Wednesday 26 February 2014

Cover story

Back in 1988 when Oink! switched from fortnightly to a weekly frequency, I was asked to come up with some cover ideas for the comic. I think I drew four or five covers in total. I tried to make them simple, striking (and hopefully funny!) such as the Tom Thug one shown here.

The original artwork for this cover is up on eBay right now, along with a Suicidal Syd illustration from a Christmas Viz

The Oink! cover is full colour on Bristol Board, and comes complete with the acetate overlay which has the logo attached, and the tissue paper overlay giving instructions to the printer. Production methods that are no longer used in our age of Photoshop and Illustrator! (See the link below for more photographs.)

If you're interested in bidding, point your trotters towards this link:

All bids are much appreciated. Good luck!

Saturday 22 February 2014

The origin of Tom Thug!

One day in 1984, while visiting Bob Paynter, the Group Editor of the IPC humour comics, up at Kings Reach Tower on London's South Bank, he told me of a new comic that was in development. This was to be something different, more anarchic and unpredictable than Whizzer and Chips, Whoopee, and the rest. It was the brainchild of cartoonists and writers based in Manchester and although they'd already presented Bob with a rough dummy issue, Bob wanted to bring in more artists for variety. 

The comic was then called Rrassp! as I recall, although it would soon evolve into Oink! as the project got under way. Bob Paynter told me he saw the venture as an ideal opportunity for people who were either stylistically different to IPC's usual look, or were keen to become comic artists and not yet ready for the company's other publications. IPC were going to invest in a dummy issue of the new comic, and would be putting a lot of money into a launch if it went ahead. Therefore Bob didn't want any time wasters, and was only inviting people who were genuinely interested in drawing for them. I was already producing cartoons for Marvel UK and had 'ghosted' a lot of children's books for Mike Higgs, so this was a great opportunity to do something for IPC, who were the main British comics publisher at the time. 

Bob asked me if I had any ideas that might be suitable. I mentioned a "dim skinhead bully character" I'd been developing, which he seemed to like. (Bullies are always useful in slapstick strips.) "Perhaps his dad could be pushing him to be a bully to follow the family tradition, to inherit his boots" suggested Bob. I liked that twist to it, and, filled with enthusiasm, went home to develop it further. 

The name 'Tom Thug - What a Mug' came to my mind because I knew IPC liked puns on existing concepts and it sounded a bit like Tom Thumb. At the top of this post are my initial rough sketches of the character from 30 years ago that no one has seen before. Brand new characters often take a while to get right and Tom looked more like Frankenstein's monster in this concept than a school bully!

Anyway, after a few more sketches, I eventually gave Tom a rounder look and something I felt comfortable submitting. Bob only wanted to see the strip in a pencil stage at this point, and here's the actual artwork I sent him...

Bob liked the idea but sent me a rewritten script for a new version. Initially I was a little disappointed that some of the energy seemed to have been taken out of it, but in retrospect Bob's rewrite was a much tighter script and was a better build-up to the punchline. Here's the new version, scanned from the original art...

That's the version which appeared in the 'dummy' issue and was printed in the Oink! Preview issue that was bagged with several IPC titles in May 1986, a week before Oink! No.1 was published. Yes, it took about 18 months or more for IPC to do their market research, tweak the comic, and finally give it the green light. 

Tom Thug became one of Oink's regulars from the outset, with me on scripts and art every issue (with some rewritten by the editor, the late Mark Rogers). When Oink! merged into Buster in late 1988, Tom Thug had proven popular enough to transfer over. 

I was pleased to find that Tom Thug had become one of Buster's most popular strips when the editor Allen Cummings informed me in this letter in the early 1990s...

Tom became even more popular as the weeks went on, leading to him being featured on the cover of Buster a few times. A rare honour, of which I was very proud. (John Burns, the regular cover colourist, added the colours.)...

He even featured in a couple of free gifts, such as this Tom Thug badge I designed. (Dunno who decided to give Tom such a suntan!) 

