Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Sorry to have kept you waiting"

I haven't been to the supermarket lately, or rather, when I have, I've used the self check-out. But today I used a normal checkout. There was a short queue, it was busy. And as each person reached the cashier, she said "sorry to have kept you waiting". As she had doubtless been told to do.


If you wish to imbue the grocery shopping experience with something approaching courtesy and grace, do not inform your members of staff to robotically repeat the same phrases, unless you wish to create - and I suggest you note this down - the impression that the cashier hates each and every customer. Nothing says "I'm not sorry" better than the exact circumstances you have created.

The self-checkout is a kind of robot. It generally works well. But that doesn't mean you should extend the brand values of this worthy automaton to your entire workforce, particularly - and I suggest you also note this down - the customer-facing part of your operation. Believe it or not, human beings can tell when human beings are behaving inauthentically.

I have finished now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My tempestuous past

Few are aware of my spell in the mid-90s as a "hot" artist. Profiled for Wizard magazine, I was described as "the new Whilce Portacio", in an article that memorably warned, "watch out, Trent Kaniuga!"

Hired to create an incendiary new spin on Miss Marvel by incoming ed-in-chief Bob Harras, I was run out of town on a rail when I submitted my first pages. Harras, a strong man when riled, picked me up by my coat collar and cast me into the New York foot traffic, where I was trampled for some minutes. I was so badly damaged by the shoes of the disinterested locals that when I returned, with "Bobbins", in 1998, it appeared that I could barely draw at all.

Little of this formative work remains intact, due to the rending it received in editorial hands, but here's a panel that shows you how my "no fighting, no crossovers" technique might have revolutionised the industry. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Man versus machine versus competence

I'm always tinkering with the way I work to see if I can do better. Working purely digitally has vastly improved the finished standard of my comics, as I was never a great draughtsman and my composition was weak when I started working that way. But there are downsides to it - I have no originals to sell (an important part of many cartoonists' income), and I have to rely on a lot of expensive equipment. The trade-offs are worth it in terms of time saved and the knowledge that errors made in ink aren't fatal (the latter took a lot of stiffness out of how I draw, on or off the computer).

But I thought I'd have a go at inking some of my Manga Studio "pencils" traditionally and the results were very interesting!

I made a "blueline" out of my Manga studio page and printed it out at A3 portrait size (about 29cm high). I probably made it a bit pale, which created a few extra problems.

I had a go at inking with a Sailor variable-width nib fountain pen and a 0.3 graphic pen.

Now, bearing in mind that I had printed the panels out at twice the height and width I used to draw them at in the old pen and ink days; it was very hard to achieve the accuracy and detail I get on the Cintiq, and I mangled a lot of details on the first page I tried. The page was full of tiny figures that I suppose I have become very used to zooming in on to ink on-screen. I had no idea. I'm not sure that I could have accurately finished their features with a pin, let alone a pen.

I pretty much got to grips with this panel, but I was very aware as I worked on it that I couldn't really do any decision-making as I inked, something I've got very used to. It's not like I spend my time deleting a lot of things and re-doing them (inks only take me about an hour) but I really felt like I was missing things as I went around. Probably because I could barely see what I was doing.

This is the original panel as-was. If you compare this to the pencils and my quick inked version, you can see how much of the final brain-work is done in this stage.

Neither of these techniques is a panacea. I enjoy the level of precise-ness I can achieve with the computer, but I can never achieve the spontaneous, exciting shapes I can get with ease using traditional means. All those precise tiny lines come after I do the hard work of composition with a pencil and paper in thumbnails. It's just a style that does a job on the sort of comics I do. If I'm trying to make a point here, it's that once you've mastered the basics, just do whatever works best. But try to keep your hand in with everything.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Take A Break

At the end of this current story (from Monday May 16th) Bad Machinery will be taking a break for a couple of weeks. For the first week I'll be on holiday, for the second week I'll be doing pages every day but not my standard comics, I'm going to draw whatever I fancy at the time. At the end of this two-week festival of messing about, I will return to my normal duties with a new Bad Machinery case.

During "holiday week", there will be nothing to entertain you but the sound of breeze through the twigs. I'd like to showcase exclusively newer, less well-known (to me at least) comic artists as I did Rebecca Head, Jamie Littler and Emily Ryan during the last guest fortnight.

If you think you're up to that standard (or failing that, the John Allison standard) and you fancy doing a Bad Machinery comic page, drop me an email at with the subject line "Better Than The Breeze Through The Twigs", let me know what you are all about, and we can see if I've got a slot for you. Please don't send any finished artwork unless you are fantastically, precociously brilliant.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Erin watercolour

In response to demand for the last batch of watercolours, I just did another one. Just one mind, I'm not exactly spoiling you. As before, to prevent a spate of refunds, it's available first-come first-served by email reservation. £32.50 including shipping.

Email with "watercolour reservation" as your subject line and let me know which picture(s) you would like. I'll then direct you to the payment page. If you haven't paid within 24 hours of my sending you to the payment page, I'll cancel the reservation and put the pic back on sale - easy!

Erin (21 x 25cm, on 300gsm/140lb watercolour board) SOLD!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Owl Desk

Important news from the owl desk; I've got this to you as fast as I can manage. Hot off the press, you might say!

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Fun" for Cintiq owners

The reason I bought my original Cintiq in 2007 was to use to use Manga Studio. Despite 7 years' prior daily use of a "trad" Wacom tablet, I couldn't master freehand drawing with it. The disconnect of eye and hand as you watch the cursor the screen was too much. I was far from accurate, and my shoulder would tense up in agony as I attempted pass after undone pass at long strokes.

I had a go at drawing with that same old Wacom tablet this evening as I had been using it for another job. And strangely, after years of using the Cintiq, I could now draw far more accurately than I could back in 2007. While I would never use an Intuos for all my daily drawing by choice (if the Cintiq broke and I couldn't replace it, I'd probably go back to pen and paper), I couldn't believe how much had improved.

Here's a little sketch I did, it wasn't as fluent as working on the Cintiq, but I got the sense that after a few weeks practice, I could probably get perfectly used to it.

I wonder if any other Cintiq users have had the same experience when they dug out their old tablet?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Bad Machinery wallpapers

It's nearly two years to the day since I registered and got to work on this new deal. So I've made some wallpapers. The different sizes are below!


Monday, April 04, 2011

Janelle Monae

I quite like drawing Janelle Monae. She's one of the most compelling performers of our age. No one can sing and dance like she can. Her album didn't quite win me over but I am certain that there are great things to come from Ms. Monae.