers as I could into a comic's dialogue, now I'm more concerned with what I can leave out while saying as much as possible. Does that make sense?

In art, you can always go back, but it's best to press on. Endless revision is the domain of the insecure. I did do a couple of little drawings while I was thinking about this though. Perhaps you can see them.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In support of libraries

I believe passionately in libraries and have been horrified by the prospect of closures throughout the system as part of local government cuts. I tried to make a useful comic to help but it wound up being a bit... flawed?

I am an economist: THE EURO

What few of my readers know is that I am a skilled economist, and that my knowledge of the field is not restricted to hanging around the front door of the L.S.E giving winsome number-crunchers the glad-eye. I'm about to blow your mind by solving one of the major issues of the day.


Economic brains such as myself know that it is all over bar the shouting for the Euro. European monetary union seemed great until crazy nations went buck wild, got drunk on debt, and blew up. Germany can't bail everyone out! If Spain "goes Ireland", no one will have any cash left. The global economy will collapse, government bonds will be used to line canary cages and you'll be buying chickens with your gold fillings.


Several commentators have suggested a two-tiered Euro, one for all the economic basket cases, and another for the sensible countries. I say this is no good. You're storing up problems for the future.


At a predetermined time, all countries in the Eurozone will reintroduce their original national currencies. Issuing new tender will be impossible, so every citizen will have the responsibility of crossing out "Euro" on notes and coins and writing "francs" or "lira" (etc) on there. They will also append as many zeroes as their country's central bank deems necessary. For francs, one zero. For lira, ten or eleven. And here's the important bit: no one acknowledges that they were ever a member of the Euro, ever again.


No, they're not. But what can they do about it? This process works on a simple principle. Imagine European monetary union as a big office Christmas party. Everyone gets drunk. People misbehave. Someone screams at someone else during a blackout. Someone is sick on someone. Two people have "extra-marital sexual intercourse". Someone calls the boss "a knob" to his face. But the next day, you've all got to get along again. So nothing is ever said about the matter. And the hurt, like the hangover, fades.


Rubbish. Come up with one example of when 326 million people simultaneously flat-out denying that they were ever members of a single currency has failed. You can't. And that's the point.


You're welcome.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Colin Meloy on the "race to the bottom"

The quotes below are from a recent interview on Pitchfork with Colin Meloy. I've tried to make a post about this a couple of times on my blog but never managed to phrase it as succinctly as he does. He's referring to the music industry, but what he says is as true for any other entertainment sphere and mine in particular.

(The emphasis of certain sections is mine)

Pitchfork: Sixty-five percent of the sales for The King Is Dead were digital downloads, and a number of those were a result of Amazon's $3.99 album pricing. Not everyone's a fan of that particular practice. What's your take?

CM: It's their prerogative. It's like Costco-- they're just trying to get people onto the site. We don't take a hit. That said, there's bigger things at play. It's the devaluing of music. But music has been already devalued by the consumer. There's an expectation that it should be free so the race to the bottom has already been won. It's just a question of how we continue to protect copyrights and support the people who are making music. We are wiping out a potential generation of new voices because it's not as easy to get into it and support yourself. I have no idea what the solution to that is.

Pitchfork: Well, with new technologies, it seems like there are more avenues for people who want to make their voices heard popping up every day.

CM: Yeah, but when everybody is playing at the same level, there's so much more noise. And there's less incentive for the people who should be rising above that noise to take time and invest in what they're doing. It just becomes about hustling and grabbing attention.

Webcomics is the sphere where you give it all away. All your hard work, all of it. It works to an extent, but only to an extent. Giving away your backbreaking labour then selling someone a tshirt based on a Star Wars joke you knocked out in fifteen minutes is mental. I don't expect this to change, I don't think there are answers, but there are days that I want to shed tough, manly tears as I package up orders or desperately try to design merchandise when I could be doing a fifth, a sixth comic for the week.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Pencil cleanup in Photoshop

I've been trying to work out the best way to use just my pencil art to make comics, without inking it. Not for my main feature, but for fun side-projects, just to cut out some of the donkey work, to knock out quick comics for shows and things like that. I have a pretty serviceable pencil line - I've spent years practising not hashing around shapes but drawing things straight out.

The problem has been turning that greyscale art into something I can colour quickly with flood fills, which is to say, a grubby grey page into nice clean B&W line art. Here's how I did the image above.

1. Scan page at 600dpi greyscale.

2. Set the magic wand tolerance to 30, non-contiguously select the "paper" and fill it with white

3. Deselect the paper

4. Filters > Blur > Smart blur ; Radius: 4, Quality: High, Threshold: 75.4, Mode: Normal

5. Select the white area with the magic wand, non-contiguous, invert selection and fill with black

6. That should do it!

This didn't work perfectly on every image I tried it on - and fine details will suffer somewhat, but have a play with the settings - the basics are all there!

If you find this saves you a lot of time, maybe whole years of your life, why not visit my shop and express your gratitude in the only language my venal mind understands.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Munch Bunch

One of the most impressive developments of the 1990s was the discovery of how to extract every drop of charm from concepts that had previously been twee but delightful. To avoid breaking hearts all over town, I'll present the horrors first, followed by the originals.

By the late nineties, this was The Munch Bunch, 'tood-crazy yogurt shills

But fifteen years earlier, they had been a low-budget but sweetly wiggy puppet show featuring (in this episode) an incredible reggae jam, a weeping onion and some mad Moog incidental music. This is genuinely the same thing.

Another egregious instance of this madness was Sugar Puffs' Honey Monster campaign. By the mid-nineties he had become a faintly sinister character, puffed up not with wheat but SOLID 'TOOD!

This was the original campaign, little short of genius.

I do sense that there is a concerted attempt of late to retrieve the baby in this case, even if the bathwater is long gone.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Work expands to fill the available space

In preparing two of my old books for digital downloads in the last few days, I couldn't help but wonder how on earth I managed to do these extra books (one of which was 100 pages long!) alongside the main comic. Along the way I managed another couple, both of which ran to about 30 pages - all of which when I was doing five, not four comics a week.

Then I had a look back, and saw that the period during which I worked on them coincides with some of the, shall we say, lesser work in my back catalogue. Stories that, rather than not ending well, didn't really end at all. The work in these lovely parenthetical volumes, seen by around 2000 people on each occasion, rather spoiled my daily efforts.

Needless to say, scarcely a day goes by when I don't fancy a stab at another side project. I love making proper, standalone books! But if a member of the audience could nominate themselves to come and pat me gently on the shoulder when I suggest it, and take me away for a seaside "rest-cure", it might be best for everyone concerned.

Here's a long lost drawing I found from this era. The era of uneconomical toil. Speak to you... SOON!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Girlspy and HMHAF ebooks

Several of my books are now out of print, including a few containing material that was never available on the web. I've put two of these, Girl Spy (24 pages) and Heavy Metal Hearts & Flowers (99 pages), up for sale as PDFs in my shop.

These two are unusual among my output, as they were conceived of and written as whole books, rather than collections of daily pages. I was very proud of both of them at the time, and looking at them again for the first time in years, I still felt that way.

I made a new cover for Heavy Metal Hearts And Flowers too, a mysterious image full of manly strength.