Buster folded at the end of 1999, with Tom Thug ending a run of 13 years and 8 months (although the last three years were reprints). I really enjoyed writing/drawing the exploits of the brainless bully, and it all started with that sketch at the top of the page. 

Wednesday 19 February 2014

From drawing board to print

Here's an example of how the Rasher strip progresses from the initial drawing to the printed page. I'm not showing the full strip obviously. Just one panel. After having my script approved by the editor, I set to work penciling the strip. Above is a shot of my original artwork after I'd penciled and inked it. I've blown it up a bit for this post but I do actually draw the strip about twice the size of the printed version. 

Next up, I scan the strip at 300dpi into Photoshop as a bitmap. This means that the blueline pencils don't show up on screen. I clean up any mistakes, convert to Greyscale, and fill in the solid blacks on Dennis' hair and any other large areas of black (as it's quicker than filling it in by hand on the physical artwork). 

Next step is to convert it to CMYK and apply colours with Photoshop...

When the strip is finished, I save it as a TIFF and e-mail it to the Beano office. The Beano staff letterers add speech balloons based on the dialogue from my script. Several weeks later the finished job appears in print. Here's a preview of the issue that's out today...

That's the brief version of the procedure anyway. I hope it's of interest. 

The Beano is out now, priced £2. 

Monday 17 February 2014

"A fine compendium of knee-slappers, guffaws, and belly laughs!"

Well, that's how Alan Moore described one of my Brickman mini-comics when he reviewed it for The Daredevils back in the 1980s. And who am I to argue with the great man? 

In 2005 Richard Starkings' Active Images company gathered together all my Brickman strips from various fanzines and comics and published them as a 152 page digest-size softback entitled Brickman Begins! It's a diverse collection because it contains my raw, very early fanzine work in 1979, right up to material in 1996, plus a new 4 page prologue I drew for the book. It kind of charts the development of my style in a way, as you can see from the few selected pages I'm showing on this post.

The book includes strips from After Image, Blimey! It's Brickman, Brickman on Toast, The Early Brickman, Swiftsure, Brickman No.1, Yampy Tales, and more. Oh yeah, there's a six page Combat Colin story in there too, which Brickman guest-starred in, from The Transformers.

There are also guest pages by a variety of top artists including Tim Sale, Charlie Adlard (zombie Brickman!), Alan Davis, Dave Gibbons, Kevin O'Neill, Dave Hine, Hunt Emerson, Richard Starkings, Mike Collins (inked by Mark Farmer), Dave Windett, Mike Higgs, Hunt Emerson, and Ian Churchill. Plus a bunch of bonus pages with unused artwork, a jokey interview with me, and an introduction by Alan Moore. 

You can see where this is going, can't you? Yes, the book is still available, and if you're interested in buying a copy zip over to my website here:

(Although Brickman Begins! doesn't contain bad language the book does have a couple of drug references and one or two things that may not be suitable for children, so bear that in mind please.)

Thursday 13 February 2014

Team Toxic preview

Here's a preview of the first few panels from the two page Team Toxic story I did for this week's issue of Toxic magazine before the word balloons were added. The Team are entrusted to guard a bank, but encounter a new villain, - The Flu Bug! 

Toxic is the top selling magazine for boys these days, and features 'gross' humour: farts, bogies, and suchlike that kids find hilarious. It would be the easy option to make my stories for the mag just about bodily functions, but I try to add a dollop of daftness in there too. 

This issue of Toxic features 40 pages, plus a pull-out A2 size Lego Batman poster, and a bag load of gifts. £3.99 from newsagents and supermarkets now!

The website should be updated soon with a video of the latest contents:

Wednesday 12 February 2014

The moment has been prepared for...

...and Doctor Flu regenerates in this week's issue of The Beano! That should clear his head. It's the final episode of the time travelling spoof. 

The other mini-strip I have in today's issue is Rasher, and this week he daydreams of being Bat-Pig

The Beano, - on sale now (with a free gift too) for only £2. Still the cheapest comic on the stands! (And if you prefer the digital edition from The Beano app it's even cheaper, - £1.49, - which also includes the free gift.)

