Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Brush and ink

Time does fly, and as I see it's been a while since my last post I thought I'd 'catch up' as they say. This feature is primarily about brush and ink work rather than that done with a pen.

As I remarked in my last post, I was comic artist for a while in the UK. I did not work for boys comics [mainly because I wasn't asked] but girls both weekly and in annuals. The comic market for a long time in the UK was dominated by two companies: DC Thomson [of Beano fame] and IPC, formally Fleetway, [of 2000AD fame]. I was introduced to the world of drawing comics through a comic artist, Ken Houghton, who ran a comic artist evening class at a school where I taught Art & Design. He was a lovely patient man, a very good teacher, who died too young, and is missed by those who knew him. One of his other students at that time was a very young 16 year old called Sean Phillips who has since risen to be a well known comic artist working these days for for Icon, an imprint of Marvel Comics [Criminal], and Marvel Comics [Marvel Zombies]. {updated thank to Dave Morris}.

Most of my comic work was done for DC Thomson, which although it still exists with its headquarters in Dundee, does not have the comic output it once had. Titles that I worked on included Bunty and Tracy [I've yet to meet anyone who actually admits to reading such comics]. For IPC I had the chance to work on a couple of pieces for a comic called 'Misty', including, in full colour, one of their annuals. Although in the case of the annual strip I had the same problem as I had with the Robin Hood game book, to make the creatures 'recognisable' as Hammer Horror 'types', but not so much anyone could sue. Still it was fun.

The actual comic process involved being given x amount of pages [usually three] and what was called a 'panel' script detailing scene setting and dialogue spoken, they were similar to radio and film scripts in many respects. You had some freedom about layout but always had to leave space to accommodate the 'speech' balloons. You were given roughly two weeks to complete each weekly segment and not expected to miss any deadlines. If possible it was sensible to create a backlog in case of accidents or incidents. The worst was while I was working in Papua New Guinea, when six pages were lost in the post and I had to redo them fast. I've often suspected it was wasn't the mail that lost the work but a counter clerk at the post office, who just took the stamps as a 'finders fee'. After that incident I always ensured to watch the parcels being franked, and funnily enough, nothing like lost artwork ever happened again. Strange.

In those days, none of the original artwork was ever returned and I only have a few comics, which I bought myself [now somewhere under piles of other stuff ] and poor photocopies that were given to me for 'character continuety' to remind me of the work I did. At the moment I can only find a a couple of bits of photocopies, and they're in poor condition, to show examples of that working period. I've 'cleaned' them up as best I can without too much loss of detail, but they're not great, however, as examples of  brush work they at least show the difference from dip and technical pen.

From the look of the strip parts shown below, the first was done for Bunty and the next two forTracy [but I could be wrong [as usual].

So, there you go, a couple of examples of brush work. For those who like more detail they were drawn with an HB pencil and brush inked [except panel borders] with a Windsor & Newton series 7a sable brush size No. 2. A brush that is sadly no longer available, yes they still sell a Series 7 but it's not got the hair length or handling of ink quality of the 7a series.
By using ink of course, even with careful cleaning, you went through brushes like a dose of salts. Well I did . Why do companies often 'cancel' excellent tools for a weaker variant? Barmy I'calls it.

On an aside.
I did do one item, in brush and ink, for a competition run by Marvel Comics, involving the Hulk where you had to write, draw and think of an idea of a 'what happened next' scenario, in their [now defunct ] magazine called FOOM. I'm very vague on the detail now, but the prize was lots of Marvel 'goodies' and I considered it might act as useful 'try out' as it was supposed to be judged by an artist and an editor back in the States.  I had thought my entry had come to nothing until a year or so later, when a friend remarked in a letter about how pleased I must have been for 'winning' that competition. This was a real surprise as I heard nothing since I posted of the art page, so he sent me the relevant copy of FOOM, where I read how excited [?] I was to have been the winner of the competition, and to have received all those 'goodies' as prizes. So I contacted Marvel and asked about where all my prizes were as I'd never heard from them at all - I received a cursory note from some editor minion and four old copies of FOOM  [including the one that said what wonderful prizes I'd received]. Even to this day that shoddy behaviour rankles. [Altogether now.... Ah, sad little you.] My opinion of Marvel has remained little changed since such treatment. [Ah].

Time to wynd ye comments up, adding  - next time, some seriously old work and stuff.


  1. I remember seeing that retrospective on Brit comics on the BBC (or possibly Channel 4) a couple of years ago and being amazed that all the enfant terrible of British comics had cut their teeth on writing and drawing girls comics in the 1970s! Seemed so unlikely, even more so when they said it was a great grounding for future work. Then again, the plots of these comics were always something like "She was a promising ballerina - but then she fell leg-first into a sausage mincer and got sent to a boarding school run by sadistic lesbians and got bullied a lot" so perhaps that explains a lot.

    I'm fairly certain my younger sister read these comics (or at least, these sorts of comics, her reading intake pretty much blurring into one as fair as I am concerned) would never have twigged that we were reading stuff illustrated by the same chap!

  2. Awesome! Nice panels. I'm still having trouble getting the hang of the brush but when I see other people's work it inspires me to keep trying.

  3. Coopdevil: You're certainly right about the quality of the plots, though I never was asked to do one about 'bullying boarding school lesbians', maybe such plots would have have kept some comics going longer lol.

    You were very much at the mercy of the strips offered, as some were, if formulaic in plot structure, better written than others. The real problem lay in page limitation and the number of panels you could assign to each page. When too many panels were assigned to a weekly instalment you [as artist] had real trouble creating a good page dynamic.

    Bliss infinte: Thanks for the compliment, and I wish you well with your own efforts. If it helps, besides the desire to have a 'voice' the three most important factors to aid your practical development are: 1. Brush [try different types to find one that suits, but watch out for calluses ]; 2. Ink [same advice applies but also 'ageing' which gives better viscosity]; 3. Paper/card [ This is in many ways the most important factor for a 'poor' surface when cleaned can result in a lot of your most subtle strokes disappearing.]

    Again - Best of luck and I like your blog.

  4. Hi Russ - I'm a big fan of Sean Phillips's work, but I've got to point out that Criminal isn't at DC it's at Marvel. I know it looks like it *ought* to be a Vertigo title but actually it's under the Icon imprint, which Marvel uses for creator-owned projects. I'll get my anorak.

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  6. Thanks Dave, see update and no anorak required.