Issue 3 Cover + MCM London ComicCon (October)

June 26, 2013

It’s the boys in blue!


Ahem, that is to say that with the appearance of a notable police lieutenant in this issue it seemed fitting to adopt a bluish tone for my cover this time around.

This one proved rather tricky for a number of reasons; excluding cleanup, colour and text – and unlike its predecessors – I drew it up by traditional means rather than digital, naturally resulting in much head banging – not the rock ‘n’ roll kind – and some copious use of Tipp-Ex along the way. I also learned what a potential nightmare drawing someone holding a submachine gun can be and do not get me started on that bloody monorail train.

Still for the most part it seems like the ambition paid off, the finished composition is suitably striking and different to the previous covers while staying within the same stylistic boundaries. Finishing, annoyingly I realised Scratch and Curt aren’t casting a shadow on the floor thanks to neglecting it in my original draft where their feet go out of frame, but hopefully it’s not too jarring being disguised by the colour-contrast between subjects and backgrounds. If anyone asks I’ll just say there’s a high-power directional spotlight behind them…

Anyhow, as usual I’ve been way too quiet for way too long but my work gears have been a-turning and all being well I should be posting a stream of exciting new stuff in the more immediate future – or rather I’d better because I recently confirmed I’ll be on a table at the London MCM Comic Con again this October! Can’t say I’ve attended two cons in a year before and naturally I went through a signature phase of nail gnashing indecision but it seems like a good move. A year is a long time to hide in a hole by comic standards and even if my promised next UBER issue isn’t realised by then at least I’ll be making some kind of appearance.

Also as usual I’ve completely failed to keep up with other people’s blogs/comics, rest assured I’ll be dropping in soon for my usual rounds of praise/harassment ;)

Issue 2 Cover

June 7, 2012

Branch: Mint edition!

Given the generally positive feedback I received on the last issue’s cover this one follows on from its template in most regards; I’ve been trying to establishing a running style and the mix of noir shadowing with circuit patterning seems like a solid representation of Branch’s mood and themes.

While I want to create a sense of visual continuity between installments though I was also conscious here of the need to differentiate them in some fundamental way. One of my customers at the MCM Expo talked with me about how they often forgot which purchases of a series or a particular author’s work they’d made between conventions, consequently putting them off the follow ups. In recognition of this problem I completely overhauled the colour scheme for this issue, maintaining what I hope to be recognisable stylings in a radically different flavour.

The orange-reds off grey-blues in my last cover were meant to emphasise the clash between human and machine – while also being a complimentary arrangement to catch the eye – here I reprised the greens in an echo of Scratch and Curt’s initial meeting to continue enforcing a sense of queasy unease as things become progressively worse for our downtrodden delivery man. The formerly red title also felt a little too extreme against these colours so I changed it to cooler looking blue to create a stronger sense of cohesion in the design.

On the content: I’ve been getting some feedback from people eager to see action and indeed this issue will be trading much of the last one’s intrigue for more in the way of excitement. I never specifically intended Branch to be an action comic but Scratch is a character of few words prone to expressing herself physically rather than verbally – she’s not a murderer but she’ll quite happily resort to violence, making full use of her prosthetics and the advantages they allow.

Perhaps it sounds like I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but I’ve opted to loosely base Scratch’s fighting on kung-fu styles; I’ll save the exact details for another post, but along these lines I’ve been giving some thought to exactly how Scratch might fight. The idea of her being a trained thug of considerable self-confidence would suggest a refined level of skill – namely martial arts – and while I’m not planning to devote huge amounts of research to it (as fighting isn’t the story’s focus) I feel a reference model would lend greater credibility than clumsy abstractions. Besides the fact that Kung fu is the only martial art I have any hands on experience of, the directness of it strikes me as a good fit for a hyper efficient cyborg.

Hence the basis for the feisty pose. I toyed with the idea of her and Baby Face grappling as a cover image but felt compelled to include Curt given his role as co-protagonist and as a distinctly human counterbalance to Scratch’s OTT bravado. I want to avoid the heroic/badass stereotypes as much as possible and having Curt pathetically tailing Scratch with her coat hopefully takes the edge off the dramatic pose a little.

Anyhow that’s enough blabbing for now, I need to get back to work on what’s going inside this thing…

Cover Complete

May 9, 2012

Like most things this took longer than I would have liked, but as I mentioned previously people are more likely than not to judge a book by its cover and I really wanted to make sure that even a glance will leave an impression. As usual there are the perennial gripes over the details, anatomy and rendering, however this may well be the best cover I’ve ever made.

That’s not really as big an achievement as it sounds, all my past efforts have been single sided, ramshackle affairs, typically rushed out as something quick between story pages; the difference here was making an investment of time, thought and care that the former desperately lacked. It’s a long way off perfect, but it stands head and shoulders above my initial effort

The above version of the cover is intended to wrap around the printed issue I’ll be peddling at the MCM Expo, though it can just as easily be halved for a web version. I already showed the black and white drawing of Scratch, the background meanwhile is loosely based on an old bit of concept art with the original figures removed – they were wonky – and the setting itself re-rendered to fit with the heavily shadowed noir vibe style.

I kept the colour palette down to oranges playing off blues and greys as I felt it would create a stronger impact than the alternative. Personally speaking my best pages thus far appear to be those with a simplified scheme, creating a more intense atmosphere and more striking imagery. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, much of Branch’s colour schemes is based out of oranges of blues with the intention of portraying the symbiosis between humans (warmth) and machines (cold), here I wanted to boil that theme and aesthetic down to its essence, making it as overtly obvious as possible.