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Word play

Although I've often lettered my own strips I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a professional letterer. Which is odd really, especially as I've often been paid extra for it. (Perhaps it's because I've never lettered anyone else's work.) Anyway, personally, I've always felt that lettering is all part of the art duties. I suppose that's because I started out producing my own strips for fanzines, so you had to be your own writer, penciler, inker, letterer - and colourist if the zine allowed colour - because it was all part of getting your personal vision down on paper. (Not that I'm disrespecting the fine folk who are professional dialogue letterers of course. It's quite a skill, ahead of my uneven efforts.)

From what I gather, most artists in the pre-war era of British comics lettered their own strips. People such as Roy Wilson certainly did, and studying the lettering is a useful way of distinguishing Wilson from the many artists who were told to draw in his style. It seems that commissioning someone else to letter pages didn't become widespread until the 1950s, - in UK comics at least. 

I lettered all my own strips for Oink! and Marvel UK in the 1980s. Basically because the editors let me, and it probably worked out cheaper for them. You can see a couple of the Oink! half pages here (Tom Thug and Pete's Pimply Puzzles) photographed from the original artwork. Dialogue lettering can be a bit of a chore sometimes but it's nice to have complete control over a page and I've always loved doing the logos and sound effects. 

When Tom Thug moved over to Buster in 1988 that comic had a policy of using their own letterers. Which was fair enough as I wouldn't want to take work away from people who were used to doing a set number of pages every week. Initially, Mike Peters lettered Tom Thug in Buster using a mechanical font that I was never keen on to be honest as it was far too large. Later, Jack Potter took over, with results that were much easier on the eye. 

Jack Potter had been lettering comics for years and his neat, hand-lettered word balloons looked great. (His son, Steve, was also in the lettering business.) Here's a 1995 Tom Thug page that Jack lettered. (I still did my own logo and sound effects.)...

Back in those pre-desktop publishing days, it was a case of posting the artwork to Jack Potter, and he would letter the colour pages on a clear acetate overlay. Dialogue was lettered onto good quality sticky-back paper ('Crackback' it may have been called, - unless that was just a nickname) which would then be cut out and stuck onto the acetate. Here's the same page without the overlay...

These days of course, pages are emailed to the designers and opened in Photoshop or Illustrator, with the lettering done on screen with top quality fonts such as those sold by Comicraft. (If you're embarking on doing your own comics, and you're unsure about your letting skills, you'd be well advised to invest in some good comic book fonts and read their website.) 

The strips I do for The Beano and Toxic are all lettered in-house by their designers, using computer fonts. However, I still enjoy lettering my own sound effects for the strips. Nothing like putting that gut feeling into a SPLAT! of your own design to suit the image it accompanies. Pages for Viz are always lettered by the artists themselves. 

Incidentally, all of the pages shown here just happen to be up for auction this week over on my eBay page. Yeah, I know. I feel like a club singer trying to sell you his CDs after doing his act. Whether you bid or not, I hope you've enjoyed this article and having a peek at the original art. 

Sound effect I designed on a Tom Thug page.

Monday 10 February 2014

Beano mystery

I'm just embarking on drawing my new mini-strip for The Beano. You've seen the character before, but never by me. Who is it? I'll reveal more details closer to its publication, although that won't be for several weeks yet of course. In the meantime, feel free to guess. It'll be fun to see which Beano character you think I'd be suited to draw. 

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Doctor Flu and Rasher previews

Here's a preview of the strips I have in today's issue of The Beano. Doctor Flu does what most of us would do if we had a time machine and goes back in time to buy old comics at cover price. This is the penultimate Doctor Flu strip and it concludes next week.

There's also the second of the new series of Rasher mini-strips. I've really enjoyed drawing the hairy pig again and including guest appearances by other Beano characters. This week Spotty's dog Blotty makes a cameo appearance. Here's the first two panels of the mini-strip...
As a 'behind the scenes' bonus here's a photograph of my original art before I coloured it in Photoshop and before the Beano staff lettered it...

For the full strips see this week's Beano - on sale now!