Besides the titles though, Scratch is the only element of the cover in orange; it could be taken as being symbolic of her ultimately human qualities beneath the cold exterior, in truth though I was more interested in emphasising her alienation – cyberpunk protagonists are typically such, but without giving away too much it does become a key part of her character development later. On a visceral level, it also ensures she pops out from the setting being the immediate focus of the viewer.

On the translucent circuit textures; they were largely to create a more intriguing and surreal image but again, thematically support the themes of human-machine symbiosis, with technology seemingly lurking beneath every shadow – I should credit Lain with sparking this idea through its similar use of red splatter in the shade – the Branch station is built out of technology, though more pertinently it has literally become a part of people.

The specific background features should tell people things about the story as well; the curving cityscape is shown in the background establishing an important aspect of the setting, there is notable wear, tear and grime indicating it to be a used future along with other decidedly unsettling aspects.

With an initial version of the cover I showed a friend which had Scratch on her own he told me it looked a little too barren and that I ought to capitalise on the sense sleaziness indicated by the posters next to the Treenet booth and have a couple in the back alley. Given my intention to disturb rather than titillate with this I may have pushed a little further than intended, it started out as a kiss/embrace but now looks somewhat more explicit.

Still, the potential shock value isn’t necessarily a bad thing as controversy and sex do tend to draw interest, as an Expo newbie it may well work to my advantage catching attention and given the places the storyline will eventually go a darker cover is perhaps a fairer indication of content. Also, yet again in line relation to my theme a fusion of very human sexuality juxtaposed with freakish cyborg appendages seems quite appropriate.

Finally, the titles. The main one proved quite a headache, with several scrapped attempts before I made something I was happy with. My original alphanumeric title appeared too spindly for the most part and either sunk into or jarred horribly with the rest of the cover. The final redesign (which I’m quietly proud of) is essentially a heavily mutated version of my original title font, fleshed out with extra bordering and a chrome style finish. It may be a touch too forceful for my liking but its bold and ideally grabs your attention.

Following on from my point about shock value, the new issue/act subtitle is an addition I added feeling it had an amusing double meaning. The immediate assumption that it’s one of English’s foulest swear words is offset by the reveal on page 6 and the alternative connotations in relation to the story’s context. As a way to intrigue and sneakily build immersion I think there could be something in it, regardless it’s more interesting than some bland ‘ACT 1‘ caption.

There’s always more that could be done, but I’m hoping that as an advertisement of content this does the job. A blurb felt unnecessary on the basis that it’s going to be relatively short and I’m hoping the image will be enough to get people reading, what I need to put all my energies into now is getting a few more pages out of the door before printing so I can deliver a satisfactory ‘to be continued’ and not some vague dropped-off-a-cliff cutoff.

Cover in Progress…

May 3, 2012

Just a little update on the cover I’m working on for my printed issue.

To my mind it’s an improvement over my previous ‘act’ cover, showing more of Scratch than her back and being of a much higher standard generally. At the same time, it retains the heavy shadowing and emphasis on noir stylings, ideally giving a fair indication of what to expect within – the pose itself is a homage to a certain noir icon

It still needs a backdrop to wrap around both covers, colour and text but as starts go I’m pretty pleased with this one.

Page 7

July 25, 2011

Keeping in mind the criticisms I outlined in my last post I deviated from the script briefly to make the page you see above.

First and foremost I wanted to demonstrate some of the experimentation and noir stylings I promised in the planning stages. Scenes like this will feature more later in story but I felt that after the last module’s feedback providing an example of my intentions would be a good idea. There are other more substantial reasons for this addition aswell; I formerly spoke of a concern that introducing more heavily stylised elements later might seem jarring, appearing to be a complete change in style rather than a natural progression. Ideally this page will sooth the issue, easing such features in rather than snapping over at the drop of a hat.

In terms of narrative this also addresses a few minor concerns. Besides breaking up the scenes with Curt and providing a momentary change of pace, it also brings Scratch back to the reader’s attention after a short rather than long absence. The page is intended as a reminder she’s also on the way to the same spaceport for an as yet unknown purpose. Much like the stylistic elements it’s all foreshadowing for what’s to come.

As my research would suggest I borrowed art ideas from 100 bullets and Sin City most prominently here, taking a creative risk and using techniques I’m not so sure-footed with, eschewing detail in favour of stark light and shadow compositions. I wouldn’t say the lighting is exactly realistic, but it does remain plausible thanks to the tight alley – providing just enough credibility for heavy shadows in an artificially lit setting. Originally I’d planned to highlight more of Scratch’s face, but opted for an almost complete blackout as thematically it seemed more appropriate; with her motives as yet undetermined shadowing her features projects a disturbing sense of ambiguous menace, the only discernible parts being her prosthetic implants/replacements and a pair of determined eyes. Determination for what remaining to be seen.

While I’m happy with the overall impression the page gives I do have a few minor issues with it all the same. The figures themselves turned out pretty nicely but it feels as though too much space is wasted on the right side of the composition. Given the diagonal direction of the light it makes sense that the wall would be blacked out, but all the same if feels like more could have been done with that general area. I flipped parts of the panel layout and toyed with the idea of putting text bubbles in to the fill the space but ultimately there’s not much I can do to fix it. It does give the page a sort of stark intensity which I like but in future I should be more mindful of how I use the space.

Minor faults aside hopefully the page doesn’t do anything to upset the pacing of the main narrative and enriches rather than weakens the overall reading experience. I’ve got some way to go nailing down the exact style but at least now I’ve made a genuine stab at it.